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CI: A Dirge for Tucker, Torture, and Dirty Work

January 28, 2015 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Criminal Injustice Series, Imperialism, International Law, Military Industrial Complex, Prisoner Rights

Criminal InJustice is a weekly series devoted to taking action against inequities in the U.S. criminal justice system. Nancy A. Heitzeg, Professor of Sociology and Race/Ethnicity, is the Editor of CI. Kay Whitlock, co-author of Queer (In)Justice, is contributing editor of CI. Criminal Injustice is published every Wednesday at 6 pm.

 

A Dirge for Tucker, Torture, and Dirty Work

by Kay Whitlock

We all have our ghosts, the memories of singular people and events in our lives that changed us forever, in ways we still struggle to define with emotional clarity, and so haunt us still.

For the most part, these ghosts exist in the shadows of our lives, half-remembered more or less as we actually experienced them and half-invoked in service of personal storylines about who we wish we really were, who we think we are, who we hope to be – and, conversely, who we do not want to be.

The ghost I have been visited by most recently is a man, long dissolved into dust, probably tortured to death in Vietnam, having been responsible, in part, for the torture and assassination of countless Vietnamese people. His name is Tucker Gougelmann. He is the 78th person to be commemorated with a star on the Wall of Honor at CIA headquarters.

I knew him briefly, by accident or dumb luck, if you can call it that, in the years between 1972 and 1975, before the repatriation of (at least some of) his broken bones. I knew him not well but vividly. His very presence, by definition, was vivid.

It would be easy to hate him, but I don’t; I never have. My responses are much more complicated and have to do with a furious, searing, and ceaseless grief. He never really goes away. What am I supposed to do with him?

Tucker Gougelmann, on the right”

Tucker Gougelmann, on the right”

I suppose he rises again now from the miasma of the past to disturb my heart and spirit for several reasons. The first is the December 2014 release of the report on the CIA’s post-9/11 use of torture from the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.   The second is the relative placement of two recently-released feature films, Selma and American Sniper, in the contest for primacy in the American imagination – the Academy Award nominations be damned.

The third is the powerful and necessary campaign for reparations for survivors of Chicago police torture.  Next are the seemingly endless pre- and post-Ferguson killings of black people by police, security guards, and vigilantes in the United States.

Finally, there is my personal, apparently never-ending, search to explore the question why the most massive forms of violence are so terribly ordinary and routine, and how and why so many of us refuse to recognize or care about it; why we let it go on and on and on. And the subsequent, essential question: how is it possible to transform such lethal indifference and contempt, which produces systemic violence, into structural manifestations of civic goodness and generosity? (That is a question Michael Bronski and I explore in Considering Hate: Violence, Goodness, and Justice in American Culture and Politics. )

And finally, it has something to do with my personal, apparently never-ending, exploration of why the most massive forms of violence are so terribly ordinary and routine, and how and why so many of us refuse to recognize or care about it. And the subsequent, essential question: how is it possible to transform such lethal indifference into structural manifestations of civic goodness, generosity, and community wholeness?

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CI: Torture and the Lie: “That’s Not Who We Are”

December 17, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, Imperialism, Intersectionality, Military Industrial Complex, Police State, Prison Industrial Complex

Criminal InJustice is a weekly series devoted to taking action against inequities in the U.S. criminal justice system. Nancy A. Heitzeg, Professor of Sociology and Race/Ethnicity, is the Editor of CI. Kay Whitlock, co-author of Queer (In)Justice, is contributing editor of CI. Criminal Injustice is published every Wednesday at 6 pm.

 

CI: Torture and the Lie: “That’s Not Who We Are”

by Kay Whitlock

“That’s not who we are.”

The phrase is repeated endlessly, like a mantra, in the wake of the release of the redacted 525-page executive summary of the post- 9/11 “torture report” – the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s Study of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program [PDF].  Even President Obama uttered it.

It’s a reassuring phrase that seeks to (ever so) briefly acknowledge some expression of sadistic violence inflicted by powerful people on vulnerable others that somehow, inconveniently,  enters public awareness. At the same time, it asserts this violence is an aberration, a temporary departure from American values of goodness, freedom, and democracy. Others take refuge in the idea that recent torture revelations are evidence that a once moral nation has “lost its way.”

More accurate phrases would be: “That’s not how we want to see ourselves,” or “That’s not who we wish we were.” Or even just “Blame somebody, anybody else, except me/us.”

But torture is who “we” are as a society, whether we want to believe it or not.  It is not a case of unintentionally wandering astray, off some unambiguously moral and ethical path so designated by unambiguously good people. No amount of denial or distancing from that terrible and painful truth can change the reality that torture isn’t – and never was – primarily the province of evil others – “extremists,” psychopaths, crazed loners and misfits, depraved criminals, terrorists, and a handful of “bad apples.”  The real culprits are much closer to home; often, they look, uncomfortably, just like you and me.

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Revelations: Tatanka

November 16, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Eco-Justice, Imperialism, Intersectionality

BBF

Buffalo Field Campaign

Current News from Volunteers in the Field
Help STOP THE SLAUGHTER of the Yellowstone Buffalo!

Press Release 11/13/14
Endangered Species Act Protection Sought for the Imperiled Yellowstone Bison
Download the Endangered Species Act Petition, PDF

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Revelations: “Nature is on Our Side..”

August 10, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Consumer Rights, Eco-Justice, Economic Development, Economic Terrorism, Imperialism, International Law, Intersectionality, What People are Doing to Change the World

Dr Vandana Shiva, Rights of Nature and Earth Democracy

 

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Revelations: “Peace Begins in a Single Chair…”

August 03, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Arts and Culture, Eco-Justice, Education, Imperialism, Intersectionality, Military Industrial Complex, What People are Doing to Change the World

Ode to the chair

Pablo Neruda (from Odes to Common Things)

vineA chair in the jungle:
under the severe lianas
a sacred tree trunk creaks,
tangles of vines press high,
in the shadows
bloody beasts cry out,
majestic leaves descend from the green sky,
the rattles of snakes
quiver like bells.
A bird spanned the sprawling greenness,
like an arrow shot through a flag,
and branches hoisted high their violins.
Insects
pray in stillness,
seated on their wild bouquets.
Feet sink into
the black sargasso
of the watery jungle,
into the rainforest’s tumbled clouds.
I only request one thing
for the stranger,
for the desperate
explorer,
a chair in the tree of chairs,
a throne,
disheveled and plush,
the velvet of a deep easy chair,
eaten away by creepers.
Yes,
a chair, 
loving the universe, 
for the walkabout man, 
the sure 
foundation, 
the supreme 
dignity 
of rest!

Behind thirsty tigers,
bands of bloodthirsty flies,
behind the black expanse
of ghost-ridden leaves,
behind the low waters,
the thicket like iron,
perpetual snakes,
in the middle
of the thunder,
a chair,
a chair 
for me, 
for everyone,
a chair not 
only for the weary body’s 
rescue, 
but also for everything, 
and for everybody, 
to renew lost strength, 
and for meditation. 

War is wide like the light-starved jungle.
Peace 
begins 
in 

single 
chair.

Revelations: “So Hot, So Hot, So Hot, So What?”

July 06, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Arts and Culture, Civil Rights, Eco-Justice, Economic Terrorism, Imperialism, Intersectionality, Poverty

“Song of the Law-Abiding Citizen” by June Jordan

Revelations: Ohio

May 04, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Arts and Culture, Civil Rights, Gun Culture, Imperialism, Intersectionality, Military Industrial Complex

The May 4 Shootings at Kent State University

Kent State Revisited

The Killings at Kent State

Revelations: Slavery, Depicted

January 19, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Arts and Culture, Civil Rights, Imperialism, Intersectionality

 

northup256

“Which Story, What Story, and Whose Story Is Being Told?” Massa’s Gaze: Screenings & Discussions of the Depictions of Slavery in Film & Television (NYC)

12 Years a Slave Fails to Show Resistance”, Guardian

“The Horrors 12 Years a Slave Couldn’t Tell”, Aljazeera America

“Why I Wouldn’t See 12 Years a Slave With a White Person”, The Atlantic

“How 2013 Became the Year of the Slavery Film”, Daily Beast

‘The Good White Folks of the Academy” Aljazeera America

Twelve Years a Slave: Narrative of Solomon Northup, a Citizen of New-York, Kidnapped in Washington City in 1841, and Rescued in 1853 (Electronic Edition, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1997).

 

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