12 Nobel Peace Prize Winners Tell President Obama to Reveal Full Details of the US Torture Program and to Close Guantánamo

28.10.14

Yesterday (October 27), 12 Nobel Peace Prize winners, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, sent a powerful and important letter to President Obama — himself a recipient of the prize — calling for him to disclose in full “the extent and use of torture and rendition by American soldiers, operatives, and contractors, as well as the authorization of torture and rendition by American officials,” and to provide “[c]lear planning and implementation for the closure of Guantánamo prison, putting an end to indefinite detention without due process.”

The 12 Nobel Peace Prize winners also called for verification that all “black sites” abroad have been closed, and also called for the “[a]doption of firm policy and oversight restating and upholding international law relating to conflict, including the Geneva Convention and the UN Convention against Torture, realigning the nation to the ideals and beliefs of their founders — the ideals that made the United States a standard to be emulated.”

It is unfortunate that these demands remain necessary — that, as the authors of the letter explain, “In recent decades, by accepting the flagrant use of torture and other violations of international law in the name of combating terrorism, American leaders have eroded the very freedoms and rights that generations of their young gave their lives to defend.”

From the very beginning, the letter, which I am posting below in its entirety, echoes everything that I and other campaigners — for the closure of Guantánamo and for those who authorized and implemented the US torture program to be held accountable — have been saying for many long years. The Nobel Peace Prize winners mention the importance of President Obama’s recent “open admission” that the US engaged in torture — when, in August, he said, with contrived casualness, “We tortured some folks,” and proceed to mention the current elephant in the room in America’s discussion with itself about torture — the 6,300-page Senate Intelligence Committee report into the torture program, commissioned in 2009, which was approved by the committee in December 2012. The intention was for a 480-page executive summary to be released, but it has been caught up in wrangling with the CIA, and it is still not known when it will be released — although the authors of the letter make a point of expressing their hope that it is imminent.

The authors then mention how some of them have experienced torture themselves — a powerful point that should not be lost on President Obama or the American people — and add that they “stand firmly with those Americans who are asking the US to bring its use of torture into the light of day, and for the United States to take the necessary steps to emerge from this dark period of its history, never to return.”

The letter then proceeds to examine how torture harms not just the tortured, but also the torturers — a point that is not made often enough — and then explains why it is so disappointing that America, founded on the rule of law, took a lawless trip to the “dark side” after the 9/11 attacks.

I hope you have time to read the letter, and to share it if you find it useful.

12 Nobel Peace Prize Winners’ Letter to President Obama about Torture, Rendition, Indefinite Detention and the Rule of Law

October 27, 2014

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President,

The open admission by the President of the United States that the country engaged in torture is a first step in the US coming to terms with a grim chapter in its history. The subsequent release of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence summary report will be an opportunity for the country and the world to see, in at least some detail, the extent to which their government and its representatives authorized, ordered and inflicted torture on their fellow human beings.

We are encouraged by Senator Dianne Feinstein’s recognition that “the creation of long-term, clandestine ‘black sites’ and the use of so-called ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ were terrible mistakes,” as well as the Senate Committee’s insistence that the report be truthful and not unnecessarily obscure the facts. They are important reminders that the justification of the torture of another human being is not a unanimous opinion in Washington, or among Americans as a whole.

We have reason to feel strongly about torture. Many of us among the Nobel Peace Prize laureates have seen firsthand the effects of the use of torture in our own countries. Some are torture survivors ourselves. Many have also been involved in the process of recovery, of helping to walk our countries and our regions out of the shadows of their own periods of conflict and abuse.

It is with this experience that we stand firmly with those Americans who are asking the US to bring its use of torture into the light of day, and for the United States to take the necessary steps to emerge from this dark period of its history, never to return.

The questions surrounding the use of torture are not as simple as how one should treat a suspected terrorist, or whether the highly dubious claim that torture produces “better” information than standard interrogation can justify its practice. Torture is, and always has been, justified in the minds of those who order it.

But the damage done by inflicting torture on a fellow human being cannot be so simplified. Nor is the harm done one-sided. Yes, the victims experience extreme physical and mental trauma, in some cases even losing their lives. But those inflicting the torture, as well as those ordering it, are nearly irreparably degraded by the practice. As torture continues to haunt the waking hours of its victims long after the conflict has passed, so it will continue to haunt its perpetrators.

When a nation’s leaders condone and even order torture, that nation has lost its way. One need only look to the regimes where torture became a systematic practice — from Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany to the French in Algeria, South Vietnam, the Khmer Rouge and others — to see the ultimate fate of a regime so divorced from their own humanity.

The practices of torture, rendition and imprisonment without due process by the United States have even greater ramifications. The United States, born of the concept of the inherent equality of all before the law, has been since its inception a hallmark that would be emulated by countries and entire regions of the world. For more than two centuries, it has been the enlightened ideals of America’s founders that changed civilization on Earth for the better, and made the US a giant among nations.

The conduct of the United States in the treatment of prisoners through two World Wars, upholding the tenets of the Geneva Convention while its own soldiers suffered greatly from violations at the hands of its enemies, again set a standard of treatment of prisoners that was emulated by other countries and regions. These are the Americans we know. And believing that most Americans still share these ideals, these are the Americans we speak to.

In recent decades, by accepting the flagrant use of torture and other violations of international law in the name of combating terrorism, American leaders have eroded the very freedoms and rights that generations of their young gave their lives to defend. They have again set an example that will be followed by others; only now, it is one that will be used to justify the use of torture by regimes around the world, including against American soldiers in foreign lands. In losing their way, they have made us all vulnerable.

From around the world, we will watch in the coming weeks as the release of the Senate findings on the United States torture program brings the country to a crossroads. It remains to be seen whether the United States will turn a blind eye to the effects of its actions on its own people and on the rest of the world, or if it will take the necessary steps to recover the standards on which the country was founded, and to once again adhere to the international conventions it helped to bring into being.

It is our hope that the United States will take the latter path, and we jointly suggest that the steps include:

a. Full disclosure to the American people of the extent and use of torture and rendition by American soldiers, operatives, and contractors, as well as the authorization of torture and rendition by American officials.

b. Full verification of the closure and dismantling of ‘black sites” abroad for the use of torture and interrogation.

c. Clear planning and implementation for the closure of Guantánamo prison, putting an end to indefinite detention without due process.

d. Adoption of firm policy and oversight restating and upholding international law relating to conflict, including the Geneva Convention and the UN Convention against Torture, realigning the nation to the ideals and beliefs of their founders – the ideals that made the United States a standard to be emulated.

Respectfully,

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, South Africa, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, 1984
President José Ramos-Horta, Timor-Leste, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, 1996
Mohammad ElBaradei, Egypt, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, 2005
Leymah Gbowee, Liberia, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, 2011
Muhammad Yunus, Bangladesh, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, 2006
Oscar Arias Sanchez, Costa Rica, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, 1987
John Hume, Northern Ireland, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, 1998
F.W. De Klerk, South Africa, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, 1993
Jody Williams, USA, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, 1997
Bishop Carlos X. Belo, Timor-Leste, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, 1996
Betty Williams, Northern Ireland, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, 1976
Adolfo Perez Esquivel, Argentina, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, 1980

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer and film-maker. He is the co-founder of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

19 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s the full text – plus my analysis – of a powerful letter sent to President Obama yesterday by 12 Nobel Peace Prize winners – inc. Desmond Tutu – calling for full disclosure of the US ‪‎torture‬ program, the closure of ‪Guantanamo‬ and a return to the rule of law and respect for international treaties. Embarrassing for that other Nobel Peace Prize winner, President Obama …

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    I also wrote:

    My apologies for posting this late, my friends. I was out this evening, at the UCL Amnesty event, “Why did I become an activist?” with two other speakers. It was a great event, attended by around 60 people. Hopefully some of tomorrow’s activists amongst them! The topic made everyone think – both the speakers and the audience. https://www.facebook.com/events/379930842156017/

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, Mary Shepard wrote:

    Awesome post, Andy. Now, can we get Obama to stop using the word “folks” because he sounds idiotic!

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Mary. Great to hear from you. Yes, that faux-folksy use of the word “folks” always annoys me as well. It seems so contrived, insisted upon by spin-doctors monitoring what plays well with marginal seats in the Midwest or something similar.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    After my friend Jan Strain shared it, I wrote:

    Thanks for sharing, Jan. I thought it was an excellent letter. The president will be able to ignore it, of course, as it has no legal weight, but it’s a huge criticism of his inaction nonetheless.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Jan Strain wrote:

    The president claims Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela are heroes…It might do him well to actually pay attention to said heroes…
    As well as his “fellow” Nobel Laureates

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes indeed, Jan. I think being rebuked by Desmond Tutu in particular – although that is not intended to undermine the other Nobel Laureates – must be particularly embarrassing. As you point out, he has referred to Desmond Tutu as a “personal hero”: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/30/obama-desmond-tutu_n_3526176.html

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Geraldine Grunow wrote:

    Thank you, all!

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, Geraldine. It is great that these Nobel Peace Prize winners have reminded another Nobel Peace Prize winner (President Obama) of what he needs to do before he leaves office. I hope he really does take their criticisms on board.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Mary Shepard wrote:

    It sounds like it’s coming straight from dubya Bush’s speech writer so i cringe. It’s also rather condescending, in a way.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Mary Shepard wrote:

    One of the things i find so wonderful about this letter is that it comes from those who have walked the walk.

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, Mary, or Ronald Reagan’s speechwriter, as it was Reagan who, in the modern age, first really played that Forrest Gump card. Condescending, yes, but Obama’s not as bad as our crummy excuse for a leader, David Cameron, who talks to us all, all the time, as though we’re slightly brain-damaged children.
    And in contrast, as you note, a letter from people who have “walked the walk.” At least Obama was, we hear, embarrassed to receive the Nobel Peace Prize five years ago: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/may/15/obama-nobel-peace-prize-norway-rebuke-war
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2009_Nobel_Peace_Prize

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    You can email a message to President Obama here, where you can also find out more about the 12 Nobel Peace Prize winners: http://thecommunity.com/no-to-torture/

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    Mary Shepard wrote:

    Obama could’ve refused the prize.

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, absolutely, Mary, and clearly he should have turned it down.

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    Mary Shepard wrote:

    I think Obama’s award of the Peace Prize was such that it damaged the Nobel committee’s credibility, & rightfully so.

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    Not the first time, it should be said, Mary (I’m thInking partIcularly of Henry Kissinger in 1973), but yes, it was delivered before he had done anything deserving of it, and his subsequent actions have not merited it, of course.

  18. Andy Worthington says...

    Jan Strain wrote:

    Andy, thanks for the link! http://thecommunity.com/no-to-torture/
    Signed and passing along on FB and Twitter. We can certainly use the voices supporting the impressive list of signors of that letter!

  19. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks again, Jan.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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