Torture Victims: From DC to Damascus

Kyaw, with California State Senator Kehoe.

Kyaw, with California State Senator Kehoe.

Honor the Spirit of American Democracy by Helping Torture Survivors

In 1783, seven years after the founding of the American republic, Benjamin Franklin wrote these stirring words: “Where liberty dwells, there is my country.” Nearly 230 years later, Franklin’s sentiments were echoed by Tahrir Square protester Salem Metwali, who proclaimed, “This is a new day of freedom. I have tasted freedom and I will not turn back.”

The nexus between the American struggle for democracy in the 18th Century and the quest for freedom on display today in the Middle East is inescapable. Geopolitics aside, the United States has deep existential stakes in the outcomes of these revolts, for they speak to the most elemental yearnings that produced the world’s first modern democracy back in 1776.

But how do we translate that affinity into meaningful action?

One of the most profound contributions we can make to the cause of freedom, democracy and human dignity is to rebuild the lives of those who have sacrificed so much in the defense of these ideals — the very principles upon which our country was founded.

Each year, thousands of men, women and children who have endured horrors beyond belief arrive in our country, seeking safety and a new life. Many were tortured for standing on the front lines of epic battles for basic human rights — the right to free speech, the right to voice their political beliefs, the right to practice the religion of their choice. The right, in essence, to be human, to be free.

The price they pay for freedom is heavy — some are beaten; some are raped; some witness the brutal torture and killing of their own family members. Most have lost everything — their homes, their jobs, their families, their health — all in the struggle for the human rights that we often take for granted. They arrive here with nothing but the physical and psychological scars of torture and a will to survive.

Here’s just one example: Kyaw arrived in Los Angeles from his native Burma  after being repeatedly imprisoned and tortured for his involvement in the pro-democracy Burmese student movement. He managed to escape, and arrived in Los Angeles with nothing.

Five years later, Kyaw has rebuilt his life. He regained his physical and mental health, found a good job and home and was granted asylum and U.S. citizenship. He still works closely with the Burmese community in the US to push the U.S. government to support Burmese pro-democracy student leaders.

Julie Gutman

Julie Gutman

The Fourth of July has profound meaning for Kyaw. “For me, July 4 is both a day of celebration and sadness. I feel incredibly lucky and grateful, but I feel tremendous sadness for all those in my country and around the world who are still not free.”

This year, as we mark the anniversary of American democracy, think about Kyaw and how we can honor our deepest values by helping those who have endured so much in their defense.

For more information about how you can get involved, visit 

Julie Gutman
Executive Director
Program for Torture Victims

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