Saturday, January 31, 2009

Letter to President Obama -- Subject: Torture

MSU College of Law: Catherine M. Grosso and Sister Dianna Ortiz,a torture survivor, Issue Letter to President Obama Regarding Torture, LANSING, Mich.

To President Obama regarding torture, from MSU College of Law Professor Catherine M. Grosso and Sister Dianna Ortiz,

The Obama administration has declared that the Geneva conventions apply to the war on terror, that torture is illegal, and that the military commissions violate our basic tenants of fair process. In the euphoria over succeeding in these areas that recently required such vigilance, we must not lose track of the scope and depth of the damage caused by the violations.

When it comes to torture, the greatest risk alights on ordinary people all over the world who come face to face with an interrogator. U.S. policy chipped away at the very notion of an international ban on torture. U.S. rhetoric eroded the belief that civilized nations do not torture. U.S. practice undermined the nascent restraint that might have existed in some interrogation cells in some corners of the world.

We must focus today on how to restore the global understanding that only outlaws, thugs, and renegades torture. The immediate risk is that a "forward looking" administration will shy from the task at hand. It is important to fix the offensive laws. Likewise, an investigation is important. The truth is powerful and we must be ready to hear, to own, and to document the grave breaches of human dignity that have been perpetrated in the name of the war on terror. But repaired laws and an investigation cannot remedy the harm that has been done to customary international law and, more importantly, to the safety of detainees all over the world.

The United States, as a member of the world community, must say loudly and clearly that this discourse was wrong and that those who advanced it stood outside of our laws and our values. We must work to ensure certain prosecutions are squarely on the table as a possible response to the findings of any investigation.

Enough is known by now to suggest that senior officials violated U.S. law. The only question now is whether the president will do what under law, he is required to do. We, as a modern democracy, show that people have transgressed our laws by prosecuting them in court. Our Constitution and our criminal laws require that we do nothing less. Our history holds the stories of similar violations by senior administrators and the ensuing prosecutions.

An independent criminal investigation is how we get from accusations to evidence. It is time to start this investigation, and to follow the evidence honestly and in good faith. Does the Obama administration believe in one law for all citizens or are the powerful exempt from that principle?

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