Thursday, November 17, 2005

Dante's Inferno

Dante's Inferno
Translation by: John Ciardi with notes

Dante's Inferno, Circle 7 is where the warmongers reside after their life here on earth. Here is where those who commit the violence againt the neighbors, the great war-makers, cruel tyrants, all who shed the blood of their fellowmen. As they wallowed in blood during their lives, so they are immersed in the boiling blood forever, each according to the degree of his guilt, while fierce Centaurs patrol the banks, ready to shoot with thier arrows any sinner who raises himself out of the boiling blood beyond the limits permitted him.
Canto XII, Circle 7, Round 1

But turn your eyes to the valley; there we shall find (line46

The river of boiling blood in which are steeped

All who struck down their fellow men. Oh blind!


…”Here they pay for their ferocity. (line 106

Here is Alexander. And Dionysius,

Who brought long years of grief to Sicily .


That brow you see with the hair as black as night

Is Azzolino; and that beside him, the blonde,

Is Opizzo da Esti, who had his mortal light


Blown out by his own stepson.” I turned then

to speak to the Poet but he raised a hand:

“let him be the teacher now, and I will listen.”


Further on, the Centaur stopped beside

A group of spirits steeped as far as the throat

In the race of boiling blood, and there our guide


Pointed out a sinner who stood alone:

“That one before God's altar pierced a heart

still honored on the Thames .” And he passed on. (120)


We came in sight of some who were allowed

To raise the head and all the chest from the river,

And I recognized many there. Thus, as we followed


Along the stream of blood, its level fell

Until it cooked no more than the feet of the dammed.

And here we crossed the ford to deeper Hell.


“Just as you see the boiling stream grow shallow

along this side,” the Centaur said to us

when we stood on the other bank, “I would have you know


that on the other, the bottom sinks anew

more and more, until it comes again

full circle to the place where the tyrants stew.


It is there that Holy Justice spends its wrath

On Sextus and Pyrrhus through eternity,

And on Attila, who was a scourge on earth: (135)


And everlastingly milks out the tears

Of Rinier da Corneto and Rinier Pazzo,

those two assassins who for many years


stalked the highways, bloody and abhorred.”

And with that he started back across the ford.

47. the river with flowing blood This is Phlegethon, the river that circules through the First Round of the Seventh Circle, then sluices through the wood of the suicides (the second round) and the burning sands (third round) to spew over the great Cliff into the Eight CIrcle, and so, eventually, to the bottom of Hell (Cocytus). The river is deepest at the point at which the Poets first approach it and grows shallower along both sides of the circle until it reaches the ford, which is at the opposite point of the First round. THe souls of the dammed are placed in deeper or shallower parts of the river according to the degree of their guilt.
55. The Centaurs: The Centaurs were creatures of classical mythology. half-horse, half-men. They were skilled and savage hunters, creatures of passion and violence. Like the Minotaur, they are symbols of the bestial-human, and as such, they are fittingly chosen as the tormentors of these sinners.
65. Chiron: The son of Saturn and of the nymph Philira. He was the wiest and most just of the Centaurs and reputedly was the teacher of Achilles and of other Greek heros to whom he imparted great skill in bearing arms, medicine, astronomy, music, and augury. Dante places him far down in Hell with the others of his kind, but through he draws Chiron's coarseness, he also grants him a kind of majestic understanding.
67. Nessus: Nessus carried travelers across the River Evenus for hire. He was hired to ferry Dejanira, the wife of Hercules, and tried to abduct her, but Hercules killed him with a poisened arrow. While Nessus was dying, he whispered to Dejanira that a shirt stained with his poisoned blood would act as a love charm should Hercules' affections stray. When Hercules fell in love with Iole, Dejanira sent him a shirt stained with the Centaur's blood. The shirt poisoned Hercules and he died in agony. Thus Nessus revenged himself with his own blood.
107. Alexander: Alexander the Great. Dionysius: Dionysius I (died 367B.C.) and his son, Dionysius II (died 343) were tyrants of Sicly. Both were infamous as prototypes of the bloodthirsty and exorbitant ruler. Dante may intend either or both.
110. Azzolino (or Ezzelino): Ezzelino da Romano, Count of Onora (1194-1259). The cruelest of the Ghibelline tyrants. In 1236 Frederick II appointed Ezzelino his vicar in Padua. Ezzelino became especially infamnous for his bloody treatment of the Paduans, whom he slaughtered in great numbers.
111. Opizzo da Esti: Marquis of Ferrara (1264-1293) The account of his life is confused. One must accept Dante's facts as given.
119-120. that one...a heart still hnored on the Thames: The sinner indicated is Guy de Montfort. His father, Simon de Montfort, was a leader of the barons who rebelled against Henry III and was killed at the battle of Evesham (1265) by Prince Edward (later Prince Edward I) In 1271, Guy (then Vicar General of Tuscany) avenged his fathers death by murdering Henery's nepher (who was also named Henry) The crime was openly committed in a church at Viterbo. The mudered Henry's heart was sealed in a casket and sent to London, where it was accorded various honors.
134. Sextus: Probably the younger son of Pompey the Great. His piracy is mentioned in Lucan (Pharsalia, VI, 420,422) Pyrrhus: Pyrrhus, the son of Achilles, was especially bloodthristy at the sack of Troy. Phrrhus, King of Epirus (319-371 BC) waged relentless and bloody war against the Greeks and Romans. Either may be intended.
135. Attila: King of the Huns from 433 to 453. He was called the Scourge of God.
137. Rinier da Corneto, Rinier Pazzo: Both were especially bloodthirsty robber-barons of the thirteenth century.
The Inferno, Dante Alighieri, Translated by John Ciardi;1954

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

American torture on Foreign Soil

America kidnapped meBy Khaled El-Masri, KHALED EL-MASRI, a German citizen born in Lebanon, was a car salesman before he was detained in December 2003.

THE U.S. POLICY of "extraordinary rendition" has a human face, and it is mine.I am still recovering from an experience that was completely beyond the pale, outside the bounds of any legal framework and unacceptable in any civilized society. Because I believe in the American system of justice, I sued George Tenet, the former CIA director, last week. What happened to me should never be allowed to happen again.

I was born in Kuwait and raised in Lebanon. In 1985, when Lebanon was being torn apart by civil war, I fled to Germany in search of a better life. There I became a citizen and started my own family. I have five children.On Dec. 31, 2003, I took a bus from Germany to Macedonia. When we arrived, my nightmare began.

Macedonian agents confiscated my passport and detained me for 23 days. I was not allowed to contact anyone, including my wife.At the end of that time, I was forced to record a video saying I had been treated well. Then I was handcuffed, blindfolded and taken to a building where I was severely beaten. My clothes were sliced from my body with a knife or scissors, and my underwear was forcibly removed. I was thrown to the floor, my hands pulled behind me, a boot placed on my back. I was humiliated. Eventually my blindfold was removed, and I saw men dressed in black, wearing black ski masks. I did not know their nationality. I was put in a diaper, a belt with chains to my wrists and ankles, earmuffs, eye pads, a blindfold and a hood.

I was thrown into a plane, and my legs and arms were spread-eagled and secured to the floor. I felt two injections and became nearly unconscious. I felt the plane take off, land and take off. I learned later that I had been taken to Afghanistan.There, I was beaten again and left in a small, dirty, cold concrete cell. I was extremely thirsty, but there was only a bottle of putrid water in the cell. I was refused fresh water.That first night I was taken to an interrogation room where I saw men dressed in the same black clothing and ski masks as before. They stripped and photographed me, and took blood and urine samples. I was returned to the cell, where I would remain in solitary confinement for more than four months.

The following night my interrogations began. They asked me if I knew why I had been detained. I said I did not. They told me that I was now in a country with no laws, and did I understand what that meant? They asked me many times whether I knew the men who were responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks, if I had traveled to Afghanistan to train in camps and if I associated with certain people in my town of Ulm, Germany. I told the truth: that I had no connection to any terrorists, had never been in Afghanistan and had never been involved in any extremism.

I asked repeatedly to meet with a representative of the German government, or a lawyer, or to be brought before a court. Always, my requests were ignored.In desperation, I began a hunger strike. After 27 days without food, I was taken to meet with two Americans the prison director and another man, referred to as "the Boss." I pleaded with them to release me or bring me before a court, but the prison director replied that he could not release me without permission from Washington. He also said that he believed I should not be detained in the prison.

After 37 days without food, I was dragged to the interrogation room, where a feeding tube was forced through my nose into my stomach. I became extremely ill, suffering the worst pain of my life.After three months, I was taken to meet an American who said he had traveled from Washington, D.C., and who promised I would soon be released. I was also visited by a German-speaking man who explained that I would be allowed to return home but warned that I was never to mention what had happened because the Americans were determined to keep the affair a secret.

On May 28, 2004, almost five months after I was first kidnapped, I was blindfolded, handcuffed and chained to an airplane seat. I was told we would land in a country other than Germany, because the Americans did not want to leave traces of their involvement, but that I would eventually get to Germany.After we landed I was driven into the mountains, still blindfolded. My captors removed my handcuffs and blindfold and told me to walk down a dark, deserted path and not to look back. I was afraid I would be shot in the back.I turned a bend and encountered three men who asked why I was illegally in Albania.

They took me to the airport, where I bought a ticket home (my wallet had been returned to me). Only after the plane took off did I believe I was actually going home. I had long hair, a beard and had lost 60 pounds. My wife and children had gone to Lebanon, believing I had abandoned them.

Thankfully, now we are together again in Germany.I still do not know why this happened to me. I have been told that the American secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, confirmed in a meeting with the German chancellor that my case was a "mistake" and that American officials later denied that she said this. I was not present at this meeting. No one from the American government has ever contacted me or offered me any explanation or apology for the pain they caused me.

Secretary Rice has stated publicly, during a discussion of my case, that "any policy will sometimes result in errors." But that is exactly why extraordinary rendition is so dangerous. As my interrogators made clear when they told me I was being held in a country with no laws, the very purpose of extraordinary rendition is to deny a person the protection of the law. I

begged my captors many times to bring me before a court, where I could explain to a judge that a mistake had been made. Every time, they refused. In this way, a "mistake" that could have been quickly corrected led to several months of cruel treatment and meaningless suffering, for me and my entire family.My captors would not bring me to court, so last week I brought them to court.

Helped by the American Civil Liberties Union, I sued the U.S. government because I believe what happened to me was illegal and should not be done to others. And I believe the American people, when they hear my story, will agree.