I remember, on the ride back from the panel discussion, mentioning to our local DC director of TASSC that it seemed so pointless for Katherine Gallagher of the Center for Constitutional Rights to continue to pursue indictments against American officials in foreign courts. Gallagher and the CCR have been attempting to prosecute members of the Bush and Obama administrations for their involvement in torture carried out during the 10 year “War on Terror”. There is a legal opening pertaining to torture that allows international jurisdiction. But does it really matter? What is the point of attempting to take down members of the most powerful empire on earth? Who would enforce it? The panel discussion was held on June 1 in Washington, and featured the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Mendez, himself a survivor of torture from Argentina.
The pointlessness that I felt, and heard in Gallagher’s tired voice, was the same feeling I had while reading of Sister Dianna Ortiz’s attempts at obtaining justice for her torture in Guatemala in 1989. She had, unfortunately, been in the wrong place at the wrong time, and had fallen under the dark umbrella of “CIA assets”. She takes us through an account that undoubtedly has been repeated thousands of times: the reality of walking through the dog and pony show that victims receive when coming up against a government bent on protecting its controversial “interests”, regardless of who the victims are.
The US government commits torture today. We know that now, and official documents state this fact. I doubt that there has ever been a time when the US has not supported torture in some way. Any amount of reading and critical thinking will raise questions about our domestic and foreign policy and will uncover nightmares if one digs far enough. Ortiz own investigation and interviews of Guatemalan and American officials, along with the work of her lawyers and the review of declassified documents was enough to tell her that there was some serious American support of torture and murder going on in Guatemala, and that was continuing to go on when the book was published in 2002. That is without seeing the many additional classified documents about her case that remain closed to the public.
Ortiz was subjected to abduction, burns, gang-rape and the forced torture/murder of another woman during her ordeal in 1989. Her story is only one of thousands quite similar that have come out of Latin America and all over the world. The question in my mind when reading accounts like this is what can we do about it? It was the same question that Ortiz struggled with, and the “doing something about it” was for a long time her only motivation to continue living.
As I was talking about the panel discussion with our director, it seemed to me that the most effective action we could take begins from the ground up, not from the other direction as Gallagher was attempting. Maybe Katherine Gallagher and others like her are doing some good by continuing to be active on the international level. However, reading a book written by someone like Dianna Ortiz, and listening to similar tearful accounts in my daily work at TASSC, puts a human face on all of the madness that our government practices in the world today. It is hard to be involved in this work. It drains a person emotionally and physically, and will drive one insane with anger if they allow it. However, the victims more than anything need someone to be there to listen; to validate; to point out the way to healing and purpose. To simply stand beside them as they try to piece their lives back together. This is where the real difference can be made: at the grassroots. We practice the principles of love in our world through the individual contacts we make. As power grows, it moves further and further from humanity. To return to that humanity, we focus on the micro, on the person, the individual. Then we see our own humanity reflected in the other, and realize, like Ortiz, that power doesn’t have to be all pervasive. Faith in humanity can be restored in others by the way we choose to live our own lives.