Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Torture: I've seen this before

I missed this story when it was first printed in 2006, but it chills me. I just realized that I've seen what the New York Times describes, and I saw it on the shores of Lake Michigan.

I caught up to this story today when Andrew Sullivan quoted it in his post about What Enhanced Interrogation Does to People. He is talking about American citizen Jose Padilla, who has been detained and apparently tortured for years. The quoted material below is from the original New York Times story.
In his affidavit, Mr. (Andrew) Patel (Padilla's court-appointed lawyer) said, “I was told by members of the brig staff that Mr. Padilla’s temperament was so docile and inactive that his behavior was like that of ‘a piece of furniture.’ ”
I added the emphasis.

Here's what's so chilling to me. I once knew a human being who was so docile that he was like a piece of furniture. Let's call him Mr. B. I met him in 1971 when I was a college student and worked as a waitress in what was probably the last summer that Mendelson's Atlantic Resort was open in South Haven, Mich.

Mendelson's kept kosher and drew many older Jews who had immigrated from Europe after World War II. Several of them had been in concentration camps. They still had numbers, large and dark blue, tattooed on the outside of their forearms.

What struck me about Mr. B was that he was there, but not there. He would come to breakfast, lunch and dinner, and sit down at the table with the other single men. His hands would be on his lap. he looked straight ahead and slightly down. After I put his plate in front of him, he would pick up his utensils and eat, slowly and mechanically. The other men at the table tried to talk to him, but I never heard him reply.

The busboy and I tried to jolly him up. We tried jokes, gossip. What did we know? We were 20, and we thought we could make anyone laugh. I don't remember that Mr. B ever did.

I know he was in a concentration camp because the number was very clear on his arm, stark against his white skin every time the weather got hot, and he wore a short sleeve shirt.

I am not saying that the United States created concentration camps. As far as I know, it did not. But the description from the news story is frightening in its familiarity. What if we, the good citizens of the United States, somehow let our government do to Jose Padilla what the Nazis did to Mr. B?

How will we ever make up for that?

1 comment:

Nancy Jane Moore said...

I just read Toni Morrison's Beloved, which also documents what imprisonment and abuse do to people. I'm still feeling haunted by it.