The Detainee: A Tale Of Collapse
This short story has been contributed by Brandon Smith of Alt Market, an organization that facilitates networking, local community action, and the exchange of knowledge and ideas and promotes decentralization, localism, and the de-globalization of human economic systems. To contribute to the growth of the Safe Haven Project, and to help us help others in relocating, visit Alt Market’s donate page here: Donations.
In a new experiment that began with “The Redline: A Tale Of Collapse” , Alt-Market is trying something a little different; a short fiction series based on fact. Make no mistake; while the characters and events in this story are products of imagination, the issues presented and their probable consequences are anything but fantasy.
It was almost overwhelming. Richard Evans had retired from Military Intelligence nearly five years ago, but the need and the desire to serve was so ingrained within his psyche that he now felt in his newfound leisure the days grinding away; wasted, meaningless. He was gray, and unenthusiastic, and beginning to feel like a walking corpse. He never said it out loud, especially around his wife, but when the financial collapse took hold of the U.S. and the insurgency exploded, he was excited. He knew it was only a matter of time before he would be reactivated, and his unique skill set would be required.
The call came Friday morning, and a car picked him up that afternoon at the airfield driven by a man wearing the familiar sword and blue flower insignia of Military Intelligence. He was in his late 50’s now, and the Department of Defense had changed protocols on MI so many times since he joined it was hard to keep track of who was in charge of what anymore. Lately, however, it seemed that the crisis had given the military and the government quite a bit of room to maneuver legally and politically. Under new provisions attached to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2011, the traditionally domestic jurisdictions within the borders of the U.S. could now be categorized as “combat zones” in accordance with the international laws of war. This meant, essentially, that U.S. citizens who opposed government authority could no longer hide behind the Constitutional protections of Habeas Corpus and trial by jury. The reign of military law was at hand.
Richard’s wife constantly complained that the policy was “too harsh” and that it weakened the moral high ground of the government. She was a bleeding heart, of course. Richard was a realist. The greater good required that certain principles be set aside in order to combat men who played by no rules. The extremists involved in the growing American insurgency had to be dealt with outside conventional methods. They didn’t deserve the benefits of a Constitutional framework. They were traitors who now attacked their own country from within.
The car arrived at the outer gate of the detainment facility nestled in an isolated corner of Eglin Airforce Base. Florida was an unbearable hellhole this time of year. The humidity in the late summer made it difficult to breath for those not acclimated. Not to mention, the base could hardly be considered a NATO “Safe Zone” with the amount of terrorist activity all over the state. The prisoner he had been sent to interview was found scouting within the perimeter, somehow evading multiple guard stations and the regular thermal surveys of predator drones. The “revolutionaries”, as they called themselves, were finding extraordinary low tech methods for defeating extremely expensive military technology. They were leveling the playing field, which was unacceptable. If the fight came down to a numbers game, a war of attrition, the Federal Government and its coalition partners in Europe would undoubtedly lose.
The facility was plain looking, nondescript, like a small hospital. This was done intentionally to provide cover for MI to work undisturbed. Only a few of the thousands of soldiers stationed at Eglin had any idea that the area was actually a black-site housing masses of enemy belligerents. Some of the prisoners would be found less valuable, and sent off to a FEMA secured work camp for processing. Others would be shipped out of the country to more controlled locations. It was Richard’s job to discern which was which.
Sergeant Major John Halstrom, commander of the operation, met him at the door and ushered him towards his office. Richard had met Halstrom when he was young and barely noticeable, but even then, the upstart had obvious Machiavellian qualities. He would literally stop at nothing to get what he wanted; the perfect character profile for a man in charge of an interrogation unit.
They both sat down and focused on the assignment at hand. The creed of Military Intelligence was etched in a bronze plaque just above Halstrom’s desk:
I am a Soldier first, but an intelligence professional second to none.
With pride in my heritage, but focused on the future,
Performing the first task of an Army:
To find, know, and never lose the enemy.
With a sense of urgency and of tenacity, professional and physical fitness,
and above all, INTEGRITY, for in truth lies victory.
Always at silent war, while ready for a shooting war,
The silent warrior of the ARMY team.
“Richard, I’ll be honest, I’m not sure why they brought you down here. I think this guy is a dead end. We’ve already started prepping him and he doesn’t seem to know much of anything…”
Richard grimaced “You were supposed to wait for me, John. You know you can’t just start in on a subject without gauging his psychological state. This is not a game of force, after all, it’s a game of the mind…”
“I’m all for the mind reading and the parlor tricks, if you can bring me results. We cannot win this war without getting some of these guys to turn. Remember Afghanistan?”
“This is not going to be like Afghanistan. These insurgents are misguided, John. Ultimately, they want to return this country back to its former glory. All we have to do is convince them that our way, the new way, is the right way.”
Halstrom was, of course, unconvinced. He wanted to wrench the information out of the prisoners. That’s not how it worked. At most, he would get a false confession, some inaccurate information. The subject would say anything to stop the torture, but rarely was that information useful.
“The higher-ups think this subject has the potential to be converted. To go informant. His background suggests a certain pliability. See what you can do….”
Richard was led to the interrogation rooms at the end of a long hallway. The walls were white, perfectly clean and sterile. Each cell was small, with a thick metal door and a small plexiglass window for observation. He had always heard of the “dungeons” the CIA used in Eastern Europe; dark places covered in the unwashed filth of multiple torture sessions. That was unprofessional, as far as he was concerned, and a bit cartoonish. He found the laboratory clean of these units to be much more unnerving to detainees than any dungeon anyway.
He glanced through the window of the third cell to find a half naked wiry man with a pale complexion and a look of exhaustion. Bruising around his larynx indicated he had been struck in the throat.
“Stupid…” Richard mumbled. “Why not chop his head off. That way we’ll be sure he never talks…”
He strolled into the room with a thin file and a chair. He sat down calmly and confidently as he had been trained to do to assure the prisoner that he was in complete control of the environment. The air in the room was freezing, just as he had requested. The detainee shivered, wrapping his legs close to his chest to maintain body warmth, his arms tied securely behind his back. Richard wore a suit rather than a uniform when conducting interrogations. It was better to deny the subject ANY information about the interrogator, or the facility in which he was being held. The less knowledge he had to hold onto, the more powerless he felt.
Richard opened the man’s file and began with a standard approach.
“Mr. Andrew Long, originally of Denver, Colorado. A public school teacher. Physics….interesting. Husband to Janette Long, and father of two children, Robin and Jessop. Arrested in 2011 during an anti-Federal Reserve protest march in Los Angeles. Released 24 hours later. Votes consistently Libertarian…”
He eyed the prisoner for a moment. The man stared at the ground without response.
“I have to say that your biometric file is a bit incomplete. I’m wondering what the hell happened between 2011 and now that caused a family man like yourself to become a terrorist? …….Do you think your children miss you, Andrew?”
No response. He moved forward…
“It’s rather cold in here, isn’t it? Would you like a coat, Andrew? Perhaps a nice blanket?”
If you can influence the subject to ask you for help, he begins to accept his dependence. This relationship is more conducive to a sharing of information.
“No…” The man uttered. His voice was labored, probably from the sessions with Halstrom the day before.
“Hey, no problem, Andrew. I like the cold myself. Canada’s weather is fantastic during the summer…”
The detainee smirked slightly in disbelief. Giving the subject a false sense of his surroundings was useful for later interrogation. Subjects were often disoriented. Even put on flights to nowhere to make them believe they were outside the U.S.
“I wish I could say I’m here to discuss the weather with you, Mr. Long, but my superiors out there in the hall need a few questions answered first. Let’s start with an easy one; what were you doing inside the perimeter of the Eglin military base?”
Andrew spoke in a matter-of-fact manner that Richard had not seen before.
“I was scouting the area for a prison just like this, of course.”
“And, why were you doing that? How did you know there was even a detention facility at Eglin?”
“Okay. Let’s try a hard question; why fight us, Andrew? Are you really that fond of this national crisis that you would prolong it by interfering with reconstruction?”
“You people…..” The detainee shook his head and chuckled. “You pretend to believe in what you are doing, but deep down, you know it’s a crime…”
“A crime, Andrew? A crime against who?”
“Against everyone. Against yourselves. Against history. You hide behind laws you rewrite and twist to give the impression of moral superiority, but in the end, you are a bunch of psychopaths. The things you do here now will never wash away…”
“That’s an interesting viewpoint, but it doesn’t change the fact that you’ve been caught. Caught with your trousers down in a highly restricted area in preparation for an attack!” Richard began to push harder.
“I never said I was scouting for an attack…”
“Oh come on, Andrew! That’s what you terrorists do! You blow things up! You kill people! And you want to talk to me about morality?!”
“I only kill people like you. Like your friend out there with the water bucket and the taser. I’ll come out of this war with a clear conscience. Can you people say the same…?”
“I wouldn’t worry about the Sergeant Major. He’ll have no regrets. Will probably dance on your grave after he’s finished with you. I, on the other hand, am not your enemy. I’m here to get you out of this cell. But, I can’t do that if you don’t give me anything in trade. You understand ‘trade’, right Andrew? You insurgents are always talking about barter and free markets. Well, in this particular market, I have a supply of freedom, and I think you want some of that supply very much. What can you exchange for that freedom, Andrew? You have to tempt me with a bargain, otherwise, our little economy won’t work…”
“I have nothing that can help you…” Andrew sunk back into the corner of the room. Richard saw this as a clear sign that the session was over for the day.
“I wish I didn’t have to leave this room under these conditions, Mr. Long. I wish I could walk out there and tell the Sergeant that we can start filling out the release papers. I guess that’s not going to happen today, is it?”
“I’ll be back tomorrow. But think about this; the longer I’m in here talking to you, the less time they have to do what they do when I’m gone.” He closed the door and walked away.
The next day Richard returned to find the detainee worse for wear. The left side of his face was cut open with a razor. The blood had been mopped up haphazardly and the floor still held a pinkish hue. Two small toes had been removed, from the looks of it probably with a pair of needle nose pliers. The air was still chilled, and Andrew lay in a ball on the floor twitching. Richard walked in with the same chair and calmly sat down.
“Hello, Andrew. It’s rather dry and hot out there today. Saudi Arabia is so uncomfortable this time of year. I’m glad to be inside where it’s nice and cool.”
Andrew pulled himself up from his heap and smiled. The gashes in his face glistening in the fluorescent lights.
“I thought you said we were in Canada?”
“Oh no, I never said that. I said the weather in Canada is nice this time of year, that’s all.” The detainee didn’t seem to flinch at the smug comment.
“You look hungry, Andrew. I hear you haven’t eaten for three days. Would you like a sandwich, or some soup maybe?”
“Let me ask you something, Mr. Long, why go through all of this? I mean, what is it you think you are accomplishing?”
“Don’t you know? You interrogators all seem to think you can read people like tea leaves. You think this is a game of the mind, right? If my eyes shift right, I’m pulling from memory. If my eyes shift left I am constructing a lie. If I fidget with my hands it means I’m nervous about your line of questioning. Right?”
Richard was impressed a little by the man’s knowledge of interrogation but didn’t show it.
“You still didn’t answer my question, Andrew…”
“I’ve come here to waste your time. To make you bastards think I have something valuable. I can keep this up forever…”
Richard breathed a sigh of disappointment. Then stood up and grabbed his chair.
“I’ll see you later, Andrew.” He left, closing the door firmly behind him.
The door swung open to a folding cot. The detainee was on a vitamin drip, his arms strapped to the frame. Richard had seen this before. The man was dying. Halstrom wouldn’t be able to see it, but the end result of this strategy was already painted clearly in the sunken hollow eyes of Andrew Long.
He had only been gone for two days, but the amount of violence that had been visited on this prisoner in that time was simply unnatural. His body was barely recognizable. Intense bruising and swelling, collapsing veins in his arms from continuous chemical injections, a long suture across his mid section where a rib had obviously broken and ripped through the skin, and his head had now been shaved, apparently to allow for easy taser work to the cranium. He grew angry. Angry at the detainee.
“Andrew, I told you what would happen. All you had to do was cooperate. The easiest thing in the world for you to do is to cooperate. You have brought this on yourself and you have interfered with my job. It’s a lose-lose!”
Andrew’s voice was but a wisp, a ghost straining through his teeth to carry a barely audible message.
“You brought this. You bring this every time you look the other way. You could stop it at any time if you wanted…”
“I’m not here to rewrite military interrogation policy. I’m here to get one thing; information. Tell me where the local insurgents are organizing, and this all disappears.”
Andrew shook his head, “You and I both know that once this begins, there is only one place it can go…”
“I can’t be concerned with that. I can’t be concerned with you. Thousands of people are dying out there because of this conflict and it needs to end. We are going to end it! You and your kind are living a fantasy. You think your vision of Constitutionalism and a “free republic” isn’t expendable? Of course it is! It’s just another idea whose time has passed. The outcome of this crisis was decided before it began. Governments survive. People fade away. We can nurture the system and thrive with it, or tear each other apart and perish together. The greater good demands a sacrifice of ideals to ensure progress…”
Andrew shook with fury, subdued by the intense physical agony weighing upon him.
“That’s a nice speech, but you’re only trying to reassure yourself. You have no ideals, you have no principles, and that is why you will lose. I am making my sacrifice for what you call the “greater good” right here and now. I’m leaving behind a wife and two children! They will never know what happened to me. My body will be incinerated and my ashes left in a drainage ditch outside this prison that isn’t even supposed to exist. One day soon, you will understand why your side is destined to fail. Very soon…”
Richard’s attempts to reign in this subject were become even more fruitless. He had come in thinking the school teacher and family man was an easy target to turn informant, and now, he was fighting just to convince the prisoner that he could live through the day. This was a disaster. He rushed to talk with Halstrom. He needed more time. Halstrom was not sympathetic…
“I have my schedule, Richard, just like you have yours. I can’t hold back on any of these prisoners while this base is at risk! If we lose Florida, the entire gulf opens up to the insurgency. Free movement up to Atlanta! Can you live with that? No, because if you could, you’d be a damned traitor.”
Halstrom had a knack for rationalizing his methods that bordered on political genius.
“I’m talking about one prisoner, John. I need some breathing room!”
“Richard, do you or do you not believe this detainee has valuable information on the insurgency?”
Richard’s intuition was never wrong when it came to reading a detainee. He gave his answer with a depressed confidence, knowing the cost.
“……yes, I do.”
“The terrorists are using decentralized combat methods. Do you know what that means? It means they have no top down leadership. They devise strategies at random. Infiltration is useless because each group is acting independently of the others and trading members for multiple actions. Our informants never know what is going to happen until it is happening right in front of them. It means each individual insurgent must be treated like a member of leadership and squeezed for as much information as possible as quickly as possible or we lose our edge. The school teacher gets squeezed tomorrow. He talks or we move on. Period!”
Richard Evans had one chance to salvage this interview, maintain his success rate, and keep Andrew alive long enough to become a valuable asset. The attempt to convince him of the futility of his cause had floundered. He now had to appeal to the man’s honor.
“Andrew, I want you to consider something before you foolishly martyr yourself for information that may or may not be worth a damn. There are some in your movement that operate outside the principles you cling to. The refugee hospital in Miami, for instance…”
Andrew coughed with disgust.
“The one that your people leveled and then blamed on us so that you had clear precedence to move troops into the state?”
“So then give me a false flag group if you are so certain they exist! Give me anything!”
Andrew leaned up and spoke with a softness that one would normally reserve for a dear friend. The tone startled Evans, who had never before allowed himself any connection with the people he analyzed and categorized for the military.
“I want to help you…..and I’ll do it, on one condition…”
The suited man leaned in closely.
“I will tell you what I know, if you stay this time, and watch them work…”
Richard had executed hundreds of interrogations in his career. But not once had he ever been present for the torture. It was always deemed more effective for him to conduct interviews afterwards, while the subject felt vulnerable. His disconnection from the more gruesome aspects of the process allowed prisoners to see him as a welcome safety net, a vacation from the fear and anguish, if only for an hour. This request was not something he was used to.
“If that’s how you want to do this, then I will be here. God help you, Andrew, this information you have had better be golden…”
Evans sat at the far corner as Halstrom and another guard walked in with a duffel bag. Halstrom protested Richard’s presence fervently until Richard appealed to his ego, relating his “admiration” for the direct method. Halstrom was willing to make an exception for such a distinguished veteran of MI, especially if it meant showing off.
The session began with a typical revealing of tools and devices, some strutting around and some overt threats. Andrew was propped up against the wall, still strapped to his medical cot. The questioning was rudimentary, and disturbingly juvenile in manner. Halstrom’s expletives were drowning out his interview, and one could hardly understand what he was saying. The attacks came swiftly. Evans found himself looking away. There was no rhyme or reason to it. Andrew screamed at moments, but was for the most part eerily silent. When no discernable information could be drawn from him, dismemberment was utilized. Richard’s vision became hyperfocused, clouded, accept for the edge of the serrated kitchen knife that Halstrom waved about. The smell of the room turned sour, organic, like a compost bin. That’s when he saw it. His eyes met with the corner of Halstrom’s mouth, and there, as he began separating Andrew from his left index finger, was a smile. An unmistakable smile.
Halstrom was not doing this for his country, for his government, or for the people. Halstrom ENJOYED his work. Halstrom was indeed, a psychopath, as Andrew had warned, given full license by the government to act according to his nature, and to be rewarded for it. Richard moved to end the interrogation when Andrew motioned for mercy. Halstrom stopped, almost surprised, and turned to the retiree. Andrew pointed to Richard, who moved in close. He spoke quickly, then leaned his head back. As Halstrom approached with curiosity, Andrew spit blood in his eyes. The salty sting blinded the Sergeant Major and he stumbled about while the other guard stood back unsure how to proceed. Halstrom, infuriated, savagely planted his boot into Andrew’s sternum. There was a dull crack of bone and cartilage. Andrew’s breathing went sick and shallow. Suddenly, he wheezed, and his eyes rolled over. It was done.
Halstrom laughed awkwardly in his fervor and frothed.
“That’s what happens! That’s how we handle things in MI now, Richard…”
24 hours later, Richard crossed an abandoned industrial park near Pensacola under cover of darkness, escorted by two squads of soldiers familiar with the terrain. The area was known to be active with insurgents at certain times of the year. The suspicion was that it was being used as an underground railroad; a place where terrorists freed from FEMA detention camps were funneled and relocated to the Rockies, where the resistance was strongest. Andrew’s information was an address, and nothing more. A rusted warehouse untouched by the fires that swept through the city a year ago. Evans and his team were to survey the grounds and radio back to a larger force a few miles away.
The gulf twilight softened the air and the ocean breeze rolled over the landscape like fresh water. The moment was serene despite the potential firefight that could erupt at any moment. Richard peered up at the star broken sky and breathed deeply. He wondered if Andrew Long had been here, alive and with dreams of an America lost and mostly forgotten. It was a captivating brand of romanticism. A beautiful but tragically uncompromising revelation. The world was changing, and only the flexible, only the mutable, would live to enjoy it.
Richard and the two squads intersected the main building and closed off all exits. Thermals showed no activity. He was almost to the stairs when he lost his hearing. A shockwave sliced through the room and the smell of a flashbang filled his nasal cavity. There were gunshots. He could not hear them, but he could feel the vibrating thump of directed gunpowder. Two soldiers fell right in front of him. He scrambled for cover when the heavy impact of a rifle butt struck him solidly in the back of the head. Everything went black.
He awoke in a small room, clean, sterile. A steel door at the far end. No windows. His hands were bound. A single lightbulb hung from the ceiling. The door opened, and a man, battle worn and intelligent looking, walked in with a chair.
“Captain Richard Evans, Military Intelligence, retired 2006, reactivated one week ago. Ellen Evans, wife. Three children, four grandchildren, all living in the Eastern NATO Safe Zone.”
Richard’s faculties were slowly returning.
“What do you want…?”
“My name is Adam, Captain, and I believe you know a friend of mine, Andrew Long…”
Richards heart sunk.
“Yes, I knew him.”
“….So then, he’s dead.”
Adam shook his head sadly.
“He said someone like you would come here. He said wait a week, and they’ll come. The bastard was smart. Smarter than me…”
Richard became visibly confused.
“Smarter than me too, it would seem…”
“You still don’t get it, do you?” Adam stared the old man down. “He was captured on purpose. When he finally gave this place up, he had to make it look real. He had to be willing to take all the torture you monsters dished out so that you would believe him and come bumbling in here with a high level MI officer in tow.”
“I never tortured your friend. I swear, I never touched him…” Richard’s adrenaline began to take root and he had trouble controlling his mind.
“I believe you, Richard. Don’t worry, we don’t torture our prisoners.” Adam pulled his pistol from his holster and set it across his thigh. “Do you understand? There will be no torture here.”
“All I want to know is, where are they keeping my friend’s body? And the location of every other black-site detention facility you have been to. Trains like the Redline included…”
Richard scoffed “The Redline is a myth. A fairytale for insurgents…”
“I was on the Redline, Captain!” Adam gripped his pistol tighter.
It was then that Richard Evans understood what the detainee had meant when he said that the Federal coalition was doomed to fail. Despite the overwhelming military might of the government, Andrew Long was ready to endure any hell and even death for what he believed. When faced with the same, most coalition forces would mentally crumble. At that very moment, Richard himself had to admit he was unwilling to suffer, or to leave his wife and children behind, to protect the system he thought he believed in. Without the force of will inspired by underlying principles, unerring and unyielding, without the support of a collective and individual conscience, the establishment system was fragile, and empty. Richard, now faced with his imminent end, had doubts. Andrew was right…
After telling his insurgent captors everything he knew, they locked the Captain in the cell with a canteen of water. He had no idea if they would ever be back, or if they planned to let him waste away in there. All he knew was, it was very cold…
You can contact Brandon Smith at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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Author: Brandon Smith
Date: December 9th, 2011