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ask the next president to ban torture

ask the next president to ban torture

Three organizations (The National Religious Campaign Against Torture, Evangelicals for Human Rights, and The Center for Victims of Torture) are spearheading a joint effort to urge the next president to issue an executive order banning the use of torture by any entity representing the United States. Such an act, in and of itself, could go a long way, I think, toward restoring the integrity of the United States as a global leader in defense of universal human rights, whichever candidate were to be elected. You may join this effort by endorsing the Declaration of Principles for a Presidential Executive Order On Prisoner Treatment, Torture and Cruelty. The text of the Declaration follows …

Declaration of Principles for a Presidential Executive Order On Prisoner Treatment, Torture and Cruelty

Though we come from a variety of backgrounds and walks of life, we agree that the use of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment against prisoners is immoral, unwise, and un-American.

In our effort to secure ourselves, we have resorted to tactics which do not work, which endanger US personnel abroad, which discourage political, military, and intelligence cooperation from our allies, and which ultimately do not enhance our security.

Our President must lead us by our core principles. We must be better than our enemies, and our treatment of prisoners captured in the battle against terrorism must reflect our character and values as Americans.

Therefore, we believe the President of the United States should issue an Executive Order that provides as follows:

The “Golden Rule.” 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.

One national standard. We will have one national standard for all US personnel and agencies for the interrogation and treatment of prisoners. Currently, the best expression of that standard is the US Army Field Manual, which will be used until any other interrogation technique has been approved based on the Golden Rule principle.

The rule of law. We will acknowledge all prisoners to our courts or the International Red Cross. We will in no circumstance hold persons in secret prisons or engage in disappearances. In all cases, prisoners will have the opportunity to prove their innocence in ways that fully conform to American principles of fairness.

Duty to protect. We acknowledge our historical commitment to end the use of torture and cruelty in the world. The US will not transfer any person to countries that use torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.

Checks and balances. Congress and the courts play an invaluable role in protecting the values and institutions of our nation and must have and will have access to the information they need to be fully informed about our detention and interrogation policies.

Clarity and accountability. All US personnel—whether soldiers or intelligence staff—deserve the certainty that they are implementing policy that complies fully with the law. Henceforth 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.

jimmy carter speaks out on torture

jimmy carter speaks out on torture

President Jimmy Carter urges an unambiguous prohibition against the practice of torture.

Until recent years the United States has been in the forefront of condemning torture and indefinite detention without trial as fundamental violations of human rights. The Geneva Conventions are held as the unquestioned standard for the treatment of prisoners of war. I would not have believed that in my lifetime I would feel the need to call for an unambiguous prohibition against the practice of torture by agents of the U.S. government.

A burgeoning global human rights movement was, slowly but surely, taking root by the end of the twentieth century, as more and more nations sought to turn principles of human decency into the practice of greater justice for all. Tragically, the tolerance of torture by our own government is today threatening to undermine the cause of human rights and the work of those who defend these principles in the face of growing dangers.

Our nation, which overcame slavery and segregation to proudly raise the banner of human rights for all to see, now finds itself condemned amid the indelible images of human degradation, perpetrated by U.S. forces in charge of the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Our government’s persistent unwillingness to ban the use of torture by its own agents or to grant access to legal counsel or prospect of a proper trial to hundreds of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay emboldens those who oppose human rights elsewhere.

Many courageous human rights defenders who document and report human rights violations throughout the world say that these actions by the United States rob them of the tool that has been central to their success: the ability to name and shame human rights violations. Abusive governments now believe that the rules have changed, and they too easily make excuses that sound a lot like the U.S. government’s arguments to legitimize its own conduct.

As we commemorate the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the United States must acknowledge that the world has become a battlefield where the rules of human rights no longer apply. We must urgently consider what this will mean for our own country and for our moral leadership in this world.

just bullies

just bullies

Our nation’s psyche is shaped by two defining archetypes: the cowboy and the preacher; the macho hero and the principled idealist; the adventurer and the reformer; the Louisiana Purchase and the Bill of Rights; Christopher Columbus and Thomas Jefferson; John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart; Douglas MacArthur and Martin Luther King.

The face we present to the rest of the world is spawned of the delicate balance between these two personae, these two values. We swagger … and we stand on principle. We fight for freedom … and we defend human rights. We are the biggest … and we are the best. We overcome all enemies … and we uphold the rule of law.

Much of our internal political debate can be framed in terms of these two defining ideas. When kept in balance, we manage to win with dignity, to earn respect even as we impose our will, to forge new friendships instead of creating new enemies.

But when the one American vision is divorced from the other, when the rule of law is set aside “out of necessity” in order to “win,” then we are seen as bullies. And that is indeed what we are … just bullies.

enemies of freedom

enemies of freedom

How can we win against the “enemies of freedom” while proving to be an enemy of freedom ourselves???

Senate Rejects Expanding Detainee Rights: The US Senate failed to break a Republican filibuster blocking a vote on an amendment to restore habeas corpus rights to terrorism suspects. Democratic senators were joined by six Republicans in voting to close debate and bring the amendment to a vote, but still fell four votes short.

We cannot claim to be defenders of freedom and of the universal application of the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to all human beings, if we so readily deny the most basic means of legal recourse to any person or class of persons.

some thoughts on terrorism

some thoughts on terrorism

Some thoughts provoked by a lecture I heard last Monday evening delivered by Dr. Louise Richardson. Her latest book: What Terrorists Want: Understanding the Enemy, Containing the Threat

  • Dr. Richardson spoke of the importance of “following our own rules.” I agree. It is beyond foolish to jettison our highest principles — our esteem for the rule of law and our commitment to human rights for all people — for the sake of protecting ourselves and “our way of life.” We are only dooming our way of life in the process, as well as severely undermining any international credibility we might have had in calling other nations and leaders to account.
  • “Terrorism” has become a catchall term, used to define — and defame — any “enemy” of any sort. When we refer to “The Terrorists” without any further elaboration, as if “The Terrorists” were a monolithic, coordinated opposition, it only confuses things. We are threatened not by “The Terrorists,” but by a variety of terrorists groups, each with their own distinct grievances, ideologies, political objectives, and modes of behavior: Al Qaeda, Hamas, Sunni insurgents, Shiite militias, etc. It is critical that we understand our enemies and what it is that drives their rage, even when it may mean acknowledging the legitimacy of some of their complaints.
  • Dr. Richardson defines terrorism as the “deliberate targeting of non-combatants for the sake of some political objective.” It seems to me that an additional element of any terrorist organization is a perception of powerlessness. Terrorism is a tactic adopted by those who cannot “win” a fair fight, the response of the “little guys” to the “big bully,” resorting to cheating or trickery or unfair fighting to strike back at the bully. In this regard, it is interesting to note that as Hamas gained some legitimate political power, it began to back off somewhat from its terrorist rhetoric and tactics. Terrorism is the “weapon” of the oppressed and the weak (unwarranted and morally unjustifiable), just as militarism is the “weapon” of the oppressor and the strong (just as unwarranted and just as morally unjustifiable!).
  • In that case, it is clear why a “bullying” response to terrorism is useless. It merely confirms the terrorist’s point of view and redoubles the determination to go on. The only way to defuse or contain terrorism is to stop the bullying … and to share power! But that is the one thing we are not prepared to do. We want to dictate the terms for the rest of the world. Unfortunately, as long as we insist on doing so, we provide a ripe environment for the growth of terrorism.
ten steps

ten steps

Worth checking out: Ten Steps to Restore the United States’ Moral Authority: A Common Sense Agenda for the 110th Congress

This document posted on the Human Rights Watch website provides a good summary of the ways the conduct of the war on terrorism has undermined the consistent application by the United States of basic principles of human rights and suggests a specific agenda for restoring our moral compass. Signatories include Amnesty International, Physicians for Human Rights, the Justice and Witness Ministries of the United Church of Christ, and close to twenty other religious and human rights organizations.

speaking out against torture is not a “left”/”right” thing … it’s a following jesus thing!

speaking out against torture is not a “left”/”right” thing … it’s a following jesus thing!

The National Association of Evangelicals has endorsed a declaration confirming their opposition as people of faith, as followers of Jesus, to the use of torture under any circumstances, even in a “war on terrorism.” The permissibiity of “enhanced interrogation techniques” is not a “left”/”right” issue. It is an issue of basic human rights, of basic human dignity, of basic regard for Jesus’ teaching on the way we are to treat our neighbors and our enemies.

I am encouraged that the whole church is speaking with one voice on this issue. May our voice be heard! May our nation not find itself “winning” the war on terrorism at the cost of its own soul!

I am quoting here the whole of the executive summary of the declaration. You may find the summary in its original context and a link to the full declaration on the Evangelicals for Human Rights website.


Executive Summary

1. Introduction: From a Christian perspective, every human life is sacred. As evangelical Christians, recognition of this transcendent moral dignity is non-negotiable in every area of life, including our assessment of public policies. This commitment has been tested in the war on terror, as a public debate has occurred over the moral legitimacy of torture and of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of detainees held by our nation in the current conflict. We write this declaration to affirm our support for detainee human rights and our opposition to any resort to torture.

2. Sanctity of Life: We ground our commitment to human rights in the core Christian theological conviction that each and every human life is sacred. This theme wends its way throughout the Scriptures: in Creation, Law, the Incarnation, Jesus’ teaching and ministry, the Cross, and his Resurrection. Concern for the sanctity of life leads us to vigilant sensitivity to how human beings are treated and whether their God-given rights are being respected.

3. Human Rights: Human rights, which function to protect human dignity and the sanctity of life, cannot be cancelled and should not be overridden. Recognition of human rights creates obligations to act on behalf of others whose rights are being violated. Human rights place a shield around people who otherwise would find themselves at the mercy of those who are angry, aggrieved, or frightened. While human rights language can be misused, this demands its clarification rather than abandonment. Among the most significant human rights is the right to security of person, which includes the right not to be tortured.

4. Christian History and Human Rights: The concept of human rights is not a “secular” notion but instead finds expression in Christian sources long before the Enlightenment. More secularized versions of the human rights ethic which came to occupy such a large place in Western thought should be seen as derivative of earlier religious arguments. Twentieth century assaults on human rights by totalitarian states led to a renewal of “rights talk” after World War II. Most branches of the Christian tradition, including evangelicalism, now embrace a human rights ethic.

5. Ethical Implications: Everyone bears an obligation to act in ways that recognize human rights. This responsibility takes different forms at different levels. Churches must teach their members to think biblically about morally difficult and emotionally intense public issues such as this one. Our own government must honor its constitutional and moral responsibilities to respect and protect human rights. The United States historically has been a leader in supporting international human rights efforts, but our moral vision has blurred since 9/11. We need to regain our moral clarity.

6. Legal Structures: International law contains numerous clear and unequivocal bans on torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. These bans are wise and right and must be embraced without reservation once again by our own government. Likewise, United States law and military doctrine has banned the resort to torture and cruel and degrading treatment. Tragically, documented acts of torture and of inhumane and cruel behavior have occurred at various sites in the U.S. war on terror, and current law opens procedural loopholes for more to continue. We commend the Pentagon’s revised Army Field Manual for clearly banning such acts, and urge that this ban extend to every sector of the United States government without exception, including our intelligence agencies.

7. Concluding Recommendations: The abominable acts of 9/11, along with the continuing threat of terrorist attacks, create profound security challenges. However, these challenges must be met within a moral and legal framework consistent with our values and laws, among which is a commitment to human rights that we as evangelicals share with many others. In this light, we renounce the resort to torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of detainees, call for the extension of procedural protections and human rights to all detainees, seek clear government-wide embrace of the Geneva Conventions, including those articles banning torture and cruel treatment of prisoners, and urge the reversal of any U.S. government law, policy, or practice that violates the moral standards outlined in this declaration.

torture is a traditional value?

torture is a traditional value?

The Rev. Louis Sheldon, chaiman of the Traditional Values Coalition, said this about Senator John McCain’s challenge to the Bush administration’s position on interrogation rules:

This very definitely is going to put a chilling effect on the tremendous strides he has made in the conservative evangelical community.


Because no true advocate of traditional values, no true evangelical Christian, no true follower of Jesus would ever oppose this administration?

Because no true advocate of traditional values, no true evangelical Christian, no true follower of Jesus would ever set arbitrary limits on the interrogation techniques used to protect this country from “bad” people?

Because no true advocate of traditional values, no true evangelical Christian, no true follower of Jesus has any qualms about discarding basic human rights when it comes to “real enemies?”

What Jesus do these folks claim to follow? What traditional values are undermined by the desire to protect human rights? I don’t understand ……

Read the quote in context in the Los Angeles Time article, McCain Stand Comes at a Price.