Tomgram: Ariel Dorfman, A Tale of Torture and Forgiveness

I’ll bet you didn’t know that June is “torture awareness month” thanks to the fact that, on June 26, 1987, the Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment or Punishment went into effect internationally.

In this country, however, as a recent Amnesty International survey indicated, Americans are essentially living in Torture Unawareness Month, or perhaps even Torture Approval Month, and not just in June 2014 but every month of the year.

One simple fact of the post-9/11 era should make this clear and also boggle the mind, but has had almost no impact here. But for this you need a little background from the early years of what was once called the Global War on Terror. In addition to a stream of international kidnappings (euphemistically called “renditions”) of terror suspects, including completely innocent people the CIA snatched off the streets of global cities, as well as from the backlands of the planet and “rendered” into the hands of well-known torturing regimes (with the help of 54 other countries) and the setting up of a network of “black sites” or offshore prisons where anything went, the CIA tortured up a storm. And it did so at the behest of the top officials of the Bush administration, including the president and vice president who were convinced that it was time for Washington to “take the gloves off.” In those years, torture techniques were reportedly demonstrated in the White House to some of those officials, including the vice president and national security advisor. At the time, they went by the euphemistic, administration-approved term “enhanced interrogation techniques,” which was quickly picked up and used in the U.S. mainstream media in place of the word “torture” — though only when the enhanced interrogators were American, of course. The bad guys out there continued to “torture” in the usual fashion.

In the Obama years, torture was (at least officially) tossed out as a useful tactic. But the torturers themselves were given a pass, every last one of them, by the Justice Department, even two cases in which the CIA’s acts of enhancement had led to death. No charge was ever brought against anyone, including the Justice Department lawyers who wrote the tortured memos endorsing those techniques and redefining torture as only happening when the torturer meant it to, or the officials who green-lighted them. Think of the Obama administration then as Amnesty National. That administration did, however, have the guts to go after one man connected to the torture program, forced a plea deal from him, and sent him to jail for two years. I’m talking about former CIA agent John Kiriakou, the only person since 9/11 convicted of a torture-related crime. To be specific, his criminal act was to blow the whistle on his former employer's torture program to a journalist, revealing in the process the name of a CIA agent. That was considered such an indefensible act — in effect, an act of torture against the American security state — that justice, American-style, was done.

It’s quite a tortuous record when you think about it, not that anyone here does anymore, which is why we need TomDispatch regular Ariel Dorfman, author most recently of Feeding on Dreams: Confessions of an Unrepentant Exile, to remind us of what’s really at stake when one human being tortures another. Tom

How to Forgive Your Torturer

The River Kwai Passes Through Latin America and Washington

What a way to celebrate Torture Awareness Month!

According to an Amnesty International Poll released in May, 45% of Americans believe that torture is “sometimes necessary and acceptable” in order to “gain information that may protect the public.” Twenty-nine percent of Britons “strongly or somewhat agreed” that torture was justified when asked the same question.

For someone like me, who has been haunted by the daily existence of torture since the September 11, 1973 coup that overthrew Chilean President Salvador Allende, such percentages couldn’t be more depressing, but perhaps not that surprising. I now live, after all, in the America where Dick Cheney, instead of being indicted as a war criminal, sneeringly (and falsely) claims to anyone who asks him — and he is trotted out over and over again as the resident expert on the subject — that “enhanced interrogations” have been and still are absolutely necessary to keep Americans safe.

As for those Americans and Britons — and so many others around the world — who find such horrors justifiable, I wonder if they have ever met a victim of torture? Or do they think this endless pain is only inflicted on remote and dangerous people caught up in unfathomable wars and savage conflicts? If so, they should think again.

When I read these sorts of statistics a scene comes back to me. I remember a man I met 20 years ago, not in my native Latin America or in faraway lands where torture is endemic, but in the extremely English town of Berwick-upon-Tweed.

Everybody in the room that day was crying, except for the man who had moved us all to tears, the former prisoner of war whom my son Rodrigo and I had traveled thousands of miles to meet. We had hoped to do justice to his story in a biopic, Prisoners in Time, that the BBC wanted to make for television — based on the same autobiographical material used recently in The Railway Man, the film starring Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman now showing in theaters across America.

And what an extraordinary story it was!

Eric Lomax, a British officer in World War II, had been tortured by the Japanese in Thailand while working on the infamous Bangkok-Burma railroad, the one most people know about through another film, The Bridge on the River Kwai. Eric, like so many victims of atrocities, was plagued by the experience, his life destroyed by memories of his agony and the desire for revenge. What differentiated him from so many others persecuted worldwide was not only that, more than 40 years later, he tracked down the man he held responsible for his suffering, the anonymous interpreter at his beatings and waterboardings, but the astounding fact that this tormentor, Takashi Nagase, once found and identified, turned out to be a Buddhist monk. Nagase had spent the postwar decades denouncing his own countrymen for their crimes and trying to atone for his role in the atrocities he had helped commit by caring for innumerable orphans of the Asians who had died building that railroad. The one scorching image from the war he could not escape was that of a brave young British lieutenant over whose torture he had presided and whom he had presumed to be dead. More


Permaculture Design Certification Course for International Development & Social Entrepreneurship


Permaculture Design Certification Course for International Development & Social Entrepreneurship

June 21 – July 5, 2014

14-day immersion course at Quail Springs permaculture farm and community nestled in the beautiful high desert spring-fed canyon wilderness of Southern California

  • Increased Food Security
  • Community-Based Development
  • Waste Cycling
  • Sustainability Education
  • Clean Water and Drought Proofing
  • Health and Nutrition
  • Sustainable Vocations & Enterprise

The course gives participants theory and practice for integrating Permaculture's systems-thinking and design strategies into their work and study, while gaining an internationally recognized Permaculture Design Certification.

Lead Instructor

Warren Brush of Quail Springs, Casitas Valley Farms, and True Nature Design

Presenters & Guest Instructors

  • Jeanette Acosta – Tribal Indigenous Knowledge, Permaculture Teacher
  • Tara Blasco – Co-founder of Global Resource Alliance
  • Tom Cole – Former Director Save the Children Uganda, Consultant
  • Noah Jackson – Founder of Forest Voices
  • Jay Markert – Founder of Living Mandala
  • Alissa Sears – Leader of Strategic Planning & Global Betterment with Christie Communications
  • Janice Setser – Former Program Manager with Mercy Corps, Consultant
  • Melanie St. James – Co-Founder of Empowerment Works
  • Brenton Kelly, Andrew Clinard & Lindsay Allen – Quail Springs' Farm Management

Topics include: Integrated Design, Composting, Water Harvesting, Compost Toilets, Waste Cycling, Earthworks, Rocket Stoves, Design Priorities, Ecological Building, Aquaculture, Bio-Sand Filtration, Broad Acre Applications, Food Forestry, Bio-Engineering, Resilient Food Production, Greywater Systems, Livestock Integration, Soil building, Watershed Restoration, Integrated Pest Mgmt, Biomimicry, Appropriate Technology, Peacemaking, Conflict Resolution, Community Organizing, Drought Proofing Landscapes, Rebuilding Springs, Refugee Camp Strategies

Location & Hosting: The course is hosted at Quail Springs' 450-acre wilderness and working farm site focused on modeling and teaching the concepts and practices of sustainability. We are located 32 miles east of Santa Barbara and are surrounded by Los Padres National Forest. This land is an ideal drylands site for learning about Permaculture.

The Permaculture Design Course for International Development and Social Entrepreneurship is presented

by Quail Springs Permaculture

in association with

Casitas Valley Creamery & Farm

Christie Communications
Empowerment Works

Forest Voices

Global Resource Alliance
Living Mandala

Permaculture Research Institute of Kenya

Santa Barbara Permaculture Network

True Nature Design


Cost includes instruction, certification, catered meals, and camping accommodations.

Cost: $1,650 (a deposit of $300 reserves your space with the full balance due by June 10)

Special Promo: First 5 people to register in response to this announcement receive $300 off the course!


PDC Refresher – $200 discount for participants with a previous 72-hr PDC
Register with a friend or family member for $150 off each, or with 2 friends or family members for $200 off each.

Check or Money Order – $25 discount, payment by check or money order

Please contact us at for more info or to register


Warren Brush

Warren Brush

True Nature Design, Founder / Owner

Quail Springs Permaculture, Co-founder

Warren Brush is a certified Permaculture designer and teacher as well as a mentor and storyteller. He has worked for over 25 years in inspiring people of all ages to discover, nurture and express their inherent gifts while living in a sustainable manner. Warren is co-founder of Quail Springs Permaculture, Casitas Valley Farm, and his Permaculture design company, True Nature Design. He works extensively in Permaculture education and sustainable systems design in North America, Africa, Middle East, Europe, and Australia. He has devoted many years to mentoring youth and adults to inspire and equip them to live in a sustainable manner with integrity and a hopeful outlook. His mentoring includes working with those who are former child soldiers, orphans, indigenous peoples, youth, young adults and families.

Project Highlight: Casitas Valley Creamery & Farm, a Regenerative Earth enterprise, is a multi family and friend endeavor where we are demonstrating how we can create an investment vehicle that integrates permaculture design for ecological equitability and stability, community food resilience and economic viability. This 49 acre property located outside of Carpinteria, California is growing its multi enterprises to support a local culture that truly honors that which sustains us and is wrapped in our family hearth.

Jeanette Acosta

Jeanette Acosta

Tribal Indigenous Knowledge, Permaculture Teacher

Jeanette's ancestors were Native Americans. She serves indigenous people with her participation in numerous committees and groups, including a growing emphasis on building collaboration among Native American nations to protect sacred burial and ceremonial sites. Jeanette is a certified teacher and designer for permaculture and specializes in maritime culture, herbalism, ethnobotany and biodynamic principles. In her work, she emphasizes humankind's symbiotic relationship between earth and sky. Moreover, she is a spiritual counselor, couples' counselor, integrative medicine health care provider as well as a certified level 1 and level 2 Kundalini yoga and meditation teacher and teacher trainer. Her experience dealing with international business people, world diplomats, heads of states, renowned artists/celebrities, and politicians gives her a unique perspective on various cultures and customs.

Janice Setser

Janice Setser

International Development Consultant

Mercy Corps, Former Program Manager Tajikistan

Although Janice has lived, studied, and/or worked for the last 18 years in Bolivia, Ireland, Honduras, Cambodia, and Burma (Myanmar), it is Tajikistan that has held her attention and her passions for the longest period of time. For over nine years, she has managed a variety of development projects on health, nutrition, agriculture, disaster preparedness, economic development, and ecological restoration while working for the organization Mercy Corps.

Janice experienced an unusual sense of belonging, home, and even freedom in the mountainous region of Tajikistan. Through her work she developed a sensitive understanding of the physical, economic, environmental, social, and cultural constraints that locals face. Her dedication to the people in the region led her to venture into private sector development when her programs ended with Mercy Corps.


Project Highlight: Working independently for two years, Janice pursued her passion to empower the marginalized through social entrepreneurship and capacity building projects. To this end she cooperated with local beekeepers to develop the market for honey, worked with youth on their professional development, and collaborated with locals to sensitively advance tourism. Janice also personally dedicated herself to raising awareness about the possibilities for ecological restoration in the region.

Melanie St. James

Melanie St. James

Empowerment WORKS, Executive Director / Founder

The Global Summit, Executive Producer & Co-chair

Melanie is a creative social entrepreneur, dedicated to building a thriving world from the ground up. Melanie's global social change journey began in 1994 with a semester abroad to mainland China. After completing an international education in Spain, Italy, Cuba and Africa, with sustainable development field studies in Senegal and Zimbabwe (and being inspired by many creative social entrepreneurs there), Melanie identified Empowerment WORKS' flagship approach to turning local resources into solutions, now called, “7 Stages to Sustainability (7SS)”. In 2001, Melanie formed “Empowerment Works” as a global sustainability think-tank in action continuously working to connect the world's most culturally rich, yet economically challenged communities with the access to markets, tools and partners they need to thrive. In 2007 after participating in the World Social Forum in Kenya, Melanie co-developed and produced The Global Summit (2008- 2020) to unite social, economic and environmental movements for a sustainable future.

Project Highlight: Inspired in Senegal and Zimbabwe in 1999 & 2000, and registered in the USA as a 501c3 tax-exempt organization in 2001, Empowerment WORKS (EW) is a global sustainability think-tank in action dedicated to the advancement of whole-system, locally-led solutions for a thriving world. In the world's most culturally rich, yet economically challenged communities, access to markets, appropriate technologies and education can empower people to transform critical problems into opportunities for lasting social change. Empowerment WORKS brings these vital tools within the grasp of citizens on the front lines of poverty and climate change.

Noah Jackson

Noah Jackson

Forest Voices, Director / Co-founder

Noah Jackson is a conservation consultant and storyteller whose work combines photography, writing, and new media to document conservation and community issues. He has worked in Asia and Africa for over a decade, starting as a Peace Corps volunteer, and continuing through graduate work, a Fulbright fellowship, independent projects, and as an auditor and farmer trainer for the Rainforest Alliance. His storytelling work can be found in publications such as the National Geographic Traveler, the Rainforest Alliance Blog and Canopy newsletter.

Project Highlight: Forest Voices works to preserve the knowledge of forest communities and foster meaningful connections between people of different geographical regions and lifestyles. We employ diverse techniques-writing, video, photography-to nurture dialog within and between communities through storytelling programs, student courses, and direct trade programs. We help consumers of globally traded products such as coffee, tea and cocoa, understand and directly experience how good practices of trade and agroforestry can enhance the lives of farmers and conserve surrounding ecosystems.

Alissa Sears

Alissa Sears

Christie Communications, Strategic Planning / Global Betterment

Christie CommUnity Foundation, Executive Director

Alissa leads Christie Communications' Strategic Planning Division to develop results-oriented, comprehensive strategies across multiple industries for clients ranging from natural product companies to impact investment groups, social entrepreneurs to natural food and beverage products, green building to non-profit organizations and community groups.

She has also helped to create social enterprises and sustainable development programs in communities in Northern Sri Lanka, Sudan, Rwanda, Cambodia, Malawi, Chad, Bolivia, Mexico, in the US, and beyond. Alissa first began working in Northern Sri Lanka helping to develop Sri Lankan-run educational and leadership/sustainable development programs in the war-torn NorthEast. With the programs still running locally, Alissa has continued working to build integrated, scalable, market-based models that integrate the local community with local and international organizations and businesses for the benefit of the communities.

She is a Board Member of Safe Water International, The California Coast Venture Forum/Clean Business Investment Summit, the Weidemann Foundation, HumaniTourism, and an advisor to the 300in6 Initiative, Blue Ocean Sciences, Ocean Lovers Collective, The Chad Relief Foundation, Create Global Healing, the Playful Planet Foundation, Yellow Leaf Hammocks, and others.

Jay Markert

Jay Markert

Living Mandala, Founder

Jay Markert, known as Jay Ma, is a permaculture designer, facilitator, natural builder, and community organizer committed to cultural healing through Peacemaker Principles. Jay is a graduate of the pioneering two-year training intensive in Regenerative Design & Nature Awareness. Jay has facilitated educational programs, retreats, workshops, and events as well as community land development projects with organizations including the Regenerative Design Institute, the Institute of Noetic Sciences, Gaia University, Omega Institute, Harmony Festival, and others. Jay is co-founder and director of programs and development of Living Mandala, and works with other regenerative educators and institutions organizing educational courses, workshops, and events for ecological and social regeneration in the Pacific Northwest and beyond. He is currently an associate with Gaia University in Organized Learning for Eco-Social Regeneration. Jay is also a certified Permaculture Teacher, a Fire Walk Instructor through Sundoor International, and is passionate about renewing Rites of Passage experiential programs for people of all ages.

Brenton Kelly

Brenton Kelly

Quail Springs Permaculture, Farm Director & Educator

Brenton has over 25 years experience in soil building, gardening, non-toxic land management and animal husbandry. He co-owned Island Seed and Feed in Goleta for 10 years before joining the Quail Springs team, and has taught 1000s of folks about pastured poultry, bees, worms, vegetables, and more!

Lindsay Allen

Lindsay Allen

Quail Springs Permaculture, Farm Management Team

FoodWaterShelter, Permaculture Advisor

Lindsay joined the Quail Springs team this past winter after making the long trek across the country from her Massachusetts home. Before coming to Quail Springs she worked in organic farming and Permaculture in Massachusetts, Illinois, East Africa and Panama. She is currently co-managing the farm, helping to facilitate courses at Quail Springs, and is also the permaculture advisor for the non-profit FoodWaterShelter in Tanzania. These days, Lindsay is enjoying teaching and sharing the wonderful world of permaculture farming with others.

Payment plans are also available. Contact Kolmi Majumdar at for more info.

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Quail Springs Permaculture is nonprofit organization dedicated to demonstrating and teaching holistic ways of designing human environments, restoring and revitalizing the land and community, and facilitating deeper understandings of ourselves and one another through immersive experiences in nature.

Quail Springs Permaculture