by Robert G. Gard and Pastor Joel C. Hunter
Published in the Orlando Sentinel on June 25, 2008
America has been long admired not only for its unparalleled strength but also for the ideals for which we stood. Over the past several years, the world watched as we opened Guantanamo, listened as American leaders refused to disavow waterboarding and recoiled at photographs of cruelty and degradation at the hands of American armed service members. We have created a perilous gulf between our principles and our practice. We pay an incalculable price for breaching our long-held values and sacrificing the moral high ground needed to combat terrorist extremists.
With the aim of restoring America’s standing in the eyes of the world, a bipartisan group of high-level former administration officials, retired military leaders, World War II military interrogators and religious leaders of many faiths are releasing today a blueprint to re-establish our values and moral principles. Believing the best way to accomplish this objective is with concrete action, our Declaration of Principles for a Presidential Executive Order on Prisoner Treatment, Torture and Cruelty urges the president to unequivocally reject torture and cruelty and affirm these six core moral principles:
* The Golden Rule: The U.S. will not use any method of interrogation that we would not find acceptable if used against Americans.
* One national standard: We will adopt a single standard for interrogation across U.S. agencies and departments.
* Rule of law: The U.S. will acknowledge all prisoners to our courts and the International Committee of the Red Cross and provide fully adequate judicial processes to provide detainees an opportunity to prove their innocence.
* Duty to protect: The U.S. will not transfer prisoners in our custody to governments when there is a likelihood that they will be tortured.
* Checks and balances: The U.S. will reaffirm the legitimate role of the legislative and judicial branches in understanding, reviewing, and in some cases setting detention policies.
* Clarity and accountability: All U.S. personnel deserve the certainty that they are implementing policy that complies fully with the Geneva Conventions and U.S. law.
The gift of freedom of conscience that has been bestowed upon mankind requires each of us, again and again, to judge with our hearts, as well as our heads, what is moral. Our laws represent our best efforts to articulate what we, as men and women, collectively know to be right. When scrutinizing the text of our laws, we can unearth ambiguity to justify departing from the intent of these policies; but, if we consider the moral principles underpinning those words, we instinctively know that torture and cruelty violate intrinsic human dignity. In keeping with our own consciences, we must each issue a “verdict of the heart” and firmly reject policies that degrade our fellow man.
There also are compelling practical reasons for reversing current policies. The American people have been sold a counterterrorism rationale as a basis for rejecting our values. The argument that cruelty is a necessary means of keeping America safe is premised on the false notion that torture actually works. As FBI, military intelligence and CIA professionals have testified, using torture yields faulty information. For each day that passes when we cannot say without qualification that the U.S. does not torture, we risk further damage to U.S. leadership, the breeding of new enemies and the continuation of an ineffective counterterrorism campaign.
America should lead where we want others to follow. We are proud of the values and ideals for which America has stood for more than 200 years and are fiercely committed to ensuring that these values endure.