Faith leaders urge Obama to ban torture on Inauguration Day

A broad coalition of religious leaders has written a letter asking President-elect Barack Obama to make one of his first acts in office signing an executive order banning torture.

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WASHINGTON (ABP) — A broad coalition of faith leaders has written a letter asking President-elect Barack Obama to make banning torture one of his first acts in office.

Thirty-three leaders from Christian, Jewish and Muslim traditions asked Obama to "restore our nation's moral standing in the world" by signing an executive order rejecting the practice of torture by the United States. The National Religious Campaign Against Torture issued the letter to Obama's presidential transition team Jan. 9.

The national campaign recently launched a campaign titled Countdown to End Torture: 10 Days of Prayer aimed at unifying the religious community in a final push urging the president-elect to make ending torture one of his first priorities.

A clock on the NRCAT website started on Jan. 11, the seventh anniversary of the opening of the U.S. detention center for terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. It will tick backward until Jan. 20, in hopes that the new president will sign an executive order before it reaches 00:00:00.

If he doesn't, the clock will start ticking forward, counting the hours until Obama changes policies of the Bush administration regarding the use of torture in interrogating suspected terrorists.

The coalition is also asking houses of worship to pray in worship services between Jan. 11 and the inauguration for an end to U.S.-sponsored torture. A two-sided bulletin insert carries a prayer printed on one side and information about a Declaration of Principles for a Presidential Executive Order on Prisoner Treatment, Torture and Cruelty issued along with the letter.

The letter asked Obama to issue a torture ban order on Inauguration Day or as soon afterward as possible in order to "help the United States to regain the moral high ground and restore our credibility within the international community at this critical time."

"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 leaders wrote. "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."

The attached declaration of principles urges a "Golden Rule" standard for torture, meaning the United States will not authorize any methods of interrogation that it would deem unacceptable if used against Americans.

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It also calls for establishing one national standard for treatment of prisoners. Currently the U.S. Army Field Manual sets one standard for interrogation techniques, while the CIA uses another.

Other proposed reforms include allowing detainees access to courts, videotaping interrogations and holding accountable any official that implements or fails to prevent the use of torture.

Signers of the letter included leaders from a variety of Christian denominations. Baptist signers were David Gushee, president of Evangelicals for Human Rights; Roy Medley, general secretary of American Baptist Churches USA; and Stan Hastey, minister for missions and ecumenism for the Alliance of Baptists.

Following a Jan. 14 telephone press conference announcing the initiative, an NRCAT delegation planned to meet with members of Obama's transition team to emphasize the message in the letter.

The meetings took place the same day the Washington Post published a front-page story noting that the Bush administration's top official in charge of determining whether Guantanamo Bay detainees should be brought to trial determined that at least one detainee had been tortured by U.S. officials. Susan Crawford, a lifelong Republican, said Mohammed al-Qatani, whom federal officials claim intended to be the 20th highjacker in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, had undergone severe interrogation techniaques that threatened his life.

Bush administration officials have repeatedly denied that the United States engages in torture.


Related ABP story:

Religious leaders ask Obama to ban torture through order

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