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Executive Committee Statement on the Torture in Iraq
"Be mindful of prisoners as if sharing their imprisonment, and of the ill-treated as of yourselves, for you also are one in the body." (Hebrews 13:3)
Recent reports about the torture, abuse, and humiliation of Iraqi detainees by U.S. and Coalition forces are a cause of great concern and anguish by people dedicated to fostering human dignity and justice. Even more disturbing is the knowledge that various U.S. officials have known about these abuses for some time and never reported them until photographs and eyewitness reports were made public.
The Executive Committee of the Conference of Major Superiors of Men is greatly disturbed by the revelations of torture and abuse by U.S. military personnel. We have consistently called for U.S. troops to abide by international standards and laws that govern the treatment of detainees and have questioned the lack of access that international monitoring organizations such as the Red Cross, the Red Crescent, Amnesty International have had at detention centers in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay. Reports by independent organizations and military personnel, combined with the photographs and the admission by Administration officials of the abuses indicate that the U.S. military personnel and others contracted by the U.S. to work in the detention centers must be monitored to protect the rights and dignity of detainees.
As people of faith and as leaders of the Catholic congregations of the nearly 23,000 brothers and priests in the United States we believe that we must address this issue. Each human being is created with God-given dignity and each life is precious. This dignity must always be upheld and protected but especially so when an individual is being detained and his or her rights are already limited. They deserved to be treated with dignity and protected from violence and humiliation. As Christians we are deeply troubled that much of the humiliation and abuse violates the beliefs and practices of Islam. As U.S. citizens we are ashamed that those who represent our nation are perpetrating these abuses. We believe that as a nation we stand for the protection of human rights and uphold the dignity of all peoples regardless of their ethnic or religious background and we hold our national and military leaders responsible for the conditions that made these abuses not only possible, but who refused to acknowledge them even after they knew of the abuses.
When President Bush announced that the U.S. would lead an effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power, one of the primary reasons was the reported wide spread torture of Iraqis during his regime. On June 26, 2003 President Bush promised that U.S. forces would neither 'torture' suspected terrorists, nor use 'cruel and unusual' treatment to interrogate them. The reports of the torture of Iraqi detainees further damages the credibility and reputation of the U.S. internationally, but especially in the Arab world; and erodes the U.S. claim that it is advancing democracy, human rights, and rule of law around the world.
We welcome reports and promises that the Defense Department and Congress have launched investigations and will bring those responsible for the torture and abuse to justice and to address the structures of a military that would permit these abuses to continue for so long. These investigations must be public and transparent and we urge all those responsible for investigating these atrocities to make public all documents related to the abuse of Iraqi detainees. We recognize that the vast majority of men and women serving in Iraq are not involved in the torture and abuse and that those who are involved may be relatively few. However, the investigation must not stop with bringing to justice those who are directly involved, but must include any personnel, regardless of their rank or office, who had knowledge of the atrocities and allowed them to continue with impunity.
To promote a just and effective resolution to these serious violations of human rights and international law we urge the following steps be taken:
We urge our members to contact their Representatives and Senators and the appropriate Administration officials to express their concern about these atrocities. As a nation we share in the shame that this has caused. Together we must work to ensure that these abuses must not happen again.
As leaders of religious congregations we reach out to our Muslim sisters and brothers. Our faiths are rooted in peace and the respect for our God-given human dignity. We grieve with you and we share your outrage. We also pledge to speak out and act for justice, peace, and human dignity.
As members of the human family we share in the sufferings brought on by the torture and abuse of the detainees. As members of the human family we must seek justice and reconciliation. This will be possible when the torture and abuse ends and human dignity is upheld and encouraged.