Religious leaders ask Obama to ban torture
President-elect Barack Obama / Bishop Howard Hubbard
President-elect Barack Obama / Bishop Howard Hubbard
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.- Leaders of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT), who met with officials from the Obama transition team on Wednesday, have issued a letter calling for an executive order banning torture.

The Jan. 9 letter to President-elect Barack Obama was signed by a variety of Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders, including Bishop Howard J. Hubbard of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (USCCB) Committee on International Justice and Peace.

“We appreciate and value your focus on uniting people to face the many challenges that lie ahead as your inauguration approaches,” the letter begins. “One of those challenges is to restore our nation’s moral standing in the world by rejecting the practice of torture.”

“While we represent a wide diversity of America’s faith traditions, we all believe in the inherent worth and dignity of all human life,” the letter continued. “Respect for the dignity of every person must serve as the foundation for security, justice and peace. Torture is incompatible with the tenets of our faiths and is contrary to international and U.S. law.”

In December the Senate Armed Services Committee released the executive summary and conclusions of its report on detainee abuse, titled “Inquiry into the Treatment of Detainees in US Custody.”

“The abuse of detainees in U.S. custody cannot simply be attributed to the actions of ‘a few bad apples’ acting on their own,” the report charges. “The fact is that senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees. Those efforts damaged our ability to collect accurate intelligence that could save lives, strengthened the hand of our enemies, and compromised our moral authority.”

The report adds that following President George W. Bush’s determination of Feb. 7, 2002, “techniques such as waterboarding, nudity, and stress positions, used in SERE [Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape] training to simulate tactics used by enemies that refuse to follow the Geneva Conventions, were authorized for use in interrogations of detainees in U.S. custody.”

The report also charged that legal opinions issued by the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) “distorted the meaning and intent of anti-torture laws, rationalized the abuse of detainees in U.S. custody and influenced Department of Defense determinations as to what interrogation techniques were legal for use during interrogations conducted by U.S. military personnel.”

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Committee Ranking Member Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) released the report on December 11.

“The Committee’s report details the inexcusable link between abusive interrogation techniques used by our enemies who ignored the Geneva Conventions and interrogation policy for detainees in U.S. custody,” Sen. McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential candidate, commented in a press release. “These policies are wrong and must never be repeated.”

Chairman Levin added:

“Our investigation is an effort to set the record straight on this chapter in our history that has so damaged both America’s standing and our security. America needs to own up to its mistakes so that we can rebuild some of the good will that we have lost.”

NRCAT’s letter to President-elect Obama included a “Declaration of Principles” for a proposed presidential executive order banning torture, asking that he review them and issue an executive order as soon as possible.

NRCAT’s Declaration of Principles endorses the “golden rule,” which pledges “We will not authorize or use any methods of interrogation that we would not find acceptable if used against Americans, be they civilians or soldiers.” It endorses the U.S. Army Field Manual as the “best expression” of a national standard of interrogation and treatment of prisoners.

The Declaration pledges respect for “the rule of law,” rejecting secret prisons and arguing that prisoners should have the opportunity to prove their innocence.

“The US will not transfer any person to countries that use torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment,” the declaration continues, advocating “clarity and accountability” to provide certainty to U.S. personnel that their policies are legal.

“All US officials who authorize, implement, or fail in their duty to prevent the use of torture and ill-treatment of prisoners will be held accountable, regardless of rank or position,” the Declaration advocates.

Signatories of the Declaration of Principles include former national security and defense officials, retired generals and admirals, and religious leaders.

Catholic clergy signatories include Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, who is archbishop emeritus of Washington, DC, and Cardinal Francis George, the President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

John Carr, Executive Director of the USCCB’s Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development, spoke at a Thursday press conference organized by NRCAT, saying:

“Torture is abhorrent and can neither be condoned nor tolerated. Pope Benedict XVI has said that the prohibition against torture ‘cannot be contravened under any circumstance.’

“Simply put, torture is a classic moral case of ends and means,” Carr continued. “Good ends cannot legitimize immoral means. In the context of torture, we cannot defend our life and dignity by threatening the lives and attacking the dignity of others.”

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