Today, the first of June, is the start of torture awareness month.
Torture is still practiced by governments around the world. It is brutal and horrifying. Torture leaves more scars than the ones that can be seen. People who survive torture always carry that experience with them. Some torture survivors are able to talk about their experiences, to tell the world that this practice must be ended forever. Carlos Mauricio is one of these individuals. In June 1983, Carlos was teaching science at the University of El Salvador when the police took him out of his classroom. He was held for two weeks and constantly interrogated and tortured. After his release, he fled to the United States. He now teaches science in a high school in California.
Carlos and two other torture survivors won a lawsuit against two Salvadoran generals, who had retired to Florida. They are Generals Jose Guillermo Garcia (minister of defense from 1979 to 1983) and Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova (director-general of the Salvadoran National Guard and later minister of defense).
Read more about Carlos' story and his lawsuit at http://www.cja.org/forSurvivors/CarlosforSurvivors.shtml
Carlos has started a project, called the "Stop Impunity Coalition," to end torture throughout the world.
Another organization that tells the world that the practice of torture can never be tolerated is the Torture Awareness and Survivors Support Coalition International (see http://www.tassc.org). It is an organization that was founded for and by torture survivors. Its executive director, Sister Dianna Ortiz, is a torture survivor. A missionary teacher in Guatemala in 1989, Sister Dianna was kidnapped and brutally tortured by the military. She has told the story of her torture in a book, "The Blindfold's Eye" (published by Orbis Books in October 2002). TASSC International provides support and hope for torture survivors and their families.
I first met Sister Dianna in the fall of 1987, when we both were students at an Antigua, Guatemala, language school. I remembered Sister Dianna as a sweet, adventurous young lady with a delightful sense of humor. Years passed, and we did not meet again until the fall of 2005, in Washington, D.C. Sister Dianna's mission has changed, but she is still the sweet, kind individual I met in Guatemala in 1987.
There are so many others who have been tortured and who have been unable to tell their stories. Some were killed by their torturers. Others, unable to live with the physical pain and the emotional scars left by their torturers, committed suicide. Many survivors go about the business of every day life and keep their painful memories stored inside of themselves. It is too hard to talk about it. Sister Dianna said that retelling the story of one's torture means reliving that torture.
This is the month to remember all torture victims, both those who survived and those who did not. It is a time to remember survivors who are able to share their stories and those who walk in silence.
It is a time to remember that the United States, which claims to be the shining beacon of democracy, has been implicated for practicing torture. The events that occurred at Abu Ghraib are not isolated incidents. The United States has been accused of operating secret prisons all over the world. Allegedly, the sites for these prisons were in Egypt, Jordan, and Eastern Europe. For five years, the United States has operated a detention center at Guantanamo Bay. According to Amnesty International, detainees in Guantanamo, who are from 35 countries, have been held in a "legal black hole, without access to any court, legal counsel, or family visit."
Detainees allege that they have been subjected to torture and other cruel treatment.
The United Nations also has harsh words of criticism for the country that invaded Iraq to bring that nation democracy. The UN Committee Against Torture released a report on May 18, 2006, also criticized the United States for sanctioning the use of various torture techniques, including waterboarding and short shackling. You can read this eleven-page report at http://www.extras.timesonline.co.uk/un_report_190506.pdf
Amnesty International has called for the immediate closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention center. Amnesty International said, "Guantanamo Bay has become a symbol of injustice and abuse in the U.S. administration's 'war on terror.' It must be closed down."
How can the United States "spread democracy" while, at the same time, commit one human rights violation after another?
As a U.S. citizen, I ask my government to accept responsibility for its human rights violations.
One of the actions that I have chosen is to participate in a one-day fast, organized by TASSC International. It is a small sacrifice for people who have suffered so much.
Perhaps with enough attention, the practice of torture can be ended, forever.
Please join me.
Please check the TASSC International website to see what you can do to help end the practice of torture.