Friday, January 20, 2012

The Revelations of "Beneath the Blindfold"

"Beneath the Blindfold" is a film about torture survivors. It is an important film, and I encourage everyone to look for an opportunity to see the film as soon as possible, and to share it with others in their community. This is especially important in light of the recent unanimous vote in Chicago City Council to make Chicago a torture-free city and the opportunity it provides to advance an anti-torture platform to many, many other places.

Much will be written about "Beneath the Blindfold." Below is a quick sketch of several elements of the film that were particularly revelatory to me.

A critical part of "Beneath the Blindfold" is the information it provides about sensory deprivation and how it constitutes torture.

I have only recently confronted the truth that solitary confinement -- so widely practiced in the United States -- constitutes a form of torture.

In the hearings on the resolution to make Chicago a torture free city, there was ample first-hand testimony about the fact that "solitary confinement" is a misnomer -- that what is really being practiced is sensory deprivation, and that the result is to destroy minds and bodies.

In fact, for those who have been paying attention, the truth about solitary confinement/sensory deprivation has already begun to intrude into mainstream culture. See, for instance Atul Gawande, Hellholes, in The New Yorker - "The United States holds tens of thousands of inmates in long-term solitary confinement. Is this torture?"

"Beneath the Blindfold" provides additional information about the effects of sensory deprivation. In particular, I was struck by the information provided in the film about how the effects of sensory deprivation have been well-known since the '50s -- particularly as a result of the "Hebb experiments". Under the circumstances, the terrible impact of sensory deprivaiton on prisoners can only be intentional. As one speaker summarized those experiments, "It became clear that within 48 hours of sensory deprivation, the mind starts to break down."

One common thread among the torture survivors profiled in "Beneath the Blindfold" is the continuing trauma of those who have experienced torture. It is perhaps the signal achievement of the film that it portrays four different survivors, each of whose experience of torture was distinct from that of any of the others, and each of whom has an otherwise unique personality, and yet each makes clear that they share a long-lasting trauma. One leaves the film with a deeply-felt sense of the lasting trauma caused by torture of any kind.

In addition to the testimony of the survivors themselves, the witness provided by medical and psychological professionals -- notably Dr. Frank Summers and Mary Fabri of the Kovler Center -- begins to lay the foundation for the viewer of an understanding of the trauma that follows torture.

For me, a telling statement was that survivors simultaneously yearn to forget torture experiences, and yet, at the same time, are desperate that their experiences not be forgotten. I think part of what that refers to is a purely internal battle -- to hold on to experience or discard it? But another part of that, I think, refers to social memory, and perhaps it is easier for us to know how to attend to that.

If "desperate that those experiences not be forgotten" means that it is important that society know what happened, and take responsibility for it, and assure that it never happens again, then I think that is something all of us can and should agree to participate in. It is certainly a goal that is ably supported by "Beneath the Blindfold."

Related posts

The Chicago Coalition to Shut Down Guantanamo holds weekly vigils at Dearborn and Jackson in Chicago every Friday at 4:30 p.m. to support the Guantanamo Hunger Strikers and to demand that Guantanamo be shut down. (Learn more about weekly vigils by the Chicago Coalition to Shut Down Guantanamo.)


BE IT RESOLVED THAT the Mayor and the City Council of the City of Chicago stand firm against all forms of torture and inhuman treatment, and hereby proclaim Chicago to be a torture free zone; and . . . (See Chicago: A Torture-Free City?)


What would Christians think if someone proposed carving out a slice of their Sunday services to worship the God of Entombment? Wouldn't they think that was absurd? After all, if Christianity is anything, isn't it the religion of "UN-entombment"?

(See When is Christianity Going Back to Being the Religion of "UN-entombment"?)