Friday, January 2, 2015

Tom Cahill Forgives The FBI

My friend Tom Cahill  has given me permission to republish his letters home from his voluntary exile in France. This is the first in the series.  It will be daily until I have caught up and then as I receive them.

Hullo Audrey,

I can't sleep so here's a very small part of "our" story--yours as well as mine and EVERY other living American.

I grew up in New Jersey where I was born in 1937. While in the Air Force in 1955, I fell in love with Texas where I was stationed awhile.  Upon discharge from the service, I studied journalism at the University of Texas in Austin and afterward  got a job on a statewide magazine during which time I was assigned to photograph Pres. & Mrs. Kennedy at a Democratic Party Fundraiser in Austin the night of Nov. 22, 1963.  I had a White House press pass and a friend of Vice-Pres. Johnson was going to set-up a photo op for me.  To say this 26-year-old was "excited," is an understatement.

Of course the Kennedy's never made it to the Party-party.  And this was the second or third major trauma of my life, the first having grown up in a dysfunctional family, and the second my service time in Germany for which in January 2013 I received a 100 percent, service-connected disability pension from the Department of Veterans Affairs.  This is how I'm now able to live abroad.

By 1967, I was totally involved in the "zeitgeist," publishing an "underground" newspaper in San Antonio, Texas (possibly America's most fascist city then AND now).  While jailed for civil disobedience in October 1968, I was beaten, gang-raped and otherwise tortured for twenty-four hours, then kept in the same cell for two weeks until I looked presentable.  A guard or trustee had told my cell mates (mostly black and Hispanic) that I was a "child-molester" and, "If you take care of him, you might get an extra ration of Jello."

Two memos from my FBI files indicate COINTELPRO (the Bureau's Counter Intelligence Program against the "New Left")  set me up.  FBI "dirty tricks," the term used by the media back then, was common in the late 60s and early 70s and my treatment might have been one of the more gentler.

A few months later, in my sister's custody, we relocated in San Francisco.  My sister is a retired nurse and former Catholic nun residing in Napa.  She was/is a "secondary victim"  of my ordeal and has her own horror story about this time of our lives.

About ten years later, the accumulated Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) set in with a vengeance.  My wife of the time and I lost our business, we separated, and I became homeless, living in a battered, leaky camper shell on back of an equally old pick-up mostly in San Francisco from 1977 until 1987.  Fortunately I got into therapy at the Center for Victims of Violence in San Francisco and even attended meetings of a rape support group in which I was the only male.  The women accepted me right away and helped me understand Rape Trauma Syndrome (RTS) which is a form of PTSD.

While researching RTS and PTSD, I  read in the "Chronicle" about a group called "People Organized to Stop Rape of Imprisoned Persons (POSRIP).  I contacted a former member who told me POSRIP was defunct but sent me a bunch of back issues of their newsletter.  Through the article in the Chron and the newsletters I became outraged at the extent of this barbarism as well as how  long it had been happening.  It seemed to me that Church, State AND Society were all conspiring to cover-up this yucky subject that has affected every last one of us and I can damn well prove it.

Audrey--as I write this, I can feel my blood pressure rising but I'll continue.  I'm just experiencing a tiny bit of the rage I used to feel back in the Eighties when my PTSD/RTS kicked-in big time.  Back then I'd go to the gym at the South End Rowing Club and punch a bag till the anger subsided, then I'd row for an hour or so around Fisherman's Wharf.

In 1984, I fasted two months (63 days), the last few weeks parked outside the gates of San Quentin Prison.  Because of a story that appeared in a Marin County newspaper, the "Chronicle" sent a reporter to interview me.  In my camper, we spent at least an hour and more like two.  I had a lot to show and tell him including my 300-plus-page FBI file covering the years 1967-71.  Upon leaving, the guy told me something to the effect, "You know, Tom, I'm just a reporter.  I don't know if the paper will run this story."

I thanked the guy for hearing me out and bid him a polite "good-bye" although I was seething inside.   "Between-the-lines," I got the message--OUR story may NOT be newsworthy.  By "OUR," I meant hundreds of thousands if not millions of victims AND "secondary" victims of institutionalized torture.  In fact, prisoner rape affects EVERY American psycho/spiritually as well as financially.  Among other things, it's a major reason for violent crime in and out of prison.  Deep down, officials know this but have turned a blind eye to the bloodshed and a deaf ear to the screams of terror because it feeds the justice industry.  And if the USA is good at anything, it's marketing--crime, war, morality, illegal drugs--all products that make big bucks for the gangsters in the suites.

But I digress . . .

After two weeks and the story didn't appear in the "Chronicle," I first drove to the VA hospital at Fort Miley for a check-up at which time the doctor gave me a week to live.  I left my truck at the hospital and took a bus downtown to the "Chronicle."  I had a walking stick for support and a hammer with which to tap the computer screen of any reporter who might tell me "our" story was not newsworthy.  But by then the city room was closed to the public and a guard at a desk handed me a phone with a direct like to a reporter who told me, "Yea, I know about you," and hung up.  I was expecting a brush-off but not as rudely at this.

Calmly, I walked out front, assumed the lotus position in front of one of the plate glass doors,  and Native American Indian-style, asked the door for forgiveness before killing it.  You bet I was manic!

Genaro Molina, a Chron photographer, arrived at the same time as the police.  It was about 11:10 AM,  22 August 1984. I recorded it somehow in my brain. To my knowledge the "Chronicle" never published the photo or story.  But some months later, Warren Hinkle, who had been a columnist for the "Chronicle" before relocating at the "Examiner," did a column about those of us sexually assaulted behind bars.

At the website of "Just Detention International," you can get some more of the the story including photographs of me and the 1971 truck/camper I bought about 1985 that served as my home AND the office of POSRIP until 1987 when I moved into a barn in Mendocino County.  The truck I lived in from 1977 to 1985 was a 1968 Ford with a camper-shell someone had left in a junk yard.

Now I have a 1996 Peugeot bus converted into what the French call (in English) a "camping car." I have a Hobie I9S sailing kayak and between doctors' appointments, I travel from one scenic puddle to another like the water spaniel I am.  Home is a townhouse I rent from a friend on the west coast of Normandy not far from Mont St. Michel.  This morning, I'll pick up my residence permit from the police. Soon I'll get French national health insurance.  Then that's all I'll need is a French driver's license to be an ex-patriot in the truest sense of the word.

I believe in the healing power of forgiveness.  I forgive the the FBI for their dirty trick on me.  I forgive the  "San Francisco Chronicle" for not publishing our story in 1984 that might have speeded-up  the present program of stopping this cruelty.  I forgive the American people for not caring about the many injustices all around them till one happens to them.  I forgive myself for not being a better communicator.

Tom Cahill

Granville, France


  1. Dear Tom Cahill,
    My name is Louise, I'm a 20 years old international student in United-States, more precisely in San Diego. I originally come from Nice, South France where I grew up all my life until I decided to leave for America when I was 17. Less than a month I discovered the association of Just Detention, The testimonies made me have nightmares, those stories were always in my mind. I was OUTRAGE and SHOCKED about what the government and the society let happened, about the fact that we don't talk about it enough on the news and how the government fail to protect their citizens from atrocities If they are not able to protect citizens in a closed, watched, "highly protected" facility and defend them I'm not expect them to do so for the citizens outside, I'm DISGUST by the society and the media who turn a blind eye on this issue If it wasn't for the website Human Watch I wouldn't have found JDI because we don't hear about prison rape on the news, there is no demonstration in the streets against it and there is no ads campaign on TV and I truly wish the media and people could do more about it.
    I appreciate what you've done to fight back and I admire your courage and your incredible strength.
    I can see that the young generations try to fight and to bring awareness against social issues. More and more people are breaking the silence about rape not only against women and child but also men and I'm positive in seeing a change in the future.

    1. PS: Sorry for my poor english, Im working on it
      Sincerly, Louise