Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Company They Keep

In furtherance of my incessant attacks against the Bush Administration and their continued supporters over the issue of torture and authoritarianism, allow me to point to Seth Mydan's poignant article on page 14 of today's New York Times.

Entitled "Survivors Shed Light on Dark Days of Khmer Rouge," it tells the story of two survivors, Bou Meng and Chum Mey, now confronting Kaing Guek Eav, aka Duch [pronounced Doik], the former commander of Tuol Sleng prison, where some 14,000 Cambodians were imprisoned, worked, starved to death or brutally executed, at his trial for crimes against humanity.

Towards the end of this article, Mr. Mydan writes:

"Mr. Bou Meng dies not wander like his friend [Chum Mey] among the Tuol Sleng pictures, but he does keep one in his wallet: a snapshot-size reproduction of the prison portrait of his wife, Ma Yueun, who was arrested with him but did not survive.

'Sometimes when I sit at home I look at the picture and everything seems fresh,' he said.  'I think of the suffering she endured, and I wonder how long she stayed alive.'

Mr. Bou Meng has since remarried twice, but he remains shackled to his memories.  'I know I should forget her,' he said, 'but I can't.'

She visits him, he said, in visions that are something more than dreams, looking just as she did when he last saw her - still 28 years old, leaving Mr. Bou Meng to live on and grow old without her.

Sometimes she appears with the spirits of others who were killed, he said.  They stand together, a crowd of ghosts in black, and she tells him, 'Only you, Bou Meng, can find justice for us.'"

Here is to Mr. Mydans, for his wonderful article, and to Mr. Bou Meng and Mr. Chum Mey, for their courage in confronting the monsters of their history.

For us, the lessons are that torture cannot ever be whitewashed; that it permeates the victim and torturer alike, and never, ever goes away; all the victims of torture and brutality cry out through the ages for us to bring them justice.

A small part of bringing them that justice is to never permit torture in our name.  But in that, we have failed.

As it stands right now George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, as well as their underlings and their apologists, are standing alongside criminals the like of Kaing Guek Eav, who assuredly used the excuses of expediency, efficacy, and security during the commission of his legion crimes.  

So let us judge them by the company they keep.

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