Philip Metres and the ‘Sand Opera’

612-i2IefLL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_One gift that holds a place of honor in my office is a signed copy of the long poem “abu ghraib arias” by Phil Metres. The chapbook’s cover is made of Combat Paper, veterans’ uniforms pulped into paper. It is a precious candle lit against such an enormous darkness.

Phil sent a note recently about his newest collection, Sand Opera, and to highlight a conversation between him and poet Fady Joudah in the LA Review of Books. He said:

A month ago, the poet Fady Joudah and I carried on a dialogue over email. The occasion was the publication of Sand Opera, but along the way we discuss quite a bit — including love and politics, Elaine Scarry and the theology of torture, the Oliver Stone Syndrome and American Sniper, empire, the Iraqs I carry, 9/11, Standard Operating Procedures, black sites, docupoetics, trance states, recursion, poems about children, the vital vulnerability of the human body, the openness of ears, the sound of listening, the War Story and its exclusions, the Umbra poets and the Black Arts Movement, Claudia Rankine’s Citizen, RAWI (the Radius of Arab American Writers), and the state of Arab American literature.

We hope that this can be the start of a new conversation about the state of poetry, American life, and the role of Arab-American literature in our ongoing cultural and political debate about U.S. foreign and domestic policy regarding the Arab world. We welcome further conversation. More to come.

See an excerpt of their conversation below:

PHILIP METRES is the author and translator of a number of books, including Sand Opera (Alice James 2015), I Burned at the Feast: Selected Poems of Arseny Tarkovsky (forthcoming 2015), Compleat Catalogue of Comedic Novelties: Poetic Texts of Lev Rubinstein (Ugly Duckling Presse 2014), A Concordance of Leaves (chapbook, Diode 2013), abu ghraib arias (chapbook, Flying Guillotine 2011), To See the Earth (Cleveland State 2008), and Behind the Lines: War Resistance Poetry on the American Homefront (University of Iowa 2007). His work has appeared in Best American Poetry and has garnered two NEA fellowships, the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship, five Ohio Arts Council Grants, the Beatrice Hawley Award, two Arab American Book Awards, the Cleveland Arts Prize, the Anne Halley Prize, the PEN/Heim Translation grant, and the Creative Workforce Fellowship. He is professor of English at John Carroll University in Cleveland. Were it not for Ellis Island translation, his last name would be Abourjaili.

FADY JOUDAH: Sand Opera is ultimately a book about love, its loss and recapture, and the struggle in between. Many will completely misread it as another political book of poems, in that reductive, ready-made sense of “political” which is reserved for certain themes but mostly for certain ethnicities. So part of that misreading is due to the book’s subject matter or its Abu Ghraib arias, and also because it is written by an Arab American.

PHILIP METRES: I love the fact that you read Sand Opera as a book about love. The longer I worked on the book, the more I felt compelled to move past the dark forces that instigated its beginnings, forces that threatened to overwhelm it and me. Love, as much as I can understand it, thrives in an atmosphere of care for the self and other — the self of the other and the other of the self — through openness, listening, and dialogue. Because the book was born in the post-9/11 era, it necessarily confronts the dark side of oppression, silencing, and torture. Torture, as Elaine Scarry has explored so powerfully in The Body in Pain, is the diametrical opposite of love, the radical decreation of the other for political ends. The recent release of the so-called “Torture Report,” and the torrent of responses (both expressions of condemnation and defensive justifications) has felt like a traumatic repetition for me. Didn’t we deal with this during the Abu Ghraib prison scandal and the “Enhanced Interrogation” debate? Even now, the political conversation seems to skip over the fact that torture contravenes international law and is a profoundly immoral act, and moves so quickly to debate its merits — whether any good “intelligence” may have been gleaned from it. Why is that the writers who have gained the widest platforms were veterans of the war, some of whom participated directly in interrogation — for example, Eric Fair’s courageous mea culpa December 2014 Letter to the Editor in The New York Times — while Arab voices, like Iraqi writer Sinan Antoon’s, are so hard to find and so marginalized? …

Read the whole interview.

Berger and Ross: ‘We Thought the Word was Gone’

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“We thought the word was gone. We thought we healed it out of our national vocabulary. We thought ‘torture’ belonged to a foreign language, spoken only by dictators, who ruled anywhere but here. We were wrong.”–Introduction to Cut Loose the Body, edited by Rose Marie Berger and Joseph Ross (2007)

The Torture Report

What Is Cheney Scared Of?

Cheney CBSWhy is Dick Cheney doing daily interviews, speeches, and generously frosting himself across every news network? I wish it were as funny as Jon Stewart’s new schtick makes it out to be.

But, more likely, it’s much much worse.

Here’s an excerpt from William Rivers Pitt’s latest column Why the Caged Bird Sang answering the question – What is Dick Cheney trying to accomplish?

He was scared, I think. He was scared the real stuff is going to come out. He was scared of the universal damnation that will come down upon him if the truth comes out. Finally, I believe he was scared of going to prison.

But why? The American public has been aware of our use of torture for some time now. The Obama administration has made it all too clear that they have strong reservations about prosecuting the architects of the Bush administration’s torture policy, and that any meaningful actions along those lines are highly unlikely to be taken.

Why, then?

It is because Cheney knew, when he began his media assault, that the worst of the horrors inflicted upon detainees at his specific command are not yet widely known. If the real stuff comes into full public light, he feared the general outrage will be so furious and all-encompassing that the Obama administration will have no choice but to reverse itself and seek prosecutions of those Bush-era officials who specifically demanded those barbaric acts be inflicted upon prisoners.

This is not about waterboarding, as gruesome as that practice is. It is not about putting prisoners in confined spaces, or about pushing them, or slapping them, or putting bugs on them or demeaning them and their religious faith.

It is about what Seymour Hersh said in July of 2004:

After Donald Rumsfeld testified on the Hill about Abu Ghraib in May, there was talk of more photos and video in the Pentagon’s custody more horrific than anything made public so far. “If these are released to the public, obviously it’s going to make matters worse,” Rumsfeld said. Since then, The Washington Post has disclosed some new details and images of abuse at the prison. But if Seymour Hersh is right, it all gets much worse. Hersh gave a speech last week to the ACLU making the charge that children were sodomized in front of women in the prison, and the Pentagon has tape of it.

Hersh: “Debating about it, ummm … Some of the worst things that happened you don’t know about, okay? Videos, um, there are women there. Some of you may have read that they were passing letters out, communications out to their men. This is at Abu Ghraib … The women were passing messages out saying ‘Please come and kill me, because of what’s happened’ and basically what happened is that those women who were arrested with young boys, children in cases that have been recorded. The boys were sodomized with the cameras rolling. And the worst above all of that is the soundtrack of the boys shrieking that your government has. They are in total terror. It’s going to come out.”

Dick Cheney wanted everyone talking about waterboarding, close confinement, and all the rest of the torture techniques outlined in the recently-released “Torture Memos.” Talking about waterboarding is still safe territory for him and everyone else who served his cruel intentions in the Bush administration. They’re taking some heat, sure, but the story has been out there for a while and he’s not wearing prison stripes yet.

I know why this caged bird sang. He was terrified of the very real cage that could be waiting to swing open and swallow him up if the true nature of his torture directives became widely known. If the entire country comprehends the awful fact that women and boys were forcibly raped upon his specific orders, Dick Cheney’s bets would all be off.

Read Bill’s full story here.  This stuff is bad, but we need to know it if we are going to take responsibility for the truth.

Why We Need to Indict on Torture

botero-woman-for-web-029I’m digging around in the Torture Memos and came across this Senate Armed Services Committee report from last December. Here’s  a quote from the introductory summation:

“The abuse of detainees in U.S. custody cannot simply be attributed to the actions of a ‘few bad apples’ acting on their own. The fact is that senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees. Those efforts damaged our ability to collect accurate intelligence that could save lives, strenthened the hand of our enemies, and compromised our moral authority.”—U.S. Senate Armed Services Inquiry into the Treatment of Detainees in U.S. Custody (released December 11, 2008)

I’ve been going back and forth about whether it’s better to pursue criminal charges against government officials who were involved in the U.S. Torture Scandal.

On the one hand, you want to hold people accountable – especially when the results are so inhuman and heinous. On the other hand, the temptation toward political payback could undermine any legitimate pursuit for justice.

Then I remembered that the population roundups, concentration camps, and killing chambers were all perfectly legal in Germany in 1933-1945 and that one thing that came out of the trial of Secretary of Jewish Affairs Adolf Eichmann was that a psychiatrist examined him and found him perfectly sane (see A Devout Meditation in Memory of Adolf Eichmann by Thomas Merton).

In the end, I think U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder needs to appoint an independent prosecutor to pursue indictments against the following:

1. George W. Bush for requesting in writing legal determinations for evading the Geneva Conventions

2. Department of Defense Counsel William J. Haynes II for requesting in writing that abusive tactics “similar to those used by our enemies” should be considered for us against detainees in US custody.

3. Counsel to the President Alberto Gonzalez and Counsel to the Vice President David Addington for rendering legal interpetations to distort the meaning of existing anti-torture laws.

4. Major General Michael Dunlavey who authorized use of torture techniques at Guantanamo Bay.

5. Judge Advocate Colonel Diane Beaver for providing sub-par legal renderings to justify torture at Guantanamo.

6. Major General Geoffrey Miller, Dunlavey’s successor at Guantanamo, that ignored warnings from the DOD and FBI that the torture techniques he was endorsing were unlawful and counter-productive and who encouraged more aggressive interrogation techniques be used in Iraq.

7. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Richard Myers and his legal counsel Jane Dalton for cutting short the legal and policy review process of interrogation procedures at Guantanamo.

8. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld for the authorization of aggressive interrogation techniques at Guantanamo.

9. Department of Justice legal counsel John Yoo for rendering legal interpretations intentionally crafted to distort the meaning of existing anti-torture laws.

10. Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez for approving torture policies–including the use of dogs, stress positions, and environmental stimuli–at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

11. Department of Justice legal counsel Jay S. Bybee for providing sub-par legal rationale for using torture to extract information from al Qaeda operatives.

12. Acting Assistant Attorney General Steven Bradbury for providing sub-par legal rationale for using torture to extract information from al Qaeda operatives.

13. Number 13 is Vice President Richard Cheney.

When asked last December by Jonathan Karl on ABC news “Did you authorize the tactics that were used against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed?”

Vice President Cheney answered: “I was aware of the program, certainly, and involved in helping get the process cleared, as the agency in effect came in and wanted to know what they could and couldn’t do. And they talked to me, as well as others, to explain what they wanted to do. And I supported it.”

E-mail Attorney General Holder at [email protected] or here.

“Cut Loose the Body” quoted by U.S. Catholic Bishops

Joe Ross and I are very grateful to have our Cut Loose the Body: An Anthology of Poems on Torture and Fernando Botero’s Abu Ghraib Paintings mentioned in the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ study guide Torture is a Moral Issue.  See the quote below and consider downloading the study guide:

Torture raced to the center of public attention in 2004 when startling photographs depicting prisoner abuse by American soldiers at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq were published and broadcast widely.

While our primary, immediate concern in this discussion guide is about the possible use of torture by the U.S. government, an organization known as the Torture Abolition and Survivor Support Coalition (TASSC) reminds us that torture currently is practiced by more than 150 governments of the world. Those who are tortured include the apolitical and the politicized, says TASSC. In chapter 4 of this discussion guide, we’ll listen to the voice of a survivor of torture who was taken captive because her work with poor children in Latin America was considered suspicious.

“We thought the word was gone.… We thought ‘torture’ belonged to a foreign language.… We were wrong,” write Rose Marie Berger and Joseph Ross, the editors of a book of poems and paintings about torture titled Cut Loose the Body (American University. Washington, D.C. 2007).

Is it surprising that in our third millennium torture has emerged as a matter of great public concern? Perhaps not, and we’ll discuss the reasons why as this chapter unfolds

It surely isn’t surprising either that Catholic leaders speak out about torture. Why? First, torture is a moral issue for the Church. Second, as a participant in its surrounding world, the Church wants to contribute to society in positive ways, by sharing insights and values related to the most pressing matters of the times.

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Review on “Cut Loose the Body”

More reviews on Cut Loose the Body: An Anthology of Poetry on Torture and Fernando Botero’s Abu Ghraib edited by Joseph Ross and myself. This one from Robert Giron over at Chez Robert‘s. There are still some copies of Cut Loose available through D.C. Poets Against the War.

Here in this short chapbook, we have a variety of poets who have spoken out against the injustices committed by civilized humans within our lifetime, yet Myra Skylar’s poem The Infinite Regress of War speaks to the history of influence:–

…Poet, if I put your words
inside my poem, have we not crossed over

into one another?

–For the import of this collection is to make the reader–yet sadly the ones who need to read this more than others will probably not read this–reflect and perhaps be moved to action to stop injustices from happening in this world which we must all share, regardless of cultural or political background.

Read the whole review here..