Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Red Cross Torture Report: What It Means (April 30, 2009)

The New York Review of Books
April 30, 2009

The Red Cross Torture Report: What It Means
By Mark Danner

When it comes to torture, it is not what we did but what we are doing. It is not what happened but what is happening and what will happen. In our politics, torture is not about whether or not our polity can 'let the past be past'--whether or not we can 'get beyond it and look forward.' Torture, for Dick Cheney and for President Bush and a significant portion of the American people, is more than a repugnant series of 'procedures' applied to a few hundred prisoners in American custody during the last half-dozen or so years--procedures that are described with chilling and patient detail, particularity in this authoritative report by the International Committee of the Red Cross. Torture is more than the specific techniques--the forced nudity, sleep deprivation, long-term standing, and suffocation by water,' among others--that were applied to those fourteen 'high-value detainees' and likely many more at the 'black site' prisons secretly maintained by the CIA on three continents.


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Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Mindfulness and Military Training - Reprise

The context

The Iraq war was a unilateral act of aggression by the US and Britain, the so-called "coalition of the willing". The war was apparently a battle in the war on terrorism, this is the lie that had been perpetrated by the Bush administration from the beginning. In fact, Iraq posed no threat to the US and its allies. There were no weapons of mass destruction, this much we know from the UN investigators.

The real reasons for the US attack on Iraq, that began with the first Gulf war, and continued with the embargo that deprived innocent Iraqi children of food and medicine, likely had more to do with US economic and strategic interests in the area than anything else. The US military and its operatives, then, have been belligerents responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. (A 2003 medical survey published in Lancet put the death toll at the hands of coalition forces in Iraq at a conservative estimate of 100,000 non-combatants).

The Ethics

Given this context then, what are the ethics of using mindfulness to train young soldiers in preparation for duty in Iraq? The stated purpose of said training is to help prevent PTSD symptoms in these young men and women, which they are likely to suffer following their tour of duty. On the face of it this seems humane, in a sense treating the trauma before it occurs and saving these young people future suffering.

In the larger context, however, I see a problem. The problem is one of intention. What has been the intention of the military leadership in the Iraq theatre of war? As one of the belligerents the US military's intention has been to kill as many of the "enemy" as possible. And at this they have been very effective, at times killing non-combatants in the bargain. As Thich Nhat Hanh states so clearly this is the intention of any fighting force, and it is the focus of the military training in Iraq. The use of mindfulness in this way, means that it is being co-opted to increase the killing efficiency of soldiers in the battle field. If this was not the case, why would the US military agree to pay researchers, Amishi Jha and her colleagues, $740K (see: Jha's CV to confirm this amount) to conduct studies of mindfulness training?

An argument has been made that since the election of Obama, the role of the US military in Iraq is one of peacekeeping. There can be little doubt that there has been a re-evaluation of the US's involvement in Iraq since Obama took office. However, given the fact that the US and Britain have been belligerents in this war, to suggest that the US can now be peacekeepers is a total misunderstanding of the term peacekeeping. It's like having a bully physically abuse you, take your lunch money and smash your property to bits and tell you that they have now changed their ways and they are going keep others on the school yard from getting into fights. Only it's worse than that, because they have killed members of your family, taken your country's source of revenue and destroyed the infrastructure that you depend on for your livelihood. The victims of coalition aggression might have trouble believing that you now mean no harm.

True peackeeping is a function of the UN. It works when a neutral force is charged with the responsibility of keeping the belligerents apart long enough for a plan for peace to be constructed - it is what should have happened in Rawanda but failed due to a lack of interest by the superpowers (see Romeo Delaire's book "Shake Hands with the Devil"). If the US is serious about its intention of peacekeeping, ways to involve the world community need to be sought, revenue from oil needs to be given back to the Iraqi people and the US and Britain need to find the ways and means to pay for and re-build the infrastructure that doesn't impose massive debt on Iraq. This is a tall order, I agree, but it is the legacy of the last US administration's policy of world domination. (For an excellent discussion of the legacy of the Bush policies on world and America see

The conclusion

Mindfulness training, as it is derived from the dharma, has no place in military training in Iraq because in the larger context the intention is still one of aggression on foreign soil. The ignorance of this context is what struck me as "hollow" in Amishi Jha's answer to the queston posed to her.