A Willful Blindness, and Not Beside the Point
By Carol Smaldino
The only way for me to write about torture and trauma at Guantanamo is to connect to other issues, even if the word "issues" seems awfully cold and measured in comparison to the passions, grief, even madness and brutality of the former.
It is not new that we hear and see reports of torture carried out by the American military, and even by psychological staff involved. First let me say the "A Willful Blindness" refers to a part of the New York Times (11/12/16) piece entitled "Where Even Nightmares Are Classified: Psychiatric Care at Guantanamo", by Sheri Fink.
The reference is as follows: "At Guantánamo, 'a willful blindness' to the consequences emerged. Those equipped to diagnose, document and treat the effects -- psychiatrists, psychologists and mental health teams -- were often unaware of what had happened.
Sometimes by instruction and sometimes by choice, they typically did not ask what the prisoners had experienced in interrogations, current and former military doctors said."
I don't feel superior to the many who don't have this subject on their radar, if only because there is so much that I myself have missed along the way, including the racism rampant in white suburbs, and the flooding of black neighborhoods in LA with crack cocaine in the 1980's.
I've always felt a keen distinction between the United States and most other nations, when it came to safeguards of the judicial situation, the being innocent before being proven guilty and the decency insured all people, even prisoners. The fact that we have seen piles of footage of prison guards in America pummeling and beating even harmless prisoners, to the point of manslaughter and even death, has felt hard to believe.
And without meaning to be a moral relativist, I suppose that for me the intentional torture of human beings often accompanied by sadistic enjoyment and even glee, has seemed to me a dividing line between an element of Nazism where no humanity is left. It scares me to consider my faith in America may have been completely naïve.
My question has to do with why these egregious crimes seem to bother so few Americans. Why, in other words, has there not been enough of an outcry so as to insist on hearings that would put on trial all the people responsible--not only the military personnel on the front lines, but people from politicians to psychologists who sanctioned this and gave the orders.
I think part of the crisis many of us are having--I'm speaking more about liberals and progressives here--has to do with a sense of betrayal at the election of Donald Trump. How could so many Americans vote for him, knowing that he stood for a kind of hatred (even if defensive) against immigrants, especially Mexicans and Muslims? How could people ignore his apparent ignoring of warnings by the soberest of scientists and celebrities (Leonardo DiCaprio comes in here) about the damage to the climate forever if we don't face the facts of climate change? How could people have ignored the fact that he said he would bring back torture methods, now banned and do even worse?
Are we in America that prone to dehumanizing other groups of people to the extent that we care little to nothing of what they tell us, or how they react? Are we that fickle and distracted to make one group, for some the lgbtq population, the in-crowd for the moment. (I am NOT against them to be sure).
As a therapist one of the biggest challenges is to equalize the playing field as much as possible. This means, that without denying pathology or danger, there is the need to respect the perceptions of the patient--the realities that he/she is experiencing. Good treatment means the therapist is listening carefully to his/her own inner turmoil, hostility, fears, etc. Sometimes I feel that as a country we are allergic to looking at how far we can go, either in terms of actual aggression and at least being a silent participant if only by saying nothing, and by a willful neglect and even "a willful blindness".
The Jews in Nazi German were considered beneath the rest of humanity, both socially and emotionally and even physically. So much that they needed to be exterminated and for many, how they were treated was hardly a matter of concern. Many Germans lost their moral compass in an atmosphere where the psychopath put the rest of the people in doubt, where dis-regulating the systems of ethics and caring that so called civilized countries tend to pride themselves on having, became the norm.
There are many facts, reports, books articles already written on torture, and the traumatic effects it has had. Keep in mind, that many of those imprisoned were kept without charges, without evidence and as it turned out without advantages even to our military intelligence and security. Keep in mind also that the United States went into Iraq on false information and did great damage in an entire region.
This stuff may seem beside the point because people are worried about economics, which is no small thing. A bulk of voters (and I dare say non-voters) make time for church on Sundays or some form of worship where they both pray and make promises to observe values of charity and kindness.
It would be terrible to think that a willful blindness to the suffering of many not in our immediate circle is what we are dealing with. This would mean that we are on strike about information that stretches our humanizing capacities.
Some of us want to talk to people of the other sides of things, and I would be among them. Looking at our prejudices would be like learning from history, except not only the beautiful parts of the parts that make us innocent. What we don't see we can't learn from. And whom we don't see we can never recognize as connected to us, and deeply so.