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Down by law

By Darren Atwater

Monday September 1, 2008

New Yorker James Powderly of the Graffiti Research Lab was one of the foreigners detained in Beijing during the Olympics for actively supporting Tibet.

In a Gothamist interview, Powderly talks about what it is like to be detained by the China regime.

There is no judicial process, they simply pick you up and put you in detention and you pretty much just have to do whatever the hell they want. It’s really amazing what absolute power means. They feel like they have absolute power in the U.S., and it’s true if you’re an Arab being suspected of terrorism, this country has absolute power and you have no rights. But for us white folks it’s a really absurd concept that you can be detained indefinitely without ever being charged with a crime.

Would you say the interrogations were torture? Well, I think probably, a lot of people might disagree, even some of my other detainees might feel like what they received wasn’t torture. And relative to what someone might receive on a daily basis at a place like Gitmo it certainly is not particularly harsh. It’s kind of like being a little bit pregnant, we were a little bit tortured. We were strapped into chairs in uncomfortable positions, we were put into cages with blood on the floor and told we would never live, we were sleep deprived the entire time. There was an interrogation every night and they kept us up all day. They never turned the lights off in the cells. We were fed food that was inedible, we were not given potable water. Any time you threaten and take the numbers of family members and take down home addresses, there’s an element of mental torture there. There’s physical torture in the form of us having to sit in uncomfortable positions all day long and spending the night strapped to a metal chair inside of a cage. We all have cuts and bruises from that, and some of my peers were beaten up a little bit.

Were you saying they told you that you should be worried about yourself and your safety even once released to the U.S.? They told me that our country and their country worked in tight collaboration, and that a Chinese hand can reach across the sea. They took my address and house keys, and my wife’s phone number. While there was no explicit threat, like we’re going to kill you when you get back if you talk about this, when I had my final interrogation, strapped into a metal chair in a cage with blood on the floor, they told me they hoped I would tell the truth when I got home.