Platform / Vaasa City Library
Vaasa, Finland, 2012
Ola Ståhl’s project “Eftersläckning” consists of an artist book of thirty-nine volumes accompanied by a series of short pieces of writing. Taking as its point of departure, the Finnish civil war and, in particular, the so-called White Terror and the detention camps run by White Guards across Finland during and after the Civil War, the thirty-nine volumes seek to address issues around historiography and commemoration. Each page in the volumes represent one victim of the White Terror; that is, one person executed or murdered by white guards, or one person dead from starvation or disease in the detention camps.
The volumes are bound in such way that they cannot be opened without being destroyed. They are, in a sense, reduced to their material components: paper and glue. They remain a set of books, but they are also, and at the same time, something other than that; an abstract, material mass, or, perhaps, a kind of monument.
The accompanying texts, printed on semi-transparent tracing paper, take the form of journal entries compiled by Ståhl during his residency period at Platform in Vaasa. The notes move between and weave together citations from newspaper articles, media reportage, philosophy and critical literature, fiction and poetry, personal reflections and biographical events, providing a context for the work and placing the atrocities of the time within the general context of the detention camp, the state of exception and the historical foundation of the modern, capitalist state and its contemporary, increasingly global, developments.
Ola Ståhl is an artist, writer and academic. His main field of research is the intersection between ethico-aesthetics and politics, and, in particular, between creative and critical practices, including creative-critical and art writing practices, alternative editorial and publishing practices, and critical pedagogical and dialogue based practices. He is currently a Senior Lecturer in The History and Theory of Art and Design at Linnaeus University, Sweden.
F O O T N O T E S
On the Greek side of the border. In the camp television light cuts through a plastic membrane stretched between exposed reinforcing bars. The images flicker by smoothly. Migrant’s bodies appear spectral in the thermographic camera’s aperture, in their passage from storage to storage. It is as if their facial features decompose. They all have the same face. No difference between this one and that one. To pass from humiliation to humiliation, from one violence to another. Conditions soon deteriorated to the point where they had to get their drinking water from the toilet bowls. A life reduced to all-embracing unsustainability. You wear a face mask to protect yourself from infectious disease and from the stench of their bodies.
The skull is thinner at the temple and more vulnerable to trauma. A critical phase is entered when the pressure on the breathing centre increases.
After the incident, a gang rape that lasted for large parts of the night, the boy could no longer cope with physical contact. His parents’ attempts at touching him were immediately rejected.
They will kill us one way or the other. Or they will kill us more slowly.
Today I crossed three borders on my way from Copenhagen to Stockholm, then from Stockholm to Vaasa.
The sign says, WELCOME TO THE EUROPEAN UNION.
Capitalism needs movement, incessant, relentless movement, flows of capital, information, bodies constantly criss-crossing the globe – but it needs regulated movement. Certain bodies need to remain fixed, certain flows obstructed. The consequence is a new kind of theatre of war: EVROS is the frontline of a global war; FRONTEX is the frontline of a global war; the wall, the barrier, the demarcation, the rows of fences topped with concertina wire; the border itself is the frontline of a global war.
The exclusion. The wounds that appear when structures collapse reiterates the link between politics and flesh; a fibrin scaffold – the earth and the scab – it forms a hemostatic plug. How do we write this moment’s history? Says Stuart Hall, ‘the world resists thinking.’
There is nothing left to feel. There is nothing left to grieve. There is nothing inside of me. Nothing to return to. Following gang rapes, it is common for soldiers to urinate over the body of the victim. Urine and spermatozoa; territorial markings in piss and seed; the occupation and penetration of every aspects of a prospective enemy body.
‘Territorial pissing,’ Claus Carstensen writes, ‘to see oneself as nothing but a bunch of cells with an enormous potential for aggression! genealogy. Other front. nom de guerre.’ Identity is marked out in spray painted text on pavements and across facades. They destroyed everything inside of me. Bosnia, Bosnia, they said, you will be carrying my offspring.
Here the lines of demarcation are being unmasked. Society becomes a faceless form, a black mesh for a shape; those without faces and profiles pass back and forth through the mesh. Deprived of any trace of identity, they carry out whatever orders they are given. The spermatozoa become a weapon, a prosthetic extension of the combatting body in its exercise of the logic of an all-encompassing violence over a violated body reduced to lumpen matter and entirely unworthy of life. To be entirely in violence, to have one’s body and one’s sense of self entirely violated to the point where there is simply nothing left but that seed growing inside like a cancerous tumour.
Bosnia, Bosnia, they said, you will be carrying our offspring.
An image appears to me, in the morning, waking up: In the white fields, they dig a hole there, in the frozen ground, for the placenta; a grave for the afterbirth. Said the White Guard paramilitary, ‘They are wild beasts and need to be exterminated. Their existence cannot be justified. They need to go.’ This is the scenography of the exception. A graphite line across a white field. It becomes an incision swallowing the traces of their mute remains. The hollow of the names hidden in that incision speaks of the exception, as does our silence.
Suomenlinna, where we swam from cliffs, its brackish water, the archipelago itself a fortification turned into a camp where they were starved to death or died from infectious diseases. Diseases spread like wildfire in the camp. They tell me cadavres could not be buried in or nearby the camp itself. The ground is not suitable. They were taken to a different camp, one that stood on ground more appropriate for mass graves.
What is the meaning of the earth, closed around our feet, closed around us, tightly, and entirely bound to naturalised territorial claims?
Impressed by his adversaries’ composure, the White Guard paramilitary stated that, ‘They ate with gusto and smoked a cigarette and took a nap for a few minutes just before they were executed.’
The state of exception is the dormant fascism at the very heart of the constitution of the modern Rechtstaat. The logic of violence indicative of the capitalist system emanates from the state of exception: militia groups, vigilantes, skyddskårer; contempt, genocide, ethnic cleansing. Writes Giorgio Agamben, ‘In the camp, the state of exception is permanent.’
An empty room without an interior. A shrouded absence where the lump once grew. Before it was cut out, it grew in that hollow space; without inside, without outside. Traces there of the enemy body. The incision across the abdomen.
Janovac: We were in storage. They sawed his head of there, in storage. In the camp.
Srebrenica: The skull is red like the clay from which it was dug out.
According to a female detainee’s testimony, paramilitaries came into the camp and made a point of raping women in front of their children, mothers, fathers, husbands or other family members. There was a pregnant woman in the camp, she says, whose abdomen was sliced open. Two foetuses were taken from her womb. Paramilitaries beat them to death on the ground in front of her, for her to watch before she died. She says, there was a boy, about ten years old; he was placed on his mother’s lap. The young boy was killed. His head was cut off. The body remained on the lap of the mother.
Writes Giorgio Agamben, ‘The camp is the space that is opened when the state of exception begins to become the rule.’ The camp, he argues, is ‘the hidden matrix and nomos of the political space in which we are still living.’
Writes Giorgio Agamben, ‘The stadium in Bari into which the Italian police provisionally herded all illegal Albanian immigrants before sending them back to their country, the winter cycle-racing track in which the Vichy authorities gathered the Jews before consigning them to the Germans, the Konzentrationslager für Ausländer in Cottbus-Sielow in which the Weimar government gathered Jewish refugees from the East, or the zones d’attentes in French international airports in which foreigners asked for refugee status are detained will then equally be camps.’
When Rainer Höss looks at photographs from his father’s childhood, what primarily occupies him is the gate that separates the domestic idyll from the adjacent extermination camp. ‘When they picked strawberries,’ he says, ‘my grandmother would tell them to wash them first, because of all the ashes.’
What is at stake is the many configurations of meaning that intersect in the word ‘cleansing’ and the word ‘exception?’
‘From being an art of unbearable sensations punishment has become an economy of suspended rights,’ states Michel Foucault in 1975.
I write this on the seventeenth day of the current war in occupied Gaza. Palestinian casualties in the occupied territories now number more than eight hundred, out of which approximately six hundred are civilians. According to estimates, a third of all civilian casualties are children.
The narrow strip of land is best described as an open-air prison camp. Borders are closed; exit and entry points guarded; imports and exports blocked. The violence here is entirely calculated into a carefully measured randomness that transform all time into terror. My two-year-old daughter looks at the sky and thinks the clouds are smoke from rockets.
Any sense of judicial order is suspended in the camp. The exercise of arbitrary violence is part of the logic of internment. The bodies of the others have to be eliminated physically and discursively. In this sense, the camp is the site of a ritual cleansing of the social body.
The image on the soldier’s t-shirt depicts a pregnant woman in a veil. Below the image, a short text declares: ‘1 shot 2 kills.’ Another carries the image of a grieving mother, weeping by her child’s grave, in the crosshairs of a sniper rifle. The accompanying text says, ‘Better use Durex.’ Says an anonymous senior Israeli military official to the media, ‘Everything has its own prices.’
Writes Swedish poet Göran Sonnevi, ‘It is from the mass graves that humans speak. From them emanates the voice of humanity. The endless variations of pain.’
Recounts a Serbian paramilitary, ‘You see some kind of shine disappear from their eyes. It feels dreadful, as if something is leaving their bodies. All the subsequent murders, throughout the war, had a triumphant feeling. They are different from the first kill. I know that some killings gave us a great deal of pleasure.’
In 1994, biologist and politician Biljana Plavšić wrote that, ‘It was genetically deformed material that embraced Islam. And now, of course, with each successive generation it simply becomes concentrated. It gets worse and worse. It simply expresses itself and dictates their style of thinking, which is rooted in their genes. And through the centuries, the genes degraded further.’ The camps and mass graves do not speak of fear but of an organised and systematic violence that follows its own internal logic and produces its own specific effects.
At Abu Ghraib feral dogs roam the structure. Human remains are scattered there. A concrete scaffold. Nooses in the air above square holes. Guard towers. Brightly coloured murals painted directly onto the walls. Razor concertina wire. The smell of trash, sweat, faeces and urine. It is best described as a desert of misery. It is a surreal place, but you soon realise it is very real indeed.
Says Rear Admiral John Huston, ’When you start to mess around with the rules, when you say that they don’t apply, they are all terrorists so different rules apply – now you are in unlimited warfare.’
If it looks like the enemy, it is the enemy.
To create the proper conditions for effective interrogation: Strip detainees naked. Put sandbags over their heads. Enhanced interrogation techniques: extreme sensory disorientation; stress positions; prolonged solitary confinement; noise and light and darkness; falsified documents; forced grooming (shaving of facial hair); strategic use of individual phobias; techniques designed to undermine the detainee’s self-confidence and sense of self-worth; sexual humiliation. Physical pain amounting to torture must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.
HERE COMES THE NIGHTSHIFT.
Photographic images: Five or six bodies in different stress positions on the concrete floor or hung from chains, screaming. Arms tied to the upper bunk of one of the beds, hung across the edge of the bed, female undergarments thread over the face. Bodies stripped naked and tied two or three together in stress positions. Six naked bodies, hooded, put in a pyramid and photographed from behind. Three bodies handcuffed together, hands and feet. They are made to lie flat on their stomachs then they are dragged across the concrete floor by military police; genitals against rough concrete. A body, hands behind back, tied to a strap attached to the wall. Bodies arranged and fixed into sexual positions using handcuffs and straps. Forced fellatio. A body, black hood and shroud, made to balance on a small box, arms stretched out to the sides, electric wires attached to fingers. The image strikes me as peculiarly similar to Paul Klee’s Angelus Novus. The angel of history, the wreckage at his feet. Writes Walter Benjamin, ‘The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed’.
If you don’t treat the prisoners like dogs, you have effectively lost control of the interrogation.
We listened as his soul cracked.
Witnesses state that violence erupted on the small fishing boat when, lacking sufficient oxygen, several persons travelling in the small, confined storage space started panicking. As refugees tried to get out of the storage space, smugglers started stabbing people. At least sixty persons were murdered, their bodies thrown overboard. Another twenty-nine refugees suffocated in the storage space beneath deck. The remaining refugees were transferred to another ship. In the process, at least ten of them, including a two-year-old child, fell overboard and drowned.
I’ve seen too many of them. They cross the river like swarms of bees.
The word ‘swarm’ marks the beginning of a process whereby humans are rendered an “othered” mass, a collective, faceless “other” reduced to its lumpen material being.
The border itself is made up from three lines of fencing, seven meters tall; between the lines, razor sharp concertina wire and barbed wire, cables, electronic sensors and tear gas canisters, night vision cameras and noise and movement detectors, watch towers, spotlights – all connected by underground wires to a central control booth. Traces and remnants of bodies passing through the border remains on the fences: rags, trainers, items of clothing soaked in blood. Migrants caught between the lines of fencing face, on the one side, rubber bullets and, on the other side, live ammunition.
To be undocumented is to be invisible. And to have to be invisible. It is to live in constant fear.
Profit-driven detention centres create a link between the market economy, legislation and migration policies, and enforcement. This is what could be called the prison-industrial complex. Large corporations make a billion dollar industry that primarily profits from the internment of economic migrants.
In the US, detainees in some of detention centres are paid an hourly wage of a dollar to run the facilities; that is, to cook, clean, and so on and so forth. That way, they can afford to make phone calls from pay phones provided by the corporation. There are vested interests in keeping these centres populated. Writing this, at this date, I could have bought stock in one of the major corporations in the field at 35.31 USD. The web-analysis tells me it is a very strong buy.
The poster – an image of a dark, disturbed sea, choppy waves, a single small vessel in the vast oceanic expanse – says ‘NO WAY, YOU WILL NOT MAKE AUSTRALIA HOME’ in bold, red letters.
Christmas Island. Blood is running down his face. He does not attempt to wipe it off. Next to him another man is crying uncontrollably, waving his arms about. They pin him down on a mattress on the floor. They are shadows, nothing but shadows. Shadows and hollow eyes. Shadows, hunched over, their eyes glazed and red. It is as if, to the guards, they have little material substance. They are present yet they are not quite there. One of the men had cut his stomach open. His neck was bandaged too. Another man drank poison, cut himself – his chest and ribcage sliced with a razor blade – then he tried to hang himself. In response, the guards beat him and put him in solitary confinement.
Unfortunately, not even death wanted me.
This is to not have a place in the world. To be unable to move in either direction because there is no space to move, only electrified fences, concertina wire, walls.
Having had a phone smuggled in, they make a video of a man making a noose using his bed sheets. A detainee puts two razor blades in his mouth and threatens to swallow them. During one of the riots, the structure was set ablaze. Screaming and whistling in the background. A series of photographs depicts nooses made from bed sheets and curtains, they hang from various fixtures following attempted or successful suicides.
A man stitched his lips together with what appeared to be dental floss.
The arbitrary use of pharmaceuticals, without proper medical consultation, is widespread.
These are factories for producing mental illness.
The structure itself is designed to ensure constant and total visibility. Two rows of adjacent cells, each one a cage with walls and ceilings made from metal wire mesh, they stand on a rectangular open-air platform. This is a stage crucial to the dramaturgy of interrogation, as significant as the interrogation rooms themselves. The cells are small. Detainees are not allowed to touch the walls. They are not allowed to talk. Detainees are not allowed to move in the cells. There is no furniture. No reading material is allowed.
They point at your face with two fingers, flicking the fingers downwards. A gesture to show that you are not meant to look at them. If you persist, you will be punished.
In solitary confinement, detainees are placed in a metal tank, sealed tight. No light seeps in. The sounds from outside dulled by the walls. At irregular intervals, guards enter. They cuff the hands and feet of detainees together. They make detainees squat over a large hook attached to the floor, hands between ankles, and they chain their handcuffs to the hook, forcing detainees into stress positions, locking their bodies that way, fixed in positions impossible to get out of. They leave detainees there for hours, music or noise blasting through speakers at extreme volumes. Sometimes they use stroboscopic lights to further disorientate detainees. A choreography of torture.
Recounts an MD visiting Guantanamo Bay, ‘I entered interview rooms to find detainees chained hand and foot in foetal position on the floor, with no chair, food or water. Most times they had urinated or defecated on themselves, and they had been left there for 18, 24 hours or more.’
At a certain point they always begin screaming then they go quiet.
The covert prisons form part of a contemporary cartography of global capitalism. Extraordinary rendition is a technique that renders the entirety of the surface of the planet a virtual camp. Its ultimate premise is the creation of a state within the State where judicial order is suspended. With the covert prison system and the strategic use of renditions, the entire planet is subject to the suspension of the legal order in the extraordinary, the exception, rendering each point of the map a potential camp.
The law has changed. There are no more laws. There are no more lawyers. If you don’t talk to us, we’ll send you to wherever else. If we can’t do what we need to do to you here, we will let those who can deal with you.
Says Condoleezza Rice, ‘The United States has not transported anyone, and will not transport anyone, to a country where we believe he will be tortured. When appropriate, the United States seeks assurances that transferred persons will not be tortured.’ In The Guardian today it is reported that Barack Obama has admitted that in the immediate aftermath of the September 11 attacks, the US ‘crossed a line.’ States Obama, ‘We tortured some folks.’
In these situations, measures can be taken, under the legislations of certain States that others prevent. Electric shocks, for instance, can be applied to sensitive body part such as the armpits, the genitals, or the lips.
A medical examination room, medical instruments and medical gloves. This scenography has little to do with hygiene or sanitary concerns. Much rather, it has to do with control and power.
Hoods on. Detainees are stripped naked. They use a scalpel to cut open their clothes. Hands tied behind their backs. They make them wait. They are subjected to sporadic beatings. Then the hoods come off. They are interrogated. Five or six soldiers, all dressed in black and wearing black facemasks. They storm into the room and start beating a detainee.
You are in a country with no laws. Do you know what that means? We can lock you up for twenty years or we could bury you here, and nobody would know.
The detainee is flown from Pakistan to Morocco in a plane chartered by the CIA. He is interrogated and beaten, shackled and blindfolded, given an injection to render him unconscious. He awakes upon arrival at a prison in Afghanistan. He is stripped naked. His chest is cut with a scalpel. One of the prison guards grabs his penis, makes an incision at its base. He waits for a reaction then proceeds to make deeper incisions all over his genitals.
Scandinavian scenery. Railway carriages lined up in a yard. A thin layer of snow barely covers the grounds. There are graffiti tags on some of the carriages and on the concrete platforms between sets of rails. Video footage from an airport, a small civilian airplane descends towards the airstrip. Nine agents exit the aircraft, grab two men awaiting them on the tarmac and bring them into the airport’s police station. They are immediately brought into the locker room.
Three of them held me down. A fourth one cut my clothes open. They pressed me against the floor, ripped my clothes off, put a nappy on me, blindfolded me and dressed me in an overall. They gave me a suppository, then a nappy. They cuffed our feet together, and cuffed our hands behind our backs. On the overalls, there is a hood that they pull over your head. Then, on top of that, they pull a black bag over your head.
Wires are attached to sensitive spots: nipples, penis, testicles. Electric shocks are distributed. A wet mattress is used so that detainees feel the electric shocks in their entire bodies. They keep detainees on the border between life and death. The torture continues up until a certain point when the doctor – there is always a physician present – tells them to stop.
The largest Danish detention camp held 37.000 German detainees, another 19.000 detainees. When we stepped inside for the first time, we were really shocked. First, you passed through a kind entrance hall, which we later found out was a washroom with sinks and sewers in the floor. Ten sinks should suffice for at least a hundred persons. There was a long passage with concrete floors, and to the right and to the left there were bunk beds, each of them with three bunks. They were grouped together so that two beds stood next to one another and between them, there was a small passage. Luckily, not all bunks were occupied, so the top bunk could be used to store our belongings. In the ceiling there were some windows that could be opened with long poles, and that was the only daylight we’d get in the barracks. Later, after two or three months, they built some division walls in the barracks, so that you’d get four large rooms each for 20 or 30 people.
According to Danish physician Kirsten Lylloff, ‘The German children, subjected to feelings of ethnic hate from the Danes, paid dearly for their parents’ mistakes.’ In what she refers to as, ‘the greatest contemporary humanitarian catastrophe in Denmark,’ ‘the Danish Association of Doctors and the Danish Red Cross deliberately refused to offer medical consultation and treatment for any diseases that did not constitute a threat to the Danish population. Consequently, thousands of detainees, a vast proportion of which were young children, died of treatable or preventable conditions such as malnutrition and curable diseases such as measles and scarlet fever. The situation was exacerbated by insufficient amounts of food and clothing, unsanitary conditions and overcrowding. Behind barbed wire and entirely dependent upon Danish society, the refugee population gradually perished over a period of four years.’ Says Lylloff to Danish newspaper Politiken, ‘When we hear about ethnic cleansing and talk about the monstrosities committed in Rwanda or in the Balkans, we should remember that we were driven by the same norms due to ethnic hatred.’
The Swedish police records state that ’regarding warrants to search the properties of known communists and others, having examined the matter, I can state the following: In the county, there are more considerable numbers of communists in Mölndal, Partille, Lysekil, Kungshamn and Kville. No remarkable activity has been observed apart from in Mölndal and Lysekil. In Partille the communists, alongside communists from Gothenburg, meet regularly at a house belonging to a party member. This address and the vicinities around it have been put under special observation, but so far, it has not resulted in anything. A warrant to simultaneously search several properties may thus be postponed, but a warrant to search separate dwellings should be granted immediately.’
The military clearly had the authority in the camps. As for their legality, I don’t think that has been established. They would come to your house, though, without prior notification, to pick you up. Clearly, that seems illegal. I wasn’t a terrorist. I wasn’t a saboteur. But I would have been prepared to do whatever was required to the Nazis had Hitler decided to attack Sweden.
The closer they got to the extradition date, the more desperate the measures. One Baltic intern cut his fingers off. Another pushed a pen into one of his eyes. There is video footage of bodies in protest on the ground, surrounded by Swedish police with truncheons and guns, bound together with ropes and belts to avoid being carried off. Photographs of rows of hospital beds, bodies pining away, trays with plates of untouched food. A naked man dragged by the arms by Swedish police. A man held down on a cart and pulled away. Hordes of police marching across a courtyard in front of the barracks that housed the interns. Police beating protesting interns down with truncheons. Interns wrapped in blankets, weeping uncontrollably. Several bodies lifeless on the ground, naked from the waist up. Interns started stabbing themselves and each other with makeshift knives, some attempting to sever their main arteries with blades and sharp objects.
Summary field courts were quickly formed across Finland administering punishments and summarily executing detainees on the spot. Others were put in camps where they died from malnutrition, disease and lack of medical attention.
Finish historian Risto Alapuro lists three shifts in the historiographical commemoration of the Finish Civil War. At first, he says, it was defined entirely by the victorious White Guards in a narrative that declared it ‘a war of independence,’ a liberation from Russian authority. Aapo Roselius describes this narrative as being a crucial part of the construction of national identity and the declaration of the modern Finish state. Any other account, particularly attempts by the Red Guards to provide an alternative to this official historiography, was repressed. Then, Risto Alapuro continues, in the 1960s and 70s, historians began to emphasise the socio-political context of the conflict. Issues to do with class, social and economic conditions, were considered significant factors in the development that eventually led to open conflict. Finally, a more contemporary approach is being taken, by historians considering the Civil War not only in terms of its local context, but also comparatively, in relation to other civil wars and the constitution of the modern, western, parliamentary state. Risto Alapuro also claims that on an institutional and political level, the reconciliation process following the civil war was extraordinarily fast. Already in the 1920s, the Social Democrats were firmly integrated in the parliamentary process. Culturally speaking, however, it took much longer and it wasn’t until the 1960s and 70s, coinciding with a shift in emphasis within historical research, that one sees a process of cultural reconciliation.
The trail of tears, or the place where they wept at their removal.
They must be exterminated or driven forever beyond the borders of the state.
Writes Alexis de Tocqueville, ‘In the whole scene there was an air of ruin and destruction, something which betrayed a final and irrevocable adieu; one couldn’t watch without feeling one’s heart wrung. The Indians were tranquil, but sombre and taciturn. There was one who could speak English and of whom I asked why the Chactas were leaving their country. “To be free,” he answered. I could never get any other reason out of him.’
The word ‘relocation’ here is a euphemism for death marches, forced exile, ethnic cleansing. They were removed, exposed in their removal to the elements with little protection and to disease with no recourse to medical treatment. The phrase ‘emigration depot’ here is a euphemism for concentration camp. Evacuation means exclusion, forced removal; relocation means incarceration under armed guard; civilian exclusion order means detention order; exclusion means eviction from one’s home; assembly centre means temporary detention facility; relocation centre means concentration camp; enhanced interrogation techniques means torture; protective custody means internment; and so on and so forth.
In response to such euphemistic historiography, the Japanese American community has released a document dealing with the political intricacies of such strategies. In this document, The Power of Words, the following discourse on ‘euphemism’ is offered: “Definitions—a euphemism is ‘a mild word or expression substituted for one considered blunt and embarrassing.’ It comes from the Greek euphemismos, from euphemizein ‘use auspicious words.’ The formative elements are eu, ‘well’ and pheme, ‘speaking.’ In more modern times, author William Safire writes: ‘To some degree, euphemism is a strategic misrepresentation.’ Social Examples—Typically in everyday polite discourse, people do not like to talk about death. So instead of saying ‘he died,’ we say ‘he passed away’ or ‘he departed.’ A different example is in Japanese, where the word for death, ‘shi,’ which is the same pronunciation as the number four, is often substituted with ‘yon’ (a word of different origin) in conversations about prices or numbers. However euphemisms can be used for other purposes and are often purposeful alternatives with hidden motives.”
Says US general John L. DeWitt, ‘I don’t want any of them here. They are a dangerous element. There is no way to determine their loyalty. It makes no difference whether he is an American citizen, he is still a Japanese. American citizenship does not necessarily determine loyalty… But we must worry about the Japanese all the time until he is wiped off the map.’
In February, 1942, an article was published in the LA Times expressing, in no uncertain words, a similar sentiment: ‘A viper is nonetheless a viper wherever the egg is hatched. So, a Japanese American born of Japanese parents, nurtured upon Japanese traditions, living in a transplanted Japanese atmosphere and thoroughly inoculated with Japanese ideals, notwithstanding his nominal brand of accidental citizenship almost inevitably and with the rarest exceptions grows up to be a Japanese, and not an American. Thus, while it might cause injustice to a few to treat them all as potential enemies, I cannot escape the conclusion that such treatment should be accorded to each and all of them while we are at war with their race.’
In one of the US camps in the Philippines, approximately two miles by one mile in area, more than eight thousands detainees were kept under severe conditions. Harsh interrogation methods, torture and summary executions were regular occurrences. The death rates in some of the US concentration camps were as high as 20 percent.
These were the dead zones. The suburbs of hell.
In 1901, the Philadelphia Ledger printed the following report: ‘The present war is no bloodless, opera bouffe engagement; our men have been relentless, have killed to exterminate men, women, children, prisoners and captives, active insurgents and suspected people from lads of ten up, the idea prevailing that the Filipino as such was little better than a dog.’
Says anonymous participant in a discussion in a web forum, “Once in U.S. history an episode of Islamic terrorism was very quickly stopped. It happened in the Philippines about 1911, when Gen. John J. Pershing was in command of the garrison. There had been numerous Islamic terrorist attacks, so ‘Black Jack’ told his boys to catch the perps and teach them a lesson. Forced to dig their own graves, the terrorists were all tied to posts, execution style. The U.S. soldiers then brought in pigs and slaughtered them, rubbing their bullets in the blood and fat. Thus, the terrorists were terrorized; they saw that they would be contaminated with hogs’ blood. This would mean that they could not enter Heaven, even if they died as terrorist martyrs. All but one was shot, their bodies dumped into the grave, and the hog guts dumped atop the bodies. The lone survivor was allowed to escape back to the terrorist camp to tell his brethren what happened to the others. This brought a stop to terrorism in the Philippines for the next 50 years. Pointing a gun into the face of Islamic terrorists won’t make them flinch. They welcome the chance to die for Allah. Like Gen. Pershing, we must show them that they won’t get to Muslim heaven (which they believe has an endless supply of virgins) but instead will die with the hated pigs of the devil.’
‘In Bosnia, the main arena where both real and linguistic conflicts occur is in the schools. Designating a language by one name or the other reflects a symbolic choice, and raises fears among a certain number of parents: will their children be taught a language that is not their own, for example, Bosnian to Croats, and so on? Indeed, many families may decide to leave a region that is controlled by another community because of language, or decide not to return after having been chased out during the war.
This fear contributed to the phenomenon of ethnic cleansing.’ This is a citation from Paul Garde’s essay Unity and Plurality in the Serbo-Croatian Language Sphere. Reading his essay, I’m reminded of an account I read somewhere of a Serbian paramilitary officer in the part of former Yugoslavia that is now Croatia trying to write a military order or report of some kind. Being a Serb in the Croatian parts of the Yugoslav state, he was likely more familiar with the Latin version of the Serbo-Croat language group, but, this being a war that had everything to do with the interstitial space between power, territory, ethnicity and language, he felt obliged to sign the document using Cyrillic script – in every way a typographic and linguistic marker of ethnic belonging. Problem was, his command of Cyrillic script was insufficient for the task at hand, his writing little more than a child’s scribbles. The authority with which he sought to assert himself over the territory he claimed as his, needless to say, must have been dwarfed.
Says a former detainee regarding the Croatian concentration camp Jasenovac, ’The camp was swarming with children. They placed about five hundred children inside the tailor shop. When they couldn’t squeeze any more children through the door they threw them in through the window. The tailors sealed the doors and windows with tape then they threw cyanide inside, killing more than five hundred children.’
They died with their mouths open. Gasping. Eyes wide open too.
She listens patiently as her grandfather plays the violin.
They told us to go in pairs, and they took five pairs at the time for execution. You could only hear two or three thumps, and then water splashing as they threw their bodies into the Sava.
It was horrible, horrible. Heartbreaking to us as youths. It wasn’t right at all, but you had to do it. Those were the orders.
The camp remains there, at the point, as Stuart Hall phrases it, where ‘de-colonialization becomes re-colonialization.’
Says an 2011 editorial in The Guardian, ‘There is something peculiarly chilling about the way colonial officials behaved, most notoriously but not only in Kenya, within a decade of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps and the return of thousands of emaciated British prisoners of war from the Pacific. One courageous judge in Nairobi explicitly drew the parallel: Kenya’s Belsen, he called one camp.’
Special Branch had a way of slowly electrocuting a Kuke – they’d rough up one for days. Once I went personally to drop off one gang member who needed special treatment. I stayed for a few hours to help the boys out, softening him up. Things got a little out of hand. By the time I cut his balls off, he had no ears, and his eyeball, the right one, I think, was hanging out of its socket. Too bad, he died before we got much out of him.
Detainees were roasted alive. They had their ears sliced off. Holes were bored in their eardrums. Some were flogged until death. They poured paraffin over other suspects, who were then set alight. They burnt their eardrums with lit cigarettes. Many were castrated. British soldiers forced pins into their fingernails and buttocks, squeezed their testicles between metal rods.
If we are going to sin, we must sin quietly.
Visiting the site of one of the Serbian internment camps in Bosnia, the structure itself appears entirely ordinary. It is difficult to imagine the atrocities being committed in that space. Some graffiti have been left on the walls: a Harley Davidson Motorcycle logo, crucifixes, ‘The Men of Thunder Strikes Back,’ the acronym ‘UN’ next to a fragment of text which reads ‘United Nohting,’ ‘No teeth…? A mustache…? Smel like shit…? It’s a Bosnian girl!
The testimony of one of the UN soldiers reads, ’The place was packed. There was nothing there. There was no water, no toilet, so they did it on the floor. And dead people, dozens of dead people. On one night, ten women gave birth. We assisted them, but most of them were miscarriages.’
The former Serbian paramilitary seems unable to stand still. His arms crossed tightly across his chest, palms firmly pushed into his armpits, he takes a step forward, then a step back, repeating the same restless gesture over and over again.
We both want to bury the bones of our dead, that’s all there is to it.
When the sun starts to go down, the sand starts to blow, it all becomes a veritable dust bowl. The first thing that hits you as you enter the compound is the smell.
Wire mesh cages. They can be opened and closed on the front and the back. Sides covered in concertina wire. The ceilings of the cages are basically a grate; a design useful as handcuffs can be attached straight to the ceiling. Detainees are forced to remain standing that way. They are prevented from falling asleep.
The warehouse has a cement floor. On the floor, six wire mesh cages. They have a wooden floor; a platform built above the concrete floor of the hangar. Each prisoner has a bunch of blankets, a small mat, and in the back of each of the cages, a makeshift toilet.
Detainees are not considered Prisoners of War. They are Unlawful Enemy Combatants. Because of their limited access to justice, they have little to no idea as of why they are detained.
An open target, is what it is called.
He received several severe blows to the leg, above the knee, hitting the common peroneal nerve. They put him in one of the isolation cells, tethered to the ceiling by two sets of handcuffs, his body was slumped forward, held up by the chains. They kneed him in the thigh a few times; body all limp body just swayed back and forth. When beaten he cried out, ‘Allah!’ It amused them, prompting them to strike him again.
There is a widespread pattern, a worldwide system of detention and interrogation, legitimised by complex discursive transactions opening up a judicio-political space where a person can be stripped of all rights, including the principle of habeas corpus.
You need to understand, these are not nice people at all. They are evil, evil people with some very violent intentions.
NOW, THERE’S A PRESSURE POINT, RIGHT THERE.
You are constantly told these people are less than dogs. Then all of a sudden you start looking at these people as less than human and you start doing things to them you would never dream of doing. And that’s where it gets scary.
AND HERE COMES THE NIGHT SHIFT.
‘To us,’ says the US soldier, ‘they don’t have faces. The only thing you see is a physical, faceless body.’
Bodies hung up in cuffs with hoods on.
They aren’t supposed to sleep. You are not supposed to consider them human. This is not a hotel. This is not a place for you to get fat and lazy and happy.
It is a question of a culture of violence and repression, complete with its own established rituals of humiliation, violence, rape. There is no longer the need for an actual order or instruction. It is a lived culture that personnel simply enter into when they get there, and that they act out every hour, every day.
Says the US soldier, ‘I kneed him so many times my knee got tired and I had to shift legs.’
Recounts the US soldier, ‘They punched him in the kidneys several times, one of them stood on his back. He hit his head against the floor and got a big gush on his nose. They got him into isolation and hung him, shackled to the wall, and continued beating him in the thighs, effectively pulpifying his leg.’
Tissue damage from cuffs. Legs severely bruised. Abrasions to the neck. The body has been cut open and stitched back together, the stitches forming a large “Y” across the breast and the abdomen. His prison number written on his back with a marker pen.
One detainee is forces to squat naked in front of another as if he were fellating him; two detainees are positioned naked on the upper backs of two other detainees squatting on the concrete; several detainees are lined up, naked and hooded, along one of the walls, one of them is forced to masturbate.
Shock of capture: to seize a suspect suddenly and without warning, violently and forcefully, using techniques of intimidation, shock, humiliation and disorientation: hoods on, body restrained, hands and feet cuffed, clothes cut open and stripped off, screaming, noise, threats to detainees’ lives, barking dogs, clicking weapons, shots fired into the air.
In the detention centre itself, the violence is more calculated. There are whiteboards outside each cell with up- and down arrows and numbers on them indicating how many hours each individual detainee has been forced to stand chained to the ceiling. These are measured and regulated techniques.
Detainees are forced to perform dog tricks, held in a leach. Detainees are given enemas and several bags of IV, then they are strapped down, prevented that way from using the lavatories. Eventually, they will defecate and urinate all over themselves. A detainee is put on a bed, like the beds in a medical examination room. They strap his legs, arms and upper body to the bed. Then they put a towel over his face, covering his nose and mouth, and they start pouring water over it.
His heartbeat slowed down to 35 bpm. Medics were called.
Research shows that without any actual physical violence being exerted, a state bordering on acute psychosis can be produced in detainees in less than forty-eight hours simply using techniques based on sensory deprivation and disorientation.
Your body actually tells you, you are dying.
Guantanamo is effectively a laboratory for behavioural experiments. It is, somewhat paradoxically, simultaneously a laboratory for the development of torture techniques and a PR-campaign complete with a gift shop.
On Wednesday nights we have cake. Pepsi on Monday nights. Ice cream on Sundays.
The torture procedures implemented seek to control the body, what it eats, what it digests, when it rests, when it is awake, when it defecates and urinates, when it breathes, what passes through its orifices, when it hears and when its rendered deaf, when it speaks and when it remains mute. This is the meaning of the cavity searches, the medical equipment, the sleep deprivation exercises, the pharmaceutics used, the prolonged isolation, the forced nakedness, the forced masturbation, the noise and the sound isolation. They are all carefully measured and regulated techniques. The hunger strike is an attempt, on part of the detainees, to take control back, to subvert the power manifested in the prison authority’s control over the detainees’ bodies.
Forced drift / blackened goggles / hoods.
The discursive shift between Non Enemy Combatants and No Longer Enemy Combatants means the US authorities do not consider themselves obliged to take any responsibility for the atrocities committed and legitimised by its “ticking bomb” rhetoric and the popular culture that has been created around notions of exception, emergency and terrorism, where the war is an exception that will last indefinitely, an emergency, a continuously ticking bomb, rendering everybody a potential terrorist, and rendering the body of the terrorist a space outside of the judicial topography of the legal order.
THE STATE OF EXCEPTION:
HERE COMES THE NIGHTSHIFT.
The camp is not an anomaly, the exception not an exception. Rather, the camp is at the very centre of this present conjuncture and its history.
One of the US military police made a sketch of a detainee at Abu Ghraib, hands chained to the ceiling of a cage with handcuffs, feet cuffed together. In reenactment photos made as part of the court proceedings that followed the death of the detainee, you see military personnel in fatigues, hands and feet cuffed together, in similar positions to those in the drawings, on the concrete floor of a cell, in the cages normally used for detainees. The visual regime that marks one body and vests its markings with power, and marks another body by its nakedness, as having no power, no power even over itself, is displaced in these reenactment photographs. The regime of signs and codes has been subverted, or partially inverted. The image no longer produces meaning within the semiological system of the detention centre. Or rather, perhaps, it’s meaning becomes ambiguous.
States George W. Bush in a speech following the events of September 11, 2001, ‘The course of this conflict is not known, yet its outcome is certain. Freedom and fear, justice and cruelty, have always been at war, and we know that God is not neutral between them. Fellow citizens, we’ll meet violence with patient justice – assured of the rightness of our cause, and confident of the victories to come. In all that lies before us, may God grant
us wisdom, and may He watch over the United States of America.’