November 5th, 2006

Voted for Dean

Little War Stories

I don't have anything big or meaningful or profound to say about Alyssa Peterson, Cyrus Kar, or Majid Khan. Most of what there is to say is just too painfully obvious, really, not very profound at all. But their separate stories are sticking with me, and I feel an urge to speak out, to express what their stories mean to me.

When I started talking about Forbidden Lore, I made a big deal out of the fact that it's almost impossible to un-know something. If you would be better off not knowing, once you break that seal, once you cross that barrier and you do know, it's pretty nearly irreversible. All the saying, "Oh, god, I wish I didn't know that," won't make it go away. The best you can hope for, usually, is to either learn to live with the knowledge or hope that it fades from your active awareness. But there is a third option, one that I don't think about much myself. I'm pretty immune to the "didn't want to know that" feeling, so I never spent a lot of time trying to figure out strategies to do so. But then, I'm not Alyssa Peterson.

Alyssa Peterson volunteered enthusiastically to be part of the invasion of Iraq. A military intelligence specialist who spoke Arabic, she was assigned as an interrogator, and a translator for other interrogators, of captured Iraqi resistance suspects. She did it for two days. And the third day, rather than live with what she now knew, she shot herself in the head and died. I don't know what she learned. Maybe she learned something about the Iraqi resistance. Maybe she learned something about the Iraqi people. Maybe she learned something about the US Army. Maybe she learned something about herself, about what she was capable of doing when ordered to do so. Maybe she learned something about human nature. But she was so desperate to un-learn what she'd learned that she used her service-issued rifle to do so. I don't know how she thought that would help, but she may have been right to hope. The few eyewitnesses we have who, thousands of years ago, came back from visiting the land of the dead say that the dead do eventually find forgetfulness there. They also find suffering, and misery, there and by so doing she inflicted great suffering on her family, but maybe if she can unlearn whatever it was she saw in two days in "the Cage" in an American military prison in Iraq, it's worth it to her.

Cyrus Kar and Majid Khan have probably never met, but they ironically both made the same mistake. They both thought that the sentence, "I am an American citizen," was still a magic word, an incantation that would entitle them to legal rights. Perhaps they'd never heard of Manzanar, or didn't see the significance that it had to them. Cyrus Kar is a Los Angeles native and wanna-be historical filmmaker, of Persian descent, who was traveling in the Middle East to shoot footage for a film project on Persian history. Ironically, the documentary was going to be about a Persian king who, the Persians claim, wrote the world's first charter of human rights. I say "ironically" because when the taxicab he was riding in was stopped in Iraq under US occupation, the military says that somewhere in the cab they found "potential bomb parts." What that means, they're not saying, but given the standard design of Iraqi resistance improvised explosive devices what it probably means is "his cell phone." They locked him up without filing charges for two months, bullied and severely beat him, and then let him go. He's suing. The government is, of course, trying to claim that US courts have no jurisdiction over what our troops do while in a war zone, trying to get the lawsuit dismissed. Poor Kar, I guess he's still waiting for the magic phrase, "I am an American citizen," to convey rights upon him.

Majid Khan's story is even more tragic than Kar's. He was a native Pakistani who emigrated legally to America. While visiting family back in Pakistan, he was swept up by the CIA as a suspected terrorist, held in one of the secret CIA prisons that some of you were denying the existence of back when I started writing about them, and tortured for at least two years. Now that those prisons are closed and the torture is over, now that he's in legal limbo in Gitmo, he wants a chance to win his freedom in court, and the administration's latest legal brief is literally breath-taking. They say that he must not ever be allowed to talk to anyone, not even a lawyer of his own, because he's in possession of very important US secrets. What secrets? The specifics of the torture the CIA used on him, which the administration is admitting to by saying that if any future captives were to find out what torture techniques were used on Khan, they'd be better prepared for them.
  • Current Music
    Divinorum - DNA (D I G I T A L L Y - I M P O R T E D - Chillout - ambient psy chillout, check out ou
  • Tags
    , ,