Wednesday, March 28, 2007

More On Torture And “24”

The American Prospect has written about another event involving the writers of “24” and real live (former) torturers getting together. Although actually the article doesn’t really talk much about “24.”

Tony Lagouranis is a 37-year-old bouncer at a bar in Chicago's Humboldt Park. He is also a former torturer. That was how he was described in an email promoting a panel discussion, "24: Torture Televised," hosted by the NYU School of Law's Center on Law and Security in New York on March 21. And he doesn't shy away from the description.
One nugget is that the article ends up damning The Atlantic Monthly as more responsible for promoting torture than “24.”
Back during the NYU event, Lagouranis had sat behind a long table on a stage with his sleeves rolled up and his arms folded across his chest. Toward the end of the discussion, he leaned forward and told the audience that, ultimately, the abuse of prisoners could not be blamed on shows like 24. "I'm from New York City. I'm college-educated," he said. "But you put me in Iraq and told me to torture, and I did it and I regretted it later."
But he says a 2003 article from Atlantic Monthly had a huge impact.
Some of the soldiers and officers had been influenced by Mark Bowden's October 2003 Atlantic Monthly article, "The Dark Art of Interrogation," which describes techniques that, in the author's words, are "excruciating for the victim" yet "leave no permanent marks and do no lasting physical harm."

"It seems to me Bowden was advocating what he calls 'torture lite,'" Lagouranis tells me. "That made an impression on a lot of people. The feeling was that what we had been taught about the Geneva Conventions was not going to be followed anymore. We would be following a new set of rules -- and that was what Bowden was talking about."
I’ve noticed in some op-eds there’s kind of a pat saying that torture ends up harming the torturer more than the victim. At least psychologically, the victims can recover, but the torturers are scarred for life. Maybe that’s true, but it’s clearly not true in all cases.

I remember when Sister Dianna Ortiz published her memoir of her was abduction, rape and torture in El Salvador. She was one of the four infamous American nuns who were, almost accidentally it seems, victims of the civil war in 1989. (The big deal was when Americans nuns were picked up suddenly the American media started paying attention to the violence in the region). I have not read her memoir, but in reviews I read one of them commented that Ortiz says herself that she is not quite whole from her experience.

It struck out at me at the time because you often don’t read narratives where the ending is “Yes I am still kind of broken by the experience. It didn’t kill me but it didn’t make me stronger either.”

The Buddhist part of me wants to say the only way Lagouranis can recover is if he devotes his life to undoing the harm that he has done. He can’t erase his crimes but he can make up for them. He doesn’t need counseling to “get over” what he did. He needs to help his victims.

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