By Barbara Zelter
Hello, out there! It is a few weeks before the Nov. 8 election, and aren’t we all in head-spinning mode as we anticipate results? So it is the perfect time for me to write about torture, right?
Well, actually, it is. U.S. Senator Richard Burr, my federal representative, is up for reelection, and he is the man who in his Intelligence Committee role has refused to release the report that explains how my country has used torture as a tool in the so-called War on Terror.
I write as a social worker, community organizer, former nonprofit director, Forward Together/ Moral Monday activist, regular over-busy person, mother, and now teacher of upcoming social workers and organizers. I have been involved with NC Stop Torture Now (NCSTN) for a long time, and I am thrilled we now have a Commission of Inquiry on Torture in place.
The reasons I support the Commission have to do with the color YELLOW: Yellow Ribbons, Yellow Politicians, and Yellow Sunshine.
Yellow Ribbons (and my nephew Chris): Remember all those yellow ribbons on trees back during the first Gulf War, and on decals on cars? We support our troops! Will someone please tell me how my family member currently serving with the United States military is safer due to our use of torture against our “enemies?” Say my nephew Chris gets captured by someone whose friend, family member, or countryman was tortured at the hands of Americans. Would the captors be more likely to question Chris by using the same horrific tribulations we used on them? We have NO moral high ground to prevent torture against our own troops if we ourselves have violated the Geneva Convention rules of war. Allowing a cover-up on our nation’s use of torture puts our troops and civilian workers in danger. That yellow ribbon is a useless piece of cloth, a moral sham, unless we back it up with a loud and clear ban on torture by Americans.
Yellow Politicians: I am beyond sick of the sheer yellow cowardice of a whole raft of NC legislators and other government and civic officials from localities right up to Washington, D.C., who have refused to deal with citizen concerns about using our tax dollars and NC facilities like the Smithfield airport for “torture taxi” operations. Their arrogant refusal to admit involvement with illegal use of torture in our names is inexcusable. If they really believe torture is terrific, let them say so. (A few actually do; one is running for president.) Which brings us to…
Yellow Sunshine, AKA a Spotlight: We need a brighter spotlight shed on facts already known: That torture is counterproductive, that innocent victims and their families are mentally ruined by nefarious interrogatory punishment, and that TORTURING OTHERS HARMS THOSE WHO DO IT… our own persons who perform torture suffer moral injury to their spirits and minds! I teach my students that progressive social change for equity and justice in American has ONLY occurred after everyday people persistently called for attention and action. Look what happened around clergy sex abuse when enough told their stories, came out into the light, and demanded action. The movie Spotlight told that story well. Change is possible. Enough of torturing, enough.
Let North Carolina be a light of civil but insistent inquiry, a model for others, as you and I and all who care about human rights support the NC Commission of Inquiry on Torture (NCCIT).
Barbara Zelter, MSW, MA, is a professor of social work and long-time community organizer/activist for a variety of social justice causes in North Carolina.