Torture Tops Agenda for Religious Leaders Meeting With Obama Team

A coalition of leaders wants Obama to ban torture via an executive order on his first day in office.

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By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country

A coalition of nearly two dozen U.S. religious leaders, including representatives from the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops and the heads of the Islamic Society of North America and the United Church of Christ, is scheduled to meet with members of the Obama transition team today to press President-elect Barack Obama to sign an executive order banning U.S.-sponsored torture on his first day in office. "We feel quite confident that an executive order is forthcoming," says Linda Gustitus, president of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, which organized the meeting.

"There is concern on our part that an executive order would be delayed because it could be coupled with the closing of Guantánamo," Gustitus added, "which is a more complicated issue."

On a conference call with reporters this morning, Gustitus said the coalition's top goal is to "embody the 'Golden Rule' in how we treat detainees." The coalition is scheduled to meet with Obama transition representatives who work in outreach, not policymaking.

Members of the faith-based coalition said that they have received no word yet from the transition team on whether Obama will sign such an order but that news reports indicate he's inclined to do so. Here's the Declaration of Principles the coalition is looking for in an executive order:

The "Golden Rule." We will not authorize or use any methods of interrogation that we would not find acceptable if used against Americans, be they civilians or soldiers.

One national standard. We will have one national standard for all US personnel and agencies for the interrogation and treatment of prisoners. Currently, the best expression of that standard is the US Army Field Manual, which will be used until any other interrogation technique has been approved based on the Golden Rule principle.

The rule of law. We will acknowledge all prisoners to our courts or the International Red Cross. We will in no circumstance hold persons in secret prisons or engage in disappearances. In all cases, prisoners will have the opportunity to prove their innocence in ways that fully conform to American principles of fairness.

Duty to protect. We acknowledge our historical commitment to end the use of torture and cruelty in the world. The US will not transfer any person to countries that use torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.

Checks and balances. Congress and the courts play an invaluable role in protecting the values and institutions of our nation and must have and will have access to the information they need to be fully informed about our detention and interrogation policies.

Clarity and accountability. All US personnel—whether soldiers or intelligence staff—deserve the certainty that they are implementing policy that complies fully with the law. Henceforth all US officials who authorize, implement, or fail in their duty to prevent the use of torture and ill-treatment of prisoners will be held accountable, regardless of rank or position.

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