Scott Horton draws tellingly on Auden and Homer in this follow-up to his remarkable piece, "The Guantanamo 'Suicides'," the story of three captives – all of them innocent men, cleared for later release – who were almost certainly murdered in a secret site in the American concentration camp in 2006, apparently for protesting prison conditions. (We examined Horton's story here.)
The men were evidently killed during "strenuous interrogation" -- i.e., they had rags stuffed down their throat while being beaten. When they died, a ludicrous story of a mutual suicide pact -- under impossible physical conditions -- was concocted by American authorities, complete with outright lies about the men being "hardcore" terrorists who killed themselves as an act of "asymmetrical warfare." The cover-up of these killings goes up to the highest levels of the U.S. government – and it continues most forcefully to this day under the Obama Administration. It is a sickening -- but most instructive -- story.
In his latest piece, Horton notes:
The three men who died in Guantánamo on the night of June 9, 2006 certainly had failings and foibles as all men do; no one will portray them as angels. To its credit, the Bush Administration even seems to have determined to set two of them free; the third had only to await resolution of diplomatic problems between the United States and his homeland. These men were not warriors engaged in some vicious military campaign against the United States, nor was there a scintilla of evidence linking them to any crime. “They were small/ And could not hope for help and no help came,” Auden writes. And what was the reaction of the world to their plight? Auden describes it perfectly, and indeed it was only to be expected: “A crowd of ordinary decent folk/ Watched from without and neither moved nor spoke.” The only difference here is the sentries, who at great risk to themselves and their families have stepped forward to place on the record exactly what they saw. They know it defies the official story; they know they may suffer retribution for it; and they know that what they saw is not conclusive in any event. It is only a fragment of the truth, which needs to be put forward and made a part of the historical record. It was offered out of respect for the dignity of the dead and out of conviction that the truth should not be suppressed, no matter how unpleasant. In the corridors of power, however, a river surges past, indifferent to all these questions, viewing them as an insignificant distraction from the troubles of a war.
Auden’s poem is a work of beauty and power. It has prophetic vision, but that vision is a nightmare. It is born from the horrors of World War II. The barbed wire of concentration camps and death camps brings the Homeric epoch up to date. Auden is not portraying the tragedies of the last war as such. He is warning of a world to come in which totalitarian societies dominate and the worth and dignity of the individual human being are lost. He warns those who stand by, decent though they may seemingly be, and say nothing–perhaps because political calculus or the chimera of national glory have blinded them to the greater moral imperatives against homicide, torture and the dissemination of lies in the cause of war.
You should read the whole piece -- and keep it constantly in mind when wading through all the earnest, endless disquisitions about the weighty affairs and political fortunes of our great and good, all of them written as if these people, our leaders, our bipartisan elites, are somehow normal, as if they are not brutally depraved and indifferent to the point of moral insanity.
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This story was published in the Baltimore Chronicle on January 25, 2010.