Friday, February 28, 2014

Obama: Just the Latest "Cat" in a Cynical and Long-running "Cat and Mouse" Game?

Well . . . I knew about Bobby Sands and the other IRA hunger strikers . . . so how come I had never heard of the "Cat and Mouse Act" . . . ?

The Chicago Coalition to Shut Down Guantanamo held an event last night about the hunger strikes by detainees at Guantanamo, and the forced feeding of those detainees by the Obama administration.

We watched a film that detailed the involvement of health professionals (doctors, psychologists, and others) in the U.S. torture program -- Doctors of the Dark Side -- and then heard from three prominent experts about the political, ethical, and practical dimensions of hunger strikes and forced feeding.

Dr. Frank Summers, Ph.D.
It was a pleasure to see Dr. Frank Summers, Ph.D., speaking in person; I feel like I already knew him after watching the film Beneath the Blindfold numerous times and learning from him about the terrible consequences of sensory deprivation. Dr. Summers spoke last night about numerous aspects of the hunger strike and forced feeding issue. The part that was most helpful for me was his explanation of the "principle of self-preservation," and how the "self" implies a great deal more than just continued biological existence. Thus, a hunger strike may be a vitally important assertion of self, particularly in a situation where every other means is denied to a person. In that situation, the risks to the self's biological existence are weighed by the individual against the other dimensions of self assertion. The "self" must, fundamentally, be a deciding "self."

Dr. Summers contrasted this act of hunger striking -- a fundamentally political act -- with suicide - a consequence of a clinical condition known as depression.

We were also privileged to have as a panelist the Muslim chaplain at Depaul, Abu Noor Abdil-Malik. Abdil-Malik explained to the audience that, from the perspective of Islam, it is most important to look at the situation from the standpoint of intention, and also to ask if actions are being taken out of despair or out of hope.

Abu Noor Abdil-Malik
Suicide is something that is done out of despair, i.e. there can be no good intention to speak of. And, added Abdil-Malik, Guantanamo has been designed to produce despair!

(Abdil-Malik also stressed the way in which Guantanamo and the treatment of Muslim prisoners there has come to create despair throughout the Muslim community.)

I was struck by how the explanation offered by this spiritual leader was consistent with the explanation that the clinical psychologist, Dr. Summers, provided earlier.  And I was also struck by how the interpretation offered from the Muslim tradition aligned with the discussions of these issues that I have heard coming from Christian (Lutheran) theologians.

But the big "Aha!" moment came for me when the third speaker, Dr. Irene Martinez, reminded us of a little history.  She asked us to recall that hunger strikes were a big part of the resistance of the women who fought for equal political rights -- the suffragettes. Furthermore, she referred to the fact under existing legislation at the time authorities would release imprisoned suffragettes from jail/prison when their hunger strikes reached the point that their health was gravely imperiled, and then re-imprison them as soon as they recovered their health. This latter practice was referred to as cat and mouse "because of a cat’s habit of playing with its prey (a mouse) before finishing it off." Moreover:

This act was aimed at suppressing the power of the organisation by demoralising the activists, but turned out to be counter-productive as it undermined the moral authority of the government. The Act was viewed as violating basic human rights, not only of the suffragettes but of other prisoners. The Act's nickname of Cat and Mouse Act, referring to the way the government seemed to play with prisoners as a cat may with a captured mouse, underlined how the cruelty of repeated releases and re-imprisonments turned the suffragettes from targets of scorn to objects of sympathy. (See Prisoners (Temporary Discharge for Ill Health) Act 1913 on Wikipedia)
The experience of suffragettes in England echoes forward to today, to the practices at Guantanamo:
Many women, such as Grace Roe and Kitty Marion, were force fed more than 200 times. Some wrote accounts of their horrendous experiences for the WSPU organ the Suffragette or the few sympathetic newspapers that would print their story. That an all-male "Liberal" government inflicted such torture upon women who were excluded from the parliamentary process added to the sense of revulsion that many women and some members of the public felt. (See The Guardian, Suffragette hunger strikes, 100 years on:When the first suffragette began her strike, she politicised her body and contributed to a radical tradition of non-violent protest)
Is the cynical "cat and mouse" game still going on? I am finding it very provocative to wonder about what it would take for the public to become as outraged in 2014 at the abuse of men being force fed by Barack Obama's government at Guantanamo, as they were in 1914 at the abuse of women being force fed on the orders of England's Liberal government.

B/W photos courtesy FJJ.

Related posts

I can testify that Bobby Sands demonstrated the power of a prisoner to command the attention of the world and shine a light on the misdeeds of his tormentors, because I can remember as if it was yesterday the way every news report during those days over 30 years ago -- during March, April, and May, 1981 -- started with news of Bobby Sands and his resistance.

(See HUNGER: When Detainees Turn the Tables On Their Tormentors)

It is perhaps the signal achievement of the film "Beneath the Blindfold" 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.

(See The Revelations of "Beneath the Blindfold" )

What have the hunger strikers taught us? First, that the atrocities of the U.S. government just don't stop. Second, that everyone -- even those most oppressed -- has means at their disposal to resist.

(See Occupy State and Jackson)

Most recently, we have seen the conviction of members of U.S. Army "kill teams" that murdered and otherwise engaged in outrages upon Afghanistan people, including "playing with the corpse of [a murdered] teenager 'as if it was a puppet'" . . . keeping a "victim's skull as a trophy" . . . "slicing off body parts from Afghans, including the fingers of a man, and keeping them or giving them to other soldiers as trophies."

(See VAU Afgh 101: Outrages Upon Personal Dignity )