I wrote to my aunt, A few weeks ago, about wanting to study narrative-based conflict resolution and eventually move into higher education. My workshop experiences in South East Asia precipitated that but for a long time, since, the constant state of churning in my life has slowed my plans. My writing stays under its own partial paralysis, especially since the impetus to journal went flaccid around the time Gaza came under fire. I started a piece about almost falling in love with a lady seminarian, in which I learn she has a boyfriend and then discover (irony!) that what I truly need is a friend as genuine as him. Despite my best intentions to develop that storyline, both on paper and in real life, I have not seen much of that couple nor felt motivated to pull-together my numerous sketches about ‘a drama-deferred’. A friend suggested I try “OK Cupid” (a free-for-all dating-site).
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I am going to break my silence, today, with piece of pretend professionalism. I want to ponder the Guantanamo Bay Detention Center through several narrative lenses to highlight how truth and bias are woven tightly together, inseparable. This time, I want my readers to think critically rather than listen to me; leave a comment, please.
This past Friday, The Methodist Federation for Social Action allowed me to attend a briefing initiated by congressman Moran, whose explicit goal was to raise public support to close the facility.
The first storyline was merely implied at the briefing, since it was the basis for the basis for the infamous facility. This story was a prophesy born from a tragedy: round-up the bad-guys and live happily ever after. The ugliness of the September Eleventh assault jarred the population of the United States and opened a jagged crack in our complacency that allowed our insecurities to pool and flow together. The values and safety of the United States were at stake and every action taken by the military was deliberately imbued with a collective pride and grit sampled from Westerns, themselves revisionist works wrought in post-World-War societies. I listened to a 1940s radio presentation of “Gun Smoke” where Marshal Dillon guns down four men without warning. When a bandit protests, “what kind of Marshal guns down four men without showing a badge?” Dillon replies, “my kind!”
Listeners learn that the whole gang was actually guilty of murder-rape. The American hero never apologizes for his brazen disregard of due-process and the narrator injects something about ‘justice being served’. After 9/11, ‘Enhanced Interrogation’ (read: torture) was authorized with the confidence that the ‘terrorists’ should be brought to justice as fast as could be imagined. Like “GunSmoke” fans, third-party nations were expected to simply nod when we ‘shot first’ – and then buy products from our sponsors…?
We can guess how unquestioned force becomes grounded in narratives about shared history, like this one. Whatever its origins, this prototype gets ‘tapped’ for political or corporate agendas. Cultural understandings develop on a ‘rolling’ basis, with distortions being kept or discarded constantly. Then, we stare in disbelief as archeologists and historians unearth evidence that the “accounts” (really legends) which inspired us were not with us from our origins but evolved during medial times in our development. ‘The ancients’ are hijacked to serve current interests or passed through paradigmatic sieves as ideas moved across boundaries. In essence, its part of humanity examining and defining itself. I will never condemn a story-making process but peace-making hangs upon our ability to respond from principles of honor rather than feelings of fear. Militants cannot become terrorists unless they can damage the collective courage of communities…
The National Religious Campaign Against Torture, The Constitution Project, Code Pink, and other allies joined together at the briefing on Friday. Our narrative is characterized by an emphasis on violence’s contaminating effects. We talk about the sanctity of human life first and, in the next breath, about the causes of anti-US sentiment. In our account, people do not despise the US out of jealousy or endemic backwardness but, really, because of United States’ interference and violence in their homelands. The use of torture only confirms, to us, that the US has lost its moral bearings and become thirsty for an unattainable, absolute power. We see a public submerged in US-centric mythology, not yet equipped to glean the validity of complaints against us and or understand vicious attacks as consequential to US military action. We created our own itch, then scratched it until it was a bleeding rash. This time, I will not break into a sermon: that is the story I tell, wearing the hat of a peace-activist. Torture is not worth even the most valuable information, yet a forthcoming report may reveal that little valuable intelligence was ever produced…
The dark joke, naturally, is that conventional interrogation practices have limits because torture can compromise the integrity of information. Like 18th Century doctors healing patients by bleeding them, torture shows an inadequate understanding of how compliance gaining is achieved. Additionally, the techniques may have contributed to the legal team’s inability to gather evidence fit for a judicial process. The mental health of those who use torture techniques is also damaged, furthermore. ‘Gitmo’ is not all about “right” and “reputation”. Citizen support of the facility is based on erroneous assumptions about the character of the inmates, why they were arrested, and the cruel procedures that stained the US’s global legacy. It’s about “rhetoric”.
The panelists outlined a story of miscalculations and politics in the maelstrom surrounding the Guantanamo Bay facility. I wish I could go into every detail. Some convicted inmates have already served modest sentences while remaining prisoners, cleared for transfer, stay indefinitely under abysmal conditions. A retired colonial hinted that some men had been turned in for bounty by their political enemies in Pakistan – that the US was made into a tool of revenge for corrupt officials. We learned that the Red Cross had complained about the facility’s conditions to officials at all levels of the chain of command without receiving adequate response from this or the previous administration – yet the public knew that the Red Cross had investigated and assumed any issues they raised were being addressed…
Someone posed a question about reparations and we learned that the cost to incarcerate the men, innocent or not, dwarfs the expenses owed to families. To encapsulate this account: it was a tapestry of embarrassing contradictions on the part of our military and government. Yet, the congressman, the Brigadier General, the retired Colonial, and others maintained the strength of their historical narrative rather than abandoning it. They said that such torture was unprecedented in US history and therefore contrary to “our nation’s character”, which seems plausible to me. The panelists mobilized the US cultural narrative not to justify doing whatever we pleased but rather to resist our feelings and return to the values that were cited as being at risk in the first place.
Former attorney general Alberto Gonzalez, however, said on-air that procedures at Guantanamo were consistent with our collective character, that everything was entirely legal. A more radical friend eager to highlight the treatment of indigenous peoples in the preceding centuries as examples of mistreatment and torture. That raised the crucial question: is it better to accept that we torture and justify that, to accept that we tortured in the past and resolve to do better (just as we know this nation supported slavery but relinquished that practice), or to bolster the narrative of a righteous nation that would never torture and never will again?
The most intriguing narrative is one I do not know as well; Al-Qaeda’s account of the past dozen years. I wrote a short, fictional monologue but I’m interested to hear what readers think that Al-Qaeda has to say about the Guantanamo Bay facility, since we know that the prison is part of their recruiting regimen. Since Guantanamo Bay procedures have focused so particularly on making Muslim men suffer then I imagine that Al-Qaeda’s righteous rhetoric is greatly enriched, as it is by drone strikes and other examples of US-based violence. One group’s soldier is another group’s invader and terrorist.
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Conditions in the Hobbit Hole are not improving. The internet connection has gone
beyond being weak and unreliable to being flatly unresponsive. The timing could not be much worse because I actually did get my tentacles into that free-for-all dating site; I got a reply but now I can’t make arrangements with her. Meanwhile, the process of completing the profile butted me against some identity issues and how I
want to tell my own story. Being a missionary on a dating site is actually not a common or easy position. The form I completed at the beginning of the process
wanted me to identify my religion and how serious I was about it. I decided to say “Christian and somewhat serious about it,” since I would not mind meeting the right kind of Christian lady but, really, because I cannot hide my vocation permanently. The more I think about it, however, the more distressing it becomes that the way I practice my faith has such tenuous relationships to that label “Christian” – as, indeed, does most of what Jesus taught since it has been explicated upon, partially obscured, and passed through so many cultural and linguistic sieves. I should have picked “Christian and laughing about it” …