RECKONING WITH TORTURE: MEMOS AND TESTIMONIES FROM THE “WAR ON TERROR”
Eight years ago, September 11th transformed New York City into a crowded hive of anxiety. Since then, there have been innumerable changes in our lives. The obvious ones include soldiers patrolling streets, bridges, tunnels, transportation hubs, and the now commonplace presence of folding tables and police officers prepared to check bags at subway stations. But there was much more going on than we knew, and Tuesday night’s event at Cooper Union Hall, Reckoning With Torture: Memos and Testimonies from the War on Terror, highlighted that although innocent New Yorkers were victimized once, and perhaps left with reoccurring nightmares, innocent men have been forced to live nightmares for years on end in our name.
The evening began with brief opening remarks by K. Anthony Appiah, the President of Pen American Center, and Jameel Jaffer, the Director of the ACLU’s National Security Project, then moved into readings from declassified texts by prominent writers and artists as well as lawyers, a former military interrogator, and a former CIA agent. Readers included established literary heavyweights such as Don DeLillo, A.M. Holmes, Paul Auster, and Art Spiegelman as well as young writers of great acclaim such as Nell Freudenberger and Ishmael Beah. All of the readings were shocking for what they contained and how much remained classified and thus redacted. Eve Ensler’s vigorous reading of a speech delivered by President George W. Bush commemorating the United Nations Day in Support of Victims of Torture highlighted his administration’s hypocrisy; and Susana Moore’s compassionate delivery of a detainee’s response during a tribunal demonstrated how trumped up charges against some detainees were. To further support the baseless nature of numerous detentions and the scale of torture, never-before-seen video interviews with former wrongfully detained Guantanamo prisoners (a British national who moved to Kabul to open a school for girls, two childhood friends and British nationals that were detained while traveling in Afghanistan, a Libyan national and British resident who lost his right eye while being tortured) were interspersed between readings. In addition, a continuous loop of imagery by New York based artist Jenny Holzer in which altered, blotted out, and marked up handprints of detainees and American soldiers accused of crimes in Iraq played on three screens at the back of the stage.
Reckoning With Torture served to make the lawlessness and sadism of Guantanamo and secret America’s detention facilities real; so real, in fact, that in his closing remarks K. Anthony Appiah cried and struggled to speak. It was the proper ending to a powerful evening, one which proved that if there is to be any form of reconciliation and justice for those tortured, then the voices of artists and those who understand the Geneva Accords must overcome shock and sadness and call upon our current administration to investigate, expose, and prosecute those who misled and wronged all of us.