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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: While terrorism remains on the minds of Americans in the wake of the 9-11 tragedy, millions of other people silently cope each day with another form of terror. They are survivors of torture.

More than half a million of these people live in the United States. They are individuals and families who have suffered for their belief in democracy or their membership in a particular ethnic or political group, often at the hands of dictatorial foreign governments.

Their scars are both physical and mental, but with the help of 30 torture treatment centers nationwide, they are putting their pasts to rest. While Sierra Leone and Somalia seem a world away to most Americans, survivors of these war-torn countries are increasingly becoming our friends and neighbors, teachers and ticket-takers, all of whom are building new lives for themselves.

According to Amnesty International, torture is used in more than 150 countries. Individuals suffer horribly at the hands of their captors from torture designed to silence entire communities. It is used as a weapon to eliminate dissent. Its goal is to breed fear and destroy human rights, often to gain or retain political power.

Please, Abby, let your readers know that help is available for those who need it. Those willing to help end these senseless acts can learn more about this frighteningly common practice and how to help stop it by visiting Thank you. -- DOUGLAS JOHNSON, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR VICTIMS OF TORTURE, MINNEAPOLIS

DEAR DOUGLAS: Tomorrow, June 26, marks the fifth U.N. International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, and I'm sure that many of my readers will be interested in learning more about this. It's easy for those of us who have lived our lives in a democratic country to envision victims of torture as people who are in distant lands. The fact that more than half a million victims of this kind of repression are literally our neighbors may come as a surprise to many people.

Our country is truly a refuge for "huddled masses yearning to breathe free." Those who wish to add their voices in protest of man's inhumanity to man and hasten the end of this barbaric practice should visit the Center for Victims of Torture Web site.

DEAR ABBY: This is a letter of thanks and a warning.

For Mother's Day, my adult children and spouses brought all the fixings to my home for a barbecue. I didn't have to do a thing. We had a wonderful time, and everyone went home by 9 p.m.

Around midnight, I was awakened by the sound of sirens and got up to see where the fire trucks had stopped. To my horror, they were parked in front of my house! One of my sons had cleaned the barbecue grill, swept the hot ashes into a paper bag, put them on the wooden deck and forgot them. They smoldered for hours, causing my deck to become engulfed in flames. That's the warning.

My thanks go to the unknown neighbor or passer-by who called 911 and saved our lives. -- NADINE MEEHAN, SAN FRANCISCO

DEAR NADINE: Talk about throwing cold water on a warm memory! Embers should be disposed of in a metal container with water or allowed to burn out in the barbecue.

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