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Rage Isn't An Excuse

There are some of us who carry memories, or visual images of experiences through our lives that are so dark, so horrific that part of our life’s pleas to God is to never have them cross our minds again. Ever.

For some, it can be the image of an auto or aeroplane accident, for others it may be the experience they suffered through as the result of rape, torture, assaults, war, domestic violence, the World Trade Centre; the list can seem endless. All of these events can engender the emotion of combined fear and rage.

The news of the Iraqi reporter who threw his shoes at President Bush is a clear example of the emotion of rage. Having been beaten and tortured himself, compounded by years of witnessing and reporting on the countless thousands of deaths of his fellow countrymen, and the displacement of millions of families, the reporter’s pent-up rage was unleashed at President Bush.

But as with almost everything else I have heard come from President Bush’s mouth over the past eight years, his obtuse response to the incident, in my opinion, was appallingly crass and yet another addition to an endless list of examples of his failures to show an understanding or empathy for people.

There’s a number of experiences and events to which I have been either a witness or victim, however you wish to perceive it, that haunt me in similar ways. And whilst I still haven’t mastered mechanisms to stop the images from surfacing at the most unusual times, I am able to metaphorically ‘re-file’ them instantly so that they do not impact my day. Perhaps they're meant to surface from time to time to help remind me of all the blessings we do have.

I am grateful that there have been very few moments in my life when I can truly say I have experienced the emotion of rage. And if I’m pragmatic about it all, I can honestly say that I have an understanding of the emotion and how it can, in certain instances, manifest in some people, just as it did with the reporter.

I’ve thought a lot today about the soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan who have been fired upon. That probably wouldn’t provoke rage as much as it would adrenalin-fuelled fear. But possibly watching one of your fellow soldiers become hurt or killed most probably could cause the emotion of rage to manifest.

And when someone is possessed with the influence of rage, I imagine there are many instances where that individual, who might normally be well grounded and able to understand the cause and effect of their actions, might not be able to control the guttural visceral emotion that has overcome them.

But what happens when such behaviour is part of a pre-meditated, discussed, alluded to, and tacitly approved response? Is there such a thing as giving ‘permission’ to respond with rage?

I listened to a news article on America’s National Public Radio (NPR) regarding the court-reported actions of a US military interrogator who has been directly charged with the death of an ex Iraqi general. The interrogator had been assigned the task of securing information from the Iraqi. As I understand it, the Iraqi officer had been responsible for many deaths in the past by virtue of his rank in the Iraqi military. The article did not state whether there was any detailed evidence of the general having committed any specific acts of violence. But I have no doubt about his culpability.

The American interrogator’s defence is that the instructions he received from his superiors were vague and that he is a victim himself of mixed signals sent by US commanders over the treatment and interrogation of prisoners.

The facts, as reported by NPR, were that this US Officer placed the chained and handcuffed Iraqi upside down inside a wet sleeping bag, then wrapped the sleeping bag with bare electrical cord. This was presumably so that amounts of electrical current could be passed through the bag, although I heard no statement that this was actually done.

The process was designed to create maximum ‘stress’ for the prisoner, in the hopes that information would be obtained in the most expedient way. As the prisoner was entombed in the bag, the interrogator would lower the bag to the floor and sit on it, adding more stress to the Iraqi’s chest.

According to the court documents, the Iraqi kept calling out to God. Whenever this happened, the interrogator placed his hands over the Iraqi’s mouth and nose preventing him from breathing or speaking. The court testimony doesn’t say whether the Iraqi was calling out God’s name in fear. But one can probably assume.

The Iraqi died. The prisoner’s family filed a complaint alleging that their husband, father of three small children, had been tortured. Of course, there is never an admission to such things.

But now, the interrogator has been charged with the death of the general. The interrogator’s defence is that he obtained ‘permission’ from his commanding officers as to the tactics he would use. And therefore, he was following orders from his officers.

His commanding officers acknowledge that he had discussed the tactics that would be used. Apparently, it is an acceptable practice to place prisoner’s in ‘stressful’ positions in order to educe information.

The testimony continued for some time. And both the prosecution and defence raised the matter of rage and whether the interrogator was acting out of rage at any point. This, presumably might serve as a mitigating cause for his actions.

And indeed there had been rage on the part of the interrogator. When the Iraqi, inside the wet sleeping bag, stopped calling out God’s name and remained silent, the interrogator removed him from the sleeping bag. When he did so the Iraqi was smiling.

According to the testimony, this infuriated the interrogator so much that he poured water into the Iraqi’s mouth and nostrils. He was enraged ‘beyond control’ because his efforts had not been successful.

But the truth was that the Iraqi was dead. He had died whilst inside the sleeping bag, and his last words, or attempted words were for God to save him.

When the interrogator left his family to go to Iraq, I’m certain he never envisaged himself being in a position where he would deliberately torture someone. At least, Dear Lord, at least I hope not. And when the Iraqi general spent however many years of his life in the midst of totalitarianism at the hands of a madman and worked to make himself one of the alpha males in the Iraqi military – was it in order to survive despotism to ensure his family was safe, or was it due to the rantings of a dictator who feared the spectre of an empire attacking his country? I haven’t a clue.

All I do know is that whether it’s the Iraqi gentleman, the American gentleman, or the Iraqi reporter who threw shoes at President Bush, there are families somewhere who are mourning, who are trying to find ways to push into the recesses of their minds, images of humanity at its worst.



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Anonymous Peter Day said...

Fr Bill. A very Happy Christmas to you! Susan and I want to send something to you for whatever you decide to use it for. We would prefer that you use it for yourself or your family. I tried to find the link again but cant remember where it is. Please email me or post it here. Julie says you should get something for Mr Piddles too! A VERY Happy Christmas to you all! With Love -Peter Susan and Julie Day


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