LIVING IN THE PARALLEL POLIS... By David A Sylvester, Prisoner # 91441-020

If the basic job of 'dissident movements' is to serve the truth, that is, to serve the aims of a free and spontaneous life, then we must develop an unofficial 'parallel polis' in education, publishing, art, even foreign policy and economy. All these will flourish naturally underneath the crust of lies of the official polis as it seeks to preserve its power based on a world of appearances. -- Adapted from Vaclav Havel, Soviet-era Czech dissident, 1978.

Name:
Location: lompocdavid@yahoo.com, California

From April 11 until early July, I'll be a federal prison inmate for civil disobedience against the School of Assassins at Fort Benning. My address: David A. Sylvester, Inmate Register # 91441-020; FEDERAL PRISON CAMP; 3705 WEST FARM RD.; LOMPOC, CA 93436. CONTACT ME THROUGH: lompocdavid@yahoo.com (These emails will be read, printed and mailed to me by snail mail.) If you're interested in my reflections and experiences in prison, please join my email list at the above email address.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Busted at Benning: when the criminals make the laws, it's time to go to jail!

Crossing the line at Fort Benning:
An article printed in The Catholic Voice, Diocese of Oakland, California

By David A. Sylvester

Quien era Domingo Gomes?

This question - Who was Domingo Gomes - comes to me in Spanish because perhaps this is how the young people ask the question in his town of Aguilares, when they hear his name mentioned by family members, or when they wonder who lived in his family's home, or when they come acoss something that once belonged to him. Who was this man who lived so briefly and apparently vanished into the violence of the 1980s? He was like tens of thousands of other nameless, faceless Salvadorans who suffered the same fate, and his name would not even be mentioned now if it were not for a certain coincidence. A Richmond teacher asked a student who asked her mother if anyone knew of victims of the repression in El Salvador, and his name was put forward, then written onto a small, white cross, and handed to me.

In my hand I was holding a fragment of a memory of the hardworking, 17-year-old kid in Aguilares, one of the many who were in the fields when the Salvadoran Army soldiers arrived.

“Run!” shouted the women.

Domingo tried to escape, but the soldiers captured him. Being 17, he was pressed into the “fight against communism” by soldiers in an army trained and aided by the United States. That was how our “allies” filled their ranks to “defend freedom,” through kidnapping and coercion.

Months later, his family had a phone call: Domingo was dead. How did he die? In combat with guerillas? By disease in the jungle? Shot while trying to escape for Aguilares? No one would say.

With Domingo’s cross in one hand and a poster of personal heroes of mine, the Jesuit university professors murdered in San Salvador one night in 1989, I joined 20,000 others - nuns, priests, veterans, college students, or just people, like me – last November 20 to pray, grieve and protest at Fort Benning, home of the U.S. Army Infantry located at Columbus, Georgia, for its notorious School of Americas. For the past 16 years, Father Roy Bourgeois and his School of Americas Watch has organized these protests against the torture, extortion, blackmail and false imprisonment taught by the SOA to thousands of Central and Latin American military and police officers, including 19 of those who killed the Jesuits, their housekeeper and her 14-year-old daughter in 1989. Now operating under a new name, the Western Hemispheric Institute for Security Cooperation, and claiming to use a reformed curriculum, the SOA continues to produce graduates involved or suspected in human rights atrocities, such as last year’s murder of eight members of the San Jose de Apartado peace community in Colombia.

So when people ask me now why I “crossed the line” with 40 other protesters at the November protest and trespassed onto Fort Benning’s property, I say: I didn’t cross the line, the line crossed me long ago. In El Salvador, in Guatemala, in Colombia. And now, in the most shocking way of all, in Iraq.

I may never forget the psychic impact of that first report of torture at Abu Ghurayb and seeing that photo of the anonymous prisoner with a black hood over his head, standing on a box, armed outstretched like Jesus on the cross and electrodes on his fingertips. It was immediately obvious that this was no game developed by a few rogue soldiers but a technique of torture developed during the dirty wars in Central America. Torture like this disgraces the proud traditions of the U.S. military and the sacrifice of the American soldiers who defeated Nazi Germany, liberated the concentration camps and brought a modern democracy to Japan. It disgraces our whole society, myself included, for ignoring, denying, or when pressed, excusing it with ideological slogans emptied of meaning. In seeing that photo, I had been stripped of my own dignity and integrity as an American citizen.

And for those of us who call ourselves witnesses to Christ, how does he view all this, the Jesus who told us to care for the naked, the imprisoned, and the hungry as for himself?

The question I ask myself is not about why I went in Georgia but why it took me so long. Once there, I prayed and prayed for God’s guidance and in the end, held Domingo’s cross and the poster of the Jesuits when I crawled underneath the fence of the fort. On a grassy knoll, I started to kneel to pray for myself, for my country, for the victims and their torturers when a Military Police officer seized my arm and ordered: “Stand up! Don’t move! You’re under arrest!”
Had God called me to do this? Was this an act of faith? Reflecting on it now, it’s more accurate to say that God has been at work, Mass by Mass, prayer by prayer, to remove my fearfulness. God has gently eased the bonds that constrain me from being who I really am. Then, one day, suddenly, I was free, free to act from my deepest self. My journey does not feel like one toward faith so much as one out of faithlessness. And I find this journey, God’s journey within me, is not shaping me to fit some theological “agenda” but for me to be me more than I dreamed possible.

As I sat on the red Georgia dirt, the MP filling out his form for Prisoner 01, my hands cuffed with plastic strips as I’ve seen so many Iraqis held, I felt an overwhelming sense of relief. It was as if some shred of my dignity had been restored and some imbalance righted. Perhaps in a microscopic way, I had brought the thousands of suffering Iraqis, the Jesuit professors and the unknown victims like Domingo Gomes back to where it all started, to Fort Benning and the School of Americas.

Quien era Domingo Gomes?

Uno de los pobres de la tierra y los amados de Jesucristo. *


(*One of the poor of the earth beloved by Jesus Christ.)

(David A. Sylvester is a writer living in Oakland, California, and a parishioner at Our Lady of Lourdes, Oakland. The trial for his case and that of 36 other SOAW defendants is scheduled to begin for Jan. 30 in Columbus, Georgia, before a federal magistrate. The trespassing charge carries with it a sentence up to six months in jail and a $5,000 fine. )


5 Comments:

Blogger anonymous 112 said...

Wow. Thank you for making a strong statement by your physical presence at Fort Benning, taking a courageous stand against violence, torture, and inhumanity. You are living a beautiful life. Thank you. Jesus must be so proud of you. Kathellen

12:41 PM  
Blogger anonymous 112 said...

Wow. Thank you for making a strong statement by your physical presence at Fort Benning, taking a courageous stand against violence, torture, and inhumanity. You are living a beautiful life. Thank you. Jesus must be so proud of you. Kathellen

12:42 PM  
Blogger Mary Jo said...

David,
I thank you for the courage to cross the line. I hope that your sentence is light. But if not I prayer that your time away will make your even stonger.

6:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

WHY TORTURE IS A FUNDAMENTAL CONCERN
by Trudy Myrrh Reagan

Martin Luther King Jr. wrote eloquent tracts while jailed for his beliefs. As the prisoner’s song goes, “My thoughts they are free as nighttime’s quick shadow.”

As a girl, I met refugees from Nazism. More recently, I know people who escaped from Hungary and El Salvador. I’ve always wondered: “Could I have endured this? How were they able to maintain their humanity? How resilient are we as human beings?”

When fear was abroad in the world in the early 20th century, humans did terrible things to each other.

Nazis inflicted starvation, forced labor and extermination on Jews and others. Nevertheless, survivor Victor Frankl had the mental space to extract profound wisdom from the experience. Afterwards, he wrote _Man’s Search for Meaning._

The Soviets were harsher: Total mental conformity was demanded of many prisoners. Arthur Koestler described in _Darkness at Noon_ how this was achieved with sleep deprivation and forced confessions. American POWs in North Korea in the 1950s called it ”brainwashing.”

(While we trumpeted the sins of the Russians in the 1950s, U.S. Senator McCarthy and his aides publically denounced many innocent people in an anti-communist witchhunt. To make sure that the accused were unable to keep jobs, the FBI informed their bosses they were “subversives.” I remember the fear and conformity of the period. It doesn’t take much...)

In 1955 I was assigned to read George Orwell’s _1984,_ which described a society barraged with wall-t0-wall surveillance, government secrecy and “New Think” (continuous falsehoods), a society engaged in perpetual war. At the end, our hero was tortured. The method: exploitation of his phobias, and forcing him to betray loyalties. My professor, a WW II refugee, said “This has already been tried.”

John McCain says that one thing that kept him going while jailed by the North Vietnamese was “Americans wouldn’t do this.”

Bush signed McCain’s torture amendment “with fingers crossed,” Saying he has the right to override it. He doesn’t believe in the rule of law that protects us.

According to the new book, _A Question of Torture_ by Alfred McCoy, U.S. torture methods consist of:
1. sleep deprivation
2. shaming: forced violation of one’s values
3. Self-inflicted pain
4. continual loud noise, in particular, American pop music
5. sensory deprivation to induce hallucinations
6. primal fear: threatening with dogs, apparent drowning (“waterboarding”).

None leave marks. The prisoner, unable to think with continual noise or to sing above the sound of his own screams, is being driven insane.
This is not an abberation: the CIA gave grants to university psychology departments in the 1960s. It was found that self-inflicted pain and sensory deprivation worked better than high-tech. The School of the Americas taught methods used in Argentina and El Salvador. We see them now in Abu Ghraib.

The destruction of the human personality, the “soul,” is a monumental crime. It is low-tech and will spread: Today, Muslims; tomorrow, peaceniks? Will it be copied by our enemies to use against us?

It has already spread, from “high-value targets who have information that would save American lives” to throughout the system in general. Once the cruelty genie is conjured up in jailers, it is very difficult to resist its spread. Israel had the same experience of torture spreading when it authorized it on particular suspects, and its courts had to outlaw it.

The exercise of absolute authority over other human beings, believing they are beneath contempt, with permission to unleash one’s basest impulses taps into something horrible in human beings. It destroys the soul of the torturers as well as the victims. I heard the hair-raising, lustful shouts of American torturers aired recently by Australian TV. How will these jailers behave in civilian life?

I honor Alberto Mora, the Navy general counsel. In 2002, he sent messages through the aides of Cheney, Rumsfeld and Bush warning them how illegal and dangerous condoning torture would be. According to the 2/26/06 New Yorker, he was rebuffed at every turn. He has a particular interest in the rule of law. His father escaped from Communist Hungary and his mother from Cuba, because authoritarian regimes are arbitrary, lawless and cruel.

And, what are we to think of his superiors, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Bush?

9:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

WHY TORTURE IS A FUNDAMENTAL CONCERN

Martin Luther King Jr. wrote eloquent tracts while jailed for his beliefs. As the prisoner’s song goes, “My thoughts they are free as nighttime’s quick shadow.”

As a girl, I met refugees from Nazism. More recently, I know people who escaped from Hungary and El Salvador. I’ve always wondered: “Could I have endured this? How were they able to maintain their humanity? How resilient are we as human beings?”

When fear was abroad in the world in the early 20th century, humans did terrible things to each other.

Nazis inflicted starvation, forced labor and extermination on Jews and others. Nevertheless, survivor Victor Frankl had the mental space to extract profound wisdom from the experience. Afterwards, he wrote _Man’s Search for Meaning._

The Soviets were harsher: Total mental conformity was demanded of many prisoners. Arthur Koestler described in _Darkness at Noon_ how this was achieved with sleep deprivation and forced confessions. American POWs in North Korea in the 1950s called it ”brainwashing.”

(While we trumpeted the sins of the Russians in the 1950s, U.S. Senator McCarthy and his aides publically denounced many innocent people in an anti-communist witchhunt. To make sure that the accused were unable to keep jobs, the FBI informed their bosses they were “subversives.” I remember the fear and conformity of the period. It doesn’t take much...)

In 1955 I was assigned to read George Orwell’s _1984,_ which described a society barraged with wall-t0-wall surveillance, government secrecy and “New Think” (continuous falsehoods), a society engaged in perpetual war. At the end, our hero was tortured. The method: exploitation of his phobias, and forcing him to betray loyalties. My professor, a WW II refugee, said “This has already been tried.”

John McCain says that one thing that kept him going while jailed by the North Vietnamese was “Americans wouldn’t do this.”

Bush signed McCain’s torture amendment “with fingers crossed,” Saying he has the right to override it. He doesn’t believe in the rule of law that protects us.

According to the new book, _A Question of Torture_ by Alfred McCoy, U.S. torture methods consist of:
1. sleep deprivation
2. shaming: forced violation of one’s values
3. Self-inflicted pain
4. continual loud noise, in particular, American pop music
5. sensory deprivation to induce hallucinations
6. primal fear: threatening with dogs, apparent drowning (“waterboarding”).

None leave marks. The prisoner, unable to think with continual noise or to sing above the sound of his own screams, is being driven insane.
This is not an abberation: the CIA gave grants to university psychology departments in the 1960s. It was found that self-inflicted pain and sensory deprivation worked better than high-tech. The School of the Americas taught methods used in Argentina and El Salvador. We see them now in Abu Ghraib.

The destruction of the human personality, the “soul,” is a monumental crime. It is low-tech and will spread: Today, Muslims; tomorrow, peaceniks? Will it be copied by our enemies to use against us?

It has already spread, from “high-value targets who have information that would save American lives” to throughout the system in general. Once the cruelty genie is conjured up in jailers, it is very difficult to resist its spread. Israel had the same experience of torture spreading when it authorized it on particular suspects, and its courts had to outlaw it.

The exercise of absolute authority over other human beings, believing they are beneath contempt, with permission to unleash one’s basest impulses taps into something horrible in human beings. It destroys the soul of the torturers as well as the victims. I heard the hair-raising, lustful shouts of American torturers aired recently by Australian TV. How will these jailers behave in civilian life?

I honor Alberto Mora, the Navy general counsel. In 2002, he sent messages through the aides of Cheney, Rumsfeld and Bush warning them how illegal and dangerous condoning torture would be. According to the 2/26/06 New Yorker, he was rebuffed at every turn. He has a particular interest in the rule of law. His father escaped from Communist Hungary and his mother from Cuba, because authoritarian regimes are arbitrary, lawless and cruel.

And, what are we to think of his superiors, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Bush?

9:44 PM  

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