Monday, November 14, 2005

State of Emergency

Last week, I attended PEN's State of Emergency:Readings Against Torture, Arbitrary Detention & Extraordinary Rendition – continuing a series that began with a reading last summer on free speech. Salman Rushdie, as president of PEN, again headed the stellar line-up whose reading choices were excellent: moving, forceful, and engaging. Especially for the woman behind me who sealed each turn with a sympathetic-sounding-I'm-so-into-this "Mmmmmm."

Rushdie started off the proceedings with a little logic puzzle. W. says the US doesn't torture. But the administration is moving to block any legislation against torture. (Today, the Post announces a compromise among McCain's amendment to ban torture, putting us back into being more in accords with the standards set by the Geneva Convention and Sen. Graham's original proposition to strip away the prisoners' rights to habeas corpus.)

I highly recommend checking out the audio of the whole event, which left me more angrysad with disturbing lingering images from the readings, of people adorning trees like spanish moss and dismembered ears leaning on the ground. All the poems were excellent, many of them by Latin American poets. Other recommendations include the incredibly satirical story by Donald Barthelme "Some of Us Had Been Threatening Our Friend Colby" read by Heidi Julavits and From "Exhibit D," legal documents from a prisoner at Guantánamo Bay read by the fabulous Jessica Hagedorn, and the journalist/lawyer Emma Reverter's account of Guantanamo.

Playwright Edward Albee signed off his reading with, "If we dont learn from history, they tell us, we're bound to repeat it." You know, even after we've figured that part out long ago, stuff like "Never again," it doesn't seem to change our behaviour, does it? We are so smrt.

More reading material:
A Deadly Interrogation. Jane Mayer from the New Yorker takes an in-depth look at prisoner abuse and the government/military response. She is interviewed and talks about her article.

An excerpt, Leadership Failure: Firsthand Accounts of Torture of Iraqi Detainees by the US Army's 82nd Airborne Division, from a Human Rights Watch report, published a few weeks back in the New York Review of Books.

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