National Religious Campaign Against Torture
St. Thomas Aquinas Parish is participating in "Torture Awareness Month."
Report on Conference on Torture, June 26-27, 2009
Torture Is Wrong
In every war and in times of international tensions there have been many noble acts, and some ignoble ones which may have been deemed noble or necessary at the time. In the world's history all actors have, at one time or another, worn the black hat. Torture was inflicted during some of these.* Some atrocities were the acts of individuals, some of small groups in the heat of battle or for vengeance, some of national rationalized policies and practices, some explosively done and over with, some enduring.
Building on mid-eighteenth century humanitarian concerns, the international community arrived at consensus for the Geneva Conventions. These were to mitigate or eliminate deaths and mistreatment of prisoners of war and civilian populations and to end inhumane and barbaric treatment of combatants and non-combatants. But, puny in their controls and toothless in their penalties, the Conventions have been sometimes honored more in the breach than the observance. (At least 14 of the footnoted list* occurred with the Conventions in place - although not all perpetrators were signatories.)
THE CURRENT CAMPAIGN:
On March 8, 2008, Cardinal George, President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, wrote to President Bush about HR 2082, the FY 2008 Intelligence Act. Its section 327 extended the ban on torture (it already governed the armed forces and F.B.I.) to intellligence agencies. The letter quoted an address of Pope Benedict XVI on Sept. 6, 2007: "I reiterate that the prohibition against torture cannot be contravened under any circumstances." Cardinal George concluded his letter by saying the United States, a champion of human rights, should avoid being perceived abroad as contravening the provision of the Geneva Conventions.
Shortly thereafter President Bush vetoed HR 2082. The House of Representatives failed to override the veto.
Sometime earlier (Nov. 2, 2006) Bishop William Skylstad, then-President of the USCCB, joined 23 national religious leaders (four Orthodox archbishops, bishops and metropolitans (Serbian, Romanian, Antiochan, Greek), five rabbis, Episcopal, Baptist, United Methodist, Presbyterian, Islamic Society, Sikh, Unitarian Universalist, United Church of Christ, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and Moravian, in a statement "Torture Is a Moral Issue."
*An incomplete list: Pogroms, St. Bartholomew's Day, the Gunpowder Plot, Andersonville and Libby prisons, the Hanoi Hilton**, the Gestapo, the Kempei, Cheka, OGPU, the Gulag Archipelago, My Lai, Abu Ghraib, the Bataan death march, the Inquisition, concentration camps and gas ovens, relocation centers, renditions, Katyn Forest and Malmedy massacres, the killing fields of Cambodia, Nanking, Col. Chivington and Sand Creek, Tudor religious persecutions, Guernica.
**We associate the Hanoi Hilton with Sen. John McCain. A lesser known fact is that former OLR parishioner Cmdr. Richard N. Stratton, USN, spent more then 1000 days in captivity there and suffered similar treatment.
Some Church Teaching
From the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#2298): "In times past, cruel practices were commonly used by legitimate governments to maintain law and order, often without protest from the Pastors of the Church, who themselves adopted in their own tribunals the prescriptions of Roman law concerning torture. Regrettable as these facts are, the Church always taught the duty of clemency and mercy. She forbade clerics to shed blood. In recent times it has become evident that these cruel practices were neither necessary for public order, nor in conformity with the legitimate rights of the human person. On the contrary, these practices led to ones even more degrading. It is necessary to work for their abolition. We must pray for the victims and their tormentors."
From the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (#404): [This section deals with criminal investigations but could apply to the infliction of torture in any circumstance.] "In carrying out investigations, the regulation against the use of torture must be strictly observed. 'Christ's disciple refuses every recourse to such methods, which nothing could justify and in which the dignity of man is as much debased in his torturer as in the torturer's victim.' * International juridical instruments concerning human rights correctly indicate a prohibition against torture as a principle which cannot be contravened under any circumstances."
*Pope John Paul II, 3/31/00
From Catholic News Service, 10/31/07 - Press release from Cardinal Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace:
"Christians are called to cooperate for the defense of human rights and for the abolition of . . . torture, inhuman or degrading treatment both in wartime and in times of peace. 'These practices are grave crimes against the human person created in the image of God and a scandal for the human family in the 21st century. "
From "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship - A Call to Political Responsibility", USCCB: "Other assaults on human life and dignity, such as genocide, torture, racism or the targeting of noncombatants in acts of terror or war, can never be justified. Disrespect for any human life diminishes respect for all human life."
Bishops' Comment on Abu Ghraib: (from ZENIT.org) - Statement of Bishop John Ricard, chairman of U.S.Bishops' International Policy Committee: "The abuse and torture of Iraqi prisoners have brought shame upon our nation, is an affront to our most basic ideals, and will undermine legitimate efforts to confront the very real threats faced by our nation and our world."
Bishop Ricard said the abuse highlighted "two related moral risks that could arise in responding to the horrors of September 11 and the difficulties in Iraq." The first: a sense of "exceptionalism. We can lose sight of the hard truth that the twin feelings of victimization and moral superiority do not free us from the moral obligation to uphold the basic rights even of our worst enemies who, themselves, show contempt for such rights."
The second moral risk: when "the gravity of the threats we face tempt us to tolerate an ends-justify-the-means morality."
U.S. Bishop's Letter to the U.S. Senate
December 17, 2007
As Chairman of the Committee on International Policy of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, I am writing regarding proposed legislation in HR 2082, the Intelligence Authorization Act, to prohibit torture as an interrogation technique. I urge you to ensure that the United States continues to insist upon the highest ethical standards and fully complies with U.S. commitments to observe international law in its treatment of detainees whether here in the United States or abroad.
In 2005 our Conference of Bishops encouraged Congress to adopt provisions in the FY2006 Defense Appropriations Act prescribing uniform standards for the interrogation of persons under the detention of the Department of Defense and prohibiting cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment of persons under the custody or control of the United States government. We welcomed President Bush's endorsement of those provisions. When Congress adopted them, the United States began to answer the profound moral question of how we should treat detainees. This issue has a major impact on human dignity and on the way the United States is viewed abroad.
We hoped that through these recent actions the United States would regain the moral high ground on this issue. We also hoped that these favorable actions would not be jeopardized by any proposed or adopted legislation or other actions that would appear to once again decriminalize torture and abusive conduct. Any legislation adopted by the Congress must be unambiguous on these issues, just as the U.S. Army Field Manual is unambiguous in rejecting torture and cruel treatment as dangerous, unreliable and illegal.
As you know, the United States has long supported Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which prohibits "cruel treatment and torture" as well as "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment?." Our own troops and citizens benefit from the protections of this standard. As events continue to unfold in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere, we recognize that combating terrorism remains a top priority for Congress and the Administration. We also recognize, however, that any report of prisoner mistreatment by members of the armed forces of the United States or its allies could seriously undermine U.S. efforts to defeat terrorism.
More importantly, prisoner mistreatment compromises human dignity. A respect for the dignity of every person, ally or enemy, must serve as the foundation of security, justice and peace. There can be no compromise on the moral imperative to protect the basic human rights of any individual incarcerated for any reason.
We share the concern of lawmakers and citizens for the safety of U.S. soldiers and civilians serving abroad in these times of great uncertainty and danger. In the face of this perilous climate, our nation must not embrace a morality based on an attitude that "desperate times call for desperate measures" or "the end justifies the means." The inherent justice of our cause and the perceived necessities involved in confronting terrorism must not lead to a weakening or disregard of U.S. or international law.
In a time of terrorism and fear, our individual and collective obligations to respect dignity and human rights, even of our worst enemies, gains added importance. Reaffirming the standards contained in Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions would reflect the conviction that our nation must treat its prisoners as we would expect our enemies to treat our own military personnel or citizens. We urge you to support proposed legislative language that would definitively implement America's commitment to Common Article 3.
Preserving the strong U.S. commitment to humane and ethical treatment of detainees would continue your efforts to restore the moral credibility of the United States at a crucial time. Thank you for your consideration of our views on the just treatment of prisoners and detainees.
Bishop Thomas G. Wenski
Bishop of Orlando
Chairman, Committee on International Policy
We know very little about how many prisoners we've tortured, what kinds of torture we've used and for how long. These facts are unavailable because of concerns about national security, revelation of state secrets and executive privilege. This is what we sort of know:
o Our military forces and the FBI and not allowed to torture
o The CIA has been allowed to "take the gloves off" [George Tenet] but what they do is not (by executive definition) torture. It is "enhanced interrogation". [Executive Order July 2007] (Waterboarding was made off-limits in 2006, but its future use has not been taken off the shelf.)
o In the current trials of five terrorist suspects at Guantanamo Bay two of the accused have claimed they were tortured.
o There have been reports of torture at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan and at Abu Ghraib.
o There are reports of transporting captives ["renditions"] to nations for interrogations that involve torture. Syria, Egypt, Bulgaria and one of the -stans have been named. (Our government spokesmen have assured us these nations have pledged not to torture these captives.)
o In October 2006 the President signed the Military Commissions Act. Its language forbids the use of torture but weakens its protections by excluding from due process "unlawful enemy combatants". The measure authorizes the President to "interpret the meaning and application of the Geneva Conventions". It grants retroactive immunity to civilians since 9/11who may have violated the Conventions. It allows evidence so obtained to be admitted in trials.
This is not a shining moment for our nation. Assuredly, we don't rank up there with the Big Bad Boys - Idi Amin, the Gestapo, Pol Pot and that ilk. While this may be of some comfort, nonetheless.we've crossed that bright line that separates the Good from the Bad. We're on the wrong side of the ledger.
Human dignity is a precious thing. To violate it, to degrade it, to de-humanize it is to diminish as well our virtue. As citizens and as people of faith (faithful citizens) we can try to stop torture. We may not be successful, but there is virtue in failure. Call or write your Congressional office and ask for another effort to ban torture. What would Jesus do? . . . Jesus or Jack Bauer?