Thursday, July 30, 2009

On The Rack

We listen to N.P.R. in the mornings. Aside from the occasional blast of music that serves as a symphonic divider of topics, it is a laid back, low key way to start your morning. You hear some news stories, you listen to well-written descriptions of American life, and you feel somewhat intelligent for having chosen National Public Radio instead of Local FM where they often talk about Kim Kardashian, who is famous but I know not why.

I find it very difficult to pop straight out of bed and converse, smile, or really do anything other than put children's clothing into a bag and drink healthful gulps of warm friendly tea. As much as I adore music of many flavors, I really don't care for it in the morning. The volume has to be so low that it really isn't worth having on. Anything louder sets a bad tone for the day, as the hackles on my back raise high and I become cranky. Only soft voices, or interesting voices, allow me to pass the threshold from bedtime to be-a-responsible-adult time with ease and even pleasure.

Austin quietly inquired this morning whether he could turn on the radio. I acquiesced. The playful yet sultry, rhythmic and velvety voice of a Scottish man filled our ears. I had a crush. Austin might have had a crush as well. It was a very nice voice. He was talking about Afghanistan and terrorism and money and the United Kingdom. I usually do listen, as N.P.R.'s Morning Edition is my major source of what is going on in the world (Do NOT judge). But today I listen to the ebb and flow, the lilt and song of his melodic words. He was beautiful.

And then...darkness. My love, my lovely love, stopped talking. They bade him farewell. And I was forced to apply makeup without the reassuring soundtrack of his voice.

The normal N.P.R. gentlemen (how sad it is I cannot remember his name after all this time) said that there is a trial today for a man who has been a prisoner/detainee in Guantanamo Bay for six years. Though sad at the loss of my new Scottish love, my ears were already engaged. I listened as it was explained that the man on trial had admitted under torture that he had killed and/or tortured Americans in Afghanistan. The trial today would decide if he would return home to Afghanistan or be brought to the U.S. for further trial.

I have a problem with torture. I'm not in government, and I know that there are so many aspects to keeping a nation safe. I assume that there is information I will never know about the threats to our country, and I have to vote for those leaders that I think will make the best decisions out of impossible situations. But I still have a problem with torture. Aside from its being, by its nature, torturous, I think that it cannot possibly be effective to a certain end.

This week, my sister, mother, and I watched the Elizabeth I movies, starring Helen Mirren. I've seen quite a few movies depicting this time period. I've read quite a few books, lightly researched historical facts and figures, and even had the immense pleasure of visiting some of the locations associated with the English Queen.

The movie has a torture scene, and while I watched, I thought of the torture area in the Tower of London. They really had some odd and terrible ways of causing pain. One particularly weird contraption that stuck with me was a small metal square device that looked the size of a shoe box. The administers of terror would force a man, a whole entire man, into this small box. His body was mangled and pushed into place and he was held there as he slowly suffocated. Well, back to the happy thought of the movie. A man accused of treason gave testimony while being stretched, pounded, pulled, and other things I cannot describe. They got from him the information they sought. But later, when Elizabeth learns that the verdict of death has been carried out based on testimony extracted by torture, she is angry. Her wrath is terrible. She says that 'men on the rack will admit to anything'. And she was, and is, correct in this.

The reason that torture is so heinous is that it causes a person to lose their mental faculties. After having their flesh bruised, their nails torn, their throats raw with screaming, the pain begins to inflict their mind. The thought is that if you break a spirit low enough, you will get secrets and hidden desires, plots and intrigues. But in the end, you are only pushing a mind to its limit and then beyond. This doesn't uncover hidden motives as much as create hallucination and paranoia.

I'm reminded of being a new parent. Yes, the parallel is definitely implied.

As a young and bewildered parent, I thought I just needed to fall more in love with my child or read more parenting books or sign up for a Mommy and Me class. I just didn't understand why things were not going well. I felt crazed and dazed and completely unable to deal with the stress of choosing a brand of baby lotion.

One day I walked into my friend's office. I probably cried. I probably cried while trying to hide the fact that I was crying and feed the small mewling infant who never seemed to tire of harassing me. And she looked at me, my lovely friend, and said something that released the pressure valve of stress. I've repeated it to myself, other new parents, or anyone who is having trouble with the should-be effortless task of sleeping. Meggan said, 'You know, sleep deprivation is a form of torture for a reason.' And suddenly I wasn't thinking that I was just losing sleep, and that it was no big deal. I realized just how hard it is for your body, and more importantly your mind, to adequately function when you don't have rest.

We are told by psychologists to not make any major decisions when we fit under the following sad umbrellas: Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired (HALT). If we are tired, if we are lonely, we are apt to make decisions based on our not-firm hold on reality and our failing understanding of our own principles and moral codes. If I'm hungry and angry, I'm not going to be very nice to my kids when they cry. If I'm feeling lonely and then don't get sleep, I'm going to react to normal stimuli as if it is trying to hurt me. I won't be myself. I won't make decisions or use words that reflect the person I really am.

And now we are back at the issue of torture.

If I was being truly tortured, and not just by my children and spouse, but really actually having my hands hammered and curses spit into my ear, I would admit to anything. I might hold out for a few hours, or few days, depending on my strength and will. But everyone breaks at some point. This will happen even if you just wait until sleep has failed to caress a tired body, and the tired body can take no more. There is always a breaking point. I would admit to being the author of the Constitution. I would agree that yes indeed the ocean is filled with pink leprechauns that want to fill the world with acid rain and eat the souls of Yorkshire Terriers. And I would sign my name and wait for death. Because after real torture, the only rest you have is death.

I again admit willingly that I know little, to say nothing, of the terrors of keeping an entire group of people safe from the ravages of wolves and evil souls. I've never met a real dictator, and I don't know the look in a man's eye when he pulls the trigger on an innocent victim. Things must be done to stop those that cannot, or will not, stop themselves.
But I cannot comprehend how any trial can be held based on information pulled from the agonizing cracked lips of one who is being tortured.

In the heyday of torture chambers, the rack, the Inquisition, leaders acknowledged that torture wasn't really effective to a clear end. Pushing a man's body into a shoe box of metal will not necessarily tell you who sent him to do what to whom. You can make him agree to sign away his very life, but you cannot expect the truth.

Truth, to be upheld as a thing of beauty, cannot come from something so heinous.

Whatever is decided today in the trial for the man in Guantanamo Bay, I will be sad and disappointed to have stood behind a country that treats humans in this way. I don't know what else can be done, but I feel in the absence of an answer, there should be an absence of action.


Beth McDermott said...

very interesting food for thought.
i recently saw a news special that talked about young men admitting to crimes they didnt commit and even serving time in prison because of the law enforcement's interrigation methods (ie: bright lights, persistant badgering, food/sleep/liquid deprivation). maybe it was an oprah now that i think about it, PRACTICALLY the news haha. anyways. the very thought of torture makes my stomach lurch and my mouth water. im with ya, sistah.

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