Torture, for real

Giants fans, watching a close game ≠ the awful things that prisoners go through here in the United States


OPINION Last week I walked into my favorite café in SoMa and noticed the barista wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the black and orange word "torture."

I froze. I knew I was holding up the line but I didn't care. I had to ask about that shirt.

"Oh, it's to promote the San Francisco Giants," he said. He continued speaking, not noticing my umbrage. "So do you want your coffee hot or cold today?"

I wanted to keep talking about that shirt, but I didn't know what to say. "I will have my coffee cold please," I told him.

For the past ten years, torture has never been far from me. When I worked at Amnesty International, it was two doors down in the person of my colleague Kumar, who was tortured in Sri Lanka for advocating for Tamil rights. When I was on Capitol Hill as a foreign policy aide in the House of Representatives, I saw lawmakers justify President Obama's lackadaisical attitude towards US torture.

One of the first things I learned at Amnesty International is the power and the responsibility of words. Human-rights work is about finding and verifying stories and then giving those stories names: war crime, rape, genocide ... torture. It's in the naming that our action begins. When we use the word torture it carries weight—and can heal wounds—because for so many people, their torture is denied, rationalized, or trivialized.

When I see the word torture on a t-shirt I do more than cringe: I mourn how far we are as a nation from a serious discussion of the use of torture by our own government.

Just last week Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Justice Department was closing the last two cases examining harsh CIA interrogation tactics during the Bush administration.

According to the ACLU, "(CIA) Interrogators were told they could use, among other tactics, extended sleep deprivation; 'stress positions' such as forced-standing, handcuffing in painful crouched positions and shackling people to the ceiling, usually for hours or even days; confining prisoners to small, coffin-like boxes with air and light cut off; extended forced nudity; sensory bombardment; extreme temperatures; hooding; and physical beatings, including slamming prisoners into walls."

I can understand and I can attest that watching your team blow a lead in the bottom of the ninth is painful, excruciating even. It might cause you to drink or curse or smoke more. But it's not torture. It doesn't violate the core of your being. It doesn't terrorize your nights.

Standing in line at the café that day, I thought of my friend Firoze who was tortured so badly he can no longer have sex. I wonder what he would say if were staring at the Barista with the "torture" t-shirt.

He would probably laugh and say it's just a game. And then he might say what he told me each time we met: "People have no idea."

Zahir Janmohamed recently completed a fellowship at the San Francisco Writers' Grotto and is writing a book about Juhapura, the largest ghetto of Muslims in India



"It''s to promote the San Francisco Giants."

Do you also take umbrage to the "Swinging" Oakland A's t-shirts?

Is that insulting to bisexuals?


Your editorial is just fine. But no reason to get tetchy about a shirt.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 05, 2012 @ 8:59 am

Let me preface this comment with the statement that baseball is a wonderful game. At its best, it is real-life theater and an opportunity for intellectual as well as physical engagement for fans and players alike.

At times I've followed Giants baseball to the utmost -- and I've screamed by head off at the Dodgers on more than one occasion.

That said, lately I haven't been quite so enamored with the orange and black corporation and part of the reason is how disagreeable I find the close association these productions have with jingoism and theology.

During Game 7 of the NLCS playoffs, Dwayne Kuiper and Jon Miller waxed prolifically about "divine intervention" -- as though *GOD* might pick winners and losers among baseball teams. That sort of irrationality dovetails perfectly with the disconcerting abuse of the term "torture." Frankly, it is galling.

The Giants Corp. does not own patriotism, they don't own the American flag. Their fans do not become better Americans by virtue of singing along with "God Bless America" during the seventh inning stretch.

Thanks. With the above said, "Go Giants."

Posted by lillipublicans on Oct. 24, 2012 @ 11:16 am

about the Torture, i heard much information about it which occurred in the prison, i think it is rude and merciless, and this behaviour should be forbid.

Posted by hairplusbase on Oct. 10, 2013 @ 8:15 pm

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