Nicolas J S Davies

A collection of published articles and letters to policymakers regarding the crisis in United States foreign policy by Nicolas J S Davies.

Location: North Miami, Florida, United States

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Daniel - Rest in Peace

Published by Online Journal:

The phone rang. It was a Saturday morning, a couple of months ago. My wife Debby answered. I heard her ask, “What’s the matter, Rossi? What happened?” After a few minutes, she told me, “It’s Rossi. Her brother died.” They talked for a while. Then she handed me the phone and Rossi told me what had happened.

Rossi had last seen her brother Daniel in Argentina two years ago. Then, two weeks ago, he had sold everything he owned and traveled to a remote village on an island near Iguassu Falls on the Brazilian border. He gave his money to the chief of the indigenous people who live there and stayed with a family in the village for several days. Then he just disappeared. Some time later, a woman walking deep in the forest found his body hanging from a tree. Although Rossi is haunted by other sinister possibilities, it appears that Daniel took his own life.

But Daniel had disappeared before.

In 1969, Daniel Gandolfo was an eighteen-year-old first-year college student in Mendoza, Argentina. He was very bright and quietly spiritual. He cared deeply about people and wanted to help the poor, but, for him, this was definitely a personal calling rather than a political one. On a break from university, he was traveling back and forth to villages high in the Andes, taking food, medicine and other supplies to people living in poverty. Then he disappeared. The police raided the family’s home in the night, beat his mother and took Daniel away at gunpoint.

Daniel’s disappearance was a nightmare for his family. His mother and her parents had come to Mendoza from Sicily in the 1930s to escape Mussolini and Fascism. Now this nightmare had caught up with her and her children. At first they enquired at police stations to try to find out what had happened to him, but they quickly understood that this only placed their own lives at risk. Daniel’s fate was unknown for more than a year.

Finally, the family was woken one night by car doors, hushed voices, a revving engine and a squeal of tires. They found Daniel lying on the porch. He was badly disfigured, and effectively blind, deaf, dumb, mute and insensible. He had been horribly tortured throughout his captivity. Electric shocks had done the most severe and permanent damage. Dentists and surgeons could only remove the burnt remains of his teeth and genitals.

Daniel gradually regained the use of many of his faculties – hearing, speech, taste, thought and feeling. After two and a half years of recovery, he was able to return to university and complete his education, and he went on to have a successful career working for an information technology company in Mendoza. One thing that was undamaged was his commitment to people. No longer able to be a biological father, he adopted five destitute boys from the streets of Mendoza and raised them to adulthood. He dedicated his life to his sons and to the other street children. He encouraged them to get an education, and tutored many of them in math and science. His death is an incomprehensible loss to the many people whose lives he touched.

Daniel was an exemplary human being. What he suffered is unimaginable. I wish I could say that such suffering was a relic of a horrific past in a faraway place, but that would not be true. Since 1945, “counter-insurgency” forces with varying but significant degrees of U.S. training and support have tortured and murdered civilians in such campaigns in at least twenty-five different countries around the world, from Greece to Indochina to Central America. This has gradually eroded the United States’ claim to a moral basis for its foreign and defense policy in the eyes of much of the world. And now it seems that our government’s strategy in Iraq depends on a new dirty war being waged by “Special Police Commandos” and factional militias operating within the new police and armed forces established by the United States and Britain.

Maybe Daniel’s story can shed some light on what this policy really means. What the government of Argentina did to Daniel was not a mistake or an aberration. Dirty war is not directed against real insurgents or terrorists. Other means would be employed if this were the case. The purpose of dirty war is to terrorize and intimidate a population into submission. It does this by targeting the best and the brightest, the idealistic and the young, anyone who shows signs of independence or has values that might transcend the fear that is the chief weapon of a repressive government. Daniel’s kindness, intelligence and selfless behavior made him a prime target. Dirty war threatens the innocent, undermines the moral legitimacy of the governments involved, and legitimizes and popularizes resistance, so that it is ultimately counter-productive even from the cynical point of view of its perpetrators and supporters.

How many young people like Daniel are there today in Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti or Guantanamo Bay? And can the American people find the political will to demand real and legitimate resolutions to the war in Iraq and these other conflicts? Or will we continue to let our government betray our humanity simply because the innocents it is condemning to torture and death are not our friends or family, and because we just don’t know what wonderful human beings they may be, nor what their pain and loss may mean to their families and their communities?


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