On May 21, World Can’t Wait Chicago held torture workshops at the “We Are Everywhere” Youth Summit at the Multicultural Arts School in Little Village – a high school that was built after fierce struggle in the community, including a group of Latina mothers waging a nineteen-day hunger strike demanding a new school for their children.
We started off the workshops by asking the students: “Are American lives more valuable than the lives of people around the world?” Resoundingly the students responded “no,” though many thought that the reality was that people around the world were treated as if they were worth less. This led directly into the topic of torture. Showing the video I produced for the May 28th National Day of Resistance to U.S. Torture, the students were shocked to see the images from Abu Ghraib, which many of them had not seen before and did not know about.
We then got into the question of how do people like those in the video end up there. Some though that it was because they committed crimes, or did something wrong. In order to show a direct example of how people were really rounded up and ended up in places like Abu Ghraib or Guantánamo, we asked the students if they would point out someone in the room who was in a gang. Some refused to point anyone out, even after being offered $500. But once one of the students was picked out and put into an orange jumpsuit and hood, they quickly named the name of someone else in the workshop, who was also brought before the class and put into a jumpsuit and hood.
We then explained how people like them were rounded up for bounties in Afghanistan, or picked up off the streets, or had the doors of their homes kicked open by soldiers with guns shouting in a language that they couldn’t understand, and placed in these same jumpsuits and hoods. How they were then chained to the floor of a military transport plane in diapers and flown to some unknown destination, while their families had no idea what had happened to them. And once they got off the plane, they would be subjected to various types of torture that the Bush regime ordered committed. We asked if any of the students had heard of waterboarding, and one replied, “Isn’t that like where they drip water on your forehead?” And we explained that unfortunately no, it was far more vicious than that—that people were tied down to a board, a towel placed over their face, and water continuously poured over them till they began to choke, and that medical personnel were standing nearby to cut open their throats and shove a tube into their windpipe to keep them alive for further torture. And nearly 100 people were documented to have died in U.S. custody during the war of terror carried out in the wake of 9/11.
After explaining some of the methods of torture used by the U.S., we had the kids take off their hoods and jumpsuits and explain how that experience made them feel. Most replied that it made them scared and sad. One compared it to feeling like being a slave. And that even that brief experience in a classroom was nothing compared to what people who were actually being tortured experienced. We then went on to discuss what should happened to people who committed torture. At first many of them said that the people who did it should also be tortured. But after discussing if its ever right to torture someone, they thought that the people who ordered and committed torture should be put in jail.
We then discussed the lies that military recruiters use to get people—including high school students like themselves—to join the military, and why it is that the U.S is waging imperialist wars and using torture around the world. Obama has refused to prosecute anyone for these crimes, he has refused to release the torture photos, he continues to keep Guantanamo open and recently expanded Bagram prison facilities, and continues to use military commissions and indefinite detention. We discussed why it is imperative that people get in the streets on May 28th to oppose torture being committed in their names and to demand prosecution of the war criminals in the Bush regime that ordered and carried out torture.
After the workshops, there were a number of great performances by the students, including hip-hop, spoken word, and dance. It was really a great opportunity to talk with the kids, and the teachers at the school were amazing as well. Very inspiring.
Posted in Thoughts
Tags: Abu Ghraib, Afghanistan, Bagram, Bush, Chicago, guantanamo, hood, Iraq, Little Village, May 28th National Day of Resistance to U.S. Torture, Multicultural Art School, Obama, orange jumpsuit, students, torture, waterboarding, We Are Everywhere Youth Summit, World Can't Wait