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A torture survivor’s memories

Carlos Mauricio, a former El Salvador professor who was abducted and tortured by Salvadoran death squads 22 years ago, remembers not only his own broken bones but also the suffering of others.

“What has been very difficult to deal with is the memories of other people being tortured,” he said at a lecture at Trinity University on November 13.

Maurico and his fellow torture survivors and community activists Francisco Flores and Orlando Pacheko plan to protest later this month at Fort Benning, Georgia, home of the School of the Americas, which, in 2001 was renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.

For two weeks in June 1983, Mauricio suffered what he called “torture by the book” at El Salvador’s National Police Headquarters. When a Red Cross search party arrived, they were reportedly told he was not there. Mauricio said he was “taken underground to a clandestine torture chamber” where he received “two broken ribs from one of the beatings, and a damaged eye.” He was also bound by his hands and suspended from a ceiling.

In 1999, Mauricio and two other torture victims, Neris Gonzalez, a church worker, and Juan Ramagoza Arce, a doctor, brought a civil suit against two Salvadoran generals, former Defense Minister Jose Guillermo Garcia and former National Guard Director-General Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova. Both graduated from the School of the Americas.

The School, established in Panama in 1946, but officially ousted in 1984 under terms of the Panama Canal Treaty and relocated to Fort Benning, is a Defense Department facility and the U.S. Army’s principal Spanish-language training institution. There, Latin American soldiers are taught counterinsurgency techniques, sniper training, commando and psychological warfare, military intelligence, and interrogation tactics. The curriculum has recently been infused with an emphasis on human rights.

In July 2002, the Salvadoran generals were found guilty by a West Palm Beach court under the 1991 Torture Victim Protection Act, which states that “victims did not need to prove the military leaders knew they were being tortured, only that Garcia and Vides allowed a culture in which soldiers could commit human rights abuses against civilians with impunity.” The two were ordered to pay their victims $54.6 million in reparations.

Last March, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta overturned the Florida jury’s verdict, ruling that the case failed to meet the 10-year statute of limitations rule. The case is still under consideration.

Reflecting upon his abduction, Mauricio says, “The recurring nightmare for me isn’t the moment of being tortured. The recurring nightmare has been the moment of being abducted. It was very, very violent, and they came to my classroom.” His sacred place.

– Francesca Camillo

FDA’s ‘unusual’ approach to contraception

A Government Accountability Office report characterized the FDA’s review process as “unusual” when it refused to approve emergency contraception, Plan B, for over-the-counter use last year, fueling claims that the Bush Administration’s political conservatism has influenced public-health policy.

In a report issued November 14, the GAO found that the Federal Drug Administration’s joint advisory committee and review officials overwhelmingly approved the Plan B switch from prescription to over-the-counter. Yet, the FDA’s Acting Director for the Center for Drug Evaluation Steve Galson signed a “not-approvable” letter and refused to allow the switch, citing safety concerns about the use of Plan B by those under 16 because of “their level of cognitive development.”

The GAO found several inconsistencies in FDA protocol in its decision about the emergency contraceptive, which is used to prevent an unintended pregnancy when regular contraception fails, after unprotected sex, or in cases of sexual assault.

Compared to other FDA switch decisions, “high-level management was more involved in the review” for Plan B. Moreover, “there are conflicting accounts of whether the decision was made before the reviews were completed,” the GAO report said.

Directors that reviewed the application, who would have normally been responsible for signing the not-approvable letter, didn’t sign it. And finally, the GAO stated that Galson’s rationale for disapproval was “novel” and “did not follow traditional FDA practices.”

The GAO concluded the FDA’s decision to require a prescription for emergency contraception wasn’t typical of 67 other proposed prescription-to-over-the counter switches it approved in the past 10 years. Nor had the FDA previously considered age-related or “cognitive” marketing restrictions for prescription or over-the-counter contraceptives.

And, as reported in the Washington Post, then-FDA Director Lester Crawford declined to cooperate in the GAO investigation of Plan B. Crawford abruptly resigned last month after being director for just three months.

Opponents of the FDA decision contend Galson refused to approve Plan B for over-the-counter use because of the Bush Administration’s and social conservative’s qualms that the availability of birth-control might encourage young, unmarried people to have sex or for women to have abortions.

Lisa Sorg

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