A Time for Vigilance | The Center for Victims of Torture

A Time for Vigilance

Monday, October 16, 2017

Curt Goering, CVT executive director, gave this speech at the CVT Restoring Hope Breakfast – October 12, 2107.

Good morning everyone. I’m Curt Goering, executive director at CVT.

Thank you, Elizabeth Mbatha Muli. Your courage and determination inspires us all. Survivors reaching our center in Nairobi are so fortunate they find you there.

And thank you very much, Kerry Kennedy. From the time, years ago, when we shared an office at Amnesty in Washington, DC – right through today – you have been one of the most consistent, you have been one of the most thoughtful, you have been one of the most eloquent and  credible voices for human rights in the world.

Your efforts have been transformational for untold numbers. You not only continue your father’s legacy; you’ve created an amazing legacy of your own.

And a special thank you to Vice President Mondale, who was not able to be here with us today. When he was in office, the world also faced a massive refugee crisis.  At that time, he rallied the country. He galvanized the entire world. His words are historic and poignant today.

He said, “Let us honor the moral principles we inherit.”

“Let us do something meaningful - something profound - to stem this misery. We face a world problem; let us fashion a world solution.  History will not forgive us if we fail. History will not forget us if we succeed.”

That, friends, is true statesmanship and moral leadership. 

Thank you Atomic Data and Jim Wolford, our presenting sponsor. You’ve shown outstanding generosity, and, along with all our sponsors today, you continue the amazing tradition of corporate philanthropy in this community. You show—all our sponsors show – that values do have meaning.

And thank you – all of you – for being here today for the eighth annual Restoring Hope breakfast.

As we gather today, we face deeply unsettling times. We face disturbing trends at a global level which threaten human rights protections (protections so painstakingly built over the years).

We face politics of exclusion. We face populism on the rise.

The role of our own government is deeply unsettling: Unsettling about climate change; unsettling about refugees; unsettling about human rights.

Executive Orders. Travel bans. Policies of cruelty. Policies which attack fundamental human decency and basic human dignity.

In this environment, we face an unprecedented challenge to fulfill our mission to rebuild the lives and restore the hope of survivors – whether at our domestic clinics in Minnesota and Atlanta, Georgia, or at our clinics in the Middle East and Africa, where survivors have fled unimaginable abuses in countries from Eritrea to South Sudan and Somalia, from Syria to Iraq.

Today, that mission becomes harder.

In this environment, the work we do to build the rehabilitation movement by strengthening the 39 colleague centers in the U.S. and ten more internationally by providing specialized clinical training and technical assistance – today, that mission is much harder.

In this environment, the support we provide to international human rights defenders through our New Tactics in Human Rights program – today, that mission is harder—and riskier.

In this environment, our work in Washington – advocating for transparency, reform and accountability after the CIA torture program post-9/11, and to make sure federal funds are allocated to sustain torture survivor centers worldwide – today, that work is much harder.

Yes, today our work is much harder.

But we have good momentum.

In spite of how much more difficult our work has become, last year, through these combined efforts, CVT touched the lives of 50,000 torture survivors and 200,000 or more family members. After people have survived the most extreme cruelty the human mind can devise -- we are part of their extraordinary journey of healing.

But momentum is not enough. 

Not only is the political climate more difficult, the need has never been greater. We’re facing the worst global refugee crisis since WWII, with over 22 million people forced to flee their country.

We know that up to 44% of refugees in the U.S. are survivors of torture. That’s 1.3 million, or one out of every 249 people in this country. So the refugee crisis is also a torture crisis.  And we have our hands more than full.

Today’s challenges call us to do more:

To further strengthen our work against torture.

To rebuild the lives of more survivors.

To be more creative in addressing the challenges.

But these times demand even more.

These unsettling times demand that CVT be a beacon of moral leadership, be a beacon of hope,

be a beacon of respect for human rights and human dignity.

For more than 30 years, CVT has been working every day with survivors of torture. We know the devastating consequences for individuals and families and communities.

Here in the United States, we now have a commander in chief who is “torture advocate-in-chief.” A president who openly, repeatedly and aggressively asserts his support for the use of torture. Here’s what President Trump has said:

“I’m going to bring back waterboarding and a helluva lot worse.”

“We’re going to have to do things that are unthinkable.”

“Torture works. It absolutely works. If it doesn’t work, they deserve it anyway.”

It’s unfathomable that statements advocating such shameful human rights violations came from our nation’s highest office.

When people claim that torture demonstrates that we are tough, that the U.S. is invincible, they have not looked at the consequences our country has suffered as a result of our use of torture. When we tortured detainees in the past, the United States strengthened the resolve of our adversaries, and created new ones. When torture is used, it puts the United States in the company of human rights violators whose actions we deplore and condemn.

What does it say when the president condemns the torture of a U.S. student by North Korea one day, and then advocates torture himself the next? 

It says, now is a time for vigilance.

I think it’s pretty clear that if there is another terrorist attack in the U.S., President Trump will be back at it with his aggressive calls to bring back waterboarding and “a helluva lot worse.”

We must keep watch.

The president has also introduced discriminatory bans on immigrants and refugees, and dramatically cut U.S. refugee resettlement numbers—from 110k last year to 45k this year.  These actions are inexcusable, driven by xenophobia and racism cloaked in bogus national security and cost arguments.

45k out of 22M. That’s about one-fifth of one percent, for people who have been forced to flee persecution, war and violence. We have to do better.

Most of you know that refugees are already the most heavily vetted entrants to the United States. The evidence shows—and it’s not fake news—that refugees enrich our communities. They benefit our economy.  And because refugees, by definition, have fled for their lives, they desperately need, and deserve, our support. It is simply unconscionable that, with a refugee crisis of historic proportions, the United States is choosing instead to turn them away.

So we must be vigilant, and we must fight back:

Fight back against the policies of cruelty.

Fight back against the policies of discrimination.

Against the collapse of our moral authority.

We must continue to expose the truth about torture, and to work for transparency, reform and accountability.

We must seek justice for the millions of torture victims around the world, sending a clear message to those who think they can torture with impunity.

And all of you in this room are an important part of this struggle.  A part of that fighting back.

At a time when we gather to reflect upon some of humanity’s darkest moments, we also gather to celebrate some of humanity’s finest hours.

As I look around this room, I know it is people like you here today who represent the best of humanity.

You, our supporters, are at the center of what we do. CVT depends on financial contributions to carry out our life-changing and life-saving work, here in the U.S. and in our projects overseas.

At the end of our time together this morning you’ll be asked to consider a contribution. This morning we hope to raise $500,000.  So as you hear the remarkable stories of survivors, I hope you’ll think about how your gift, combined with those of everyone in this room, will make a difference—truly a world of difference--in the lives of people who’ve suffered in ways we can scarcely imagine. 

By working together, we can make this happen.

Together, we can rebuild more lives.

Together, we can stop torture and heal its wounds.

Together, we can be—we must be--that moral beacon. 

Together, we can care about the victims today.  Together we can preserve humanity tomorrow.

“History will not forgive us if we fail. History will not forget us if we succeed.”

Thank you for being our partners in healing.

Thank you for your generosity. 

Thank you for your compassion. 

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