Refuge had its first major presentation to the “caring professions” on November 5th, at the National Conference of the American Public Health Association. I will be forever thankful that I submitted the film for showing at APHA, since that commitment provided the deadline that kept me working on the final version at times when I felt like easing off the pressure.
…………APHA is a huge event however, with an enormous number of simultaneous workshops, and film screenings are relatively low-priority for most attendees. Refuge showed to only about 40 people, scattered around a room that could have accommodated ten times as many, and at least some of the attendees seemed to just want a dark room to take a nap in. I got kind comments from a few viewers, as well as from session organizer Gary Black and the house projectionist (who was enthusiastic about the technical quality of the camerawork and audio – comments I passed along to Refuge cameraman Bruce Petschek.) On the whole, it was not an outstandingly affirming experience. At least APHA was here in Boston, so getting there only cost me a couple of subway fares (and I get the senior rate these days.)
…………Presenting at the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies meeting in Philadelphia, on the other hand, cost me plane fare and a ridiculously expensive night in a midtown hotel – but it was well worth it. ISTSS is also a big event, but the focus of its members is more relevant to the film, and the audience there reflected that.
…………I had two additional factors working for me. First of all, Michael Hagedorn, who organizes the film screenings for this conference, had arranged for the films to be shown as “brown bag lunch” events, at a time when they would not be competing with any other workshops. In addition, Psychologist Judy Eidelson whom I met when showing an early rough cut of some of the film to a conference of Psychologists for Social Responsibility, and who lives in Philly, had spread the word among many of her colleagues, so the turnout this time was terrific, with the audience consisting primarily of people who themselves work with survivors. The discussion after the showing was excellent.
…………Thanks to the efforts of Brandon Kohrt, one of the film’s interviewees, the documentary will be shown next May, by the Society for the Study of Psychiatry and Culture, in San Diego. The conference theme is “Trauma, Recovery, and Culture.” Other conference bookings would be welcome. Get in touch with me by email if you have suggestions or questions. (Images above from Refuge: Caring for Survivors of Torture, International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, Society for the Study of Psychiatry and Culture.)
I hope the regular readers of this blog haven’t given up on me. The last few months have been stressful and time-consuming, what with getting the DVDs of Refuge finalized and packaged, preparing for appearances with the film at a film festival and two major conferences, classroom appearances, and all the other things that go along with launching a documentary in the educational market. I expect to be posting much more regularly from now on, both about what’s happening with the film and – as usual – more broadly on issues related to torture and impunity. So…here’s some of what’s been happening:
YES, Refuge: Caring for Survivors of Torture is now available for sale. Within a few weeks I hope we will have launched a new and more up-to-date version of the Refuge Media Project website, complete with shopping cart software to make purchasing easier and more convenient, but in the meantime feel free to contact me directly – and remember that checks are always welcome as well. The standard price for university and hospital purchasers will be $265, and prices for other organizations and individuals are negotiable. Organizations that provide services to survivors of torture, and are not part of a university, hospital or other major institution, can write me to request free copies.
In mid-October, Refuge was featured at the UNSPOKEN Human Rights Film Festival in Utica, New York. This city of only about 60,000 has been host to more than 13,000 refugees over the past 30 years, many of them torture survivors. Oneida County, where Utica is located, has the fourth highest concentration of refugees in the United States. Preceding the festival was an excellent and well-attended two-day conference on Restoring Dignity – Healing from Trauma and Torture, with speakers including Jim Lavelle from the Harvard Program in Refugee Trauma, Kate Porterfield from the Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture, and Mark Cassini from the National Partnership for Community Training/Florida Center for Survivors of Torture. Hosting the combined conference and festival was the Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees, represented by its Director, Shelly Callahan. Michael Patrei is a co-founder and was the organizer of this year’s film festival.
NOTE: Refuge was featured at two important national conferences recently. We’ll have a report on those in a few days. The photo to the right is from an exhibition of artworks by young immigrants in Utica, part of the UNSPOKEN Festival and Conference.
Denial of U.S Citizenship Based on Law That Doesn’t Exist
A recent Associated Press article reports that “an untold number” of people have been turned down for U.S. citizenship based on a nonexistent provision of the Mexican constitution: “For more than two decades, Sigifredo Saldana Iracheta, 49, insisted he was a US citizen, repeatedly explaining to immigration officials that he was born to an American father and a Mexican mother in a city just south of the Texas border. The federal government rejected his claims, deporting him at least four times and at one point detaining him for nearly two years as he sought permission to join his wife and three children in South Texas.
“In rejecting Saldana’s bid for citizenship, the government sought to apply an old law that cited Article 314 of the Mexican Constitution, which supposedly dealt with legitimizing out-of-wedlock births. But there was a problem: The Mexican Constitution has no such article.” Read more…
Post-Traumatic Stress – Not Necessarily a “Disorder”
A release from the University of Vermont describes a program of the school’s Behavior Therapy and Psychotherapy Center, directed by Karen Fondacaro. The Center has provided psychological services to more than 300 traumatized refugees from 29 countries, sixty-seven percent of them torture survivors. Fondacaro criticizes the commonly-used label, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), instead referring to “PTS.” “These are not disordered people,” she says, stressing that what is “disordered” is the experience they have been put through. “You’ve been given a story that nobody would ever ask for, and you have the right to tell whomever you want or never tell anybody.” Given control of the timing and manner of the telling, the article notes, even those survivors who were initially resistant, have ended up sharing their stories. Read more…
In a recent Boston Globe article, Christopher Shea looks at the 50-year impact of Stanley Milgram’s seminal experiments demonstrating the extent to which ordinary people might be willing to subject others to pain – in effect, torture – when told to do so by an authority figure. Shea, a contributing writer for the Journal of Higher Education, surveys a range of analyses and critiques over the decades, noting that one problem in confronting the question is that Milgram’s experiments – or anything like them – cannot be replicated under current standards of research ethics. Read more…
Saul Landau: “The alternative is to go shopping…”
Filmmaker Saul Landau died recently at the age of 77. Landau never hesitated to take chances in his work – politically or personally. One of his most widely-seen films, 1979’s “Paul Jacobs and the Nuclear Gang” (with Hollywood cinematographer, Haskell Wexler) exposed government efforts to cover up evidence of widespread illnesses caused by above-ground nuclear testing in the western U.S. in the 1950s. Jacobs, a journalist and co-founder of Mother Jones magazine, and the centerpiece of this multiple-award-winning documentary, believed that the cancer that was killing him was caused by his exposure to the tests.
Landau made over 50 documentaries and published 14 books. His films included six on Fidel Castro and two on Chilean President Salvador Allende. One of his films on Allende led to his friendship with then Chilean Ambassador to the U.S., Orlando Letelier, who was later imprisoned in Chile following the right-wing coup against Allende. Landau and other supporters helped to organize Letelier’s release and a job at the Institute for Policy Studies. In 1976, however, agents of Chile’s dictator, General Augusto Pinochet, murdered Letelier and his IPS colleague, Ronnie Moffit with a car bomb, in Washington, D.C. Landau’s book, Assassination on Embassy Row (with John Dinges) documented the Pinochet government’s responsibility for the attack.
Landau’s New York Times obituary quotes him saying “You want to do what you can while you’re on this earth…The alternative is to go shopping.”
(Note for readers in the Washington, DC, area: the Institute for Policy Studies, where Landau was on the Board, is hosting a series of screenings of his films. Some have already been shown as of this writing, but the series continues.)
Jerry Berndt: In combat zones, metaphorical and real…
If you google Jerry Berndt’s photographs, what you will find – mostly – are his well-known images of prostitutes and strippers in Boston’s “combat zone” of the late 1960s. That’s also the emphasis of the Boston Globe’s obituary, which noted that Jerry’s photos “lent permanence to people many scarcely noticed, if they saw them at all.” The newspaper’s tone was nostalgic: for a long-gone Boston the Globe was happy to say goodbye to at the time, as urban renewal “disappeared” the combat zone.
“There are photographs I really love from the Combat Zone. I couldn’t use a flash so I had to make a developer that would really push the film, get that ASA up there leaving the grain on the photograph looking the size of buckshot. I watch kids now at exhibitions walk up to them and say ‘wow, look at the size of those pixels.’ It cracks me up.” [from a 2012 interview by Sean Samuels on the "United Nations of Photography" website]
I guess I was feeling nostalgic too, trying – unsuccessfully – to find Jerry’s photos of student demonstrations during the same period, or of the Venceremos Brigades to harvest sugar cane in Cuba, that he and many of my other friends participated in during the same period. Those were the pictures I saw on the walls of my friends then, and still see sometimes today – but not on Google.
I’m not meaning to say anything negative about the Combat Zone photos. They are gorgeous, disturbing, compassionate, resonant images – but they’re just one aspect of a long and varied career. Though at various periods he had to survive by taking on commercial work, Jerry went on to produce powerful photographic essays in Haiti, Armenia, Zambia (see the photo on the right) and other conflict zones around the world, and his works are now in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, and the Bibliothèque National in Paris, among others. When Sean Samuels interviewed him for the 2012 article cited above, he was selecting images for a new book.
“Jerry Berndt’s life and career have taken many unexpected turns,” Samuels wrote. “He has come a long way, and with so much to give.” In July, he was found in his Paris studio, dead from an apparent heart attack.
I’m not into video games, so tend not to pay much (or any) attention to developments in that area. However, one of my recent searches for new developments in the world of torture prevention and treatment popped up a headline I couldn’t NOT check out: “Realistic game,” it said: “gets you right inside Gitmo to torture prisoners.”
According to a comment by Jesus Diaz on the gamer site Kotaku, “Tom Clancy’s new Splinter Cell: Blacklist…takes players right into Guantanamo Bay prison camp to torture an inmate – and then lets them ‘decide to spare or kill their interrogated target’.”
Reading on, in the original post/review by the site’s editor, Stephen Totilo, it appears that the game player him or herself doesn’t actually get to carry out the torture – or even decide whether it will happen – but they do get to watch the hero (presumably representing the player) do so. They also get to make the “spare or kill” decision.
I was glad to see that Totilo’s take on the game was fairly critical. I won’t go on, but check it out if you’re concerned about what your kids (or friends) may be doing on their computers late at night.
Upcoming Conferences Focus on Resilience and Recovery
As we recently posted, Refuge: Caring for Survivors of Torture will be shown as part of the 10th Annual Film Festival at the American Public Health Association’s annual conference, Think Global, Act Local. The showing is scheduled for Tuesday, November 5th, 2:30 PM-4:00 PM. You can contact APHA for further information.
The next day, I’ll be flying to Philadelphia, where Refuge will be shown at the 29th Annual Meeting of the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies. Refuge perfectly addresses the conference theme: “Resilience After Trauma: From Surviving to Thriving.” The screening is scheduled for 12:00 noon on November 7th (brown-bag lunches will be available to attendees). Click here for the Meeting’s full schedule.
Looking ahead to the spring, the film will also be featured during the 2014 Annual Meeting of the Society for the Study of Psychiatry and Culture. Entitled “Trauma, Recovery, and Culture,” the conference will to be held at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice at the University of San Diego, California. Conference dates are May 15-17, 2014, but the date and time for the Refuge screening have not yet been announced.
Our Documentary on Survivors
of Torture is Finished at Last!
I hope at least some of you out there noticed that there have only been a couple of posts on this blog over the past several months. Having given myself a March first deadline to complete a semi-final cut of my documentary, Refuge: Caring for Survivors of Torture, I had to put most other projects aside in order to meet that goal – but it was worth it. I was able to complete a reasonable version of the film in time to submit it for showing at the upcoming annual meeting of the American Public Health Association — and it’s been accepted!
But the filmmaking gods are capricious, and no sooner did I get to that point than my computer – my entire editing system – crashed! Yet even that turned out to be a piece of good luck, since I had to move the final steps to the studio of my cameraman, Bruce Petschek, who is also an outstandingly creative editor, and contributed a great deal to the final look of the film.
With Bruce’s help, April, May, and a good chunk of June were given over to adding in some terrific music by composer John Kusiak, new graphics by Nick Thorkelson for the opening and final credits, and final tweaking. The film has been closed-captioned for the hearing impaired by CaptionMax, and we’re working on package design with David Gerratt.
Refuge: Caring for Survivors of Torture profiles five treatment and support programs in Minneapolis, Atlanta, the Boston area, and Washington, DC. Thanks to the many friends, neighbors, and colleagues who sat through the 90-minute version and gave me their candid critiques, the finished documentary is just a hair over 57-minutes long.
“Refuge beautifully highlights and humanizes the issues faced by torture survivors and those treating them. We are reminded that a grant of asylum is only one step in a long journey of healing, and our health care system is woefully deficient in identifying victims and providing necessary and proper care.”
— Christy Fujio, JD, MA, Physicians for Human Rights
“A beautiful, powerful, and inspiring film.”
— Scott Wright, Torture Abolition & Survivor Support Coalition
“This film offers a moving look at what survivors like our clients have been through before seeking refuge here, as well as an introduction to some of the people who welcome and support them. Refuge will be a great resource for orienting our staff and volunteers, and for letting our community know what it is we do and why we need to be here to do it.”
— Curt Goering, Executive Director, The Center for Victims of Torture
Six years in the making, the program will be released for distribution within the next few weeks, and will be available in both DVD and Blu-ray. Distribution arrangements will be announced soon but, in the meantime, please contact me by email if you’d like to receive more information about the film, about screenings, or about obtaining copies.
“Think Global, Act Local.” That’s the motto for APHA Boston, and it couldn’t be more appropriate to the programs we have documented and their work with surivors. Will you be attending ? We’re proud to announce that Refuge has been selected for the 10th Annual Film Festival during the organization’s giant annual meeting in Boston this fall. The showing is scheduled for Tuesday, November 5th, 2:30 PM-4:00 PM. You can contact APHA for further information.
The organization Equality Now “advocates for the human rights of women and girls around the world by raising international visibility of individual cases of abuse, mobilizing public support…and wielding strategic political pressure to ensure that governments enact or enforce laws and policies that uphold the rights of women and girls.” Human trafficking is a central focus for the group, which emphasizes the need for survivors themselves to take leadership roles in the anti-trafficking movement.
“Society’s understanding of human trafficking and prostitution needs to change. In my country, people believe that prostitutes are criminals and buyers are the victims. This is wrong… Women are human beings, not commodities to be bought and sold.” — Alma, Philippines
Survivor Stories, a new yearlong campaign on the organization’s website, will offer – in their own words – the stories of survivors of sexual exploitation. In the first narrative on the site, Alma, then a young single mother in the Philippines, tells of taking a job as a waitress in a bar near a U.S. Military base, where she was gradually pressured – and ultimately forced – by her boss into prostitution. She’s now the director of a group that helps other women escape from sexual servitude. Watch for additional stories to be added on this page. (Alma on right in photo.)
Women Under Siege
“Good news! We were wrong! Women are not being raped in terrible numbers around the world in conflict!…I wish I could really say that.” That’s the lead that grabbed my attention when I stumbled across Lauren Wolfe’s thoughtful October, 2012, blog post, Rape in war: Are we getting it wrong?
. Wolfe is the Director of Women Under Siege, a Women’s Media Center initiative on sexualized violence in conflict. Her post was a response to questions raised in “Sexual Violence, Education, and War: Beyond the Mainstream Narrative,” a report from a research center at Vancouver’s Simon Fraser University. Mainstream media at the time (those that covered it at all) interpreted the report’s findings as suggesting that the issue of wartime rape has been overblown. Based on her own analysis — confirmed by the Simon Frazer researchers themselves — Wolfe uncovered a much more disturbing reality.
. I’d also recommend Wolfe’s December, 2012, piece in The Atlantic, Are Women Being Targeted in Syria?
Preventing Burnout Among Those who Work with Survivors
People who work with survivors of torture, whether healthcare and social service professionals or citizen volunteers, may themselves be susceptible to what’s variously referred to as indirect, secondary, or vicarious trauma. As one of the therapists we interviewed for our film, Refuge: Caring for Survivors of Torture, describes it: “When clients were telling me what had been done to them, I got pictures in my head, and I couldn’t get the pictures to go away.”
The International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims has launched a peer support project for some of its member organizations in Austria, Bulgaria, France, Ireland, Romania, and United Kingdom. IRCT hopes to expand the program in the future. For information, contact the project coordinators for more information: Helene de Rengervé (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Marnix de Witte (email@example.com). Also available from IRCT is the 2011 Manual for Good Practice and Management in Trauma Centers, by Christian Pross.
The IRCT website is an outstanding source for ongoing information about torture and torture treatment throughout the world, as is its blog, World Without Torture.
Preventing Torture Through Forensic Documentation
Getting the Evidence, a report just released by the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims, cites specific cases in a number of countries to focus on the crucial role of forensic examination and documentation in proving that torture has occurred and preventing its recurrence. Forensics may involve not only physicians, but psychologists, psychiatrists, physical anthropologists and other professionals.
As the report notes, “International law obliges states to properly investigate all allegations of torture and to punish those responsible…Yet torture often takes place in secret, and many torture methods are designed to be as painful as possible without leaving physical marks.” (Though not the focus of this report, forensic evidence may be tremendously important in supporting claims by survivors for political asylum.)
“Unfortunately, torturers know of the difficulty of proving torture and therefore find ways of avoiding accountability.”
— Juan Mendez, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture
“It’s very important to bring survivors of torture to speak out…What they say is not only incredibly powerful, but is what the torturers would never like to hear.”
— Mostafa Hussein, El Nadim Center for Psychological Treatment
and Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence, Egypt
Condition Reports on Countries that Torture
The Florida Center for Survivors of Torture & Refugee Services has released a series of brief reports on the conditions – with regard to torture – in several countries of concern. Country Condition Reports, accessible online, are currently available for Afghanistan, Burma, Bhutan, Colombia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, Iraq, Somalia, and Syria. The reports “provide historical timelines, brief descriptions of common methods of torture, and synopses of current conditions and pertinent issues related to each country.” The Florida Center is a project of Gulf Coast Jewish Family & Community Services.
The Children of Gaza are Again “Collateral Damage”
The report below comes from the Ma’an News Service, based in the West Bank and Gaza, and is passed on by the Middle East Children’s Alliance, a U.S. group that works with and supports humanitarian aid to children in Palestine and other areas in the Middle East.
GAZA CITY – Hamid Younis Abu Daqqa, 13, always wore his Real Madrid shirt when he played soccer with his friends. He died wearing the same shirt, killed by Israeli forces before the second half of a game with friends could be finished. His father said Hamid would imitate Real Madrid star Ronaldo while playing in front of his Gaza home.
“My house is located in an area away from clashes, nearly one and a half kilometers away from the nearest point of the borders with Israel, therefore I didn’t have a problem with my son playing in front of the house,” Hamid’s father told Ma’an. “I received a phone call. His friend was on the phone telling me that my son was shot in the chest. I rushed to the hospital and found him dying.”
Hamid would never miss a Real Madrid game. “Despite me pushing him to focus on his schoolwork, he would be mesmerized in front of the TV screen watching games,” his father said. Hamid used to play soccer every day for 30 minutes before sundown, his attention focused on the ball, blocking out the sound of Israeli helicopters.
It was during a game he loved that Hamid was killed, his white Real Madrid shirt stained red as the bullets hit him. Medics said Hamid was hit by machine gun fire, either from Israeli helicopters or tanks, during an incursion into the Gaza Strip on Thursday. An Israeli army spokeswoman said at the time that reports of injuries were being checked.
Hamid’s funeral took place on Friday, a Palestinian flag draped over his body.
I will also pass on, without comment, some of what Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had to say regarding today’s Israeli air strike which killed a top Hamas commander, among others: “Today we sent a clear message to Hamas and other terrorist organizations and, if it becomes necessary, we are prepared to expand the operation…” And Defense Minister Ehud Barak was quoted as saying, “We are at the beginning, not the end of this action…It won’t be a quick fix, but we’ll reach the goals we set for this operation.”
A piece on the Common Ground website reports that the Israel Defense Forces tweeted “All options are on the table. If necessary, the IDF is ready to initiate a ground operation in Gaza,” and Haaretz reports that the IDF has issued draft orders for Israeli Homefront Command reserve soldiers.
Suggesting that Israel is planning for a sustained assault — and perhaps believes it has divine support — the campaign now has a name, Operation Pillar of Cloud, as in Exodus 13:21-22: “By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way…”
For a visceral and incredibly persuasive understanding of what life in Gaza may again be under Israeli bombardment, try to find a way to see the film The War Around Us, by the only two Western journalists in Gaza during the war of 2008-9 (the one Israel calls “Operation Cast Lead.”) It’s only getting limited showings to date — mostly in festivals — but maybe will be in (some) theaters before long. There is a poor quality trailer that can be viewed on YouTube. You could also contact the producers via their Facebook page to ask what’s up and encourage them to release the film more widely.
A senior Salvadoran military officer involved in plotting the murder of six Jesuit faculty members at the University of Central America has pled guilty to immigration fraud. The trial concluded in mid-November. Prosecutors are asking for a 15-24 month sentence, but human rights organizations demand that Inocente Orlando Montano be deported to Spain, which wants to try him for the killing of the priests, five of whom were Spaniards. Since it is highly unlikely that El Salvador will ever prosecute Montano, or others accused of war crimes during the country’s bloody civil war, trial in Spain might be the only opportunity to challenge the impunity they have enjoyed to date.
Sentencing on the immigration charge (and presumably any decision about deportation) will happen in December. As the Boston Globe’s article suggested, the former Colonel (at center in photo below) appeared to be playing up his age and alleged infirmity during the hearing: “Montano stood hunched over before US District Judge Douglas P. Woodlock as he entered his pleas through a Spanish interpreter to charges of immigration fraud and perjury. The 70-year-old man’s cane fell as he answered, ‘Guilty,’ to six charges.”
Montano had been living under his own name in the Boston suburb of Everett for years before being located and identified by the human rights groups last year. In addition to the six Jesuits, Salvadoran troops – many of them trained at the infamous U.S. School of the Americas – also killed the men’s housekeeper and her daughter.
As I reported a year ago, Montano repeatedly lied in his annual applications for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) in the United States, denying that he had ever been in the military, received military or weapons training, or been “part of any unit that had used or threatened to use weapons against other people.”
NOTE: See Wednesday’s post regarding the alleged ties between Mitt Romney’s firm, Bain Capital, and the backers of Salvadoran death squads.