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Taking Down the Banner

posted Apr 14, 2009, 7:02 AM by Mike Allen
This past June, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) invited congregations of all faiths to join in a pubic witness against torture by displaying a banner which says simply, “Torture is wrong.” I am proud that our Fellowship responded to that invitation and joined hundreds of congregations around the country and only one other here in South Carolina (a Quaker church in Myrtle Beach) in displaying that banner. Actually, we displayed two banners – one in our social hall for members and renters to see and one on the outside wall facing Woodrow Street for passers-by to
see. During the last several months, quite a few people I have met in the community have said to me once they discovered I was the minister of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, “Oh, that’s the church with the anti-torture sign. I’m glad at least one church in this town will come out against torture.”

The use of torture has made me ashamed of my government. Simulated drowning of prisoners called “waterboarding.” Beating prisoners with metal batons. Jumping on prisoners’ arms and legs until they break. Urinating and defecating on prisoners. Sexually abusing and humiliating prisoners, with prison guards posing proudly for pictures with broad smiles and giving the thumbs-up sign. In some cases killing prisoners either accidentally or intentionally.  Kidnapping suspects and taking them to other countries, beyond the reach of the law’s protection, where we employ proxies to perform our torture for us, called “extraordinary rendition.” All of these acts were euphemistically referred to by the Bush administration as “enhanced interrogation techniques.”

Truth is expressed simply. As our banner proclaims, “Torture is wrong.” It violates the basic dignity of a human being. It contradicts everything we say we stand for. It emulates the very people we detest. It is degrading to everyone involved – perpetrators, victims, Presidents, Vice Presidents, Attorney Generals, and the citizens in whose name torture is committed.

The NRCAT, which represents over 130 religious groups including Roman Catholics, evangelical Christians, mainline Protestants, Quakers, Orthodox Christians, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, and Unitarians, urged our new President to put a stop to U.S.-sponsored torture. Two days after his inauguration, President Obama did just that: he issued an executive order stopping the CIA’s abuse of detainees, closing secret U.S. prisons, ending extraordinary rendition, and providing the International Red Cross with access to U.S.-held detainees. President Obama has also ordered the closing of the notorious U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, where hundreds of detainees have been held without access to family visits, legal counsel, or trial. And the President has appointed Eric Holder as Attorney General, who stated unequivocally at his confirmation hearings that “waterboarding is torture.” What a refreshing change from his predecessor, Alberto Gonzales, who defended the heinous practice.

Given these bold steps to end American-sponsored torture, we took down our “Torture is wrong” banners this week. Finally, I am proud of my President and I am proud of my country. And I am proud of our Fellowship for displaying our values for all to see.