On this evening of an unusual event at the Church in Ocean Park, the music played by Jose-Luis Orozco and Peter Dudar and the tamales provided as refreshments were reminders of the good life we take for granted. The main theme of the evening was a subject that the media refrains from talking about: the international use of torture.The joint presentation by School of the Americas Watch-L.A., Palisadians for Peace, and the Church in Ocean Park featured talks by survivors of torture who are now working with anti-torture groups to raise awareness of this unforgivable activity and to bring the perpetrators of torture to justice.Demissie Abebe, executive director of TASSC (Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition International), told of working in his native Ethiopia as an accountant for an agency that provided aid to disaster victims. Abebe found discrepancies in the agency’s finances, evidence that funds were being misappropriated. When he tried to bring the inconsistencies to the attention of his superiors, he was arrested, tortured, and imprisoned. He managed to escape, first to Kenya, then to the U.S. where he now lives in Washington D.C.TASSC is the only organization run by torture survivors, says Abebe. He volunteered for 2 1/2 years and became the director of the organization, which includes a speakers’ series. Abebe has met with President Obama, who “promised us that he would support our [upcoming] June 26 vigil against torture.”Keynote speaker Patricia Isasa is from Argentina, where a military dictatorship ruled from 1976 to 1983. At the time of the 1976 coup, Isasa was a bright high school student who was already involved in activism. She was abducted and imprisoned “in three concentration camps,” where she was tortured.In a sequence from the documentary on torture Under the Hood, Isasa described her ordeal in detail. She was stripped of her clothes, tied down to a metal bed frame, and given electric shocks. “My body was young,” she said, in explanation of her physical survival. But she remembered that the worst part was that her torturers laughed at her.Isasa eventually escaped and went to work compiling complaints to be presented to the Inter-Commission on Human Rights. Again she was abducted and imprisoned, along with 30 other men and women, and was one of only four who survivedIsasa has continued to work tirelessly to collect evidence and documentation in order to bring her torturers to justice. Although the dictatorship in Argentina is gone, she still receives death threats. But she is not giving up and says she expects to testify in her case this summer.Why does torture happen? “Usually the excuse is they want to get information,” says Isasa. “Of course you won’t get information by torturing one person. Because if someone kidnaps you, puts you in a clandestine jail, ties you to a metal bed, and says ‘Did you kill Kennedy?’ you will say ‘no’ but then you will say ‘yes’ because you will want them to stop the pain.”Isasa, Abebe, and the other two torture survivors in the program, who spoke in Spanish with a translator, strongly condemned the use of torture in all countries, reminding us that torture continues and that even the United States has been guilty of this offense.For more information on organizations against torture, go to soaw.org and tassc.org.
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