Religious leaders urge President-elect Obama to ban torture
Written by Wire Report
November 13, 2008

On Wednesday, Nov. 12, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) held a "National "Day of Witness" for a Presidential executive order to Ban Torture." Participants in the day's events sought to persuade President-elect Barack Obama to sign an executive order banning torture as one of his first official actions in office and to urge members of Congress to establish a Select Committee to investigate the use of torture since 9/11.

As part of this "Day of Witness," more than 50 delegations of religious leaders, spanning states and districts across the country, held meetings with their congressional representatives. Additionally, more than 30 religious institutions participated in a procession and public witness in front of the White House which included hundreds of people of faith, many of whom carried anti-torture banners that have been displayed outside their places of worship over the past few months.

"We are thrilled that so many religious leaders and institutions participated in today's events," said Linda Gustitus, president of NRCAT. "Collectively, we have sent a powerful message that torture has no place in U.S. policy. President-elect Obama has a unique opportunity. With just one stroke of his pen - by issuing an executive order governing the Executive Branch - he can end this shameful chapter in our history and reclaim our moral values."

At the public witness in front of the White House, a number of religious leaders offered remarks, including Rabbi Gerry Serotta, Chair of Rabbis for Human Rights.

"Torture, as well as other cruel and inhumane treatment, degrades everyone involved: not just victims, but also the perpetrators and the policymakers," Serotta said. "Rabbis for Human Rights calls for a complete repudiation and prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment for any purpose, in any instance. At this moment of hope we call audaciously for moral leadership that will be welcomed throughout the world as the U.S. government and our people resume our aspiration to be 'guided through the night with a light from above.' "

In meetings around the country, religious leaders asked members of Congress to support NRCAT's call for a Select Committee on Torture to conduct a full investigation into the use of "enhanced interrogation techniques" by U.S. personnel since 9/11. They are also asking the members of Congress to use their influence to urge the newly elected President to issue an executive order when he assumes office in January to dismantle the torture infrastructure created by the current Administration.

After meeting with one such religious delegation last week, U.S. Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J., chairman of the Select Intelligence Oversight Panel, issued a statement this morning in support of the NRCAT campaign and expressly endorsing the tenets contained in its "Declaration of Principles."

"Torture tarnishes our nation's values and damages our credibility," Holt wrote. "I have worked for years to end our government's use of torture. While an executive order will not remove the need for legislation on the issue, it is a way for President-elect Obama to put an immediate halt to our government's use of torture during interrogations and to put an end to the practice of secret detentions. By exercising his authority and acting quickly, he will begin to restore our moral leadership on the issue and repair some of the harm that has been done to our international reputation."

Today's events were launched in the morning with a national telephone press conference, where NRCAT leaders were joined by Rabbi Serotta; Dr. Ingrid Mattson, president, Islamic Society of North America; the Rev. John Thomas, UCC general minister and president; and Dr. Stephen Colecchi, director, Office of International Justice and Peace, Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

"The use of torture by the United States in recent years, and our refusal to renounce its use, has diminished us as a nation not only in the eyes of our own citizens, but in the eyes of the world," declared Thomas. "We have squandered the good will bestowed upon us after 9/11, and we have forfeited our role as a moral leader in the community of nations. There could be no clearer signal of our intention to reclaim the religious and moral values that have historically informed our nation's character than for President-elect Barack Obama to make as one of his first acts the issuing of an executive order declaring that 'the use of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment against prisons is immoral, unwise, and un-American.' "

"According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the Convention Against Torture, we as an international community long ago established that every person in the world, regardless of their race, religion or socioeconomic status has the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment," added Mattson. "As religious leaders in America, it is our moral obligation to stand up for human rights and call upon our government to ensure that the United States continues to uphold the standards set forth by these international treaties and conventions."

"Torture is about the rights of victims, but it is also about who we are as a people," offered Colecchi. "In a statement on Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, issued in preparation for our recent national elections, the bishops reminded Catholics that torture is 'intrinsically evil' and 'can never be justified.' There are some things we must never do. We must never take the lives of innocent people. We must never torture other human beings."

For more information about the campaign, including a list of more than 200 religious, military, and government leaders who have endorsed its "Declaration of Principles," please visit <tortureisamoralissue.org>

 
The National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) is a growing membership organization committed to ending U.S.-sponsored torture, and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Since its formation in January 2006, more than 240 religious groups have joined NRCAT, including representatives from the Roman Catholic, evangelical Christian, mainline Protestant, Unitarian, Quaker, Orthodox Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, and Sikh communities. Members include national denominations and faith groups, regional organizations and local congregations. 

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