State view: Americans must act against torture now
Since June 2009, when I asked President Obama to investigate alleged acts of U.S.-sponsored torture, I have seen and heard much that is disturbing in our nation's quest for repentance and redemption. But nothing has disturbed me as much as the id...
Since June 2009, when I asked President Obama to investigate alleged acts of U.S.-sponsored torture, I have seen and heard much that is disturbing in our nation's quest for repentance and redemption. But nothing has disturbed me as much as the idea that we may have performed medical experiments on unwilling subjects.
A new report from Physicians for Human Rights -- called, "Experiments in Torture: Human Subject Research and Evidence in the 'Enhanced' Interrogation Program" (nrcat.org/phrtorturepapers) -- documents evidence of U.S. military and intelligence health professionals performing medical experiments without consent on war-on-terrorism prisoners in U.S. custody during the past decade.
If true, such medical experimentation would violate the legal and ethical protections provided by the Nuremberg Code, the Geneva Conventions, federal regulations governing human subject research (known as "The Common Rule") and the federal War Crimes Act.
The report reveals how the experiments and the participation of health professionals in prisoner interrogations were used to give interrogators legal cover from prosecution for committing acts of torture. The experiments also served to refine the illegal torture practices used by the U.S. government.
These practices include putting prisoners in extreme stress positions (including being handcuffed to overhead bars with the prisoners' feet barely touching the ground), throwing prisoners against a flexible false wall built for "walling" them, forced nudity, extreme temperatures, depriving prisoners of sleep for long periods of time and waterboarding.
As these acts were committed, our nation was not made any safer. A former U.S. Air Force interrogator, Matthew Alexander, has said al-Qaeda used reports of U.S. torture to motivate young people and recruit them into its ranks.
The biblical book of Genesis teaches that all people are created in the image of God. In the New Testament, Christ calls his followers to be peacemakers and healers. The apostle Paul, in his letter to the Romans, instructs them to "overcome evil with good." The Minnesota Council of Churches brings these values to public-sector discussions.
In the United States, we also need to overcome evil with good. We can overcome evil with the truth, by joining the National Religious Campaign Against Torture's call for an impartial, nonpartisan Commission of Inquiry that would investigate torture practices since Sept. 11. The commission could determine what we need to do to make sure we never use torture again.
A Commission of Inquiry, which can be established by the president or by Congress, would gather all facts and make recommendations. It would ascertain the extent to which our interrogation practices have constituted torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.
Understanding the causes, nature and scope of U.S.-sponsored torture is essential for preventing it in the future and eliminating it from our system without loopholes. We must understand what already has been done in our name if we are to repent of it.
Though it will not be an easy task, this work is needed now and should not be left to the next generation of Americans. If reports of U.S. torture already are motivating young people against the U.S., then what additional tools will our inaction on this issue give the next generation of terrorist recruiters? What corrosive effect will our inaction have on the national conscience? For the repentance and redemption of our generation of Americans, and to leave a legacy of security and integrity for those yet to come, we must establish a Commission of Inquiry now.
>i>The Rev. Canon Peg Chemberlin is executive director of the Minneapolis-based Minnesota Council of Churches. She wrote this exclusively for the News Tribune.