GBCS Applauds President's Orders to End Torture, Close Guantanamo

January 29, 2009

Say orders bring U.S. into line with Geneva Conventions


WASHINGTON, D.C. - The United Methodist General Board of Church & Society has issued a statement applauding President Obama's executive orders banning torture, and starting the process to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.


The statement was issued by Jim Winkler, the agency's top executive, and Bill Mefford, director of its work area on Civil and Human Rights.


The statement emphasizes that the United Methodist "Social Principles" unequivocally condemn use of torture for any purpose.


"President Obama has begun to restore the United States to moral leadership in the world," the statement declares, "and to ensure that our government's policies reflect the ideals for which this nation was founded."


The statement also emphasizes that the executive orders bring the United States into compliance with the Geneva Conventions, which set forth international humanitarian standards that prohibit cruel treatment of detainees.


The statement follows:


 

Statement on Executive Orders banning torture, closing

Guantanamo detention camp

The United Methodist General Board of Church and Society applauds President Obama's announcement on January 22 prohibiting all U.S. government and military personnel from using torture, and for beginning the process of closing the detention center at Guantanamo Bay. As one of his first actions in office, President Obama has put an end to policies initiated by the previous administration that permitted torture, secret prisons and indefinite detention for detainees in Guantanamo Bay.


The United Methodist Church is unequivocally against the use of torture. Our "Social Principles" states that detention and imprisonment for the harassment and elimination of political opponents or other dissidents violates fundamental human rights. Also, mistreatment or torture of persons by governments for any purpose violates Christian teaching, and must be condemned and/or opposed by Christians wherever and whenever it occurs.


The importance of President Obama's executive orders cannot be understated. By requiring the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to abide by the restrictions in the Army Field Manual in conducting interrogations of detainees, by closing the CIA's secret prisons, and by providing the International Committee of the Red Cross access to all U.S.-held detainees, President Obama has begun to restore the United States to moral leadership in the world and to ensure that our government's policies reflect the ideals for which this nation was founded. Furthermore, the executive orders bring the United States into compliance with the Geneva Conventions, which set forth international humanitarian standards that prohibit cruel treatment of detainees.


There remains much work to do. Closing down the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay was given a year to complete. We urge even swifter completion. Detainees should be either charged and brought to trial or released. We are committed to working with Congress to ensure that U.S.-sponsored torture, secret prisons and indefinite detention never happen again.


We are concerned, however, about President Obama's decision to establish a task force to explore "additional or different guidance" for the CIA. Even if "different guidance" is deemed necessary, interrogation techniques must be both moral and legal, and applied equally to U.S. citizens and foreigners.


Far too many people have been subjected to inhumane treatment that degrades the detainee's dignity and dehumanizes the perpetrator. All people, no matter what they have done or been accused to have done, are created in the image of God. Therefore, they must be treated with dignity and respect.


President Obama's Executive Orders help to reaffirm the importance of these ideals.


- Jim Winkler, General Secretary, General Board of Church & Society, The United Methodist Church


- Bill Mefford, Director of Civil and Human Rights, General Board of Church & Society, The United Methodist Church


 

The General Board of Church and Society is one of four international general program boards of The United Methodist Church, which has more than 11 million members worldwide. The board's primary areas of ministry are Advocacy, Education and Leadership Formation, United Nations and International Affairs, and resourcing these areas for the nearly 35,000 local churches of the denomination. It has offices on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., and at the Church Center at the United Nations. The agency's web site is www.umc-gbcs.org.


For more information about the statement, contact Bill Mefford at (202) 488-5657.