President Barrack Obama, who has promised a new dawn for humanity in the realm of international affairs, is said to read 10 hand-picked letters every day to get a glimpse of what's on people's minds and in their hearts.
Amnesty International has compiled powerful letters written by 10 influential thinkers – from an exiled poet to a former military interrogator to an esteemed actor and activist – that boldly make the case against torture.
The AI is urging people to read the Ten Against Torture letters and send the one they find most moving to President Obama.
Those 10 letters are being published herewith along with this writer's open letter to President Obama that details Pakistan torture of Baluchistan independence workers.
Sister Dianna Ortiz, U.S. citizen tortured in Guatemala and founder, Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition International (TASSC), writes:
"Dear President Obama,
On November 2, 1989, I was burned with cigarettes more than 111 times. I was raped over and over again--and this was only the beginning.
During the past few years, I have had ample reason to reflect on the life of an extraordinary man, Jean Amery, an Austrian philosopher who was tortured by the Nazis. I was first introduced to his writings shortly after my own torture in Guatemala. Like many who have survived this unspeakable horror, I emerged from that clandestine prison lost and broken--a body without a soul. Gone was the God to whom I had committed my life. Gone was trust, the very idea of justice betrayed. Gone was all that I had believed in. Everything that defined me as a human being ceased to exist.
Amery's words, odd as this may seem, brought some comfort: "Anyone who has been tortured remains tortured." "Anyone who has suffered torture never again will be at ease in the world...faith in humanity, already cracked by the first slap in the face, then demolished by torture, is never acquired again."
These words seemed written just for me. Somehow, somewhere on this earth was another person who understood what I had learned at the cruel hands of my torturers. For a moment at least, it gave me peace of mind. It was only years later that I would understand the fundamental meaning of Amery's words: "Anyone who has suffered torture, never again will be at ease in the world." And it was years after this understanding that I would learn that Jean Amery had killed himself.
Mr. President, from anonymous graves, voices still cry out. From clandestine prisons, in the midst of indescribable pain, we, my sisters and brothers, beg you to hear. Will you listen to what we alone know of this crime against humanity--what we know from the inside out?
Please hear us! Torture does not end with the release from some clandestine prison. It is not something we "get over." Simply, "looking forward" is not an option for us. Torture is a permanent invasion of our minds and our souls. Surviving is far worse that the actual physical torture itself. Those wounds heal in time--but the memories cling to us. Psychological torture is time without end. No one fully recovers from torture. The damage can never be undone.
What is our claim to speak with authority on this subject? We have been beaten, hanged by wrists, arms, or legs, burned by electrical devices or cigarettes, bitten by humans and dogs, cut or stabbed with knives or machetes. And this is only a sample of what has been done to us. Each mark, visible or invisible, is a permanent reminder of what was done to us--a reminder that in so many cases fills us with embarrassment and even shame. What a cruel irony that it is the tortured one and not the torturer who feels shame.
And what an irony it is that today in the United States, the tortured so often are told that what they experienced was not even cruel and unusual, let alone torture. What an irony that those who oppose torture, oppose the violation of U.S law by acts of non-violent civil resistance can be sent to prison while those who ordered this brutality walk free, receiving the de facto impunity implied in your call to "look forward" and only forward.
Mr. President, there is ample reason to believe that important members of the previous administration may well have violated the law. Is it not your responsibility and that of the Attorney General to investigate that possibility? And if the law was violated, is it not your responsibility to hold perpetrators accountable, no matter how exalted their previous positions?
We who have paid the dreadful price of torture beseech you to determine just what happened to law and morality during the past eight years and to make those findings public. It is only by an independent investigation that we will learn the truth, and, if that investigation warrants, it will be by prosecution that we may hold to account those who violated the law and despoiled our national honor. Getting things right in the future depends on knowing what went wrong in the past. You know this when it comes to the economy. You know this when it comes to a health care system. How can you not know it when it comes to human rights?
Mr. President, on behalf of those who know this cruel subject so well, I ask you to act in service to the truth and to the principle that no matter how high the position held nor how much power accrues to it, its incumbent must be held accountable to the law. As I hope you will agree, sir, to do less is to betray the very idea of justice.
Thank you for reading my letter."
Tom Parker, Amnesty International USA Policy Director for Terrorism & Counter-terrorism and former MI5 agent, writes:
"Dear Mr. President,
When I was twenty-one years old, I was attending a birthday party in central London when a bomb planted on the roof of the building by the Provisional IRA detonated and injured many of us inside. That experience of seeing my friends burned and bleeding prompted me to join the British Security Service, where I worked against the IRA, Saddam Hussein's secret police, and the Italian mafia.
I left the service to join the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, where I spent four years investigating war crimes in Bosnia and Kosovo. I later went to Iraq, where I worked in the Coalition Provisional Authority to help establish the Iraq High Tribunal that ultimately put Saddam Hussein on trial. I was also on the Genocide Assessment Team sent to Chad by the U.S. State Department in the early days of the Darfur crisis.
When I joined Amnesty International, I remember being asked when I had had my moment of "conversion"--when I had chosen to cross the lines and work for a human rights group. I replied then, and I still believe now, that there is no contradiction between the work I had done in MI5 and the goals of organizations like Amnesty International. In essence, human rights campaigners and intelligence agents are engaged in the same enterprise--protecting those who cannot defend themselves from the predations of violent men.
I tell you this because I want you to understand my perspective in asking you to reject the fatally flawed counter-terrorism policies of the previous administration and hold those who planned and implemented them to account.
I am proud of my service because throughout my career, I could place my hand on my heart and say without fear of contradiction that the men and women I worked for were committed to doing the right thing. We were different from those we fought, not because of the flag we wore, but because of the values we espoused.
Those values did not always make things easy for us and living by them often entailed both risk and sacrifice. But we always knew who we were, we knew why we were fighting and we knew that we were on the right side. All too often today, those who serve on the frontlines of the "war on terror" are not so sure.
Our laws and human rights standards do not obstruct counter-terrorism operations; they force us to work smarter and harder. But these rules are meaningless unless they are enforced. When they are ignored, lives on the frontline and at home are put at risk. Accountability is not a luxury. It keeps us honest and effective in the field. Accountability is a vital component in the struggle against terror.
Amnesty International is fighting to restore an America we can all believe in, where the law is applied without fear or favor. One that doesn't torture or let torturers walk free.
Please join us in this fight by establishing an independent blue-ribbon commission to investigate the abuses committed during the "war on terror" and by instructing the Department of Justice to hold those responsible to account."
Alice Walker, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, short story writer and poet, writes:
"Dear President Obama,
If word reached me that you were being tortured, I would instantly feel tortured myself, because I would be. Torture is something an entire society feels, whether or not we are within earshot of the screaming. People don't like to believe this, but there is no way human beings can remain unaffected by what is done to other human beings.
If I heard you were being tortured, I would do everything in my power to come to your aid, not simply because I know you to be rare and necessary to our planetary survival, but simply because you are a person, with feelings, aspirations, sorrows and dreams. And you have children. If I were a child and knew my parent was being tortured, day after day, what would I myself become?
It has already been recognized that "confessions" obtained by torture are useless. It is easy to see why. If someone were water boarding you and you thought you would never see your little ones again, you would say anything. So would I. It is only in movies, I think, that the "hero" tells the torturer nothing as various body parts are cut, burned, frozen, electro-shocked or pulled out.
If one keeps company with cruel people, one loses, bit by bit, one's own compassion. This is one of the reasons living in Washington, in the White House, as leader of the United States, is so treacherous. And why I said to you when we met briefly prior to my introducing you to my community in San Francisco, that failure to win the presidency had not insignificant value: you could have a fine life living as a writer, doing and saying what you want, and traveling the world incognito and free. Leadership has its down side, including the people one has to associate with in order to "get things done." When we look at the destruction around the globe caused by prior leaders of our country, and we look at the White House today and see some of those folks still coming and going... what can I say? It gives us pause.
Ringing in my ears is something I thought I heard you say: America does not torture. And if this is true, now, under your watch, this letter is unnecessary. I also thought I heard you say indefinite detention without charge was gone with the wind of George W. Bush's administration. Was I wrong? Writers, and especially poets, don't always keep their ears to the political ground, and so we are likely to miss the daily dramas that keep others informed. I hope you are holding steady on these points, because if you are, you are right.
The cruelty and injustice of holding anyone indefinitely without charge will not lead to carefree days and guilt-free nights for you or for any citizen of the United States. We want those days and nights in order to convince the youth of the world that there are basic human laws protecting their right to grow up without fear of things like torture or endless detention.
I think about people in prison being tortured, being bombed, being frightened and starved and humiliated every single day. Voting for you was one way I felt I could reach out to them--fiction and poetry writing, even protests and arrests, having their limitations. You are the world's hope for a better, fairer day. You have what few leaders of this country ever had: genuine affection and love from the people who elected you.
We are good people, too, for the most part. And even if we weren't, we could be improved by compassionate leadership with the fairness and decency to look at the whole story, the entire state of affairs, and not close off any portion of it. A leadership unafraid to hold accountable those responsible for torture and abuse is our only hope, actually, to begin to soothe a little of the sorrow in the world. It isn't a desire for vengeance, because we know vengeance, a karma, is created by Itself. It is instead a need to make things right and whole again by demonstrating to an injured and insulted world that we, as Americans, care about the harm other Americans, in our name, have done. We must show above all that we wish to understand our own madness in order not to continue growing and exporting it.
We need the world to know we don't accept the usual behavior of American presidents, and others, who do horrible things to people and then retire wealthy into memoir writing and golf, as if the disasters inflicted on a vulnerable world never happened.
I applaud and deeply appreciate all the good work you are, in fact, doing. It is huge and beautiful. It has a beat. It has a heart.
Enclosed is a poem about torture that I wrote a few weeks ago and posted on my blog: alicewalkersblog.com.
With loving kindness, and
despite the gravity of the subject,
Donald W. Goodrich, Father of Peter M. Goodrich, a 911 victim, writes:
"Dear President Obama,
Since September 11, 2001, I have read and thought a great deal about how we humans coexist on this planet. My son, Pete, was on United flight 175. The immediate causes of his death and the deaths of the others in the attacks that day were the acts of 19 men who had come to believe my son and the others were "infidels" and that they had a duty to terrorize and kill them to secure a better world. But those responsible were not the 19 men aboard the planes. These 19 men tormented and killed nearly 3,000 people with my son among them and died themselves at the direction of others.
Who were those "others"? They were/are the ideological followers of Abdullah Azzam, who wrote in the mid 1980's in "Martyrs: The Building Blocks of Nations":
History does not write its lines except with blood. Glory does not
build its lofty edifice except with skulls. Honor and respect cannot
be established except on a foundation of cripples and corpses.
They sent my son and the others to their deaths to send a message written with blood. Though no consensus has been reached on what "terrorism" is, all agree that it is a form of communication. The communication on September 11th was this: "Your lives are meaningless to us. We will make you suffer and then listen for the responses from you and those who believe in us." They listened for responses to their liking.
When our agents tormented some thought by them to be among those "others" responsible for the September 11th attacks, they did much the same. They disregarded their humanity at the direction of another set of others: our "others." They assumed their victims were "terrorists" (our secular name for "infidels"),tormented them and awaited responses: what they wanted to hear. This makes me ask: Who is the ideological father of our "others"? And what are the "building blocks of our nation"? Here, I stumble.
You have said in past that "short cuts" like torture "corrode the character of a country." That is not enough for me. The character of our country has been corroded by those leaders in our country who authorized, instructed, directed, encouraged and condoned torture. They, our "others," are the ones who must be condemned. It is too passive to say that it is "short cuts" like "torture" that corrode the character of "a" country.
I like to think that that one of our ideological fathers was John Adams. In 1765, shortly after news of the Stamp Act reached the American colonies, he completed "A Dissertation on the Canon and the Feudal Law" in which he wrote:
Be it remembered that liberty must at all hazards be supported.
We have a right to it, derived from our Maker. But if we have not,
our fathers have earned and bought it for us at the expense of their
ease, their estates, their pleasure, and their blood... . And liberty
cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the
people who have a right from the frame of their nature to
knowledge, as their great Creator who does nothing in vain, has
given them understandings and a desire to know. But besides this
they have a right, an indisputable, unalienable, indefeasible divine
right to the most dreaded and envied kind of knowledge, I mean of
the character and conduct of their rulers.
If we are to preserve the character of our nation we need to do more than simply condemn "torture" and convict people like Lynndie England. We need to have that most dreaded and envied kind of knowledge, I mean of the character and conduct of those who crafted and implemented the policies that brought about the human abuses at Abu Ghraib, at Bagram, in destinations of extraordinary rendition and elsewhere. It is knowledge of these things written not in blood but with ink, that are the building blocks of our nation. Our liberty -- by that I mean our freedom to direct the course of our democracy -- cannot be preserved without this knowledge and "[b]e it remembered that liberty must at all hazard be supported."
In the midst of the horrors of World War I, the Irish writer, George Russell, wrote "The National Being". He said:
All great wars in history, all conquests, all national antagonisms,
result in an exchange of characteristics.
You have the power to prove him false for us. It may have hazards -- even some increase of the risk in the short term of another attack here as some claim -- but our liberty as citizens, free to define the character of our own nation, depends upon it. Since September 11th my wife and I have lived with Afghans in our home and in theirs in Afghanistan. They know first hand what it means to lose this freedom, to have had no access to the kind of knowledge of which I speak, no voice in the government that ruled them. It was this fundamental flaw in Taliban controlled Afghanistan that spawned the attacks that killed our son and the sons and other family of the Afghans we know. It is the flaw our troops are risking and giving their lives for in Afghanistan to remedy.
We here must share some of that risk by setting an example to the rest of the world of the power and resolve of a civilian government to effect honest and full inquiry into the character and conduct of its leaders with credible reporting and real consequences. If we cannot show that it works for us, how can we expect others to believe it can work for them? We can't and it probably won't, producing more safe havens for Al Qaeda and its like and in the long run greater danger for us.
Please urge the Congress to establish a bipartisan commission with the resources and legal authority to fully investigate and report the abuses of those who came under our control after the September 11th attacks, the evolution of the policies that brought them about, what they were, who were responsible for them, and who implemented them.
Voltaire wrote, "To the living we owe respect, but to the dead we owe only the truth." Pete's spirit will not rest if his death continues to stand as justification for disregard by his country of the basic human rights of others, even those accused of causing his death. We owe him the truth, not just about the events that led to his death (fully explored and credibly reported by the 9/11 Commission), but also about the human rights abuses conceived and initiated by my "rulers" in his name.
Very truly yours."
Ariel Dorfman, novelist, playwright and essayist, writes:
"Dear President Obama:
That's the word, the one word shared by the man who tortures and his victim--the one word that defines them both.
Because for the victim that moment of pain and degradation, those many moments, will never end. Torture does not happen just that once but repeats itself in the mind and in the memory the body carries beyond the water in the lungs or the contingent fist in the face. It continues to happen over and over.
And forever is also for the perpetrator. The hand does not switch on the current or slam the mouth into feces, the ears are not willing to hear the screams, unless there is the promise and certainty that there will be no accountability, that he is safe from justice, can live, yes, forever, in the timelessness of impunity.
In almost forty years of struggling, as a writer and a citizen, against the plague and banality of torture, that is the dirtiest secret of these acts of dread that I have discovered, Mr. President. That nobody tortures if they think they will be caught, if they think they will be exposed to public scrutiny. Nobody tortures if they know they will be laid out naked for everyone to see and judge, if they are sure that they will face in a court of law the men and women they stripped naked in some faraway, hidden room. Forever is their horizon, their alibi, their guardian demon, the primary condition that guarantees the violence they have inflicted or are about to inflict. Forever lets them sleep at night, caress their children, look in tomorrow's mirror.
That is why the answer to the inferno of forever, both for the victim in need of healing and for the criminal who broke the law, the written law of his own land and the unspoken law of the common human bond that joins us all, that is why the answer must be the purgatorial, perhaps heavenly words, Never Again.
They are words that the United States today needs desperately to hear. But you know well that those words, Never Again, are easy to pronounce and hard to enact. Those words require, first of all, a thorough, impartial and adequately funded investigation of the truth of how this country came to torture, how it became an international pariah. And then those words, Never Again, require the prosecution of any and all those who ordered, condoned and engaged in these crimes against humanity.
To do anything less is to succumb to the very politics of fear that you have so eloquently identified as the primary condition facilitating this disastrous assault upon human rights. To do anything less is to invite a repetition of such acts of endless and corrupting pain if the future were to sadly bring terror to these shores once more.
You are blessed, Mr. President, with the chance to cleanse the world. You have been given that chance because you happen to be the one person on this earth today who can modify history and proclaim to your country and to all of humanity that torture is not, after all, forever.
From one poet to another, and with great respect and hope and admiration."
Malcolm W. Nance, Counter-terror intelligence specialist and combat veteran, writes:
Dear Mr. President,
I am an American combat veteran; a witness and survivor of multiple al Qaeda suicide bombings in Iraq and the destruction of our Marine Barracks and Embassies in Lebanon; an eyewitness to genocide in Bosnia; and a rescuer at the Pentagon crash site on 9/11. My late father, another veteran of three wars, fought in WWII as a 15-year-old African American sailor. He survived numerous suicide attacks of the Japanese Kamikaze in the Pacific. My family has more than a century of combined naval service. We know the meaning of both courage and terror.
I am compelled to write you in the capacity of a technical expert and intelligence professional, and hopefully, as a Navy Chief Petty Officer is sworn to do--to provide a voice of reason and common sense.
A few short years ago, I was teaching members of the armed forces and intelligence community how to resist terrorist exploitation and captivity at the Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) school in Coronado, California. SERE school is the gold standard for truth about the depths of inhumanity and the immorality of torture. It is the repository of America's corporate knowledge of brutality. It is built on the harrowing experiences of thousands of American soldiers who were taken captive, interrogated and, in many cases, killed at the hands of torturers.
One core truth that I taught to more than 5,000 service members is that torture, stress and duress, fear and despair and the heartless brutality that is physical and psychological coercion do not work. There is no yardstick long enough to measure the failure of torturers. I can say to you quite assuredly that torture never works.
As a SERE instructor role playing an al-Qaeda Emir or Ba'athist Major, I have contorted men and women into horribly painful positions, slapped their faces until they openly weep, slammed them repeatedly against walls, played cruel and inhuman sounds until they clasped their ears and placed them in cold boxes the size of a dog kennel. I have performed or assisted in hundreds of water-boardings and was subject to all of these techniques myself.
It was my job to expose Americans to the most cruel and heartless behaviors of totalitarian governments and terrorists. We used examples of our enemies' methods as an inoculation to brutality in captivity--not to inflict pain, but to reach a learning objective.
We now find that this curriculum, designed by our enemies, was engineered into a torture program to make al-Qaeda captives "talk." Torture is effective only in eliciting false confessions. What the torturer wants to hear, he gets. This "intelligence," invariably unreliable, is easily spoiled by the captive.
Today the architects of this shameful program are fighting a desperate rearguard action to justify and rationalize these methods as "critical and necessary" to the national security of this nation.
Some defenders of torture blithely refer to these techniques in seemingly benign terms. But we know that "enhanced interrogation" is a Nazi term of art for techniques used on unfortunate members of the French resistance. The entirety of the SERE program comes down to three simple words: Return with Honor. That is no longer possible for any of our service members until we determine how SERE was twisted to signify American-style torture. The precedence for captive abuse has been set. Unless we investigate there will always be "acceptable levels" of torture, no matter what you say or what our generals order.
You and I have sworn an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States. I have risked my well-being time and again to live up to that oath. I vowed to safeguard this nation's honor with my life.
But our oath does not give us the luxury of dismissing violations of law. When a serviceman breaks the law, he is held to immediate and full account by military court martial. So it must be with civilians in government service, particularly in wartime.
There is no middle ground when it comes to the honor of the nation. There must be a public reaffirmation that we are a nation of laws, that we stand for justice and the dignity of human life as a model to enemies and allies alike.
America is a tough and resilient nation. We can make it through this. Please heed the call for an investigative commission into torture and abuse. We cannot forget Al Qaeda's blinding hatred that brought us to this point. But, if words of regret are never uttered, the acts of brutality done in our name not publicly aired and those who ordered laws to be broken out of mischief or arrogance are not held accountable, then we will continue to err with Osama Bin Laden's personal approval.
I am proud of you as an American. I know you have the best interests of the nation in your heart.
If you find it hard to make the difficult choice to endorse this plea, just recall the equally difficult sacrifices that fill the allied cemetery at Colleville-Sur-Mer and those made daily at Buchenwald.
God bless you. Good luck."
Juma Al Dossari, Former Guantánamo detainee, writes:
"Dear President Obama:
In late 2001, I was handed over to the United States by Pakistani forces, probably for a bounty. American personnel blindfolded me and flew me with other detainees to the United States base in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Upon our arrival we were thrown to the ground. Someone hit my head and put his boot into my mouth. For several weeks, I was in a tent that had nothing on the sides except for barbed wire, despite the freezing Afghanistan winter. I still have scars from my time in Kandahar. One resulted from a cigarette being extinguished on my wrist and the other from being pushed to a floor that was covered with broken glass.
Soldiers came one night, cut off my clothes and put me in an orange suit. They put very tight goggles on me that I could not see through and put something over my ears so I could not hear. I was chained to the floor of a plane for what seemed like an eternity. When we landed, I had no idea where we were. It was Guantanamo.
Soldiers took us to Camp X-Ray and put us in animal cages. We were forbidden to move and sometimes forbidden to pray. Later, the guards allowed us to pray and turn around, but whenever there were new detainees, we were again prohibited from doing anything except sitting still.
Physical brutality was not uncommon during that time. In Camp X-Ray soldiers beat me so badly that I spent three days in intensive care. My face and body were still swollen and covered in bruises when I left the hospital. During one interrogation, my questioner hit my head against the table. During other interrogations, I was shackled to the floor for hours, and once a female interrogator smeared my face with blood that she took from her private area.
Eventually, the physical assaults lessened, but they were replaced with something perhaps more painful: the deprivation of human contact. The military held me alone in a dark cell. I had only a pair of shorts and a dirty plastic mat. The air conditioner was on 24 hours a day, making me feel that I was living inside a freezer.
I was transferred from that cell to Camp Five in May 2004. There, the military kept me in a solid-wall cell out of which I could not see. I was permitted to exercise and shower once or twice a week. Otherwise, I was alone in my cell for every minute of every day. The only items the military allowed me to have were a Koran and some censored letters from my family. Interrogators told me that I would live like that for 50 years.
There were many times in Guantanamo when I lost all hope and faith. Between that life at Guantanamo and death, I decided that death was my preference and attempted suicide several times.
Once during a break in a meeting with my attorney, I cut open my arm with a razor and hanged myself. My attorney told me later that he returned earlier than I had told him to and found me suspended by my neck from the cell wall, unconscious and covered in blood. I broke a vertebra, but after surgery survived. I had wanted my attorney to be with me at my death so that it would not be anonymous.
In July 2007, a colonel told me that I was going home. He did not explain why all of a sudden I was fit for release. Four days later, I flew to Saudi Arabia. When I saw my family for the first time everyone was crying and hugging. I said hello to someone I thought was my sister only to hear her say, "Daddy." I looked at her face again and saw that it was my daughter who had grown from seven to 13 while I was gone.
I was very angry in Guantanamo with the people who decided to imprison me thousands of miles from home without charge, with those who had abused me and with those who told me that I had no rights at all. I was not angry with Americans in general, but I could scarcely comprehend how U.S. policy had allowed me to be treated that way.
On the plane ride home, I decided that I would have to forgive to go on with my life. I also know that September 11 was a great tragedy that caused some people to do dark things they would not have done otherwise. This knowledge helped me forget my miserable existence in Guantanamo and open my heart to life again.
Even though I am free, living with my wife and two daughters, I am gravely concerned about those who are still held in Guantanamo, as well as Bagram and other prisons that are outside the law. In order to prevent such individuals from being subjected to the treatment I endured, it is necessary to understand fully the reasons why people in Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, Afghanistan and other places were tortured, and in some cases even killed. For that reason, I ask that an independent investigation be undertaken to ensure, hopefully, that universal standards of humanity are observed in the future. After nearly six years in Guantanamo, I can think of nothing more important.
Martin Sheen, actor and activist, writes:
"Dear Mr. President,
It is with great respect and even greater hope that I write to you today.
Against a backdrop of the many encouraging words and actions issued forth in the first months of your presidency, I nevertheless think it is critical that I--that all of us--focus on a weakness in the current plan to restore the United States' reputation as a nation of laws. I'm talking about the possibility of granting impunity to those who, in the years after 9-11, paved the way for interrogation techniques and abuses in detention that were tantamount to torture.
Like so many Americans, it has pained me immeasurably to learn that our country responded to the grave threat of terrorism in part by engaging in the practice of torture, a form of terror all its own. The very stability of the world is shaken with every new revelation of detainee abuse and with each credible report of torture carried out by U.S. personnel.
And while I can certainly understand the desire to move beyond that dark chapter, I don't believe we will be able to do so, or reassure the rest of the world that we have done so, until we have fully investigated the problem and brought those responsible to justice. We must demonstrate that the law, based on our collective principles, is strong enough to transcend the hierarchy of government and the politics of fear. Failure to uncover the truth and apply the law would be an ominous admission that power and expediency can trump justice.
I support Amnesty International's request that you establish and support--with adequate funding and the full force of the law--an independent commission of distinguished Americans to do the following :
-- investigate policies and actions related to the detention, treatment, and transfer of detainees after 9/11 and the consequences of those actions
-- make recommendations for future policy in this area.
I also ask that you direct Attorney General Eric Holder to launch a criminal investigation into abuses and hold those responsible for violations accountable.
In so doing, you will give those who face grave threats in the future a shining, unequivocal example of a country that said No to the perpetuation of brutality in this world and Yes to the better angels of our nature.
Stephen King, Novelist, writes:
"Dear President Obama:
I don't know if you've ever bothered to read my stuff, but you've probably heard of it and know me as "the horror writer." I might dispute the tag, but I doubt if either of us would dispute the idea that few things are as horrible as torture. I understand your reluctance to support an independent commission to investigate acts of torture committed by U.S. interrogators during the years since 9/11/01; there is a powerful urge to let indecent acts stay buried, lest they further besmirch our already tattered reputation in the court of world opinion. I think you yourself have said it's time to "turn the page."
But there's another view, Mr. President, best articulated by George Santayana: "Those who do not learn from the past are condemned to repeat it." We did things in the heat of our outrage that must not be repeated. We allowed frightened leaders to commit acts that will come back to haunt us if they are not examined. Until this boil of secrecy is lanced, the infection will remain. And the only thing infections do is spread and become worse. Please help the country by authorizing an examination of what went wrong, how it happened, and who was responsible. Then and only then can we move on.
Matthew Alexander, Former senior U.S. interrogator in Iraq, writes:
"Dear Mr President,
"I came to Iraq with two things, and I'm leaving with both -- my father's last name and my integrity." Those were the words of a commander that I served with in Iraq, a military officer who shared my belief that we could accomplish our mission without sacrificing our principles. Together, this elite Army soldier and I, an Air Force interrogator, along with our teammates, captured several high ranking Al Qaeda leaders. We did it by applying our intellect and outsmarting our enemies. As Americans, we have a unique advantage in this conflict against Al Qaeda: our culture. It is a culture we can leverage, based on tolerance, cultural understanding, intellect, and integrity. There is no need for torture and abuse.
Torture and abuse were authorized and encouraged by senior leaders in the previous administration, and senior military officers followed unlawful orders to use these interrogation tactics. Some have argued a military necessity, but no short term military gain will ever outweigh the long term consequences of having used these unlawful and immoral methods. On a pragmatic level, I witnessed with my own eyes, while supervising over a thousand interrogations, a majority of foreign fighters state that the number one reason they came to Iraq to fight was because of our policy that allowed torture and abuse to occur at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay. These foreign fighters killed hundreds, if not thousands, of American soldiers. Torture and abuse did not keep America safe. It cost us lives.
Additionally, these policies damaged our credibility as a nation that adheres to the law of armed conflict. A dangerous precedent has been established by setting aside the law. My family fought against lawless tyranny in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. As John Locke said, "Where the law ends, tyranny begins."
I agree with your desire to move forward, and based on my experience I believe we can improve our methods of interrogation. However, moving forward and examining the past are not mutually exclusive. In the military, we complete these tasks nearly simultaneously after every battle, with after-action assessments and subsequent improvements to our tactics.
Our country needs an independent investigation into the past in order to send a strong message to the next generation of American soldiers that torture and abuse are morally wrong and, just as importantly, that members of the military have an obligation not to follow unlawful orders. This is an advancement in human rights that we, as Americans, established at the Nuremberg Trials.
Sir, I have carried the legacy of our forefathers into battle four times--Bosnia, Kosovo, and twice to the war in Iraq--always aware of the sacrifices of the men and women who went before me. I served under the watchful, lofty eyes of a friend and fellow brother-in-arms who gave his life in the service of his country early in our careers. We owe it to our fallen brothers and sisters to serve with honor.
Our tradition of honorable military service has been tarnished by those senior leaders who authorized and permitted torture and abuse. An independent investigation is an opportunity not for retaliation or punishment, but for renewing our expectation that future soldiers will adhere to the rule of law.
Select the letter to send to President Obama:
Ahmar Mustikhan, Baluch writer, poet and activist, writes:
"Dear President Obama:
I believe I saw you when you were in Karachi in 1981 and exchanged greetings.
I am most definite I saw you reading newspapers in the morning if you were staying at the home of a very close family friend, Senator Ahmedmian Soomro. Wished I had known then you would become the president of the United States.
I need your help for my Baluch people. I hope you have heard the name Baluchistan. Many Americans have not heard the name and pronounce it as "Balokistan" with a "k" sound, though it is pronounced with the "ch" sound like in China.
Due to the wrong policies of the British we were denied statehood and today our Texas-sized homeland is split among three different nations -- Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan.
I hope you know Baluchistan gained independence from the British separately from India and Pakistan. Baluchistan's independence was announced on August 11, 1947; that of Pakistan on August 14, 1947.
Our homeland was snatched at the point of gun on March 27, 1948 and the Baluch have fought five wars of liberation against the forced and illegal annexation. Tens of thousands have been killed; the dead include some of my close friends.
The Baluch do not want to be called Pakistanis and no force on earth can turn them into Pakistanis. Does this mean Pakistan has the license to kill, maim and torture the Baluch to make them Pakistanis.
The overwhelming majority of the Baluch want an independent homeland and the struggle is fiercest in Pakistan, though Iran also routinely hangs my people in the public and tortures them under different pretexts.
If torture could help one nation dominate other, the US would have won the war in Vietnam, Soviet Russia the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan army the war in former East Pakistan, now Bangladesh. Likewise, Pakistan army and secret services torture of the Baluch patriots and nationalists can not stop them from dreaming about freedom and actually attaining their statehood.
A young but famous journalist, Malik Siraj Akbar in Baluchistan capital Quetta writes Pakistan's secret services "whisked away five thousand people. Put them into torture cells. Denied them access to judicial justice. No body knew where they had gone. We called them 'disappeared' people. There were so many of them that it was hard to keep a right count on all of them....Many Balochs are certain about being taken to a torture cell one day or the other. So all that we keep talking about is what questions the hosting intelligence agencies would ask. How severe the torture would feel like."
Karam Marri, 19, who was abducted 17 months earlier by Pakistani secret services faced extreme torture that left him physically handicapped, Pakistan's largest selling Jang newspaper reported. Another young person Muzammil Pirkani had the sole of his feet cut with knives to prevent him from escaping.
One young man, Munir Mengal, who just wanted to launch a Baluchi language television channel faced the worst torture including cuts on his penis after he allegedly refused to have sex with a woman sex slave, named Zarina Marri, 23.
Just this past July 10, a young student Qambar Chakar was kidnapped from near his university and severely tortured. When he was produced before the court five days later he could not even stand on his feet because of the beatings and was barely able to talk in whispers.
Even tiny toddlers have been forced to sit on hunger strike against the disappearance and torture of their father. The picture here shows the child members of the family of Chakar Qambrani who was abducted by the infamous Inter Services Intelligence on February 6 and nothing is known about him to this day.
The state of Pakistan is ruthlessly and systematically using torture against Baluch who demand independence. If demanding independence is a crime, the Baluch are going to commit this crime each day.
On July 16, Pakistani secret services abducted day laborer Fazil Khan Marri as he was leaving the central jail in Quetta after meeting his relatives and is presently being tortured for sympathizing with the Baluch liberation movement.
I want to paraphrase what Sister Dianna Ortiz has written to you on the same subject: Baluchistan has been raped over and over again by Pakistan army.
Mr. President please help Pakistan troop pullout from Baluchistan and end the torture being perpetrated daily on the Baluch people.
Yes you can.