Thursday, March 13, 2008

Pres. George W. Bush vetoes bill outlawing torture

Since I was very young, I learned that toward the end of the Roman Empire one of the major symptoms of its decadence and fall was the endemic cruelty not only of its emperors but of the people as well, a cruelty that flowered into the evil bloom of torture. The people thronged the Coliseum to witness a circus of torture, and indeed, the very symbol of the Christian faith into which I was born was one of Rome’s favorite instruments of torture and death, the cross.

My religion taught that the willful infliction of pain upon another was a most grievous sin and so I was taught in all the schools I ever attended. It was taught that our nation, the United States of America, was free of that guilt, repudiated and outlawed the practice of torture not only of people but other animals as well. I was taught that its history was unblemished by torture, untainted by cruelty.

Of course I was given to read widely and was so encouraged by my father, my mother, my teachers, and I knew enough about history and the conquest and colonization of America to know otherwise. I knew the history of the American Indian, of the African slave and the African-American and the custom of beatings and lynchings by the K.K.K. and other U.S. citizens, but still, torture was what the Spanish Inquisition, the Italian Fascists, the Japanese Imperialists, the German Nazis, the Russian Communists did, not the U. S. of A., not a democracy. I accepted this and later, even though during my service in the U. S. Navy and Marine Corps I did witness a few incidents smacking of cruelty, I knew it was not a matter of policy. Even the cruelties and torture perpetrated by our soldiers in their invasion of Viet-Nam were anomalies, we were told, not policy.

But then there was the School of the Americas (renamed "Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation" because of the infamy accruing to its name) which for about half a century has trained the henchmen and torturers, violators of human rights, of the dictators that the U.S. government placed and supported, supports, throughout Latin America. Some of those dictators themselves graduates of the school. But, hey, training of torturers does not of us torturers make, said some.

Now, in the age of “terrorism”, even that flimsy mask has come off. Former U. S. Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales (shame) called the Geneva Accords protecting against torture and infringement upon human rights “quaint.” And the current Attorney General Michael Mukasey agrees. The torture of prisoners in Guantánamo is justified. Those most responsible for torture at Bagram in Afghanistan and Abu Ghraib in Iraq have been given a slap on the wrist.

Now President George W. Bush vetoes a bill passed by Congress that would have prohibited the CIA from using 'waterboarding' and other “harsh interrogation techniques” (torture) on terrorist suspects. And Congress fails to overturn Bush’s veto.

For a long time violence and cruelty have been our obsession, virtual torture a pastime in movies, on television, in video games. Violent hate-crimes increase precipitously. Cruelty, deception, and betrayal is what drives the popular so-called “Reality Shows” and now the Fox Reality show “Solitary” presents torture as entertainment. A great portion of our young are weaned on violence and cruelty. Terror is us.

The policies of my country’s government make us more and more hated by the world. I grow more and more outraged by the government, more and more ashamed of my country that tolerates it. In a supposed democracy, our acquiescence is as criminal as the actions of our government. As an empire, as a nation, as a people we are in our decline. We are losing our soul.

Last year at the University of California, Berkeley I attended the opening of an exhibition of the Colombian artist Fernando Botero’s paintings on the atrocities of Abu Ghraib at which he spoke. He painted to express outrage and opposition to torture assuming that the viewer shared his horror at cruelty. "Art is a permanent accusation," he says. But if horror can be beautiful, his paintings could be offered as proof, if we needed any more after the centuries of crucifixions and martyrs that burden the history of Western art. I wonder how many admire Botero’s Abu Ghraib paintings for the horror with which they confront us or for the titillation that makes pleasurable the pain.

I dread to think that my faith has been as compromised as has been my faith in my country.

© Rafael Jesús González 2008

---El arte en tiempos de conflicto

------------------------------a Fernando Botero

La luna gibada y gorda
se cuela por entre las rejas
de Abu Ghraib y Guantánamo
bañando con su luz fría
las manos, los pies atados,
las mordidas de los perros,
los ojos vendados
las almas, los cuerpos violados.

La luna gibada y gorda
no es buena, no es mala —
es espejo que explora la llaga.
No es de ella la locura
de torturadores y verdugos,
de presidentes e inquisidores.

La luna gibada y gorda
se cuela por entre las rejas
de la indiferencia letal.

-------© Rafael Jesús González 2008

------Art in Times of Conflict

-----------------------to Fernando Botero

The moon, gibbous & fat
slips between the bars
of Abu Ghraib & Guantánamo
bathing with its cold light
the tied hands & feet,
the bites of the dogs,
the blindfolded eyes,
the violated bodies & souls.

The moon, gibbous & fat
is not good, is not bad —
it is a mirror that explores the wound.
Hers is not the lunacy
of torturers & executioners,
of presidents & inquisitors.

The moon, gibbous & fat
slips between the bars
of lethal indifference.

----------© Rafael Jesús González 2008

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