Torture too Familiar to Long Island Immigrants

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The Senate report on the CIA's use of torture was a nightmarish flashback for those of us who have worked with Long Island’s own torture victims.
The Senate report on the CIA's use of torture was a nightmarish flashback for those of us who have worked with Long Island’s own torture victims.

The Senate report on the use of torture by the CIA was a nightmarish flashback to horror for those of us who have worked with Long Island’s own torture victims. Hundreds of Long Islanders were victims of torture in their homelands in Central America during the 1980s and 1990s. In my long experience of working with these men and women, many have said that they heard Americans speaking to their interrogators in the interludes between when they were tortured.

Torture was placed off-limits for Americans by the Lieber Code, America’s first comprehensive set of Laws of War, issued by President Lincoln in 1863. Francis Lieber, a German immigrant who taught at Columbia University Law School, wrote the military code that bears his name. The Lieber Code banned torture both for the damage it did to its victim and to the torturer. According to Lieber, torture turned the torturer into a savage.

Under modern law, torture is banned for all uses by the Convention Against Torture. It is illegal to use torture for any purpose. I read the relevant sections of the Convention Against Torture to my law students every year so that they can never deny that they knew it is illegal.

Over the years I have worked with many torture victims here on Long Island. I recall one man who was kept awake for nearly a month. Every time he fell asleep, ice water was thrown on him. Another, a teenager, was hooked up to a car battery and shocked whenever his interrogators did not get the answer that they wanted. All the torture victims I represented told me that after a while, they just said anything that would make the pain stop.

Long Island’s immigrant targets of torture could have told the CIA that torture does not work.

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Patrick Young blogs daily for Long Island Wins. He is the Downstate Advocacy Director of the New York Immigration Coalition and Special Professor of Immigration Law at Hofstra School of Law. He served as the Director of Legal Services and Program at Central American Refugee Center (CARECEN) for three decades before retiring in 2019. Pat is also a student of immigration history and the author of The Immigrants' Civil War.

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