U.S. Sponsored Torture
June 2014. Rev. Michael Neuroth, UCC Policy Advocate for International Issues, calls on us to recognize the continued use of U.S. sponsored torture and offers ways to engage with Torture Awareness Month.
In April, 2014, the Senate Intelligence Committee voted to declassify a long awaited report on the CIA’s rendition, detention and torture program following 9/11. Many heralded this victory as the next step in the continued effort to fully end U.S. sponsored torture. As more time passes and public outrage wanes regarding the 2003 Abu Ghraib scandal, which vividly portrayed sordid examples of U.S. torture of prisoners, it is important to remind ourselves of the continued use of torture by the U.S. and other nations and renew our calling as people of faith to work for a world where torture is no more.
President Obama’s 2009 Executive Order banning the use of torture on his second day in office was a major victory. It officially halted U.S. use of torture as an interrogation tactic and ensured access of the International Red Cross to prisoners. This official policy change along with several incremental legislative steps addressing torture over the past few years all indicate continued public will and progress toward ending torture.
Despite these victories, there is still a long way to go toward fully eradiating torture both here and abroad.
On any given day, more than 80,000 adults and youth remain subject to torture in U.S. prisons through the use of solitary confinement. Juan Méndez, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, stated in his 2011 report that solitary confinement in excess of 15 days should “be subject to an absolute prohibition” based on scientific evidence of its psychological damage. Studies show that solitary alters the brain and can lead to mental illness.
Like other forms of torture, solitary violates basic human rights and dignity and strips individuals from the relationships and community for which we were created.
GITMO and Torture Around the World
The U.S. must continue to lead by example if it hopes to convince other nations to end the use of torture internationally. To do so, it must not only ratify the “Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (OPCAT)” and support other multilateral efforts, but also address the legacy of its rendition and torture program by closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay.
For more than a decade, hundreds of people have been imprisoned without trial in a state of indefinite detention at Guantanamo. More than150 remain there, with 70 already cleared for transfer.
Many prisoners have been subject to inhumane treatment or forced feedings following a hunger strike last year. The treatment and desperation of these hunger strikers was depicted vividly in an NYTimes Op-Ed last year penned by one of the prisoners.
In 2013, faith leaders organized a fast in solidarity with these strikers and called on President Obama to fulfill his campaign promise to close the prison. Congress and the President must work together to find solutions so this dark chapter in U.S. history can finally be ended.
Why this is a Matter of Faith
The faith community has done much to advance our work against torture. These victories have been coordinated by the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT), an organization formed in 2006 to coordinate a faith-based response to torture. The United Church of Christ has been and remains a strong partner with NRCAT in these efforts, based not only on our broad General Synod policy to defend human rights, but the witness of many of our churches and leaders who have engaged the issue. Several of our UCC conferences have passed statements opposing torture, and our General Minister and President, Rev. Geoffrey A. Black, has been outspoken on the issue.
As NRCAT’s recent campaign reminded us, “There is nothing faithful about torture!” As people of faith, we oppose torture as a violation of our intrinsic respect for humanity and the God-given value we see in every person created in the image of God.
Seeing God in the other demands that we grant one another basic human rights and dignities. Further, as Christians, we are called by Jesus to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” (Matthew 5:44).
As others have noted, loving your enemies means not torturing them! The measure of Jesus’ ministry doesn’t leave the door open to degrees of cruelty. “Enhanced interrogation”, “indefinite detention”, “waterboarding” or “special rendition” are all euphemisms that obscure the fact that we as a nation have endorsed torture. We must continue as a nation to seek repentance, forgiveness, and continually commit ourselves to a world without torture.
Ways to Engage
One step you can take to engage the issue of Torture is participate actively in Torture Awareness Month each June. Visit the UCC Against Torture website for more information and consider engaging through the following activities:
- Download the NRCAT Torture Awareness Month toolkit
- Organize a service or other public event on June 26 to mark UN International Day in Support of Torture Victims, or on another day in June to mark Torture Awareness Month.
- Host a table with literature and information from NRCAT in your church.
- Lift up other issues such as Guantanamo, torture in U.S. prisons, and anti-Muslim bias during Torture Awareness Month. Learn more from NRCAT.
- Use social media to promote anti-torture messages during June. Be sure to tag or mention us when you Tweet or write a Facebook status update. Check out sample posts and Tweets.