Daniel Heyman
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Esquire Magazine - February 2008 Issue
Excerpts from
The Ticking is the bomb
A Memoir of Torture
by Nick Flynn
76 ESQ 02-08


  The Back Story, p 29
This past summer, writer Nick Flynn accompanied lawyer Susan Burke to Istanbul to hear accounts of torture from former Abu Ghraib prisoners. Burke, who left a prominent Philadelphia law firm in 2005 to focus on human-rights work, is the lead attorney in the first civil action to stem from torture at Abu Ghraib. The suit, filed on behalf of more than two hundred former prisoners who reached Burke through various international human-rights groups, alleges that Burke's clients were tortured at the hands of CACI, an American contractor working in Iraq. Known as Saleh et al. v. CACI, the suit is scheduled to go to trial in U.S. Federal court in Washington, D.C., later this year. Flynn is the author of the memoir Another Bullshit Night in Suck City and the forthcoming play Alice Invents a Little Game and Alice Always Wins.

Artist Daniel Heyman's first series of painting about torture were based upon the now-notorious Abu Ghraib pictures. Yet Heyman soon decided that he wanted to show the former prisoners as men - not just victims. So beginning in March 2006, he began accompanying lawyer Susan Burke on fact-finding trips to Jordan and Istanbul. There he met author Nick Flynn and there he sat in on Burke's interview of former Abu Ghraib prisoners and other Iraqis who were allegedly CACI, an American miliary contractor accused of abuse at Abu Ghraib. [see above for the "back story"] Much like a courtroom artist, Heyman paints the former prisoners while there are being interviewed. In between questions, he fills in the white space around them with portions of their statements. Heyman's watercolors, along with a series of etchings, are now exhibited at the DePaul University Art Museum in Chicago.

The room turns out to be utterly mundane - well lit, carpeted, a hotel room that one could find in any major city. The bed has been removed, and in its place is a table. The lawyer sits at the table, across from the ex-detainee. She is here to gather his statement as part of a lawsuit against an American company that has allegedly profited from torture. Another lawyer sits next to her, typing out the transcript of the conversation on a laptop. The translator sits at the head of the table, between the lawyer asking the questions [for...] the ex-detainee. There is also an artist present, seated away from the table, near the window, painting a watercolor portrait in a large book, its pages folded like an accordion. When he isn't painting the portrait, he fills in the white space around the painted head with bits of of what is being said. The seat next to the ex-detainee is empty, and this is where I sit, my notebook open.


During the break in the interview, the artist tells the student how handsome he is. The student listens as this word, "handsome" is translated, smiles slightly and murmurs "Shukran" [thank you]. One sometiems needs to be told that one is still beautiful.