When I posted on Facebook last month inviting my Austin friends to come out on a Sunday afternoon and hear me talk about the Senate Torture Report, my wife made fun of me for the singularly uninviting nature of the topic. She was right. We didn’t get much of a turn-out for the program that Joe Bratcher of Malvern Books bravely put together to observe International Day in Support of Victims of Torture—but we did get video, which the shop has now uploaded to YouTube. Embedded above is my brief talk on the “Senate Intelligence Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Program,” considered as both political document and literary text. My talk followed the remarks of Celia VanDeGraaf of the Center for Survivors of Torture, which does amazing work right here in our community, and was followed by an improvised performance reading of excerpts of the report by Mathew Hodges & Taylor Jacob Pate.
I first read the Senate Torture Report as a PDF when it was originally released in December 2015, and then as a thick paperback from Melville House that I bought at Malvern, a shop that mainly sells poetry and small press literary. Maybe that’s why I read the report as government verse. Invisible literature of a corporatized state, a text that shares more with J.G. Ballard’s Atrocity Exhibition than any documentary expose—549 pages of short numbered fragments composed in lawyerly cryptomes, powered by the narrative negative space of national security redactions, and by Talmudic annotation with 2,725 footnotes, each of which also works as a freestanding narrative fragment. An executive summary of an even-longer work we will likely never be permitted to see, the Torture Report is best read (or more easily endured) in fragments—bureaucratic cut-ups from the first-person point of view of a nation-state acting out its feelings in response to existential threats it cannot really understand.
Time and context did not really permit me to read directly from the report at the June event. I posted a few excerpts on my Tumblr when the report was first released, but everyone really ought to do their own sampling, as a matter of citizen engagement. Maybe you can even fill in the blanks.