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Dear Editor:
An article in The New York Times on May 15, 2004, B1, presented disturbing information about how asylum applicants who were tortured in their home countries have reacted to the Iraq prisoner abuse scandal. The images of American guards inflicting torture on their prisoners has awakened painful memories of their own experiences, and forced them to ask whether America can provide safety and protection for them. An asylee who had been tortured in Cameroon, and who now works with asylum applicants who have suffered torture, reported the anxieties of his clients to doctors at the Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture: “They don’t feel secure anymore. They ask. ‘Where to go, how can they be safe in the world?’” Dr. Allen S. Keller, the director of the program at Bellevue Hospital Center, had this to say: “There was a sense of horror and disbelief. These are individuals who came to this country seeking safety. We owe it to the torture survivors living in our country not to condone or practice it.” A teacher in Minneapolis who had been tortured by Idi Amin’s Uganda found that the Iraq images “brought me back to where I was---the bodies on the floor, the naked bodies. It is difficult to comprehend that that can be done by the United States, because it represents the values that people are looking for---human rights, safety, security. The first reaction is, it cannot be.” A Tibetan artist who was horribly tortured by his Chinese captors has not given up on America. He said that he had been shocked by the pictures, and “never thought prisoners if war would be treated like that.” But he was enormously grateful to Bellevue, and thus to America, for having healed his wounds. His conclusion: “I am making art again. And I still believe in America."

Carl R. Baldwin