January 14, 2009 – A broad coalition of religious groups is calling on President-elect Barack Obama to issue an executive order on his first day in office banning the use of torture.
Leaders of the coalition, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, met with officials from the Obama transition team on Wednesday afternoon and emerged saying they were optimistic about the prospects for such an order.
Linda Gustitus, the group’s president, said the coalition leaders met with Michael Strautmanis, who has been named chief of staff to Valerie Jarrett, a senior Obama adviser.
“He gave every indication that it’s going to happen, not necessarily on Day 1, but that it’s going to happen,” Ms. Gustitus said. “So we’re encouraged. We still believe that it would be a very, very important statement to the nation and the world, were it to take place on Day 1.”
The coalition, which was formed in 2006, includes Roman Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox Christian groups, as well as organizations representing Muslims, Jews, Bahais, Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs. They asked their congregations to recite a prayer to end torture in the 10 days before Mr. Obama takes office.
In a news conference on Wednesday, the Rev. Dr. John Thomas, president and general minister of the United Church of Christ, said, “All over the world, people are looking this week for a clear and strong word that change has come, that religious values are not simply to be pandered to for votes, but are principles that underlie policy.”
Ingrid Mattson, president of the Islamic Society of North America, said, “We have lost the support of allied nations for our polices, and we have lost the good will of ordinary people across the world who now see us as hypocrites.”
The group wants the executive order to include a commitment to close secret prisons around the world where terrorism suspects were held, and to stop the practice of rendition, in which detainees have been transferred to other countries, including some known to use torture.
Officials in Mr. Obama’s transition office declined to comment on whether an executive order would be coming.
The president-elect has been outspoken in condemning the use of torture, saying at a news conference last week, “I was clear throughout this campaign, and have been clear throughout this transition, that under my administration, the United States does not torture, we will abide by the Geneva conventions, that we will uphold our highest values and ideals.”
Mr. Obama added, “I think it is important for us to do that not only because that is who we are, but also ultimately it will make us safer and will help in changing hearts and minds in our struggle against extremists.”