.- 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 Bishopsâ (USCCB) Committee on International Justice and Peace.
âWe appreciate and value your focus on uniting people to face the many challenges that lie ahead as your inauguration approaches,â the letter begins. âOne of those challenges is to restore our nationâs moral standing in the world by rejecting the practice of torture.â
âWhile we represent a wide diversity of Americaâs faith traditions, we all believe in the inherent worth and dignity of all human life,â the letter continued. âRespect 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.â
In December the Senate Armed Services Committee released the executive summary and conclusions of its report on detainee abuse, titled âInquiry into the Treatment of Detainees in US Custody.â
âThe abuse of detainees in U.S. custody cannot simply be attributed to the actions of âa few bad applesâ acting on their own,â the report charges. âThe 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.â
The report adds that following President George W. Bushâs determination of Feb. 7, 2002, âtechniques 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.â
The report also charged that legal opinions issued by the Department of Justiceâs Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) âdistorted 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.â
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.
âThe Committeeâs 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,â Sen. McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential candidate, commented in a press release. âThese policies are wrong and must never be repeated.â
Chairman Levin added:
âOur investigation is an effort to set the record straight on this chapter in our history that has so damaged both Americaâs 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.â
NRCATâs letter to President-elect Obama included a âDeclaration of Principlesâ for a proposed presidential executive order banning torture, asking that he review them and issue an executive order as soon as possible.
NRCATâs Declaration of Principles endorses the âgolden rule,â which pledges âWe will not authorize or use any methods of interrogation that we would not find acceptable if used against Americans, be they civilians or soldiers.â It endorses the U.S. Army Field Manual as the âbest expressionâ of a national standard of interrogation and treatment of prisoners.
The Declaration pledges respect for âthe rule of law,â rejecting secret prisons and arguing that prisoners should have the opportunity to prove their innocence.
âThe US will not transfer any person to countries that use torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment,â the declaration continues, advocating âclarity and accountabilityâ to provide certainty to U.S. personnel that their policies are legal.
âAll 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,â 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 USCCBâs Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development, spoke at a Thursday press conference organized by NRCAT, saying:
âTorture is abhorrent and can neither be condoned nor tolerated. Pope Benedict XVI has said that the prohibition against torture âcannot be contravened under any circumstance.â
âSimply put, torture is a classic moral case of ends and means,â Carr continued. âGood 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.â