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New Resources: March 6, 2013

2013 March 7

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 TIRCThandorture, 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 ( or Marnix de Witte ( 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.
(IRCT Photo)

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.


Artist Antonio Frasconi Dies at 93

2013 January 30

Frasconi’s woodcuts chronicled struggles for justice…

“There are, at the base of society as it is now, two different kinds of human beings. One is a member of that class which acts against the interests, against the potential, Frasconi-1943of the great majority…The other kind of human being is us – those who resist.”

Uruguayan/American woodcut artist Antonio Frasconi died on January 8, 2013, at the age of 93. One of the sad yet sometimes uplifting aspects of getting old is watching the heroes of younger days pass from the scene. Frasconi’s work inspired me, for a brief period, to try to become a graphic artist. Not a good plan – but the attempt was one of many factors that helped me find my way into another visual medium.
            Frasconi was born in 1919, in Argentina but his parents, immigrants from Italy, moved to Uruguay within weeks of his birth. He came to the U.S. at the end of World War II, initially working as a gardener and museum guard, but he quickly established his reputation as an artist. According to the New York Times obituary, by Douglas Martin, in 1953 Time magazine called him “America’s foremost practitioner of the ancient art of the woodcut. Four decades later, Art Journal called him the best of his generation.” (Illustration above left, 1943.)
Frasconi-Students            Look at the grain of the wood underlying his 1972 Woody Guthrie tribute, at the bottom of this post. In a 1963 Time Magazine piece quoted by Martin, he said “Sometimes the wood gives you a break, and matches your conception of the way it is grained. But often you must surrender to the grain, find the movement of the scene, the mood of the work, in the way the grain runs.”
            His medium may have been ancient, but his message, though rooted in printmaking tradition, was anything but. Again from the  Times obituary:“He decried art education, saying the average student does not learn the pertinent questions, much less the answers. He abhorred art that dwelt on aesthetics at the expense of social problems. He repeatedly addressed war, racism and poverty, and devoted a decade to completing a series of woodcut portraits of people who were tortured and killed under a rightist military dictatorship in his home country, Uruguay, from 1973 to 1985.”             
            Frasconi illustrated children’s books, music albums and other media, but returned again and again to political themes. The 1971 illustration above right (showing half of the original print) is from his “Law and Order” series, and represents the National Guard killings of Students at Kent State University. “A sort of anger builds in you, so you try to spill it back in your work.” he said. In his introduction to the 1974 collection, Frasconi: Against the Grain, historian and music critic Nat Hentoff quotes the artist:

Frasconi-Bird2“There are, at the base of society as it is now, two different kinds of human beings. One is a member of that class which acts against the interests, against the potential, of the great majority of men. He is always harming the rest of us in one way or another. The other kind of human being is us – those who resist. Those who do not, as in Brecht’s “Song of a Stormtrooper,” eventually, mindlessly, become shaped into instruments of death. I want that class of men to be identified. This is probably the basic theme of my work, along with the wonder of life itself.”

A good introduction to the artist, and to his work up to the 1970′s,  Frasconi: Against the Grain is out of print, but copies are available online from Alibris, Amazon, and other sources.



We Already Have a Way to Cut Gun Deaths

2013 January 1

Why can’t we regulate guns as seriously as we do cars?

In a recent column responding to the shootings in Newtown Connecticut, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof asks, “Why can’t we regulate guns as seriously as we do cars?” Kristof doesn’t follow up on that question, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about for a long time.
            I don’t hate guns, and I don’t hate most of the folks who own and use guns. I was a Kansas City Boy Scout in the mid 1950’s, and for a couple of those teenage years, I was also a National Rifle Association junior member and a fairly competitive shooter; I loved the discipline and precision of the sport. I was never first string, but I got taken stopgunsalong to a couple of interstate matches to fill out the team, and I still have some medals in a box in the closet somewhere. Though I didn’t hunt, I had many friends and relatives who did. Those were very different times (and, I’d like to think, a different NRA.)
            Coincidentally, it turns out that the 50’s were also the time when most states were beginning to adopt laws requiring automobile drivers to be licensed, and to purchase liability insurance protecting people and property that might be injured or damaged in accidents. Mandatory liability coverage is now a long-established fact in all but three states, and those three – Virginia, New Hampshire, and Mississippi – have alternative methods of enforcing driver responsibility. (Until the late ‘40’s, many states didn’t even require a driving test to get a license – South Dakota became the last to do so in 1959.)
            As we struggle with how we might come to grips with the issue of guns in our society, we could have recourse to a model that’s time-tested, and that we have become comfortable with over the years. Why can’t we treat gun use and ownership the way we treat automobile use and ownership?
            Nobody likes having to take a driving test (until we’re parents of teenagers, at which point we think it’s a great idea). Nobody likes having to deal with license renewals and, for sure, nobody likes having to pay the ever-increasing cost of auto insurance. But we accept that it’s necessary, and when our cars are damaged by another driver – or if we or someone we love is injured in an accident – we’re happy that we don’t have to go to court to get compensation for medical expenses and repairs.
            It would be awfully hard to show that our system of training, licensing, and requiring insurance coverage for automobile users has had a negative impact on the availability and accessibility of cars. In fact, the insurance industry has a vested interest in developing regulations and price points that will not unduly discourage car ownership and use. There’s no reason the same logic would not apply to firearm insurance. 
            Let me answer one obvious question before going any further: do I think there’s any possibility that what I’m suggesting could actually happen? In the United States of today, not a snowball’s chance in hell. But I would  like to get people thinking about what we could do about this dreadful reality. It seems to me useful to  recognize that, without too much acrimony, we have succeeded in coming up with a reasonable way to manage another potentially harmful technology – one that’s even more central to the daily lives of most of us — our cars. Let’s talk about it.

So, what might an insurance model
of firearms management look like?

  • Operators would be trained and licensed. Firearms safety courses would be widely available – in high schools, from arms dealers, and from other private vendors. Formal training would not be required, but applicants would have to pass a firearms safety test before getting a license to “operate” one. We could require additional training and licensing for people wishing to own firearms thought to pose particular dangers or require particular skills – just as we do for motorcyclists and truck drivers. Assault-type weapons, as opposed to traditional hunting rifles, might be an example. 
  • Firearms would be licensed and registered, and owners would be responsible for them and their use, unless they were reported lost or stolen. This would apply to guns sold or acquired privately or at gun shows as well as through registered dealers, and it would include presently owned guns.* The cost of user and firearm licenses could be kept modest, and perhaps could even be free during the first few years the system goes into effect – or for guns currently owned by individuals. Given the vast number of unregistered firearms, owners should be given a reasonable time frame in which to comply with registration requirements. 
  • Possession and use of firearms would require liability insurance. This possibility was also raised in a recent tweet from economist Nouriel Roubini. Just as for motor vehicles, the cost of insurance should reflect the skill and “driving” record of the user, as well as the type of firearm (handgun vs. shotgun vs. rifle vs. assault weapon, for example.) As with policies for multiple autos, owners of multiple firearms would pay less for additional guns after their “primary” weapon. Black powder weapons and other historic guns could be treated similarly to classic cars.
  • Insurance rates should reflect the behavior of the gun owner. Owners would be rewarded with lower premiums for safe and responsible practices: using trigger locks, for example, or keeping their weapons in locked, childproof cases(as police officers in many jurisdictions are required to do). Owners involved in gun-related accidents or injuries would be penalized with higher premiums.

DIGRESSION: One frequent (and correct) criticism from early readers of this post was that, while a liability insurance model might work for firearms owned and used by well-meaning gun owners – who could cause unintended injury to others – it would be inadequate in the case of owners who deliberately use guns in a manner that’s reckless or criminal. For them, it would have the effect of protecting against the consequences of their behavior, thus making it more, not less, likely. One reader suggested the following:

  • Liability insurance could be replaced with or supplemented by a surety bond. The surety company would be responsible for paying any injured parties, but would have the right to demand reimbursement from the owner.While even this would not deter career criminals, it would at least address some types of irresponsible behavior, for example, gun deaths or injuries resulting from barroom fights, or from incidents (not as rare as you might think) where hunters fire at a sound or movement that turns out to be one of their companions. 
  • Carrying a gun while intoxicated should be treated the same way we treat driving while intoxicated. This is one change that would almost certainly result in immediate and substantial reductions in gun injuries and deaths. Violators should face immediate restraint and detention and, when necessary, suspension of “carrying” privileges. They should also face the likelihood of increased insurance premiums.
  • As an added benefit, firearm policies could also include coverage for injuries suffered by innocent policy holders. Policies could, for example, cover injuries from firearm malfunctions and shooting range accidents (both rare, I am told) and hunting accidents (which, unfortunately, are not so rare). 

None of this is intended to, or could, replace legal penalties for criminal use of firearms. However, it would offer law enforcement some new tools for prevention, since individuals could be prosecuted for having unlicensed firearms in their possession, for not having a gun user’s license, and so on. If all legal guns are licensed and traceable, it will be substantially easier to prove that a gun is stolen and – a small side benefit – to eventually return it to its legitimate owner.
            The most significant impact of these changes, however, would be a dramatic reduction in the availability of guns for illegal uses. Gun owners would be more likely to store their guns in a safe manner, and stolen guns would be reported. All legal firearms would be traceable, along with their ownership, from the point of manufacture or importation to the end user. Any which are not, would be subject to seizure.

Just for the record, I do not now nor have I ever had any connection to the insurance industry other than as a customer – nor does anyone in my immediate family. I am by no means an expert on the Second Amendment and its judicial history – or on the many arguments about it – but it seems to me that an insurance-based approach to firearms management would no more represent an “infringement” of the right to bear arms under the United States Constitution than current requirements that gun importers and dealers pay excise taxes, or that buyers pay sales taxes on the guns they purchase. And, as one advance reader of this post said, “While I’m not a constitutional scholar, the phrase “well regulated” in the Second Amendment has to mean something.”

* NOTE: Many current proposals for regulation of firearms exclude those presently owned. Given the enormous number of firearms currently out there in the U.S., this would make a mockery of any regulatory scheme. When Australia banned certain types of guns following the Port Arthur massacre (see the Goodman/Moynihan article mentioned below), it instituted a buy-back program, paying market price plus 10%. Assuming that a licensing and registration system in the United States would impose a financial burden on some owners, such a program could enable them to dispose of their excess weapons without taking a severe financial hit.

Related reading…

  • Nicholas D. Kristof, Do We Have the Courage to Stop This? “Why can’t we regulate guns as seriously as we do cars?…Let’s treat firearms rationally as the center of a public health crisis that claims one life every 20 minutes…American schoolchildren are protected by building codes that govern stairways and windows. School buses must meet safety standards, and the bus drivers have to pass tests. Cafeteria food is regulated for safety…As one of my Facebook followers wrote after I posted about the shooting, ‘It is more difficult to adopt a pet than it is to buy a gun.’” (See also Kristof’s column: Looking for Lessons in Newtown.)  
  • Amy Goodman and Denis Moynihan, Lessons from New Town Australia, for Newtown, USA: Will New Thinking Lead to New Laws? “Martin Bryant, a troubled 28 year-old from New Town, Tasmania, took a Colt AR-15 semiautomatic rifle to the nearby tourist destination of Port Arthur. By the time he was arrested early the next day, he had killed 35 people and wounded 23. The reaction in Australia was profound, especially since it was a nation of gun lovers, target shooters and hunters…The massacre provoked an immediate national debate over gun control. Strict laws were quickly put in place, banning semiautomatic weapons and placing serious controls on gun ownership. Since that time, there has not been one mass shooting in Australia.” 
  • Derrick Z. Jackson, Obama Needs to Channel an Inner John Howard: “It will take the strongest Oval Office leadership this side of war. In my mind, it is war when annual firearm deaths are 10 times more than the 3,000 Americans killed in 9/11, and nearly five times the number of US soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistancombined.” Commenting on Australia’s buyback program, Jackson also notes: “A 2010 study done by researchers at the AustralianNationalUniversity and WilfridLaurierUniversity found that firearm homicides dropped by 59 percent and firearm suicides dropped 65 percent between 1995 and 2006. Australia’s homicide rate today is one quarter of that in the United States.”
  • Yvonne Abraham, What Do I Tell You , My Son? “Not long ago you were sitting in the bathtub, eyes welling. You kept asking me, and when I couldn’t avoid it any longer, I told you, yes, people die, but only when they are very, very old. And you believed me…I don’t want to have to explain this one to you, to lie and tell you it could never happen here…I want you to keep believing I can protect you. Even though I don’t believe it myself.” 
  • Maureen Dowd, From Apocalypse to Dystopia:  “For decades, when the public has grown more sympathetic to gun control after an attempted assassination or a spike in gun murders or a harrowing school shooting, Wayne LaPierre and his fellow N.R.A. officials have hunkered down to wait for the ‘emotional period’ or ‘hysteria,’ as they call it, to pass.” 
  • James Alan Fox, Top Ten Myths About Mass Shootings: “Some talked about the role of guns, others about mental-health services, and still more about the need for better security in schools and other public places. Whatever their agenda and the passion behind it, those advocates made certain explicit or implied assumptions about patterns in mass murder and the profile of the assailants. Unfortunately, those assumptions do not always align with the facts.” 
  • Michael D. Shear: After Shootings, a Flood of Ideas and Proposals for Curbing Gun Violence: “Specifics are hard to come by…taken together, the suggestions for legislative and executive action foreshadow a broad political debate about assault weapons, ammunition, violent video games, shoot-em-up movies, gun shows, mental health services, and permits for concealed firearms. Much of the national discussion this week has focused on a comprehensive approach, rather than just new gun controls.” 
  • Stephanie Clifford, Shop Owners Report Rise in Firearms Sales as Buyers Fear Possible New Laws:  “With gun-control legislation getting more serious discussion than it has in years, gun sales are spiking as enthusiasts stock up in advance of possible restrictions.” 
  • Ray Rivera & Alison Leigh Cowan, Gun Makers Use Home Leverage in Connecticut“Gun owners packed a hearing room in the Connecticut capital, vowing to oppose a bill that would require new markers on guns so that they are easier to trace…A representative of one of Connecticut’s major employers: the Colt Manufacturing Company… said the company would seriously consider leaving the state if the bill became law.” 
  • Joe Nocera, Guns and Mental Illness: There is no lack of sensible ideas: background checks for all gun purchasers, a national registry that would allow guns to be traced, an assault weapons ban, controls on ammunition, and so on. Nouriel Roubini, the economist, wrote in a Twitter message that gun owners should be required to have liability insurance, an intriguing idea. Some legislators who once blindly followed the bidding of the National Rifle Association are now saying they are reconsidering in the wake of Newtown.”
  • The Economist/Democracy in America (unsigned), Insurance Policy: “Nouriel Roubini, a guy who knows a lot about risk, tweets in favour of mandatory liability insurance for gun owners: ‘If we had liability insurance on guns, as we do 4 cars, we will see which insurance company would insure at which price folks with arsenals.’ It’s an idea that seems to be gathering a bit of steam.”


Imagine a Million Bones

2012 December 16

Today’s post is the second from our guest writer, Jane McPherson, LCSW. Jane is a doctoral candidate in social work and human rights at Florida State University, and a  social services consultant with the Torture Abolition & Survivor Support Coalition in Washington, D.C.  Jane is the principal organizer of One Million Bones Florida. She can be reached at


Imagine a million human bones spread out
across Washington, DC’s National Mall

That’s right, imagine it. Mukweso Mwenene, from the Democratic Republic of Congo has no trouble visualizing stacks of bones. “But in my country,” he says, “the skeletons are all in the closet. Those people have been killed…Nobody buried them. Nobody knows they died.” On Saturday, June 8th, 2013, Mwenene and other volunteers with the One Million Bones Project will create an installation evocative of a colossal mass grave on the National Mall – our nation’s front yard. (View an extended video interview with survivor Mukweso Mwenene.)
            Mwenene is looking forward to seeing the symbolic “evidence” of what has happened in his country, and in hundreds of other places around the world, on display for visitors of our Nation’s Capital to see. He hopes that this installation in Washington, along with other major ones in Albuquerque, New Orleans, Tallahassee, and elsewhere – will create pressure on politicians to take action against torture, genocide and mass violence. “Our leaders can only react when each and every one of us forces them to,” he says. 
Bones-Kids            The Washington event in June will represent the culmination of the vision of Naomi Natale, the founding artist behind One Million Bones. “Hopefully,” Natale says, “this is something that will burn in people’s memories – something that never should have had to be made.” (View One Million Bones’ founder Naomi Natale’s address to the Oslo Forum.)
            One Million Bones is a growing, national art-activism project based in Natale’s home city of Albuquerque, New Mexico. The initial installation there has sparked offshoot projects in eleven countries and 48 states, including Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, and Massachusetts, with many others coming soon. Currently, Pennsylvania is hosting a three-month event at GoggleworksCenter for the Arts in Reading, while Colorado and Florida are both planning events in conjunction with local galleries in the coming year.
Bones-Display            Each project begins with the creation of a single, simple handmade bone.  One Million Bones invites all of us to participate by putting our hands in clay and taking another imaginative leap by making a bone—and making it specific by imagining it as the bone of a mother or a child, of a father or a son – the bone of a victim of violence. 
            Local bone-making events at universities, senior centers, elementary schools, yoga studios and ice cream parlors create personal connections between U.S. citizens and suffering people far away. The large-scale installations generate awareness about genocide and other forms of mass violence, and mobilize viewers to take action against persistent violence in places like the DRC and Myanmar.  One Million Bones also collaborates with the Enough Project and United to End Genocide. Information about genocide and mass violence can be found at those sites and – unfortunately – in the daily news.
            Through a partnership with the organization Students Rebuild, One Million Bones is also raising money to assist survivors. Each bone created raises $1 for CARE International’s work with survivors. As of December 15th, One Million Bones volunteers have created over Bones-Jane450,000 bones – generating almost a half-million dollars for survivors of violence. (Visit the Students Rebuild home page for an updated bone count.)
            Join us as we look towards June, 2013. We need volunteers to get involved: to make bones, and to organize events. Students Rebuild has just launched a new campaign urging folks to make bones for peace this holiday season. Please contact them to find out how your family and your community can become engaged in this project.
            We will also need at least 4,000 volunteers to partici-pate in the One Million Bones installation at the National Mall in June. You can sign up here to participate in D.C. You too can become “one in a million.”


Helping Out the Have-it-Alls

2012 December 12

The Dreaded HTBF (Hard to Buy For)

Finding gifts for the picky or have-it-alls is stressful

That’s the headline (and sub-head) of the cover story in yesterday’s Boston Globe “Living” Section. If this is a problem for you, let me offer to help relieve some of that stress. If you’ve got have-it-alls on your list, let them experience the holiday joy of helping out somebody who’ll be happy to have just about anything. And you can do it from the comfort of your own home. Make a donation in their name to a group that’s working to make the world a safer and more just place.
            My personal favorite is Fotokids in  Guatemala (officially the Fundación de Niños Artistas), founded and run by former Reuters photographer Nancy McGirr. Burned out by run-and-gun war photography throughout Latin America, McGirr moved to Guatemala City and began working with children whose families lived in the city’s sprawling dump. Over more than twenty years, this extraordinary project has used photography (and later video) to engage and motivate several generations of kids, many of whom now have careers in photography, design, education and other areas. In these excerpts from the most recent Fotokids newsletter McGirr writes about her first encounters with some of the children whose stories define the project’s success. (I’ve edited for brevity.)

There are two little sisters, Rosario, age 8, and Marta, who says she is six and everyone jumps on her saying no, she’s still five. Their family fled the Quiche during the civil war. Several neighbors had been assassinated, and one afternoon when the family returned from working in their cornfield they found the door to their adobe house open. The place had been ransacked. Her parents left that same day and found refuge in the dump.
            There is another little seven-year-old named Mirian who is as smart as a whip, with wiry springy hair that haloes her face, a button nose and an engaging smile. She’s a collector and searches out Barbie’s extremities in amongst the trash, sometimes a head or an arm, and has a bucket of parts. She puts them together to create little Barbie Frankensteins.
            I see the big problem with this wild group will be getting the kids to share the cameras. Each time I look Mirian has one. I take the camera out of her hands and say, “let’s let one of the other kids have a turn, okay?” Then I look five minutes later and she has it again. I discover her technique: she looks the kid who has the camera up and down and says something like, “You know, you look good today, let me take your picture.”
            Now 21 years later, Mirian, Rosario and Marta, these little girls from the original group, have been selected to exhibit their photographs in Guatemala’s National Museum…a lovely way to reflect on their lives and how far they have come. Marta is a university graduate in education, working for a prestigious international foundation, Rosa a mother of four teaching younger, at-risk students in Fotokids, and Mirian, a struggling writer with a powerful story to tell.

…and if you really want to give someone a physical gift, I can’t think of a better one than a copy of Fotokids’ beautiful self-published book To Capture Dreams: 20 Years, or their earlier compilation, now republished, Out of the Dump, which are both available through

Here are a few other groups 
from my personal list:

TASSC: I’m sure that every organization working with survivors of torture is in constant need of support, and if there’s one in your community, that’s where you should direct your contributions. On a national level, the Torture Abolition and Survivor Support Coalition is, so far as I know, unique in being run by survivors themselves, rather than professionals. Take a look at all they do, and consider making a donation:  

The Transitions Foundation of Guatemala: I first came across this group when I was producing Not on the Sidelines, a film about handicapped athletes involved in the sport of Sled Hockey. Transitions works with people to design and customize adaptive equipment for one of the most handicapped-unfriendly environments possible, amidst the dirt roads, hills, and cobblestone streets of Guatemala.

Resist: “Funding Social Change Since 1967” is the motto of one of the most enduring institutions that arose from the social movements of the 60’s. Resist remains one of the most reliable supporters of grassroots groups organizing for peace, and for economic, social, and environmental justice.  

Gaza Community Mental Health Program: Whatever you may think about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there’s really no argument over the fact that the residents of the Gaza strip – and its children in particular – have suffered severely. Much of the work of the Gaza Community Mental Health Program is directed at helping traumatized children, women who are victims of violence, and the victims of torture. For more information and to consider contributing, visit the site of its U.S. support group, the Gaza Mental Health Foundation.

Other Suggestions: If none of the above fit your interests, check out suggestions from New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof or Nation Magazine blogger Peter Rothberg.


Gaza’s Children in the Line of Fire

2012 November 15

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 boy killed by Israel dreamed of becoming soccer player

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.

A Pillar of Cloud

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.


Salvadoran War Criminal Sentenced

2012 November 2

Alleged Salvadoran War Criminal
Convicted of U.S. Immigration Fraud

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.


Bain Capital Tied to Death Squads

2012 October 31

Romney’s Bain Capital Reportedly
Tied to Salvadoran Death Squads

A recent article on Huffington Post reports that the founding investors in Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital (principle source of his current wealth) included families and individuals tied to the death squads responsible for murdering tens of thousands – most of them indigenous reformers and activists – during El Salvador’s bloody civil war. The piece is based on original reporting by the Los Angeles Times, and several other sources including former Ambassador to El Salvador Robert White. Amy Goodman interviewed the article’s author, Ryan Grim, Huffington Post’s DC bureau chief, on Democracy Now. According to Grim, “There’s no possible way that anybody in 1984 could check out these families — which is the term that they (Romney’s campaign) use, ‘these families’ — and come away convinced that this money was clean.” It’s just six days till the election, folks…

“Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is facing new scrutiny over revelations he founded the private equity firm Bain Capital with investments from Central American elites linked to death squads in El Salvador. After initially struggling to find investors, Romney traveled to Miami in 1983 to win pledges of $9 million, 40 percent of Bain’s start-up money. Some investors had extensive ties to the death squads responsible for the vast majority of the tens of thousands of deaths in El Salvador during the 1980s.”
                                                      — Democracy Now

The first image (above left) is by Mark Vallen. See his discussion of its background on the Refuge Media Project website.


Cross-Cultural Therapy

2012 October 29

Therapy Across Cultural & Linguistic Barriers

“It’s been reported…that most Latinos who seek mental health services never return after that first visit.” That disturbing comment was part of Neal Conan’s introduction to a National Public Radio broadcast of several months ago. Conan and guests explored some of the problems mental health professionals may face in working with immigrant clients who don’t speak English, or speak it as a second language, and who have different cultural traditions and expectations.
            The interviewees were Stacey Lambert, Director of the Latino Mental Health program at the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology in Boston, and Karen Hanscom, Director of Advocates for Survivors of Torture and Trauma (ASTT), which serves the Baltimore and Washington, DC, areas. ASTT is an Outreach Partner of the Refuge Media Project, and is one of the founders of the Voices of Love project which trains interpreters to work with torture survivors. I won’t try to summarize their fairly free-flowing discussion, but some of the themes touched upon were: 

  • The crucial importance of both cultural competence and linguistic competence – beyond classroom level – for therapists;
  • The differing weights given to family ties vs. individual autonomy in many immigrant cultures;
  • Differing understandings of the origins and meanings of the states we refer to as mental illness, and of appropriate treatments;
  • The frequent necessity of using family members as interpreters, which can create a number of issues: for example, clients may be unwilling to speak openly, and those interpreting may not translate things they think are inappropriate. Hanscom pointed out that “most of the individuals that we see have never told another family member or anyone else about the experiences that they’ve had. This is sometimes the very first time that they’ve spoken about these things.”

The discussion ranged from the somewhat theoretical to the very down-to-earth. For example, the lack of linguistically-competent therapists may not only lead to serious misunderstandings, but it also means that a great many non-English-speaking clients wait longer to get an appointment.
            With regard to differing world views – often expressed through religion, Hanscom points out that immigrants may have different views of “why bad things happen to good people. For example, we have some people who believe that their trauma is related to karma. Others believe that they’re being tested by God…In the United States we’re taught, as psychologists, that we really don’t get into one’s religion. Yet with the torture survivors that we see, to not do so would be quite an error.”

A caller, Mark, who described himself as a
substance abuse counselor, related this story… 

We had an incident where a translator was called to an emergency room because the ER people had this Mexican guy who was reporting hearing voices, so they thought he was schizophrenic. She sits down with him and says, “I understand you’re hearing voices when no one is there.” And he says, “Yes, that’s right.” And she says, “Well, what are the voices saying?” He says, “I don’t know.”
            She says, “Can’t you hear them?” And he says, “Oh, I can hear them just fine, but they’re speaking in English.” So he’s having oratory hallucinations in a language he doesn’t speak, which is unusual, to say the least. And at that point, the page clicks in and says, “Dr. Jones to the emergency room.” The patient looks at the translator and says, “You see? There it is again.”

Both photos above are from the website of Advocates for Survivors of Torture & Trauma. The first one was taken by a survivor as part of ASTT’s Healing Images project. Its caption reads: “Look at these girls! Their lives are beautiful and without worry. They reflect the joy of life. Will my life one day resemble that of these little ones?”


New Resources: 10-25-2012

2012 October 25

Torture Without Scars

We imagine cigarette burns, broken bones, livid scars, missing limbs, but the wounds of modern torture are often invisible. The “enhanced interrogation techniques” that U.S. interrogators have developed – forced nakedness, sleep deprivation, stress positions, solitary confinement, threats against loved ones – leave no scars.
            A new advocacy site from the Center for Victims of Torture (one of the programs profiled in our forthcoming documentary, Refuge: Caring for Survivors of Torture) describes and illustrates some of those techniques. Note that some of the images included may be quite disturbing. The main page also links to a discussion of how to take action to stop torture, and to several short videos showing “how abuses were used in combination to compound the harm.”

“Part of the terror and fear was humiliation, degradation, knowing that this could happen with impunity…If the Americans are doing it, and they’re not accountable, then who’s going to come to your rescue?”
           — Moazzam Begg, former detainee released without charge in 2005

Suicide Among Bhutanese Refugees

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, together with the Refugee Health Technical Assistance Center (RHTAC), have published An Investigation into Suicides among Bhutanese Refugees in the U.S. documenting sixteen suicides that occurred from 2009-2012 among Bhutanese refugees resettled in the United States – a higher rate than reported among other immigrant populations. Most of those who killed themselves were unemployed men, and among the most common post-migration problems cited were “worries about families back home and difficulty maintaining cultural and religious traditions.” RHTAC notes that comments and questions about the report can be submitted to its Community Dialogue site, and will be answered by the study team.


The latest issue of Torture, the journal of the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims is now available online. One of this issue’s scientific articles discusses the psychological status of young Bosnian refugees interned in Denmark.
            The article notes that some of the families of these youth had been living in Denmark for as long as two-and-a-half years, waiting for the right to apply for asylum, and were still housed in refugee camps. Under the “temporary living permits” granted to them, they were not permitted to work or to attend Danish schools. The youth in the study were living in special boarding schools organized by Danish Refugee Aid, and staffed by volunteer Bosnian teachers.
            The study reported that 38-43% of the study participants could be diagnosed as having PTSD. Despite the multiple traumas the youth had experienced, the researchers considered this alarmingly high given that most had relatively intact family structures. Studies of other unaccompanied minors in European countries have shown PTSD prevalence in the range of 20%. “The level of PTSD in this study,” they note, “is comparable to early adolescents and children living in African and Asian refugee camps, where prevalence ranges between 35-75%.”
            Back issues of Torture are available on the IRCT website.

(Illustrations above from Center for Victims of Torture)


New Resources: 9-14-2012

2012 September 14

New Book from Alfred McCoy
Focuses on “Torture and Impunity”

Alfred McCoy’s 2006 A Question of Torture was one of the first and most valuable books I read as I was beginning research for my documentary, Refuge: Caring for Survivors of Torture. Subtitled “CIA Interrogation, from the Cold War to the War on Terror,” it was, and remains, an invaluable analysis of the deterioration of U.S. political and military ethics that led to Abu Ghraib. McCoy’s new book, Torture and Impunity: The U.S. Doctrine of Coercive Interrogation documents the continuation of many of the same policies into the Obama administration, and promises to be as eye-opening and important as his earlier work.

Many Americans have condemned the “enhanced interrogation” techniques used in the War on Terror as a transgression of human rights. But the United States has done almost nothing to prosecute past abuses or prevent future violations. Tracing this knotty contradiction from the 1950s to the present, historian Alfred W. McCoy probes the political and cultural dynamics that have made impunity for torture a bipartisan policy of the U.S. government.
                                                                — Publisher’s blurb

The Migration & Human Rights Project at Boston College

Boston College’s Center for Human Rights and International Justice has released the  2012 Annual Report of its Migration & Human Rights Project. It’s available in English and Spanish, and features articles dealing with the Project’s collaborations with immigrant community groups, as well as recent legal news about deportation law reform, and ongoing research about migrants and human rights in Guatemala.
            The Migration and Human Rights Project includes ongoing programs on ethical issues raised by the plight of refugees and displaced persons; urban refugees; the human rights of migrants; the human rights of deportees; the situations of transnational and mixed-status families; and others.

“List of Shame” Documents Abuse of Children in Conflict

The United Nations issues an annual overview of the situation of children affected by armed conflict throughout the world. This year’s Annual Report of the Secretary-General, covering calendar year 2011, documents the recruitment and use of children in warfare, sexual violence against children, the killing and maiming of children, the abduction of children, attacks on schools and hospitals, and the denial of humanitarian access to children. It reports on situations in 23 countries including, for the first time, Syria and Libya.     
            Each year, the Secretary-General also lists parties to conflict who have committed the most grave violations against children, in what has become known as the List of Shame. This year’s list has grown to 52 perpetrators, including 32 Persistent Perpetrators who have been listed for at least 5 years. (For additional information on issues affecting children caught up in conflict situations, visit the website of the Watchlist on Children in Armed Conflict.)


New Resources: 9-2-2012

2012 September 2

Documenting Allegations of Torture

“International bodies and mechanisms have been created to address the problem of torture, but their effectiveness depends on the information which is sent to them. A lot of the information received is wasted because it is sent to the wrong body, presented in an inappropriate way, or seems unreliable.” The very comprehensive and detailed  Torture Reporting Handbook, in English, Spanish, Turkish, and six other languages, is available online from Britain’s University of Essex. Also available are Combating Torture, a manual intended specifically for judges and prosecutors, and Reporting Killings as Human Rights Violations, “a reference guide for anyone who wishes to know how to take action in response to allegations of suspicious deaths.”

For a World Without Torture

After a bit of a slow start, World Without Torture, a blog sponsored by the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims has become a frequent and reliable source of information on what’s going on in the world of torture prevention and treatment. The current post (as of 8/31) comments on the decision, announced by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, that the Justice Department will not pursue any criminal charges related to Bush-era torture charges: “Yet again, crimes that took place during the Bush era will be pushed aside. Whatever the reasons given for this decision, the reality remains that crimes occurred – torture – in clear violation of international law.”
            A recent post reported on the fact that South Africa, a democracy now 20 years old, has yet to make torture, including many incidents that have led to deaths, a criminal offense. A bill to remedy this is currently before the South African Parliament. Another reports the selection of Gambia’s Fatou Bensounda as the first African and first woman as chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court.
            Of particular interest to those working in torture treatment might be a trio of short documentaries from Sri Lanka’s Survivors Associated, sharing the stories of several survivors and the holistic rehabilitative methods used in their treatment. 

Detention as “The Second Torture”

From the British organization Medical Justice, this report from earlier in the year, The Second Torture, investigates the cases of 50 refugees who had clear medical evidence of having been tortured and, under Britain’s “Rule 35,” should therefore not have been held in detention – only one was in fact released. All of the others were held in detention for an average of 226 days. “Two of the 50 were forcibly returned to their countries of origin and endured torture for a second time. Both managed to flee again, claimed asylum for a second time, and were detained again in the UK.”
            The Guardian (UK) reports that some of those detained are launching a legal challenge for false imprisonment, following criticism by the UNHCR that “inadequate screening processes meant rape victims and torture survivors who claimed asylum in Britain could find themselves being led off to a detention center in handcuffs.” 

Other Recent Publications and Resources

Ken Pope has announced an update and expansion of his valuable website listing resources for torture victims, refugees, and asylum seekers. Documenting the forced displacement of more than 800,000 refugees in 2011 – the highest number in over a decade, The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, earlier this summer released 2011 in Review, its annual evaluation of the situation of refugees worldwide.


Meeting the Needs of Torture Survivors

2012 August 30

(Today’s post is the first from our new guest writer, Jane McPherson, LCSW. Jane is a social services consultant with the Torture Abolition & Survivor Support Coalition in Washington, DC.  She represented TASSC at the meeting described here.)

In today’s climate, strengthening
community connections may be critical…

On the evening of  Tuesday, August 21st, about 30 social workers, case managers and therapists took a stroll through Ruby Garden in Chicago, Illinois, munching on sorrel and sage (and harvesting salad greens and basil for dinner).  Ruby Garden—the community garden where the Heartland Alliance Marjorie Kovler Center, one of the oldest torture treatment centers in North America, maintains plots alongside other community organizations—was the source of our evening’s lesson, as well as our supper.
            The current US climate of suspicion and hostility toward immigration poses a significant threat to the most vulnerable of new arrivals: survivors of torture. Negative feelings towards immigrants are not shared by all Americans, of course, but they are widespread, and may undermine efforts to integrate immigrants into our communities, as well as to maintain funding for the organizations that serve survivors and other immigrants. These are the concerns that brought us to Chicago from torture treatment centers across the country—Maine, Maryland, California, Connecticut, Michigan, Utah, Florida, Minnesota, DC, Texas, Maryland, Vermont, New York, Missouri, Virginia, Massachusetts—to share our experiences and to strategize about Meeting Social Service Needs of Torture Survivors in the Current Climate.  
Tuesday night – which culminated in an international dinner at Kovler with food from Bosnia, Haiti, Togo and Ethiopia – was the highlight of 2-1/2 days of group work and skill building. The meeting was organized by the National Capacity Building Project (NCB) of the Center for Victims of Torture in St. Paul, Minnesota.  NCB, with funding from Office of Refugee Resettlement, provides technical assistance to torture treatment programs across the USA.  Among NCB’s many excellent services is their informative HealTorture website.
            According to Carol White, NCB’s manager, the need for the meeting arose from current events: the combination of the severe recession and the anti-immigrant legislation that has been proposed or enacted in several states.  Responding to these trends, a major focus of our meeting was creating connections between our clients and our communities. Susan Downs-Karkos of Welcoming America gave our Keynote Address, presenting her work “involving mainstream Americans in immigrant integration” and invited all of us to be involved.
            Using Kim Snyder’s thoughtful film, “Welcome to Shelbyville,” Downs-Karkos gave us the example of Shelbyville, Tennessee, where bridges are being built between the town’s traditional white and African-American citizens and Hispanic and Somali newcomers.  The bridges, however, don’t build themselves.  If we want to make our communities more welcoming to immigrants, we must engage what Welcoming America calls “the receiving community” and reach out to people who may have fears.  Welcoming America offers a variety of materials supporting their goals, including their “Receiving Communities Toolkit.” (To download or purchase a copy of “Welcome to Shelbyville,” visit the filmmaker’s website.)
            Other torture treatment centers shared their strategies to reach out. The Center for Survivors of Torture in San Jose, CA, Survivors of Torture International in San Diego, CA, and Utah Health and Human Rights all invite community members in regularly to tour their facilities and meet survivors; the Torture Abolition & Survivor Support Coalition (TASSC) in Washington, DC, brings survivors into the community with its “Truth Speakers” program; and Minnesota’s Center for Victims of Torture provides training in the community for potential employers, neighbors, etc.
            Dinner at Kovler was actually an immersion experience in one of their very successful strategies to connect survivors to each other and to the community at large.  Led by staff occupational therapist Mary Black, Kovler hosts twice-monthly Friday night Cooking Groups. On lovely summer afternoons, these cooking groups begin in the garden and proceed to Kovler’s kitchen, where survivors, friends, volunteers and staff members create mountains of food for all comers.  According to Sebastien Davis-VanGelder, a Kovler case manager, dinner is usually ready by 8:00 or 9:00 p.m., and folks sometimes stay late in the evening dancing and sharing in multiple languages.  Davis-VanGelder says that a bit of case-management can often be accomplished over dinner, too.  I expect that several of us came home from Chicago planning suppers in our own communities.

Post by Jane McPherson, LCSW


2-Month Sentence for Waterboarding Child

2012 August 28

Dad says, “I’ve made mistakes in my life…”

Well, we didn’t get any takers on our offer of a free DVD to the first person to guess the sentence handed out to “Daddy Waterboard.” Too Bad – but, anyway, here’s what happened:
            On September 2, 2010, Joshua Ryan Tabor was sentenced to spend two months in jail for waterboarding his four year old daughter because she refused to recite the alphabet.  Two months might not seem like much, but it’s two months more than the guy pictured here, who’s done more than any other national leader to persuade people that waterboarding is no big deal.
            According to The Olympian, Joshua Tabor pled guilty under an “Alford plea” to three counts of third-degree felony assault of a child. “Under an Alford plea,” the paper noted, “a defendant does not admit guilt but concedes there is enough evidence to convict if the case goes forward at trial. As part of the plea deal, a prosecutor agreed to recommend that Tabor serve one month under a first-time offender waiver.” The judge, however, did not accept that recommendation.
            The girl’s grandmother gave a written statement indicating that her granddaughter suffered from recurring nightmares that her father was trying to drown her, and from possibly permanent hearing loss resulting from blows to the head. “To this day, she is deathly afraid of water on her face, where she would swim underwater prior to arriving at Joshua’s home.”
            During Tabor’s trial, his attorney advanced the defense that he suffers from PTSD as a result of his military deployments, though other testimony cited bullying behavior dating from before his service. According to the newspaper account, “he did not directly apologize for his actions, instead saying, ‘I’ve made mistakes in my life.’” Tabor’s attorney asked the court to include language in the judgment that would permit him to continue to possess a firearm, but the judge refused.
           Former VP Dick Cheney doesn’t acknowledge ever having made any mistakes but, he shares responsibility for what Joshua Tabor did to his little girl. Will Cheney ever be called to account for this, or for what he’s done to our national self-respect? Don’t count on it. 


Torturing Children is Not Discipline

2012 August 16

Does Anybody Remember ‘Daddy Waterboard’?

No, I don’t mean Delaware physician, Melvin Morse, who was accused this week of holding his 11-year-old daughter’s face under a running faucet. More about Morse later, but this is not the first reported U.S. case of a child being tortured in this way by a parent. Some of this post may be painful to read, but hang in there.
            In January of 2010, according to ABC News and other sources, Takoma, Washington soldier Joshua Ryan Tabor, was arrested for waterboarding his 4-year-old daughter “because she refused to recite the alphabet.” Tabor had served as a mechanic in Iraq, and according to neighbors he had “anger management issues.” Police were called out when he was reported walking around the neighborhood wearing battle gear and threatening to break neighbors’ windows.
            When police went to the home he shared with his girlfriend, Callie Combs, they found the little girl hiding in the bathroom. She had “multiple bruises pretty much all over her body,” they reported. What follows is from the police officers’ report at the scene, as entered into court testimony. Read carefully; there’s a test question at the end…

Excerpts from the sworn statement of Deputy
Prosecuting Attorney John M. “Jack” Jones:

Callie disclosed that Joshua “beats” his four year old daughter, EJT…stating that EJT’s back was currently “covered in bruises…” Callie stated that EJT has been “wetting herself” which upsets both she and Joshua since they feel that she should be fully potty trained. Callie described that oftentimes when EJT wets her pants, Joshua makes her sit in the urine-soaked clothes until he “gives her permission to change her clothes.”
            Callie was able to coax EJT out of the bathroom to speak with Officer Eriksen. EJT appeared to be a bright articulate four-year-old of average to above intelligence…
            EJT had severe brusing on her entire back, focused near the center of her back and near her right shoulder. She had scratch marks on her back as well that were made in a downward motion. EJT also had bruising on both of her arms, legs and buttocks. She had bruising on the front and back of her neck/throat area and a large bruise on her chin. Officer Eriksen also noticed additional bruising on the thin cartilage portion of her upper ears…EJT was asked how she got the bruises and she replied, “Daddy did it”…
            Joshua…admitted that he was upset with EJT and he and Callie had held her down on the counter and submerged her head into the water three or four times until the water came around her forehead and jawline…for refusing to say her letters. Joshua stated that EJT is scared of the water and was squirming around to try to get away from the water. Joshua did not act as though he felt there was anything wrong with this form of punishment.           

So, here’s our question, and an offer:

We’ll give a free DVD of our forthcoming documentary film, Refuge, to the first person who correctly comes up with the jail sentence Joshua Tabor received – based on the above facts, and more – on the charge of “Assault of a Child in the Second Degree.” Use the “Reply/Comments” box at the end of this post.

It wasn’t a one-time thing…

So let’s get back to this week’s alleged incident of waterboarding of a child: Dr. Melvin Morse is described by the Associated Press as “a U.S. pediatrician who achieved national recognition for his research into near-death experiences involving children.” Morse has appeared on Oprah, Larry King Live, and Good Morning America. On his website, he quotes NBC News as saying “Dr Morse has done more to prove the existence of life after death than any other scientist.” 
            However, in his present life, Morse is alleged to have “disciplined” his stepdaughter four times over two years – since she was 8 or 9 years old – by holding her face under a running faucet. The AP article cited police speculation in court documents that he “may have been experimenting on his 11-year-old stepdaughter by waterboarding her.”
            Reuters cites police reports that the abuse came to light when neighbors called the police after Morse was seen dragging the child by the ankles over a gravel driveway when she refused to get out of the car. She mentioned the water punishment when she was interviewed by police, and said that her father called it “waterboarding.”
            Morse and his wife, Pauline, of Georgetown, Delaware, were arrested on assault, child endangerment, and conspiracy charges. In a telephone interview with the AP, Morse said that “the charges against him are an overreaction from authorities who were criticized in the wake of a child sex abuse scandal involving another pediatrician.” However, the AP says he ended the interview before he could be asked directly about the waterboarding allegation.

How Should We React?

I don’t want to make any assumptions about Morse’s guilt or innocence at this point, but here are some questions I think we have to ask ourselves:

  • Both cases only came to light because of the fathers’ erratic or punitive behavior in public, while the waterboarding itself (alleged, in Morse’s case) took place in private. Have there been other cases that have gone undiscovered? One case may have seemed like an aberration, but maybe it wasn’t.
  • Given the efforts of former VP Dick Cheney and others in the Bush administration to redefine waterboarding as a relatively mild form of “enhanced interrogation,” is it conceivable that water torture has become an acceptable form of discipline for some parents?
  • If that’s what’s going on, if these two cases are the tip of an iceberg, how do we even begin to respond?


New Resources: August 3, 2012

2012 August 3

No More Euphemisms: Waterboarding is Torture

The latest issue (#22) of the journal Torture, published by the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims includes, as usual, a number of articles of interest to both professional and general readers. I was particularly struck by physician Jonathan Beynon’s contribution, Not waving, drowning,” which, as far as I’m concerned, explodes forever any argument that waterboarding can be discussed as anything other than torture. No more “enhanced interrogation,” no more “simulated drowning.” (The IRCT Journal Torture is available online or by print subscription.)

When it comes to employing asphyxia through drowning as a so-called method of interrogation, there can be no simulation. Either you are subjected to and experiencing asphyxia and the process of drowning, or you are not. If I put a plastic bag over your head and hold it in position until you experience difficulty breathing, am I simulating depriving you of oxygen, or am I depriving you of oxygen? Self-evidently it is the latter. The person subjected to submarine or waterboarding is not waving, but drowning; they are being involuntarily subjected to the severe pain and suffering of the process of drowning for the purpose of interrogation. They are being subjected to torture.

Addressing the Culture
of Impunity in Congo

According to the Open Society Foundations, “the eastern areas of the Democratic Republic of Congo have been called the worst areas in the world to be a woman or child. For the past 15 years, women and girls in the region have suffered mass sexual violence on an unimaginable scale, perpetrated by the Congolese army, rebels, militias, and others. Impunity has been the rule…”
            Justice in DRC is a brief report documenting the Foundations’ creation of mobile gender courts which, according to the document, “have brought a measure of justice – and dignity – to victims. The full title of the report is Justice in DRC: Mobile Courts Combat Rape and Impunity in Eastern Congo.

Colombia’s Children at Risk, with “No One to Trust”

This recent (April, 2012) report from the organization Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict documents the disastrous situation of children and young people as a result of the country’s decades-long civil wars. The 52-page analysis is available online in English and Spanish.

Girls and boys have been subjected to forced recruitment, rape and sexual violence, killing and maiming, and have been seriously affected by attacks against schools and the denial of humanitarian assistance…More than half of an estimated 3.9 to 5.3 million internally displaced people in Colombia are under 18, rendering them even more vulnerable to the threats that caused them to flee their homes in the first place.

Health Professionals in Immigration
Detention Centers Face “Dual Loyalties”

This report was published in 2011, but I only came across it recently. I found it of particular interest because of my past film work on ethical issues in healthcare. Dual Loyalties: The Challenges of Providing Professional Health Care to Immigration Detaines was written by Christy Fujio, an attorney who currently heads up the Asylum Program of Physicians for Human Rights. It looks at the ethical conflicts faced by healthcare professionals working in the growing industry of immigrant detention. As of the time of writing, the report notes that “approximately 400,000 people, including elderly, women, mentally ill and disabled people, are detained each year in restrictive conditions that have been designed for punitive purposes.” 
            In the conditions that prevail in many of these facilities — a growing proportion of which are for-profit businesses — even the best-intentioned of health workers will find themselves facing pressures to act in ways that may violate their professional ethics.

Operating within a law enforcement organization whose chief mission is to control and eventually remove undocumented immigrants from the U.S. creates numerous loyalty conflicts for health practitioners torn between acting in their patients’ best interests and serving the mission and needs of the U.S. government…

Dual Loyalties documents several cases in which the failure of healthcare workers to follow ethical guidelines resulted in harm to, or the death of, detainees;  it notably does not include cases in which caregivers behaved ethically, in opposition to the pressures of their employers. Nor does it offer much evidence that healthcare professionals working in these environments in fact feel “torn.” This may be not so much a case of dual loyalties as of a near total breakdown of any sense of professional responsibility toward detainee patients.


The Wheels of Justice…

2012 August 1

The Mills of the Gods Grind Slow,
but They Grind Exceeding Fine…

Sorry for the cliché (these days more commonly quoted as “The Wheels of Justice…”), but it’s what comes to mind when confronted with the intolerably slow process of prosecuting the worst human rights violations of the past century. Still, there have been some recent victories:

LIBERIA/SIERRA LEONE: In late May, the former president of Liberia, Charles Taylor, became the first head of state convicted by an international tribunal since the Nuremberg trials after World War II. Taylor was sentenced to 50 years in prison by the International Criminal Court, for his role in atrocities committed during the civil war in Sierra Leone during the 1990s. The presiding judge, Richard Lussick, said Taylor’s actions amounted to “aiding and abetting, as well as planning, some of the most heinous and brutal crimes recorded in human history.”

The sentence today does not replace amputated limbs; it does not bring back those who were murdered. It does not heal the wounds of those who were raped or forced to become sexual slaves.
                                     — Chief Prosecutor Brenda Hollis

ARGENTINA: In early July, former dictators Rafael Videla and Reynaldo Bignone were convicted of overseeing the systematic theft of babies born to parents imprisoned in the 1970’s, during the country’s “dirty war.” Videla’s 50-year sentence, and Bignone’s 15-years, however, are essentially symbolic, since both men area already serving life sentences for torture and murder during their rule. Videla (pictured) is now 86, Bignone, 84. Nine other military and police officials were also convicted in the case.
            During the dictatorship, hundreds of children were taken from detainees and given to police or military families. In some cases pregnant prisoners were held until they delivered their babies, and were then murdered or “disappeared.”
            The famed “Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo,” have helped over a hundred of the stolen children to reclaim their identities through DNA testing, and estimate there may be hundreds more yet unidentified.
            In recognition of the need to offer closure to the victims of dictatorship-era crimes, Argentina has taken steps to speed up their normal judicial process before the perpetrators die of old age. Jonathan Gilbert wrote in the Christian Science Monitor: “It is an attempt to not only bring justice, but a sense of closure to a tragic period in the country’s recent past.” 

In the past, cases involved huge volumes of evidence, and victims were required to testify on several occasions. Trials have since been expedited by allowing judges to combine cases. Victims may also testify just once for multiple defendants. While only two convictions were brought in 2006, there were more than 100 in 2010.

CHILE: Two former Chilean military officials, air force colonels Ramon Caceres and Edgar Ceballos, have been arrested and charged with being “co-authors of the crime of torture that caused the death” of General Alberto Bachelet 1974. Bachelet served under, and was loyal to, President Salvador Allende, who was deposed in the coup which led to the military dictatorship of 1973-1990, led by General Augusto Pinochet.
            General Bachelet died following six months of interrogation and torture in military prison. He was the father of Michelle Bachelet, who became Chile’s first female president in 2006. Both Michelle Bachelet and her mother Angela Jeria were also imprisoned and tortured by the military before escaping to Australia.

CHAD:  Chad’s former dictator, Hissene Habré, has been called “Africa’s Pinochet.” In July, the United Nations International Criminal Court ordered that Habré must be put on trial “without delay” by Senegal, where he currently lives. However, this is only the latest of years of attempts to try Habré for the estimated 40,000 political murders and 200,000 case of torture during his reign, and it’s unclear whether Senegal will choose to cooperate this time.  
Under Habré, “The Chadian government applied a deliberate policy of terror in order to discourage opposition of any kind,” according to Amnesty International. According to human rights groups cited in the BBC report, “Survivors said the most common forms of torture were electric shocks, near-asphyxia, cigarette burns and having gas squirted into their eyes.”

 Sometimes, the torturers would place the exhaust pipe of a vehicle in their victim’s mouth, then start the engine…Some detainees were placed in a room with decomposing bodies, other suspended by their hands or feet, others bound hand and foot. One man said he thought his brain was going to explode when he was subjected to “supplice des baguettes” (torture by sticks), when the victim’s head is put between sticks joined by rope which are then twisted. Others were left to die from hunger in the “diete noire” (starvation diet).

For more about plans to try Hissene Habré, see this report from


In the News: July 30, 2012

2012 July 30

Proposed Cuts to Refugee Resettlement
Funding Would be Disastrous

United Nations blogger Una Moore, warns that pending U.S. legislation could impose drastic cuts in support for the resettlement of tens of thousands of refugees fleeing war, torture and abuse in their home countries – Iraq, Afghanistan, Burma, Congo, Eritrea, and many others.
            The budget proposed for next fiscal year by the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health, and Human Services would cut this FY’s allocation for the already underfunded Office of Refugee Resettlement by $112 million.

[The cuts] will have a devastating effect on refugees, Afghan and Iraqi Special Immigrant Visa recipients, victims of torture and trafficking, unaccompanied immigrant children and other vulnerable populations, as well as communities across the country that welcome these populations.
                                                 — U.S. Committee for Refugees & Immigrants:
                                                      “Protect Refugee Funding

The nine organizations responsible under ORR contracts to help new Americans through the resettlement process are already struggling to meet their needs, and the new cuts would hit them hard.  One of the leading groups, the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, has mounted an urgent online appeal to Congress not to go through with the cuts.
            Most Americans are barely, if at all, aware of this small but politically and morally crucial component of the overall immigration program, which last year gave more than 56,000 refugees from twenty different countries – some of the world’s most persecuted and oppressed individuals – a chance for a better life. 

Resettlement field offices, largely located in America’s poorest cities, have endured years of crisis-level funding shortfalls and staffing shortages, with no relief in sight…[A]s is, many refugees receive only the bare minimum of support following their arrival in the United States, leaving unmet pressing needs like mental health care and extended case management for refugees with disabilities…And local non-profits simply aren’t able to fill all of the gaps…If the proposed 2013 cuts go through, refugees will face an even rougher start to life in America than they do now.
                                                 — Una Moore, U.N. Dispatch

(USCRI Photo above)


Connecting Migrants and Their Families

2012 July 23

Mexico’s “El Rincon” Project helps families
stay in touch despite national borders…

The media caricature of undocumented immigrants – especially if they come from south of the border – sees them as economic opportunists, out to make an undeserved buck at our expense. The reality is that most come here because they have no alternative. They can watch their families starve at home or risk injury or death to have a shot at making a living up north.
            In a recent post, we looked at some U.S. programs that help migrants who are being deported, or who have already been deported back to their home countries. Today’s post profiles a unique program, based in Mexico, that helps local families to stay in touch with members living in the United States, and to cope with a daunting range of problems that arise from separation.
            “El Rincon,” or the Corner Project, was founded 14 years ago by American writer and photographer Ellen Calmus. It is in Malinalco, a town in the highlands southwest of Mexico City, in a region whose agricultural economy has been shattered by the impact of NAFTA. For many young parents, the only available route to economic survival has been north to the United States. Their families are often left behind.

Since the majority who cross the border to the north do so illegally, the journey often means years of not being able to return to Malinalco to visit their families…This has led to divided families, and to children being raised by a single parent or their grandparents…
            “These children must deal not only with the absence of a parent, and sometimes of both, but with the additional stress of not knowing for weeks after their parents’ departure whether they have survived the border crossing. With parents absent, these children often assume added family responsibilities, while the other family members who have remained behind must bear additional economic and psychological pressures…Malinalco is [also] experiencing an increasing number of cases where families are left permanently fragmented by the death or disappearance of relatives in the U.S….
            “A preliminary study conducted by the Corner Project in collaboration with Malinalco’s Department of Education found that 10% of the children in schools of the central barrios had one or more parents in the U.S., while in the municipality’s poorer outlying areas 60% of the children had been left in the temporary care of relatives by parents who had migrated to the U.S

The Corner Project’s services to migrants’ children include:

  • Crisis counseling;
  • Communications with distant family members, including free long distance calls, email support, and a message service for families without phones;
  • Help in locating missing relatives;
  • Help dealing with U.S. hospitals, prisons, detention centers and other agencies;
  • Assistance in locating needed legal services;
  • help to families whose relatives have died in the U.S., including getting remains returned for burial.

Below are a few quick stories highlighting the Corner Project’s work. There are many more examples on the El Rincon website.

Finding lost migrants…
Though all too often there are tragic reasons for a migrant’s vanishing, we are frequently able to give good news…When Margarita came to get help finding her husband Constantino, we investigated and learned that he had been stopped for a traffic violation and was in jail, but would probably be deported soon. A prison social worker helped us place a call so Margarita could talk to Constantino and assure him that she and their children were well, which was clearly a huge relief to him.

When migrants die in the United States…
Most often we are contacted by the families themselves, who come to us for help bringing home their migrant relatives’ bodies for burial in Malinalco – though on occasion we are contacted by Mexican government agencies seeking help locating families of migrants who have died in the U.S. Then we take on the heartbreaking task of notifying local families of their migrant relatives’ deaths.

Bringing U.S. and Mexican lawyers to the rescue…
When we found that an unprincipled lawyer was helping a non-beneficiary claim the insurance compensation due to the widow and children of a migrant killed by a drunk driver in California, another lawyer helped our Malinalco migrant’s widow receive the benefits legally due to her and her two young sons…and then this concerned lawyer decided to send his Mexican associate to visit our office on a regular basis to help with other cases.

It goes without saying that El Rincon needs help to continue providing the kind of personnel-intensive care and services for which it is known. Information about its supporting organizations and individuals is on the website, along with information about how to donate.


Spiral of Injustice

2012 July 19

UK Report Criticizes Israel’s
Treatment of Palestinian Children

A recent delegation to Israel, by nine eminent British lawyers appointed by the British Foreign Office, cited undisputed factsindicating that Israel’s treatment of Palestinian children in detention violates at least six requirements of the United Nations convention on the rights of the child, which Israel has signed. They report that children as young as 12 have been dragged from their beds in the middle of the night, and have had their hands bound behind their backs with plastic ties, been forced to kneel or lie face-down during transportation, and been held in solitary confinement with no access to their parents.  

“In this process, every year hundreds of Palestinian children are traumatised, sometimes irreversibly, are denied part of their schooling, and then live at ongoing risk of much harsher punishment if they are arrested again.”  
                                             — from Children in Military Custody 

According to a Guardian article on the delegation by Harriet Sherwood, the UK report details “two irreconcilable accounts of the treatment and rights of Palestinian children.” In interviews with Palestinian and Israeli NGOs, UN agencies, lawyers, former Israeli soldiers and former child detainees, the delegates were told about “night-time arrests, the use of blindfolds and painful plastic wrist ties, physical and/or verbal abuse, the failure to be informed of the right to silence or to see a lawyer, solitary confinement, self-incrimination, children being made to sign statements in Hebrew which they could not understand and extremely restricted access to family.”
            Yet when the delegates interviewed Israeli government officials, military judges and prosecutors, they heard a very different story. They were told that “children are informed of their rights, treated appropriately, subject to procedural safeguards, and violence and threats are forbidden.” They were even informed that, in custody, “children receive education to such a high standard that Palestinian children have been known to offend in order to access it.”
            The delegates offered a number of recommendations to begin to remedy the conditions they encountered. They include the following:

  • Night-time arrests should be ended, except in extreme and unusual circumstances;
  • Children should be told their rights in their own language;
  • Children should never be blindfolded or hooded, nor should they be shackled at any time;
  • The prohibition on violent, threatening or coercive conduct towards children should be strictly observed;
  • Confessions in a language other than the child’s own should not be accepted as evidence;
  • Solitary confinement should not be used as a standard mode of detention.

In conclusion, the report says: “It may be that much of the reluctance to treat Palestinian children in conformity with international norms stems from a belief, which was advanced to us by a military prosecutor, that every Palestinian child is a ‘potential terrorist’. Such a stance seems to us to be the starting point of a spiral of injustice.” 

(Photograph at top by Abed Al Hashlamoun/EPA from The Guardian(UK). View the Guardian’s 12-minute video of Palestinian children in Israeli solitary confinement online. All other photos are from Defense for Children International.)

“Rough Justice” for Child Detainees

The Guardian article also excerpted the following narratives, which are from affidavits given to Defense for Children International – Palestine Section and published in Bound, Blindfolded and Convicted. 

Malek S, 16: “One of [the soldiers] tied my hands behind my back with one set of plastic cords and tightened them. He also blindfolded me. They took me out and forced me to stand near a military truck near the house…One of them hit me so hard in the testicles and I felt much pain.” 

Husam S, 15: “The two interrogators kept me standing…They kept slapping me around, but I never confessed. The interrogation lasted about two hours. After that, they printed out some papers in Hebrew and forced me to sign them. Later on it turned out that I had signed a confession saying I threw stones. This is what my lawyer told me later in court.” 

Rami J, 17: (held in solitary confinement for 24 days): “It is a very small cell, which had a mattress on the floor and a toilet with a horrible smell…The lights in the ceiling were dim yellow and on for 24 hours a day, and they hurt my eyes…The cell had no windows, just two gaps for letting air in and out…I eventually decided to confess because of the pressure they put on me. I was in a bad psychological state.”

Malek Z, 15: “‘You better confess,’ [the interrogator] shouted, but I never confessed. He was typing what I was saying in the computer. Then he printed it out in Hebrew and ordered me to sign it, but I refused so he slapped me hard across the face while shouting. He got up and pushed me towards the wall and I slammed against it. I was so scared of him I immediately signed the papers.”

Abuse of Family Members: Sometimes it’s 
“Just” a Threat, but Sometimes it’s For Real 

In its 2008 report, Family Matters, the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel documented extensive use by the nation’s General Security Services of threats to harm family members of Palestinian detainees, in order to coerce confessions. In some cases, “family members were, in fact, arrested and sometimes tortured, although they were not suspected of any offence whatsoever, all for the purpose of applying pressure on a relative undergoing interrogation.” Family Matters included detailed documentation of cases involving six families. One of those cases led to a rather grudging ruling by the country’s High Court of Justice (HCJ)placing some limits on the detention of, and prohibiting the use of threats against, family members.
            However, as the organization’s June, 2012, followup document, Family Matters, Part Two, makes clear, realities on the ground have changed little. The ruling in Sweiti v. General Security Services “allows psychological torture to proceed apace under certain circumstances…Furthermore, if unsurprisingly, the use of threats that harm will come to interrogees’ relatives – which was explicitly forbidden by the HCJ – continues as a matter of routine.” 

AQ’s Testimony: “I was arrested at two in the morning while sleeping next to my 2-year-old son…The soldiers broke down the front door, came into my room and began to strike me in the head and back with the butts of their rifles. As a result I was injured in the head. I worried about my son who lay beside me, and the soldier told me that my son was dead…
            “From the first day of my interrogation I asked the interrogator what had happened to my son, but he told me: ‘Finish with the interrogation and then we’ll see.’ Only after 30 days was I informed by the Red Cross that my son was alive and unharmed.” 

AD’s Testimony: “The interrogators all threatened to bring my wife, who was pregnant at the time, to give birth with me in the detention center…I should note that two days after I was arrested, my brother was arrested and held for about a month. The interrogator pointed out to me that they could bring in my wife just like they had brought in my 14-year-old brother.

The authors of Family Matters acknowledge that the High Court somewhat narrowed the ways in which family pressures could be used, but note that the decision is often ignored in practice and that “psychological pressure amounting to torture continues to be employed routinely.” It argues that the GSS routinely conceals its conduct from the courts and has an “organizational culture of ignoring judicial rulings.”
            “The use of family members…leaves deep psychological scars on the spirit and the psyche…but precludes any form of documentation, oversight or punishment of the torturers.” The report’s concluding paragraph is pessimistic:

“This report has no recommendations with which to conclude. The court has had its say and the matter is currently at a dead end. The only thing which remains is to declare unequivocally that both physical and psychological torture are absolutely prohibited; that threats against relatives – whether or not they are carried out – entail torture; and that all who use these threats must be held accountable for their actions.”