Saturday, June 23, 2007

“Could you not keep watch for one hour?”

All over the world tonight, members of ACTION BY CHRISTIANS FOR THE ABOLITION OF TORTURE are holding victims of torture in the Light.

O Light
pure and life-giving

pierce the darkness
of prison cells
and of hearts imprisoned
by hatred and cruelty

Flood despairing hearts
with hope
and arid hearts
with compassion

Release captives
from their torments
and captors
from their spite

O Father and Mother
of us all


Image from the Abu Ghraib paintings of Fernando Botero.

Friday, June 22, 2007

A blog is born

Several of us who attended the QUIT Conference have decided to start a spiritually-grounded, local anti-torture group. I volunteered to set up a blog that could also serve as our website. Another local group that some of us belong to had the forum on its website annihilated by hackers. So that's why I suggested using one of the blog hosting services instead. It's free (unless we use up the free space quota) and it's secured. Blogger or WordPress would be covered in shame if their site got hacked into, I figure. Besides, there's no programming involved, and we can even have several of us authorized to do posting. And comments can be held until cleared by one of us -- so no nasty stuff or spam bots. So that's what I've been working on this week with every spare moment I've had.

Et voilà:

Chester County Religious Campaign Against Torture - CCRCAT

uh...since Blogger is kind enough to be the host of Pax et lux, I won't do a public comparison between its blog mechanism and that of WordPress...but I will say I'm very favorably impressed with the latter.

So now I have two blogs that I don't have time to post to :-)

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Numbers are...
  • something I've never been very good at
  • a Friday night TV show featuring a geeky guy who comes up with abstruse mathematical forumulas to help his detective brother solve crimes
  • brief distractions from the extreme violence of the scenes of the same show
  • a way of keeping score
  • good, as in: Coalition forces killed 21 insurgents (Monday)
  • bad, as in: Thunderous truck bomb kills 78 at Baghdad mosque (Tuesday)
  • a measure of success or failure, depending on which side you're on...or what day of the week it is
  • bad when it's more of ours
  • good when it's more of theirs
  • bad when it's them getting us back
  • good when it's us getting them back
  • the name of an advanced era: 2007
  • compassion's negative sum
  • destruction's exponential toll
  • sad
  • ludicrous
  • irrelevant

Friday, June 15, 2007

Friday Ritual

Just returned from putting several miles between me and my almost unbearably sedentary job on an elliptical machine. My late Friday afternoon workout has become a well established ritual. Really puts the week behind me.

Especially this, make that the past two weeks. After an enriching weekend of fellowship at Guilford College with other Quakers --although the subject matter was beyond heartbreaking--I returned to a mountain of work. Then came this week with its two funerals. The first unleashed such a maelstrom of childhood memories that I could hardly concentrate. The second, the passing of a very dear cousin on my mom's side of the family, sad yet leaving me with a bitter-sweet serenity and gratitude for all that my life encompasses.

In everything give thanks.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Tapping the Psychological Jugular
Moreover, it is a waste of time and energy to apply strong pressures on a hit-or-miss basis if a tap on the psychological jugular will produce compliance. KUBARK Manual, p. 83
I stopped watching spy shows when The Man from U.N.C.L.E. went off the air in the 1960's. The genre just doesn't thrill me. So, perusing the sources Dr. Alfred McCoy cites in his book, A Question of Torture, I feel as though I'm plunging into a gnostic netherworld, a Never-Never Land of occult knowledge...all the more so since these are not fictional texts.

In the land of exquisite euphemism, "a tap on the psychological jugular" means subjecting a suspect to methods of psychological torture, or --to use today's euphemistic buzz word-- "torture lite." Yet there is nothing either light or lighthearted about the four components of coercive interrogation used at Guantánamo Bay and Abu Ghraib and identified by Dr. McCoy:
  • sensory deprivation
  • self-inflicted pain (i.e., stress positions, as opposed to less...refined... techniques such as thumb screws)
  • attacks of Arab cultural sensitivity
  • exploitation of fears and phobias of individuals.
Then I reflect: The pseudo-research in KUBARK was all paid for with our tax money...and more currently, the "de facto behavioral research laboratory" of Guantánamo Bay Prison, with mine.

As Dr. M
cCoy explained in his hour-long lecture at the QUIT Conference and in his book, the extravagantly funded research into psychological methods of torture was originally a race to keep up with supposed innovations of the Soviets and North Koreans, à la The Manchurian Candidate. However, by 1951, experts had concluded that the enemy had not discovered any new techniques and that, as a matter of fact, "there had been nothing new in the interrogation business since the days of the Inquisition" (A Question of Torture, p.34). So, it was time for some real advances...

In response to those government officials who deemed the outrages committed at Abu Ghraib to be the work of "creeps" or "a few bad apples," Dr. McCoy uncovers a paper trail leading back some 50 years and upward to the highest echelons, demonstrating that a culture of torture is indeed a deeply entrenched legacy at the CIA. What's more, it was aided and abetted by the participation of some of the "100 most eminent psychologists of the 20th century" (p. 33), whose studies were published (in appropriately sanitized versions) in scholarly journals and even in Scientific American (another icon besmirched!). The Gitmo-izing of Abu Ghraib had plenty of precedent.

"The isolation technique," said one of the eminent researchers, "could break any man, no matter how intelligent or strong-willed" (p. 38). Reading the details about how this "deeply coerced sensory deprivation could disturb the mind," (p. 39), I feel disturbed by waves of nausea. This history of our country's covert program of research into "alternative interrogation methods" is a call to consciousness and action for anyone who believes in the God-given dignity of every human being.

(If you haven't the time --or the stomach--for the entire book, listen to the synopsis provided by Dr. McCoy in an interview on Democracy Now!)

The Wind in the Willows
...or whatever kind of tree it is

Just getting around to downloading the photos I took of Guilford College's beautiful campus while attending the QUIT conference almost two weekends ago.

I still haven't fully mastered the digital camera I got as a present last Christmas. Mastered it? Who am I kidding? I still know little more than how to point and click! Quite a few times now I've inadvertently taken a brief movie because I didn't pay attention to the setting. However, this time it worked out quite well spite of myself.

Here's a second or two of the wind stirring the branches on a beautiful Saturday evening. I think I have the file working now ... should open in QuickTime or Windows Media Player:


Saturday, June 9, 2007

Senator Specter helps Mr. Habeas find his way back home

Yes, there's been a Mr. Habeas sighting! The sad-looking little guy to the left, once "one of the bedrock elements of U.S. law," according to the Washington Post, went missing awhile ago when our Congress yielded to White House pressure and passed the Military Commissions Act. Now it looks as though he might actually be on his way back home.

On Thursday the Senate Judiciary Committee marked up (i.e., approved for an eventual floor vote) the Habeas Corpus Restoration Act, a bill co-sponsored by Sen. Pat Leahy (D-VT) and Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA). The senator, to his credit, was the only Republican member of the committee to approve the bill, which passed 11-8.

Way to go, Senators Leahy, Specter, Kennedy, Biden, Kohl, Feinstein, Feingold, Schumer, Durbin, Cardin, and Whitehouse!

Reread the Magna Carta, Senators Hatch, Grassley, Kyl, Sessions, Graham, Cornyn, Brownback, Coburn.
The Spirit was willing, but the flesh had a job

Well, that's my excuse anyway. So much for "live blogging" at the QUIT's a week later and I'm just getting around to writing something. And once I recharge my digital camera so that I can download the photos I took, I'll even post some pictures.

First of all, I really enjoyed meeting other Quakers from around the country (mostly the East coast) and even Canada. Canadian Friends number about 2,900 strong, according to the 2001 Statistics Canada. If big numbers are your measure of success and influence, then the Religious Society of Friends is obviously not the church for you. Not in Canada or in the U.S., where you'll be one of about 200,000 (cool map with distribution of US Friends here). But I don't really enjoy crowds, anyway.

Had a great ride down with my two companions, neither of whom is a Quaker. And I found out how great it is to go on long-distance car trips with women. They make lots of stops! This actually makes the time go faster...and it's a lot more comfortable. Great conversation. I really feel like I have two new friends now. All three of us decided that we'd like to live at Guilford College. The campus is just so beautiful with its red brick buildings nestled on a small, cozy bed of green. (The college had an unfortunate incident a few months ago involving aggression toward some Palestinian students --alcohol consumption seems to have played a role-- but the administration has apparently handled the situation well.) We were served great food in the cafeteria and embarrassingly sumptuous snacks in the conference building during breaks.

Here are the principal events of the conference:
  • Friday evening: lecture by Dr. Alfred McCoy, followed by signing of copies of his book A Question of Torture.
  • Saturday morning: lecture by Col. Dan Smith, who calls himself "The Quakers' Colonel" on non-violence and the military ethic and a presentation by Jeanne Herrick-Stare, FCNL staff member, followed by break-out discussion groups on actions that attendees can take to organize and involve others. (Former Army interrogator and Arab linguist Tony Lagouranis was, unfortunately, unable to appear as planned.)
  • Saturday afternoon: original dramatic presentation by torture survivor, artist, and activist Hector Aristizabal, followed by an interactive workshop
  • Saturday evening: screening of films The Ghosts of Abu Ghraib and The Torture Question, followed by discussion
So, that's the synopsis ...highlights to come.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Quick QUIT Posting

What a beautiful, serene campus, here at Guilford College!

Last evening we heard a lecture by Alfred McCoy, author of A Question of Torture. McCoy is a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He researched the history of the development of psychological torture, which he calls a uniquely American phenomenon, since the end of WWII. Indeed, the CIA contracted out research on the topic to universities in the US, Canada, and Gt. Britain.

The hallmarks of the psychological torture techniques are illustrated in the iconic photo from Abu Ghraib ... the photo with the hooded prisoner standing on a box, with outstretched arms. The hood is a form of technique #1 - sensory deprivation or disorientation...the outstretched arms are a stress position, indicative of #2 -- self-inflicted pain (as opposed to lashes with a whip or some other means of inflicting pain from outside the victim's body).

You no doubt rejoice, gentle reader, to know that since the war on terror a 3rd technique has been added: exploitation of the Arab cultural sensitivity (use of guard dogs, nakedness, sexual humiliation)...

Someone asked an excellent question last evening: If these methods are known to be ineffective, as they do NOT produce reliable information, why does our government insist on using them?

Dr. McCoy offered the following three reasons:
-- the legacy of the research and implementation of this type of torture, now deeply embedded in the structure of the CIA

-- a "political elite" that believes that this torture is useful
-- a time of great insecurity (=not knowing how to deal with terrorism), which causes our leader to resort to this overcompensating, macho type of response

Got to run to today's session.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Torture Awareness Month

You may have read about the latest Guantánamo suicide. In memoriam, and also in observance of June which is Torture Awareness Month, I offer

Litany of the Tortured Detainee

I was betrayed for 4,000 pieces of silver
the price on my head, a fortune in dollars

Be my voice.

Bound I was dragged away
herded with others onto the back of a truck

Be my voice.

Bounty hunters, Peshawar police
called me a terrorist, Al-Qaeda

Be my voice.

I am a tradesman, a shopkeeper,
a farmer, a teacher

Be my voice.

I am a son, a husband,
a brother, a father

Be my voice.

I was a boy, a stray
men thrust a rifle in my hand

Be my voice.

In a cramped cell I turned 18
my rite of passage, the trip to Guantánamo

Be my voice.

I heard men screaming at Bagram
dogs barking at Abu Ghraib

Be my voice.

In an orange suit, a bag over my head
I was forced to kneel for hours

Be my voice.

They interrupted my prayer
roused me from sleep

Be my voice.

Blasted music into my ears
bright lights into my eyes

Be my voice.

Stood me naked in the cold
naked before a woman

Be my voice.

They attached electrodes to my genitals
raped me with a stick

Be my voice.

Until I said what they wanted
and signed their documents

Be my voice.

For 5 years I have not seen
my family, my children

Be my voice.

Imprisoned without term
condemned without proof

Be my voice.

Wasted and sick
depressed and despairing

Be my voice.

No advocate, no defender
no rights, no hope

Be my voice.

Brothers and sisters, let us pray:

O Lord, in their desperation prisoners deprived of human and legal rights call to you. Subjected to humiliation and torture they cry out: Why have you forgotten me? Infuse us with your Spirit, make us instruments of your compassion, that we may work tirelessly for their deliverance. Lord, like the widow whose dead son you restored to life, we too long to rejoice when prisoners are restored to freedom and reunited with their loved ones. Only then will we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.