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TODAY’S FOCUS: A Proposed U.S. Center for Torture Treatment

January 29, 1985

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) _ When Gwenda Bottoli was arrested aboard a bus in Rosario, Argentina, for distributing an anti-government leaflet, she never expected that she would be tortured.

Once in jail, Mrs. Bottoli, an American citizen married to an Argentine, was blindfolded and stripped of her clothing; an electric prod was used to elicit confessions.

Five months after her arrest in 1976, she was released. Mrs. Bottoli, who at 33 is remarried and living about 30 miles west of Minneapolis, said she was fortunate in at least one respect - she had family and friends in Minnesota who welcomed her home.

Torture victims such as Mrs. Bottoli would have more than family and friends to help them cope, if a task force appointed last week by Gov. Rudy Perpich recommends that Minnesota build a center for torture victims.

If established, such a center would be the first of its kind in the United States and only the third in the world; the other two are in Canada and Denmark. The panel is to make its report by May 1.

″We approach this study with the knowledge that innocent people throughout the world are being imprisoned and sometimes tortured,″ Perpich said in announcing formation of the panel. ″Minnesota has a long tradition of humanitarianism and compassion. It is fitting we should have this task force.″

The panel will study where the center should be established and how it would be funded and run, said Sam Heins, a member of the task force and president of the Minnesota Lawyers International Human Rights Committee.

Dr. W. Eugene Mayberry, a task force co-chair and chairman of the board for the world-renowed Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., said members of the medical community have not asked him many questions about the torture center proposal.

″I think we need more discussion as to whether or not we should do that (establish the center),″ Mayberry said. ″There’s no question Minnesota has the resources to complete such a project.″

Many torture victims arrive in the United States unaware that there are psychologists, physicians and lawyers who have expertise in treating torture victims, said David Weissbrodt, a law professor at the University of Minnesota and task force member.

″We have in Minnesota a unique combination of good medical facilities and a population that is interested in international human rights and would be well-disposed towards helping human rights victims,″ Weissbrodt said.

Experts agree that the psychological effects of torture are far more difficult to treat than physical ones.

″If you were subject to torture...it’s difficult to come to grips with what has happened to you,″ Weissbrodt said.

Torture is practiced in some form on ″prisoners of conscience″ in 96 countries, according to John Healy, the U.S. director of London-based Amnesty International.

″The campaign against torture is a campaign by average, normal people who help average, normal people who are suffering at the hands of their government,″ Healy said at the Minneapolis news conference. ″The number of refugees (is) large and the problem needs to be addressed.″

A report prepared by the human rights organization, ″Torture in the Eighties,″ said the kind of torture inflicted upon Mrs. Bottoli is typical of practices in other countries.

The Canadian Centre for Investigation and Prevention of Torture, established last year by Amnesty International’s 265-member Canadian Medical Group, attempts to deal with torture victims’ lingering physical and psychological ailments. The center focuses on the fears and phobias affecting the children of political exiles.

Perpich, Heins and Weissbrodt last week visited the other torture facility - the International Rehabilitation and Research Center for Torture Victims - located in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Speaking on NBC’s ″Today Show″ Tuesday, Perpich said his trip to Copenhagen showed how necessary it was ″to make peopple more aware of what’s going on in the world.″

″We just wanted to see (in Copenhagen) how the center was established, why it was established and what it’s accomplishing,″ the governor said.

The Copenhagen center, the first established to deal with torture-related problems, provides physical therapy, psychiatric treatment and counseling for the victims’ families, including their children.

″A Minnesota center would publicize the fact torture still exists in the world today,″ Weissbrodt said. ″The center should serve the needs of both patients and families.″

Mrs. Bottoli, who lives in Delano and was located through Amnesty International, agreed.

″A center would be very important for people who didn’t receive the love and support that I did,″ she said. ″If the victims can begin to overcome their problems, everyone would be helped.″

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