In his inaugural speech, President Barack Obama spoke of the “false choice between our safety and our ideals.” These words were a subtle but important signal that monumental policy change would be coming in regard to U.S. interrogation rules.
Just two days later we saw those words put into action with Obama’s signing of the executive order “Ensuring Lawful Interrogation” — along with two others that ordered a systemic review of detention policies and the closing of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay within a year.
We now have an opportunity to restore the values and guiding principles that have shaped America for centuries. Obama’s order banning torture not only sends an unmistakable signal to the world, but also to our soldiers in the field — who, in times of great tension, understand the discipline required to keep things in control and still adhere to our values.
A crucial move and a broader opportunity
With the signing of this order, we can begin the crucial step of restoring U.S. moral leadership.
In so doing, the United States can set its sights on a broader human-rights agenda that redoubles our commitment to healing torture survivors. We will need stronger leadership — America can set the standard not just for ending torture but also for the promotion and healing of survivors of torture.
In supporting healing, the United States recognizes the harm that torture inflicts on its victims, their families and entire communities.
Already, the United States has begun to build on our long tradition of caring for survivors. Earlier this year — with U.S. government funding — the Centre for Victims of Torture opened a center in Amman, Jordan, to treat Iraqi refugees who suffered torture. The program aims to provide direct services to nearly 1,000 survivors and support to 4,500 family members in the first year alone.
Iraqi refugees will include torture survivors
With the United States committed to accepting 12,000 Iraqi refugees this year and increased numbers over the coming years, estimates indicate that this population, which lived under the brutality first of Saddam Hussein and then militia groups, will include a high proportion of torture survivors.
Demand for services far exceeds resources. We can build on the transformational work that U.S.-based torture treatment centers engage in by reinvigorating U.S. government funding for those programs. Congress can send a message to the world about our commitment to human rights by providing the Torture Victims Relief Act with the funding stream needed to heal survivors living in cities and towns across the United States.
Douglas Johnson is the executive director of the Center for Victims of Torture, which is based in Minneapolis. The president’s executive order embraces the Declaration of Principles for a Presidential Executive Order on Prisoner Treatment, Torture and Cruelty proposed by the Campaign to Ban Torture — which was founded by CVT, the National Religious Campaign against Torture and Evangelicals for Human Rights — and CVT’s mission to end the use of torture worldwide.