William Alanson White Institute, Lighthouse International – Freedom and Psychoanalysis – Speech – PDF

2004 White Institute Lighthouse International

MICHAEL RATNER AT LIGHTHOUSE INTERNATIONAL

Thank you, Dr. Bose and welcome everyone this afternoon. Just a year and a half ago, I don’t think I had actually heard of the White Institute. I had heard of the people who founded it, because those were the people we read in college: Erich Fromm, Harry Stack Sullivan. Those were writers, who in the 1960s were popular, but I actually had not heard of the Institution. One of your graduates, Jenny Kaufinan, invited me to get involved with the White Institute. As I learned more about the Institute, I began to see how its values fit into what I do better than I had imagined a psychiatric institute could. It is one of those few institutes whose commitments combine social and global concerns with psychiatry.

Both components of that equation have played pivotal roles in my life and right now, of course, I am very much involved in global and social concerns. Jenny asked me to speak some time ago, and I anticipated giving one of my typical talks, the sort I can basically do extemporaneously: Ashcroft and Civil Liberties, The War on Liberty, Moving Toward a Police State, etc. So, you can imagine my surprise when I received the invitation. It was a beautiful invitation with a thorough biography of my life, which I read through and then I came to the announcement of the topic for my talk, Freedom and Psychoanalysis. I was really surprised. I said to myself, what does that mean? I pondered it for a while, and realized that it was a topic (and I can say this with great sincerity), about which I knew absolutely nothing. Yet, I had had some experience with both freedom and psychoanalysis, but that hardly made it a topic upon which I thought I could offer you anything; but I did take a stab at it.

I read about the founding of the White Institute after World War II. I was particularly impressed with the emphasis that the White Institute placed on the involvement of the society around it. I noted that one of the founders was Erich Fromm, and as I said, like many people of my generation, I had found Fromm’s ideas, particularly the idea that the essence of humanity is freedom, great to hear in the 1960s. I mean you didn’t have to hear anything else just: Freedom, freedom; do what ever you want. That’s what you wanted validated.

Then, I looked at another of your founders’ work, that of Harry Stack Sullivan. I actually had some negative memories of Sullivan. I read Sullivan in college. He was fine. I read him on schizophrenia. Then I remembered that in the 1970s I had a secretary who lived on the West Side of Manhattan in as he called it, a Sullivanian compound, of some sort. I know that has nothing to do with you and that it was an aberration and has nothing to do with the Sullivan that we’re talking about here, but those guys were out of their minds. I mean, some of them just on principle, hadn’t seen their parents for ten years. It was very odd. The guy was a great secretary, but that didn’t give me the best taste in the world about what had happened to Sullivan’s ideas.

But, then I decided that maybe I should learn more. I got some of Sullivan’s books. The first from 1949, and some of you probably know these books better than I, was called Tensions That Cause War. The new United Nations through UNESCO had invited eight social scientists, including Harry Stack Sullivan to a meeting somewhere in Europe, I think, to talk about tensions that cause war.

After World War II, people were utterly concerned and focused on how to prevent war and they were willing to examine prevention from all facets. The tensions that led to war were not limited to the political and social fabric of society, and included the individual. Examining those tensions through psychoanalysis and psychiatry could provide insight.

I looked at the essays in those books. First I tried to read, and I say tried to read Sullivan’s essay entitled Tensions, Interpersonal and International, A Psychiatric—A Psychiatrist’s View. I have to say; I understood none of it. My eyes fogged over at every attempt to read it, but the fact that he had written on that subject was important to me. His writings showed that at one time war was seen as having causes outside of the political structures, outside of the political dimension.

I didn’t give up hope for this talk though. I got one of the pamphlets that Sullivan had contributed to. That pamphlet was called, The Psychiatry of Enduring Peace and Social Progress. It’s in the William Alanson White Memorial Lectures and was given in 1946, the year I believe that the Institute was founded. Among the various writers—and this roster indicates the role that Sullivan and the Institute provided during that period—were Abe Fortas, Henry Wallace and Sullivan.

The talks are about war and peace and how to prevent war. They look at war from a psychological angle; war is a pathological psychiatric symptom. This time I could understand a bit more of Sullivan’s talk. His was titled, The Cultural Revolution to End War. Sullivan warned us, and remember, this is 1946:

“…that reactionary trends are swamping every government as every possible cleavage in every people who’s being encouraged, as every issue is being confounded by irresponsible, if not, indeed, unscrupulous expressions of prejudice interpretation and rumors.”

That’s Sullivan talking about 1946 and a reactionary time. Is that not relevant to us today as our country and others divide citizens from non-citizens, Muslims and Arabs from others? I remembered an article I read in the New York Times. A Region Inflamed: Strategy; Tough New Tactics by U. S. Tighten Grip on Iraq Towns. The article by Dexter Filkins in the Sunday, December 7, 2003 paper quoted U. S. Commanders in Iraq.

Capt. Todd Brown, a company commander with the Fourth Infantry Division: “You have to understand the Arab mind The only thing they understand is force — force, pride and saving face.”

Colonel Sassaman: “With a heavy dose of fear and violence, and a lot of money for projects, I think we can convince these people that we are here to help them.”

We’re talking about reactionary opinions and divisions. That’s the kind of thing we’re talking about.

Or, the November 9 radio commentary in which conservative columnist Cal Thomas quoted [John Ashcroft] as saying:

“Islam is a religion in which God requires you to send your son to die for Him. Christianity is a faith in which God sends His son to die for you.”

It appears Ashcroft simply blotted the Crusades from his mind. That’s the kind of public dialogue we’re having in what I consider a very, very reactionary time. I ask you, is not Sullivan’s worry about reactionary times relevant, as our country continues to impoverish with reactionary social policies not only its own citizens at home, but people abroad, as well? Was Sullivan not right, or would he not have been right today to say the same things? Our country makes war on the world, destroys the United Nation, the very institution that Sullivan supported and that so impressed him. He was a real internationalist.

In my view, of equal importance to Sullivan’s theories on war was his call to action. That’s what was really impressive to me. I couldn’t understand everything he was saying, but I understood that he wanted people to be active, particularly people in the psychiatric community. He was adamant about the fact that all people have to choose and actively oppose what he called the reactionary trends swamping every government. As Sullivan said,

“Decision lies in indecision quite as certainly as an observation and foresight. One will be with the forces of reaction and human exploitation or one will be actively against them.”

This was a critical statement in this period. All of us, in my view, have to be against the forces of reaction that are sweeping not only the United States, but also much of the world, and I don’t mean just intellectually, but I mean in politically active ways as well.

In reading Sullivan, I was struck by the importance that he placed, and that other intellectuals placed on psychiatry. They believed that psychiatry could address the most pressing issues of the day. Unfortunately, it is not a belief that continues today, certainly not with the kind of vigor it had after World War II. It is necessary now, if we are ever to save our world. I should say that the White Institute is a notable exception to this, both in its philosophy and in its activities. I know, for example, that your director, Dr. Bose, recently addressed the United Nations. That’s the kind of thing that I would like to see more and more people in the psychiatric field doing. So to bring us back to the beginning, I can’t really talk about freedom and psychoanalysis, but I can talk about some of what is going on today in our country and in our world and about, as Sullivan would say, the forces of reaction.

I’m going to talk mostly about what is going on in our country, because that’s the area in which I feel I can have the most effect. I think one of the main tendencies I see, and one of the greatest dangers to me is war. Right now, we are living in the most powerful country in the world. Sadly, our country has made it clear by its actions that it will rule the world by force; that it will have no competitors; that it will use military might and not diplomacy; that it will use the United Nations, if at all as a fig leaf; that it will ignore the United Nations fundamental charter that you can only go to war in two circumstances, when the UN approves or in self defense. I think Sullivan would have found this profoundly disturbing.

The U.S. has basically shredded the consensus that we had after World War II as to how war was to be implemented and used. Betraying the limits on the use of force is one of the most serious things that we’re facing today. We have in this country, as I’m sure you’re familiar with, a new doctrine of pre-emptive war (Actually, pre-emptive implies responding to an immediate threat, whereas the Bush administration responded, in the case of Iraq, to its own fictitious alleged threat.) As we say, we’re the bully on the block, why should we have any rules that govern us as well as the others? We can do whatever we want.

You see in this case the wisdom of the UN Charter. There would not have been a war in Iraq. We would not have 500 U.S. soldiers killed and 8,000 Iraqis dead. This war was sold to us with lies and with chicanery. The question for me is what war is next. I think it portends currently a very dark future. This administration has really unleashed the dogs of war.

We cannot separate war abroad from its consequences at home. We all know the obvious consequence: money from our pockets, money that’s not going to social programs, money that’s not going into eradicating poverty. There are 43 million people under the poverty line. That is the highest number in the history of the United States, and about the same number of people have no medical insurance. Again, war is causing that direct effect. They’re using it as an excuse to continue to cut back on social programs. But there is another equally awful consequence. War and tyranny abroad mean tyranny at home, an end to our democracy, an end to our freedom and I see it happening now.

It’s best described by an acquaintance of mine. Probably most of you know of Chris Hedges, the New York Times reporter. Chris has written a number of books basically about war, the causes of war. He was a war correspondent for a number of years. About six months ago, he was speaking at a graduation in Illinois and his speech focused on the Iraq war, about how serious and dangerous that war was and how he was against that war. He was physically assaulted off that stage, booed off and eventually had to just run, with the cops protecting him. His speech was brilliant and can be found at http://www.rrstar.com/localnews/your community/rockford/0521hedgesspeech.shtrnl.

There is one part of it that I want to read to you.

“Read Antigone. When the king imposes his will without listening to those he rules or Thucydides’ history, read how Athens expanding empire saw it become a tyrant abroad and then a tyrant at home. How the tyranny the Athenian leadership imposed on others, it finally imposed on itself.

This Thucydides wrote is what doomed Athenian democracy. Athens destroyed itself, where the instrument of empire is war and war is a poison.”

Sadly, that poison is with us here and now. I just look at what kind of country we are becoming. I could address a lot of issues on this subject. I deal with this all the time, every day. There are three themes I want to talk about very briefly today. One is the use of torture, the poison of torture. Second is the use of executive detentions, and third is the attacks on non-citizens, the creation of the other as a way of basically pushing all of our issues and problems on to non-citizens and the other rather than taking them on ourselves. Sadly, there’s been little public outcry on most of these issues. You begin to understand the silence that accompanies many infamous tyrannies. We always ask ourselves, how did this tyranny happen, how did that happen, where were the people, why were they silent? I think we are witnessing a silence today that paves the way to tyranny.

First, I want to talk about the poison of torture. A few days ago, in fact, on Thursday, (January 22, 2004), I filed a case on behalf of a man named Mahar Arar, a Canadian citizen born in Syria. What did he do? He was transiting on a plane from Kennedy airport back to his home in Canada. He had left Tunisia, where he visited his wife’s family. At Kennedy airport, U.S. officials, FBI agents, and INS representatives pulled him off the plane. They claimed he was on a terrorist list. They interrogated him for twelve days in the United States. The whole usual stuff: no lawyer, gave the Canadian Consular of Affairs the runaround, kept him in a cell, shackled, lights blazing 24 hours. Then, on a private jet they flew him to Jordan, where he was handed over to Jordanian officials and taken to Syria.

In Syria, what happened to Mahar? He stayed there for nearly a year, ten months and ten days of which he was interned in a tiny underground cell and interrogated with the same questions the United States had asked him here. He was tortured during that period. He was severely physically and psychologically tortured. Eventually, he signed various “confessions,” which, as even the Syrians now say, were completely untrue.

At the behest of the Canadian government, we finally got him released; he is one of the only ones to be released from this situation. His situation is not unique. Mahar Arar is the one person who we’ve gotten out of an interrogation camp. As we sit here, as I give this speech, a series of tortures are going on around the world at the behest of our country, the United States. It’s a practice they call rendition. When I was a kid, rendition what you did with the dead animals to get the fat off them, you rendered the animal. Now, rendition means something else; it is extraterritorial, it is an extralegal process that we’re conducting. Mahar is only one of those cases. There are hundreds of cases of people being sent, like Mahar to torture chambers in Syria, in Jordan, in Egypt and in Morocco. It’s a process that is public in a certain way, if you read the papers carefully and look. That is what is going on right now. What really happened here?

What happened here is that the United States admitted, not in this case but in others, that we didn’t—and this is the way they put it—we didn’t want to beat the crap out of him ourselves, so we sent him to some other place where it was legal to beat the crap out of him. That’s what the United States said about Mahar. I wish, as I said, that this was a singular case. Unfortunately, it’s routine. Hopefully, our lawsuit against Ashcroft and company will get to the bottom of a process that I find completely inhumane and essentially uncivilized.

I also wish rendering was the only process that our country is involved in. There are people in Bagram, which is a United States base in Afghanistan, who are hung from ceilings, beaten, exposed to extreme temperatures, given no food. According to military doctors, two of them suffered blunt blows to the body that resulted in their deaths.

And yet in this country, there are people like Alan Dershowitz, professor at Harvard, who say that torture ought to be legal. You know how I always answer Alan, and I debate him often, I quote from a chapter in a book called The Plague, by Norman Cantor. It is a history of the plague in 14th century Europe. There is a chapter on Jews and the plague. The chapter begins by saying the rabbi was tortured just a little bit. He then confessed that he and other rabbis throughout Europe had poisoned the wells of Europe so that they could cause the plague. It seems to me that is the answer to give Deshowvitz. Not only is it the answer that proves torture doesn’t work, but that a people who have experienced just a little torture should not be advocating torture. The fact that the public dialogue takes Dershowitz’s argument seriously, demonstrates the moral degradation into which our society has fallen.

As I speak, innocent people are being tortured. Mahar turns out to be innocent, not that it makes any difference, you don’t torture guilty people either. But Mahar turns out to have been a mistake; he is completely innocent. He has two kids. His life has been destroyed. He has no job; he is psychologically devastated. And the question for me is, where is the outrage?

A second part of the torture is executive detentions —and I’ll just handle this briefly. I’m going to talk about Guantanamo as a second poison.

Apparently in Guantanamo, they are not beating people the way Mahar was beaten, nor are they apparently torturing people the way they are in Bagram. Rather, they are using psychological torture and that is relevant to you, and those in your field. Because one of the issues that is coming out of Guantanamo is whether these people are going be fit to stand trial. They’ve been in detention for two years; I have had no communication with them. I’m their lawyer. They’ve never heard of me. There is a debate going on in the psychiatric community: should we go down there, look at these people and certify that they can stand trial after they’ve been under these conditions? Are they mentally competent to stand trial after this? That debate is still continuing. It’s a place where I think psychiatrists have to play a major role.

Our country is trying to reverse some of the fundamental precepts of the enlightenment. Executive detentions—it’s a fancy legal word—but that’s when basically the President says that, hey, tomorrow I’m going to arrest Michael Ratner and throw him in a military brig in South Carolina. I’m not going let him see a lawyer. I’m going to keep him there as long as I want, until the end of the so-called war on terror. Executive detentions are basically detentions by the executive in which the President unilaterally decides the fate of the detainees. That’s what we’re doing in the country. We’re doing it mainly in Guantanamo. Right now, there are 660 people, non-citizens from all over the world, not just taken from the war with Afghanistan, but out of Bosnia, out of the Philippines and being held indefinitely, because the executive thinks they might be guilty. The United States decided that rather than bring these people into criminal court, rather than charge them with any crimes, we’ll put them in a Guantanamo prison and then we won’t give them any right to go into a court.

Those are the cases that I’ve lost so far. I tried to go into U.S. courts, on the district court level, I tried to go into the middle court and then low and behold, all of a sudden in November of this year, the Supreme Court says they want to review the lower court’s decision that says no court in the world can hear cases coming out of Guantanamo.

Why am I so concerned by executive detention? Executive detention goes back to really the fundamental baseline of our society. The prohibition of executive detention goes back to 1215, at least. 1215, you probably know is the Magna Carta. I was studying with my child the other day. He’s a 15-year-old. I hadn’t really re-read the Magna Carta for a long time. What does Article 39 of the Magna Carte say? Essentially, it states that no person can be picked up and put in jail at the whim of the king. Everybody has a right to a court hearing. That’s what the Magna Carta stated 800 years ago. I think that one of the reasons we’re at last seeing at least some international outrage and even in the instance of the supreme court taking the case, some recognition is unfolding that maybe we shouldn’t go back 800 years to a position of executive detention.

We should understand that the use of executive detention has repercussions not only for us in the United States, but also for laws throughout the world. I go to a lot of lectures with people from other countries. They say to me that the United States used to be a model for freedom in all other parts of the world. We were the ones who condemned torture. We were the ones who condemned executive detentions in Peru, in Nigeria. We’re the ones who condemned military tribunals in these places. So, the rest of the world had to eventually comply with what we considered to be due process in law. Now they say the United States is another kind of a model. Now, based on what we’re doing, we are seeing restrictive laws passed in Canada, in France, in England and, of course, in other countries of the world. The United States is being copied again, but this time with dire results.

The third poison is the poison of attacking non-citizens, particularly if they are Muslims or of Arab nationality.

This is really the poison of treating non-citizens as the lesser, as somehow entitled to less rights than we have. Again, the Athens example is a good one. As Athens slowly descended down the path to tyranny, they began to establish different classes of people in terms of justice. Citizens would get one kind of justice; non-citizens would get another. We can see some of that already in the President’s proposed law in legalizing a certain kind of immigration status in this country. A guest worker status allows the worker no rights, and consigns the worker to low wages. Basically, the guest worker will operate as a second class citizen.

But where we really saw this division was after 9/11. After 9/11, what happened in the country was that thousands of non-citizens, mostly Arab and Muslim, were arrested on the flimsiest pretext of immigration violations—maybe they hadn’t given their address in the last 30 days, maybe they had over-stayed their visa. And what did the United States government do? They rounded up first hundreds and then thousands of people and put them into jails right in our communities.

Hundreds of these people were put in jail; they had no connection whatsoever to terrorism. Simply because maybe their landlord wanted to raise the rent and used this as a pretext to get rid of a tenant, or a lover called the INS during the heat of an argument. Not only were they picked up; they were then treated as terrorists. The people we represented were shackled, kept under the glare of lights 24 hours a day. Many were beaten and psychologically tormented by relentless ethnic slurs. Those are the people that Ashcroft has refused to name. We don’t even know who is being held. They were essentially disappeared from America. Their wives, their families have stood outside the jails asking, “Do you have my husband; do you have my son?” No answer. There are still unknown numbers of people disappeared.

We brought a lawsuit about this: Turkman v. Ashcroft. It was one of the people in detention after 9/11. People laughed at us. People said, this is crazy, you guys are wrong. What happened? To the credit of our country, six months ago the inspector general of the justice department came out with a report basically entirely vindicating the lawsuit, saying that after what happened after 9/11 was an outrage.

Many people were beaten up. They were treated as terrorists and they were not terrorists. They were purposely denied lawyers. In fact, a memo was found saying essentially: don’t give these people lawyers. That’s what happened. So for those people, they were living a Kafka-esque nightmare. Attacks on non-citizens are happening in many different ways. The consequences of those attacks hurt all of us, not only non-citizens.

Frequently, we hear that as a result of 9/11 we must give up some of our rights, so that we can be safe. But in fact, if you look at the equation, we’re not giving up our rights; we are taking away someone else’s rights. That’s easy. It can be safe, supposedly, by giving up someone else’s rights; that’s not as hard as finding that you might have to give up your own rights. In fact, what I think all of us have to recognize is that eventually what is done to non-citizens will be done to citizens. You can already see it going on. There are two U.S. citizen enemy combatants in the United States brig in South Carolina. You’ve probably heard their names, Padilla and Hamdi. They are United States citizens. Initially, the government did not expect to incarcerate U.S. citizens. Now they are and, of course, they’re trying to deprive them of their rights in the same way non-citizens have been treated.

But, more deeply disturbing for me is the idea that non-citizens are some how less than citizens; this notion gives lie to the bedrock precept of the enlightenment that I mentioned before, that all humans have fundamental rights and that those rights are fundamental for citizen or non-citizen.

There’s a great quote by Haim Herman Cohn —I guess you’d call him a Neo-Kantian philosopher. He took the idea of individual fundamental rights and humanity and the importance of giving a stranger rights back to the Bible:

“the alien was to be protected not because he was a member of one’s family, clan and religious community, but, because he was a human being. In the alien, therefore, man discovered the ideal of humanity.” Haim Cohn, Human Rights in Jewish Law (New York: Ktav, 1984); Daniel J. Elazar, “Rights and Obligations in the Jewish Political Tradition,” Jewish Political Studies Review, vol. 3, nos. 3-4 (Fall 1991). The Trial And Death Of Jesus

And that’s correct. The ideal of humanity is that you treat someone with fundamental rights, not just because they’re your brother or your sister, but, because they are a human being.

It’s that lesson, very sadly, that our government is forgetting. There are many more examples of how our country is breaking with the proud tradition of safeguarding rights, including the attacks on our privacy, government secrecy, attacks on dissent. I’m sure you all have grasped the situation. We are, indeed, in reactionary times, as I am sure Sullivan would have said and we are handling it very badly. What world are we making for our children? The images in my mind of today are those of feudalism and fortified castles, plunder and pillage, force and not law, instinct and not reason.

As Sullivan admonished us all:

“A decision to do nothing about these reactionary trends identifies one with the destructive principle which the great mass of humanity has not yet found a way to escape. One shows by inaction that one is of those who irresponsibly exploit their less fortunate fellows.”

My closing words to you: let us not be those who by inaction exploit the less fortunate. Let us not be those who identify with the destructive principle. Rather, let us go forward and make a better world.

Thank you.