The hidden culture of torture
"I hardly know where to begin ... a huge tragedy has befallen our family" began the e-mail that I opened on June 16, 2003.
My heart stopped as Carol, my lifelong friend, related the horror of what her daughter "Cookie" had endured in Chihuahua, Mexico, in Cookie's hometown located 200 miles south of El Paso.
Cookie and her husband, Ulises, had been dragged from their home with hoods over their heads and taken to a "Police Academy." There policemen called Cookie a whore, kicked her in the stomach and twisted her arms and legs to create optimum pain. They then shackled her to a bed.
Next they poured water over her blouse and began jolting her fl esh with electric prods. In her agony she could hear her husband in the next room screaming from the blows of truncheons slamming into his body. She was threatened with anal rape with a stick. Faced with what they thought was certain death, and each concerned for the other, the couple agreed to sign a prepared statement and even "confess" in a video that they had murdered a teenaged girl who had gone missing in Chihuahua.
That is how Carol, her family and friends including me came to be touched by the frightful hidden culture of torture that plagues our planet.
Torture is the deliberate infl iction of pain to extract information, punish opponents or extract confessions. It is not occasional or random in the world; it is widespread and calculated.
Instruments of torture are a profitable business. Torture occurs in military and civilian settings; it takes place during custody and detention, in mental institutions and institutions for people with developmental difficulties, in schools, and in orphanages. It happens as "treatment" of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people to "cure" them.
Amnesty International (AI) has stated that it has documented reports of torture or ill-treatment by agents of governments in over 150 countries. Now, after the Abu Ghraib story was learned from Iraq, our own United States has been shamefully outed as one of the countries involved in torture, though torture has never been absent from our land.
Surely no true follower of Jesus Christ can condone torture, though over the centuries torture has been infl icted, cruelly and hypocritically, in the name of Jesus, who himself was a victim of torture. But what can we do, we who are not torturing anyone, we who are not in a position to stay the arm of the torturer in some hidden room?
We can inform ourselves and call others' attention to the problem.
We can raise our voices against the use of torture by our fellow Americans. We can support, through letters to the media and our representatives, Amnesty International's call for a ban on the use, manufacture, transfer and promotion of equipment whose primary use is torture.
In the context of the "war on terror," Amnesty International reports, the demand for security has increased and the range of new security technologies is developing rapidly, often without regulation.
So what has become of Cookie and Ulises? Over a year after their ordeal, they were still imprisoned in Chihuahua, even though there was much evidence of their innocence. But, in time, because of the overwhelming public pressure brought upon the Mexican government by people of conscience around the world, they were released.
The Rev. Susan De Simone, a retired UCC intentional interim minister, lives in Greenwich, Conn.