June is Torture Awareness Month, a time for each of us no matter where our residence on Earth, to examine the torture that exists around us and in institutions. The National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) highlights this year’s theme as “Healing a Culture of Torture,” encompassing the need to reflect, pray, and act about the deep physical and spiritual harm caused by torture. Additionally, twenty-five years ago the United Nations Committee Against Torture (CAT) assembled for the first time in Geneva, Switzerland, to provide effective monitoring on the implementation of the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT).

NRCAT materials state that, “torture is illegal, immoral and counterproductive. It is always wrong. Torture wounds the soul of the perpetrator, the victim, and inflicts great moral harm on our society. Yet, a recent poll showed that almost half of respondents accept torture as either sometimes or always justified (pollDecember 2012). Healing a culture of torture requires us, as people of faith, to truly embody our common belief in the inherent dignity of each human being by ensuring that torture never happens again. One way to do that task is to learn the facts about torture.”

  • Pause a moment and reflect upon where torture exists. 
  • What do I know about torture in my country? What facts come to mind and heart?
  • What do I know about the “average” prison in my country?
  • Where might torture be endorsed in society?
According to NRCAT, “with just five percent of the world’s population, the U.S. accounts for 25 percent of the worlds incarcerated and the vast majority of all prisoners are held in long-term solitary confinement. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, over 80,000 people in the U.S. criminal justice system are held in some form of isolation.”

In the U.S., Guantanamo Bay is one of those places of isolation for many. According to a factual sheet from NRCAT, a bipartisan “Task Force concluded that the United States indisputably engaged in torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment (CID) of 9/11 detainees in violation of U.S. and international law and for which there was no justification. Guantanamo Bay was at the epicenter of the U.S. torture program, with detainees subjected to myriad forms of torture including water boarding, sleep deprivation, sexual degradation, sensory deprivation, induced hypothermia, and solitary confinement.”

  • What do I know about the short-term and long-term effects that can result from isolation or solitary confinement?
  • What might I do to learn more about these effects?
  • What apparent biases exist in who the victims tend to be?
As Catholics, the period of days called Triduum offers us an opportunity to reflect upon torture as it relates to Jesus’ life. Jesus experienced prison and death as a prisoner of conscience. There were those who plotted against and betrayed him as friend. He was tortured, beaten, humiliated, and sentenced to an agonizing death.
  • What insights from Jesus’ experience of torture do I have as a result of this reflection?
  • What action(s) do I feel called to as a result of walking the way of the cross with Jesus?
Reflections/Actions:
  • Has my country ratified the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT)? 
  • The World Organization Against Torture (NGO) has international information on torturehere  
  • Ideas, activities, and prayers for Torture Awareness Month are located here.  
  • A prayer for those being detained in Guantanamo Bay is here.  
  • U.S. citizens are invited to urge President Obama to release the senate intelligence report on CIA torture is here.
  • A Guantánamo Bay Detention Center Fact Sheet is here.
  • U.S. citizens are invited to sign a petition to close down Guantanamo Bay is here and may be downloaded for community signatures here