Abolish torture without exceptions

Iraqi torture victim

Iraqi torture victim


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Faith and policy

Abolish torture without exceptions

The Rev. Wendell N. Gibbs, Imam Dawud Walid and Rabbi Robert Dobrusin

The recently released White House legal torture memos call us as religious leaders to speak out against torture.

The memos authorize slamming detainees into walls, placing them in “cramped confinement” in coffin-like boxes and placing insects in the confinement box. The memos say “the use of waterboarding (a form of simulated drowning) constitutes a threat of imminent death.” Nevertheless, they authorize its use.

These practices violate core teachings of our different traditions, as well as the U.S. Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment, the Geneva Conventions and the United Nations Convention Against Torture.

As religious leaders, our primary concerns are moral and spiritual, but we are also concerned about the practical issues of torture.

Some people support torture, believing that it will make them safe. Torture will not keep us safe. It puts us more at risk.

Torture does not provide sound intelligence, and there are more reliable ways to get information. Brad Garrett, the former FBI special agent who repeatedly obtained uncoerced confessions from terrorist suspects, explains “If we want the intel, there are approaches that will render the information without torture.”

What’s worse, torture puts U.S. citizens and Americans abroad at greater risk. As 38 retired military leaders, including two former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, explain, “If degradation, humiliation, physical and mental brutalization of prisoners is decriminalized or considered permissible … we will forfeit all credible objections should such barbaric practices be inflicted upon American prisoners.”

We need to face the truth about U.S.-sponsored torture. That is why we call for an impartial, nonpartisan Commission of Inquiry to study to what extent our interrogation practices have constituted torture and “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.”

Likewise, the United States must hold itself to the same standards that we expect of other countries. It is shameful that the torture memos authorize practices that the memos themselves admit the State Department condemns in other countries.

In the face of this double standard, we support “Golden Rule” to prohibit any treatment of detainees that we would not accept for U.S. detainees. This simple teaching we instill in our children is also a sound basis for our government.

There are often divisions between religious groups and conflict between religious and secular groups. Opposition to torture is an issue that unites. More than 25,000 people of all faiths have signed the National Religious Campaign Against Torture’s “Statement of Conscience” calling for America to “abolish torture now — without exceptions.” They stand with secular groups such as Amnesty International and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Torture does not make our country or the world safer. It puts us at greater danger. Moreover, torture is wrong. Now is the time to investigate and to legislate. Now is the time to end torture forever.

The Rev. Wendell N. Gibbs is bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan, Imam Dawud Walid is executive director of the Council of American-Islamic Relations-Michigan and Robert Dobrusin is an Ann Arbor rabbi.

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