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I am over in Chile for a Franciscan justice and peace conference. Yesterday, we took a break from the sessions to visit Santiago. Our first stop was Villa Grimaldi, what was in the early 1970s a rural farm house that was used by the military dictatorship of Pinochet as a torture center. Although the buildings were destroyed by the military in an attempt to erase evidence, the survivors of the center give tours and explain what happened at the various locations.

Normally, one can go through a place such as the holocaust museum clucking one’s tongue at the brutalities perpetrated by the Nazis. These were all things done far in the past by despicable people. In this case, though, as a U.S. citizen, what could I do? My own government is doing these same things — disappearing people and then torturing them. One can imagine a tour one day at Guantanamo Bay or one of the secret prisons in eastern Europe: “…and these are the cells where the disappeared were kept without any communication with their families. Over here is the water board used by the interrogators.”

In the world of human rights, it is difficult to accept that your country is one of the worse offenders, and that it continues to do so with impunity, without any seeming attempt at ending the practice, and with the full compliance of both the legislative and judicial branches of the government.

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