“Christ at the Column” by Caravaggio, oil on canvas, circa 1607. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)
The torture-house run by Gina Haspel in 2002 was code-named “Cat’s Eye” (Adam Goldman, New York Times, March 13, 2018), evoking images of the Orwellian poster that haunted Winston Smith in 1984 (“Big Brother is Watching You”) and of the Ministry of Love and Room 101. At this site (before Haspel ran the prison), a Qaeda suspect by the name of Abu Zubaydah was water-boarded 83 times. A medical officer recorded the beginning sessions of Zubaydah’s “water-cure”:
“The sessions accelerated rapidly progressing quickly to the water board after large box, walling [slamming prisoner against wall], and small box periods. [Abu Zubaydah] seems very resistant to the water board. Longest time with the cloth over his face so far has been 17 seconds. This is sure to increase shortly. NO useful information so far…. He did vomit a couple of times during the water board with some beans and rice. It’s been 10 hours since he ate so this is surprising and disturbing. We plan to only feed Ensure for a while now. I’m head[ing] back for another water board session.[i]
A common thread in discussions of “enhanced interrogations” by our politicians is the widespread assumption that the times after 9/11 were a “dark period” in our history, an aberration, an exception to our usual humane treatment of prisoners of war, political prisoners and even common prisoners.
Burning of Hatuey, a Taino chieftain. From a bas-relief of the portal of El Capitolio of Havana. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Every time I hear a U.S. politician making the case that this is a Christian country because our Founding Fathers were all Christians and they founded this country based on Christian values (blah blah blah), I tremble. My mind escapes to the early years of my first grade education when my teachers made sure I learned and understood the legend of the Caribbean chieftain Hatuey.
In 1542, Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas—the great Defender of the Indians—documented the first genocide of indigenous nations of the Americas in his Brief Account of the Destruction of the Indies:
The reason why Christians have killed and destroyed so many and such an infinite number of souls only because they have gold as their ultimate end, and becoming bloated with riches in very few days, and climb to very high states out of proportion to their persons, it is good to know, is because of their insatiable greed and ambition, which has been greater than it could have been in the world, because these lands are so blissful and rich, and the people so humble, so patient and so easy to subjugate.
“If demons had gold,” Las Casas wrote, “[the Spanish] would attack them to steal it from them.”[i](more…)