Against the Forever War: Interrogation Days*

by R.M. Haines


“No one can explain it, but it’s simple—we are terror, the crack is stamped into each one of us.”
– Sean Bonney

“When everything is bad, it must be good to know the worst.”
– F.H. Bradley


Bâtil: the false. At Abu Ghraib,
those prisoners our soldiers posed

and photographed with bound hands
touching another’s genitals

believed their image destroyed—
a false light tattooed in. This


is how Intelligence works.
“When you know everything

about someone, you can do anything
to them.” Agents rereading

The Arab Mind studied what a people
hates. The job: to give them that.


“It’s evil, but it’s also stupid.”
Two doctors paid by the CIA

knew enough of the soul’s needs
to reverse engineer its collapse.

The secret: sleep. Soul demands it—
it can’t take much before needing


to go back under for a time, blind.
My thoughts are all a case of knives.

Here, theory talks of neurons
mirroring one another across

the cleft. I amplify your face,
eyes, what I see you do. The you


you become inside my mind—
or the not-you in me seeing

the not-me in you. Love,
tied to the dead room’s chair.

“No one asks one’s torturer,
‘Are you me?’” Mirroring,


interrogators repeat all:
I was in Mosul. / You were

in Mosul. Why? / To meet a friend. /
To meet a friend. Why?

Slang renames the questioner
Echo. Sweet Queen of parley,


Daughter of the Sphere. Here
my voice, spoken so you can hear,

both joins and breaks us apart.
Barzakh: barrier, isthmus;

what stands between the sweet water
and the salty; for Ibn-al-Arabi,


what unites two things divided.
Between-world. Horizon line.

To an audience of budding agents,
The Psychology of Intelligence Analysis

insists: “Beware mirror-images.
Beware coincidence.”




How Intelligence wanted it:
each chained to their cell door,

naked, with no ventilation.
Do not hesitate to use the dogs.

In Wisdom’s testimony: “I saw
two naked detainees, one


masturbating to another kneeling
with its [sic] mouth open.”

One stored it all on a hard drive.
“There is no code, sir, no secret.

What you understand is all I meant.”
We want to set the record straight.


To record is to know by heart: re-
cordare. As in cardiac, cordial.

“One guard punched a detainee
square in the chest, nearly

sending him into cardiac arrest.”
According to Ibn Arabi, Wisdom


belongs to the himma, energy
of love’s imagination.

With toothpicks, detainees
scrawled poems into white

Styrofoam cups. They watched
as the Quran was strung up


in the doorway with a brazier.
“You don’t really believe in

this shit, do you?” Camp Echo,
Camp X-Ray, Camp Justice,

Camp No. In a stress position,
tied up so he could not sleep


and forced to hear at full volume
“Fuck Your God,” by Deicide,

one feels the heart give birth
to raw, screaming thought-forms

flooding into imaginal space.
Ego Up. Ego Down. Love


of comrades. Hate of Comrades.
Incentive. We Know All. Futility.

“We’re fucked!” is all he said.
In terror, in a windowless cell,

one compelled to pray can’t tell
which direction Mecca is.




In Attar’s epic, the pilgrim birds
pledge obedience to the hoopoe,

a dream-bird, who guides them
through arduous valleys on the way

to the Simurgh, King of the Birds.
After several days awake, subjects


begins to lose cognitive abilities.
Reading is more difficult. Speech

becomes unfocused and erratic.
In the Valley of Detachment, one

discovers “the oneness of diversity,
not oneness locked in singularity.”


In a stress position, still sleepless,
one detainee began to talk. Valley

of the Quest. Valley of Love. Valley
of Mystery. Hallucinating dogs,

he watched them devour his family
and reported this to his interrogators.


Q: What is your greatest curiosity?
What would you like to know

more than anything in the world?
A: What my punishment will be.

Entering the Valley of Bewilderment,
the birds lose all certainty: “I doubt


my doubt. Doubt itself is unsure.
But who is it for whom I sigh?”

O image treasured in the heart.
After another bypass operation,

Dick Cheney returned to work
and in defiance of his intel officers


he insisted on viewing raw, un-
analyzed data, transcripts of chatter,

intercepted calls, trolls and boasts,
sleep-deprived confessions from

Persons Under Control. “We’ve
got to spend some time in the shadows


of the intelligence world.” At last,
the pilgrims discover the Simurgh,

the King of Birds. But this: it is only
they themselves: “I am the mirror set

before your eyes. Within my light,
you see yourself, your own reality.”


“[M]isfiled paperwork, inattentive
government employees, mis-

understandings and miscommunications—
just commonplace incompetence.”

The US believed that, unlike others,
this war would be invisible.


*In addition to my own original lines in this poem, I have cited material from a variety of sources. Mixed in with overt references and allusions (e.g. Ibn-al-Arabi, Dick Cheney) are direct quotes from Ed Snowden, George Herbert, Mahmoud Darwish, John Milton, and Mohamedou Ould Slahi. Additional material was sourced from Jane Mayer’s The Dark Side, Reza Aslan’s No God But God, Seymour Hersh’s Chain of Command, James Hillman’s The Thought of the Heart and the Soul of the World, The Senate Intelligence Committee Report on Torture, and Chris Mackey and Gregg Miller’s The Interrogators.


R.M. Haines is a writer from southwestern Ohio. His poems have appeared in DIALOGIST, Glass, Kenyon Review Online, Pleiades, Poetry Northwest, West Branch, and elsewhere. He currently lives in Indiana, where he works as an adjunct instructor in English and creative writing. More information can be found at

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