Faith Leaders Call on Obama to Ban Torture on Inauguration
The National Religious Coalition Against Torture has called on the Obama administration to ban torture on Inauguration Day. This is part of a “Countdown to End Torture: 10 Days of Prayer” campaign. The Bush admin. has repeatedly said that the U.S. has not tortured under their watch (just outsourced torture to other countries), but they have done so by denying that practices like “waterboarding” (simulated drowning) constitute torture–although both U.S. and international law have always done so. The Bush line took a major hit yesterday when the judge in charge of their “military commissions” (a lifelong Republican who worked for Dick Cheney back when he was Secretary of Defense in the George H.W. Bush administration) said that she stopped the prosecution of Qattani (the “20th 9/11 hijacker”) because his confession had been obtained by processes “which met the legal definition of torture.” In recent interviews, both Bush and Cheney have admitted authorizing such techniques, though still denying they constitute torture.
In related news, Obama’s pick for Attorney General, Eric Holder, told the Senate Judiciary Committee holding his confirmation hearing that “waterboarding is torture,” a straight answer that none of Bush’s attorneys general would give. He also affirmed that no one is above the law. Although Holder did not commit to prosecuting former Bush admin. people, neither did he rule it out–and progressives like me will keep pushing for an independent prosecutor to investigate and prosecute all who are guilty of torture or other war crimes and crimes against humanity. Holder supported Obama’s pledge to quickly close the detention center at Guantanemo Bay and try detainees in regular courts of law, ending the failed “military commissions,” but he admitted that it will be difficult to decide what to do with people who cannot be prosecuted but who have vowed harm against the U.S. (Democracy has risks–and the Gitmo decisions by the Bush admin. have increased those risks. Cleaning up this mess will not be easy. But it is good to have commitments that it will be done.)
Meanwhile, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) of Rhode Island said today that he is going to push for Congressional hearings investigating past Bush abuses, regardless of what the Department of Justice or the Obama administration do.
All these are positive signs. But I urge persons of faith to continue to be at the forefront of these issues. Christian readers, we worship and follow a victim of torture and therefore cannot support any use of torture for whatever reason. Faith leaders can take risks that politicians may be reluctant to do–and we can make it easier for them to follow their consciences when it is politically risky. Regardless of any party or ideology, we must work to abolish torture and all degrading punishment throughout the world–beginning here in the U.S.
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