Press Release from the National Council of Churches USA
New York, February 16, 2006 -- The National Council of Churches USA has "emphatically supported" a United Nations report released yesterday that calls upon the United States to close its Guantanamo Bay detention facility "without further delay."
The report of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights of the Economic and Social Council also recommended that the U.S. refrain from "any practice amounting to torture" and either bring detainees to trial or "release them without further delay."
In a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, NCC General Secretary, the Rev. Dr. Bob Edgar, also renewed a request to allow the NCC to send "a small interfaith delegation" to Guantanamo "to monitor the physical, mental and spiritual condition of the detainees." A similar request was turned down by former Secretary of State Colin Powell in 2003 and 2004.
"Today we renew that request, not only for the benefit of the detainees but for the benefit of the reputation of our country in an increasingly skeptical world," Edgar wrote. "Unless our government quickly allows independent, credible access to the detainees, the charges made in the U.N. report will only take on greater weight."
On February 23, 2004, the NCC Executive Board expressed its "great consternation and frustration" that hundreds of detainees are being held in Guantanamo without charges or trials.
"Our concern is based on the fundamental Christian belief in the dignity of the human person created in the image of God, and on the rights accorded all persons by virtue of their humanity," the Executive Board said in 2004. The board cited an NCC policy statement on human rights in 1963 that said, 'Christians believe that man is made in the image of God, that every person is of intrinsic worth before God, and that every individual has a right to the fullest possible opportunity for the development of life abundant and eternal. Denials of rights and freedoms that inhere in man’s worth before God are not simply a crime against humanity; they are a sin against God.'
Edgar called upon the leaders of member NCC communions and other faith leaders to join him in calling upon the U.S. to heed the recommendations of the U.N. report on the "Situation of Detainees at Guantanamo Bay."
The full text of Edgar's letter follows:
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520
Dear Secretary Rice,
I urge you to give serious personal attention to the report “Situation of Detainees at Guantanamo Bay” that was issued on February 15 by the Commission on Human Rights of the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.
We emphatically support the recommendation that, “the United States Government should either expeditiously bring all Guantanamo Bay detainees to trial, in compliance with articles 9(3) and 14 of ICCPR, or release them without further delay”.
We also support the recommendation that, “the United States Government should close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility without further delay.”
And, as the report continues, “Until the closure, and possible transfer of detainees to pre-trial detention facilities on United States territory, the Government should refrain from any practice amounting to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, discrimination on the basis of religion, and violations of the rights to health and freedom of religion.”
These recommendations are consistent with a February 23, 2004 resolution of the Executive Board of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, which states, “Our concern is based on the fundamental Christian belief in the dignity of the human person created in the image of God, and on the rights accorded all persons by virtue of their humanity” …and the belief “that indefinite detention of persons without due process is a violation of their dignity and worth as children of God.”
We are deeply disturbed that a group with great international stature has concluded after careful study that, “The interrogation techniques authorized by the Department of Defense, particularly if used simultaneously, amount to degrading treatment in violation of article 7 of ICCPR and article 16 of the Convention Against Torture” and that “force feeding of detainees on hunger strike must be assessed a mounting to torture as defined in article 1 of the Convention Against Torture.”
The response by Ambassador Edward Moley that seeks to discredit their findings on the basis that the Special Rapporteurs rejected the invitation to personally observe conditions at Guantanamo ignores well established international practice that an investigation cannot be conducted without private access to detainees.
In 2003 and 2004 the National Council of Churches requested and was denied an opportunity to send a small interfaith delegation to Guantanamo to monitor the physical, mental and spiritual condition of the detainees.
Today we renew that request, not only for the benefit of the detainees but for the benefit of the reputation of our country in an increasingly skeptical world. Unless our government quickly allows independent credible access to the detainees, the charges made in the UN report will only take on greater weight.
Finally, we believe it is time for serious reconsideration of the retention of U.S. presence on the territory of Cuba. The history of the lease that was imposed on the Cubans in 1903, and the lack of any strategic national interest in maintaining an American presence on Cuban territory, contributes to negative views in which our country is held in this hemisphere and worldwide.
Robert W. Edgar