In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks inside the United States in September of 2001, the United States government launched a “war on terror.” Those prosecuting this war argued that the nature of the threat we faced required new tactics so that long-standing international prohibitions against torture, as well as cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment of prisoners or detainees, could no longer bind agents of the United States government. Evidence would emerge that United States military personnel did, in fact, engage in abusive and degrading treatment of detainees, and that United States intelligence agents were using interrogation techniques such as waterboarding that had long been considered torture.
The National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) was formed in January 2006 as an interfaith coalition of religious organizations working together to ensure that the United States does not engage in torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of anyone, without exception. At the heart of this campaign is NRCAT’s statement of conscience:
Torture violates the basic dignity of the human person that all religions, in their highest ideals, hold dear. It degrades everyone involved — policy makers, perpetrators and victims. It contradicts our nation’s most cherished values. Any policies that permit torture and inhumane treatment are shocking and morally intolerable.
Nothing less is at stake in the torture abuse crisis than the soul of our nation. Let America abolish torture now — without exceptions.
The United States Catholic Bishops Conference (USCCB) has worked closely with the Campaign. In a letter to members of the United States Senate in December of 2007, Bishop Thomas G. Wenski, Chairman of the Committee on International Policy, wrote:
…Prisoner mistreatment compromises human dignity. A respect for the dignity of every person, ally or enemy, must serve as the foundation of security, justice and peace. There can be no compromise on the moral imperative to protect the basic human rights of any individual incarcerated for any reason.
The religious campaign wants the United States to once again conform to the requirements of the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment which the United States ratified in 1994. The United States must also ensure its full compliance with the Geneva Conventions, particularly Common Article 3 prohibiting “violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment,…outrages upon personal dignity, [and] in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment.” Only in recommitting to these basic standards of international law can the United States regain the moral authority it has lost.