On Thursday May 14th Lina Thorne and Jill McLaughlin of the Chicago Chapter of World Can’t Wait went to the University of Chicago to speak on the topic of torture carried out by the U.S. They had been invited by the Amnesty International student group who titled the talk American Torture Story.
All of the students were undergrads and were small children at the time the Bush Regime had codified torture and did not know the whole history of that, but Lina and Jill were able to cover a lot of that ground in a short period of time. Jill talked both about the moves on the part of the U.S. to circumvent international laws and Geneva conventions and make torture palatable to the American public from the very beginning of the ‘war on terror”. She highlighted that the utilization of torture was not about keeping people safe as the powers that be would have us believe but that the U.S. is an empire that feeds off the exploitation and oppression of others and that torture is a method to keep whole sections of people undr its thumb in order to maintain and expand empire.She related the history of the creation of Guantanamo and how John Yoo and Jay Bybee under Bush Presidency Office of Legal Council performed legal gymnastics so that they could say that torture was legal. She made it at point to talk about how Obama is just as complicit in torture by not prosecuting Bush era officials, not closing Guantanamo, and not stopping the force feeding of Guantanamo detainees who have been on and off hunger strike to protest the injustice of their detention. She also pointed out that Obama fears prosecution himself from the Republicans on the basis of his drone warfare program should he call for prosecutions over the Bush torture program and that it is a disgusting and cynical debate among the ruling forces whether it is better to torture people or kill them with drones and that we have to say that both are immoral and need to be stopped. She discussed the importance of sharing the humanity of those who have suffered from torture through learning their stories and sharing them with the public and to highlight that point she shared the story of Dilwar, a Afghan taxi driver who was tortured to death in 2002.
Lina talked about how torture has been the connection and parallels the U.S. prison system to places like Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and black sites. She pointed out what is not often noted is that Burge learned how to torture when he was in the US military police in Vietnam. The kind of torture that he conducted over and over again: using hand cranked implements to shock people’s genitals, was commonly practiced by the US military against the Vietnamese. Lina highlighted that this particular connection between the CPD and torture doesn’t end there though. Richard Zuley is a former cop who spent 37 years at the Chicago Police Department before he retired and through the Navy Reserve, while still a cop, was put in charge of a “Special Projects Team” at Guantanamo which tortured Mohamedou Slahi. We know this because Slahi wrote about it in his book, Guantanamo Diary, documenting beatings, sexual humiliation, mock executions and other forms of psychological torture, as well as solitary confinement. After he retired a number of Zuley’s convictions were overturned and he’s now being sued by some of his victims here in Chicago. One type of psychological torture that he carried out in parallel here and in Guantanamo was threatening people’s families. He told one woman in Chicago, Benita Johnson, that she’d never see her kids again if she didn’t confess – while he also told Slahi that he had Slahi’s mother in custody and would be bringing her into the all-male environment of Guantanamo, which was intended and taken to be a threat of rape. She talked about the recent revelations of a black site by CPD called Homan square were people have been held without charge and tortured. Lina noted that the most prominent feature of torture in the U.S. prison system is the use of solitary confinement and invited a fellow activist, Gregory Koger, who spent several years in solitary confinement himself, to expand more on the use of solitary confinement in the U.S. prison system.
The most important thing we wanted to impress upon the students was the responsibility of people of conscience in this country to visibly resist and oppose these crimes-that it was not enough to just be angry and say you don’t like it and that operating within the confines of politics as usual was not going to stop torture.
The students seemed to be moved by the story of Dilwar and let what had been done to him by our government sink in. One student said that she agreed that we live in empire but thought that they, the ruling forces, must know that using torture would somehow backfire on them and so wondered why they would use torture. We went back to the point that maintaining and expanding empire necessitates the ruling forces using torture on whole sections of people. Another student wanted to know how one learns about the stories like Dilwar’s. We talked about how there has been cover up after cover up on the part of our government which the mainstream media has played a role in, but that there are journalists and news outlets who really do follow a lead and really investigate, but that again it’s on us take that information and act on that and to intervene as much as we can to not let the mainstream media’s spin on any one story to influence the thinking of the people. She used the Collateral Murder video as an example and talked about how the mainstream media demonized Chelsea Manning but that the video spoke volumes about the crimes being committed in our name. We exchanged contact with some of the students to continue the conversation and work with them in the future in the struggle to end torture and indefinite detention.