Doing Time Behind Bars for Protesting Against Torture

It is cold, she is warm. It’s made up of metal with hard edges: she of curves and silky hair. sensory deprivation vs. sensuousness. Then there is her purr.  I ask Google "Why do cats purr?" An answer: "Cats purr during both inhalation and exhalation with a consistent pattern and frequency between 25 and 150 hertz. Various investigators have shown that sound frequencies in this range can improve bone density and promote healing." There is no more safe or comfortable feeling than resting with Miss Whitey purring in the nook of my arm.  I think I’ll make a CD of her sound track to play while I’m going to sleep in prison.  Better yet, I’ll give it to the warden for him to play over the loud speaker to the whole cell block. I’m sure this would lower stress.

Miss Whitey is sitting on my lap as I read A Question of Torture by Alfred McCoy.

The last few weeks I’ve been on a ‘speaking tour’ talking about the history of the School of the Americas – the institution in Columbus, Georgia where ‘torture manuals’ were revealed as part of the curriculum in 1996, and whose continued existence is causing me and 31 other committers of civil disobedience – or prisoners of conscience – to face incarceration on April 11. Talking and reading about torture as a force underpinning American foreign policy, the Abu Ghraib photos, and continual headlines about the US concentration camp at the Guantanamo base in Cuba, has flung open the doors to the dungeon for the American public. We look in and see the vast black hole of our hypocrisy and cruelty. I hold Miss Whitey as I make the descent.

What is torture? The Abu Grhaib photos, despite the humiliation and grotesqueness they portray, don’t correspond to our archetypical images of torture: bodies bloodied and bruised, broken on a rack, fingernails wrenched out…

McCoy’s book, subtitled "CIA Interrogation: from the Cold War to the War on Terror" explains the new ‘no touch torture’. What he reveals is decades-long research by the CIA into a range of interrogation techniques based on sensory deprivation and psychological torture.  McCoy traces how these methods were field tested by CIA agents in Vietnam as part of the Phoenix program and then imported to Latin America and Asia under the guise of police training programs.

In an article in The Nation magazine, journalist Naomi Klein corroborates his analysis by asserting that The School of the Americas is where the roots of the current torture scandals can be found, and where this new form of torture was refined. "According to declassified training manuals," she writes, "SOA students – military and police officers from across the hemisphere – were instructed in many of the same ‘coercive interrogation" techniques that have since migrated to Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib: early morning capture to maximize shock, immediate hooding and blindfolding, forced nudity, sensory deprivation, sensory overload, sleep and food ‘manipulation,’ humiliation, extreme temperatures, isolation, stress positions – and worse. "

Because these mistreatments don’t leave scars or bruises, some in the US mainstream media have been calling them frat house pranks, or ‘torture-lite’. But these techniques are no less traumatic to their victims that physical beating.

Take the technique of audio over stimulation. In many prisons in the US global gulag, American music such as Metalica’s  ‘Enter Sandman’ have been played at mind numbing volume sometimes for stretches of up to 14 hours, creating a "disco inferno," reports Moustafa Bayoumi, who also has an article in The Nation‘s Torture issue (Dec 26, 2006). "This ‘torture-lite’ "can cause extreme psychological trauma.  It’s designed to deprive the victim of sleep and to cause massive sensory over stimulation, and it has been shown in different situations to be psychologically unbearable," he writes. 

Bayoumi quotes another journalist who searched for and found the ‘man in the hood’ from the macabre Abu Ghraib photos. Haj Ali told of being hooded, stripped, handcuffed to his cell and bombarded with a looped sample of David Gray’s "Babylon". It was so loud, he said, "I thought my head would burst." The journalist then cued up "Babylon" on his iPod and played it for Haj Ali to confirm the song. Ali ripped the earphones off his head and started crying. "He didn’t just well up with tears," the journalist reported. "He broke down sobbing."

Why is the Bush administration doing this? And how can Bush stonewall the rising clamor and continue to grant impunity (exemption from punishment and accountability) to his highest lieutenants, and architects of his torture empire? This widespread and institutionalized use of torture produces broken and angry victims, and perpetuators – our sons and brothers – who will face their own kind of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome when they return home. As more and more Americans read about the terrible human rights violations emanating from Guantanamo and hidden prison cells around the world, we are bound, in increasing numbers, to turn on this administration in dismay and horror.

I will be keeping up with things via earphones and a battery operated radio that we are allowed to buy at the prison commissary. I hope, when I get out in July, to join a full voiced movement of protest against impunity at the highest levels of our government.

Miss Whitey will be taken care of by a house sitter. I hope she’ll be around to welcome me back. She’s the equivalent of 90 years old! 

Robin Lloyd is the Publisher of Keep you eyes on this website for Robin’s blog from jail. This is article first appeared in the March 2006 issue of the Vermont Peace and Justice Center Newsletter.