Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Guantanamo Testimonials Project

At the UC Davis Center for the Study of Human Rights there is a superb project underway called the Guantanamo Testimonials Project. Active since 2005 the lawyers participating in this have been recording and assembling testimonies of individuals involved in the Guantanamo Bay Detention Facilities, from medics to prisoners to soldiers and others. Some of the testimonies are brief, others are long. They are frequently difficult reading if you care at all about human dignity.

One testimony was recently added by Specialist Brandon Neely, a former guard at the prison. In it he details instances of abuse and torture he participated in and observed. Importantly, I think, he is candid about the effect participation in torture has had on him and his family:

I came home in March of 2004 from a year tour in Iraq to a wife and three beautiful children I did not even know and who didn't even know the man I came home as. It was--and continues to be--a struggle every day of our lives. I went through many times of deep depression which turned into me turning to alcohol to comfort me. It was easier to do this than to deal with what I was feeling inside. I was destroying not only myself but my family as well. I woke up one morning and realized I needed to get my life back in order not just for myself, but my family as well. I left the Army in August of 2005 and was ready to start my new life; just leave the Army and all the good and bad times I had went through behind me. That is easier said than done. There has not been a day that goes by I have not re-lived what I did or saw in Guantanamo or Iraq. It does not get any easier; it just eats you up inside day by day. I have spoken out against the Iraq war and took a stand when I was recalled in 2007 and refused to go back and I decided that I needed to tell my story about Guantanamo as well. How can I as a father tell my children to tell the truth and stand up for what they believe in if I was not willing to do the same?

I often think of the detainees who have been released or continue to be caged there like animals. I don't think people realize these caged individuals' lives have been changed forever. The innocent people who were wrongfully held have lost so much. Some of them have lost family members, jobs, and money. And for what? No matter what happens in their future, they will not be able to get that lost time back that we took from them.
The effect of participation in torture often gets overlooked in our debates. Everyone focuses on the effect upon the victims - which all agree is egregious. The debate tends to focus on whether the cost to the victim is worth the supposed value gained from the intelligence and lives saved thereby. (I feel it important to stress that torture has consistently been shown to be counterproductive to intelligence gathering, but the debate continues nevertheless.) What gets missed in this equation is the incalculable harm done to the guards, medics, interrogators, and families of these individuals. Torture is a festering wound on the fabric of society. It dehumanizes everyone involved, the victim, the practitioner and the witnesses. We have not yet begun to reap the damage done to our nation by these practices.


Doug Hagler said...

This fits very firmly in the are I identifed as "Myth" - a deep part of how we, as a culture, make meaning is in the sense that torture is effective and appropriate in what we deem extreme circumstances. It is a myth reinforced by our entertianment (the show 24 comes to mind of course) and by the liars who tell us that torture keeps us safe. Somehow, deep down, a lot of us find meaning in the story: "When our enemies threaten us, and time is limited, there is no moral limit to what we can do to them to make ourselves feel safer." This myth functions despite demonstrations of the futility and counter-productivity of torture, despite what are our normal moral reservations about torture, despite our hypocritical rage in the event that American soldiers are tortured overseas when captured, despite the fact that we have signed treaties which specifically cite torture as something we must never do under any circumstances...

Anyway. I want to know where this myth comes from. What are its roots, so that I can join people in chopping them away and rejoicing as this disgusting engine of depravity collapses under its own weight? How is this myth fed? How do I feed it?

Nick.Larson said...

I agree. I really enjoyed your comment Aric on the individuals who preform the torture. I think you absolutely right, I have often forgotten what that must be like and the ongoing effects it must have on them and everyone in their lives as well.

I hear what your saying about the "myth" qualities of it, but honestly it's just a nightmare for all involved.