'United Methodists Do Not Torture' Petition Drive Underway

May 08, 2009

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The United Methodist General Board of Church and Society (GBCS) has begun soliciting signatures to send to President Obama and the U.S. Congress urging an independent commission of inquiry into the U.S. government's torture activities.


The petition campaign is in response to President Obama's statement that prosecution of anyone involved in torture may not occur because of "very complicated issues."


A survey, "The Religious Dimensions of the Torture Debate," released April 29 by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion and Public Life, increases the importance of making UM voices heard on this issue, according to GBCS. Pew's analysis finds that the more often a person attends religious services, the more likely it is that he or she will say that torture against suspected terrorists is sometimes justified. Pew said white evangelical Protestants are the most likely subgroup to offer at least some support for torture, while those not affiliated with a religious denomination are the least likely to do so.


Differences in opinion on this issue also are apparent based on frequency of attendance at religious services. The more often one attends, the more likely he or she is to tolerate the use of torture.


"It's time for people of faith around the world to stand up and let their voice be heard," declared Bill Mefford, director of GBCS's Human and Civil Rights work area. "Torture in any form, whether psychological or physical, is dehumanizing to the victim and to the perpetrator."


Red Cross report

GBCS reports that the International Committee of the Red Cross has documented U.S. torture activities. The document demands that U.S. authorities investigate all allegations of ill-treatment and take steps to punish the perpetrators where appropriate.


Last month, a Senate Armed Services Committee report said senior officials in the U.S. government solicited information on "aggressive techniques" to use against detainees. It said Justice Dept. memos attempted to set a legal precedent for torture, where there was none, after the aggressive interrogations had already begun.


"How do we bring reconciliation and healing if we avoid looking for the truth behind how it happened?" asked Mefford. "We must acknowledge our corporate sins that allowed torture to happen and move forward so the truth will set us free from our tortured past."


GBCS's solicitation of signatures is being conducted through its website, www.umc-gbcs.org/UMsDoNotTorture. The campaign is being run to coincide with June "Torture Awareness Month."


The June observance is a program of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT). In three emphases for the month, NRCAT said it will lobby for a commission on inquiry, putting into law key provisions of Obama's Executive Order banning torture, and expanding the national consensus that torture is always wrong.


Truth Will Set Us Free

GBCS's campaign theme is Mefford's catchphrase: "The Truth Will Set Us Free." It incorporates the same call to action as a petition drive last year: "United Methodists Do Not Torture."


Mefford said last year's emphasis was to end torture by U.S. authorities, but "This year's is to open an inquiry into whether persons should be held accountable for what the previous administration has acknowledged as 'enhanced interrogations,'" he explained.


Most attention on the United States use of torture has focused on its signing the 1949 Geneva Conventions that protect prisoners from "cruel treatment and torture." Among its protections is "in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment."


That is not the only treaty the United States has signed forbidding such human rights abuses. The United States also signed the "U.N. Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman Degrading Treatment or Punishment." That convention specifies each nation shall ensure acts of torture are offenses under its own laws.


The convention also declares that "no exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture."


GBCS's petition calls for a commission of inquiry, but also includes a personal pledge to educate, empower and engage others in one's community about the issue of torture and shining a light on past actions. UMs may go to http://www.umc-gbcs.org/UMsDoNotTorture to sign the petition. It will be delivered to President Obama and members of Congress.


NRCAT's web page (http://www.nrcat.org/) offers activities congregations can engage in during Torture Awareness Month. NRCAT believes these activities are particularly pertinent, Mefford pointed out.


Mefford encourages people of faith, particularly in light of the Pew research, to take a minute to add their name to "The Truth Shall Set You Free" petition. "In only a few short days," he said, "hundreds have added their names. We want you to be a part of this statement of faith."


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 denomination. It has offices on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., and at the Church Center at the United Nations.