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The Disappeared Children of El Salvador

 

As the debate ensues about the confirmation of Assistant CIA director Gina Haspel and her role in condoning torture, I’m again reminded of the role the US government and military has historically played in numerous human rights abuses abroad.

In 2015, I traveled to El Salvador as a Teaching Assistant with a group of outstanding undergraduate researchers and budding filmmakers in the University of Washington’s Jackson School of International Studies Task Force program. My role, as part of a digital media fellowship at the UW Center for Human Rights, was to lead a student team, under the direction of professor Angelina Godoy, in the production of two videos for Pro-Búsqueda, the indomitable Salvadoran Human Rights organization dedicated to reuniting surviving family members with their children who were forcibly disappeared by the Salvadoran army during the Civil War (1980-1992).

Evidence overwhelmingly indicates the US military trained and supported Salvadoran generals in counterinsurgency tactics that included torture. A policy of brutality and extermination, executed at the highest levels, resulted in countless human rights atrocities, including the forced disappearance of children.

During this trip, we heard dozens of stories of how children were literally taken from the arms of their parents–many of whom were tortured and murdered–and given up to adoption in the United States and abroad. Over many years Pro-Búsqueda has painstakingly followed fragmented trails of information and evidence, and against numerous threats, to find the whereabouts of these disappeared children. To date Pro Búsqueda has reunited or found closure in an astounding 435 cases.

In the recent Senate Intelligence committee hearings, Haspel remarked how,  “The C.I.A. did extraordinary work to prevent another attack on this country, given the legal tools that we were authorized to use.”

Is torture ever be something subject to shifting public opinion or definitions of legality? While accountability for the various forms of torture should not lie squarely on Haspel’s shoulders–the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s report extends culpability up the chain of command to President Bush–should we consider as director of the CIA someone who defers culpability to prevailing attitudes and legal authorization?

When it comes to questions of torture and one’s moral compass, the answer should be clear in the faces of those who have suffered under these policies.

To learn more about the Salvadoran Civil War from the account of survivors, visit the Unfinished Sentences’ Testimony Archive.

 

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Education for Change

Repost from UW’s Jackson School of International Studies

At the UW Center for Human Rights, student researchers use the Freedom of Information Act (also known as FOIA) and state public records laws to investigate local and international human rights issues, in partnership with human rights organizations working for justice and accountability.

The work that UWCHR student research interns do has real-world impacts. Through the Unfinished Sentences project supporting human rights groups in El Salvador, declassified CIA documents obtained by UW researchers have been accepted as evidence in a court case seeking two young girls who were forcibly disappeared during a military operation in 1982. UW student researchers are also piloting an innovative program to use declassified U.S. government documents as a tool in the healing process of war survivors, as way to allow them access to information about wartime operations and to speak back against official narratives of the war. All of the declassified documents obtained by UW researchers regarding the conflict in El Salvador are freely accessible via the UW Libraries.

Student researchers are also turning their freedom of information expertise to local issues through the UWCHR’s Human Rights at Home initiative. The first report from this initiative, “Don’t Ask, Do Tell,” used public records requests to analyze Washington State law enforcement agencies’ policies regarding collaboration with federal immigration enforcement activity. The report’s findings were cited by the ACLU of Washington and the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project in a letter to police and sheriff’s departments across the state, urging them to revise policies which could result in civil rights violations. The UWCHR’s student research interns continue to file FOIA and public records requests regarding ICE and CBP activities in Washington State.

I worked with the UW Center for Human Rights to capture their superstar student Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) research team in action, and discuss the lasting impact their work is having on their education and advancing human rights.

Roles: Videographer, Editor, Producer

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The UW Task Force: From Policy to Practice

The Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington combines the social sciences, humanities, and professional fields to enhance our understanding of our increasingly interconnected globe. One standout and unique element of the program is “Task Force,” a capstone course that requires students to work in teams to research a specific policy issue and offer policy recommendations. Their research and recommendations address complex and pressing world issues such as the Syrian refugee crisis, cybersecurity, and US/Iran Policy after the nuclear deal.

Their written report is then subjected to an oral evaluation by experienced policymakers, such as foreign ambassadors and or directors of prominent federal agencies such as the CIA.  Many students cite Task Force as the highlight of their undergraduate education.

This video profiles two student participants in the program, one current and one graduate, as they discuss the impact of Task Force and their Jackson School education.

Roles: Producer, Videographer, Editor

Video

Avvo Office Life

If the legal industry seems intimidating to you, you’re not alone: founder Mark Britton formed Avvo in 2006 with the mission of making legal industry more accessible, or “make legal easier” as the company motto goes. In fact, you may recognize the Avvo name if you’ve searched for a lawyer, or combed through answers on one of Avvo’s helpful legal topics pages: the company thrives on providing useful information to those seeking legal assistance.

Apparently the need is strong. This Seattle-based startup has grown leaps and bounds since their founding in 2006, and they’re quickly becoming a force in shaping the legal industry.

Avvo feels they’re just getting started–the company is growing…and hiring! Watch the video below for a behind-the-scenes glimpse of Avvo office life, or to gain a sense of what current employees value about working for company intent on making “legal easier.”

 

Roles: Co-producer, Videographer, Editor

Human Rights, Video Work

Education for Action: Student Berry Boycott Organizer Celebrates Farmworker Victory

When workers at a Washington State berry farm went on strike for their right to form a union, University of Washington alumna Jessica Ramirez joined the fight alongside Familias Unidas por la Justicia, coordinating a national boycott against the largest berry company in the world.

Jessica’s work was supported by the UW Center for Human Rights’ unique Osheroff-Clark Fund, which provides financial resources for undergraduate and graduate students to support human rights projects that promote social change through direct action.

Learn more about the UW Center for Human Rights’ funds for students and instructors

Learn more about Familias Unidas por La Justicia

Roles: Producer, Videographer, Editor

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Propella Vid: Behind the Scenes

As a videographer/camera operator, I spend most of my time behind the lens instead of in front of it, so it’s extra rare to have a behind-the-scenes video of production work.  The team at Propella put together this fun GoPro piece of our work on Propella 2.0, the product video for their newest line of electric bike. I hadn’t even noticed a few of the GoPros they stashed around our various shoot sites.  Nicely done Propella!

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Standing Strong, Upholding Values, and Building Bridges: MAPS Annual Banquet Video

 
The Muslim Association of Puget Sound (MAPS for short) is a mosque located in Redmond, WA, that serves over 5,000 families across the Greater Puget Sound area. A beautiful place for prayer and reflection, MAPS also acts as much more: a thriving community center, an elementary school, a language school, a popular wedding and event venue, a cafe, and overwhelmingly welcoming place for youth and families for the 40+ nationalities who frequent the mosque.

MAPS’s leadership also invests tremendously in the local community. For this year’s annual banquet, MAPS highlighted their community-oriented programs in education, service, and outreach, an impressive collection of programs that span from healing our bodies (free health clinics) to our planet (environmental restoration), to healing social divisions through empowering youth to tell their personal stories.

Roles: Producer, Videographer, Editor

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Propella 2.0

 

Since I was a kid I’ve loved biking. So when the opportunity came about to work with Waka Waka Studios and Propella, a Seattle-based electric bike company with a mission to “bridge the gap between bicycles and electric bikes,” I jumped at the chance on the saddle.

For 2.0, Propella’s stylish black electric bike with blue anodized wheels was designed to be lighter, with a larger battery capacity and a more efficient motor, among other component improvements. We created this piece to highlight details of the new model in-studio, while showing the bike in-action around scenic Seattle. Propella is committed to making not just a well-functioning product, but one that is beautifully designed, and after spending some time with it in-person, I can say they’re succeeding: it’s the sexiest electric bike I’ve seen to date.

If you like the bike, Propella is offering a limited production run through their new indiegogo campaign, so jump on it soon!

Roles: Videographer, Co-Editor, Coordinator/Producer

 

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Make Your Voice Heard: Fighting Islamophobia

 

In 2015, reported hate crimes against American Muslims increased 67%, reaching the highest levels in our nation’s history. Responding to this rapid increase, The Muslim Association of Puget Sound  (MAPS) and Kids4Peace Seattle collaborated with local journalists, activists, judges, artists, and concerned citizens to produce the workshop “Make Your Voice Heard.”  The workshop set out to empower Muslim and non-Muslim youth to use media to tell positive personal stories about American Muslims and fight the mischaracterization of Muslims in mainstream media. In this video you’ll hear directly from Muslim youth about their stories, and experience a snapshot of the day’s event, held at Seattle University on January 15, 2017, Martin Luther King Day.

Roles: Videographer, Editor, Producer

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Amanda Castro: Daughter of the Disappeared

Twenty-five years after the end of the armed conflict in El Salvador, thousands of families like Amanda’s continue searching for their forcibly disappeared parents, children, friends and relatives. The President of El Salvador, Salvador Sánchez Cerén, has committed to form a National Commission to Search for Disappeared Persons to investigate and clarify these crimes against humanity. The Commission should be granted the legal authority and resources necessary to investigate these cases, with the goal of locating and identifying the remains of the disappeared, and where possible, identify those responsible for these crimes in order that they be brought to justice.

Join Amanda. Send a message to thank President Cerén for his commitment to surviving family members of the disappeared, and ask him to follow through on the creation of the Commission:

Unfinishedsentences.org/Take-Action

This video was created in partnership with the UW Center for Human Rights and the Center for Human Rights at the Universidad CentroAmericana.

Roles: Coordinator/Producer, Editor