Yes, yes, I know, the President and his Attorney General (I don't imagine for even a moment Gonzales sees himself as the country's Attorney General) will go to great lengths twisting logic to try and create just enough reasonable doubt to clear him, W, of any involvement personally, but it's rather difficult to imagine, given that they were so incredibly pressed for time in fighting the so-called War on Terror they couldn't comply with the nation's laws on domestic spying, that they had the leisure time to direct Justice Department lawyers John Yoo and Robert Delahunty to speculate on when the Geneva Convention guidelines applied and why the President couldn't be held accountable for war crimes, if they were not applied, unless this was a very important argument to have made beforehand. In other words, you don't need a pre-emptive "Get Out of Jail Free" card if you're not intending to break the law, so the creation of that card seems to speak for itself.
The most horrendous aspect of all this, of course, is that expert after expert insists torture does not result in reliable intelligence, making the President's penchant for it seem like little more than revenge, the stomping of a petulant brat with power shoving it back in the face of anyone he can conceivably associate with the 9/11 attacks that happened under his watch.
But I can jabber on about this for hours, and have. What brings it back up as a preface for today's post is the article in the NYTimes by Holland Cotter about what he considers some good examples of "political art," including a performance piece video about interrogation. Cotter's criteria for good political art seem similar to my own:
To some people political art means protest art: slogan-slinging, name-calling, didacticism, an unaesthetic thing. But in the trauma-riddled early 21st century, after 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, with a continuing war in Iraq, political art can be something else: a mirror.Cotter highlights a video by Coco Fusco, called "Operation Atropos," which will be screened tonight at the City University of New York Graduate Center. For the video, Coco and six other women volunteered to be abducted and interrogated by a private defense company called Team Delta, based in Philadelphia, comprised of former members of the United States Intelligence Agency who sell their training services as experts in the "psychology of capture."
I have to say, intially the idea of this project offended me, in that its moments of levity seemed to imply that being abducted and interrogated was a sophisticated game...like a corporate camping trip for bonding purposes or something. Cotter disagrees, though, and his rationale is compelling:
As the 50-minute video opens, Ms. Fusco is reading aloud from a briefing that laid out the ground rules for the ordeal ahead, clearly amused by the portentous language: "You will experience physical and psychological pain." The women share a piece of secret information they will do their best not to reveal under duress.
The course begins. The women are riding in a van through the woods in the Poconos when masked men stop them at gunpoint and direct them to strip to their underwear for a search. The women's clothes are exchanged for Day-Glo orange coveralls; their heads and faces are covered with blackout hoods. They are led, handcuffed, through the woods.
The make-believe nature of all this is periodically reinforced as "enemy soldiers" drop out of character to be interviewed about their work. Even so, a sense of real tension starts to build.
Mr. Olujimi's darting, probing, camera work helps to create it. So does the sustained image of the women being pushed, prodded, forced to their knees, yelled at and insulted by the all-male interrogation team.
So what kind of political art is this? It isn't moralizing or accusatory. It's art for a time when play-acting and politics seem to be all but indistinguishable. "Operation Atropos" is reality television with the cracks between reality and artifice showing. It's in the cracks, Ms. Fusco suggests, that the political truth is revealed.I'm still left wonder which "political truth" exactly is revealed (though perhaps that's unfair given I haven't seen the video yet), but I appreciate the point about how this piece illustrates the virtually nonexistent line between play-acting and politics these days. What gets me in the end, though, is that, through all of this, why we're examining it is because real people were really tortured, by Americans. We have the luxury to debate this on the blogosphere and/or experience expensive, yet ultimately safe, re-enactments. But I can't help but wonder what the individuals who lived through (or didn't) those interrogations would make of all this tortuous reasoning. I imagine it's all pretty damn black and white for them. I long for the day when it for all us again as well.