Peace Prize Winners to Obama: US Must 'Come to Terms' with Its Use of Torture
October 29, 2014
The Community & Al Jazeera America
In a plea to President Obama, 12 Nobel laureates urge the US leader to hold himself and his country accountable for a history of egregious torture. The laureates hope the Obama administration might begin the process of "realigning the nation to the ideals and beliefs of their founders -- the ideals that made the United States a standard to be emulated."
Open Letter from 12 Peace Prize Winners Says
US Must 'Come to Terms' with its Use of Torture
(October 27, 2014) -- Twelve Nobel Peace Prize winners published an open letter to President Barack Obama, urging him to "come to terms" with the US government’s use of torture by coming clean about its past and present detainee policies. The letter comes amid a fight over the disclosure of a long-stalled Senate torture report and ahead of a United Nations session to clarify US obligations under international conventions banning torture.
The letter, released on Sunday, says the United State stands at a "crossroads" on the issue of torture and that it is unclear if the country will "turn a blind eye to the effects of its actions on its own people and on the rest of the world, or if it will take the necessary steps to recover the standards on which the country was founded."
Laureates Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Muhammad Yunus, Mohammad Elbaradei and F.W. De Klerk were among those who signed the letter.
The signatories called on Obama to help the US reckon with "with a grim chapter in its history" by ensuring that polices account for the past "flagrant use of torture and other violations of international law in the name of combating terrorism."
The letter also urges Obama to throw his weight behind the release of a Senate committee report that details the extent of US torture policy during the Bush administration. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee that authored the report, has said the 6,300 page report offers a picture of US detainee treatment "far different and far more harsh" than what has been made public.
Even though the White House favors the report's release, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) remains locked in a battle with the Senate committee over the scope of redactions -- with the agency wanting more details censored in the public version. The CIA previously apologized for spying on members of the Senate involved in researching the report.
In addition to urging the release of the Senate report, the letter calls for a full accounting to the American public on the scope and authorization of torture by Americans, including verifying the closure of "black sites" -- locations abroad where the US interrogated and allegedly tortured detainees; a timeline for closing the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, where 154 detainees remain in "indefinite detention without due process;" and committing to uphold international laws against torture, including the Geneva Convention and the U.N. Convention against Torture.
Next month, the Obama administration will decide how it defines its treaty obligations under the Convention Against Torture when the body that monitors compliance to the treaty meets in Geneva. The US ratified the convention in 1994, but the Bush administration opted for a narrow reading of the accord, saying the convention's prohibition on torture was not absolute and only applied domestically. Areas where the US operates abroad, including foreign detention centers, would not fall under the convention, according to this interpretation.
According to a report by The New York Times, there is currently an internal debate within the Obama administration whether to maintain or revise the Bush administration’s understanding of the treaty. Some current military and intelligence lawyers say reversing course from the Bush interpretation could set an unwanted precedent on how international law impacts US domestic law. Others, including many senior officials in the State Department, are urging the president to fully break with the Bush administration.
Through Executive Order 13491, which Obama signed in 2009, the administration has outlawed interrogation practices that include torture. However, Obama has largely tried to, in his own words, "look forward as opposed to looking backwards" on prosecuting torture cases.
His approach has led critics to accuse the administration of failing to document torture or hold those responsible to account.
"The secrecy around the torture program means that torture is never behind us," Chris Anders, senior legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union, previously told Al Jazeera. "The reason for the public to know what happened at the CIA -- and in the rest of the government -- that resulted in torture and abuse is to help make sure it doesn't happen again."
The debate over the Senate torture report and the internal row of the legal interpretation of international treaties compelled the laureates to publish their letter on Sunday.
The laureates said they hoped the Obama administration would begin the process of "realigning the nation to the ideals and beliefs of their founders -- the ideals that made the United States a standard to be emulated."
An End to Torture
Twelve Nobel Peace Prize laureates have written to President Barack Obama asking the US to close the dark chapter on torture once and for all. Please add your voice in support of their message below. It will be forwarded to the President. And please share widely.
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mr. President,
The open admission by the President of the United States that the country engaged in torture is a first step in the US coming to terms with a grim chapter in its history. The subsequent release of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence summary report will be an opportunity for the country and the world to see, in at least some detail, the extent to which their government and its representatives authorized, ordered and inflicted torture on their fellow human beings.
We are encouraged by Senator Dianne Feinstein’s recognition that "the creation of long-term, clandestine 'black sites' and the use of so-called 'enhanced-interrogation techniques' were terrible mistakes," as well as the Senate Committee's insistence that the report be truthful and not unnecessarily obscure the facts. They are important reminders that the justification of the torture of another human being is not a unanimous opinion in Washington, or among Americans as a whole.
We have reason to feel strongly about torture. Many of us among the Nobel Peace Prize laureates have seen firsthand the effects of the use of torture in our own countries. Some are torture survivors ourselves. Many have also been involved in the process of recovery, of helping to walk our countries and our regions out of the shadows of their own periods of conflict and abuse.
It is with this experience that we stand firmly with those Americans who are asking the US to bring its use of torture into the light of day, and for the United States to take the necessary steps to emerge from this dark period of its history, never to return.
The questions surrounding the use of torture are not as simple as how one should treat a suspected terrorist, or whether the highly dubious claim that torture produces “better” information than standard interrogation can justify its practice. Torture is, and always has been, justified in the minds of those who order it.
But the damage done by inflicting torture on a fellow human being cannot be so simplified. Nor is the harm done one-sided. Yes, the victims experience extreme physical and mental trauma, in some cases even losing their lives. But those inflicting the torture, as well as those ordering it, are nearly irreparably degraded by the practice.
As torture continues to haunt the waking hours of its victims long after the conflict has passed, so it will continue to haunt its perpetrators.
When a nation's leaders condone and even order torture, that nation has lost its way. One need only look to the regimes where torture became a systematic practice -- from Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany to the French in Algeria, South Vietnam, the Khmer Rouge and others -- to see the ultimate fate of a regime so divorced from their own humanity.
The practices of torture, rendition and imprisonment without due process by the United States have even greater ramifications. The United States, born of the concept of the inherent equality of all before the law, has been since its inception a hallmark that would be emulated by countries and entire regions of the world. For more than two centuries, it has been the enlightened ideals of America’s founders that changed civilization on Earth for the better, and made the US a giant among nations.
The conduct of the United States in the treatment of prisoners through two World Wars, upholding the tenets of the Geneva Convention while its own soldiers suffered greatly from violations at the hands of its enemies, again set a standard of treatment of prisoners that was emulated by other countries and regions.
These are the Americans we know. And believing that most Americans still share these ideals, these are the Americans we speak to.
In recent decades, by accepting the flagrant use of torture and other violations of international law in the name of combating terrorism, American leaders have eroded the very freedoms and rights that generations of their young gave their lives to defend.
They have again set an example that will be followed by others; only now, it is one that will be used to justify the use of torture by regimes around the world, including against American soldiers in foreign lands. In losing their way, they have made us all vulnerable.
From around the world, we will watch in the coming weeks as the release of the Senate findings on the United States torture program brings the country to a crossroads. It remains to be seen whether the United States will turn a blind eye to the effects of its actions on its own people and on the rest of the world, or if it will take the necessary steps to recover the standards on which the country was founded, and to once again adhere to the international conventions it helped to bring into being.
It is our hope that the United States will take the latter path, and we jointly suggest that the steps include:
a. Full disclosure to the American people of the extent and use of torture and rendition by American soldiers, operatives, and contractors, as well as the authorization of torture and rendition by American officials.
b. Full verification of the closure and dismantling of "black sites" abroad for the use of torture and interrogation.
c. Clear planning and implementation for the closure of Guantanamo prison, putting an end to indefinite detention without due process.
d. Adoption of firm policy and oversight restating and upholding international law relating to conflict, including the Geneva Convention and the UN Convention against Torture, realigning the nation to the ideals and beliefs of their founders -- the ideals that made the United States a standard to be emulated.
President José Ramos-Horta, Timor-Leste,
Nobel Peace Prize laureate, 1996
Leymah Gbowee, Liberia,
Nobel Peace Prize laureate, 2011
John Hume, Northern Ireland,
Nobel Peace Prize laureate, 1998
Bishop Carlos X. Belo, Timor-Leste,
Nobel Peace Prize laureate, 1996
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, South Africa,
Nobel Peace Prize laureate, 1984
Muhammad Yunus, Bangladesh,
Nobel Peace Prize laureate, 2006
F.W. De Klerk, South Africa,
Nobel Peace Prize laureate, 1993
Betty Williams, Northern Ireland,
Nobel Peace Prize laureate, 1976
Mohammad ElBaradei, Egypt,
Nobel Peace Prize laureate, 2005
Oscar Arias Sanchez, Costa Rica,
Nobel Peace Prize laureate, 1987
Jody Williams, USA,
Nobel Peace Prize laureate, 1997
Adolfo Perez Esquivel, Argentina,
Nobel Peace Prize laureate, 1980