Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Prisoner With No Name

[It is important to understand that torture, except for the occasional freelancer, does not occur in a vacuum. Like anything else, torture requires infrastructure which in turn requires the political will of a government. Such infrastructure includes among other things laws and/or executive orders which may or may not be secret, secret police and/or special police or military units, means of disposal of torture’s collateral damage and institutional means to deny that torture is taking place or claim its necessity for such things as national security when denial is precluded by exposure.

There is an odd double standard in the use of torture in that, although secret, it needs to be common knowledge. The reason for this is that the purpose of torture is to control a population or a subset of a population through terror, i.e. torture is state-sponsored terrorism.

Another quirk in the use of torture is that the reluctance of governments to admit let alone rectify mistakes is somewhat magnified. Because of the secrecy and lack of oversight, it is both tempting and easy to sweep “mistakes” under the rug, so to speak. Here is an example of what can happen received from my un-employed angel from the Third Galaxy]

Although they are not supposed to, the prisoners sometimes talk about how they got here.

That is how I happen to know something about prisoner number RF-8669. The guards only refer to him by his number and leave out the letters as if 86 was his last name and 69 his first – it’s the military way, you know, to put the last name first.

Mr. 69 86 has been here for a long time, longer than anyone else, so no one remembers when he came. He’s been here so long he’s forgotten the name he had before he came.

Somebody suggested to him once that “RF” perhaps stood for the initials of his real name in hopes that it might jog his memory. Mr. 69 86 just smiled and said in his soft, gentle voice, “No, I don’t think so, if it stands for any thing at all, it stands for “Royally Fucked”.

It’s not clear to me just how he forgot his name. Was it the years of not speaking it or hearing it spoken, a beating from the guards or a combination of both, it’s hard to say.

The guards here are not all that bad usually, unless they’re drunk or are having problems in their private lives, but it does happen, although it’s against regulations, that somebody gets the shit kicked out of them. That’s not just a turn of phrase you know, it really is possible to get the shit kicked out of you. Myself, I’ve been pretty lucky and have never had anything worse than a couple of cracked ribs.

Although he can’t remember his real name, Mr. 69 86 has crystal clear memories of how he got here. I’ve heard him tell about it with my own ears, so I know it’s true.

Of course Mr. 69 86 had a trial – nobody ends up here without a trial! In his case though, he never learned when the trial took place. Yes, you understand me correctly he was not present at his own trial! The given reason was that it was a matter of National Security.

Not only that, but he doesn’t know who, or in fact if anybody represented him at the trial. Again, it was because it was a matter of national security.

What was he charged with? Who testified against or for him, were there in fact any witnesses, was there a prosecution or cross examination – he was told nothing of these things, not even what his sentence was. All of these things were matters of National Security.

He knows three things: there was a brown manila envelope, he received a sentence and the sentence can be appealed. What was in the envelope, what his sentence was and where, how and through whom he could make an appeal – all these things he is not allowed to know as they are all matters of National Security.

All that Mr. 69 86 remembers of his life before he came here was that he was a taxi driver, where, he does not recall. He had a fare and suddenly his cab was surrounded and stopped by masked men in uniforms and unmarked dark cars. He and his passengers were taken from the taxi, taped and hooded. Many things followed, of which he has little recall, until he was informed of the trial and sentence.

An odd case one would think, that of Mr. 86, but many here can tell similar stories, although few have all the elements of his.

It’s a terrible thing not to know your own name and one of us, thinking Mr. 86 was out of earshot mused, “If you don’t know your own name, do you still have a soul?

But Mr. 86 heard, and quietly, almost unnoticed came over to our group, looked each one of us in the eye and repeated the question in his quiet whisper, “Does a man with out a name have a soul? Hmmn, smart question you have there, young fellow!”

He lowered his gaze for a few moments then lifted his face. A tear trickled down one cheek, but his eyes glowed as with a light from within and he said, “I think the answer is yes!”

OOOPPSS!! Update -- I forgot to metion that it was Robbie's post just two posts down which set me off on this little story from the Third Galaxy which has little or perhaps even no revelance to our world.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Thank you blogathoners

Jamie, Bodda, Per, Robbie, Cyberotter, Chuck Cliff, Ingrid, Mash, Marcella, Kyle, Alexa.

First let me apologise for the delay in getting back to you all. I didn't expect to be away this long, and I have one of those jobs that sometimes requires me to be "flexible" about where I am, when I'm there, and how much notice I get about it. Not that I'm complaining about it (hi boss!).

A few of you joined after I left, so I wanted to say "hi" and thank you for the work you put in for the Blogathon. Thank you to all of you, especially Jamie (Heathlander), who came up with the idea and was first to volunteer to stay up for 24 hours blogging. Quite apart from the amazing amount of money raised, there have been a few things that have made me very pleased that this all happened.

I've been reading through your posts (I'm not all the way through yet!), and I'm struck by what a powerful thing it is to have many people from different backgrounds agreeing on at least this one thing. A few of you have remarked on how revolting it is that the statement "we are anti-torture" even needs to be made; shouldn't that be a given? Yet as I read your work I realised that, before Bloggers Against Torture, I had started to accept this situation as normal.

Working alone, surrounded by Orwellians who try to convince us that "ticking time-bomb" is anything more than a disingenuous sophistry, it is inevitable that the fact that we are torturers would become banal. Being pro-torture has become, if not acceptable, at least expected. Without others around me to remind me that this is not normal, I would have likely concluded that this is the inevitable course of my society and given up trying.

Some like me will only be lost to despair and fatalism, but others face a much worse fate: to bloody their hands by action or omission, to be brutalised further in the process, and to infect others with their illness. Again I'm reminded of the importance of simply speaking out. Your voices are the last defence against society-wide anosognosia, a psychosis that has taken hold of the most powerful, and hence most potentially dangerous, nations on the planet.

I can't comprehend the suffering that will result if this decadence continues unimpeded.

So thank you for using your voice in this way. For raising money, for making friends with one another, and for reminding us all to come back to our senses. Just like a person needs memory and a conscience, a society needs people like you, to remind it of what it is that it truly desires and what it has always strived for.

Friday, August 04, 2006

You Could Be Donald Rumsfeld's Bitch

This post was originally published on Independent Opinions on August 2, 2006

I wish I could rephrase the title in milder terms, but I can’t. Earlier today, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales told the Senate Armed Forces Committee how the Bush administration plans to skirt the Supreme Court ruling on military tribunals --by admitting hearsay evidence, limiting rights against self-incrimination before a trial, limiting defendants’ access to classified information, and allow testimony obtained by coercion if it was reliable and useful.

This is very disturbing because if this legislation is allowed in its current form, interrogation techniques not consistent with the Geneva Convention would be allowed. If you’ve been reading my blog posts on the subject, this move shouldn’t come as a surprise. On Saturday morning, I had mentioned in my first Bloggers Against Torture post that the Bush administration sought to weaken Article 3 of the Geneva Convention.

Even worse, Gonzales pressed Congress to refine the definition of war crimes. What’s with the feigned stupidity and arrogance? If Gonzales is serious about defining what constitutes a war crime, I invite him to read the following reports:

As if that wasn’t bad enough, this article in Saturday’s edition of the Helena Independent Record states some very disturbing facts about legislation the Bush administration is proposing to conform to the Supreme Court’s ruling on military tribunals.

U.S. citizens suspected of terror ties might be detained indefinitely and barred from access to civilian courts under legislation proposed by the Bush administration, say legal experts reviewing an early version of the bill.

According to the draft, the military would be allowed to detain all ‘‘enemy combatants’’ until hostilities cease. The bill defines enemy combatants as anyone ‘‘engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners who has committed an act that violates the law of war and this statute.’’

This shouldn’t make headlines. This is what the Bush administration has been doing to "enemy combatants" in Guantanamo Bay, Abu Gharib, and other secret prisons for the past four and a half years. What should get your attention is the last two paragraphs of the article, which state the following:

Legal experts said Friday that such language is dangerously broad and could authorize the military to detain indefinitely U.S. citizens who had only tenuous ties to terror networks like al Qaeda.

‘‘That’s the big question ... the definition of who can be detained,’’ said Martin Lederman, a law professor at Georgetown University who posted a copy of the bill to a Web blog.

Under this legislation, you could become a passenger on Air Torture’s next flight to nowhere. All it would take is for Donald Rumsfeld to determine you are an enemy of the state, a dangerous criminal, or associated with terrorists in any way.

Why should you be concerned about this? Do you remember my post on Khalid al-Masri’s case of mistaken identity during Blogathon 2006? That could happen to you if the Bush administration sees you as an enemy of the state. This legislation isn’t aimed at suspected terrorists. It’s broad enough in scope to include American citizens. That’s why you need to contact your elected officials and voice your concerns about your disappearing civil rights.

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