A Gallery of Torture

June 21, 2011

By Aquib Yacoob, Student Area Coordinator for New York

Last Monday afternoon, I joined my fellow students from Townsend Harris High School’s Amnesty International chapter, lining the steps of the Queens Library Flushing Branch in silent protest of the use of torture by the US government and standing in solidarity with torture survivor, Maher Arar.

Our hour-long demonstration captured the attention of passersby as we stood – blindfolded and dressed in orange prison suits – surrounding a life size imitation of the prison cell where Maher Arar spent almost a year of his life.

June is torture awareness month, and to advocate against the illegal, and immoral use of torture by the US government, and governments around the world, I’m organizing two “Torture Galleries” around New York City. The aforementioned was the first of two demonstrations calling on President Obama and Congress to investigate and prosecute US torture, and to apologize to torture survivor Maher Arar; a call to courage to reinstate the values that once made the United States the great nation it was known to be.

The use of torture is a grave abuse of human rights, and flies in the face of international and local statues ranging from the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights to the United States Constitution.  Torture is an immoral, dehumanizing form of interrogation, one that has for thousands of years been proven unsuccessful, and ineffective. It is difficult to understand why, here and now in the 21st century, we still practice these draconian acts against humanity. It is time we stand up and end this vicious cycle.

I became motivated in the fight for justice after learning of the great abuses of human rights and human dignity in the name of our “war on terror”. Basic security has been denied to countless people around the world in what was supposed to be an attempt to protect our security. That’s just not right; no one human should be valued over another. I heard the call for action with the launch of the Human Rights Ambassador Challenge for Torture Awareness Month. It didn’t take much of an effort to motivate my student group to stand up and call for justice.

My Townsend Harris High School student chapter of Amnesty Intentional, a group of approximately 35 activists, answered the call after learning what it meant to be a victim of torture. I shared with them the horrifying ordeal faced by Maher Arar, one of many torture survivors, and it led them to the harsh realization that torture, by any other name, is still torture. After viewing a few videos from Amnesty International’s 2008 “Unsubscribe Project”, the students were convinced that treatment of this sort was not suited for any living creature, and they were convinced that we need act in hope of changing this vicious practice.

Encouraged and renewed by their newfound passion for the fight against the use of torture, I began planning what was to then be my last (of many) social justice actions with my Townsend Harris Amnesty Chapter, which I’ve led for the past three years. The action was to take the form of a simple, silent line demonstration outside of the Flushing Library. After contacting Zeke Johnson, the Campaigner of the Security with Human Rights Campaign in search of orange prison suits, I was informed that the SWHR team was also looking to host a torture awareness demonstration. We decided to pool our resources and work together to coordinate a larger, more demonstrative event on the 26th of June, International Day in Support of Victims of Torture; and so, our “Gallery of Torture” was underway.

I hope you join my Townsend Harris High School chapter, along with several other Amnesty International student chapters from New York in Union Square Park this Sunday, June 26th, as we demand justice and call for accountability for the use of torture, including for torture survivor, Maher Arar.

Interested in hosting your own event? Contact [email protected]