Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Sand Opera Lenten Journey Day 29: Not Forgetting Guantanamo, “in the cell of else,” and Danny Caine

Sand Opera Lenten Journey Day 29: Not Forgetting Guantanamo, “in the cell of else,” and Danny Caine

Saying to the prisoners: Come out!
To those in darkness: Show yourselves!
Along the ways they shall find pasture,
on every bare height shall their pastures be.
They shall not hunger or thirst,
nor shall the scorching wind or the sun strike them;
For he who pities them leads them
and guides them beside springs of water.
I will cut a road through all my mountains,
and make my highways level.
See, some shall come from afar,
others from the north and the west,
and some from the land of Syene.
Sing out, O heavens, and rejoice, O earth,
break forth into song, you mountains.
For the LORD comforts his people
and shows mercy to his afflicted.

But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me;
my Lord has forgotten me.”
Can a mother forget her infant,
be without tenderness for the child of her womb?
Even should she forget,
I will never forget you.
--1 Isaiah 49

As I’ve written earlier in this Lenten observance, 91 men continue to languish in Guantanamo Bay prison, uncharged and unreleased, nearly 15 years after the so-called War on Terror began, with no end in sight, thanks to a recalcitrant Congress and a cowed public. The reading from the prophet Isaiah again calls for an apocalyptic vision, a vision of utter transformation, when the prisoners will be freed and the darkness will be turned to light, when no one will go hungry and all shall be protected from the weather, when the mountains will be passable and the highways will be level (perhaps these last two feats seem less remarkable in the age of dynamite and steamrollers).

What will it take for the prison doors to be opened and the light shed on what happened there?

After all, it was in Guantanamo Bay prison that the U.S. began its practices of so-called “enhanced interrogation” (a euphemism for “whatever we can get away with and still somehow not call torture, by playing with the idea that the legal definition of torture until the very term became sapped of all meaning). The origins of these practices goes back way farther than that, of course, into the recesses of the Cold War (if not further than that), when various psychological methods of torture were developed. One of those methods was exposing inmates to constant light and sound over the course of many days, an experience which gradually causes psychosis. In a perverse twist, Mohamedou Ould Slahi (the author of the essential memoir Guantanamo Diary, written while in prison and published in 2015) testified to being exposed to this treatment, including having to listen to happy children songs like The Barney Theme Song and The Sesame Street Theme Song, in addition to Drowning Pool’s “Bodies” and other more obviously dark songs, a point that Danny Caine addresses in his essay below. It’s strange to think, at the very time that my daughter was watching Barney on television, Slahi was stuck in a cell, being tortured by that music, caught in the machinery of empire. Slahi is still in the prison. “I shall never forget you,” Isaiah promises, voicing God’s unremitting love.

In addition to writing to your Congresspeople (and following campaigns such as, you can also write a letter to one of the prisoners in the Guantanamo Bay prison. I’m going to write to Slahi today.

from “Hung Lyres” (Sand Opera)


In the cell of else / in the pitch-white
someone’s hands shackled between ankles

in the nights & sunny days keeping the clouds
shaking the rib cage & no way

to keep the music from entering & breaking
the bodies hit / Let the bodies hit the / Barney

is a dinosaur / this is the touching without being                                       
touched / this is the being without

silence / from our imagination / in wave upon
wave / in a shipping container  & I love you

in a box of shock you love me / in a cemented
dream / we’re a happy family /

with a great big hug and chains that leave no mark
Won’t you say you love me too?

“in the cell of else” essay by Danny Caine

On September 22, 2001, at the Fillmore Auditorium in Denver, Colorado, the first of several annual Music as a Weapon tours played its initial date. Headlined by nü-metal standouts Disturbed, it also featured Dallas metal band Drowning Pool, best known for their song “Bodies.” You may remember it from the heady late-90s peak of post grunge rap metal; its earworm chorus repeating “Let the bodies hit the floor, let the bodies hit the floor” over and over again. Calling this the “Music as a Weapon” tour surely was intended for little more than hard-rock braggadocio. Yet during the war in Iraq, the US Army employed “Bodies” in enhanced interrogation scenarios to wear down the will of Iraqi prisoners. “Bodies,” and other songs, would be played over and over at unbearable volume as lights flashed directly at the prisoners. It’s a technique inspired by Jim Channon’s New Earth Batallion Manual, originally a project to incorporate New Age Philosophy into the morale-slumped post-Vietnam Army. Only in this case, it actually turned music into a weapon.

The song most famously included in this particular Army experiment is “I Love You, You Love Me,” from the children’s TV show Barney. It, not “Bodies,” is the song that inspired a thousand smirking news reports of the haha-soldiers playing haha-Barney for the haha-prisoners. Yet missing from the jocular reports was the horror of transforming a force for good into a method of inducing pain. Joke all you want about how “listening to Barney (or Drowning Pool) is torture.” This is the blatant misappropriation of a peaceful art into a weapon. Even Metal music, while aggressive in posture, can be an inclusive and cathartic community. Drowning Pool themselves have said, “‘Bodies’ was written about the brotherhood of the moshpit and was never about violence.” Music is not a weapon. Even “Bodies.” Music is an inspiration for embodied movement that even at its most violent—for instance, in the moshpits of shows like the one at the Denver Fillmore in September 2001—it is a vehicle for cathartic and peaceful release.

Danny Caine’s poems have appeared in Hobart, Mid-American Review, Midwestern Gothic, New Ohio Review, and other places. He is author of the Dispatches from the Factory of Sadness sports poetry column for Atticus Review's More than Sports Talk. He hails from Cleveland and lives in Lawrence, Kansas where he works at the Raven Bookstore and co-edits Beecher's Magazine

1 comment:

Maureen said...

Prisoner number 760

had been forcibly broken.
Even the guards’ voices

ferried through plumbing
sounded heavenly after

815 days. The blindfold
still let in the bright light

at night; chains on ankles
tied to wrists tightened

with every “F-this and F-
that”, made it impossible

to stand and move. Hit so
hard my breath stopped,

hurt like never before, I
hoped I could stop moaning.

Technically, I couldn’t
speak, my lips grew so big.

Ice cubes stuffed between
clothes and skin helped

the pain, wiped out bruises.
Everything seemed to be

perfectly prepared for that
afternoon in the truck, on

a beach, in the boat, back
on land. Thirteen years

after, I didn’t know to cry.