Dear Mr. President:
Congratulations on the release of your new memoir, Decision Points, which helps me, as one of your supporters in two elections, to process your presidency. I would like to ask you a question if I may.
You write in your memoir that when the CIA asked for permission to torture Khalid Sheikh Mohammed by waterboarding him, you replied "damn right." You also admitted authorizing waterboarding for other "senior al Qaeda leaders."
You and the Vice President openly acknowledge that you approved waterboarding. This admission poses a profound question: Should we as a nation hold you personally accountable for violations of U.S. law and our most fundamental moral standards?
Let me say upfront that I don't know whether you actually believe that you broke any laws. You may think that you carefully charted a course on torture that maneuvered through the prohibitions and allowed you to avoid illegality. In order to believe this, however, you must also believe that waterboarding isn't torture, since you and the Vice President have both acknowledged your approval and support of this particular torture technique.
You are wrong. Waterboarding is unquestionably torture. You cannot sugar coat it or simplify it by calling it a mere dunk in the water. It was administered to produce severe mental and physical anguish, and it was done so to scare the victim into a desperate condition where he would reveal critical information. It is torture under the definition in the U.N. Convention Against Torture; it was torture under the terms by which we prosecuted our own soldiers in the war in Vietnam and Japanese soldiers after World War II, and it is torture under any application of common sense.
I've traveled in North Africa and the Middle East and been reminded of the loss of respect that Americans now confront. Ordinary citizens of those countries have asked me, with a pained expression, "Do you know that your government, allegedly a 'Christian country,' is conducting torture? You should be ashamed."
It was this very reality that led the 290 organizations that belong to the National Religious Campaign Against Torture to affirm that torture is wrong, unequivocally wrong. It is illegal, immoral and unjustified under any and all conditions. It breaks us as human beings, it destroys our divine spark and it corrupts the soul. We've stood for that principle for hundreds of years.
Look at what the United States said when we reported on torture to the United Nations in 1998 as part of our obligation under the U.N. Convention Against Torture (which is U.S. law):
"Torture is prohibited by law throughout the United States. It is categorically denounced as a matter of policy and as a tool of state authority. Every act constituting torture under the Convention constitutes a criminal offence under the law of the United States. No official of the Government, federal, state or local, civilian or military, is authorized to commit or to instruct anyone else to commit torture. Nor may any official condone or tolerate torture in any form. No exceptional circumstances may be invoked as a justification of torture."
There is no wiggle room for torture here. There shouldn't be. And yet you acknowledge using torture. And show no shame in doing so. And say you would do it again on the basis that waterboarding "saved lives."
With all due respect, sir, this position is wholly inadequate and unjustifiable. U.S.-sponsored torture has cost innumerable lives of both American soldiers and civilians, because it has inspired extremists to commit acts of terror against us. It has cost us dearly. Torture does not make us safer; it makes us more of a target.
What do we as a nation do when you and the Vice President, our highest elected leaders, admit to violating U.S. law and international law (which is what happened when you ordered the use of torture)?
Like many others, I have come to the conclusion that there is only one course for our country to take. We must establish a "Commission of Inquiry" that fully investigates all aspects of the use of torture by the United States to ensure that U.S.-sponsored torture never happens again. Messrs. Bush and Cheney, you brought us to this place. Shame on you!
Rev. Richard Cizik
Rev. Richard Cizik is President of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, which is a member of The National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT). NRCAT is a growing membership organization committed to ending U.S.-sponsored torture, and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Since its formation in January 2006, more than 290 religious groups have joined NRCAT, including representatives from the Catholic, evangelical Christian, mainline Protestant, Unitarian Universalist, Quaker, Orthodox Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Baha'i, Buddhist, and Sikh communities.