It is 60 years since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a visionary document that the United States had a significant role in drafting. Human Rights Day, Dec. 10, is an anniversary that is widely celebrated in many parts of the world but largely ignored here. That's unfortunate, as there is much we can celebrate about, and much we can learn from, this historic document.
Among other things, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights flatly prohibits torture: "No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment."
We know that torture is wrong, yet the evidence is clear that this country has regularly used torture and engaged in cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of detainees in Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and other detention centers around the world.
This can change, however. President-elect Obama has promised to end torture by the United States and on Jan. 20 he can begin to fulfill this pledge by signing an executive order that bans torture and inhuman treatment. In doing so, he would end the legal double-speak clouding U.S. policy and send a clear message to all Americans that torture and ill-treatment of detainees will not be tolerated. Such an executive order would allow us to defend our country while preserving our shared American values — values embodied in our own Constitution and echoed worldwide in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Immediate presidential action would also signal to the rest of the world that the U.S. is making a clear break with the mistakes of the recent past.
Despite Obama's campaign promise, it is unclear that he will act without sufficient pressure and support. Please join local religious congregations, along with the National Religious Campaign against Torture and the Center for Victims of Torture in calling for a presidential executive order to end U.S. torture immediately. You can help ensure that President-elect Obama knows that the American people will support him if he strengthens our security and restores adherence to our values by instituting an immediate ban on torture and a commitment to the rule of law. You can contact Obama's transition team directly at the change.gov website or learn more about the issue at www.tortureisamoralissue.org.
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