International Day against Torture

out of the shadows

 image from www.irct.orgOn this Sunday, the 26th, the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture will be observed.  (Or for short, the International Day against Torture.)

For the past decade, starting with 9-11, our country has had a relationship with torture that we can safely call “conflicted.”  It’s probably true that most countries have engaged in torture at some level.  But rarely are the practices that constitute torture stated as public policy.  And very rarely are they stated as public policy in a country that prides itself on being a beacon of human rights.

In his book, On the Threshold of Transformation, Franciscan priest Richard Rohr speaks of Jung’s concept of “shadow” as “where we put our qualities and traits that we deem unacceptable.” (194)  It’s our blind spot; it’s where we put stuff that we don’t want to deal with.

Cultures also have shadows.  Cultures of all kinds have them:  businesses, churches, even nations.  “Everything that seems unsuitable goes underground…Soon we forget the shadow’s existence, and we believe our public image.  When that happens, a group or nation is capable of doing great evil without recognizing it as evil.” (210)

Sometimes feelings of guilt hinder us from resolution.  We try to deny or redefine our actions.  However it happens, we can find ourselves acting with impunity.  We act as though we are a special case; we should be exempted from the penalty that, in any otherwise objective sense of the law, might justly be imposed.

In the particular case of our country, for two presidents in a row, it has been stated public policy to keep torture in the dark.  None of the architects of torture has been legally charged, and Obama’s refusal to even call for an investigation puts us in the category of being a nation of men, not laws.

Jesus has interesting words on the shadow, words that apply to all of us.  “Nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known.  Therefore whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed from the housetops.” (Luke 12:2-3) 

On the matter of cultural shadow, Rohr notes that “God sends prophets to make nations aware of their shadow side, which usually results in the prophets getting persecuted or killed.” (210)

[originally posted on 24 Jun 2011]

remembering to be aware

“Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured.” (Hebrews 13:3)

The PC(USA) Office of Public Witness has teamed up with the National Religious Campaign against Torture (NRCAT) to encourage us to remember that June is Torture Awareness Month.  The annual focus in that regard is on the 26th, which is the International Day Against Torture.

One of the themes this year is on the terrible impact that prolonged solitary confinement has on prisoners in the US.  The NRCAT website reports that those in solitary “typically spend 23 hours per day in their cells and exercise alone for the remaining hour.  As a result, many experience paranoia, delusions, and other long-term mental harm.  Prolonged solitary confinement destroys prisoners’ minds, denies the opportunity for community, and violates the inherent, God-given dignity and worth of every person.”

In “confronting the culture of torture,” as the image taken from the Office of Public Witness’ blog says, we address a number of mentalities.  Among them would be one that responds to prisoners damaged by extended time in “the hole,” with the comment, “Too bad, that’s what you get!  You give up your rights when you go to prison.”

But that’s looking at it backwards.  No one deserves to be tortured.  When people are tortured, so is the God in whose image they are made.

[originally posted on 14 Jun 2012]

not American...but much more, not Christian

“What we say about the intentional cruelty of U.S. soldiers, spies, and shadowy ‘contractors’ is what we have said about the same cruelty by others:  it degrades us all, and must be renounced and repented of before the Living God, whose eye sees into every hidden cell and secret budget allocation.  Our basis for speaking:  Jesus Christ, the head of the Church, was tortured to death, first by being flogged, and then by a slow form of capital punishment.  Thus we join countless patriots in saying; ‘This is not America.’  But deeper down we know, too:  ‘This is not Christian.’” (11)

That is a quote from the Resolution on Human Rights in a Time of Terrorism and Torture, which was produced by the 217th General Assembly of PC(USA) in 2006.  Perhaps the Bush administration enshrined torture as policy, but the Obama administration has done little to actually confront the culture of torture.  In some regards, the consolidation of power and lack of transparency needed for such a culture to exist have been strengthened.

The International Day against Torture is tomorrow.  May issues of substance like that be brought to the forefront in the election campaigns. 

As the resolution states:  “‘This is not America.’  But deeper down we know, too:  ‘This is not Christian.’”

[originally posted on 25 Jun 2012]

buried alive

“Solitary confinement locks prisoners in a cell for 23 hours a day, sometimes with an hour alone in an exercise cage.  Food is pushed through a small slot in the door.  Meaningful socialization is completely denied, while phone calls and visitation are extremely limited.  Those who have survived it describe the experience as being ‘buried alive’…  Prolonged isolation destroys a person’s mind, body and spirit and thus flies in the face of basic Jewish values which embrace human dignity, rehabilitation and reintegration and reject excessive and destructive punishment.”

That’s how Rabbi Rachel Gartner describes prolonged solitary confinement, sometimes referred to as being put “in the hole.”  She looks at it through a Jewish prism.  Working with the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, comprised of numerous faith communities, Rabbi Gartner understands that torture in prisons is rampant. 

The International Day against Torture, on the 26th, will soon be here.  Please remember that being buried alive is a terrible way to treat any human being.

[originally posted on 13 Jun 2014]