Malkhut / kingdom / Shekhinah: the final week of the Omer
"My mouth is a kiln / for smelting Torah..."

Torture awareness

June is Torture Awareness Month, at least in the minds of several religious and human rights organizations in the United States. This June, Rabbis for Human Rights-North America (RHR-NA) and the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) encourage congregations and religious organizations to focus on the need for accountability for U.S.-sponsored torture which has been taking place since September 11, 2001. (Learn more at the webpage June 2011 - Torture Awareness Month on the RHR-NA website.)

The RHR website features a variety of resources for those who want to help spread awareness of torture. Probably the most powerful of those resources, for me, is the Misheberach Prayer for Victims of Torture [pdf].The misheberach is the prayer for healing of body, mind, and spirit which is part of our regular liturgy; because this prayer is crafted as a variation on that familiar theme, it connects the idea of torture (and the healing which that trauma necessitates) with the prayers for healing we're already saying.

The pdf features the prayer in Hebrew and in English. Here's the English translation of the prayer, which was written by Rabbi Gilah Langner:

May the One who blessed our ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Leah, be filled with compassion for all victims of torture. May the Holy One send a healing of body and a healing of soul to those who have suffered torture, whether at the hands of agents of our own country or at the hands of others. May those who engage in torture cease and desist, and turn away from this path that corrupts their souls and debases the Great Name of God. May we never remain silent in the face of torture, and may we heed the words of Your Torah, "You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the heart of the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt." By our prayers and actions may we attain forgiveness for what we have allowed to occur. May we be worthy to do good deeds in Your eyes and for Your Presence to return to our midst. And let us say Amen.

I'm most struck by the line "By our prayers and actions may we attain forgiveness for what we have allowed to occur." I doubt I will ever be in a position to actively step in and prevent an act of torture -- but by my willingness to turn a blind eye to the reality that the government of my nation has condoned the use of torture, I'm complicit in allowing the torture to happen. 

This is not something I usually think about. Back in 2008 I blogged the conference session Beyond Guantanamo: Ending US-Sponsored Torture (at that year's Rabbis for Human Rights conference) but since then I've allowed the subject to recede from my consciousness. As, I think, most of us do.

Drafting a post about this, even a post which calls into question my own willingness and ability to look the other way, is easy. Actually taking action to end the use of torture is harder. I'm not sure what I can do which will actually make a difference. But recognizing that torture does happen at American hands, and decrying that torture in the strongest possible terms, seems like the first step.