At a Loss for Words

Today’s rounds brought me to this item. In that article the following story is recounted:

“They called all the prisoners out to the courtyard for what they called a ‘celebration.’ We all knew what they meant by ‘celebration.’ All the prisoners were chained to a pipe that ran the length of the courtyard wall. One prisoner, Amer al-Tikriti, was called out. They said if he didn’t tell them everything they wanted to know, they would show him torture like he had never seen. He merely told them he would show them patience like they had never seen.”

“This is when they brought out his wife, who was five months pregnant. One of the guards said that if he refused to talk he would get 12 guards to rape his wife until she lost the baby. Amer said nothing. So they did. We were forced to watch. Whenever one of us cast down his eyes, they would beat us.”

“Amer’s wife didn’t lose the baby. So the guard took a knife, cut her belly open and took the baby out with his hands. The woman and child died minutes later. Then the guard used the same knife to cut Amer’s throat.”

Put aside all talk of politics. What gets into people? What makes it possible for a man to perform such an atrocity? I can’t… I don’t… I am at a loss for even the right words to question how or why this is possible… let alone express the feelings it evokes. What disease of the mind is it that a group would not sooner turn their weapons on themselves, or their superiors, than act on such a vile order? What gives a man the hideous strength of will to go on violating and mutilating a woman after he has heard her first screams of fear and pain? What manner of dissociation allows him to return home to sleep with his wife and play with his children, and then return to work the next day, without casting himself in the path of the first truck he sees?

I am at a loss. We have the capacity for evils hell never dreamed of. And though I recoil at the thought I know none of us are immune.

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  1. Oh jesus. What an eye opener to how cruel humans really can be.

  2. What a sinking feeling that brings upon me. I cannot concieve of that part of reality. It is outside my bubble of existance and I hope it never invades. Such behaviour is sickening and incomprehensible. The only motivation I can concieve of is if they were threatened with similar fates if they disobeyed. When your own loved ones are threatened I can possibly, maybe, see why one might do atrocities to a nameless face. But I’m still not sure that I could even then. *closes mind to it all* I cannot continue to think on it and still carry on a useful evening.

  3. we invented hell….

    Such behavior is inherently human. I am not surprised. I am very seldom surprised any more by what humans do to each other. It’s why I generally prefer the company of the ‘lesser’ animals.

    Other animals do not torture one another. These acts are not instinctual. They are ‘justified’ by ‘rational’ thought in the human mind.

    The fact is that this country’s government and media has convinced the public mob mentality that ‘terrorists’ and terrorism must be stopped at all costs. ‘All costs’ can apparently include torture of any prisoners who could construed to be a terrorist. We already knew that ‘all costs’ includes going to war with and/or invading countries not responsible for 9/11 or other terrorist acts, and killing civilians, innocent bystanders, anyone who gets in the way…

    I’m not cynical…. this is honestly what I have believed for a very long time… Humans suck. We invented heaven and hell… why on earth would we accurately portray ourselves ?

    1. Re: we invented hell….

      I’m not surprised by it in the slightest. I’ve read too many accounts like it. But I hope I never stop being sickened and horrified by it.

      Incidentally, that account was of torture in Saddam’s prisons. The Iraqi recounting it was a former prisoner explaining why he felt that the American abuses at Abu Ghraib were trivial in comparison to those of the former regime. My philosophy does not count humanitarian causes as a valid reason to go to war, but reading stories like this I sometimes waver in that belief.

      1. please, no relative torture excuses

        The Iraqi recounting it was a former prisoner explaining why he felt that the American abuses at Abu Ghraib were trivial in comparison to those of the former regime.

        If a former boyfriend broke my limbs and damaged my organs on a regular basis, does that mean its ok if a later partner ONLY gives me black eyes, bloody mouth and ears, and the occasional dislocated jaw? If I said, “well he isn’t nearly as bad to me as so-and-so…” the vast majority of you would say, “that doesnt make it ok. this still is well below the amount of respect and safety you deserve as a human being. he is doing something wrong.”

        I will NOT excuse US treatment of those prisoners on the idea that something worse was done under Saddam Hussein. The logic is the same “our need for information, and our side of this struggle, justifies our actions and noone will really do anything serious to us for it.” Torture isn’t even a reliable method of gaining information, something the US, as such an enlightened and advanced nation, surely is more aware of. And the US has much much greater resources for other ways of gaining information. Not to mention it only makes it harder for any iraqis to believe the US looks down on torture if they excuse ‘some’ when they do it.

        I already addressed my sentiments about the nonreality of any humanitarian basis for this travesty in rebekahrae’s entry. Suffice it to say, you could just as easily read stories as bad, or worse, about countries we haven’t invaded, and won’t. There are terrible things happening all over the world, don’t let this carefully aimed propaganda reassure you in the slightest that the US “just had to go in there for those poor suffering people”. I am troubled by the story but it isn’t going to stick out in my mind as exceptional in the scope of things. I am still haunted by an extremely graphic description of the burned out remains of a Patpong house many years ago where 80+ children aged about 4-12 died in a fire because they were all heavily chained to the beds they got used by an unending stream of prepubescent pedophiles on. There was extensive evidence that they spent every single moment of their lives chained to those beds. This man had a chance, at life, at love, at choosing a way of life and beliefs and a path to follow. Those kids had nothing, nothing but hell and then slowly burned to death chained to those beds. But I sure as hell am NOT going to say what your story describes is ‘ok’ or even forgivable, just because something much worse happened elsewhere. It just doesn’t work like that.

        1. Re: please, no relative torture excuses

          I’m attempting to contain myself right now. I don’t know how well I can succeed. Frankly the suggestion that I am somehow excusing the shameful torture and humiliation of prisoners by US forces is insulting to me. I don’t know where you would get such an impression. Please read my comment again if you really think that’s what I said, because I sure as hell didn’t. The opinion that ousting Saddam was a net good for the Iraqi people does not somehow translate into excusing any crime the US has committed in the process.

          This post was about the horrible things human beings do to each other. I deliberately snipped references to the context in which it was done in the original post, because that wasn’t important. The important point was that it was done. No, it’s not the most horrible thing I’ve ever heard, although it’s certainly the most horrible thing I’ve read this week.

          I’m half tempted to ask you to post rants like this on your own space. I realize you were responding to me, but you were responding to something I did not, and would not ever say. As such, it redirects the conversation away from the subject at hand and onto tired old debates which I frankly do not care to see re-fought in this space.

          BTW, what makes the article “carefully placed propaganda”?

          1. Re: please, no relative torture excuses

            the ‘rant’ as you label it, begins with a quote from the article, not a quote from you, and is intended primarily to address the clear message that statement makes about how trivial (their word not mine) the american abuses were. The severity of my statements, especially of what I will not excuse, are a response to the article itself and make no assumptions about your stance.

            I did not claim you bought into that logic, and I concede that my generic ‘you’s and my avdi ‘you’s are quite confusing in this post. However, to say “please dont let this persuade you” after you’ve said My philosophy does not count humanitarian causes as a valid reason to go to war, but reading stories like this I sometimes waver in that belief. is not the same as saying “you’ve already been persuaded” or made such an assertion.

  4. Was this an American prison?

    1. No. It was Abu Ghraib under Saddam Hussein. I recommend reading the full article.

      1. Oh thank gods! I was scared ther for a second.

  5. “What makes it possible for a man to perform such an atrocity?”

    It’s called “faith”. It’s also what allowed the man to endure the torture of his wife, the death of his wife and child, and his own death. The men who tortured and killed him, and the man who endured the torture, simply have faith in different things.

    1. sadism is not faith.
      faith has driven people to fight, kill, and die, yes. but faith does not derive perverse pleasure from malice, pain, rape and murder – that is something of a very different character.

      and my cultural anthropology professor a year or so back said we put Saddam in power so he’d secularize Iraq. i don’t know how accurate that is to history, though…
      but to be sure, faith had nothing to do with Saddam Hussein. these weren’t differing perspectives of Islam fighting eachother – it was a madman totalitarian who would have no god in Iraq apart from his regime.

      1. You’re right, “sadism” isn’t “faith”. But faith doesn’t drive people to do anything. “Faith” doesn’t “derive” pleasure from anything. “Faith” is just a word. Faith is the mechanism by which people make decisions to do these things. “Faith” is the reason a Muslim believes he will enter paradise by killing Christians. “Faith” is the reason members of the inquisition set fire to people while they were alive to “purify” their souls through pain. “Faith” is the reason those men tortured that poor man and his wife. In what did they have “faith”? They had faith that nothing would happen to them if they acted sadistic and raped and tortured that man. They believe that nothing will happen to them. It still takes faith.

        Does it bother you that the fundamental mechanism for your beliefs in Christianity and the mechanism for their beliefs in nothing is the same?

        1. if i could agree with you, i suppose that might bother me. but i can’t the least agree. your definition of “faith” is awfully broad.
          i don’t have faith that my car will be there in the morning, that it will start, and that it will get me to where i need to go. that’s an expectation derived from past experience. and if my expectations fail me, i’ve lost no faith on account of the matter. in fact, i expect my car to eventually fail me. am i now faithless, or do i have some sort of “faith” the car is unreliable.

          no, faith is definitely something much more. and no, Shang, you should know i’m not talking some happy, pastel bunny ‘christian’ faith that closes its eyes and pretends everything is “right” with the world.

          and i can get into a short essay about faith and faithlessness… but i suppose i’ve already said my peace.

      2. Hmmm… I can see what both of you are saying. I agree with you that faith in itself doesn’t derive perverse pleasure from pain. However, the article made no mention of whether the soldiers derived any pleasure from the act, so I’m not sure that’s relevant. I’m not sure I like Shang’s reductionist usage of “faith” – using it in that sense is really no different from saying they “knew they would not be punished”. I think faith has some connotations beyond having knowledge of the probable consequences of your actions. In this case I see the soldiers not acting on faith, but simply on blind, dumb, mob-logic groupthink. I.e. “everybody else is doing it, so it must be okay”.

        On the other hand, what faith enables us to do is to put the present into the perspective of a larger worldview. This empowers people to live in circumstances others would consider untenable, to act in odd or antisocial ways, to buck the crowd, and to endure pain and death in the atteinment of a higher goal. But just as it can put suffering in perspective, I believe it can also put the causation of suffering into perspective, and in that I think I agree with Shang. Abraham, after all, was ready to take the knife to Isaac. It’s amazing what people will countenance when they honestly believe it’s for the best.

        Of course, in an environment like the Inquisition where faith justifies violence, a true sadist finds it a very convenient cover for his pleasure.

        1. i assumed pleasure because the guards called this a “celebration”. sounds to me like they were getting a kick out of it. that, and i’m a cynic who always assumes the worst of people 😉

          i think it’s sorrowful that the account of Abraham with Isaac and the Inquisition are considered comparable stories… the Inquisition was a misguided attempt by Spain to get good with the Papacy, which led to innumerable unnecessary deaths. Abraham was told by God that he should sacrifice his son, and in child-like faith he followed through.

          1. I don’t mean to equate them other than to say that those responsible for actually doing the deed were told it was God’s will. And their faith in God trumped any reservations they might have had.

    2. bows to shangchi

      The men who tortured and killed him, and the man who endured the torture, simply have faith in different things.


      and der_m faith doesn’t equal sadism, but it often opens the door to it. we all have a capacity inside us to be cruel. most of us manage and limit and shrink the existence of that beast. But faith is one of the major keys that allow a person to believe it is ok to open that door, to feed that beast. Please understand however I don’t consider religious faith to be the only kind that can crack open that door.

      1. Re: bows to shangchi

        as i tried to make clear in shangchi’s post, i can’t accept that what these people have done have anything to do with faith. though yes, such and similar violence is accounted for throughout history “in the name of faith” (the political conflicts over Northern Ireland have nothing to do with faith, but the combatants often cling to “Catholic” and “protestant” identities; as one example). and violence exists on account of faith. (the Bible records violence commanded by my God, which the faithful rarely carried out to God’s specifications.) but sadism is a different thing entirely.
        necessary violence, i understand. sometimes violence is needed (against Hitler, for example), and sometimes it’s believed by faith to be needed (Islam, Hebrews fighting for the Promised Land, etc.) – but never torture. never rape. never sadism.
        these are universal evils, not the fruits of faith.

        and yes, batgirl, (wow that feels strange to say in seriousness) i believe we all have this capacity inside us. i beleive it’s something common to all humanity.

        1. Re: bows to shangchi

          I’d like to ask you this, in all seriousness. When you do think of the Inquisition, do you more imagine sadists latching onto an excuse? Or sincerely devout people who were convinced the tortures they committed were in the interest of saving people’s eternal souls?

          I do absolutely agree sadism is something separate, and have given public lectures on the topic. I personally hate the fact that it has been erroneously taken into the ‘bdsm’ spectrum and strive constantly to urge people not to use that term in a lighthearted way vis a vis consensual kinky sex. But that obviously is a whole other kettle of fish.

          1. Re: bows to shangchi

            to be frank, i can’t try to talk about this in objective, secular terms. so please indulge me.

            the Roman Church of the time was very hardly a Christian organization, but rather was a governing body spanning all of Europe ruling over “Christendom”. Christianity was its modus operandi, but neither its goal nor its soul. among the laity, and (God willing) most priests were devout souls, but higher in the hierarchy it was very much a business, and one managing the economy and society of Europe.
            in the ancient Church, heresy was dealt with in a very particular manner – address the mistake with your brother, correct him with others if he doesn’t recant, and finally treating him as you would a pagan if he doesn’t return to orthodoxy. and that’s how Scripture teaches us to deal with such issues.
            torturing for confessions, killing the person whether or not they repent – this is not Christianity, and has nothing to do with faith. in ancient times, as today, heretics were a danger to congregations, so they were actively preached against and shunned if need be. but in the time of Rome, an heretic was a threat to the societal order, and therefore a criminal.
            <thinks about how i can phrase this all this concisely and without digressing>

            i think “heresy” at the time is much of what “terrorism” is now. “terrorists are among you, and you need constantly to be on the lookout and report any suspicious activity to the authorities, lest they succeed in their seeking of your destruction and the destruction of our entire society!” — i don’t think i’m being too radical to suggest that’s our security policy right now.
            replace “terrorist” with “heretic” or “witch”, and you’ve got the exact same thing – and in a medieval society where torture and execution were normal criminal proceeding, what do you expect?

            i don’t necessarily believe the executioners believed they were serving God or others, but rather preserving their society.
            most clergy weren’t men of faith, or even literate. it was a lucrative position, and rarely a divine calling…
            in short, the devil basically had his hands in everything, especially the Church, and no official mandate had anything to do with faith or reason, but everything to do with control. Luther sought to reform the Church to its ancient purity, and he got a death warrant on his head because he refused to back down without evidence of his being incorrect. it wasn’t faith, or concern for people’s souls, just diabolics.

            i hope i haven’t been utterly incoherent, and that my response is somehow satisfactory… i’m fighting several distractions right now.

  6. “faith” allows ppl to strap bombs to their chests and willingly go blow themselves up. no one ever said ppl were smart but they do stick to their beliefs.

  7. I have been listening to quite a bit of discussion about the humiliations we used, and what the law says is permissible, and what the law defines as torture.

    Very little, if anything at all, that our prison guards did is actually legally defined as torture. Intimidation, humiliation, yes. But not torture. It violated the spirit of the Geneva Convention, at least, but is still not classified as torture.

    People were tortured under Saddam, not just scared, intimidated, or neglected. The Iraqi response to our reaction is entirely understandable, we sound like nieve ninnies coddling people who are guilty of *real* torture, murder and rape.

    I am all about holding us up to a higher standard, I believe it is neccessary for us to resist the urge to be dragged to their level, but we need to also broaden our understanding of just what the Iraqi perspective is.

    1. without quibbling over the idea that convincing someone they are about to be electrocuted or torn apart by a dog counts, rape, and forcible sodomy with chemical lightsticks and broom handles, most definitively DO count as torture.

      1. Seems like stomping on hands ought to count too.

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