Torture is often in the news these days, what with Abu Ghraib and Gitmo. But the idea of inflicting pain to punish or coerce is alleged to have a long domestic history at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHISC), where soldiers from throughout Latin America are trained. This controversial U.S. Army facility at Georgia's Fort Benning is the focus of Hidden in Plain Sight, screening on March 20 at St. Michael's College.
WHISC, formerly called School of the Americas, is where Burlington activist Robin Lloyd was among three dozen demonstrators arrested in November for civil disobedience. They were part of an annual protest that drew an estimated 18,000 people. Convicted at a January 30 trial, she'll begin serving her three-month sentence on April 11 at a federal minimum-security prison in Connecticut.
"When governments torture people, it's state-sponsored terror," Lloyd suggests.
The free 7 p.m. event, presented at the McCarthy Arts Center by the Vermont International Film Festival, will include a panel discussion. The documentary, directed by John H. Smihula and narrated by Martin Sheen, offers a wrenching account of how our government's clandestine policies devastate Third World people.
The film's most chilling tale concerns Sister Diana Ortiz, a young nun and literacy teacher in Guatemala who was interrogated, tortured and repeatedly raped by soldiers. With more than 100 cigarette burns on her back, she was then lowered into a pit full of women and children, some still alive.
The Guatemalan general ultimately found guilty of this crime never went to jail. Ortiz says the U.S., which keeps his dossier classified, "has blood on its own hands."
Father Roy Bourgeois launched the Georgia protests in 1990, one year after a military death squad in El Salvador assassinated six progressive Jesuit priests. Turns out 19 of the 26 murderers had graduated from the Georgia school.
A 1996 Freedom of Information lawsuit forced the Pentagon to release a WHISC training manual that detailed torture techniques. On camera, Fort Benning's Major General John LeMoyne claims the booklet was never actually used for class instruction.
Although WHISC's educational mission is counter-insurgency operations, Uruguayan poet Eduardo Galeano points out that torturers invariably target "the ones who think, the ones who doubt, the ones who say no."
Dartmouth alum Ralph Steiner was a pioneering photographer and filmmaker who lived in Thetford for two decades, until his death in 1986. He shot 10 of his own docs and collaborated on another four, including classics such as The Plow That Broke the Plains (1936) and The City (1939). Some of Steiner's oeuvre is now spotlighted in "Unseen Cinema: Early American Avant-Garde Film 1894-1941," a box set of seven DVDs with segments from more than 160 experimental motion pictures. Film Comment magazine describes these works as "fantastically obscure, astonishingly beautiful and historically significant."
New Hampshire archivist Bruce Posner's anthology encompasses almost 19 hours of footage, as well as observations from a range of experts. He'll show clips from his project and talk about the genre on March 22, 6:30 p.m., at Burlington College.
"There are even sequences from Busby Berkeley musicals and a few of Orson Welles' earliest efforts in the mix," notes Barry Snyder, who heads the college's film studies department. "It's a very eclectic and adventurous selection."
Global anti-Semitism has been on the rise recently, but the prejudice has roots in antiquity. "It's both an old story and a new story," muses Michael Schaal, chair of the Interfaith/Intercul-tural Committee at Ohavi Zedek. He's bringing a documentary on the topic, Protocols of Zion, to the Burlington synagogue at 2 p.m. this Sunday, with a panel discussion to follow.
The New York-based director, Marc Levin, decided to examine this provocative subject after an Egyptian cab driver asserted to him that Jews were warned to flee the World Center prior to the 9/11 attacks. The cabbie cited a 19th-century tract that reveals a Jewish conspiracy for world domination: The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, long proven to be a fake, was championed by the likes of Adolph Hitler and automobile magnate Henry Ford.
Levin seeks a range of opinions by surveying black extremists, Aryan Nation skinheads, Holocaust survivors and deniers, angry Muslims and Kabbalah-minded rabbis, among others. Bigots are a nasty bunch, but their idiocy is most evident in Protocols when someone phoning a radio talk show calls the Italian Catholic former mayor of New York "Jew-liani."