Once upon a time, there was a taxi driver named Dilawar who lived in Afghanistan. He had just gotten a new car, and he was very excited to start driving customers to earn more money for his family. However, on his very first day, Dilawar and his first three passengers were abducted. Taken from one armed group to another, Dilawar eventually found himself in a torture center. Reels of barbed wire made up two sides of the cell where his wrists were chained high above his head to the ceiling. Guards woke him up whenever he finally succumbed to sleep. He was stripped naked, humiliated, and subjected to increasing abuse when he couldn’t give the information his captors demanded. After five days of crying out for his family and protesting his guilt, the guards had had enough — they pulled Dilawar from his cell and took turns kicking at his upper legs until his thighs were completely pulverized. Without the immediate medical attention he desperately needed, Dilawar died.
This is a true story.
Dilawar’s guards and tormentors were American soldiers.
As participants in the IHL Action Campaign, we work to change this mindset and acceptance of torture that has become ingrained in our society since the events of 9/11. I’m not going to lie – this work is hard. There was more than one occasion where I had to sit down and take a moment to collect myself. My team at Bradley University started working in early June 2014 and went all-out in the fall to produce a research project; then, on top of that, we created an IHL Action Campaign this past spring. I’ll admit that there were points throughout the year when I wanted to just throw my hands up in the air and say, I’m done.
Yet each time things got tough, I was reminded that I had the best support group I could ask for through my team members and our liaison. Ever. Period. No arguments. I couldn’t give up on IHL or myself because these people weren’t ready to give up on me. They reminded me what we were doing this for, what the Campaign was about, each time I started feeling frustrated. I learned to change my mindset and remember this bigger picture. I treasured each moment that our team felt like a team, a group of people there for the sole purpose of helping each other achieve a common goal.
When I look at what each team has done, I’m proud of each and every member of the IHL Action Campaign. We are not multiple teams, but one organization, working together to change the mindset of our family members, future leaders, politicians, and soldiers. Those American soldiers who tortured Dilawar to death grew up in a nation that had normalized torture in the name of security. They grew up in a culture where Jack Bauer was quoted and idealized by politicians. They grew up in a place that disregarded the Geneva Conventions that they should have followed.
It’s high time that we’re working to change that.
I look forward to seeing everyone in DC this weekend at the 2015 IHL Action Campaign Youth Leadership Summit.
– Livi L., IHL Action Campaign Team Leader, Bradley University
* The thoughts and opinions in this blog post are solely that of the author and in no way reflect the thoughts and opinions of the American Red Cross or any of its affiliated organizations. Information in the post is taken from Alfred McCoy’s “Torture and Impunity” and Alex Gibney’s “Taxi to the Dark Side.”