by the stormy present
Wed Feb 28th, 2007 at 08:39:02 AM EST
If it's on TV, then it must be true, right?
MillMan pointed this article out in the Salon:
Jack Bauer, the fictional federal agent in the hit American TV show "24," gets what he wants--and does whatever it takes to get it. Whether he must beat, suffocate, electrocute, drug or engage in psychological abuse, he will unravel whatever terror plot imperils the United States. He's even used torture on his own brother. Less well known, however, is how TV series like these have captured the imagination of American soldiers in Iraq.
According to the New York-based group Human Rights First, the vivid depiction of these tactics in primetime shows like "24" are influencing U.S. troops abroad -- and presenting a major challenge for military training academies. "It's become clear that this show has unintended consequences in that it informs young soldiers about these techniques, and it gives the false impression that they work," says David Danzig, a torture expert at the nonprofit organization, which has just launched a campaign called Primetime Torture to change the way abusive interrogation tactics are shown on TV. "That's a real problem because there are young soldiers out in the field who are imitating this stuff."
Hollywood wants you to think torture's OK?
I was just yesterday having an e-conversation with a friend about 24. She's a lefty American who's lived overseas for years, in Africa and southern Europe, and she only recently discovered the show. She's in the process of watching the whole first season back-to-back on DVD, and has already lined up the rest of the series to watch after that. "I'm addicted," she told me.
Gaaah, I said. It's Alberto Gonzales TV! Torture is good, it works! Torture can save the world from certain destruction!
That was the second conversation I'd had in the last week about this television show. People who really ought to know better, who ought to recognize this for what it is, just seem totally oblivious. I've, honestly, been somewhat dismayed.
The Newsweek article points toward this organization, which gives us this handy little graph, and I know how y'all like graphs...
Oh, thanks, Hollywood. How helpful.
Human Rights First is working to retrain both soldiers and Hollywood. Good luck to them. Hurry, guys.
Let's just put this out there: I have known people who have been tortured. Feet beaten, neck broken, sodomized, skin burned with cigarettes, back laced with red welts, eyes swollen shut so tightly they cannot see. They have sat across from me at the dinner table, been guests at my New Year's Eve parties, seemed for all the world like everyone else. Some of their lingering scars are physical, some of them, but physical wounds can mostly be recovered from. The invisible injuries, invisible to you and me at least, are so much more persistent. They can leave the cells and camps where they were tortured, but they cannot forget.
Torture is not entertaining.
Don't take my word for it. Others speak to this more eloquently than I ever could. Listen to Ariel Dorfman or Tahar Ben Jelloun.
You may be familiar with Dorfman's play-turned-movie, Death and the Maiden. If not, see it. If so, see it again.
In a recent op-ed in the Washington Post (which I've previously diaried here), Dorfman explained where he came to this from:
It still haunts me, the first time -- it was in Chile, in October of 1973 -- that I met someone who had been tortured. To save my life, I had sought refuge in the Argentine Embassy some weeks after the coup that had toppled the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende, a government for which I had worked. And then, suddenly, one afternoon, there he was. A large-boned man, gaunt and yet strangely flabby, with eyes like a child, eyes that could not stop blinking and a body that could not stop shivering.
That is what stays with me -- that he was cold under the balmy afternoon sun of Santiago de Chile, trembling as though he would never be warm again, as though the electric current was still coursing through him. Still possessed, somehow still inhabited by his captors, still imprisoned in that cell in the National Stadium, his hands disobeying the orders from his brain to quell the shuddering, his body unable to forget what had been done to it just as, nearly 33 years later, I, too, cannot banish that devastated life from my memory.
If the plight of the victims of torture is not enough to move the troops and the Hollywood moguls, perhaps this account, also in the Post, might get to them. It was written by Eric Fair, a former civilian interrogator at Abu Ghraib prison.
A man with no face stares at me from the corner of a room. He pleads for help, but I'm afraid to move. He begins to cry. It is a pitiful sound, and it sickens me. He screams, but as I awaken, I realize the screams are mine.
That dream, along with a host of other nightmares, has plagued me since my return from Iraq in the summer of 2004. Though the man in this particular nightmare has no face, I know who he is. I assisted in his interrogation at a detention facility in Fallujah.
The lead interrogator at the DIF had given me specific instructions: I was to deprive the detainee of sleep during my 12-hour shift by opening his cell every hour, forcing him to stand in a corner and stripping him of his clothes. Three years later the tables have turned. It is rare that I sleep through the night without a visit from this man. His memory harasses me as I once harassed him.
The tormenter's torment, if you will.
I had to supress my initial urge to shout nasty things at my computer screen when I first read Fair's article. (Fair! what a name for a torturer!) Given the agony "his" detainees undoubtedly still endure, it is hard to summon up sympathy for their tormentor.
Fair is not terribly charitable to himself, either...
I failed to disobey a meritless order, I failed to protect a prisoner in my custody, and I failed to uphold the standards of human decency. Instead, I intimidated, degraded and humiliated a man who could not defend himself. I compromised my values. I will never forgive myself.
... and I swallowed my initial indignation ("Well, good! I won't forgive you either!") because I do think it's important that voices like his be heard.
Torture. It doesn't work. It haunts the victim and the perpetrator. It is a corrupt, morally indefensible policy that should be banished from our socieites without a backward glance. If the people who put these policies in place won't listen to the victims, maybe they'll listen to the torturers when they say that.
And look, if TV wants to tell the story of torture, and TV shows are going to affect how soldiers view torture, perhaps it would be wise to let those soldiers know that they'll have to live the rest of their lives with the knowledge of what they have done, and it will not feel glamorous or manly. It will not be Jack Bauer.
If Hollywood wants to talk about torture, let them talk like Tahar Ben Jelloun. His book This Blinding Absence of Light (in the original French, Cette aveuglante absence de lumière) is an excruciating and extraordinary novel based on the true story of a Moroccan political prisoner, held in a windowless, scorpion-infested underground cell -- a tomb more than a prison -- for 20 years. The book has won both prestigious awards and angry criticsm. I found it, like the work of JM Coetzee, simultaneously mesmerizing and painful to read. You blink back tears, and choke as your stomach turns, and cannot put it down for a moment.
"hope was a complete denial of reality. How could these men abandoned by everyone be made to believe that this hole was only a parenthesis in their lives, that this ordeal would have an end, and that they would emerge from it stronger, better men?"
"For a long time I searched for the black stone that cleanses the soul of death. When I say a long time, I think of a bottomless pit, a tunnel dug with my fingers, my teeth, in the stubborn hope of glimpsing, if only for a minute, one infinitely lingering minute, a ray of light, a spark that would imprint itself deep within my eye, that would stay protected in my entrails like a secret."
So I say this to our popular culture mavens and masters and moguls in Hollywood: this is torture. It is not entertaining.