January 11, 2013 marks the 11th anniversary of the arrival of the first prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. It will also be four years since President Obama pledged to close the detention facility. Guantanamo Bay is a powerful symbol of U.S.-sponsored torture as long as it remains open.
The following are remarks from Jim Winkler, General Secretary of GBCS, and a spokesperson for the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT).
I am grateful to Rich Killmer and the National Religious Campaign Against Torture for bringing us together today, the 11th anniversary of the day the first detainees were imprisoned at the detention center at Guantanamo Bay.
This occasion provides us an opportunity as a nation to reflect on our government’s shameful torture policies and to consider safeguards to ensure the United States will never again torture a child of God.
Guantanamo Bay stands as an international symbol of our nation’s darkest days. Within weeks of the arrival of the first prisoners at Guantanamo 11 years ago, the government declared that these prisoners did not enjoy the protections of the Geneva Conventions, and the prison soon developed a legacy for torture and mistreatment of detainees. As a nation, we cannot put that shameful legacy behind us nor ensure that U.S.-sponsored torture never occurs again until we shutter the prison doors forever.
Torture is wrong, without exception. It violates the teachings of all the world’s religions. Our nation’s leaders profess to be religious people. Torture is illegal, immoral and unwise. It damages both the tortured and the torturers. It breaks human beings.
As a person of faith, I am saddened that President Obama has not been able to follow through on his promise – made four years ago – to close Guantanamo, a symbol of U.S.-sponsored torture. The more than 300 religious organizations that belong to the National Religious Campaign Against Torture in unity affirm the need to close the detention center.
Though President Obama banned torture upon taking office, the prison at GuantanamoBay remains open, and some politicians and candidates for political office still advocate torture as a meaningful means of interrogation. The continued operation of this prison raises the worry that this legacy of government-approved torture may outlast the Obama administration. For the United States to be an effective leader globally, it must condemn its own government’s past use of torture and close Guantanamo.
The question of whether our country engaged in torture as an interrogation technique is not up for debate; that much is understood. But we must fully investigate who was tortured, why they were tortured, what techniques were used on them, who was responsible for torturing them, who authorized the torture, and what steps need to be taken to ensure that we will never torture again. Great progress has been recently made in this realm – the Senate Intelligence Committee voted in early December to adopt its report on a three-year investigation into CIA torture. But now the committee must agree to release the report so the public too can learn what the government did in its name.
Torture does not work. Professional interrogators from the Armed Services, CIA and FBI say that they would not use torture because it is an unreliable way to acquire information from detainees. Using torture destroys our moral credibility, serves as a recruiting tool for terrorists and further endangers U.S. troops.
U.S.-sponsored torture has cost innumerable lives of both American soldiers and civilians because it has inspired extremists to commit acts of terror against us. It has cost us dearly. Torture does not make us safer; it increases our vulnerability.
As a stark symbol of this nation’s willingness to abandon our principles and commitment to the rule of law, the prison at Guantanamo is a stain on our image and reputation. Even as recently as 2011, when the three American hikers imprisoned in Iran were finally released after two years detained, they reported that their captors used the treatment of prisoners at and the continued operation of Guantanamo as a justification for their imprisonment and abuse.
This afternoon at 2:30 pm we will hold an interfaith prayer service at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church. Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, and Muslim leaders will describe why each of their traditions opposes torture. And, US Army Capt. Jason Wright, an army lawyer who was appointed by the military to defend Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, will discuss why the use of torture denies justice. I invite you to join us at the prayer service.