In 1998, when former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan announced June 26 as the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, he stated, "This is a day on which we pay our respects to those who have endured the unimaginable. This is an occasion for the world to speak up against the unspeakable."
Earlier this month, The National Religious Campaign Against Torture, one of the founders of Torture Awareness Month, as discussed in Robin Kirk's July 2011 Sojourners article, released a video of interreligious leaders speaking against torture, as well as faith-based study guides that frame opposition to torture. Sojourners also asked Robin Kirk, executive director of the Duke Human Rights Center, to write "The Body in Pain: What do people of faith have to say about torture?" for our July issue. Here is an excerpt from Kirk's article:
Previewing [Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ], critic Roger Ebert remarked on the excruciating torture Jesus undergoes. He is whipped, flayed, beaten, pierced, and denied water. "The movie is 126 minutes long, and I would guess that at least 100 of those minutes, maybe more, are concerned specifically and graphically with the details of the torture and death of Jesus. This is the most violent film I have ever seen."
The same year that Gibson's film was released, American media published the first horrific photos from Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison. There, U.S. personnel tortured Iraqi men and women picked up in the wake of the invasion. According to the investigation by Army Major Gen. Antonio M. Taguba, U.S. personnel beat prisoners, threatened them with dogs, sexually humiliated them, and subjected them to torture sessions and mock executions.
Since that time, Americans have learned that their government tortured prisoners in Guantánamo and kidnapped others who were sent to secret CIA "black sites" where they were tortured. Suspects -- dozens since proven innocent -- have been kidnapped broad (or "rendered") by so-called "snatch teams" and sent to third countries such as Egypt, Jordan, and Uzbekistan, all with proven records of torture. Multiple WikiLeaks releases, including an April 2011 cache, confirm that many of the 779 men sent to Guantánamo have been tortured, including by prolonged sensory deprivation and near-drowning through water boarding.
Claire Lorentzen is the online editorial assistant at Sojourners.