June is Torture Awareness Month

Chaldean Father Douglas Bazi holds a shirt he wore while enduring torture as a hostage in Iraq in 2006 during a conference at the United Nations April 28. (CNS/Gregory A. Shemitz)

Chaldean Father Douglas Bazi holds a shirt he wore while enduring torture as a hostage in Iraq in 2006 during a conference at the United Nations April 28. (CNS/Gregory A. Shemitz)

Sunday is the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture as declared by the United Nations.

It’s one day during Torture Awareness Month to remember people who have been confined and beaten or tortured because of their political involvement, their religious beliefs, their writings or actions in war.

It’s also a day to remember that torture is illegal under international law.

Torture remains illegal under United States law as well, having been officially outlawed by Congress after it was revealed that the U.S. military and the Central Intelligence Agency had conducted or authorized “enhanced interrogation techniques” early in the Iraq War.

Despite the law, some members of Congress would like to overturn the ban and that concerns the Rev. Ronald Stief, a United Church of Christ minister who is executive director of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, of which the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is a supporter.

No one should undergo torture, he told Catholic News Service.

“It’s important to remember that in the middle of all these policy fights that these are real people, they’re survivors and we need to keep them in in mind and pray for them,” he said.

Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, takes the same stance in the USCCB’s “To Go Forth” blog. He reiterates Catholic teaching in calling for an end to all torture.

“In his 1993 encyclical, ‘Veritatis Splendor’ (‘The Splendor of Truth’), St. John Paul II included physical and mental torture in his list of social evils that are ‘intrinsically evil.’ The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church says the prohibition against torture ‘cannot be contravened under any circumstances,'” Bishop Cantu wrote.

He reminds readers that torture debases human life and violates the principle of respecting basic human dignity, the blog says, adding, “Torture also degrades the moral fiber of any society that tolerates or sponsors it. Accepting torture undermines respect for everyone’s human rights and human dignity.”

Bishop Cantu is not alone in his opposition to the use of torture. Practically, military and intelligence officers have said, torture in its various forms has failed to yield solid information as victims offer what can be perceived as valuable information just to escape additional torture actions.

In addition, the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition is marking Torture Survivors Week June 22-26. Programs include a daylong seminar at The Catholic University of America today followed by a day of advocacy on Capitol Hill Thursday.

Now in its 19th year, the program has served to shed light on the practice of torture through the eyes of victims from around the world who have found refuge in the United States.

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