books
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DON'T FORGET US HERE
Mansoor Adayfi
2021 Hachette Books
Mansoor Adayfi was a skinny, 18-year-old country boy from a mountain village in the Arabian nation of Yemen when he was abducted from Afghanistan in 2001 following the 9/11 attacks in the United States and sold for a cash bounty to the U.S. government’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). He was then disappeared to the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba as a suspected high-ranking terrorist.

Today, he is in his late 30s and living in Belgrade, Serbia, the eastern European nation to which he was forcibly repatriated by the U.S. government following his release from Guantánamo in 2016, bearing heavy emotional and physical scars.

What happened in between those times is the subject of this new memoir by Adayfi, his first book, written with Antonio Aiello, a U.S.-based writer. It is a compelling coming-of-age account of how an innocent youth spent nearly a decade and a half of his life in the bowels of the beast that was America’s “war on terrorism” — and at the same time, a terrifying tale of what was going on behind the locked gates of the most notorious prison on the planet, away from all prying eyes.

The saga starts in September 2001, while Adayfi, a student, is in Afghanistan working as a research assistant with the dream of attending university. The day after 9/11, he and many other civilians are rounded up by Afghan warlords receiving money from the CIA to turn over Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters. In throwing out a wide net to capture anyone in Afghanistan who looked suspicious, the U.S. government ended up imprisoning mostly innocent people.

Adayfi was taken to a CIA so-called “black site” — a place that officially did not exist on the record — and the physical torture began soon after. From there, he was transferred to the Kandahar air base, an old Soviet military base at an airport that the Americans had now taken over in Afghanistan. Adayfi was again tortured and told by the Americans to confess to being a high-ranking, middle-aged Egyptian military leader of an anti-terrorist cell led by evildoer no. 1, Osama bin Laden. Never mind that Adayfi was a teenager at the time.

From there, as a “high-value detainee,” Adayfi was shipped off to the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, which the U.S. had been using up to that time for immigrants expelled from the mainland USA. He became prisoner #441. At its peak in the early 2000s, in blatant violation of international norms, the Guanatánamo prison held more 750 prisoners under horrific conditions. Adayfi was one of them. As he writes:

[W]hen I think about it now, it’s clear that Guantánamo wasn’t for detention and never was. It wasn’t a prisoner-of-war camp to get men off the battlefield in Afghanistan — most of us weren’t fighters — and it wasn’t a prison for punishment. If it was any of those things, that would have meant that the Americans knew who we were and what we had done. But they didn’t. They only suspected that we were fighters and terrorists. They had disappeared hundreds of men to this place for one reason and one reason only: to interrogate us for intelligence. The constant movement, the harassment, the poor living conditions, the torture — it was all done at the direction of interrogators. It was messy and chaotic, and now I see so clearly how they were only just getting started.

The torture he describes over the book’s 300-plus pages could be anything from physically abusing detainees to the point of death or it could mean psychologically driving them to the brink of insanity through sleep deprivation and other means. One of the worst forms of mental torture Adayfi describes in the book was when the American guards lined up vacuum cleaners in front of each detainee’s cell, turned the cleaners on high, and then left them running there night and day. The never-ending noise abuse was designed to drive the detainees crazy and came very close to doing it.

Occasionally the prisoners’ food was spiked with some kind of drug and the detainees would refuse to eat. Hunger strikes among the prisoners were commonplace in demanding better living conditions. Even then, the Americans had another form of torture at the ready: force feeding. This involved strapping a detainee down tightly in a chair, inserting a long tube (often without any lubricant) down the detainee’s nose and pumping food into the stomach. When the detainees threw it up, more was forced into their bodies. When they got full of food, they were not allowed up to defecate and had to soil themselves right there in the chair, strapped down.

One episode Adayfi shares in the book gives away what the Americans were really after at the Guantánamo prison: total ownership of the prisoners’ lives. He relates one time when a gray-haired elderly American interrogator at the prison, a white woman, was beside herself with rage at Adayfi’s refusal to cooperate and threatened to enslave him:

“I’m gonna take your shitty ass back to the US and make you my servant [she yells]. I’m going to shave that disgusting beard and I’m going to make you into my slave. You’ll be cleaning my home, scrubbing my kitchen, cooking for me, holding my bag…Your ass is mine.”

You look away as she yells at you. You don’t say anything. And this makes her even more furious.

Oftentimes, prisoners were hauled off to be interrogated and were never seen alive again. There was a constant fear among detainees that any of them could die during physical torture at the hands of the American interrogators and no one would ever know what happened. Which is exactly what the prison staff drilled into the prisoners’ minds: You won’t be returning home alive. The detainees were usually not told exactly what they were being imprisoned for in the first place.

In the hellhole that was the Guanatánamo prison, the inmates from various countries and speaking different languages developed bonds of brotherhood between them, sustained by a shared deep faith in the religion of Islam. They looked out for each other, cheered each other on, taught and learned from each other, and used humor as a weapon against their common oppressor. The shadow of death hung over their lives there, and they shared what little glimmers of hope they could find in their daily misery.

Adayfi recalls with an impressively clear memory how life at the U.S. military-run prison evolved into an ongoing battle between the inmates and the guards. The prisoners demanded to be treated like human beings and fought for their dignity; the prison staff were intent on treating them like animals:

Life at Guantánamo had become a job for all of us — the interrogators’ job was to torture us; the guards’ job was to kick our asses every day; and a brother’s job was to fight back and give the guards as much work as possible. It was like a factory job for us, doing the same thing every day. Day after day. We woke, we prayed, we were tortured, we ate, we fought, we slept, and then we started the cycle all over again. Some of us had suffered serious injuries that never fully healed. Guards had broken my ankle, my wrist, my fingers, and my nose several times. It was the same for other brothers — some had their backs broken by IRF [prison riot squad] teams, their teeth knocked out, and even worse. The pain became routine, but that didn’t lessen the pain.

As years went on and the prison camp commanders — usually high-ranking U.S. army and navy generals — were rotated in and out, the lower-ranking American military prison guards dropped the pretense of treating these detainees like the vicious, “worst of the worst” killers that the Bush administration claimed they were. Close friendships developed between some of the prisoners, including Adayfi, and their American guards.

Was the detainees’ imprisonment all about capturing the truly dangerous guys who were out there to destroy the USA and everything it stood for? Hardly. Adayfi remembers how some prisoners, who actually did have ties to Osama bin Laden, were released from the Guantánamo prison much earlier than other prisoners who had no connection at all to terrorist organizations. So much for American military “intelligence”.

Some of the prisoners like Adayfi managed to get U.S. attorneys to help them fight their cases. In the end, Adayfi was released from the prison after 14 years based solely on his “likability” by a tribunal of military judges during a remote online hearing. He was never charged with a crime. He lost an entire decade of his young life, his 20s, there in the American gulag.

Serbia, one of the few countries that would accept Guantanamo Bay detainees from the USA, is where he was sent by the U.S. government against his will. Adayfi reports that he is under constant surveillance and harassment by the authorities in Serbia, which he likens to “Guantánamo 2.0”. He is in his late 30s now but looks decades older; his eyes and easy smile belie the unimaginable pain to which he was subjected.

In January 2021, Adayfi and other well-known former prisoners of Guantánamo called on U.S. president Joe Biden to close the prison once and for all — something Barack Obama promised to do during his tenure as president but never did. Biden has so far been deaf to their pleas. Today, a few dozen detainees remain at the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and the facility doesn’t look to be closed anytime soon. Meanwhile, the gears of America’s global “war on terrorism” grind on.

But there is some reckoning due in this so-called “war,” and Mansoor Adayfi’s Don’t Forget Us Here (read these online excerpts) is ultimately a part of that reckoning. The truth is finally coming out about what a sham America’s “war on terrorism” was from the outset, and the truth will continue to come out long into the future. If there is any saving of American democracy to be done now, it will come from people like this book author who have experienced firsthand the dark side of the American Dream and who can speak truthfully on what war, justice and freedom really mean.
音楽 music
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A LOVE SUPREME: LIVE IN SEATTLE
John Coltrane
2021
Any new CD by the late jazz saxophonist and composer John Coltrane is cause for celebration, but this latest release — far and away the musical discovery of the year — offers good reason for dancing in the streets and raising the arms to heaven in eternal gratitude. It’s that great.

A Love Supreme: Live in Seattle is a rare 1965 concert recording of Coltrane’s signature studio album, A Love Supreme, played live here in its entirety, and then some. The existence of this set at a small Seattle jazz club, forgotten until recently, is only the second confirmed recording of Coltrane performing his much-loved A Love Supreme album before an audience.

And what a performance it is: Coltrane’s so-called classic quartet — with McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass and Elvin Jones on drums — is expanded into a septet with the addition of guest musicians Pharaoh Sanders on tenor sax, Carlos Ward on alto sax and Donald Rafael Garrett on bass. Together on the bandstand, they simmer, shine and soar through the four-part suite of Coltrane’s original album, giving new life to his deeply spiritual jazz masterpiece.

This live version has a bit earthier feel to it than the lofty studio original, attributable in part to the percussion instruments played liberally throughout the show by the three sax players, starting with Trane keeping time at the outset with a cowbell on the suite’s part one, “Acknowledgment”. The familiar four-note theme is set in motion by Garrison and Tyner, with Jones playing polyrhythms all over the place, as Trane comes in on tenor sax with full intensity and is soon joined by Sanders’s squawking, squealing sax as well.

Each of the four parts of the original suite is followed by an interlude of extended solos by the musicians, and it’s in these moments that we hear A Love Supreme in all its live glory. Jones on drums and especially Tyner on piano play the most blazing solos of the evening, and are duly thanked with long applause from the audience.

The overall sound quality of the recording is high, though at times Trane’s sax and Garrison’s bass are somewhat drowned out by the drums due to the placement of the microphones. This evening’s set at the old Penthouse jazz club in downtown Seattle was caught on audiotape for posterity thanks to the efforts of the late saxophonist Joe Brazil, a Seattle-based musician and educator. It was in Brazil’s home archives where these long-forgotten Coltrane concert tapes were found a few years ago.

The audience waits expectantly for the final, fourth part of the suite, “Psalm” (excerpted, above audio clip). This is Trane’s poem-prayer set to music, with the lyrics printed on the original Love Supreme album. Trane plays the section live more loosely yet no less passionately than on the studio version.

One of the extra treats of this new live recording is the onstage chatter — punctuated by the occasional whooping and cheering of the band members — that we get to hear during the show. At the conclusion, as the final notes of the Love Supreme suite trail off on bass, one of the guest musicians asks if that’s the end, to which Trane humorously replies, “It better be!”

The CD liner notes to A Love Supreme: Live in Seattle are exceptional, which is no surprise considering that they were penned by Ashley Kahn, one of the foremost writers on jazz today, and Lewis Porter, an academic and musician who specializes in all things Coltrane.

At 76 minutes, this live recording is more than twice as long as the original studio edition of A Love Supreme, but there is not a dull moment to be found. It’s as engaging and heavenly sounding as the original version, and will no doubt go down as one of the most memorable performances in Trane’s ever-growing legacy.

Coltrane himself was at something of a crossroads on the evening of 2 October 1965, when this set was recorded in Seattle. From here Trane would soon be moving headlong into the controversial last phase of his career, where he explored far into free and open jazz improvisation, less constrained by his musical achievements of the past. His sudden death two years later in 1967 at age 40 left the jazz world shaken; he has never been forgotten since then.

Though there is much to lament at losing such a great talent at such a young age, there is something for jazz music followers and fans worldwide to celebrate too with this unique live recording from more than a half-century ago, keeping as it does the spirit and music of John Coltrane alive and well.

Will there be other future audio discoveries of A Love Supreme performed in a live setting? We can only hope. In the meantime, the magic made on this night by this gathering of musicians at the top of their game, released for the first time on the famed Impulse! Records label, more than just tides listeners over: It elates and enchants us all.
映画 film
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MINAMATA
Andrew Levitas, director
2020 115 min.
Hollywood actor Johnny Depp owns the role of the late American photojournalist W. Eugene Smith in this deeply moving but factually challenged drama about the last photographic project of Smith’s life: documenting the victims of massive mercury poisoning in Japan in the 1970s.

The dumping of toxic waste in the bay of the coastal fishing town of Minamata on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu over decades by the Chisso Corporation, and the injury and death it brought to local people, animals and nature, has been well covered in the Japanese media and elsewhere — most notably in the classic photo-essay book Minamata (1975) by Smith and his then-partner Aileen Mioko Smith, upon which this movie is mostly based.

But this is the first time that the plight of the Minamata poisoning victims has been dramatized on the silver screen and their story told by Hollywood to international audiences. On that score, director Andrew Levitas and Depp as producer have done a commendable public service in getting the issue out there.

Even if, unfortunately, they had to fudge the facts a bit to do it.

The film does effectively portray Eugene Smith as one of the great photojournalists of the last century (he saw himself more as an artistic creator), his famous portfolio of black-and-white photos displayed liberally in the movie. Actor Depp captures Smith’s eccentric and self-destructive personality impressively in that role.

By the early 1970s, however, Smith was indeed broke, washed up and holed up in the loft of a rundown apartment building in downtown New York, going nowhere. Enter the character of “Aileen” in the film, played by Minami, a Japanese-French actress.

Aileen is from Japan, representing a major Japanese maker of camera film, and essentially uses Eugene Smith, as played by Depp, to help document the struggles of the Japanese mercury poisoning victims in Minamata in their David-Goliath battle against a major industrial polluter. The two head to Japan and Eugene Smith, the renowned foreign photojournalist, starts doing what he does best: shooting.

This gets him in trouble quickly with the Chisso Corporation and its workers, hired goons and bought-off local police. They want to cover up the truth of the mercury poisoning that Eugene Smith and Aileen are determined to expose through the power of pictures. At one point in the plot, Smith’s makeshift photo studio/darkroom in Minamata is burned to the ground. He is getting the message that maybe he is not wanted around there.

That message is made clear by a scene in the movie in which the Chisso Corporation president hands over to Eugene Smith an envelope containing $50,000 cash as a bribe to entice him to turn over all his negatives of the Minamata victims to the company and go home to the family he is neglecting back in the States. It is with scenes like this — which never happened at all in real life — in which the film’s credibility is strained and frays around the edges.

Another scene in Minamata that never happened in real life is when Eugene Smith, posing as a medical staffer at the Chisso company’s hospital, evades tight security to secretly interview Japanese mercury poisoning patients in their beds and even breaks into the hospital’s locked files to confiscate damning evidence of a cover-up. It may look good as a screenplay, but it is too fantastical to believe. It never happened. Same thing with the supposed arson of Smith’s photo studio in Minamata.

If Depp’s character portrayal of Eugene Smith stands out as a strong point of the film, the weak link is the character of “Aileen,” Smith’s much younger partner. The Aileen character is written as a one-dimensional stereotype, speaking in Japanese-acccented English and physically seducing the middle-aged Eugene Smith while at the same being seduced by his troubled-cameraman mystique.

The Aileen character is based on the real-life persona of Aileen Mioko Smith, Eugene Smith’s former partner, who has been living for decades in Kyoto, Japan post-Minamata, devoting her energies to environmental and anti-nuclear activism. It is amusing for those us in Japan who know Aileen personally (as this writer does) to see Hollywood portray her strictly as a Japanese woman speaking somewhat broken English. The real Aileen Smith is Japanese American by birth, bicultural and completely bilingual. Yet half of her identity, the American half, is wiped clean and she is presented in the movie as only Japanese.

Another point of contention is with the photos that the real Aileen Smith took during the three years she and Eugene Smith were based in Minamata and working feverishly to capture the people’s stories through the camera lens. Only Eugene Smith’s Minamata photos are featured in this movie; none of the many excellent shots Aileen took there get shown on screen. She alludes to her disappointment over this point in a recent interview, while giving her blessing to the film overall.

The musical soundtrack of Minamata, thankfully, helps to bridge those theatrical credibility gaps in a big way. Japanese musician and composer Ryuichi Sakamoto has written the score for many motion pictures over the years, but his Minamata soundtrack may well be the crowning achievement of his career. The soul-stirring music adds magnificently to the flow of the visual narrative. Sakamoto’s hourlong soundtrack, released independently on CD and streaming platforms, easily stands on its own apart from the film. Director Levitas deserves credit just the same for enlisting Sakamoto, above all the other possible choices, to compose the music for this movie.

As does Johnny Depp for setting the cinematic wheels of Minamata in motion from the beginning as the film’s chief producer, and for playing the character of photojournalist W. Eugene Smith so convincingly. Who knew that a lightweight Hollywood actor like Depp could pull it all off and find artistic redemption in the process?

A new, updated hardcover version of the book that started it all — the 1970s Minamata photo-essay book by Eugene Smith and Aileen Smith — has just been reissued by a Japanese publisher in Tokyo in time for the film’s release. The photos are as breathtaking today as they were then.

Meanwhile, the plight of the Minamata victims and their struggle for recognition and justice continues unabated here in Japan. It is the same plight shared by all victims of industrial pollution and human-caused environmental disasters the world over, as the film so clearly brings home in the end credits. Even with all its imperfections, Minamata is one movie that has been long overdue in coming.