Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Memorial Day Poem 2009

A warrior at prayer.

You can outdistance that which is running after you, but not what is running inside you.

---Rwandan proverb

As I grow to understand life less and less, I learn to live it more and more.

---Jules Renard

No thought, no reflection, no analysis,
no cultivation, no intention;
Let it settle itself.


Many members of the Network of Spiritual Progressives supported Barack Obama in the primaries because they thought he would be more likely to end the war than Hillary Clinton. Imagine their shock to now discover that Obama has backed away from his promised time-table of withdrawal, and is meanwhile escalating the war in Ã…fghanistan and Pakistan.
As our religious and spiritual traditions teach: The path to peace is a path of peace. Meanwhile, the killing continues. Sometimes poets become soldiers too, and write about the killing. Brian Turner served as a sergeant in the US Army's Third Stryker Brigade, Iraq. This is slightly edited by me. The full text can be found at http://www.spiritualprogressives.org/article.php/20090524203700451 .
Requiem for the Last American Soldier to Die in Iraq
At some point in the future, soldiers will pack up their rucks, equipment will be loaded into huge shipping containers, C-130s will rise wheels-up off the tarmac, and Navy transport ships will cross the high seas to return home once again. At some point - the timing of which I don't have the slightest guess at - the war in Iraq will end. And I've been thinking about this a lot lately - I've been thinking about the last American soldier to die in Iraq.
Tonight, at 3 a.m., a hunter's moon shines down into the misty ravines of Vermont's Green Mountains. I'm standing out on the back deck of a friend's house, listening to the quiet of the woods. At the Fairbanks Museum in nearby St. Johnsbury, the lights have been turned off for hours and all is dark inside the glass display cases, filled with Civil War memorabilia. The checkerboard of Jefferson Davis. Smoothbore rifles. Canteens. Reading glasses. Letters written home...
Who can say where that last soldier is now, at this very moment? Kettlemen City. Turlock. Wichita. Fredricksburg. Omaha. Duluth. She may be in the truck idling beside us in traffic as we wait for the light to turn green. He may be ordering a slice of key lime pie at Denny's, sitting at a booth with his friends after bowling all night. What name waits to be etched on a stone not yet erected in America? Somewhere out in the vast stretches of our country, somewhere out in Whitman's America, out among the wide expanse of grasses, somewhere here among us the last soldier may lie dreaming in bed before the dawn as the sun sets over Iraq.
At the Spar in Tacoma, Wash., the bartender - Jolene - is about to flip the lights for last call. Let her wait a moment longer. If she can wait a few minutes more, the young woman at the end of the bar will finally do what she's been wanting to do for hours. And it will surprise the young man she's been talking with - she'll kiss him. It will never be seen on a movie screen or written down in a book for people to enjoy centuries later. No one at the bar will even notice it taking place. But they should, because it's one of the all-time best kisses ever. As cheesy and hyper-romantic as it sounds, this is a kiss for the ages, and it's as good as they get.
Let the quiet moments of a life be recognized and not glossed over with thoughts of the past or thoughts of the future. For a rare, brief moment - let this moment be savored and fully lived. Maybe that soldier will drive a thresher in the Kansas sun today. Maybe she'll cheer at a Red Sox game as her husband laments the fate of his Yankees. Maybe he's in Hollister, Calif., thinking of the 100 things he'd written as a child - the list he titled "Things To Do Before I Die..." How many items will he have crossed off that list before he must put it away again?
Could that last soldier be in front of a video camera in Hollister right now, recording a final message in case she doesn't make it back, making a videotape for a child who will never know its own mother?
"If you're watching this then it means I'm not around anymore. I imagine you're probably in your late teens now. Maybe Mt. Kilimanjaro no longer has snow on its peak. Maybe the ice shelves on the northern coasts of Alaska have melted back and polar bears are dwindling in number. I always wanted to get up there and see Alaska. Maybe you'll make it up there one day yourself. I wonder if it's somehow possible for you to buy a plane ticket to Baghdad, to visit Iraq as a tourist. Will you visit the places where I've been? Will you talk to the people there? Will you tell them my name?"
What will the name be? Anthony. Lynette. Fernando. Paula. Joshua. Letitia. Roger… Who will carve it in stone and who will leave flowers there as the years pass by? Who will remember this soldier and what will those memories be? Does he have brothers and sisters? Will his father sink into the grass in the backyard when he is told the news? Will his mother stare into the street with eyes gone hollow and vacant, the cars passing each day with their polished enamel reflecting the sunlight? What will the officer say when he knocks on that door?
The next time I'm waiting for a transfer flight in Dallas, or in Denver, or in Chicago, I'm going to make a point to watch for soldiers in uniform. If one of them is eating alone and watching football on a wall-mounted television, I'll anonymously pick up the check for them, like someone did for me once when I was in my desert fatigues and preparing to deploy overseas.
Maybe, just maybe, as I stand here in the quiet moonlight of Vermont, the American who will one day be the very last American soldier to die in Iraq - maybe that soldier is doing a night jump in Ft. Bragg, N.C. Each parachute opens its canopy over the darkness below - the wind an exhilaration, a cold rush of adrenaline, the jump an exercise in being fully alive and in the moment, a way of learning how it feels to fall within the rain, the way rain itself falls, to be a part of it all, the earth's gravity pulling with its inexorable embrace.
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jazzolog said...

Naomi Wolf's article yesterday is relentless, merciless...and obviously the slap in the face our country needs to face the truth.

The Telegraph of London broke the news - because the US press is in a drugged stupor -- that the photos Obama is refusing to release of detainee abuse depict, among other sexual tortures, an American soldier raping a female detainee and a male translator raping a male prisoner. The paper claims the photos also show anal rape of prisoners with foreign objects such as wires and lightsticks. Major General Antonio Taguba calls the images `horrific' and `indecent' (but absurdly agrees that Obama should not release them - proving once again that the definition of hypocrisy is the assertion that the truth is in poor taste).
Predictably, a few hours later the Pentagon issues a formal denial.

It is very likely that the Pentagon lying. This is probably exactly what the photos show, because it happened. Precisely these exact sex crimes - these exact images and these very objects -- are familiar and well-documented to those of us who follow closely rights' organizations reports of what has already been confirmed.

As I wrote last year in my piece on sex crime against detainees, 'Sex Crimes in the White House," highly perverse, systematic sexual torture and sexual humiliation was, original documents reveal, directed from the top; Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rice were present in meetings where sexual humiliation was discussed as policy; the Defense Authorization Act of 2007 was written specifically to allow certain kinds of sexual abuse, such as forced nakedness, which is completely illegal and understood by domestic and international law to be a form of sexual assault; Rumsfeld is in print and on the record consulting with subordinates about the policy and practice of sexual humiliation, in a collection of documents obtained by the ACLU by a Freedom of Information Act filing, compiled in Jameel Jaffer's important book, The Torture Administration.

The image of the female, probably Iraqi, prisoner being sexually assaulted? That image, or a similar one, has been widely viewed in the Muslim world. Reports of the rape scenes described have also appeared in rights organizations' summaries since 2004.

And scores of detainees who have told their stories to rights organizations have told independently confirming accounts of a highly consistent practice of sexual torture at US-held prisons, including having their genitals slashed with razors; electrodes placed on genitals; and being told US military would find and rape their mothers.

Is systemic sex crime practiced by the US in a consequence of the lawlessness of `the war on terror' surprising to those of us who work on issues of sexual abuse and war? It is totally predictable: when you give soldiers anywhere in the world the power, let alone the mandate, to hold women or men helpless, without recourse to law, kidnap them as a matter of policy - as US military kidnapped the wives of `insurgents' in order to compel them to turn themselves in - strip them naked, and threaten them, you have a completely predictable recipe for mass sexual assault. The magisterial study of rape in war, Susan Brownmiller's Men, Women and Rape, proves that.

jazzolog said...

But what is far scarier about these images Obama refuses to release and that the Pentagon is likely to be lying about now is that it is not the evidence of lower-level soldiers being corrupted by power - it is proof of the fact that the most senior leadership - Bush, Rumsfeld and Cheney, with Rice's collusion - were running a global sex crime trafficking ring with Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and Baghram as the holding sites. The sexual nature of the torture also gives the lie to Cheney's and others' defense of torture as somehow functional: the sexual perversity mandated from the top reveals that it was just plain old sick sadism gratified by a very sick form of pleasure. I also pointed out in `Sex Crimes in the White House' that the escalation of the sexual abuse showed the same classic pattern shown by sex criminals everywhere - you start with stripping the victim, keeping him or her completely in your power, and then you engage in greater and more violent excesses with more and more self-justification.

The lightsticks, for instance? We in the human rights world know about the lightsticks. Probably dozens of prisoners were sodomized with lightsticks. In the highly credible and very fully documented Physicians for Human Rights report, Broken Bodies, Broken Lives, doctors investigated the wounds and scars of former prisoners, did analysis of the injuries, assessed the independent verification of their stories, and reported that indeed many detainees had in fact been savagely raped with lightsticks and by other objects inserted into their rectums, many sustaining internal injuries. This same report confirms that female military or other unidentified US-affiliated personnel were used to sexually abuse detainees by smearing menstrual blood on their faces, seizing their genitals violently, or rubbing them against their will in a sexual manner. In other credible accounts collected by human rights organizations, many former prisoners in US-held prisons report that they had been tortured or humiliated by female agents who appeared to be dressed like prostitutes. Indeed, early on intelligence spokespeople boasted in the New York Times of the use of female agents to sexually abuse and humiliate prisoners: it was called in their own material 'invasion of space by a female.'

Today at lunch, I happen to have sat next to the lovely and brave Dale Haddon, the `face of L'Oreal' who is also a tireless advocate for women and children through Unicef. She is heading for Congo, to help hold accountable rape and sex crime institutionalized as acts of war. Those criminals will face trials and convictions. In Sierra Leone, the soldiers and generals who used rape as an instrument of war have been tried and many convicted. In Bosnia, likewise. But at another lunch party, Haddon, who travels in many circles, may well be seated next to our own former leaders, violent and systemic sex criminals who are still at large.

When will we convict our very own global rapists, the ones who gave the US the hellish distinction of turning us into the superpower of sex crime? Convictions must come but first we must see the evidence.

And women especially, who understand how sexual abuse and rape can break the spirit in a uniquely anguishing way, should be raising their voices loudly.

jazzolog said...

Whom are we protecting by not releasing the photos? The victims? Hardly. It's, as feminists have been saying for decades, not their shame. The perpetrators? Their crimes are archived; if not this administration, another may well obey the law release the images, which are evidentiary. (Again: that rape and sodomy were directed form the top; prosecute those at the top.)

These photos go to exactly why Obama is burning what is left of the shreds of the Constitution by calling for preemptive detention for about 100 detainees. It ain't because they are `too dangerous,' his pathetic justification. It is because their bodies are crime scenes. It is because the torture, including possibly the sexual assault, they experienced is likely to be so horrific that if they were ever to have their day in court it is others whom Obama needs who would be incriminated.

In the nineteenth century, when a woman had been raped, or had experienced sexual abuse in the family, the paterfamilias would say she was crazy, get her declared `too dangerous' to be free, and lock her up forever so her story would be interred with her. That is what Obama is trying to do with preemptive detention for these detainees.

Well, America? Do you want to live with this? Remember: history shows categorically that once the state can lock `them' up without a fair trial, torture, rape them or sodomize them - well; sooner or later it will be able to do the same to your children or mine; or to you and me.


Wikipedia's page on Ms. Wolf provides complete background about her work~~~


Quinty said...

Reminds me of Nixon's secret bombing of Cambodia. Who had to be kept in the dark about it? The Cambodians? Or the Americans?

I suppose the Cambodians weren't aware bombs were dropping on them.

I didn't know the torture was so horrific, including rape. Though I'm not surprised these methods - if you can call them that - were discussed by the top men and women in the White House.

When the story of Abu Ghraib broke the brass and pols claimed it was an aberration. Problem was, the same practices were occurring in other US prisons. That kind of thing can not take place without the top brass knowing about it. And considering the kind of people we had in the White House......

I fail to understand Obama's reasoning on all this. He claims that releasing the photos would only increase tensions with the Arab world. But according to Wolf they know all about it. Word gets around. So who is he hiding the photos from? The American people? The World Court? Judge Garzon?

(The rightwing is going after him, by the way, in Spain. Just before I left a few days ago several human rights organizations have come to his side. I'll always be grateful to him for going after Pinochet. Now - Rumsfeld, Cheney, Bush..... The Socialist government is backing the inquiry into Garzon's activities. Very cowardly of them I would say.)