Nightmares In the Water
Water my dreams
With the liquid ooze of nightmares.
The steady drip-drip-drip
On the prisoner’s face
Echoes the ritual of water torture
Across the ages.
Here is a curious paradox:
Water fills three-fourths of the human body,
Yet we can drown in it.
Someone who believes we have something to hide
Can fill our mouth and nose and lungs
Until they crave explosion,
Then sit on our swollen bellies
As we gasp confessions to non-existent crimes.
In the time of the Inquisition,
Water was poured from a vinegar jar
Until it soaked a rag in the victim’s throat,
And he confessed to being in league with the Devil.
In the Middle Ages, the warriors of God
Threw women in a pond, weighted with rocks.
If they drowned, they were innocent
And received a Christian burial.
If they floated,
They were burned at the stake as witches.
To drown was to be saved.
There have been many refinements
To the basic tortura del agua:
The vinegar jar and suffocating rag far back in the throat
Have been replaced by things that call to mind
The comforts of home:
The running faucet,
The watering can,
Here in the United States of Euphemisms,
The honest horror of “water torture”
Has been replaced by a softer word
We are less likely to choke on: “waterboarding.”
What clever mind-games to play with word-games!
What a media-friendly way to describe,
With modern blandness,
The ancient terror of confession through drowning!
But wait, we are told, it’s only simulated drowning.
There are doctors standing by,
And master psychologists,
Trained to know unerringly
When the body surrenders,
And the soul is ready to be saved.
Waterboarding--such simple ingredients, to cause such pain:
A flat wooden board,
With restraints for the thrashing hands and feet;
A thick cloth or towel,
Or a perfectly ordinary cellophane wrap
To encase the head in a facial coffin,
Until breath collapses inside the saturated mask.
Waterboarding: the sport of torturers and interrogators
And Presidents, who soothe our worst fears
About the soul of our nation
By promising that we never practice torture,
Only “enhanced interrogation.”
Never mind the legions of politicians and pundits,
Therapists and thinkers,
Army brass and common soldiers,
Interrogators and their prisoners,
Those few who have survived their baptism by fire
Of confession through controlled drowning--
None who speak a common tongue,
But have a common word for waterboarding: Torture.
But all the President’s men have assured him
That it isn’t.
The top legal minds his money can buy
Fill him with oatmeal justifications
He can easily digest:
This is a “different” kind of war,
With a special kind of enemy.
Waterboarding leaves no marks,
Causes no lasting physical harm.
Of course, permanent damage to the mind doesn’t count.
The fact that we must stage
This hideous intellectual debate
Over whether, and when, and how, to inflict torture,
Or if flooding the face and lungs until a human being
Screams like an animal
Because death has him by the throat
Is really torture after all,
Is a mental torture too great for me to bear.
I think I will go for a swim,
Submerge my head in water,
Wash away my sins and cleanse my soul,
And perhaps, just for a moment,
Tilt my head back in the shallow end of the pool,
Let the water flood my lungs and nose and mouth,
And see how long I can refuse to answer the angry questions
Of a friend who holds me by my hair.
It is only an experiment,
But in three seconds, I know I will tell him
Everything he wants to hear.
As our national debate rages on,
Night falls somewhere
On the lonely towers
Of a clandestine prison.
By now thinking only
Of the families left behind,
Are shown the waterboarding room.
It all looks so innocent, so harmless.
Then the first “high-value” target
Is strapped to the board,
Head tilted downwards,
Feet pointed heavenwards.
The questions start flying,
The cold liquid flows across his mercifully hidden face,
And a primal scream fills the darkened halls
As nightmares in the water begin.
Pictures at an Exhibition
When I saw the first photos from Abu Ghraib,
I nearly gagged:
A hooded man covered with electric wires,
Desperately balancing on a child-sized box;
Smiling soldiers beside a pyramid they made
Of naked Iraqi men,
Piled and bound in the rough stone casements
Of a desert prison where no one could hear them scream.
Like an exhibition of ourselves
Caught in grotesque tableaux,
The pictures make us look at things
We do not want to believe,
About the people we are told are given the power
To protect the whole free world;
Only nothing is free, and power often comes
At the expense of truth.
Then, too, the pictures make us ask questions
And seek answers perhaps we would rather not have:
Is all this the responsibility of one country and one time?
Could we be those very same soldiers,
In another prison and another war?
Everyone is scrambling to condemn the pictures
And distance themselves from their uniquely personal horror,
From the politicians who ordered this war
On down to the young men and women
Who eat the choking sand,
And dodge the mortars that come in fresh volleys of fire
Whenever new pictures of the abuse stream onto television screens
And newspapers throughout the world.
Our leaders and foot soldiers alike
Assure us that it is only the failure of “a few bad apples,”
Never an official policy that condones torture.
A “few bad apples?”
Have we forgotten the execution ditches of Vietnam and El Salvador,
Ordered at the highest levels and dug by our own hands,
Or by death squads trained on our own soil?
The bones of My Lai and El Mozote
Shift uneasily beneath the charred Grass
Whenever we say there is no “official policy”
That condones such things,
For the pictures are there to contradict.
One photo of the abuse particularly chills me:
That of a huge guard dog snarling at a naked and cowering
There were guard dogs just like that one
Who snarled at naked prisoners descending from the trains
Or snapped at the heels of black children
Running for their lives in Birmingham.
Some dear friends of mine,
Who lead lives founded on compassion for others,
Recently argued with my fury over the prison abuse scandal.
After all, they reminded me,
Saddam Hussein did so much worse,
And the world scarcely condemned him—
As if somehow that makes it alright
To use the same execution chambers and rape rooms
For interrogations, beatings and torture that is somewhat less severe.
My friends were mostly angered
By the stupidity of photographing it all,
The arrogance of believing
That only the eyes of those on Tier1A
Would see the lurid images,
While the world's image of us as liberators
Would go on unimpeded.
I worry about that, as well.
I, too, am an American, after all,
And I do not want to see our young men and women
Gunned down in ever greater numbers,
While those above them hide their guilt
From photos that display battered human beings
As war trophies.
So my friends and I battle
Over the meaning of the pictures,
Perhaps too loudly for too long,
Until their youngest daughter tells us not to talk any more politics
Because it’s giving her a headache.
It all gives me a headache, too,
Only I can’t forget that some politicians told me
We’re supposed to be winning the hearts and minds
Of the Iraqi people.
Exactly how, when their hearts break
And their minds burn with rage,
In a society where sexual humiliation
Is akin to cultural genocide?
When pictures in an exhibition
Speak louder than words,
There comes a moment when words themselves
Cannot be held back.
They come at first in a whisper,
No louder than violin notes carried by a breeze,
But relentlessly, until they are heard
By another person, then another, and still another,
Beginning always with one small voice that says,
“I can’t live with this anymore,
I will be silent no longer,
I will tell what I have seen.”
Such is the way the name,
Has come to be part of our collective vocabulary,
And our collective conscience.
We are not used to groping forward
Through exhibit halls of such dark self-portraits,
But this heartbreak may yet bring out
The best in us.
Perhaps the photos of Abu Ghraib
May force all people who have seen them
To look at themselves and at each other,
At the ways they see and are seen,
And learn a new way of knowing and feeling that may lead one day
To far different pictures at an exhibition.
By Elizabeth Lazdins
Of our government’s brutality
We can’t see their suffering,
Or hear their screams,
But the stain
Of our inhumane behavior
Is like a gruesome spot‐
Which will never
Of the fabric
Of Our flag.
Under the stars and stripes,
We all struggle and sweat for some
Under the red
Red stripes of blood flow,
Stars never to be seen.
White fear from simulated drowning,
Blue throbbing neck, arms and legs
From stress positions
Broken bodies: arms, eyes, hands,
Broken like Us,
Or forced feeding.
Death threats on wives and children.
In this supposed democracy,
Our government is Us,
If it is Us
Then we too are torturers!
80,000 people illegally detained,
The ever increasing
On migrants and black human beings
On these very streets!)
We will NOT stay silent while
Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice
Complicit democratic congress
Reap the profits
Of corporate greed,
In Our names!
Call a criminal what‐ he‐ is!
John Yoo‐ Criminal!
John Yoo‐ Criminal!
Created a memo
To violate the Geneva Convention.
Which has justified
Thousands of unheard
Screams, pleas and tears,
Urine, vomit & spit.
In the blackest of days
Never to be seen again.
Charge John Yoo with war crimes!
And Get Up against torture!
Don’ wait for a savior,
No compromise with criminals,
Be horrified that
Just like Us
And be wary,
What is used on them,
By unconstitutional law,
By Angela Consolo Mankiewicz
We make them out of the blood of instinct,
nurtured by a resident ethos
to propagate the natural order.
We make them out of received dreams,
spied in a mirror,
unmindful of cracked corners.
If we see cracks,
we plug them with putty and tell ourselves
nothing is perfect.
When the putty begins to crack,
we patch a little more and go on
about our business.
One day, we notice a chunk of glass
dangling off a splinter,
threatening to shatter.
When it does, we shield our eyes,
pick out shards with ungloved fingers
and delicately paste back what's left
for the next generation.
RantChant: What To Tell Kristen About 21st Century Torture
or Guide For Discussing Human Rights With Your 8-Year old*
Define human cruelty
and degradation and
how we try to stop it and
why it doesn’t stop
Topics For Basic Remedial Work:
What a human right is
What instincts are
About human nature
What good and bad mean
Correcting A/Im-moral Educations:
Why we have to teach human rights
Why some people don’t have any
What kind of people Americans are,
could be, have been, should be
What decency means
What honor means
Advanced Topics as Applicable:
Imagine the future
Imagine a better one and
how to build it - willfullness
required, talent optional
If your child falls asleep,
wake the child up and
start again, or,
you can say nothing
in a loud and bitter voice.
*Inspired by Antler’s poem “How To Explain the War To Your Children,” published in CHIRON REVIEW, 2004.
By Mark Prime
An Enduring Torture
…The golden-haired children seemed in their own peace filled world as
hungry giants walked heavily and with great anger over the wilderness…
In this tale of time, this poem, there’s not enough room for everyone to sit,
some will have to stand and merrily wait their turn at the gates of anguish.
Soon you will be able to taste what your sons and daughters have swilled-
your aunts and uncles, mothers and fathers, nieces and nephews; the sufferers.
Above our heads, even in anguish, rises a cry so profound that it must be a dream
of man’s making, a face filled with the delight of our trust, our love, our freedom.
Upon this blue throne we call earth, our collective heart moves freely among us,
yet our hands and feet trace drops of blood over this painting. We turn our
backs on the trees and the rivers and we beat down upon the soil with metal
drums of war. We long to conquer our immense fear of things outside of this air,
so demons claw at our bellies and slash at our throats to get a single breath of air
and a chance to speak with us, to tell us why we are a cheerless lot and to clarify,
explain to us our immeasurable and never-ending sorrow.
There are the screams of the oppressed, the cries of the starving offspring,
the tears of the childless mothers and fathers, and the beating of truth in each
of us. It’s never been outside of our reach. It has always been and will remain
within each of us, gestations of the human stain.
Open your mouth wide and bestow this birth to one another, our lone salvation,
our reckoning with truth and beast and the earth’s nectar. Celebrate kindness,
not its converse aberration, torture.
It is waiting upon our approval, nothing more and nothing less…
And We Stand Still
And we stand still,
Seemingly unmoved by it all.
And we stand still,
Force the broken rubble together,
To the crimson clay and gray maggots we leave our breathing,
Feet stuck down in the red earth.
Do we know what it is that we have done?
Forgive me... We know not...
Writhing limbs beneath the ground
Unmoved of the dulled shanking sorrow
Broken by the distant flow of murder
Dejected of all the slighted affections
Replaced by a programmable worry
Struck anesthetized of bone-shrieking pain
Vanished by the good God damned dash
Pushed back to the very dread filled end
Trampled flat by the gush of skin
Stopped short of inhaling lethal shame
Turned off from what’s not the same
Blinded by the inundation of labor
Wrought immobile by the last quaver
Succumbed to hunger and greed
Paled of piercing a blood-red deed
Do we know what it is that we have done?
Forgive me... We know not...
O the flesh and bone and blood, and blood and blood-
Murderous days and nights
Of the world’s child
By our conscious monstrousness!
Again and again, without moving,
Planted there in the earth!
We are living and breathing
Yet we might as well die away,
Pass on down, end, vanish, fade...
Who could possibly want what we have;
Freedom with feet wedged beneath the ground,
God without a miserable mince of goodness,
Equality with white-faced conditions?
Hope is a four letter word.
Writhing limbs beneath the ground.
What? What? What? Goddamnit! What?
We’re not alive, at least not our senses; reality.
Why not place our bodies entirely under
If we’re just going to stand so unhappily silent?
Surely we’ve nothing worth continuing for,
Surely we’d be better off if we sunk complete,
Better than remaining red-faced, horrifyingly immobile
With no weight to bear from such empty spirits...
It matters what we do.
The liberation possesses us
Like death owns our bones.
While we beam a maw of daggers
The freeway writhes next to us
Like a pit of angry snakes.
A liberty bell protests pointlessly in the harbor,
Some ashen patriot, or adolescent, must be torturing it…
Let’s not conjure this painting further.
Forget about the relentless racket.
Forget about freedom for a moment.
Think only of the terror stuffed deep down
Like a wellhead pawing the ocean floor,
Think only of ourselves and our callous skin,
An opportunity to taste such bitterness;
How acerbic and most foul to live without conscience…
Deep beneath the aching ground of our state, writhing,
twisting in the blood soaked layer below the screams
of the tortured and weep-filled living flesh, subdued,
a powerful schemer hunkers down
within his coward’s cave,
cackling of the anguish wrought by his reign
and sneering unto himself and the fool.
Mountains majesty, amber waves of grain
Blown back of the voice of shackles
and ropes tightly bound to their pain…
O! The sand and dust walking over the sorrow-born, lifeless limbs
making chains with the wind around the hopeless, must weep…
Deep below, the schemer whispers, “I’m the king”
from out his sallow lips to messengers sworn to secrecy
while the bombs above fall void unto his ears.
Evoking now the quietude of tyranny’s frame
he brings, blaring, the monstrous memories of what men can do!
And as they each move within the spiritless cave
he bows unto them, knees bent in half worship
uttering “What fools these patriots be.”
And the bombs fall silent unto this horde
of deviant beasts hunkered with themselves
and the stench of wafting hell,
yet only one shadow is cast across the floor…
Deep thundering now rolls, callous and yellow
like unending parades of pride filled processions;
lockstep, closed mind, tight fisted, greedy and senseless;
marching in honor of tomorrow’s bereavement,
inventing a country’s God-spurned eternity
of falling, plummeting rockets red glare
tumbling down, down, down
to the echoes of the past…
O hubris fondling the earth,
filling placid waters and pawing the trees, come!
End this! Thrust thy spear through the breach,
surprise even the memory of monstrous history
that death has found them there…