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 CNS Story:

TORTURE-ORDER Jan-14-2009 (810 words) xxxn

Religious coalition urges president-elect to end US torture practices

By Dennis Sadowski
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Feeling the likelihood of success growing day by day, religious leaders renewed their efforts to press President-elect Barack Obama to sign an executive order banning torture soon after he takes office.

Bishop Howard J. Hubbard of Albany, N.Y., chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on International Justice and Peace, joined nearly three dozen leaders as part of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture in signing a letter to Obama's transition team Jan. 9. The letter urged the incoming president to make good on his oft-repeated campaign pledge to end the use of torture during the interrogation of prisoners.

The letter included a declaration of principles that calls for a single national standard that upholds basic human rights in the treatment of detainees by the military and intelligence communities.

"Both the Holy See and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops have taken a strong position against the violation of fundamental human rights including torture and genocide," Bishop Hubbard told Catholic News Service Jan. 13. "We believe, under any circumstances, this is cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment. Further, it's not in accord with the values and ideals we have as a society."

The Rev. Richard Killmer, the campaign's executive director, said the campaign wants to see Obama sign the executive order as soon as possible, thus putting an end to the interrogation policies of President George W. Bush's administration.

Representatives of the campaign, a coalition of more than 200 religious organizations, held a news conference Jan. 14 prior to meeting with members of Obama's transition team. The USCCB Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development was represented at the meeting.

"We are very grateful for the good things (Obama) has said but every day he doesn't do it, it's a continuation of (Bush) policies," Rev. Killmer told CNS Jan. 12. "Bad behavior has to stop."

In recent years the White House consistently has denied that Bush ever authorized the use of torture, but rather allowed the CIA to use other "coercive" interrogation techniques.

John Carr, executive director of the U.S. bishops' Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development, who participated in the news conference, said in an interview that torturing detainees to gain information is never appropriate.

"In the end it's not about them (the prisoners and the information they can provide)," Carr said. "It's about us, about whether we really value human life and dignity.

"While there's a debate about torture in the country, there's not a debate about it in Catholic social teaching. This is not something (the bishops' conference) discovered in the change of administrations. The church has been consistent and persistent in condemning torture," he said.

Joining in the news conference were the Rev. John Thomas, president and general minister of the United Church of Christ; Ingrid Matson, president of the Islamic Society of North America; Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster, director of education and outreach at Rabbis for Human Rights; and the Rev. Tyler Wigg-Stevenson, of Evangelicals for Human Rights.

Paralleling the call to ban torture is an effort by other religious groups seeking the closure of the U.S. military prison at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where suspected terrorists have been held for seven years.

The 100 Days Campaign, organized by several Catholic Workers and other people of faith, began a 10-day fast Jan. 11 and scheduled a series of public events focusing on the moral issues surrounding the Guantanamo Bay prison. The campaign also was planning other events in Washington during the Obama administration's first 100 days in office with the goal of closing the prison.

A transition team adviser told Reuters that the president-elect was expected to sign an order to close the prison within a week of taking office.

During a Jan. 11 interview with ABC News, Obama confirmed he plans to close the prison, but he offered no timeline for doing so, citing the need to determine exactly where to house the 255 detainees who remain in custody.

"We are going to close Guantanamo and we are going to make sure that the procedures we set up are ones that abide by our Constitution," he said.

To focus wider attention on its call to the incoming administration, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture posted on its Web site a clock counting down the time to Obama's first full day as president, Jan. 21. Rev. Killmer said the clock will begin to count upward once Obama takes office indicating how long it takes for the new president to sign the order.

The clock is meant to encourage Obama "to do the right thing," Rev. Killmer said.

The campaign also has prepared a prayer for congregations, prayer groups and individuals to use until the executive order is issued. It is available online at www.tortureisamoralissue.org.


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This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed.
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