I dont talk to journalists anymore, says the strained voice at the other end of the phone. And then a tiny window: What do you want?
I figure I have about twenty seconds to make my case, and it wont be easy. How do I explain what I want from Gail Kastner, the journey that brought me to her?
The truth seems so bizarre: I am writing a book about shock. About how countries are shockedby wars, terror attacks, coups détat and natural disasters. And then how they are shocked againby corporations and politicians who exploit the fear and disorientation of this first shock to push through economic shock therapy. And then how people who dare to resist this shock politics are, if necessary, shocked for a third timeby police, soldiers and prison interrogators. I want to talk to you because you are by my estimation among the most shocked people alive, being one of the few living survivors of the CIAs covert experiments in electroshock and other special interrogation techniques. And by the way, I have reason to believe that the research that was done on you in the 1950s at McGill University is now being applied to prisoners in Guantánamo Bay and Abu Ghraib.
No, I definitely cant say that. So I say this instead: I recently traveled to Iraq, and I am trying to understand the role torture is playing there. We are told its about getting information, but I think its more than thatI think it may also have had to do with trying to build a model country, about erasing people and then trying to remake them from scratch.
There is a long pause, and then a different tone of voice to the reply, still strained but . . . is it relief? You have just spelled out exactly what the CIA and Ewen Cameron did to me. They tried to erase and remake me. But it didnt work.
In less than twenty-four hours, I am knocking on the door of Gail Kastners apartment in a grim Montreal old-age home. Its open, comes a barely audible voice. Gail had told me she would leave the door unlocked because standing up is difficult for her. Its the tiny fractures down her spine that grow more painful as arthritis sets in. Her back pain is just one reminder of the sixty-three times that 150 to 200 volts of electricity penetrated the frontal lobes of her brain, while her body convulsed violently on the table, causing fractures, sprains, bloody lips, broken teeth.
Gail greets me from a plush blue recliner. It has twenty positions, I later learn, and she adjusts them continuously, like a photographer trying to find focus. It is in this chair that she spends her days and nights, searching for comfort, trying to avoid sleep and what she calls my electric dreams. Thats when she sees him: Dr. Ewen Cameron, the long-dead psychiatrist who administered those shocks, as well as other torments, so many years ago. I had two visits from the Eminent Monster last night, she announces as soon as I walk in. I dont want to make you feel bad, but its because of your call coming out of the blue like that, asking all those questions.
I become aware that my presence here is very possibly unfair. This feeling deepens when I scan the apartment and realize that there is no place for me. Every single surface is crowded with towers of papers and books, precariously stacked but clearly in some kind of order, the books all marked with yellowing flags. Gail motions me to the one clear surface in the room, a wooden chair that I had overlooked, but she goes into minor panic when I ask for a four-inch space for the recorder. The end table beside her chair is out of the question: it is home to about twenty empty boxes of cigarettes, Matinee Regular, stacked in a perfect pyramid. (Gail had warned me on the phone about the chain-smoking: Sorry, but I smoke. And Im a poor eater. Im fat and I smoke. I hope thats okay.) It looks as if Gail has colored the insides of the boxes black, but looking closer, I realize it is actually extremely dense, minuscule handwriting: names, numbers, thousands of words.
Copyright © 2007 by Naomi Klein All rights reserved.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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