Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Prisoner With No Name

[It is important to understand that torture, except for the occasional freelancer, does not occur in a vacuum. Like anything else, torture requires infrastructure which in turn requires the political will of a government. Such infrastructure includes among other things laws and/or executive orders which may or may not be secret, secret police and/or special police or military units, means of disposal of torture’s collateral damage and institutional means to deny that torture is taking place or claim its necessity for such things as national security when denial is precluded by exposure.

There is an odd double standard in the use of torture in that, although secret, it needs to be common knowledge. The reason for this is that the purpose of torture is to control a population or a subset of a population through terror, i.e. torture is state-sponsored terrorism.

Another quirk in the use of torture is that the reluctance of governments to admit let alone rectify mistakes is somewhat magnified. Because of the secrecy and lack of oversight, it is both tempting and easy to sweep “mistakes” under the rug, so to speak. Here is an example of what can happen received from my un-employed angel from the Third Galaxy]

Although they are not supposed to, the prisoners sometimes talk about how they got here.

That is how I happen to know something about prisoner number RF-8669. The guards only refer to him by his number and leave out the letters as if 86 was his last name and 69 his first – it’s the military way, you know, to put the last name first.

Mr. 69 86 has been here for a long time, longer than anyone else, so no one remembers when he came. He’s been here so long he’s forgotten the name he had before he came.

Somebody suggested to him once that “RF” perhaps stood for the initials of his real name in hopes that it might jog his memory. Mr. 69 86 just smiled and said in his soft, gentle voice, “No, I don’t think so, if it stands for any thing at all, it stands for “Royally Fucked”.

It’s not clear to me just how he forgot his name. Was it the years of not speaking it or hearing it spoken, a beating from the guards or a combination of both, it’s hard to say.

The guards here are not all that bad usually, unless they’re drunk or are having problems in their private lives, but it does happen, although it’s against regulations, that somebody gets the shit kicked out of them. That’s not just a turn of phrase you know, it really is possible to get the shit kicked out of you. Myself, I’ve been pretty lucky and have never had anything worse than a couple of cracked ribs.

Although he can’t remember his real name, Mr. 69 86 has crystal clear memories of how he got here. I’ve heard him tell about it with my own ears, so I know it’s true.

Of course Mr. 69 86 had a trial – nobody ends up here without a trial! In his case though, he never learned when the trial took place. Yes, you understand me correctly he was not present at his own trial! The given reason was that it was a matter of National Security.

Not only that, but he doesn’t know who, or in fact if anybody represented him at the trial. Again, it was because it was a matter of national security.

What was he charged with? Who testified against or for him, were there in fact any witnesses, was there a prosecution or cross examination – he was told nothing of these things, not even what his sentence was. All of these things were matters of National Security.

He knows three things: there was a brown manila envelope, he received a sentence and the sentence can be appealed. What was in the envelope, what his sentence was and where, how and through whom he could make an appeal – all these things he is not allowed to know as they are all matters of National Security.

All that Mr. 69 86 remembers of his life before he came here was that he was a taxi driver, where, he does not recall. He had a fare and suddenly his cab was surrounded and stopped by masked men in uniforms and unmarked dark cars. He and his passengers were taken from the taxi, taped and hooded. Many things followed, of which he has little recall, until he was informed of the trial and sentence.

An odd case one would think, that of Mr. 86, but many here can tell similar stories, although few have all the elements of his.

It’s a terrible thing not to know your own name and one of us, thinking Mr. 86 was out of earshot mused, “If you don’t know your own name, do you still have a soul?

But Mr. 86 heard, and quietly, almost unnoticed came over to our group, looked each one of us in the eye and repeated the question in his quiet whisper, “Does a man with out a name have a soul? Hmmn, smart question you have there, young fellow!”

He lowered his gaze for a few moments then lifted his face. A tear trickled down one cheek, but his eyes glowed as with a light from within and he said, “I think the answer is yes!”

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