Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons joined church leaders and human rights activists calling President Obama to create a Commission of Inquiry to review interrogation policies and practices of the United States in the years after Sept. 11, 2001.
“The God who made us all, is also the God to whom we are all answerable for how we treat each of God’s children,” Parsons wrote in his April 23 letter.
The letter specifically asks the president “to work with Congress to establish a non-partisan Commission of Inquiry” to conduct the review of Bush Administration interrogation policies and practices. It was delivered to President Obama and U.S. Congressional leaders.
Parsons based his call on an action of the 217th General Assembly (2006) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in response to an overture from San Francisco Presbytery. The Assembly called on Congress to “convene an investigative body with the independence, stature, and broad investigative powers of the September 11th Commission to inquire into whether any official or officer of the United States government bears direct or command responsibility for having ordered or participated in violations of law in the mistreatment of persons detained by the government of the United States at Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib Prison, or elsewhere or in transporting persons into detention in nations with known records of brutality and torture; to publish its findings and, if appropriate, to recommend the appointment of a special prosecutor if one has not been previously appointed.”
Parsons acknowledged that the Executive Order to Ensure Legal Interrogations issued by President Obama is “an important step in preventing the use of torture against individuals in the custody of the United States in the future.”
On Apr. 16, the Department of Justice released memos that had been prepared by Office of Legal Council attorneys Jay Bybee and Steven Bradbury as they assessed the CIA’s “harsh interrogation techniques” between 2002 and 2005.
On March 15, 2009, excerpts were released from an International Committee of the Red Cross report that concluded that detainees in CIA custody had been subjected to torture.
In his letter, Parsons noted that “an understanding of what happened, how it happened and who was accountable” is equally important. “If those responsible are not held accountable,” he writes, “there is nothing beyond wishful thinking and admonitions to compel future leaders to resist the temptation to torture in times of fear or threat.”
Accountability was also a prominent theme of the 2006 Assembly’s action. It called on the Attorney General to “obtain the appointment of a special counsel with full authority to investigate and prosecute any official or officer of the United States government who bears direct or command responsibility for having ordered or participated in violations of law in the mistreatment of persons detained by the government of the United States at Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib Prison, or elsewhere, or in transporting persons into detention in nations that have known records of brutality and torture.”
The PC(USA) is a long-standing supporter of human rights law. That commitment is rooted in the understanding that the church of Christ is called to be Christ’s faithful evangelist “... engaging in the struggle to free people from sin, fear, oppression, hunger, and injustice” (Book of Order, G-3.0300c(3)(c)).
The National Religious Coalition against Torture provides an opportunity for individuals and groups to join in the call for a Commission of Inquiry.