Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Torture, we must question why as Goya did

Goya 1810 etching of torture entitled: Why?

Finally, I found time to  get to the Goya exhibit at the MFA before it closed. It was a humbling experience, exploding any lingering conceit I might have about human progress. I was hammered by Goya’s images of the dark side, his reaction to terrible acts of war.  In particular I was struck by the 1810 etching (shown above) of torture, the one Goya  entitled “Why.” 

Psychoanalyst, Robert Stolorow, says“Trauma destroys time.”⁠1  Goya’s image proves the truth of that statement, collapsing time for me back to my youth.

 The extended reverie of my childhood years, growing up as a teenager in an affluent and – what I believed was – just society where people were innocent until proven guilty, was exploded by my tour in Vietnam where I was witness in small part to what America did during the long years of our involvement: over one million civilians were butchered in My Lai massacres, burned alive in napalm, vaporized by B-52 carpet bombing, or flattened in free fire zones like popup figures shot in an arcade.

After Vietnam, my brothers and sisters in Veterans for Peace and other peace organizations vowed Never Again, toothless words in the face of new conflicts to which our country answered, as usual, with bullets and bombs.

Standing with Goya, shellshocked, I can only stammer Why?  As our latest “wars of choice” in Iraq and Afghanistan are winding down or, more accurately, morphing into endless war, again we  have a chance to question why?

The question haunting me now is why our government has failed to bring to justice a single person for torturing terrorism suspects. Remember, this was no rogue operation but an official government program conceived and carried out after the attacks on 911 and approved by the highest leadership in Washington.  

U.S. Detainee at Abu Ghraib
The recently released 524-page Senate Intelligence Committee’s report erases any last doubts about the unspeakableness and criminal nature of what was done in our name:

In addition to new revelations of sadistic tactics like “rectal rehydration” and “rectal feeding”, sleep deprivation lasting almost a week and threats to the families of the detainees, the report summarizes what we already knew: scores of detainees were waterboarded, hung by their wrists, confined in coffins, sleep-deprived, threatened with death or brutally beaten.⁠2

As Goya asked then, we must ask now: Why? Nothing useful was gained. 

As The Guardian recently pointed out:  “The Senate report squarely rebuts CIA claims that the use of such methods generated intelligence that prevented further terrorist attacks and therefore saved lives…investigators had not found a single case where that was true. Detainees who underwent torture either disclosed nothing, or supplied fabricated information, or revealed information that had been already been discovered through traditional, non-violent interrogation techniques.⁠3

Shamefully, a large number of these men and boys we tortured were innocent. Even Vice President Dick Cheney recently admitted this fact, while expressing no remorse, to Chuck Todd on Meet the Press: “When Todd pointed out that 25 percent of the detainees turned out to be innocent’ and asked if he was ‘okay with that margin of error,’Cheney shot back that he has "no problem as long as we achieve our objective."⁠4

But what was Cheney’s objective? The Senate report has documented, once again, torture doesn’t work: it doesn’t extract reliable or useful information to fight terrorism; it doesn’t make us safer, but more at risk by generating more hatred for us around the world.

Again with Goya we incredulously ask why?

Pope Francis in his Christmas greeting pointed us in the right direction when he recited his catalog of spiritual diseases, one of which is “Existential Schizophrenia: the sickness of those who live a double life; it is the fruit of the hypocrisy typical of the mediocre and a symptom of progressive spiritual emptiness.”⁠5

To my ears, that it sounds like an apt description of Dick Cheney, Washington DC, and the spell that consumerism and militarism have cast over America’s soul.

1 Stolorow, Robert D. (2011-05-20). Trauma and Human Existence: Autobiographical, Psychoanalytic, and Philosophical Reflections: 23 (p. 17).  Kindle Edition.
2 http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/22/opinion/prosecute-torturers-and-their-bosses.html?action=click&contentCol
4 http://www.digitaljournal.com/news/politics/dick-cheney-admits-some-cia-terror-detainees-were-innocent/article/421207
5 http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/world/wp/2014/12/22/the-15-ailments-of-the-vatican-curia-according-to-pope-francis/
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