• Petting My Cat; Preparing for Prison
  • Baghdad Burning
    May 3, 2006

    Petting My Cat; Preparing for Prison
    By Robin Lloyd

    Robin Lloyd is arrested for nonviolent protest at the "School forAssassins" at Ft. Benning, Georgia.
    Robin Lloyd was among those arrested during nonviolent protests against the School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Georgia. Lloyd wrote this note to friends shortly after she was ordered to "self-report'" to prison on April 11.

    Prison, I'm imagining, is the exact opposite of my cat. It is cold; she is warm. Prison is made up of metal with hard edges; my cat is composed of curves and silky hair. Then there is her purr.

    I ask Google “Why do cats purr?” and get this answer: “Cats purr during both inhalation and exhalation with a consistent pattern and frequency between 25 and 150 hertz. Various investigators have shown that sound frequencies in this range can improve bone density and promote healing.”

    There is no more safe or comfortable feeling than resting with my cat purring in the nook of my arm. I think I’ll make a CD of her sound track to play while I’m trying to sleep in prison. Better yet, I’ll give it to the warden for him to play over the loud speaker to the whole cellblock. I’m sure this would lower stress.

    My cat is sitting on my lap as I read A Question of Torture by Alfred McCoy.
    The last few weeks, I’ve been on a speaking tour talking about the history of the School of the Americas – the institution in Columbus, Georgia where "torture manuals" were revealed as part of the curriculum in 1996, and whose continued existence has caused me and 31 other civil disobedience protestors to face incarceration. We are now "prisoners of conscience," but prisoners, just the same.

    Talking and reading about torture as a force underpinning American foreign policy -- the Abu Grhaib photos and continual headlines about the US concentration camp at the Guantanamo base in Cuba -- has flung open the doors to the dungeon for the American public. We look in and see the vast black hole of our hypocrisy and cruelty.

    I hold my cat as I make the descent.

    What is torture? The Abu Grhaib photos, despite the humiliation and grotesqueness they portray, don’t correspond to our archetypal images of torture -- bodies bloodied and bruised, broken on a rack, fingernails wrenched out....

    McCoy’s book, subtitled CIA Interrogation: From the Cold War to the War on Terror, explains the new "no touch torture." What he reveals is decades-long research by the CIA into a range of interrogation techniques based on sensory deprivation and psychological torture.

    McCoy traces how these methods were field-tested by CIA agents in Vietnam as part of the Phoenix program. They were then imported to Latin America and Asia under the guise of "police-training programs."

    In an article in The Nation magazine, journalist Naomi Klein corroborates his analysis by asserting that The School of the Americas is where the roots of the current torture scandals can be found -- and where this new form of torture was refined.

    “According to declassified training manuals," she writes, "SOA students – military and police officers from across the hemisphere – were instructed in many of the same "coercive interrogation” techniques that have since migrated to Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib: early morning capture to maximize shock, immediate hooding and blindfolding, forced nudity, sensory deprivation, sensory overload, sleep and food ‘manipulation,’ humiliation, extreme temperatures, isolation, stress positions – and worse."

    Because these mistreatments don't leave scars or bruises, some in the US mainstream media have been calling them frat house pranks, or '"Torture-Lite." But these techniques are no less traumatic to their victims than physical beating.

    Take the technique of audio-overstimulation. In many prisons in the US' global gulag, American music such as Metalica's "Enter Sandman" have been played at mind-numbing volume -- sometimes for stretches of up to 14 hours -- creating a "disco inferno," reports Moustafa Bayoumi, who also has an article in The Nation's Torture issue (December 26, 2005).

    Robin Lloyd at home
    "This 'Torture-Lite' "can cause extreme psychological trauma. It's designed to deprive the victim of sleep and to cause massive sensory over-stimulation, and it has been shown in different situations to be psychologically unbearable," he writes.

    Bayoumi quotes another journalist who searched for and found Haj Ali, the "man in the hood'" from the macabre Abu Ghraib photos. Haj Ali told of being hooded, stripped, handcuffed to his cell and bombarded with a looped sample of David Gray's "Babylon." It was so loud, he said, "I thought my head would burst."

    The journalist then cued up "Babylon" on his iPod and played it for Haj Ali to confirm the song. Ali ripped the earphones off his head and started crying. "He didn't just well up with tears," the journalist reported. "He broke down sobbing."
    Why is the Bush administration doing this? And how can Bush stonewall the rising clamor and continue to grant impunity (exemption from punishment and accountability) to his highest lieutenants, and architects of his torture empire? This widespread and institutionalized use of torture produces broken and angry victims, and perpetuators -- our sons and daughters, brothers and sisters -- who face their own kind of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome when they return home.

    As more and more Americans read about the terrible human rights violations emanating from Guantanamo and hidden prison cells around the world, we are bound, in increasing numbers, to turn on this administration in dismay and horror.

    I will be keeping up with things via earphones and a battery-operated radio that we are allowed to buy at the prison commissary. I hope, when I get out in July, to join a full-voiced movement of protest against impunity at the highest levels of our government.

    My cat will be taken care of by a house sitter. I hope she'll be around to welcome me back. She's the cat-equivalent of 90 years old!

    Robin Lloyd is a co-founder of the Peace and Justice Coalition, president of Toward Freedom (a magazine and Web site) and she serves on the board of the Center for Constitutional Rights. Lloyd is currently is serving a three-month prison sentence. She may be reached at: Robin Lloyd #92572-020, FCI Danbury, Federal Correctional Institution, Route 37, Danbury, CT 06811. This essay originally appeared in Peace and Justice News in Burlington, VT.

    Three Years...
    Baghdad Burning --
    let's talk war, politics and occupation

    By Riverbend / Girl Blog from Iraq (http://riverbendblog.blogspot.com)

    "I'll meet you 'round the bend my friend, where hearts can heal and souls can mend…"

    (March 18, 2006) -- It has been three years since the beginning of the war that marked the end of Iraq's independence. Three years of occupation and bloodshed.

    Spring should be about renewal and rebirth. For Iraqis, spring has been about reliving painful memories and preparing for future disasters. In many ways, this year is like 2003 prior to the war when we were stocking up on fuel, water, food and first aid supplies and medications. We're doing it again this year but now we don't discuss what we're stocking up for. Bombs and B-52's are so much easier to face than other possibilities.

    I don't think anyone imagined three years ago that things could be quite this bad today. The last few weeks have been ridden with tension. I'm so tired of it all- we're all tired.

    Three years and the electricity is worse than ever. The security situation has gone from bad to worse. The country feels like it's on the brink of chaos once more- but a pre-planned, pre-fabricated chaos being led by religious militias and zealots.

    School, college and work have been on again, off again affairs. It seems for every two days of work/school, there are five days of sitting at home waiting for the situation to improve. We were told the children should try going back to school next Wednesday. I say "try" because prior to the much-awaited parliamentary meeting a couple of days ago, schools were out. After the Samarra mosque bombing, schools were out. The children have been at home this year more than they've been in school.

    I'm worried we'll see more of what happened to the Askari mosque in Samarra. Most Iraqis seem to agree that the whole thing was set up by those who had most to gain by driving Iraqis apart.

    Why This Year Is So Much Worse
    I'm sitting here trying to think what makes this year, 2006, so much worse than 2005 or 2004. It's not the outward differences -- things such as electricity, water, dilapidated buildings, broken streets and ugly concrete security walls. Those things are disturbing, but they are fixable. Iraqis have proved again and again that countries can be rebuilt. No- it's not the obvious that fills us with foreboding.

    The real fear is the mentality of so many people lately- the rift that seems to have worked it's way through the very heart of the country, dividing people. It's disheartening to talk to acquaintances-- sophisticated, civilized people -- and hear how Sunnis are like this, and Shia are like that... To watch people pick up their things to move to "Sunni neighborhoods" or "Shia neighborhoods." How did this happen?

    I read constantly analyses (mostly written by foreigners or Iraqis who've been abroad for decades) talking about how there was always a divide between Sunnis and Shia in Iraq (which, ironically, only becomes apparent when you're not actually living amongst Iraqis they claim)... but how under a dictator, nobody saw it or nobody wanted to see it.

    That is simply not true -- if there was a divide, it was between the fanatics on both ends. The extreme Shia and extreme Sunnis. Most people simply didn't go around making friends or socializing with neighbors based on their sect. People didn't care -- you could ask that question, but everyone would look at you like you were silly and rude.

    I remember as a child, during a visit, I was playing outside with one of the neighbors children. Amal was exactly my age- we were even born in the same month, only three days apart. We were laughing at a silly joke and suddenly she turned and asked coyly, "Are you Sanafir or Shanakil?" I stood there, puzzled. 'Sanafir' is the Arabic word for "Smurfs" and 'Shanakil" is the Arabic word for "Snorks". I didn't understand why she was asking me if I was a Smurf or a Snork. Apparently, it was an indirect way to ask whether I was Sunni (Sanafir) or Shia (Shanakil).

    "What???" I asked, half smiling. She laughed and asked me whether I prayed with my hands to my sides or folded against my stomach. I shrugged, not very interested and a little bit ashamed to admit that I still didn't really know how to pray properly, at the tender age of 10.

    Later that evening, I sat at my aunt's house and remember to ask my mother whether we were Smurfs or Snorks. She gave me the same blank look I had given Amal. "Mama -- do we pray like THIS or like THIS?!" I got up and did both prayer positions. My mother's eyes cleared and she shook her head and rolled her eyes at my aunt, "Why are you asking? Who wants to know?" I explained how Amal, our Shanakil neighbor, had asked me earlier that day. "Well tell Amal we're not Shanakil and we're not Sanafir -- we're Muslims -- there's no difference."

    It was years later before I learned that half the family were Sanafir, and the other half were Shanakil, but nobody cared. We didn't sit around during family reunions or family dinners and argue Sunni Islam or Shia Islam. The family didn't care about how this cousin prayed with his hands at his side and that one prayed with her hands folded across her stomach. Many Iraqis of my generation have that attitude. We were brought up to believe that people who discriminated in any way -- positively or negatively -- based on sect or ethnicity were backward, uneducated and uncivilized.

    The Occupation and the Politics of Division
    The thing most worrisome about the situation now, is that discrimination based on sect has become so commonplace. For the average educated Iraqi in Baghdad, there is still scorn for all the Sunni/Shia talk. Sadly though, people are being pushed into claiming to be this or that because political parties are promoting it with every speech and every newspaper -- the whole 'us' / 'them'.

    We read constantly about how 'We Sunnis should unite with our Shia brothers...' or how 'We Shia should forgive our Sunni brothers...' (note how us Sunni and Shia sisters don't really fit into either equation at this point). Politicians and religious figures seem to forget at the end of the day that we're all simply Iraqis.

    And what role are the occupiers playing in all of this? It's very convenient for them, I believe. It's all very good if Iraqis are abducting and killing each other -- then they can be the neutral foreign party trying to promote peace and understanding between people who, up until the occupation, were very peaceful and understanding.

    Three years after the war, and we've managed to move backwards in a visible way, and in a not so visible way.

    In the last weeks alone, thousands have died in senseless violence and the American and Iraqi army bomb Samarra as I write this. The sad thing isn't the air raid, which is one of hundreds of air raids we've seen in three years -- it's the resignation in the people. They sit in their homes in Samarra because there's no where to go. Before, we'd get refugees in Baghdad and surrounding areas... Now, Baghdadis themselves are looking for ways out of the city... out of the country. The typical Iraqi dream has become to find some safe haven abroad.

    Three years later and the nightmares of bombings and of shock and awe have evolved into another sort of nightmare. The difference between now and then was that three years ago, we were still worrying about material things- possessions, houses, cars, electricity, water, fuel... It's difficult to define what worries us most now.

    Even the most cynical war critics couldn't imagine the country being this bad three years after the war...

    Allah yistur min il raba (God protect us from the fourth year).

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