Some may criticize his actions as a publicity stunt, others may question his sanity. Still others may question the moral rightness of voluntarily undergoing what others experience as torture. Either way, actor and musician Yasiin Bey (formerly known as Mos Def) certainly made a bold move by teaming up with human rights group Reprieve to protest the use of force feeding at Guantanamo Bay.
In a video released by the organization as part of a larger campaign for human rights at Guantanamo Bay, the musician is seen strapped to a chair and fed using the nose-to-stomach procedure employed at the detention center. Warning: This video is somewhat disturbing and may be difficult to watch.
Over 100 Guantanamo Bay prisoners have been engaged in a hunger strike for much of this year, protesting the lack of respect shown toward them and their Qurans. Despite their legitimate concerns – especially considering that 86 of the 166 prisoners at Guantanamo have been cleared for release – the Obama administration condones force feeding as a measure against the strike.
These are men who, for the most part, had zero involvement in Al Qaeda and the 9/11 bombings, have spent the last 11 years in a detention facility where they have been subjected to torture, at worst, and extreme alienation, at best, and even after being cleared for release see no end in sight to their misery.
Their situation may be extraordinary, but their engagement in hunger strike as a form of rebellion is not unprecedented. Most famous among hunger strikes in unquestionably Mahatma Gandhi’s protest against the British rule of India. But a case that holds even greater relevance in regards to Guantanamo is that of British and American suffragettes in the early 20th century. Protesting their lack of rights and voting privileges, many women were imprisoned, and many of these brave souls engaged in hunger strike to draw further attention and sympathy to their cause. The nose-to-stomach force feeding that ensued drew criticism across the board, and it seems we are witnessing a similar concern for human rights today.
The comparison may not be entirely fair or accurate, granted. But if public opinion responded negatively to a method of prisoner treatment back in the 1910s, then we in 2013 clearly haven’t learned our lesson. A hunger strike is a dramatic way for prisoners to protest conditions at Guantanamo Bay – and they wouldn’t take such bold action for nothing.
What are your thoughts on this controversial issue? Let us know in the comments section below!
“Why does God allow children to suffer and die?” read the question.
To which I answered:
“Because God sees death as a beautiful transition, not a horrific disaster.”
And he responded: “Every torturer sees someone else’s torture and death as beautiful.”
And what did I say to that? I said this:
“What if death is actually quite beautiful, and the habitual terror of it blinds humans to that fact?”
You did, I am sure, notice that I did not speak to the suffering. Though maybe I should have … maybe I should have said that suffering is when we deny, refuse, and resist that which we are: nature, god, life, death…
“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars”
~ Kahlil Gibran
Tuesday, June 26, was the United Nations International Day In Support of Victims of Torture. I spent the days leading up to it reflecting on psychological torture, and particularly the impact of psychological torture on me. Although it is difficult to delve into, I want to share some of that experience. I hope it will increase global understanding of the devastating impact of psychological torture, the remarkable courage of those who face it, and the support people need on their journeys of recovery.
My 9 month journey since my precious brother, Josh Fattal, was released after 2 years and 2 months of being held hostage by the Iranian regime, has not been an easy one. I continue to struggle to recover the very full life I once led and to transform the heart shattering experience into something positive.
“[T]he term ‘torture’ means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person…by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.”
Josh, Shane and Sarah clearly experienced severe pain and suffering, carried out by Iranian public officials, for a specific purpose – to blackmail the American government. Their loved ones also experienced severe mental pain and suffering, initially from the Iranian regime not acknowledging that they had captured them for weeks, and then from more than two years of constant threats to their lives and safety in the context of extremely limited communication with them and limited information about their well-being and ultimate fate. The psychological torture intensified each time the Iranian regime made a promise and then reneged on it, including multiple trial dates they cancelled at the last minute. We felt like we were on an extreme roller-coaster ride, with highs and lows like none we had ever experienced. Though I fought as hard as I could to FREE Josh, Shane and Sarah, throughout, that seemingly never-ending traumatic journey had dire consequences for me.
In an article in The Lancet, Christy Fujio from Physicians for Human Rights, states “The Iranian Government wants to break peoples’ spirits, they want to set an example…The Iranian Government has deliberately fostered an intense climate of fear in order to oppress the population and quiet voices of dissent”. Agents of the Iranian regime have continued to harass and threaten me since Josh and Shane were freed on September 21, 2011.
On June 26, I started my day by forgetting my keys in my door because I was so stressed about a meeting with a mentor, to discuss how to complete my PhD thesis in the context of my healing psychological scars. I expected her to be supportive and helpful, but facing the fact that I had to take an extended leave from my almost complete PhD, while Josh was held hostage, is painful and difficult. It is especially challenging because I have to deal with the numerous consequences of that leave, while still recovering from 2 years and 2 months of psychological torture inflicted by the Iranian regime. It is also very difficult for me to trust that authority figures have my interests at heart, after Iranian authorities inflicted psychological torture on Josh, Shane, Sarah and their loved ones, including me.
Despite the challenges, the meeting went well and I feel a renewed determination to complete my PhD against all obstacles. I went directly to an official event to mark June 26, that was a perfect segue into my journey forward. ‘Journey of Hope’ was hosted by the Canadian Centre for Victims of Torture (CCVT), a Toronto-based centre within a global network of such centres, that offered me critical support and advice during Josh’s captivity in Iran. They not only understood and validated my experience, but demonstrated great wisdom in their advice to me; wisdom clearly gained from extensive experience with people in similar situations to mine.
One of the key elements in my journey of hope is calm. I seek calm spaces and calm communication. Communication that is not calm does not feel safe. It heightens my anxiety levels and pushes me to isolate myself for safety. I first noticed my heightened need for calm during Josh, Sarah and Shane’s captivity. I had a heightened sensitivity to noise, anger and unkindness. That was a significant part of the standard response I drafted for abusive comments on our Free the Hikers campaign Facebook page:
“Thanks to all for your comments. What we need now more than ever is your support in getting Sarah, Shane and Josh released. Peaceful communication is most supportive to us during this intensely challenging time, especially as it honors the values that Sarah, Shane and Josh hold so dear.”
This need was echoed in a comment from a child client that a CCVT counselor shared at the ‘Journey of Hope’ event: “You are kind because you don’t yell.”
My search for safe space has been a challenging one. During Josh’s captivity, I worked in an extremely psychologically unsafe environment that made dealing with the trauma far more difficult than it already was. It took me time to acknowledge and ask for the support I needed, because of course I was focused on Josh’s far more dire needs for safety. When I did ask for what I needed, my workplace did not acknowledge, let alone accept my multiple formal accommodation requests. Despite the intense global publicity about the case and my connection to it, they blatantly denied my experience, telling me “We don’t buy it.” They consistently put me in work spaces that re-traumatized me (tiny, dark spaces, with no view of a window, reminiscent of the prison cell that was constantly on my mind because Josh was trapped in it), until I had to take a leave from work due to complex trauma/PTSD.
For the year and a half since then, it has been extremely difficult to secure a calm and safe space for myself because Great-West Life, my employee health insurance company, has not paid me any of the long-term disability payments they owe me. They, like my former employer, treat me with mistrust despite the public nature of my battle and the extensive documentation from multiple health professionals I have provided them with. Shockingly, as journalist Jan Wong recently revealed in her memoir on workplace depression, such tactics are common practices among Canadian health insurance companies, particularly for avoiding disability payments for mental health issues.
Without the disability payments I am owed, I have been forced to move from temporary place to temporary place, while longing for the space I need. Though still experiencing extreme financial hardship, just last week I moved into my own space. When I found it, I knew it was the right space because I didn’t want to leave. When I moved in, one of my first thoughts was, “I can think clearly now.” I have the high ceilings, large windows and accessible outdoor space that I longed for. I don’t feel imprisoned, as I did in the workspace I was forced into for so long. Watching and listening to the breeze blow through the trees my place overlooks takes me to the tropical Kenyan coast of my childhood. It fills me with a sense that I am going to be all right.
As Johnny Nash sings:
“I can see clearly now, the rain is gone,
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind
It’s gonna be a bright, bright
Sam Harris, the author of the book "The end of faith" bring up a quite difficult and very important question. -Can torture under special circumstances be ethicly justified? I believe the answer to that is no and I’ll try and explain why shortly. Please note that I do not hold this position because its the easy way out, I will try and make sound arguments for it.
Before I begin I want to make it very clear that Mr Harris is not a supporter of torture, he believes it should be illegal by law, but that this law under very special circumstances should be allowed to be dodged. Let me quote him:
"Some readers have mistakenly concluded that I take a cavalier attitude toward the practice of torture. I do not. Nevertheless, there are extreme circumstances in which I believe that practices like “water-boarding” may not only be ethically justifiable, but ethically necessary. This is not the same as saying that they should be legal (e.g. crimes like trespassing or theft may sometimes be ethically necessary, while remaining illegal)."
"many readers have found my views deeply unsettling. (For what it’s worth, I do too. It would be much easier to simply be “against torture” across the board and end the discussion)"
I think that the reason why Sam, myself and hopefully all human beings find acceptance of torture intuitively disturbing is because it is counter-intuitive in respect to our survival instincts. I believe that ethics and the notion that "treating others the way you want them to treat you" is a meaningfull aproach which has been given to us by evolution in order for us to function as a social specie. As we know from science, a species chance of surviving increase dramaticly if its individuals are able to work together as a team and from this I believe we evolved feelings, like for instance love and compassion, as a means for communication. Others believe that ethics and morals are given to us by a certain God, but how we got morals and why we experiene them is not cruicial to the point I am going to make here. The important thing is that torture feels intuitively and generally wrong to most of us regardless of why we think so.
While I believe that torture might under some rare circumstances lead to the savings of innocent lives I do at the same time believe that any acceptance of torture would be to work against the big picture and actually result in far more deaths and evil acts in the long run. Evolution seems to be working towards an ideal, if it ever get there is a different question, but never the less it is constantly improving its products by making them better and better at surviving. Evolution seems to have given us the notion that torture is wrong and I do not see why we should not trust our instincts on this. (Theism would usually explain this quite similarily, evolution and instincts would just be switched with a moral compass.)
For if we let ourselves fall to the temptation of practicing torture I believe we are working against our ethical evolution. Without evolving our ethics further it will be impossible to fullfill the full potential of communication. Afterall, communication and the understanding of our neighbour is the fundament for all social interaction. I believe that all evil that has ever been committed are the results of inadequate understanding and in some rare cases the results of birth defects. Now, it is important to distinguish between evil and evil acts. I do not believe in evil people, I do only believe in evil acts. If a person is born evil then that is a result of a genetic defect which we then have to deal with through the art of medicine. Either way I think it will be impossible to distinguish birth defects from true personal ethics if we do not first understand communication the best we can, and this can in my opinion only be done by following our ethical instincts as there seem to be no definite truths on this matter.
This makes me believe that torture should never under any circumstances be allowed, not even if a nuclear bomb threatened to destroy the whole of humanity. We are a race of inventors, inventing new and better ways of doing things is part of what makes us human. If we are not able to come up with acceptable alternatives to torture then I believe we have failed as a human race and may just as well become instinct like the vast number of species before us. My position against torture might sound too idealistic and that might be so, I’ll rather be labeled as an idealist than lose my faith in the fundamental good that I believe fuels our humanity further, ever reaching for the true ideal.
So, what do you think? Please let me know your thoughts on my thoughts and your thoughts on the matter in general.
When I watched the YouTube clip of President Obama with Chancellor Merkel and Holocaust survivor Eli Weisel placing individual roses at the memorial at Buchenwald death camp, I was deeply moved. I felt both sadness at the horrors we as a species are capable of, and encouraged by what we as a species are capable of acknowledging about ourselves, however painful. To evolve into intelligent, caring beings we have to be able to soberly tell the truth about our most base instincts. Until we are able to look into our own lives, our own personal hatreds and our own desires for others to suffer, we will live superficial lives of blame and justification.
Torture is not new. Every age has had its version of Inquisition, genocide, death marches and death camps. As Americans we have to face our own complicity in the government-sanctioned torture of our time.
There is no torture without some fabrication of justification for that torture. Our minds are capable of generating whatever narrative is needed so that we can cause hurt and still feel all right. It is an agonizing moment as we realize that our leaders have used the justification of protecting us to perpetuate barbaric behavior.
So what is at the root of this ancient and present capacity to cause profound suffering in others? What do we have to say to ourselves so that we can live with ourselves after inflicting such pain? How is our conscience co-opted in this horrific way? How do we pass on this capability to hurt mercilessly, generation after generation even as we condemn it in others?
The question is deep and the answers complex, but we can begin answering it by examining our own individual thoughts. What are the thoughts that support and encourage suffering and pain as methods of punishment or tools for protection and control?
I was raised in the 1950s, when spanking children and beating dogs was usual.
Sometimes praise and often humiliation were used to teach. In the name of learning, dirty looks from parents and teachers were normal experiences. Feeling bad about myself was an impetus to improvement. In the generations before mine, punishment was even tougher.
And is that all in the past? Now most caring American families realize that love and support are best for fostering learning in their children, and when women and children are battered, our society no longer condones it. But what aspects of allowing gross mistreatment remain inside us? And how does the way we treat ourselves affect our willingness to mistreat others?
We can use this moment in history to inquire deeply into these fundamental issues.
We can begin by recognizing the voices of punishment and retribution within our own internal narrative. We can see how in "obeying" the internal voice that uses hate and belittling, we imprison ourselves (and consequently others) even though our internal justification may come from the lofty intention of betterment or even enlightenment.
Hitler claimed that he was bringing in the new age by "purifying" the German race. How do we justify our internal abuse? Purification? Becoming a better person? What aspects of our personality do we condemn to banishment?
If we are willing to look deeply inside, without banishing any aspect of ourselves, we find the capacity to face the horror of our own inclination to inflict pain. If we refuse neither to gloss over the most base of our instincts nor to hate and demonize ourselves for having those instincts, we can actually come face to face with the worst in ourselves. Without torturing, without punishing, without hating, we can open our hearts to the worst. When the worst of ourselves is brought into our hearts with love, the worst can be seen with clarity and compassion.
Corrections of individual destructive habits don’t come more quickly with destructive, hateful internal behavior. Corrections occur naturally from seeing clearly and responding with reason and understanding.
The horrors of the past can serve. We can stop just speaking to the perpetrators when atrocities are uncovered, and realize that we are speaking to us all, individually and collectively. And in speaking to us all, how do we speak? With at least respect and maybe even love, or with belittlement and hatred?
When you find fault in your behavior or thought, how do you speak to yourself? That is where we each can begin, and perhaps it is the biggest step.
Gangaji will be holding meetings and retreats this summer in Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Berlin, Baden-Baden, London, Dublin, and Dorset Read more about Gangaji’s events and catalog of books and videos online.
A recent CNN article about Christians supporting torture (“Torture prompts Soul-searching among some Christians”) gives a pretty bleak outlook on what is supposed to be our national moral base. Apparently “62 percent of white evangelical Protestants say that the use of torture against suspected terrorists can be often or sometimes justified in order to gain important information.”Now I know what you’re thinking, “It’s only what Jesus would do!”
This support of torture strikes me as an expression of a spiritually immature society using any tool they have (in this case Christianity) to justify what their own level of consciousness feels is right. It is not right. It is not human. It is not moral. It’s like saying “I never lie, unless I get really scared to tell the truth.”
A nation that can’t live its principles has no principles. And, it makes us no different than those “evildoers” we’re so scared about. On the other hand, a nation that can live its principles has the respect of the international community and world leaders.
Isn’t it harder to get attacked when everyone respects you? And ,if someone does attack, won’t it be easier to get support from the world community?
The war of words between President Obama and Dick Cheney has exposed a rancorous divide over national security. Mr. Cheney states flatly that there is no middle ground on the issue. There is no such thing as being half-safe, he declares. On the face of it, his statement is nonsensical. Unless he has a way of screening the thoughts and intentions of every potential enemy in the world, we will always be half safe. But is that the real issue? Aren’t we talking about our right not to be afraid as much as our right to defend ourselves? Better be safe than sorry is common sense. Better be afraid all the time is toxic politics at its worst. When the Senate voted overwhelmingly to deny funds for closing Guantanamo, they acted out of toxic motives. President Obama accused them of being irrational, and he was absolutely right.
The issue of national security was a Republican gold mine for eight years, during which time not enough objection was raised over waterboarding, domestic surveillance, and holding detainees indefinitely without bringing them to trial. The tide turned with the new President, but the underlying dilemma remains with us.
Can we be secure without resorting to fear?
The Bush administration profited from fear to a huge extent; therefore, they couldn’t resist the temptation to wield it. As if the 9/11 attacks were not terrifying enough, they created bogeymen with no justification. The primary one was Saddam Hussein, who posed no threat to the U.S., had no weapons of mass destruction, and made no alliance with Al-Qaeda. But the detainees being held without trial at Guantanamo were also a bogeyman. We still have no idea who among them was or is a danger to this country, but in a massive refusal to be fair, adult, and rational, we allowed all of them to be lumped together and treated as imminent threats.
Cheney’s round defense of torture is morally bankrupt, but the right wing knows — as it knew in the McCarthy era — that scapegoating an unpopular minority works. Fifty years ago it was Communists; now it is Muslims of any stripe, including the most harmless. We have been detaining harmless Muslims at Guantanamo for years without due process; we have also been imprisoning dangerous Muslims and others who fall between the extremes. The only way to sort them out is with fair trials, adequate evidence, and rational consideration of potential threats.
Or you can just play the fear card.
In his ongoing efforts to treat the American public as they have rarely been treated — that is, as adults — Obama pointed out several rational things:
– Our supermax prisons are safe. No one has ever escaped from them.
– America stands for constitutional principles.
– No one’s fate should be decided by one man, even if he is President.
– The issue of releasing potential terrorists is difficult and troubling.
Notice the one thing he left out: fear. That’s the difference between him and Cheney. If he didn’t play the fear card over and over, Cheney’s vision of national security would fall apart, just as McCarthy’s argument about Communists infiltrating the federal government fell apart when he couldn’t find any. The show of smoke, mirrors, and fear collapsed. In a decent moral scheme, Obama would have pointed out the cruel injustice of holding anyone in prison without charges or the chance to defend themselves. How would any of us like to be in such a position, knowing that we were innocent? It doesn’t matter if the accused happens to look like a bogeyman. He’s a human being and should be treated like one.
Anyone else both pro and con on the ongoing torture prosecution debate? Maybe I’m just tormented by my own Libran capabilities, but I can see both sides, can’t you?
The facts seem pretty clear to me.
The United States tortured political prisoners.
The United States doesn’t do this sort of thing.
The United States has to do something about the torture that was done in its name.
There are those who think the actual perpetrators ought to be prosecuted.
There are those who think that those ordering the perpetrators ought to be prosecuted.
There are those who think we are doomed to repeat the past if we do not prosecute.
Authorities both within the United States and outside the United States have proven that torture doesn’t work.
The Obama Administration is falling every once in a while on one or the other side of the fence.
On the one hand, they want to put the past behind them.
On the other hand, there are squeaky wheels calling for action.
What’s a citizen to do?
I think the real problem isn’t whether to prosecute or not, or whom to prosecute or not. The real problem is that we, the American people, are suffering from our own collective psyche being tortured by torture.
All people carry what the psychologists call an idealized self-image within. So do collectives. Our collective idealized self-image says that our country doesn’t torture people, but we did, and we do and we have, so there’s a major cognitive dissonance happening here in America, a collective scarecrow indicating a double message that’s causing our psychic static. It says, torture went thataway, and it’s left us doing doubletakes.
Often when I tussle with the social realities of our time, I repair to the Oxford English Dictionary, the very best source for etymology in English. The word torture comes from Latin roots that mean twisting as in torque, and herein I see a glimmer of a solution to our prosecution dilemma.
What we are all trying to do is take a twisted history and square it with our idealized self-image as a country. And we’re failing at it. Deplorably.
Torture is twisted behavior. The idea that hurting someone should, would, or could produce the truth from them is absurd. But no matter, we did it. Or, more properly, persons representing we the people ordered torture and others who were ordered so to do carried it out.
No matter what shape we attempt to twist our collective consciousness into, torture is wrong. It denies that all beings are sacred beings. However, we also share a collective belief that those who do not understand history are doomed to repeat it.
Here’s the net/net: let we the people call for an historical task force to both investigate and publish exactly what happened, to whom and when via what mechanisms. Then let’s learn from our mistakes and declare a national day of mourning our bad behavior. Let’s forgive ourselves, forgive the victims, forgive the perpetrators, and get out of the torture business once and for all.
It seems clear that the question of torture won’t go away. It would be easier to talk about moving ahead. Images of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo belong in nightmares. As a physician, my personal nightmare is of the doctors who stood by during torture sessions to monitor the victim’s vital signs. This was supposed to be humane, but what about the Hippocratic oath, which says that a doctor shall do no harm? Is making sure that waterboarding doesn’t cause a heart attack doing no harm? The whole rationale is grotesque.
This is one of those moments when painful truth is the only way to heal.
People don’t want to hear about bad things from the past when the present is loaded down with more than enough bad things. But inconvenience and fatigue aren’t good excuses. There is anger from the left — and not just the left — about an inexcusable Bush policy. There are demons in the closet, and shutting the door on them won’t make them go away. Better to deal with it now, when a new president’s idealism is still fresh. It will take idealism to face the torture issue. Otherwise, any truth commission will either turn into a vengeance squad or go the other way and sweep too much under the rug.
The more the right wing tries to justify the torture policy, the worse they look. Using national security to justify torture is just a bald-faced attempt to hide the truth. What really went on was simple. The Bush administration felt that Al-Qaida could not be defeated while still preserving what America stands for.
Now we have a President — and the world has a leader — who believes the opposite. Obama has stated that the terrorists can be defeated using methods that don’t betray the core values of our country. I think he’s right. He has to be. A country that resorts to torture has lost the battle to begin with. Not only was torture not effective (it yielded little that regular interrogation couldn’t achieve) but even if it was effective, the damage done to America’s standing in the world was far greater. What torture mainly does is provide a huge boost in recruitment for Al-Qaeda.
If the truth sets you free, then let’s have a truth commission as a first step. Lay everything out, however painful. The aim should not be punishment but detoxification. The toxic residue of Bush-era policies hasn’t been cleansed; healing hasn’t replaced bitter resentment. Not only should the right wing and the war-makers tell the truth, but so should those politicians, including Democrats, who passively went along with what their conscience told them was dead wrong.
Then let’s see where the truth leads us. There is no pro-torture side on this issue. "America does not torture" was the slogan of the Bush administration as well as the current administration. Now we need to expose how honest and sincere those words are. The road away from torture is the road back to America. Can we all agree on that?
Against, ostensibly, the tide of scriptural wisdom of the day – a frail but Saintly Jesus proclaimed:
Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also." (Matthew 5:38-39)
and as if not satisfied… reiterated:
Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you. (Matthew 5:38-44)
Churches, we are told, preach the gospel of this Saintly soul.
Well, if a recent study by Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, is any indicator.. then the propensity to back up torture amongst regular Church-goers is significantly higher than those who seldom or never go to any services.
54% of those who attend a church said the use of torture against suspected terrorists is "often" or "sometimes" justified.
However, 42% of those who "seldom or never" go to services agreed to that option. Ok, here is the rub – the more one swears by Jesus Christ and wears this religious affiliation on his/her sleeve.. the more one is in favor of torture!
White evangelical Protestants – 60% supported torture
People unaffiliated with any religious organization – 40% supported torture