Torture and the Living Dead

Omar Khadr – a Canadian citizen abducted by US forces at the age of fifteen, has now spent over a quarter of his life beyond the reach of even the most basic humanitarian organizations – at Guantanamo Bay.

A video of formerly classified interrogation tapes from Guantanamo Bay has been released. The sound is poor, but at various points Omar can be heard asking for help, and perhaps even asking to be killed. Arabic translators at CBC translate the repetitious cry toward the end as ya’ummi – “Mom!”. I’m reminded of something told to me by a relative who used to work in a nursing home: People always call for their mother just before they die.

He – along with all the other inmates there – has been reduced to what Agamben calls the state of zoe – bare life, he who has been excluded from the social life, he who can be killed as one would kill an animal. (It is unclear to me whether he also constitutes the homo sacer, precisely since he can be murdered, either officially after a show trial, or in his cell under cover of night).

In the eyes of the US government, and in their inaction, apparently in the eyes of the Canadian government as well, he is nothing more than an animal.

When will the Allied Troops of the present day invade and liberate these prisoners, who – barring anything resembling a legal process for their detention, torture, and murder (see also the rash of suicides) – must at the least be considered inmates of a concentration camp?

He complains that he can’t move his arms and hasn’t received proper medical attention.”I’m not a doctor, but I think you’re getting good medical care,” the interrogator responds. As with all the agents in the video, his face is blacked out to protect his identity.

Khadr cries, “I lost my eyes. I lost my feet. Everything!” in reference to how the firefight in Afghanistan affected his vision.

“No, you still have your eyes and your feet are still at the end of your legs, you know,” a man says.

When the agent accuses Khadr of crying to avoid interrogation, Khadr tells the agent between gasping sobs, “You don’t care about me.”

As Khadr continues crying, the agent calls for a break.

“Look, I want to take a few minutes. I want you to get yourself together. Relax a bit. Have a bite to eat and we’ll start again,” the interrogator says.

Khadr chants in haunting voice

Then Khadr begins sobbing with his head in both his hands, chanting over and over again in a haunting voice. His words are difficult to hear, and at first could be taken for “Kill me” or “Help me.”

However, Arabic speakers working at CBCNews.ca say the teenager appears to be keening “Ya ummi,” which is Arabic for “My mother.”

In the next interview excerpt, Khadr sits on a blue couch looking down as he is questioned. He mumbles short answers and declines an offer of food.

This video is difficult to watch. It’s not optional for those of us whose inability to stop our government, and who share in that responsibility.


3 thoughts on “Torture and the Living Dead

  1. That was a very good summary. I have not been able to calm down enough to write anything significant about this, and it was good to read this here. The reasoning offered by the Canadian government, under two separate ruling parties now, is astounding, and it really is nothing less than plain collaboration. We have selective notions of citizenship — Maher Arar was sent to be tortured in Syria, and recently won his case against the Canadian government. Khadr’s father was apparently linked to Al Qaeda, and a part of Canadian public opinion thus wants to see his kid get trounced, without asking what kind of judgment he could have had at 14 or 15, under an extremely authoritarian and threatening father. Anyway, the idea is he should get a fair trial, and conventions governing treatment of child soldiers should be respected. I am really appalled to see the Canadian academics who, with smiles and very nuanced language, basically excuse the inaction of Canadian governments.

  2. erikwdavis says:

    @reformislam: Nicely put. It’s charming to have the roaches come out of the dark and actually say what they think. Thanks for proving my point. It’s distressing that so many are willing to prefer revenge and hatred to justice. Speer’s death is unlikely to actually have had anything to do with the 15 year old Omar, and even if it were, I fail to see how six years of torture achieve justice for Speer.

    @Maximilian: My sense is that Canada is under extreme duress from US politicians: the recent oil treaties for the Tar Sands include provisions that, even in the event of an energy emergency in Canada, Canada will not be permitted to turn off the exports to the US. Since oil and terrorism are linked in the American political imaginary (and elsewhere), perhaps that has something to do with this?

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