Professor Releases Statement on Executive Orders Reversing U.S. Detention Policies

January 22, 2009

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Mark Vanderhoek
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Statement from Dr. David Gushee, Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics and President of Evangelicals for Human Rights:

Three years ago, in partnership with the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, evangelicals organized an initiative to protest and to reverse counterterrorism policies that violated Christian values, American values, and international moral and legal standards. Last year, we joined together with the Center for Victims of Torture to undertake a joint campaign for a presidential executive order on torture, cruelty, and detainee policy. 

Today, President Obama issued four executive orders that fulfill and in some cases go beyond both our long-term goals and the specific principles we articulated last year. We have rejoiced today to hear that President Obama has ordered a) that all interrogations be conducted in a manner consistent with the U.S. Army Field Manual, b) that any CIA-run secret prisons be closed; c) that Red Cross access be provided to any and all detainees in our custody, thus no one will ever again simply disappear at the hands of the United States; d) that the United States will come into compliance with Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions as a “baseline” for all aspects of U.S. detainee policy; e) that no person in U.S. custody will be transferred to any country in which they will be tortured; f) recognition of habeas corpus for all prisoners at Guantanamo and a case-by-case review; g) humane treatment of all prisoners at Guantanamo until such time as each case can be properly disposed, with that (infamous) prison to be closed within one year; h) suspension of military commissions and review of policy issues in relation to such commissions i) establishment of a Special Task Force involving the highest officials of his administration to undertake a comprehensive review of options in detainee policy.

It is striking that a refrain running through these executive orders is a concern for national security, foreign policy, and justice. The president has implicitly but clearly recognized today that the aberrant detainee and interrogation policies of the last seven years in fact damaged our national security, harmed our foreign policy interests, and violated core principles of justice.

Our only concern about the documents we have seen today is the provision that the Special Task Force review of interrogation policy options might suggest possibilities not covered by the U.S. Army Field Manual. Here, we will restate our long-held view that the Golden Rule principle—that the United States treat anyone in our custody in a way that we would believe an American in custody should be treated—should be the standard.

While we celebrate today, there is more to do. Congress passed laws during the Bush years that in some cases need to be repudiated through new legislation. Executive orders are a powerful tool but they can be reversed by new presidents or under new circumstances. We need new laws, and we also need a comprehensive review of what was done to people in our name since September 11. We need a religious and moral accounting, not just a legal one.  

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