by Susan Rosenthal
(Updated at: Guantanamo Madness)
On September 18, Associated Press reported that a prisoner at Guantanamo Bay had gone insane. According to lawyers, 37-year-old Shaker Aamer has been tortured and kept in solitary confinement for so long that "he considers insects his friends."
Aamer was working for a charity organization when he was captured in Afghanistan in 2001. After he organized a prisoners’ council to bargain for better conditions, he was placed in solitary confinement and has remained there for over a year.
Aamer lives in a 6-by-8-foot steel cell where he is subjected to regular beatings, sleep deprivation, and exposure to extreme temperatures. The day before three prisoners hung themselves, guards choked him, gouged his eyes, bent his fingers until he screamed, and then covered his face so that he could not cry out.
Lawyer Zachary Katznelson states, "His only consistent contact with living beings beside his captors is with the ants in his cell. He feeds them and considers them his friends."
Who is crazy here? Human beings are social animals. When people turn against us, we have two choices: to abandon our own humanity or to seek connection with other creatures. In the hell of Guantanamo prison, Shaker Aamer is struggling to preserve his sense of belonging to something beyond himself. True, the objects of his caring and attention are insects, but he has no other option. His heroic effort to remain human — despite the insanity around him — makes him the only sane person in this story.
In 1995, Paula Caplan wrote, They Say You’re Crazy: How the World’s Most Powerful Psychiatrists Decide Who’s Normal, to protest labeling the effects of oppression as symptoms of mental illness.
Treating oppression as normal and branding people’s reactions to oppression as abnormal is a form of social insanity.
Consider a school system that confines youngsters to closed rooms for long periods of time and force-feeds them information that has no relevance to their lives. Those who rebel against such oppression are commonly diagnosed with mental disorders (Attention-Deficit Disorder (ADD), Conduct Disorder, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, etc.) and forced to take mind-altering drugs. To preserve a crazy-making system, the healthy child must be made "crazy."
When a society that is wealthy beyond imagining refuses to provide a decent life for all — that is crazy. When people protest the unfairness of such a society — that is sane, regardless of the form of the protest.
So, the next time you encounter a situation that causes you to wonder, "Am I crazy?" remember this: You are not crazy. The world is crazy, and the world can be changed.
For more on this subject see POWER and Powerlessness, Chapter 8, "Profit from Pain." Available at www.powerandpowerlessness.com