The NY Times has just reported that some advisers of Presidential candidate Mitt Romney have urged him to reverse the Obama Administration’s ban on the use of torture by the US Government.
Disgusting! —- So I am writing to urge that we join in calling on Mr. Romney to explicitly and publicly reject that advice. I explain how to do that, below. And I hope you will forward this essay to your friends, congregants, and co-workers, to invite them to do so as well.
Some history: In 2004, a few weeks after reporter Sy Hirsch broke the story of the use of torture by the US government at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, I made a video with a Protestant minister, a Catholic nun, and a Muslim Imam for broadcast (dubbed in Arabic) on Arab-language TV.
We condemned the use of torture as sinful — a matter of religious, not only legal, violation — and asserted that its use by the US was clearly systemic, not the result of “bad apples” as then-President Bush had asserted. (He has since confessed to personally approving the use of extreme water-boarding, though under US and international law it is torture.)
We assured those Arab communities that the American religious communities were horrified by and deeply opposed to this practice.
Soon after, The Shalom Center honored Hirsch as a Prophetic Voice of our generation.
I was then a member of the executive committee of the Board of Rabbis for Human Rights/ North America. I urged the Board to take on an American human-rights question for the first time, and to make that first issue the use of torture. RHR/ NA did so. I also took part in the formation of the National Religious Coalition Against Torture (NRCAT), and The Shalom Center is still a member of that Coalition.
So it is with horror and disgust that I read this report by the Times. But I am not surprised, since many of these advisers were among the officials who foisted on us the disastrous, illegal, and immoral US occupation of Iraq. And I think history shows that it is practically impossible to control an Empire without using torture against those who oppose the Imperial Will. That history goes as far back as Rome.
Indeed, we have just completed Yom Kippur, in which a traditional part of the prayer service, the Martyrology or “Eleh ezkereh, These We Remember,” tells the story of ten great rabbis tortured to death by the Romans. Similarly, many Christians on Good Friday recall the story of their own great rabbi, likewise tortured to death by Rome.
So I feel it important to share with you the response of NRCAT to the Times report:
“In 2008, both Senator John McCain [who had been the victim of torture in Vietnamese prisons] and then-Senator Barack Obama publicly declared their opposition to torture and their desire to see America adhere to the best of its values. …While some of Gov. Romney’s advisers are reported to have suggested that he should return us to the dark days of secret torture – and, truthfully, ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ is a euphemism for torture – Mr. Romney should have the courage to reject this dangerous advice and join his party’s 2008 presidential nominee in rejecting torture. … As people of faith, the members and supporters of the NRCAT believe that all people have been granted inherent dignity and worth by their Creator.”
When the Obama Administration decided not to prosecute officials in the previous Administration who had ordered or committed torture, I warned that decision might well encourage future Administrations to resume torturing people. I did not expect that danger to surface so quickly.
The Times report says that Mr. Romney has not made a final decision. So I urge us all — regardless of how any of us expects to vote — to phone his headquarters in Boston, at 857-288-3500, extension 5, to urge that he publicly reject this advice and promise that if he were elected, he would NOT approve or allow the use of so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques.”