Archive for the ‘Torture’ Category

This will seem like a victory only to those who are not disturbed the fact that these confessions originate from a military tribunal, under conditions we can only assume include torture, in the legal netherworld of Guantanamo. Or for those who are not disturbed that the President believes he has the right to imprison in solitary confinement and torture any of his subjects (for that is what we are today) at his will and without evidence, as in the case of Jose Padilla.

A much greater victory than the “confession” of one man would be the observance of due process. This is about the difference between principles and individuals, and the fact that the destruction of our particular enemies is not worth the abdication of those principles. E.g., very simply:

His attempt to call two witnesses was denied.

And the bizarreness of the planner of 9/11 feeling the need to make these kinds of admonishments, as if to say “I thought I was heartless ….”

While not contesting his own guilt, Mr. Mohammed asked the United States government to “be fair with people.” He said that many people who had been arrested as terrorists in the wake of 9/11 were innocent.

Or the strangest tof all:

He added, “The language of war is victims.”


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The Persecution of Competence

It’s one thing to get rid of people because you want political syncophants, but sometimes one gets the feeling that Bush and Friends simply dislike competence:

Internal Justice Department performance reports for six of the eight United States attorneys who have been dismissed in recent months rated them “well regarded,” “capable” or “very competent,” a review of the evaluations shows.

For Republicans, it is a matter of putting loyalty above truth: or the truth is seen merly as a matter of loyalty to a certain creed, to friends, to country. The world is composed only of friends and enemies, the pseudo-Straussians like to intimate. And whether Iraq is relevant to terrorism isn’t the point: it’s the thought that counts. All the better to have the members of your tribe consecrate their blood loyalty by embracing falsehoods and outlandish notions; by being made complicity in crimes; by celebrating everything as its opposite (Iraq is a great success, says Cheney, or the provisions that gut environmental regulations constitute a “clean air act”). Every spectacular abomination inflames the bonfire of power. And in the minds of people like Cheney and Bush this just is good old American success: to fashion by force of will any reality they out of facts on the ground (this is one of the purposes of torture); but above all to show that loyalty, not competence, is the foundation of power, and that no one ever got anywhere by succeeding — it’s breeding and connections, what you are and who you know. That is real power — unconditioned by the baseness of work or reflection, unweakened by nuance.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the confidential nature of personnel information, said, “The reviews don’t take into account whether the U.S. attorneys carried out departmental priorities.”

To put it another way: the reviews didn’t take into account whether these personnel were the kind of fuck-ups the Bush administration could really count on.

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Pan’s Labyrinth on the Art of Torture


In Bomber Harris’ description of the effect of aerial power on Kurds, and Barry Lando’s comparison to Guernica, I am reminded of the recent film by Guillermo Del Toro which has its setting in Franco’s Spain.

Pan’s Labyrinth is about torture, broadly conceived: there is the literal torture of a rebel by a sadistic Captain in Franco’s army. But torture is also a legitimate part of a child’s fairy-tale imagination in its connection to the natural world: mythological creatures are like hybrids of what is human and what is alien to humanity: a praying mantas becomes a faerie, a goat a faun. These creatures are what nature looks like when it is appropriated as a possible key to ourselves.

As Hume points out, these sort of metamorphoses are just what the imagination is about:

The mind has the command over all its ideas, and can separate, unite, mix, and vary them, as it pleases

And here we see hints of the sinister possibilities for the imagination: unlike the senses, it is not resisted (or rebelled against) by the world; it has absolute power to cut apart and reassemble its subjects. In Pan’s Labyrinth Captain Vidal punches in the face of one victim with a wine bottle; and severely deforms the face of a captured rebel, whose hand he also lacerates until it looks more like a tree than a hand. The Captain has command over all the body parts of his victims, and can vary them as he pleases.

And in fact, there is a certain resemblance between the rebel torture victim and the Faun that gives the film its name. This grizzled creature looks to be an ent-like cross between a Faun and a tree; his body is gnarled, tortured in that way that trees become. And here we have crossed from the imagination back to the unwieldy-ness of vegetative form: there is not necessarily a symmetry to trees, whose shapes nature bends and varies as it pleases.

The point is that in nature, and in the creatures of imagination that connect us intimately to nature, the distorted forms of the victims of war and torture and other human maladies are evoked more or less vividly. These evocations are important to telling the story of our place in nature, and inevitable return to it; but also imporant is the palpable unnaturalness (and “evil”) that ensues when human minds are put to deforming human bodies (as opposed to elements of the imagination or objects of art).

Hence the Grimm-ness of fairy tales and the aptness of Picasso’s surrealism to the portrayal of the war in Guernica. He separates, unites, mixes, and varies his shapes as he pleases.

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