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Another Torture Memo

by  Michael Smith


Torture is abhorrent to each and every one of us, except sociopaths and psychopaths. Yet we have it in us, each and every one of us, at some point in our lives and given the right set of circumstances, to be a torturer.  Yale professor Stanley Milgram demonstrated in a series of studies some years ago that 80% of the participants would torture if commanded to do so and the willingness to torture was inversely proportional to the distance between the commander and the torturer (if the commander is standing shoulder to shoulder with you, you are more likely to obey the order to torture), and directly proportional to the distance between the torturer and the torturee (you are more likely to torture if torturing entails pressing a button to send an electric shock to your victim in the next room than you are to actually rip your victims fingernails out). This latter distance can be linear, racial, religious, sexual or cultural (the definition of distance is mine, not Dr. Milgram’s).

After the destruction of the twin towers on 11 September 2001, the mainstream media was full of opinions in favor of torture, given the right set of circumstances. The favorite set for the pontificating pundits was the ticking terrorist time bomb scenario in which the torturer realizes his potential because there is little time to make the terrorist confess where s/he placed the bomb that will kill thousands of innocent people. In this scenario, the torturee is a terrorist. That is a given. There is no question of innocence, of trial and conviction by a jury of peers. S/he is a terrorist, distant from us, less than human, inferior to us, the good guys, and we feel no sympathy, no empathy for the torturee. S/he deserves all the terrible things we, the torturers, do to her/him. And the torture is for the greater good. The torturer could save innumerable lives and property (we often throw property in to encourage the raging capitalists). To make the protected group more personal, because torture is by nature personal, we add to those thousands of innocent lives the kind of people we are genetically and culturally programmed to protect, grandmothers, sons and daughters and grandchildren, all of course innocent. In this scenario we find torture distasteful but are compelled to torture because there is so little time before the hidden bomb goes off. The clincher, the straw that breaks the terrorist’s back, is the undoubted fact that the torture will yield the information we need to find that hidden bomb and deactivate it.

Who would not torture given this set of circumstances? According to the mainstream media and many progressive thinkers, after 9/11 all patriots would torture under those circumstances.

Once we establish a set of circumstances that allows for torture, once we have thought the unthinkable, perhaps we should think some more. Under what other circumstances should it be permissible to torture? Much if not all of the torture committed in our name after 9/11 did not meet the ticking time bomb criteria. What criteria did it meet?

The prisoners at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and the secret CIA cells were held so long that there was no question of the ticking time bomb, there was no immediacy. We took the first slippery step down the slippery slope, and the next slippery step made torture permissible to prevent a potential bomb possibly exploding in the problematic future. Many of the prisoners at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo and at least some from the secret CIA cells were released because, after our torturers tortured them, our torturers realized that not only was there no ticking time bomb but many of the prisoners were not terrorists after all, merely people caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, people like us. So much for the certainty criterion, the question of innocence, the withholding of trial, and conviction before punishment. In the cases of those tortured and released, no lives or property were saved. As the torturees were not guilty, after we  release, we can sympathize, if not empathize, with them. As they were not terrorists they were not less than human, not inferior to us. Well, perhaps that’s going too far, after all, they were foreigners, people of a different color and a different religion. Still, we might even have gone so far as to apologize to them, some of them. We might say we feel their pain, but we really don’t. We don’t feel the physical pain they suffered or the mental pain that will haunt them the rest of their lives.

If there were no ticking terrorist time bombs, no lives or property saved, and the torturees not so guilty or distant after all, how do we justify that torture?

The legal question of whether torture is permissible under any circumstance has long been settled under international law, and the United States is a signatory to the  Convention Against Torture.

If the torture was illegal, then who was culpable? Who was most culpable? When a mafia boss orders a low level thug to beat someone, both the boss and the thug are culpable, but we say that the boss is most culpable and it is in the best interest of society to go after the top criminal. Just as a mafia don’s consigliere is supposed to give a certain legitimacy to the don, our top torturers asked their consiglieri to write opinions that would permit them to order torture legally and to redefine torture, so that they could claim that their favorite kinds of torture were not in fact torture. One consigliere’s torture memo stated that if the torture did not result in organ failure, permanent damage or death, then it wasn’t really torture. By this generous definition, inquisitors who ripped the fingernails out of accused heretics’ hands did not torture, after all, the nails would have grown back, had the accused heretic not subsequently been burned at the stake. Another torture memo stated that in time of war our top torture team leader was not bound by any “quaint” conventions prohibiting torture, and in any case, terrorists were not “high contracting parties” to the Coinvention Against Torture and we could torture them to our heart’s content.

Acting on the orders of our torture team leaders our low level torturers slammed prisoners against walls, hung them from ceilings, subjected them to boom box blasting, sleep deprivation, sexual humiliation, and waterboarding. As they were only obeying orders and as they were informed that those techniques were not torture, not legally, are our low level torturers culpable? That question was settled at Nuremberg. Still, law and morality evolve, despite what literalists believe. Can we make a case for the innocence of our low level torturers? Were they acting under duress, that is, were they forced to torture, or were they ignorant, that is, did they not now know and could not reasonably have known that they were torturing?

What would have happened to our low level torturers had they refused to torture, if they had said that they found this whole torture business distasteful and didn’t think it was morally or legally acceptable?  Would they have been shot, tortured or disappeared? The guards at Abu Ghraib might have been assigned more dangerous jobs, or, more likely, court-martialed for disobeying lawful orders. Or simply not promoted. Our CIA torturers and the medical professionals who told them how much the torturee could endure might have been transferred to some boring desk job, with a good salary and benefits. The duress exemption would not apply to them.

Neither can they claim ignorance. No matter what one of the Torture Memos said, our low level torturers are educated. Many have university degrees. All are computer literate. All could have googled “waterboarding.” I cannot say how many hits they would have gotten back in 2002 or 2003 when the torture began, but today there are 4,450,000, and I feel certain that back in the pre-torture days they could have reasonably been expected to learn that waterboarding was a common method of torture used in the Inquistion and Japanese officers were executed after World War II for ordering waterboarding.

Our torturers tortured knowing that in the past it had been illegal and, according to international law , was still illegal. They justified their torture using legal opinions that they surely knew or should have known were contrary to the law.

What about the culpability of our mafia dons and consiglieri who ordered and justified and redefined torture? They were not forced to order torture or write memos legalizing torture, and they were not ignorant – moral ignorance doesn’t count.

What shall we do with torturers and those who ordered/permitted/justified torture? Nothing? Do we want to ignore this whole repugnant history in the hopes that it will simply fade away? Does that make us complicit? Do we continue paying their generous salaries and benefits, their 30 days paid vacation every year, their complete medical coverage? Do we promote them, appoint them to federal judgeships, let them teach at prestigious universities. Do we want our torturers to walk into the golden sunset with comfortable retirement plans, all paid for by each and every one of us?

The Church—State Factor in the Defense of Marriage Act Equation

By Michael Smith

As Director of an Asylum Project, I see those fleeing from marriage and those who are prohibited from marrying. We represent women who have fled forced marriage, wife inheritance or domestic violence. Not only are forced marriage and wife inheritance forms of slavery, they can be death sentences in polygamous societies where AIDS is rampant. Domestic violence can be a long, slow death sentence, or a sudden one. We also represent clients who have suffered lifelong persecution on account of their sexual orientation and would like to marry, given the opportunity.

Many of our clients fleeing marriage, as well as our LGBT clients who want to marry are from very conservative religious backgrounds.

Although not religious, I work with religious people, which perhaps gives me a unique perspective on DOMA. The more fundamentalist religious communities argue that same sex marriages violate religious principles. While the anti-DOMAers argue that DOMA is a violation of the separation of Church and State.

That there is a separation of C and S is a comfortable myth. Although it was never our forefathers’ (our foremothers were not consulted) intention to create a Christian nation, our forefathers, while advancing the principal of separation of C and S, were so blinded by tradition that they did not recognize all the ways that C influenced the affairs of S. (Similarly, the Catholic kings failed to eliminate all Moorish influence from Spanish culture because they no longer recognized all that was Moorish.) We have since expanded our vision of society, not enough to realize that C and S are not separate, but enough to include Mosques and Temples in the definition of C in the C and S equation.
Islamic clerics (often simply pious Muslims), Rabbis, Preachers and Priests, all undoubtedly religious, exercise the right to marry couples in religious ceremonies, and these marriages bring State benefits to the couples in the form of tax relief, property rights, child custody rights, visitation rights and inheritance benefits. In other words, this religious rite yields state benefits: undeniably an intrusion of religion into the civil arena.

Buddhists, perhaps more concerned with spirituality than sexuality, generally believe that marriage is not a religious act, although monks can perform the ceremony.

Pious Muslims, Rabbis, Preachers and Priests perform many religious rites throughout the lifetime of their worshippers—naming ceremonies, coming of age rituals, and last rites (going out of age rituals)—that are not recognized by the state. Only state actors can sign birth certificates and death certificates. Religious actors cannot even legally undo marriages they have legally performed. Divorce is solely a state action.

Perhaps the solution to the battle over DOMA is to truly separate C and S. Religious actors can marry couples that meet their religious criteria, and those marriages should bring religious but not state benefits. The state can marry couples that meet its criteria and those marriages should bring state but not religious benefits. Those who want both religious and state benefits can have civil and religious ceremonies. If a religious person does not meet the criteria to be married in his or her religion, s/he should consider changing his or her religion, in both senses of the phrase.

Once we have truly separated C and S, all that’s left to fight over is a semantic question: marriage versus civil union. The pro-DOMAers want intellectual property rights on the word ‘marriage’ and the anti-DOMAers aren’t completely satisfied with the term ‘civil union.’ This is a reflection of modern society in which we religiously believe that words can be owned. If we used more words for a more complete description—Religious Marriage or Religious Union and Civil Marriage or Civil Union—everybody would get to use the words they want, except those of us who are neither married nor unionized.

Learning Ignorance


Learning Ignorance




Michael Smith


            We are born with certain instincts that increase our chances for survival: babies cry when they fall or scream when predators approach. We are born with the ability to learn, which also increases our chances for survival: our tree-dwelling forefathers and mothers learned enough about gravity to realize that falling out of trees was not the most satisfactory way to reach the ground; our cave ff’s and m’s learned that they got burned by sticking greedy hands into pretty flames.  

            Once survival seems certain, learning can help us improve the quality of life. We again learn about gravity as toddlers when we hold ice cream cones awkwardly and watch that delicious scoop of strawberry plop and splatter on the pavement. We learn to apply that knowledge when we realize that jumping off a tall building is generally not the most satisfactory way to get to the street because humans also tend to plop and splatter on the pavement. Our cave ff’s and m’s learned that cooking or smoking meat had certain health advantages, and modern adults learn, often too late because they had learned ignorance, that too many corn-syrup sweetened foods and drinks have certain health disadvantages such as obesity and diabetes.

            We learn individually and we learn communally. We learn on our own and we learn in school. How much an individual learns is limited by her ability, experiences and opportunities, and how much she needs and wants to learn. How much we learn communally has additional limits imposed by society: how much we need or want to teach.

            Learning is or should be a lifelong process and if we stop learning or using what we learned we lose a good deal of what we did learn. However, not everything we learn is useful throughout life. Many teenagers learn to solve quadratic equations, while as adults many cannot.

            When our hunter-gather ff’s and m’s learned agriculture and how to store a surplus, we began developing a class-based society with divergent interests. Once an upper class that controlled a lot of the surplus was formed, they learned that their best interests were best served by making the lower classes believe that their lot was to do the serving.  The upper class learned to protect their interests, while the lower classes learned ignorance. European aristocracy did not want a well educated population that might question the very structure of society and the unequal distribution of goods and services. The aristocracy decreed it illegal for slaves, serfs, laborers, commoners, and all classes of women to learn to read and write. However, the aristocracy wanted castles and carriages to take them to their country manors, and roads and bridges for their carriages; they wanted art to beautify their drab stone castles and entertainment for their long leisure hours. For these benefits they permitted a very small portion of the population to be educated. Many in that select group, what we today call Wanna-Be’s, jealously guarded their privileges and aligned themselves with the aristocracy in protecting slaves, serfs, laborers, commoners, and women from the evils of education. However, the s,s, l, c and w’s struggled and protested and struck and fought so that their sons, and sometimes even daughters, could become educated (the belief that daughters should not be educated is an all too common example of learned ignorance; although, I suppose that all forms of learned ignorance are all too common). Predictably, when a critical mass got educated, the aristocracy and their Wanna-Be’s lost privileges and wealth. Shortly after World War II, the United States, in perhaps the greatest move to educate the l, c, and w’s (emancipation eliminated the s and s classes from the equation), enacted the GI Bill that allowed returning veterans to attend institutions of higher learning.  After they graduated, the aristocracy, currently called the 1%, earned 10% of the national income, while leading up to and the leading cause of the Great Depression, the top 1% had earned 24%.

            GI Joe may have won the war and the fight to get educated but his grandchildren seem to have lost a lot of ground in their education and economic battles, and in 2007, leading up to and the leading cause of the second Great Depression, the 1% again earned 24% of the income. This is not quadratic equations and even adults should be able to comprehend why the economy crashed once again. However, at least 33% of our society has learned enough ignorance to suffer from phobias of phrases such as safety net or social justice or redistribution of wealth. Perhaps another 33% are too distracted to think about this equation or suffer from math phobia.

            During the first Great Depression, for a number of failed/fraudulent executives jumping off a tall building was indeed the most satisfactory way to reach the street, and Wall Street was stained with human remains, like so many scoops of splattered ice cream. During the second Great Depression failed/fraudulent executives were equipped with golden parachutes cannibalized from the safety net.

            How did this come about? How did we lose so much valuable ground? The 1% and the Wanna-Be’s have learned that education is a weapon of mass construction and their goal is to defuse and disarm it, employing various tactics, such as creating distractions, think racism, sexism, homophobia and xenophobia, preventing people in the l and c class from voting, defunding public education, and by teaching ignorance, an ignorance that leads to contempt for the educated.

            Distractions: Not all distractions can be blamed on the aristocracy. As Jon Carroll has written: “The internet gives us unlimited access to knowledge and unlimited access to stupidity.”  However, the 1% does fund, through grants, employment and salaries, a certain percent of the purveyors of stupidity. The aristocracy has a long tradition of using distractions such as creating hatred for those who are different and blaming them for our problems – the old divide and conquer strategy. In the antebellum South poor crackers fought and died to preserve slavery, a system that was certainly not in their best interests. The anti-intellectual descendents of those crackers continue to be distracted by racism. For them the most important plank in any political party’s platform contains the splinter that allows them to feel superior to dark-skinned people. Because Lincoln, a Republican, freed the slaves, they became Democrats. When the Democratic Party admitted a critical mass of dark-skinned humans, Nixon, in his Southern Strategy, spoke to the crackers in a code they were not too ignorant to understand, and they became Republicans. The code and the racist politics continue today. The recent earthquake that shook our nation’s capital, damaging the Washington Monument, might have been caused by Lincoln turning over in his grave.

            Sports, religion, sex, drugs, and rock and roll. There are so many distractions that in trying to list them, I have become distracted from what I wanted to say. Time to re-focus.

            Preventing people in the l and c class from voting: Our founding fathers prevented anyone who was not a land-owning white adult male from voting, that is, from participating in the governance of her/his society, which they ignorantly or ironically called a representative democracy.  After long and bloody battles, the s and s’s and native Americans, whether they owned land or not, got the vote, three Amendments and 50 years before the w’s. However, in the postbellum South, the aristocracy, Wanna-Be’s and crackers enforced poll taxes and literacy tests to prevent Blacks from voting. Now that we all have the vote, our modern aristocrats have learned that their best interests are best served by ensuring that a critical mass of non-aristocrats and non-Wanna-Be’s in critical battlegrounds lose or fail to exercise that right, just as the postbellum aristocracy did. However, in these modern times when the vast majority of people believe in and admire the myth that we have a representative democracy,  no politician or political party can publicly state that they do not want people to vote. Instead, they teach ignorance by shouting with great vehemence and conviction that they only seek to prevent [a phantom] voter fraud.

            Unlike those who have learned ignorance, the aristocrats and Wanna-Be’s, always aware of their best interest, have a consistent approach to politics: they want to prevent human beings from voting while ensuring that corporations have an unlimited voice in choosing who rules our representative democracy.
            Defunding education: When the military whines that it doesn’t have what it needs to win some foreign skirmish of dubious benefit, we increase defense spending. When the inept intelligence services failed to foresee the fall of the Iron Curtain and the disintegration of the Soviet Union, or stop the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, despite warnings, we increased the funding for the various intelligence branches. Our do-nothing or do-as-little-as-possible Congress has no shame when it comes to voting itself a raise, claiming, with straight faces, that the government could not get qualified people, which they, again with straight faces, purport to be, if we don’t pay them well. Yet, we do not pay teaches well. And, if an inner city school does not meet certain standards, we say that throwing money at the problem won’t solve it, and we close that troubled school. Like the medieval lords of the manor or plantation owners in the antebellum or even postbellum South, our aristocracy simply does not want certain portions of the population to become so well educated that they cannot be taught ignorance. The modern-day lords of the manor are interested in public education only insofar as it produces a workforce capable of maintaining the manors. At the end of the school day, they and their Wanna-Be’s do not send their children to public schools.

            Teaching ignorance: Teachers of ignorance have long been with us, and not all their teachings can be blamed on the aristocracy. Religious zealots tell us how their gods decree that society be structured, generally with the RZ’s in positions of power and influence, although some are personally humble. However, all RZ’s are religiously rigid in their ignorance. For instance, their belief that our world is only a few thousand years old and man, not to say woman, coexisted with dinosaurs cannot be shaken by the world of evidence to the contrary. RZ’s teach this ignorance to their followers who learn disdain for all scientific evidence that contradicts their belief system as well as contempt for the scientists and teachers who attempt to teach facts not faith. Teaching this kind of ignorance ensures the continuation of Religious Zealotry. Interestingly, many RZ’s claim to be literalists, yet have no trouble understanding and applauding politicians who speak in code about racism or preventing voter fraud. 

            While the 1% et al cannot be blamed for the RZ’s, they exploit them as a useful distraction. The RZ’s and company are generally single-issue voters, and their single issue usually ensures that the rich will inherit the earth.

            The 1% et al can be blamed for teaching other kinds of ignorance. For instance, in the global warming issue, educated scientists state that the world is getting catastrophically warmer and we should take preventive measures, but the 1% and those who have learned ignorance refuse to listen to what geeky scientists say. Or they find and finance crackpots to dispute the scientific consensus. To combat global warming might require major changes in our society, which the 1% and their Wanna-Be’s will use their vast resources to combat – the changes in society, not the global warming. 

            Learning ignorance does not increase our chances for survival or improve the quality of our lives. When multinational conglomerates convince people to over-indulge in corn-sweetened drinks, they are taking advantage of ignorance. When a sexual predator offers a child sweets, he hopes to take advantage of ignorance. When a financial predator offers a greedy adult a sweet deal that sounds too good to be true, he hopes to take advantage of ignorance. Even though once burnt, the greedy adult, having learned ignorance, will not have learned to recognize and fear financial predators.

            The most important lesson, and perhaps the most difficult to learn, is to be a critical learner, which is the best defense against learning ignorance.

            Whenever anyone in the United States brings up the subject of class or questions the structure of society, the aristocracy and their Wanna-Be’s call on their army of radio screamers, television blathering heads, newspaper screed writers, and bellowing bloggers to attack said bringer upper as a Marxist Communist Bleeding Heart Liberal Satanic Seducer whose views are beneath contempt. They bombard us with a barrage of untruths and half-truths. They shout with great conviction and vehemence that the U.S. is a classless society and if we have problems they are the fault of minorities and foreigners and if we don’t love our country as it is we should leave it.  That is teaching ignorance, and if you believe it you have learned ignorance. At least, that is my opinion. Think about it…critically.



Legitimate Rape

By Michael Smith

            Senatorial candidate Aiken’s legitimate rape statement was either profoundly ignorant or, because his facts were simply wrong, profoundly deceitful. He was campaigning against a rape exception in anti-abortion laws by arguing, contrary to fact, that a woman never or almost never gets pregnant from rape, and therefore there is no need for a rape exception. He might have gotten away with his ignorance or deceit,  after all he was talking to his base, true believers like himself who are opposed to sex education on the grounds that it encourages promiscuity and teenage pregnancy, but he went too far even for that audience when he used the term ‘legitimate rape.’ Many hard core Republican women were offended by that term because they understood it to mean that there is also ‘illegitimate rape.’ Can rape be legitimate or illegitimate? What did candidate Aiken mean by legitimate rape?

Did he mean non-consensual sex – which according to him does not result in pregnancy – as opposed to consensual sex in which the woman falsely claims to have been raped – and might well end up pregnant? Does he then believe that women often claim to have been raped when they consented?    And what will the Freudians thinks about the juxtaposition of the adjective ‘legitimate’ with the noun ‘rape.’ The word ‘legitimate’ is usually synonymous with ‘lawful’ and when not in a legal sense it can mean, according to Meriam Webster, “conforming to recognized principles or accepted rules and standards.”  Was Mr. Aikens saying that some rape is lawful or accepted?

Rape is a symptom of a world wide disease, patriarchy, and many rapists believe that they are acting according to “accepted rules and standards.” In many societies rapists can and do rape with impunity.

One study claims that nearly one third of indigenous (Mayan) Guatemalan women are victims of rape. I cannot say if that statistic is correct, but I have interviewed Mayan women raped by ladinos (non-indigenous), by the police or military (nearly always ladinos) or by indigenous men. Many were gang-raped by soldiers during the most recent genocide in the Americas. Many who worked as live-in domestics or as wage slaves on the large plantations in Guatemala or Chiapas, Mexico were raped by the ladino husbands or sons in the house or supervisors or owners of the plantations, patriarchs who believe that they have the legitimate right to rape the help, a 21st century extension of the medieval droit du seigneur (right of the lord). Before we North Americans feel smugly superior, we should remember that not long ago white male plantation owners in the American South believed they had the right to rape black slaves and wage slaves. These patriarchs have inherited the belief that women are property, that they are inferior, and women of another race more so.

However, race is not always a factor. Many Mayan men do not believe there is a difference between consensual and non-consensual sex. Some indigenous men – and women – see it as a kind of courtship. If a man likes a young woman and finds her alone and rapes her, she then belongs to him. This same man then believes that he has the right to continue raping “his woman” who is after all his property.

This caveman style of courtship is not as rare as so-called educated people in so-called civilized societies believe. It happens in many parts of the world where, when a man wants a particular woman, he simply takes her. And spousal rape seems to be universal. Because their wives said, ”I do” during the marriage ceremony, many husbands do not think spousal rape is rape. The women’s liberation movement in the U.S. and Europe brought much of that kind of ‘legitimate’ rape out of the shadows, and although condemned by many, I suspect that a great deal of it still occurs.

Forced child prostitution, forced marriage, selling of child brides, polygamy and female circumcision are also common in many parts of the patriarchal world, all accepted by their societies and therefore forms of legitimate rape.

Rape is also a tool of terror, a weapon of mass destruction, used against women and men. Rape is rampant in African countries such as  the Congo, where rebel or paramilitary groups, or Uganda, where the Lord’s Resistance Army, capture women and keep them as sex slaves until they die of disease or manage to escape.

Patriarchal societies view as legitimate the rape of LGBTs by heterosexual men. Heterosexual rapists do not believe that they are committing a homosexual act when they rape a gay man or effeminate boy. They believe they are punishing the homosexual for behavior that is not according “to accepted rules and standards.” Tribal leaders in countries such as Afghanistan, when away from their wives, rape young boys, and do not believe they are committing homosexual acts, which they abominate. The U.S. government supports this kind of legitimate rape by sending many billions of dollars to bribe those homophobic tribal leaders. Men rape lesbians, tomboys or independent girls in the belief that that is what they really want, or that rape – knowing a real man – will  make them into women, that is, to make them conform to “accepted rules and standards.” This myth is reflected/propagated in the macho movies: think of James Bond in “Goldfinger”; think of Clint Eastwood in “High Plains Drifter.”  The macho hero rapes a woman and she falls in love with him.

Patriarchal societies that condone rape also blame the victim. The woman, girl, man or boy asked for it or provoked the rapist by unacceptable behavior. To take the disease metaphor a little further, some societies think of a rape victim as someone who has been contaminated and must be isolated, that is, no longer fit for marriage or family life, and rape victims become outcasts and in many societies forced into prostitution.

The East Bay Sanctuary works with hundreds of victims of this terrible disease every year, and it is terribly clear that there is no legitimate or illegitimate rape. There is only rape. And rape is a disease from which the victims never completely recover. They have difficulty with intimacy, suffer from periodic headaches, insomnia, and nightmares. They suffer from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. They are everywhere, the walking wounded from the war on women or LGBTs.

Racism in Guatemala

By Michael Smith

Guatemala has the largest indigenous population in Central America and is the most racist country in the region. It is difficult for many people to come to grips with the extent of the racism in Guatemala. Much of it is overt and violent, much of it subtle and invisible.

The situation for Indigenous Guatemalans is similar to that of American Blacks in the south after the Civil War. Both are ostensibly free to live, work and study where they please, but the reality for Blacks was that they had to continue working on the plantations for starvation wages and could not live in white areas. Since Brown v. Board of Education it is no longer debatable that education was separate and unequal. In Guatemala, extremely limited employment opportunities force Indigenous Guatemalans to work on the large coffee and cotton plantations where they are abused by the supervisors and often cheated out of their starvation wages. Indigenous children are discouraged or prevented from going to school (according to a World Bank Report, the average school attendance for Indigenous children is 1.9 years).

White men raped Black women in the south with impunity, a throwback to the droit du seigneur of the Middle Ages. In Guatemala, ladino (the Indigenous term for non-indigenous people) men feel that they can rape Indigenous women with impunity, which they can, and do. Middle class ladino men rape their Indigenous housekeepers and ladino plantation owners/supervisors rape indigenous workers, a continuation of the latifundio system of the Spanish Middle Ages. The situation is even worse vis a vis the National Civil Police (PNC). As most members of the PNC are ex-military, the same group responsible for the genocide and over 90% of the human rights abuses during the terrible Civil War,  it should come as no surprise, that they are still human rights abusers as well as racists. To expect otherwise is to be blind to reality.

There is ample documentation of PNC abuses, including rapes, but as far as I know, the reports do not mention that the persecution is on account of racism.

The subtle effect of the racism, is seen in the human rights agencies where nearly all the workers are ladinos who seldom if ever go into Indigenous areas, which are often geographically isolated. I have visited three of the largest and most reputable agencies in Guatemala, GAM, CALDEH, and the Myrna Mack Institute and have spoken to their representatives in the United States. They universally admit that the situation might be bad in remote Indigenous areas, but they have different agendas, agendas that usually have to do with issues that primarily concern Ladinos. I do not wish to say anything bad about these agencies, because they do admirable and dangerous work. However, they are not concerned with current Indigenous problems. And because of the pervasive racism and mistrust, a ladino human rights worker from Guatemala City cannot go into a remote indigenous community and expect the people to trust and talk to her/him, just as unaccompanied whites could not go into Black communities in the South before and even during the Civil Rights Movement. This is precisely why there is a lack of documentation on continuing human rights abuses in Indigenous areas in Guatemala. The State Department Reports mention widespread discrimination and the extraordinarily high levels of violence in Guatemala, but fails to put these phenomena together. [Currently the State Dept is more concerned with drug trafficking which directly affects the United States].

Our office, the East Bay Sanctuary, has represented about 100 Indigenous Guatemalan clients a year for the past few years in asylum. I have personally interviewed more than 1,000 Indigenous Guatemalans, in the United States, in the refugee camps in Mexico and in Guatemala. I have testified in Immigration Court about 20 times as an expert on Indigenous Guatemalans. I have lived/studied and traveled in Guatemala. I am a friend of Amílcar Méndez, the founder of CERJ (Comunidades Etnicas Runujel Junam or Council for Ethnic Communities), one of the few human rights groups formed during the civil war that worked directly with the Indigenous peoples. When Rigoberto Menchú came to Berkeley, she always wanted to come to our office because she wanted to see her people. We even introduced her to several cousins she didn’t know she had. And I am proud to say that a Nobel Peace Laureate has given me several warm hugs.

Representing Indigenous Guatemalans before the Asylum Office or in Immigration Court presents unique challenges. There are 26 distinct Mayan languages in Guatemala, and often dialectical differences within a language. As many of our clients speak little Spanish and no English, we have to find interpreters to help us prepare the case and then to represent at the Asylum Office. The Immigration Court supplies its own interpreters. Most Indigenous clients are illiterate or only marginally literate, and do not understand the asylum process. Some Asylum Officers and Immigration Judges have great difficulty interviewing applicants who are uneducated and from a different culture. We send most of our clients to therapists/psychologists for evaluations. Many do not understand what a psychologist is and when an Asylum Officer asks if they had ever seen a psychologist the client is likely to deny it even though we have submitted a psychological evaluation. One officer seemed to believe that all Indigenous Guatemalans had cell phones and suggested that the client simply call her parents to ask for a supporting document. [We were able to obtain the document through other means].

Most Asylum Officers and Immigration Judges in the San Francisco Bay Area have sufficient experience and compassion to understand Indigenous Guatemalan cases and over 93% of our cases are granted. Some, however, require specific documentation to show continuing persecution of the Indigenous peoples of Guatemala, and have credibility issues with Indigenous applicants. Some seem to think that the situation has improved such that applicants no longer have a reasonable fear of persecution or would not other serous harm should they return.

Below are summaries of cases of persecution of Indigenous Guatemalans who were found credible by an Asylum Officer (AO) or Immigration Judge (IJ). I have not updated this since 2007, but we have had about 200 similar cases since that time, about 20 of which are cases of Indigenous people persecuted by thugs from large mining corporations. [If I ever get a couple of free days, I’ll update it].

Persecution is categorized by type of persecutor. Some categories overlap; for example, some rapes are committed by the military, police or security patrols. Most cases are from the municipality of Todos Santos Cuchumatán and its outlying villages.





PERSON A was murdered by two policemen outside his sister’s home on 30 October 2003.  A videotape of the murder has been submitted to the Asylum Office and copies of the forensic and police reports are attached. PERSON A was a Legal Permanent Resident of the United States and a teacher. His family supported the guerrillas and fled to the United States during the genocide. He returned to Guatemala shortly before he was murdered.




Another sister of PERSON A. The shooting took place outside her house. She ran outside when she heard the gunshots and saw the two policemen run away. They threatened her. ASYLUM GRANTED BY THE ASYLUM OFFICE


He was in the house when the police called PERSON A out and shot him. He went outside and bent over the body. He saw movement to the side and turned to look and saw the policemen. He ducked as they fired, wounding him in the shoulder. He appears in the video, at the police station. He identified the policemen at police headquarters and subsequently received threats and fled the country. ASYLUM GRANTED BY THE ASYLUM OFFICE


A cousin of PERSON A. He and his family fled to Mexico during the 1982 invasion of and massacre in Todos Santos. He returned to Todos Santos in October 2003. He and a friend, also from Todos Santos, who returned with him from Mexico, went to PERSON A’s wake. Late at night when they went outside to smoke, they were attacked by the police. PERSON E’ s nose was broken and his left arm dislocated. One of the policemen said they should kill him and his friend. Another said they should go back to Mexico. ASYLUM DENIED BY AO ON ONE-YEAR ISSUE, IN PROCEEDINGS.


A cousin of PERSON A. He and his family fled into Mexico during the invasion of and massacre in Todos Santos. He returned to Todos Santos in October 2003. He found relatives and stayed with them in a small village outside of town. He met his cousin, PERSON A. On or about 26 October he walked with PERSON A into town. People asked who he was. The next day, he walked back into town with his younger brother. The police stopped them and mentioned that PERSON F had been with PERSON A. The police said they were going to give them what they deserved and grabbed them.  PERSON F and his brother managed to escape and run away. ASYLUM GRANTED BY THE ASYLUM OFFICE


A cousin of PERSON A, she returned to Todos Santos after 15 years in Mexico. Police threatened to rape her sister, mother, and her because father had helped guerrillas. Police went to house several times in 2000 through 2002. Mother barricaded the door. A few weeks after the murder of her cousin, the police threatened her twice. She went to the Judge, but he laughed at her and called her crazy. ASYLUM GRANTED BY THE IMMIGRATION JUDGE



His parents disappeared during the war and he was raised by grandparents. His grandmother had fled to Mexico, but returned. She was a native healer and spiritual leader of the community.  In 2005, four men in blue uniforms, whom Tomas believes were policemen, entered the house, beat him, gang-raped his sister and destroyed the grandmother’s hut where she cured people. ASYLUM GRANTED BY ASYLUM OFFICE


After the invasion of Todos Santos, her father was forced to participate in the Civil Patrol. His gun was taken from him by the guerrillas and the army accused him of being a guerrilla. The family fled to Mexico where she began living with an abusive common-law spouse. She returned to Todos Santos in December 1996 while her father and the rest of her family went to the United States (where they were granted asylum). She lived alone with her children in a small village just outside Todos Santos. Her father sent her money through King Express, which had an office in Todos Santos.  In 2002 or 2003, just after picking up money from King Express, a group of gang members and one ladino (non-indigenous) went to her house and robbed her. She went to the police station to file a complaint. After leaving she recognized the ladino who had robbed her. He was standing outside the police station in a police uniform. A group of gang members and a ladino, all wearing masks this time, robbed her a second time after she picked up a check at King Express. The third time they came she did not have money; she had gone to King Express but her check had not arrived. They beat her savagely and threatened to kill her if she did not have money when they returned. They came a fourth time after she picked up a check. She fled through the back window with her children. ASYLUM GRANTED BY THE ASYLUM OFFICE


Before PERSON J was born, the soldiers entered his town and killed many people, including his uncle. His sister, who was a young girl, disappeared. The family fled to a remote hamlet where they lived for many years. When PERSON J was still young, his parents returned to their town to get some papers from the town hall. A policeman killed one of his younger brothers.  In October 2006, when PERSON J graduated from teaching college in the town of Huehuetenango, the police stopped him and his father, shouted ethnic slurs at them, and beat both of them so severely that they lost consciousness.  Because the police found out where mmmmm and his family lived during the graduation ceremony, they were terrified that the police would go to their village and kill them. ASYLUM GRANTED BY AO


PERSON K. is an orphan. His parents disappeared during the civil war and his sister and he were raised by grandparents. His grandmother was the village shaman, or healer. In 2005, shortly after the family moved to a new village, armed policemen in uniforms burst into their house. They had the family members’ names on a piece of paper. They beat PERSON K beat and raped his sister, and forced them to destroy the grandmother’s saints which she used during healing ceremonies. They threatened to finish everyone off when they returned.  ASYLUM GRANTED BY AO


Before PERSON L  was born his mother and grandfather gave food to the guerrillas. Later, the soldiers burned their house and took his grandfather away. No one ever saw him again. When PERSON L was 14, his mother began living with his stepfather, NAME. The stepfather treated him well and was the father he never had. They worked together in construction. When PERSON L was 17, two men, also Mam Maya, asked them to find a group of men on a list and take them to the two men’s house. They were afraid and did not do it. Shortly afterwards, ten men, including five policemen entered their village. They accused PERSON L  and his stepfather of being guerrillas because they did not want to help them. They beat them, leaving them for dead. ASYLUM GRANTED BY AO


Before PERSON M was born, his father was beaten for not joining the Civil Patrol and soldiers burned their house and beat and raped his mother and grandmother. While PERSON M was growing up his family had to move from place to place, often hiding in the mountains to avoid persecution. In 2005 and 2007 he was attacked by ladinos who were either soldiers or police – they said they were the law. Both times they said that they would kill him because his father helped the guerrillas.  ASYLUM GRANTED BY AO

  1. PERSON N: POLICE PERSECUTION 1999/2002/2007

Because PERSON N’s father supported the guerrillas, the police have persecuted PERSON N and his family. In about 1999, the police went to their house at night and beat him and his father. They fled Guatemala but returned. In 2002, the police came again and beat PERSON N and his father and raped his sister. PERSON N fled the country, but returned. In 2007, the police came again and beat him and his father and raped PERSON’s wife. ASYLUM GRANTED BY AO




O’s father went to guerrilla meetings and gave food to the guerrillas. In 1982, when O was 10, soldiers came to the house looking for the father. They killed his older brother and sister in front of him and locked O in a shed. O’s father released him and they fled to a remote village. In 2003, they returned to their home village. Shortly after, O’s father received a letter telling him to go to the town hall in Todos Santos. He was afraid and did not go. Several days later a large group of soldiers came to the house, asking for O’s father. When they learned that O was the son, they beat him to unconsciousness and told his wife they would return. ASYLUM GRANTED BY THE ASYLUM OFFICE


His father was forced to participate in the Civil Patrol. He missed patrol duty several times and was taken to the military base and tortured. When P was a young boy the soldiers often came to the house to look for the father. They terrorized the family. Once, in 1997, when they were beating his older brother, P tried to help and a soldier beat him. As the soldiers kept coming to his house for the next two years, P moved to another village outside Todos Santos. After April 2000, when a Japanese tourist was killed in Todos Santos, soldiers went to all the houses in P’s village, interrogating and terrorizing everyone. ASYLUM GRANTED BY THE ASYLUM OFFICE


Because his father missed turns in the Civil Patrol and because he was active in the church, the military persecuted the family. In 1985, they murdered his 6-year old brother. In 1999, they (presumably the military) disappeared his mother. Q became active in the church as a catechist and a member of the UNE political party. In March 2004, armed men in ski masks and green uniforms (presumably military) burst into the convent where a group of catechists were meeting. These men interrogated and threatened the catechists and beat Q:, knocking him unconscious. Later that same month a large group of armed men wearing ski masks and green uniforms stopped Q and his father in the street one night. They asked Q’s father where he had gone [when he had fled many years previously]. They took them to what used to be the Civil Patrol guardhouse, tied them and blindfolded them and drove them into the mountains. They were put in separate buildings. Q: was hung by his hands and tortured and beaten for three days. On the fourth day, they cut him down and beat him into unconsciousness. When he came to he was in a hospital. He was told he had been found beside the road where he had presumably been left for dead. ASYLUM GRANTED BY THE ASYLUM OFFICE


When R:was approximately 12 years old, soldiers invaded his village, Chicoy. They burned houses and killed many people. They also captured many people and took them away. R and his parents ran into the mountains where they hid for 5 days. Then they walked 6 hours to Unlaj, a small village in the mountains where they lived for 18 years. After 18 years, the family returned to Chicoy. A few months later, R’s father was ordered by the vice mayor to report to Todos Santos. He did not go because he was afraid that he would be accused of helping the guerrillas. Another vice mayor brought him a letter ordering him to report to the town of Huehuetenango. Again he did not go. One month later, soldiers arrived at the house. R’s father fled, but the soldiers beat R’s mother and R and threatened to kill them. ASYLUM GRANTED BY AO

 19.  S:  MILITARY PERSECUTION 1991-2004

Soldiers terrorized S nearly all his life, to the point that he began having nervous attacks, trembling and losing consciousness. When S was about five years old the soldiers came to the house. They took his father, sisters, and S out of the house. They beat S’s father with their rifles. S and his sisters screamed and cried, and the soldiers beat them. They also beat S’s mother who was pregnant, inside the house. The family fled to Mexico. When S was about seven, they returned to Guatemala. The soldiers continued to go to their house and church, threatened and beat them. Soon after they returned S’s father disappeared. S believes the soldiers took him away and killed him. The soldiers kept going to their house until they finally fled in 2004. DENIED BY AO, ONE YEAR DEADLINE



Because T’s family gave food to the guerrillas, the army persecuted them. When she was 17 years old soldiers went to the house looking for her father. They beat her mother and tried to rape her older sister in front of me. They hit T and threw her to the floor.  She landed on a machete cutting my left-arm and lost consciousness. She still has a scar. The soldiers threw them out of the house and forced them to leave our town, threatening to take them away if they stayed.  ASYLUM GRANTED BY AO


Before U was born, his father, mother and grandfather joined the guerrillas. After he was born, his family was forced to flee to a community in the mountains. When the soldiers attacked they fled to another community in the mountains, possibly a guerrilla camp and finally fled to Mexico. When Mexican Immigration deported U and his family to Guatemala, the soldiers detained them at the border, holding them for about three months. They beat and murdered U father. They beat U, knocking him unconscious. When they finally released the rest of the family, they went to U’s parents’ former village. Patrollers threatened them and neighbors harassed them and they fled to Mexico once again. ASYLUM GRANTED BY AO


(all victims are indigenous women, generally raped by non-indigenous men)

 22. V: RAPE BY POLICE 2007

V’s father was a guerrilla; he and her mother fled and left V with a family that raised her.  When V was about 15, she was attacked by a man in the market who wore the same clothes police wear. Several years later she came to the United States with her common-law husband. However, the woman who raised her was very sick and she returned to care for her. Shortly after she died, three policemen came to the house at night, asked where V’s father was, beat  and raped her. ASYLUM GRANTED BY AO 

  1. W: RAPE BY POLICE 2005

Her parents disappeared during the war. As an adult she lived with a man in an abusive relationship. She went to the mayor’s office twice to complain. Each time they told her to go back to her husband. The second time two policemen offered her a ride back to her village. They took her to a remote area and raped her. ASYLUM GRANTED BY ASYLUM OFFICE


During the civil war two of  X ’s sisters were forcibly recruited by the guerrillas and the family never saw them again. As an adult she began living with an abusive man. To escape him she moved to the town of Coban. In 2001 she began living with another man from Todos Santos, Name. In 2004, soldiers went to the house at night and called out her husband by name. They took him away and gang-raped X. ASYLUM GRANTED BY ASYLUM OFFICE

  1. Y: RAPE BY POLICE 2001/2005

During the invasion of Todos Santos, the soldiers killed her father and her mother fled with her into Mexico. In Mexico Y met her husband and they returned to Todos Santos in late 1999. In 2001, three policemen entered her house at night and took away her husband and threatened her. She moved to another village outside Todos Santos. In 2005, three policemen went to her house during the day. They gang-raped her and threatened to kill her the next time they found her. ASYLUM GRANTED BY ASYLUM OFFICE

  1. Z: RAPE BY POLICE 2003

Z‘s family fled Todos Santos during the military invasion but returned several years later. Her father was forced into the Civil Patrol, but disappeared in 1996, at a time when the military was taking suspected guerrillas away. In 2001, three policemen broke into her house at night. They beat Z’s mother and beat and raped Z. In 2003, Z was waiting at a bus stop in the town of Huehuetenango with another indigenous woman from Todos Santos. Two policemen pulled up in a car, forced them inside, took them into the country and raped and beat them. (See AA below ). ASYLUM GRANTED BY THE ASYLUM OFFICE

  1. AA:  RAPE BY POLICE 2003

AA  got a scholarship to go to high school in the town of Huehuetenango. She returned to her home village outside Todos Santos on weekends. One afternoon while waiting for the bus with another woman, also in indigenous clothes, two policemen forced them into their car, took them to a remote area, beat and raped them. (See Z, above)



Her father was accused of being a guerrilla and fled when she was very young. When she was 14, in 2002, she was gang-raped and beaten by young men who accused her family of being guerrillas. ASYLUM DENIED BY AO ON ONE-YEAR ISSUE; IN PROCEEDINGS


Her father deserted the Civil Patrol and fled to Mexico. The soldiers went to the house many times looking for him. In about August 2003 (several months before the murder of Person A) she was stopped by three ladinos (non-indigenous) in the road into Todos Santos. They asked her name and the names of her mother and father. They wanted her to go with them. When she refused they beat her. Other people came to help her. The men ran, threatening her before they left. The last week of 2003, she was again assaulted by ladinos on the road to Todos Santos. Men jumped out of the bushes. They called her by name and tried to drag her into the bushes. She fought and screamed and people came to help and the men ran away. ASYLUM GRANTED BY THE IMMIGRATION JUDGE

  1. DD: RAPE BY POLICE 2006.

When DD was ten years old the soldiers invaded nearby villages. She got separated from her parents and siblings and never saw them again and does not know if they are alive or dead. When she was 15 a ladino (non-indigenous man) raped her. When she was an adult she lived with a man who was abusive. He often beat her and forced her to have sex with him, saying that she was his woman and had to do what he wanted. When she complained to the authorities in town, they told her to go back to him. The second time she went to complain, two policemen took her into the country and raped her. ASYLUM GRANTED BY AO

  1. EE: RAPE BY POLICE 2005.

The soldiers killed her father and her mother fled to Mexico when pregnant with EE.  She lived for many years in Mexico without documents. When EE returned to Guatemala with her husband, whose family had also fled, the police went to their house in the night, beat her husband and kidnapped him, and threatened EE. She fled to another village. Four years later, three policemen raped her and threatened to kill her (2005). ASYLUM GRANTED BY ASYLUM OFFICE


Her stepfather sexually abused her since she was eleven years old, and eventually made her pregnant, when she was fifteen.  While hiding from him in a different town she met her partner, who was kidnapped by the soldiers in 2004.  The same soldiers gang raped her after kidnapping her partner. ASYLUM GRANTED BY AO


When GG was 15 the soldiers invaded her town, killed many people, and burned many houses. One soldier raped GG.  She went to live in another part of Guatemala, where she met my husband and started a family.  Her husband disappeared in 2005. A year later two policemen went to her house, looking for him.  One of them raped GG and threatened to kill her the next time if she did not tell them where her husband was. ASYLUM GRANTED BY AO


Because HH’s family helped the guerrillas her father had to flee to Mexico where he died. When HH was 20, her mother began living with another man who beat her, HH and her sisters. He was a bad man and worked for the soldiers. A year later HH moved away. When she was about 23, she went to stay with her mother who was ill. HHs stepfather tried to embrace her and touch her breasts. When she threatened to tell her mother, he threatened to kill her. Shortly after she was raped twice by a soldier that was sent by her stepfather. ASYLUM GRANTED BY AO

  1. II: RAPE BY POLICE 2001

When II was about ten, the soldiers invaded her village, burning houses and killing many people. They locked II and her family in the church in Todos Santos, threatening to burn everyone alive. In 2001, a few days after II gave birth to her daughter she went to the town hall in Todos Santos to register the birth. People in the town had recently killed two Japanese tourists, and the police accused her family of being involved and detained her. They drove II, her three children, and her parents to Chiantla, Huehuetenango, and on the way they stopped the car, they raped II  in front of her three children and they disappeared her parents. They left II for dead, bleeding from a stab wound in the throat, while her children screamed in panic. When II came to, she and her children were terrified and fled to Mexico. ASYLUM GRANTED BY AO

  1. JJ: RAPE BY POLICE 2007

Soldiers invaded JJ’s village when she was very young. They burned houses and killed people. Her father disappeared and JJ, her mother and brother hid in the mountains. They returned to their village and rebuilt the house. JJ grew up and was sexually harassed. To escape she came to the United States in 2001. In 2007 she returned to Guatemala to look for her mother who had disappeared two years earlier. While JJ stayed alone in the abandoned house, she was raped by men who drove away in a police car. ASYLUM DENIED BY AO, NEXUS, GRANTED BY IJ

  1. KK: RAPE BY POLICE 2003

In 1982 the soldiers invaded KK’s village, destroyed everything, houses, crops and animals. They killed everybody that they could find. KK and her family were so terrified that they hid in the mountains for two months. When they returned home her father rebuilt their house. In 2003, while KK was visiting her grandmother with her oldest son, three men wearing uniforms went to her house with guns. They spoke Spanish. They raped KKin front of her relatives. ASYLUM GRANTED BY AO

LOCAL SECURITY PATROLS/NEIGHBORS  (i.e., other indigenous people)

  1. LL: PERSECUTION 1999/2000

LL was born in Chiapas, Mexico after his parents fled the invasion of Todos Santos. In 1998, when he was 10, the family returned to Guatemala. The next year, armed men, who spoke Spanish, burst into their house at night and knocked the father out. They violently pushed LL who fell and struck his head, and lost consciousness. The men said that the family did not belong there and had better leave or else. A year later they returned in the night and beat the father and mother. When LL went to help his mother one of the men tried to grab him. He ran outside, the man chasing him. As the man grabbed LL he lost his balance on some rocks and fell. The fall resulted in a compound fracture of the arm which did not heal properly, and his arm is deformed. ASYLUM DENIED BY AO ON ONE-YEAR ISSUE; ASYLUM GRANTED BY IMMIGRATION JUDGE


MM fled to Mexico during the invasion of Todos Santos in 1982. She returned with her common-law husband, who had also fled Todos Santos, in 2002, to get married. On the second day in Todos Santos her husband was beaten by people in the street who said he didn’t belong there. She and husband fled to Mexico the following day.  ASYLUM GRANTED BY THE AO


Many of NN’s relatives supported the guerrillas. In 1982, when he was seven years old the soldiers came to his village. They interrogated and threatened him and killed many of his relatives. He and his mother fled to Mexico. His mother returned to Guatemala one month later, but NN was so terrified he remained by himself in Mexico for the next 8 years. In 1990, when he was 15, he returned to his home village to visit his mother. Civil Patrollers went to the house and interrogated him about where he had been and why he had come back. They intimidated and frightened him and he returned to Mexico. He visited his mother sporadically for the next nine years for brief periods only. In 1999, his mother told him that after his previous visit, the ex-Civil Patrol Commander interrogated her about NN and told her that he had to meet with him the next time he returned. ASYLUM GRANTED BY THE AO

  1. OO: PERSECUTION 2002-2003

Before OO was born, her father supported the guerrillas. When her mother was pregnant with her, the soldiers invaded her village and burned houses and killed many people, including many of OO’s family members. Her parents fled and hid in the mountains. When they returned they found that their house had been burned. When OO was one month old, the soldiers disappeared her father. When she was 18 or 19, her mother began living with another man. He was abusive. He beat everyone in the family because OO’s father had supported the guerrillas. He also said that women had to serve men. Six months after he moved in, he raped OO.  He raped her four times, and threatened to kill her if she told anyone. He said that the police would not protect her because he worked with them and they were his friends. ASYLUM GRANTED BY AO


When PP was a small boy the soldiers invaded his village, killing many people and burning many houses. He was with his grandmother at the time. They ran into the mountains, but because PP was small, he could not keep up with them and got separated. A neighbor took him to the Ixcan where he had land. However, when they arrived they found that the village there had also been burned to the ground. They fled to Mexico. They walked for about 15 days. It was a very difficult journey. Once PP fell and knocked himself out against a rock. PP lived in Mexico for many years. Another worker from his village in Guatemala told him that his father was alive. PP called his father and went back to visit him in 1999, but a group of men said that he didn’t belong there. They beat him. When PP’s father tried to stop them they beat him. They threatened PP, telling him that if they saw him again they would kill him. As soon as he was able, he fled once more to Mexico. ASYLUM GRANTED BY AO


QQis an orphan of war. His father gave food to the guerrillas. When he was only 8 years old, his family was torn apart when they were fleeing the soldiers that invaded their village and destroyed the homes. A neighbor took QQ to Mexico. Twenty years later the neighbor returned to their home town. However, he soon returned telling QQ  that he could not find his family and when he asked people about them, people threatened him.  ASYLUM GRANTED BY AO


RR is an orphan of war. When she was very young, the soldiers beat her father to death, and shot her brother in the leg. Soon after, the soldiers returned and beat RR’s mother to death. RR remembers seeing men dressed in black but does not know if that was when they beat her father or her mother. All she remembers is that she was terrified. After that people in her village always mocked her, telling her that the soldiers would come and kill her as they did her mother and father. She was always frightened as a young girl, and still is. The neighbors often threatened her, telling her that the soldiers killed her father because he was a guerrilla and they would come back and kill her, too, because she was the child of a guerrilla. RR was always frightened and stayed home. She never went to the market in Todos Santos. Never went to any of the fiestas. Never played with any of the neighbors’ children, only with her brothers. ASYLUM GRANTED BY AO


In June 2007, SS saw two men beating a neighbor while the police watched. When he yelled to stop them, they got in their pickup and drove away. Two months later, the two men who beat the neighbor went to SS’s house. They grabbed his mother and pushed him violently. SS fell, hitting his head on a rock and lost consciousness. When he came to, the men were gone. SS’s mother told him that the men had threatened to return and kill him if he was not already dead. ASYLUM DENIED BY AO ON NEXUS


On 1 May 2007, TT and his mother returned to Todos Santos, arriving at night.  That same night many people, men and women, all Mam Maya, went to the house and ordered them to come out. They asked TT and his mother why they had come back and what they wanted.  TTs mother started to answer them, but people said that TT and his mother were refugees from Mexico, and accused them of returning in order to kill them.  They beat TT, his mother, and the woman who had taken them in.  They hit them all over their bodies with their fists and clubs and kicked them. They said that TT and his mother should not have come back and that they had better go away. Someone hit TT very hard on the head with a stick or club. TTI does not know if he passed out or not. He remembers that he was seated on the ground. When his mother finally said that they would leave, the beating stopped. They said that TT and his mother had better not still be there the next day or they would beat them again.  TT had bruises all over his head and body and was bleeding from his nose.  His body ached for about a week after the beating. ASYLUM DENIED BY AO, NO PAST PERSECUTION


UU’s father disappeared when UU was nine years old. When he was about 16, his mother began living with an abusive man who beat UU and his mother. He said that UU’s father had been a guerrilla and they would have to pay for what he had done. When UU was about 17, he ran away to the town of Huehuetenango. The step-father showed up with two policemen and asked UU to go back with him. He did. However, the abusive continued and UU ran away again. Because he was afraid the step-father would find and harm him, UU went to the United States in 2006. However, UU’s wife’s mother became ill and he returned to Guatemala to take care of her. WhenUU went to town to buy medicine, three men stopped him, told him it was his time to die and threw him off a bridge into a river below. ASYLUM GRANTED BY AO



  1. VV:  Rape by police 2006

VV‘s  father collaborated with the guerrillas and the family fled during the genocide. When she returned to her village with her husband, the police went to her house and raped her. They threatened to kill her. She and her husband fled. ASYLUM GRANTED BY AO


  1. WW: Persecution by unknown men 2005, probably Local Security Committee.

WW is a 41-year is Kanjobal Maya from Guatemala. She lived in the Ixcán region of Guatemala. When she was about 17, the genocide began and she and her family fled to Mexico. Six years later her parents returned to Guatemala and tried to get their land back, but the people there beat her father to death with clubs. In 2005, WW’s husband returned to see about their land. He was tortured and murdered. WW returned to Guatemala to look for her husband and then to have his body exhumed and reburied. While there, she received a phone call from men who said that they had murdered her husband and would kill her. ASYLUM GRANTED BY AO



XX is a 23-year is Mam Maya. Because the soldiers accused his family of supporting the guerrillas, they fled their home village and hid on the large plantations on the coast. When XX was ten, the government gave his parents land in another town. However, ex-soldiers wanted to kick the indigenous people out. They threatened m  XX‘s parents and finally killed them, nearly decapitating his father.  ASYLUM GRANTED BY AO



YY is a 21-year old  Quiché Maya. Before he was born the soldiers persecuted his family because they were members of a group that planned or participated in the takeover of the Spanish Embassy. The soldiers murdered YY’s mother’s first husband, and Military Commissioners beat his brother, leaving him for dead and forcing the family to flee Guatemala. The family returned to Guatemala when MMMMI was a young boy. The Military Commissioners continued to persecute the family, forcing them to flee to Mexico once again. In 2006, his in-laws returned to Guatemala. The Military Commissioners beat them and burned their house.



  1. ZZ: PERSECUTION BY G-2 2004

ZZ is a 30-year old Mam Maya and an orphan of war. She does not know what happened to her biological parents or even their names, only that they had been killed. Her adoptive parents who raised her, were disappeared. Her adoptive father’s body was found a few days later in the mountains. Her adoptive mother and her daughter were never found. ZZ fled to Mexico. She was about 12 years old. In about 2000, when she was about 17, she returned to Guatemala and was adopted by another family. However, they too were disappeared and she was alone again. One night four men entered her house, took her into the mountains and raped her. A neighbor told her those men were probably G-2 (Military Intelligence linked to the death squads) ASYLUM GRANTED BY AO 


AAA is an 18-year-old Mam Maya from Guatemala. When she was 6 years old the army went to her house in the night and murdered her 15-year-old brother, and tortured her father, leaving him for dead. Her father fled to Mexico and she stayed with her grandparents. However, the soldiers kept coming to the house, looking for her father. AAAx and her grandparents often had to hide in the hills. After two years her father returned. One day, while she was walking home from school with a friend, soldiers chased them. They caught her friend and raped her because she was indigenous and they thought they could do whatever they wanted to her. AAA fled with her mother and father to Mexico. They returned to Guatemala in 1998. One day soldiers chased her and her girlfriends but they managed to escape. However, the Military Commissioners came to the house, looking for her father and they threatened to take her to the army base. ASYLUM GRANTED BY AO

54.  BBB:  G-2 PERSECUTION 2001

BBB is a 24-year old Mam Maya from Guatemala. When he was eight years old soldiers went to his house and beat his father and mother. Because of the army he was forced to participate in the Civil Patrol when he was 13. For not reporting for patrol duty, he was tied to a post on two occasions and beaten. When he was about 16, the G-2 murdered his uncle in his house. When he was 17, the soldiers gang-raped and beat many of the girls in his village, including his sisters.  When he was 18, G-2 murdered his father and chased his brother and him. After entering the United States on 20 August 2001, he spoke with his mother by telephone. She told him that the G-2 continues killing people in Ixpuná. A few weeks earlier they had killed his uncle in his house. ASYLUM GRANTED BY AO  Note: two of BBB’s brothers have also been granted asylum.

55.  CCC:  G-2 PERSECUTION 2001

CCC is a 19-year old Mam Maya from Guatemala. His father was a community and church leader and a member of a group who worked for the rights of indigenous people. He complained about the Civil Patrol and stopped patrolling. The army sent him two letters ordering him to report to the military base but he refused to go. He received many threats because of his activities in the community and because he stopped patrolling. Because CCCI was very young his father didn’t tell him about those threats. But he sent CCC’s older brother,  NAME,  and his sister,  NAME,  to Guatemala City for their own safety. While they were in the capital, on New Year’s Eve 1995, men he believes were from the G-2 kidnapped his other brother, NAME, and in 1996, his half brother, NAME. They beat both of them and also beat and tied up his grandparents. In 1999, his father sent his older brother,   and his sister out of the country for their own protection. In 2000, he sent CCC out of the country. In 2001, the G-2 brutally murdered his father. ASYLUM GRANTED BY IMMIGRATION JUDGE   Note: CCC’s brother was also granted asylum by the IJ


DDD is a 23-year-old Mam Mayan from Guatemala. When she was a little girl, soldiers killed her father and her uncle because they accused them of helping the guerrillas. In 2004, when she was 19, she was gang-raped by 3 policemen while she was tending sheep. Her mother went to the mayor’s office, but they said they couldn’t do anything because the police were armed. They made fun of DDD and her mother because they said that as indigenous people there was nothing that they could do.  ASYLUM GRANTED BY AO


EEE  is a 27-year old Mam Maya from Guatemala. Many of the indigenous people of his village wanted to make it into a separate municipality. However, the Mayor of the municipality insulted them and sent his thugs to frighten the indigenous people away. They went to EEE’s house and told everyone they had to leave or they would kill the father and sons. They attacked everyone in the market, shooting EEE’s brother, NAME, in the head, beating his brother, NAME, and beating and stabbing EEE. They left them all for dead. ASYLUM GRANTED BY AO


FFF is a 23-year old Mam Maya from Guatemala. Because the Mayor of his municipality wanted to take over his town, he sent his security men to attack them. They beat FFF’s brothers and him. When he was on the ground one of the thugs shot him in the head. They left everyone for dead. ASYLUM GRANTED BY AO


59.   GGG: G-2 PERSECUTION, 1998-9,

GGG is a 23-year old Mam Maya from Guatemala. In 1998, when she was living with her in-laws in the village of La Montaña, six or seven hooded men dressed as soldiers and carrying weapons burst into the house. They tied her up as well as her parents-in-law and her sister-in-law (who was 12 yrs old at time). Then they shot her father-in-law multiple times and killed him. The men then gang raped her mother-in-law in front of her sister-in-law and her. Then they gang raped the sister-in-law. Then they turned to mennnnnn. Unlike with her mother-in-law or sister-in-law, they beat her first. She was on the floor, her hands tied above her head and her feet tied together. They kicked her in the stomach and hit her with their fists all over, but they mostly kicked her in the stomach. Then they untied her feet and gang-raped her, all of them, with the man in charge watching to make sure that the others raped her, and then he raped her. It was very painful and she couldn’t stand it. She did not pass out, but it was if she had left her body and was watching them rape her. About six months later the soldiers murdered a neighbor they mistook for her father. A short time after that, when she returned to her parents’ house in San Antonio El Socorro, the soldiers came and beat her family and her and tortured her father.


60. HHH: PERSECUTION BY G-2 1996-2000

HHH is a 25-year old half Mam half Cakchiquel Maya. On September 2, 1996, her husband was murdered by two men wearing masks and on a motorcycle. They shot him, hitting him in the heart and killing him instantly. On December 31, 1999, her cousin, NAME, was taken from his house by a group of armed men wearing masks and civilian clothes. They took him to the village of Las Brisas, where they murdered him. In February, 2000, her aunt in the United States received a telephone call from HHH’s sister-in-law in Guatemala. She told her that her father-in-law had been murdered by a group of men wearing masks. They took him out of the house on Saturday night and his body was found the following Monday in a canyon near the village of San Rafael. His body showed signs of torture. His eyebrows, his lips and his tongue had been cut off and his fingernails ripped out. He was then shot in the head. ASYLUM GRANTED BY AO

Ghosts of Carkies’ Past

Dear Ghosts of Carkies’ Past,

Just a quick holiday note to let you know that the East Bay Sanctuary is firmly in the 21st Century. We are now on Facebook and Twitter.

In this Blog, you can criticize my writing or suggest a better title to a section I call Poor Mike’s Rich Whines. (Mike’s Rants is already taken). Remember how I critiqued your Declarations? Now’s your chance for sweet revenge! And  I don’t know how long the blog will last if I’m the only one writing for it. That’s an invitation; anything you would like to post, email to me.

Anyway, I thought you might like to know what’s been going on with the Sanctuary and CARC and how it all began. If not, hit DELETE now.

The Sanctuary began in 1984, as part of the National Sanctuary Movement, to help people fleeing the civil wars in Central America. At that time we interviewed people telephonically in the detention centers along the border, and if we thought someone had a good asylum claim, we talked it over with the San Francisco Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights. If they agreed to provide pro bono representation, we bonded the client out and brought her/him to the Bay Area. We were the only organization in the country providing that service on a regular basis.

We began our Affirmative Asylum Program in 1992, working in conjunction with the Lawyer’s Committee and a group of committed immigration attorneys, who provided services pro bono or very low fee, if we prepared the application and provided interpreters.  In 1994, a law student at Boalt Hall whom we had previously worked with when he was at Proyecto Libertad on the Texas border asked if he and other interested law students could participate in the program. They formed Central American Refugee Committee (CARC). When we began representing clients from many other countries in the world the name was changed to the California Asylum Representation Committee. The new name was awkward but we wanted to keep the acronym the same.

CARC is unique in that it is the only student-run clinic that represents asylum applicants in the country. This program has been successful beyond anyone’s expectations. In 1994, we filed 14 cases, 9 of which were represented by CARC students. Because we do not charge for our services and we has been so successful, the program has grown to the point that we have become overwhelmed with applicants. From 2009 September to September 2010, we filed 294 cases. Fortunately, CARC has also grown through the years and last year 92 Carkies represented 46 cases. An unknown (to me) number of student mentors worked diligently to keep me in line.

I am trying to cut back on the number of cases, but I can’t bring myself turn away clients with no resources.

To date 1,520 of our cases have been granted and our grant rate is 93.6%. We have another 75 cases in what I call the Black Hole (more on that subject later). The Black Hole are cases the Asylum Office wants to grant but had to send to Washington D.C. first. I don’t have separate numbers for the CARC cases, but I am certain that your grant rate is even higher. I used to cherry-pick cases for CARC but soon realized that you actually liked cases with problems and difficult legal issues. And you did them well.  Through the years over 700 Boalt students have volunteered their valuable time to represent over 400 clients in Affirmative Asylum. I have always been impressed by the students’ ability and moved by their dedication to our clients and social justice.

We had our first in-house staff attorney, Kusia, in 2007. We could not afford her, but she got a grant from her law school to be our gender attorney. After her grant ran out we scrambled to come up with the bling bling for her salary for another two years. She left us last winter to concentrate on her two small boys, and we hired Kaveena Singh, a former intern, who spent the last four years as staff attorney at the 9th Circuit. We sell cookies at crafts fairs in order to pay her salary. (Hint!)

Our clientele has also changed enormously from those days when CARC meant the Central American Refugee Clinic. Last year we did about 100 Gender Asylum cases (Domestic Violence, Forced Marriage, Rape, Female Genital Cutting); 100 LGBT/HIV cases; 75 genocide cases from Guatemala (we are experts in indigenous Guatemalan cases, and I have testified in court a number of times on this issue);  and a handful of political or religious persecution cases. We have clients from more than 60 countries.

In some ways we are the agency of last resort in the Bay Area. Partly due to the economic downtown and partly to an increase in asylum seekers, agencies such as the Lawyer’s Committee, East Bay Community Law and Centro de la Raza are sending us more cases. All these agencies have more funding than we do (Hint Hint!)

Our success is despite the great obstacles the government has placed in the asylum path. The Patriot Act, which only Michael Moore seems to have read, stated that anyone who provided material support to a terrorist organization was inadmissible. There is no de minimus threshold and under the P.A. definition just about anyone can be a terrorist organization. All revolutionary groups are considered terrorist. The people who overthrew Khaddafy are terrorists by definition and our government provided material support, a felony under the statute.

And this stupid, incomprehensible law, which I hope you’ll get rid off when you become Congresspersons and Presidents, is where the Black Hole comes in. I dubbed it the Black Hole because once a client was in it, s/he could not escape. Any case in which there is the slightest material support issue, cannot be granted by the Asylum Office, without approval from Headquarters.  And for about seven years no one at Headquarters even looked at the cases, as far as we could tell.

Here’s an example:

Mary was a teacher in a town in the Congo. She was kidnapped by a paramilitary group and used as a sex slave. When a sex slave died, she and other sex slaves where sent with a guard to bury the body. Mary escaped and returned home, profoundly traumatized. However, the police learned that she had been with the paramilitary and arrested and tortured her. She was smuggled out and came to her office. We applied for asylum and she was put in the Black Hole, either because  as a sex slave she provided material support to a terrorist organization when they raped her or because she buried other sex slaves.

A former intern who worked for the UNHCR in D.C. arranged for three visitors to our humble office. They were doing a study on the asylum process and wanted to interview a client. I arranged for them to interview Mary, on the condition that they not ask her about the facts of her case. When Mary first came to us, I thoughtlessly assigned a volunteer to do the interview at the back of the office. After a few minutes, I heard screaming. I went back and found Mary rolling on the floor, crying and screaming. We got her into therapy at Survivors International and the head of the Human Rights Clinic at Highland Hospital got her on Prozac. Mary is a very fragile person and I was concerned that if the three women from the UNHCR probed her wounds, she would break down again. However, after 15 minutes, I joined the group to see how the interview was going and found Mary calmly telling her story. Probably due to the influence of the UNHCR, Mary was our first client to successfully escape from the Black Hole.

I have stayed in touch with some of you or you have stayed in touch with me. In some cases I have tried to contact some of you to tell you that your client was granted in court, but could not because your Boalt email expired. Some of you have contacted me to talk over asylum cases you are currently handling and I’m always glad to be of help and especially glad to hear that you continue to help others.

If any of you want to know what the latest word on your old clients is, send me an email and when I get time I’ll respond, I promise. I just don’t promise to do it right away.

If any of you are in the area, drop by and I’ll let you buy me an espresso at the Café Milano.

Meanwhile here’s my Wish List for Santa:

1. I want you to become Congresspersons and Presidents and get rid of the Patriot Act

2. When you become dittos, get rid of the one-year asylum deadline

3. If you work for a large firm that makes charitable donations, get them to give us some bling bling

4. Now that you’re all wealthy attorneys and need deductions, feel free to mail us a check or send a donation through PayPal. If all of you donated $100 that would pay for Kaveena’s meager salary. If all of you donated $200, that would get us another staff attorney to do the LGBT/HIV cases.

Remember, CARC and the Sanctuary are unique. CARC has become the largest clinic at Boalt and I believe that the Sanctuary represents more affirmative asylum clients than anyone in the country. With the help of all you Carkies we have created something special, and I want to keep this going.

Best Regards,
Michael Smith

Censida: In Mexico, 44 % of persons living with HIV do not receive treatment

  • We foresee 80 % of HIV+ persons gaining access to medicines in 2015

Guillermo Montalvo Fuentes
Mexico DF, February 28, 2011.

InMexico, 44.4 % of persons living with HIV/AIDS lack access to antiretroviral therapy, admitted José Antonio Izazola, theNationalCenterfor HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control (Censida) general manager.

After presenting the Regional Council and Reunion of High Level on Universal Access to Prevention, Attention, Treatment, Support and Care of persons living with HIV/AIDS,  the official indicated that in Mexico, by the end of 2010, there were 225 thousand HIV+ persons, of whom 100 thousand lack access to medicines.

At a press conference, the head of the Censida informed that the Regional Council will take place on March 1st and 2nd in Mexico DF. He made sure to emphasize that the goal is to provide 80% of HIV+ persons antiretroviral drugs by 2015.

He noted that it’s difficult to guarantee high coverage costs of these medicines because they impose “a huge challenge”: The financial impact they imply is 42% of the Popular Insurance Catastrophic Expenses Fund resources, which is equivalent to 1 thousand 800 million pesos from April 2010 to March 2011 and 2 thousand 100 million pesos from April 2011 to March 2012.

As part of the Development of the Millennium Goals of 2015, and in addition to extending access to treatment, Izazola Licea assured they are committed to limiting death rates to 3.5 per 100 thousand persons, since mortality rate in 2009 due to HIV/AIDS was 4.9 per 100 thousands.

Another goal for 2015 is to get 70% of Mexican men who have sex with other men to use condoms. Presently, only 38% practice safe sex.

The general secretary of the Latin-American and Caribbean Council of Non-governmental Organizations, Alessandra Nilo, underlined the importance of establishing “intersectional strategies,” which consist of more than heath, since they are the only way to stop the pandemic.”

On this note, she quoted the Ministerial Declaration, “Prepare though Education,” that prepared in this capital in 2008, to which more than 30 ministers of health and education from Latin America and the Caribbean agreed, to guarantee access to quality education to the whole population, including children and young adults, in environments free of violence, stigma, and discrimination, though a modification of the plans of study and better training of teaching personnel, as the document states, a fact that, according to Nilo, “hasn’t been fulfilled.”

César Antonio Núñez, the director of the team of the HIV/AIDS Joint Program of the United Nations regional support, affirmed that the Council’s intention is to analyze the epidemic and the outcome inLatin Americais universal access to prevention and treatment.

At the regional councils on universal access the Latin-American andCaribbeanministers and vice-ministers of health, civil society members, international associates, and United Nations personnel are present.

Mexico 2008. NotieSe.org | Specializing News Agency. Health, Sexuality and AIDS.

Source:  En México, 44 por ciento de las personas con VIH no reciben tratamiento: Censida