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Faith, humans rights groups urge closing Guantanamo Bay detention facility

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Jim Winkler, chief executive of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, joins in the Day of Action Against Guantanamo. “Torture is wrong, without exception. It violates the teachings of all the world’s religions,” he said. Photos by Michelle C. Whittaker.

United Methodists have joined faith coalitions and human rights organizations in calling for the closure of the 11-year-old Guantanamo Bay detention facility — a symbol of U.S.-sponsored torture policies and human rights violations.

The Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba has held and continues to hold numerous suspected terrorists captured by the United States. Detainees from around the world have been held indefinitely without charge or legal means to challenge their detention. Some were subjected to torture

“Torture is wrong, without exception,” said Jim Winkler, chief  executive of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society. “It violates the teachings of all the world’s religions.” The Social Principles of The United Methodist Church say the church believes torture “violates Christian teaching and must be condemned and/or opposed by Christians and churches wherever and whenever it occurs.” (Social Principles ¶164.A)

The National Religious Campaign Against Torture, along with other human rights organizations, argues that Guantanamo Bay is counterproductive to combating terrorism and inspires those who seek to harm us.

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Terry Rockefeller, member of the September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, speaks during the Day of Action.

Terry Rockefeller, whose sister was killed in the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center in New York, urged that the rule of law was necessary and “vital to promoting nonviolence and ensuring security.”

Coalition groups assert that as long as the detention facility remains open, it will be used as a recruitment tool for anti-American sentiment in countries where the United States is trying actively  to eliminate terrorist threats.

A legacy of detention and torture

The administration of President George W. Bush established the Guantanamo detention camp to hold and prosecute “unlawful enemy combatants” captured in Afghanistan. In 2006, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that foreign detainees had legal rights within the federal court system to challenge their detention.

Many detainees at Guantanamo Bay have been cleared for release. Some were cleared years ago, but no place has been found to take them. Pardiss Kebriaei represents Guantanamo Bay detainee Ghaleb Al-Bihanai, held in custody since 2002. Al-Bihanai was detained for being a cook for a now-defunct organization associated with the Taliban. Al-Bihanai has never been charged or tried and remains in indefinite detention.

International humanitarian reports and Congressional investigations have confirmed that detainees at the camp were tortured. The International Committee of the Red Cross, in a June 2004 confidential report to the Bush administration, found numerous detainees were subjected to physical and psychological coercion that was “tantamount to torture.”

In July 2007, President Bush issued an executive order prohibiting the Central Intelligence Agency from using torture techniques on suspected terrorists in their custody. While the administration denied the charges alleged in the committee’s report, a U.S. official overseeing the military commissions in 2009 found that a 9/11 suspect held at Guantanamo could not be prosecuted because he was subjected to torture.

Members of the Senate Intelligence Committee have completed an extensive investigation into U.S.–sponsored torture. While the report remains classified, members of the committee from both major political parties point out that torture was conducted by the United States and that it is ineffective in producing credible information.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) insisted, “It was not torture or cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment of detainees that got us the major leads that ultimately enabled our intelligence community to find Osama bin Laden.” (See remarks by Sen. John McCain)

Closure and accountability are priorities

Faith leaders and human rights organizations want the closure of Guantanamo Bay to be a priority.

President Obama promised in his 2008 campaign to close the detention facility and issued a 2009 executive order to close. However, Guantanamo Bay remains open. Congress has stalled administration efforts to close the detention camp and transfer prisoners to federal prisons. The National Religious Campaign Against Torture is calling for members of Congress and President Obama to work together to find suitable ways to close Guantanamo.

Faith leaders and human rights advocates say they will continue to pressure Congress and the administration to close Guantanamo. They  also urge the release of all or part of the Senate Intelligence Committee report. Along with the public witness around the 11th anniversary of Guantanamo Bay, people of faith are encouraged to organize events raising awareness about thefourth anniversary since President Obama issued the executive order to close the facility.

As a nation,” Winkler said, “we cannot put that shameful legacy behind us (or) ensure that U.S.-sponsored torture never occurs again until we shutter the prison doors forever.”

*Whitaker is a communications director for the United Methodist Board of Church and Society.

News media contact: Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn. (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org