Offcourse Literary Journal

Inescapable Torture?


I have watched many swim meets in the last four years or so, since all my grandchildren have (wisely, in my view) taken up swimming as their sport of choice. Last Saturday, a sunny one in Northeastern Virginia, my ten-year-old granddaughter swam at a meet near Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington. I was ready to scream at the top of my voice, "Go, Katie, go!" and "Pull, Katie, pull!" when her turn would come; meanwhile, I watched the other boys and girls, aged six to fourteen, go through the various events. A group of older girls were lined up ready to dive, when one of them, looking at her relatives and friends who were taking her photograph, flashed a smile and gave them two thumbs up. The images of Pfc.Lyndie England at Abu Ghrab came to my mind. For the rest of the meet, I prayed that it would not come into Katie's mind to imitate the odious gesture.

In societies diseased by the rot of systematic torture, no one, boy or girl, your child or my child, is presumed innocent. Whenever someone disappeared in Argentina during the military regime of the 70s and early 80s, most people used to whisper, "He (or she) must have been guilty of something." Something, indeed: and if of nothing else, just guilty of the possibility of thinking. Innocence is denied on principle, and its claims are looked upon with obscene sarcasm. The torturer's job is to find what's kept inside a skull; they usually do it behind thick walls. Yet some images of cruelty ooze out, and seep into our nightmares, the nightmares as well as the daydreams of a guilty generation. This time we even have photos.

Almost three years ago, in Offcourse #11, I ended my "From my Private Journal: 9/11/01" by expressing the fear that I had escaped one country of torturers only to end my days in another such; that with the full cooperation of a mindless administration, the Jihadists would succeed in their purpose: to eliminate America as a symbol of hope, and to show her up as a bloodthirsty, cynical beast. I was right, but I will not give anyone a thumbs-up.

Ricardo Nirenberg
Summer 2004


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