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Letter to Congress on Human Rights and Torture: 2004

 
Bishop John H. Ricard
Chairman
Committee on International Policy
July 12, 2004

Dear Conferee:
On behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, I write in support of Section 1057 of S. 2400, the Ronald W. Reagan National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2005 ("FY05 Defense Authorization Act"). Section 1057 would codify our nation's constitutional and international obligations by prohibiting the torture, or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of persons in the custody or under the physical control of the United States. The reporting requirements under the section would also provide Congress a critical tool with which to conduct more rigorous oversight over the actions of military, intelligence or contract personnel during armed conflict. Therefore, as you work to resolve the differences between the House and Senate versions of the FY05 Defense Authorization Act, I urge you to retain this important section

As pastors and members of a world wide church, we recognize that the struggle against terrorism remains difficult and trying. Nevertheless, a respect for the dignity of every person, ally or enemy, must serve as the foundation of the pursuit of 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 United States' has a long history of strong support for human rights around the world. Its ratification of the Convention on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention Against Torture exemplify our nation's leadership in establishing standards of conduct and prohibiting torture and other acts of inhumane treatment of persons in U.S. custody. Tragically, this record has been marred by recent events in Iraq and Afghanistan, and changes in procedures governing the handling of prisoners make it necessary to adopt more specific and stringent guidelines. Section 1057 of the FY05 Defense Authorization Act would confirm our nation's resolve to ensure that these serious abuses never happen again.

We recognize and share the concerns of lawmakers and citizens for the safety of U.S. soldiers and civilians abroad in these times of great uncertainty and danger. In the face of this danger, our nation must not embrace a morality based on an attitude that "desperate times call for desperate measures" or "the end justifies the means." The inherent justice of our cause and the perceived necessities involved in confronting terrorism must not lead to a weakening or disregard of U.S. and international law.

In an era of terrorism and great fear, our individual and collective obligations to respect basic human dignity and basic rights, even of our worst enemies, gains added importance. The guidelines and mechanisms contained in this amendment reflect a conviction that our nation must treat our prisoners as we would expect our enemies to treat our own military personnel. Congress' adoption of the guidelines in Section 1057 would represent a significant step in restoring the moral credibility of the United States at a crucial time. Therefore, I urge you to support the retention of this important section of the Defense Authorization Act.

Thank you for your consideration of our views.



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