Sunday, November 5, 2006

In his own words

Dr. Shepherd Bliss on torture:
I try not to think about torture. Then I read the following: Vice-President Dick Cheney apparently defends it, a U.S. soldier who objects to interrogation techniques commits suicide, articles with titles like "Torture's Not So Bad, If It's Done for a War Worth Fighting," and Chilean Gen. Augusto Pinochet was recently arrested and charged with torture.

Feelings about close friends tortured over thirty years ago in Chile rush in. Unfortunately, my experiences with U.S.-supported torture have been quite direct and specific.

To most people, torture is just an idea, probably abstract and distant. Not to me. Hearing the word, I feel, rather than think. I remember a sharp pain rises in my stomach.

Cheney recently admitted on radio that the U.S. engages in water-boarding. "Cheney indicated that the Bush administration doesn't regard water-boarding as torture and allows the CIA to use it," an Oct. 26 McClatchy News Service article reports.

In water-boarding "a prisoner is secured with his feet above his head and has water poured on a cloth over his face. It has been specifically widely condemned as torture," an Oct. 28 San Francisco Chronicle article reveals. It is only one of the many techniques that the CIA apparently employs and tries to cover by the use of words such as "coercion" and "aggressive interrogating tactics."

Over thirty years ago, after being ordained a Methodist minister, I was assigned to Chile. My ministry there started well, given the hopefulness of Chileans for their popular and democratically-elected President Salvador Allende. My good American friend Frank Terrugi also came to Chile to work. I started a relationship with a young woman who was, like me, a member of a military family.

Then came Sept. 11--the date in l973 that the U.S. supported Allende's overthrow by the dictator Gen. Pinochet. Frank was tortured so badly that the coffin could not be opened at his funeral in Chicago. My girlfriend was also tortured, and survived. Their tortures stopped my life.

More than 30 years later, that torture still holds a firm grip on me. However, as with much torture, it failed. Instead of reducing my commitments to genuine liberty, freedom, and democracy, it enhanced them. Torture is immoral, cruel, ineffective and deeply damaging to whomever it touches, including associated survivors and the torturers. For example, when you join the U.S. military, you do not expect to be ordered to torture. If you follow those orders, you are forever damaged.
Torture impacts not only those who are victimized - it damages anyone associated with the victims. In Dr. Bliss' case, he's worked to take that damage and turn it into a struggle for a more humane existence for all, shining a light on those who would continue to perpetuate the immoral and failed practice of torture.

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