We Did Not Know. (What Nobody Could Deny)
The title of this piece was once a common saying in Argentina, alluding to the murderous repression carried out by the military junta upon those poor and working people attempting to organise during the 1970's and 80's. It is attributed to the Mothers of the Disappeared who gathered weekly in the Plaza de Mayo to silently display pictures of their abducted sons and daughters.
The Ford Falcon motor car on the column was known and feared as the 'Death Mobile' at the time because it was favoured by the death squads for kidnapping people off the streets.
Father Roy Bourgoise who is depicted on this piece is the founding member of The School of Americas Watch. He continues to call for the shutting down of the 'School of the Americas' and has been imprisoned countless times for his activism.
Proconsul. (School of the Americas.)
The seated figure is John Negroponte, who enjoys the distinction of having served as US ambassador to Honduras in the 1980's and again as US ambassador to Iraq following the 2003 invasion. The columns themselves depict victims of empire, mostly unnamed and unknown, but including archbishop Oscar Romero, who was head of the Catholic church in El Salvador until his assassination in 1980. The Catholic church in Latin America at the time had incurred Washington's wrath for the sin of resurrecting the doctrine of Jesus Christ, namely the 'preferential option for the poor'. International demand for export crops had reduced the region's subsistence farmers to landless rural serfs or economic refugees, drifting into the urban slums.
Romero's first task upon taking office was to attend to the funerals of those gunned down by troops for protesting a rigged election. Afterwards he decided to sleep at a hospital for the destitute rather than the Episcopal Palace, and ordered his priests to provide sanctuary to those fleeing government forces. These same forces responded by killing Rutilio Grande, a friend of Romero's; and in a defiant violation of a law requiring government sanction, Romero buried his friend without permission and then excommunicated the assassins. He cancelled Sunday services and instead held a Mass which drew over 100,000 people.
Afterwards, leaflets exhorting the reader to “Be a patriot, kill a priest!” began to circulate, and before long four foreign Jesuits were abducted and murdered, their mutilated bodies dumped across the border in neighbouring Guatemala. Romero himself was gunned down at the altar while conducting Mass, and a quarter of a million people attended his funeral, during which forty people died in a stampede after a bomb exploded. The following two years saw 15% of the country's population driven into exile, 35,000 murdered and 2000 more disappeared.
The presentation at the back of the piece is dedicated to John Walker Lindh; the first victim of the US torture programme instituted by the White House in 2001. A US citizen himself, Lindh is now serving a twenty year prison sentence for carrying weapons and serving in the Taliban army. Described by his parents as a deeply spiritual person, Lindh became a Muslim at the age of 16, and travelled to Yemen to learn the classical Arabic of the Quran. His studies led him to Pakistan in 2001 where he enrolled in a Quran memorisation school, and from there he travelled to Afghanistan, joining the Afghan army. At that time the Afghan government, the Taliban, was fighting a bloody civil war against the Russian backed Northern Alliance and was receiving US financial support to sustain itself: the last grant of $46 million being made by the US to the Taliban in May of that year. On September 10 John Walker Lindh was a regular soldier fighting for the US backed Afghan government, but on September 11 he became a 'Taliban terrorist', and more notoriously, the 'American Taliban.'
Margaret Hassan also appears on one of the columns. Prior to the 2003 assault on Iraq, as the head of the international charity CARE she travelled to London from her home in Baghdad to address the British parliament. Referring to the ongoing and deadly sanctions regime, she told them: “The Iraqi people are already living through a terrible emergency, they do not have the resources to withstand an additional crisis brought about by military action”. Afterwards she returned to Baghdad where she survived the aerial bombing campaign of 'Shock and Awe', only to be kidnapped and murdered the following year. A deeply committed woman who was much loved by the mothers and children of Iraq, her death remains a perplexing mystery, compounded by the fact that even the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi publicly condemned the kidnapping and appealed for her safe return.
Another presence is that of Sister Dianne Ortiz, a North American Nun who was abducted on November 2nd 1989 by the Guatemalan security forces and then subjected to systematic and repeated torture and rape. On Palm Sunday, March 31 1996 she stood in Lafayette Park across the road from the White House where for the first time she was to speak in public about the most harrowing experiences that she had endured:
“Today I begin my silent vigil for truth in front of the White House- not a silence of complicity, but a silence of commemoration for those who have been tortured, assassinated or disappeared in Guatemala in the last thirty years. Our own United States government has been closely linked to the Guatemalan death squads, and has a great deal of detailed information about those of us who have survived as well as those who have perished. We need and demand this information so that we can heal our wounds, bury our dead, and carry on with our lives.”
She continues campaigning to this day.
The actions of the US Department of Justice under GW Bush that gave the green light to torture are, or ought to be, well known by now. There are four key documents, all freely available on the internet.
First there is Senate Armed Services Committee Report on Torture. A bipartisan report issued by Carl Levin and John McCain, with no dissenting voices, which describes how torture was introduced and implemented in military strategy.
Second is the is the International Committee of the Red Cross Report (ICRC) on Torture which summarises the accounts of what happened to the 14 'high value' detainees imprisoned at the Guantanimo military base in Cuba in 2006. This report was published by Mark Danner in the London Review of Books.
Third are the 4 Department of Justice legal briefs ('torture memos') which basically say “..do what you like, just don't induce major organ failure, or worse, kill them.” They came to light as a result of an American Civil Liberties Union Freedom of Information Act request. These are the 4 memos that 5 ex-directors of the CIA, Leon Panetta included, have tried to stop being published. US President B H Obama went ahead and permitted them to be published anyway. Very few people took the trouble to read them. They are available on the ACLU website.
Last is the report of the Inspector General of the CIA May 7 2004, available in heavily redacted form. Eric Holder, the incoming Attorney General in the Obama administration, was said to have been sickened when he read the full version. He has reportedly advocated widening the investigation chaired by John Durham which is still in session..
A bill to prevent contractors from doing 'rape by instrumentality' was prepared by US legislators but failed when it met with fierce resistance from the White House. 'There are very strict federal and state statutes against this and we don't want our people to be vulnerable to prosecution.'
US officials implicated in the US torture programme include former President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, CIA Director George Tenet. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, Attorney General John Ashcroft, Alberto Gonzales (counsel to the president and later attorney general), Jay Bybee (head of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC)), John Rizzo (acting CIA general counsel), David Addington (counsel to the vice president), William J. Haynes II (Department of Defense general counsel), and John Yoo (deputy assistant attorney general in the OLC).
In July of 2010 amidst the furore arising from the WikiLeaks diplomatic cables release, a report was published which was perhaps of far greater importance than the private conversations of world diplomats. This was the report of an epidemiological study carried out by molecular bio-scientist Chris Busby, co-authored with Malak Hamdan and Entesar Ariabi, which passed largely without comment in Western media outlets.
The report charts a 12 fold increase of cancers in children under the age of 14 living in the city of Fallujah in Iraq, with a 4 fold increase of all other cancers also recorded. The report notes that infant mortality in Fallujah is 4 times greater than in neighbouring Jordan, and 8 times greater than in Kuwait. The report also notes that the types of cancer are similar to those experienced by the citizens of Hiroshima and Nagasaki following their exposure to the ionizing radiation from the two atom bombs that destroyed their cities in 1945.
Fallujah was never under a mushroom cloud, but rather was attacked twice during 2004 with Anglo American ground troops and aerial bombardment and weaponry which included white phosphorous and depleted uranium rounds. The scene of some of the heaviest fighting and fiercest resistance to the occupation of Iraq, some 70% of Fallujah's buildings were destroyed in the attacks.
According to a Sky News report dated Thursday May 29, 2008:
“Fatima Ahmed is three years old. Small and lifeless she barely moves, burdened by two heads on her tiny frame. Her mother says doctors have been unable to diagnose exactly what has caused Fatima's condition. But her father Jassim, when asked who he held responsible for his daughter's condition said: 'It's because of the war – it's flagrant aggression they launched against us. What they dropped on Fallujah God knows.'”