Sunday, March 06, 2005

Where Is The Outrage?

Halting Human Rights Defender

Some time ago I attended a talk at Detroit’s Focus HOPE Gallery by Ursiline nun, Sister Dianna Ortiz. And, now reading how our government is outsourcing it's cruel treatment of our prisoners, I am moved to plunk this story right back into my blog. For, I am still wondering: Where is the outrage?

Attending this event wasn't like going out to the movies or the theatre; going in, I knew it was going to be highly emotional; and, I'm a person who cries at every single wedding I attend. Like the sucker I am, I sat up front and near the speaker's podium.

Let me set the scene:

15 years ago, while teaching Mayan children to read in Guatemala, Sister Dianna was abducted by soldiers there, gang raped and brutally tortured. When the Red Cross finally got her they found over a hundred cigarette burns on her body. She was to tell her story to us as it was recorded in Kerry Kennedy’s beautiful book, “Speak Truth To Power”.

She was introduced by the St. Leo’s church Pastor, Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, who worked with her in Guatemala; and, subsequently prayed with her during her hunger strike in front of the Clinton White House (Mrs. Clinton came to her aid). She’s young still, and dressed this evening in a black and dark grey skirt and jacket.

She reminds me of a soft, brown eyed Audrey Hepburn. She has a pretty head of dark hair and someone has given her a bright yellow flower corsage to wear. She pauses, standing before the microphone, gathering her strength.

Her voice is untrained and not one accustomed to public speaking. It’s scratchy and halting. She begins to explain that experts have informed her that the re-telling of her story will bring healing, but so far she hasn’t found a fellow torture victim who can release the horror of it, nor can she. She tells us, “Torture shackles itself to you, so that you are always in its grasp. Fully there for me whenever I hear keys rattling or smell cigarette smoke.”

Handkerchief in hand, she rubs sweat from the back of her neck. As she recounts the horrific details of her torture, tears begin streaming down my face. The room of 500 or so is very still. Finally, she can take it no longer and asks our forgiveness for a moment and steps down to her chair. Everyone exhales and prays for her, I am sure. She holds her face in her hands and tries to calm herself down sufficient to continue.

We wish she didn't have to.

For the next hour she confirmed our worst nightmares about torture, the evil governments (ours particularly) inaugurate, and described the responsibility she now bears in having to share her anguish. We learn that the man apparently in charge of the rebels who tortured her was an American agent working for our government in Guatemala.

One of the last things her torturer told her was “No one will care!” Her solution was to form www.tassc.org. And, to “Speak truth to power.” at evenings like this one.

In closing she asked us, “For all that so many of us have suffered, and the thousands who are suffering at this moment: “Where is the outrage?”

Her question still resonates.

If we allow Sister Ortiz's experience, and the so many others we learn about, to slip quietly into the past, aren't we like the thousands of German citizens who, when questioned about the genocidal atrocities comitted by their government, said, "We didn't know what that smell was."

I am adding this anecote to this piece: it was written by Sister Ortiz on Easter Sunday 2005:

"For those of us who are both Christians and survivors of
torture, Good Friday has an additional meaning. It is
but one more reminder that for the tortured, every day
is Good Friday-in the sense that during every day of the
year, there are those who hang on one government's cross
or another, tortured as was Jesus 2000 years ago.

>From that day to this, governments that torture have
justified what they do, saying 'What we have done is
only what we had to do.' Rather than calling it
torture, we are assured that what is done-whatever it
is-is "for the protection of the state, the protection
of you, the people.' If questioned closely, we are
assured that, 'There is no blood on our hands.' If there
is blood-that is, if it cannot be denied that blood has
been spilled-then it is not the leaders who spilled it
but, only those on the lowest levels from whom such
barbaric acts may be expected.

So it has been for a long time, and so it is today. Our
leaders attempt to keep secret what they do. When they
are caught, they claim that what they do is not what
they do-that is, they lie. When they cannot deny what
was done, they blame others-those far from them,
'hillbillies' and 'bad apples'- intentionally using code
words to imply, 'They are not like us. What can you
expect from those with no culture?' It is as if what
happened on that Friday so long ago was caused by a few
Roman bad apples, low-level soldiers, standing around
the cross, acting on their own to produce that death
agony taking place there.

In this, the holiest time in the Christian calendar,
what might we ask our leaders? What might we ask that-
although they will not give it- is within their power to
give?

In the spirit of Easter, might we at least hope for a
resurrection of truth from President George W. Bush and
those who work for him? Instead, what we hear is
something like: 'Renditions occur, it is true, and
indeed to countries that torture. But we make sure to
ask them if they intend to torture this particular
person and they say, 'No, of course not.' And we, of
course, believe them." We are asked to accept this type
of statement as truth. Donald Rumsfeld certifies
procedures which are plain and simple torture (not
abuse), yet he meant them to be used only in Guantánamo-
not in Iraq, for heaven's sake. He is not responsible
for what happened there. It's those bad apples. All
agree they must be punished, and they are. No blood on
Rumsfeld's hands." Sister Dianna Ortiz, 2005