Beneath the Blindfold – a Film by Ines Sommer and Kathy Berger
Four Survivors, One Truth: This Should Not Happen To Anyone

February 3, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper |


From a reader:

On January 17 Revolution Books in Chicago had a film showing of Beneath the Blindfold, a film by Ines Sommer and Kathy Berger. On their blog ( they make an important statement around the revolting culture we face today: "Where are the voices of torture survivors? As the new film Zero Dark Thirty opens in movie theaters across the country and despite the extensive media coverage of abuse at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay, it is worth noting that the voices of torture survivors are rarely included in any of the public discussions about the use of torture. But without their stories, torture remains abstract, a practice that happens to people we neither know nor care about. They become statistics, their human suffering easily ignored."

The film takes you through the struggle of torture survivors, from Liberia, Colombia, Guatemala and the U.S. The torture survivors who speak in the film do it with courage and heart. Kathy Berger pointed out how the survivors have responded very differently to their circumstances. In living through the most inhuman crimes that have been perpetrated against them they have sought to bring their stories out through this film, through speaking at demonstrations, through theater, activism and as way for psychological release for healing.  

One young man from Liberia was forced to become a child soldier and when captured given a Drano type substance that destroyed his esophagus. Others had been held for ten days and tortured with the sounds of children crying in the next room and the guards telling them that it was their children. A female doctor who had been working with indigenous people in Guatemala had been told to leave the country; she refused and had been gang raped and tortured. Many of these crimes can be directly traced back to the School of Americas (SOA), where the U.S. trains in counter-insurgency, torture and assassinations. One of the torture survivors is seen at an SOA protest and calls it "the first terrorist training camp."

Each story is woven together with the history of torture dating back to the CIA development of sensory deprivation, with documentation from Alfred McCoy, a professor at the University of Wisconsin and author, and with comments from those who work with torture survivors. A point was made about the iconic image from Abu Ghraib – that this is a demonstration of two most important discoveries by psychologists about torture: self-inflicted pain and sensory deprivation.

The film underscores the fact that even with the most brutal physical torture techniques that are used against people, the scars that have been left in people's minds are even worse. They suffer from flashbacks, fear of people and difficulty in speaking about their experience even to their loved ones and ongoing medical issues that would last a lifetime if they lived. And some never regain their mental faculties; torturing people without leaving any visible marks.

People who attended the film screening were working with torture survivors; some from the Marjorie Kovler Center for the Treatment of Survivors of Torture in Chicago who are training to work with people who have been tortured and going through medical treatment for the scars inflicted on them.  

Kathy Berger spoke at the end of the film: how it took years in making the film to make sure the people were able to speak and tell their stories without harm and setbacks in their struggle with the crimes that had been committed against them. How some people wanted to know why she was doing a film on such a "depressing story." She responded that this was a story that needed to be told and especially at the time of the 11th anniversary of Guantánamo and the recent release of Zero Dark Thirty. One participant commented, feeling helpless, that after 9/11 people just spontaneously started supporting torture or war. In discussing this point it was raised how people's responses have been molded in various ways by the system, and the huge role that culture plays in doing this. Beneath the Blindfold shows clips of the TV series NYPD Blue in the '90s, through the series 24, and ZDT that promote torture in the mainstream media.

At the Golden Globes host Amy Poehler joked that living with director James Cameron was like "torture." When ZDT director Kathryn Bigelow appeared on Jay Leno's show, he said "Waterboarding, I think that happened to me at a frat party." This is the disgusting and brutal culture that makes jokes of torture and then spews them into the mainstream culture. It reinforces that torture is fine if it keeps me safe.

Everyone at the showing got a copy of Revolution newspaper with the review of Zero Dark Thirty and palm cards that said "American Lives Are Not More Important Than Other People's Lives" and "Internationalism—The Whole World Comes First," quotes from Bob Avakian's book BAsics.

Beneath the Blindfold did not make the cut in any of the film festivals, including Sundance or any other film festivals. So it's up to us to get it out there and show it to friends, family, community groups or local TV stations.  Get out at the Oscars, at theaters and to talk to people about how torture becomes the new normal; reinforcing throughout society that torture is fine if it keeps me safe.

Looking away from the crimes the U.S. and others are committing against the people of the world is unacceptable. See this film Beneath the Blindfold. Demand that these crimes be stopped and the people responsible for them are prosecuted.

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