Ahead of the 20th anniversary of Guantánamo I want to take on three intertwining topics: The Ideal Victim, the Bystander, and Force Feeding.
The Ideal Victim
Out of criminology--the concept of the 'ideal victim' is someone for whom people feel comfortable advocating. "So for instance people feel comfortable advocating against the Muslim Ban" Dr. Maha Hilal explains, "but not when it comes to the offshore Muslim prison Guantanamo." In exploring the use of "the ideal victim" to substantiate institutionalized Islamophobia, Dr. Hilal pivots a counter-narrative about Guantanamo Bay.
What "the ideal victim" describes has important implications for advocates. Advocates, witnesses and active bystanders take actions whether or not they act up to intervene in situations. Thus,In part I believe because people of faith do not see Guantánamo--a circular logic we have to investigate. That blindness is a position reinforced by organized distraction but also whether norms of advocacy on the perceived innocence of a non-Christian--in fact should be understood more frankly as institutionalized Islamophobia. We employed the framing of Guantánamo as a Muslim prison since 2016 to the white-supremacy legitimated beginning with the Trump administration's Muslim Ban.
Particularly revealing about what motivates us to speak up, when and why? social psychologists have observed that some suffering will rarely attract any advocacy. According to studies originating a May 1975 --"Bystanders devalue the experiences of victims because they must restore their faith in a 'Just World.' If the Victim cannot be compensated, this 'Just World' belief can be maintained only by viewing the victim as deserving his fate, either due to his personal behavior or because he was a 'bad person.'
A total of 66 female psychology students viewed four victim situations. ...And in the fourth the victim was a volunteer with 'noble' characteristics. The volunteer and the person who participated for good reasons were both viewed more sympathetically on all ratings. Their shocks were believed to be more severe, their motives more worthwhile, and the experiment was seen as having value.
Noble characteristics could include a religious affiliation, and the participation in various strenuous tactics of moral suasion. Compare two accounts of the noble sufferer.
A group from the Quaker Farm in Voluntown, Connecticut, practiced noncooperation in prison. Among them were veterans of a sleep-in of twenty pacifists at the Pentagon in the spring before. Now, led by Gary Rader, once a Green Beret, Erica Enzer, Irene Johnson, and Suzanne Moore, some of them refused to eat or drink and were fed intravenously. Several men at the D.C. jail would not wear prison clothing. Stripped of their own, naked, they were thrown in the Hole. There they lived in cells so small that not all could lie down at once to sleep. For a day they lay naked on the floor, for many days naked with blankets and mattress on the floor. For many days they did not eat nor drink water. Dehydration brought them near to madness.
In this sample, the noble characteristics: consider "Quaker Farm" a religious association and a specific activist community. These were "veterans" of other actions the spring before, "pacifists." They "practiced noncooperation" and some on hunger strike "were fed intravenously." Some lived in isolation deprived of sleep, naked, refusing to wear prison uniforms, still refusing to eat or drink, encountering dehydration, delirium--a voluntary series of actions giving credibility to their peaceful protest. For protesting the war in Vietnam they won the sympathy of other bystanders moved by their haunting victimhood, a noble "madness".
For comparison, as I turn back in time to the origins of protest against Guantánamo many of us were enlisted in the campaigns to elevate the wrongful treatment of men. Very few were prepared to accept in 2002 or 2003 any other narrative still propelled last July by Jeff Duncan (Rep. South Carolina) Kay Granger (Rep. Texas) Tony Gonzales (Rep. Texas) that these "worst of the worst." The Bush Administration would deny that the U.S. tortures even as we learned about Abu Gharib from released photos of U.S. soldiers inhumane, degrading treatment. In subsequent humanitarian efforts to highlight Guantánamo, activists never had first hand accounts until the first UK citizens were released. A new guide to Guantánamo has published his memoir, tracing back to the earliest demonstrations by the men to advocate for themselves. While I will also turn back to the torture, consider first the list of demands cited by Mansoor Adayfi in Do Not Forget Us Here (Hachette 2021). Note that while shrouded in secrecy, such nonviolent efforts reveal the true character of the men; in defiance of the mendacity of their accusers who sold them into bounty, the torture-induced confessions and subsequent interrogation by approved methods to validate extracted information, such prisoner organizing was an accomplishment we must now appreciate.
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We refuse to accept the world destroying tyranny of torture.
At the Guantanamo: 20 years conference held at Brighton University November 12, Shaker Aamer said, “We never hunger strike to die, we did it to show we are human beings.”
And we have witnessed the humanity and agency of the men: Using only their bodies to discredit US policy, undermine Guantanamo’s legitimacy, establish political community, build bonds of solidarity and demand freedom from ill treatment.
Because of the logics of Islamophobia, as Dr. Maha Hilal showed, no one has received clemency.
Yet we have witnessed a force more powerful. As Jeremy Varon said of the case of Omar Farah, "No one was ever released because a judge admitted innocence but because Omar Farah became a nuisance he freed himself from the most powerful military apparatus in the world.” The same is true of Shaker Aamer, Mansoor Adayfi, Majid Khan, Mohamedou Ould Slahi...
I donate to Witness Against Torture because in this political phase of "Do the Right thing" pressure on Biden, we led our Coalition partners. Because we live in the question of our conscience everyday, in solidarity with the self determination of the men in Guantanamo. Because we will continue to seek the abolition of the Muslim prison.
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