Gerald Gray
Ashoka Fellow since 2005   |   United States

Gerald Gray

Institute for Redress & Recovery
Ashoka commemorates and celebrates the life and work of this deceased Ashoka Fellow.
Gerald Gray is developing a national system in the U.S. to find torturers and bring them to account, one that involves an interconnected set of projects in law, psychology, journalism, investigation,…
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This description of Gerald Gray's work was prepared when Gerald Gray was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2005.


Gerald Gray is developing a national system in the U.S. to find torturers and bring them to account, one that involves an interconnected set of projects in law, psychology, journalism, investigation, research, education, and policy development. Using political torture as the organizing focus to create a sufficient public conscience and ensure consistent action against violators of human rights, Jerry aims to create a more civil, empathetic society and set a high standard for the world by demonstrating that torture will not be tolerated in America.

The New Idea

Because there is no national system in the United States to find torturers and bring them to account, victims sometimes encounter their torturers in their own communities. These traumatic experiences are heightened by the awareness that the torturers are unlikely to be arrested or tried; when these encounters occur, it is often the victim who has to flee to seek sanctuary. Jerry Gray believes America can do better than that; he plans to create an anti-impunity culture in the U.S. through an interconnected set of projects in law, psychology, journalism, investigation, research, education, and policy development.
His idea is to use political torture as the organizing focus to create a sufficient public conscience about impunity so there is continuing public and private action against and zero tolerance for human rights crimes. Jerry aims to include elements of legal action in and beyond the U.S., investigative tracking of perpetrators, clinical action, public and academic education, and Congressional education. His program will also include clinical support for the professionals who work with survivors of torture during difficult, protracted legal proceedings. This idea is being planned or carried out in the U.S. and internationally, both with the intention to create a public conscience, and with the particular combination of elements that Jerry will use.
This coordinated, national effort aims to affect refugee victims in the U.S., victims at war crimes tribunals, and individuals and communities who are adversely affected or put at risk by current U.S. foreign policy. It will influence policy changes in the U.S., and in the countries of victims. (A recent U.S. trial against a murderer of Archbishop Romero, the first ever, reopened the question of military impunity in El Salvador). Jerry’s idea will create a more civil, empathetic society and set a high standard for the world and the U.S. government by demonstrating that torture will not be tolerated in America.

The Problem

Over 40,000 torturers, death squad members, and other human rights violators have passed through the United States since the end of the Vietnam War. Though many of them and their whereabouts are known to governmental authorities, they manage to escape arrest. Few are brought to account, as only a small group of attorneys are working on anti-impunity cases. No data are collected nationwide on the number of cases, number of war criminals, their location, or their activities. Refugees and immigrants who know of the criminals’ whereabouts don’t report it; they think nothing will be done, action would be too costly and complicated, or they don’t trust Americans with their security issues. The general public is largely unaware that these criminals live in and travel freely about their communities. With no central organization to collect and disseminate data, anti-impunity proponents are hard-pressed to build a broad public constituency.

The U.S. is engaged in serious human rights violations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and at Guantanamo Bay. Americans, by being “witnesses to torture,” are participating in a society that tolerates it. While there is an attempt in the U.S. and the world to address the problem of impunity for torture, it is piecemeal and uncoordinated, and there is no attempt at all to create in the U.S.—now perhaps the most significant player—a sizable and strong public culture that will not tolerate the fact that torturers and human rights violators are not brought to justice.

The 1998 Torture Victims Relief Act greatly expanded the resources to support torture treatment centers in the U.S., making it possible to assist many more survivors. However, when the Act was reauthorized in 2003, the funding stayed constant, so a growing number of treatment centers had to compete for relatively fewer dollars at the same time that demand for services had increased dramatically. The centers were urged to move away from federal funding, but have not found enough private sector support to fill the gap. Since the treatment centers support plaintiffs and witnesses engaged in legal actions, both are hampered by this lack of resources, and no one is raising funds to coordinate their efforts.

One hundred twenty countries routinely use torture to control their citizens. Of refugees coming from countries that use torture, as many as 20 percent and close to 90 percent of them have witnessed torture or seen its effects on others. Modern torture is primarily for political control through terror, not for the traditional purposes of punishment, interrogation, or conversion. Sexual torture is widely used because its effects are deep and long-lasting: it shatters the victims’ sense of identity, makes them question their own worth, and undermines their ability to trust other people. (These techniques were designed by professionals in the field of psychology). During long, difficult civil trials, survivors of torture often meet face-to-face with their torturers in court, but there are few trained clinicians to help them through these ordeals or to support the lawyers and other staff who assist them. Professionals who work with victims of political violence rarely stay in the field for long. Hearing and vicariously experiencing the horrendous stories of their clients make it difficult to continue their work.

The Strategy

The legal centers that Jerry has established in the U.S. and Canada for torture survivors are the initial building blocks for his larger, more comprehensive plan. Jerry’s strategy is to enlist an influential core group, then build support based on results. His planning group includes two former regional directors of Amnesty International (one was Amnesty’s U.S. board president), a professor of law who worked at The Hague, and the former assistant legal director of The Center for Justice & Accountability (SF). A Jesuit university will offer a site and the access a university gives to public lectures, graduate studies, and publication. This university partner offers the credibility and network needed for fundraising and advocacy efforts and will help launch a campaign to educate the public about the purpose, effects, and secrecy of modern torture, the presence of its perpetrators in our country, and the plan to create an anti-impunity culture in the U.S. It will also serve as a research center and training ground in the specialty of torture/impunity for law students and lawyers. Jerry will call on the law school and members of Congress to develop legislation, and on former lobbying partners to help get the legislation adopted. These advocacy efforts will create opposition within our government to the use of torture by the United States and to a system that does not hold torturers accountable for their crimes. The university center will build a professional anti-impunity culture from which a public anti-impunity culture can grow.

Investigative work will feed the legal efforts to find and prosecute torturers. Jerry has lined up a private investigator to lead the tracking center, which will be an international information clearinghouse for organizations that pursue legal action against torturers. Lawsuits brought by the legal centers will keep the presence and problem of unpunished torturers in the public eye. Academic research will support prosecution. Clinical action will expose the effects of physical and psychological torture and provide support for staff traumatized by exposure to the victims’ experiences. His new Institute for Redress & Recovery at Santa Clara University will provide a clinical director to oversee five regional directors who will, in turn, recruit local clinicians to work with the legal centers. They will also provide a liaison to the regions to coordinate the work of clinicians and lawyers on a particular case.

The program will rely on public education and professional training by the university, outreach to Congress and the media, cooperation with torture treatment centers, and outreach to refugee communities. It will create legal centers like the Center for Justice and Accountability across the U.S. It will also create a European legal anti-impunity center which will found new legal centers. Jerry’s program will be the core organizing group for the legal centers, the treatment programs, the tracking center and the university-based center; each of these will be suitable for replication.

To achieve his vision, Jerry will draw on the resources and expertise of his colleagues in the field. In April 2005, the Institute for International Criminal Investigations will pay Jerry’s way to attend their board meeting at The Hague and explore collaboration. He’ll also go to Geneva to the UN Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture. He has discussed his plans with the director of the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims in Copenhagen, the largest European torture treatment center, who assigned their legal director, a lawyer who worked at the Rwanda tribunal, to work with Jerry to develop support services for war crimes staff.

The Person

Born in Oakland, California, Jerry’s father was a military doctor in World War II, so the family’s lifestyle and location changed frequently. Jerry’s family hired European refugees as domestic help; they raised him and were the “family” with whom he built the closest bonds. He went to college at Yale, where he enjoyed the studies and many other aspects of the community. He finished his undergrad program at Berkeley.

At age 19, Jerry had a traumatic experience that is still too painful for him to discuss but which connects him strongly to his present concerns. When facing the draft, he refused to discuss his political affiliations; he was investigated by military intelligence for a year. By the time he was cleared he was in graduate school, but dropped out to work in the civil rights movement. He worked with the only openly armed black union in the south in Bogalusa, Louisiana, and participated in the march from Selma to Montgomery. He resumed his studies, earning a diploma in social administration from the London School of Economics, then a master’s in public health from Berkeley. He still took risks by helping draft resisters get to Sweden and Canada and founding an anti-Vietnam war newspaper for the U.S. military. In 1960, he was arrested at a protest against the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings. He produced a record album, “The Sounds of Protest,” to publicize the mass arrests. Jerry later founded a journal, Americas Review, to preserve the poetry of social struggle movements. He held a literary contest that attracted enough support to found the journal that is still published today.

In the 1970s, When Jerry learned that disturbed teens were being locked up in juvenile halls instead of being treated, he earned a social work degree and founded two group homes for adolescents, where he worked for seven years. Then, partly to deal with his own traumatic experience, he became a psychotherapist. In 1984, he was enjoying fatherhood and his private clinical practice when he learned that some psychotherapists were helping to design effective torture practices. This changed his life. Enraged that professionals in his own field were putting patients in his office, he decided to start a torture treatment center. His first attempt failed. Undeterred, in 1990 Jerry founded and became board president of Survivors International.

In 1994, one of Jerry’s Yugoslavian patients, recently released from a concentration camp, was shown photos of people in his community and recognized one as his torturer. Jerry’s patient fled the area to find safety. Outraged that this could happen because no organization was systematically tracking down torturers who had come into the U.S., Jerry began working to create the Center for Justice and Accountability to specialize in these cases. Despite his peers warning that “no one will fund it,” he raised enough money to fund the first three cases for legal action against torturers from Chile, El Salvador, and Bosnia. This convinced Amnesty International to provide $300,000 and break precedent to help Jerry launch the organization under their auspices (he soon had it running on its own). The United Nations Voluntary Fund for the Victims of Torture also had faith in Jerry and supported his effort, as did many donors and the U.S. government. He raised $1.5 million in 2 years for the legal center and helped found torture treatment centers in San Diego and Victoria, B.C.

Since the Center for Justice and Accountability is primarily engaged in legal action, Jerry moved on when an attorney was found to take the helm, and is currently the director of the Center for Survivors of Torture in San Jose. A recent journal article notes that “The torture treatment community owes a debt to Gerald Gray for his pioneering anti-impunity work and advocacy in North America.” Looking ahead, Jerry is creating a united force that will wage battle on several fronts against the culture of impunity in the United States, and send the message to the world that there is a movement in America that does not tolerate cruelty.

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