NRCAT Coal. Letter to Pres.: Establish Non-partisan Commission of Inquiry

June 11, 2009

The President
The White House
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President:

As senior religious leaders in the United States, we write to give voice to the compelling need for a comprehensive investigation into U.S.-sponsored torture since 9/11. We believe the most credible way to conduct such an investigation is by establishing an independent, non-partisan Commission of Inquiry. Such a Commission is necessary to: (1) uncover the whole truth about U.S. torture policies and practices; (2) mobilize a national consensus, and (3) build support for the requisite safeguards to ensure that U.S.-sponsored torture never happens again.

We know that you share with us the understanding that torture is wrong – without exception, that it is illegal and immoral. You have stated this unequivocally. You matched your words with action on the second full day of your Administration when you signed the executive order banning torture. With that order, you signaled to our nation, as well as to the world, your determination to return the United States to the rule of law and to begin the process of restoring our nation’s moral stature in the global community. We are profoundly grateful for your swift and decisive action in signing this executive order.

But an executive order is not enough. It can be superseded by laws, and, as we've seen, even laws are in jeopardy of being superseded by national emergencies. Our nation can guarantee the abolition of torture only if and when we put in place safeguards to prevent once and for all the future twisting and abrogation of the existing laws that prohibit torture.

You have publicly announced your opposition to a Commission of Inquiry, stating that our existing institutions are adequate for investigating what went wrong. You have expressed your desire to look forward, not backward. We agree we must look forward -- forward to a future where torture will never happen again. But we believe that the only avenue to, and guarantee of, such a future is a Commission of Inquiry. An investigation of U.S.-sponsored torture will only be credible and thorough if conducted by a Commission comprised of citizens who are well-respected, non-partisan, and independent-minded.

The reality is that our nation is now shackled to a shameful history of torture. As people of faith we know that only the truth can set us free. We must therefore, as a nation, be mature and honest enough to examine fully and disclose completely the wrong doing that has been committed. The transparency and openness of a Commission of Inquiry will help to hold us all accountable for the policies and acts of torture carried out in our name. Accountability is essential in a nation of laws.

Recent polls show that many people of faith have been persuaded that the use of torture can be justified in some situations. These findings weigh heavily on us, as religious leaders. We have more work to do to educate our people. We accept our responsibility to bear bold and compelling witness to the sanctity of the divine image in all people and to the fact that torture in every instance defiles and desecrates this divine image. We commit ourselves anew to great faithfulness in preaching to and teaching our members.

We beseech you, in furtherance of your responsibility to restore, protect, and preserve the sanctity and rule of law in this nation, to commit yourself to the creation of a Commission of Inquiry that will uncover the truth, identify and establish legal safeguards, and guarantee for our children and grand-children a future in this country free of torture, without exceptions.

We pray for you “the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of God” (Isaiah 11:2). And we look to you to lead our nation back to the path of truth and justice.


Rev. Dr. John H. Thomas
General Minister and President
United Church of Christ

Rabbi Steve Gutow
Jewish Council for Public Affairs

Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon
General Secretary
National Council of Churches

Archbishop Vicken
Diocesan Legate
Armenian Church of America

Rev. William G. Sinkford
Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations

Marie Dennis
Pax Christi International

The Most Reverend Michael Seneco
Presiding Bishop
North American Old Catholic Church

Dr. Ingrid Mattson
Islamic Society of North America

Rev. Peg Chemberlin
Executive Director
Minnesota Council of Churches
President-Elect, National Council of Churches

Bishop Gregory Vaughn Palmer, President
The Council of Bishops
The United Methodist Church

Jim Winkler
General Secretary
General Board of Church and Society
The United Methodist Church

Bishop Demetrios of Mokissos
Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Chicago

Rabbi David Saperstein
Director, Religious Action Center
Union of Reform Judaism

Rev. Dr. David P. Gushee
Evangelicals for Human Rights

Charlie Clements
President and CEO
Unitarian Universalist Service Committee

Dr. Sayyid M. Syeed
National Director, Interfaith and
Community Alliances
Islamic Society of North America

Rev. Dr. Sharon E. Watkins
General Minister and President
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Rabbi Jack Moline
Director of Public Policy
Rabbinical Assembly

Most Rev. Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop
Episcopal Church

Rev. Gradye Parsons
Stated Clerk of the General Assembly
Presbyterian Church, USA

Joe Volk
Executive Secretary
Friends Committee on National Legislation

Stanley J. Noffsinger
General Secretary
Church of the Brethren

Rabbi Eric Yoffie
Union for Reform Judaism

Manmohan Singh,
Secretary General
World Sikh Council - America Region

Rabbi Ellen Weinberg Dreyfus
Central Conference of American Rabbis

Rabbi Yael Ridberg
Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association

Archbishop Nicolae Condrea
Romanian Orthodox Archdiocese in the Americas

Arthur M. Larrabee
General Secretary
Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quaker)

Rev. M. Linda Jaramillo
Executive Minister, Justice and Witness Ministries, United Church of Christ

Rev. J. George Reed
Executive Director
North Carolina Council of Churches

Rev. Jack Johnson
Executive Director
Massachusetts Council of Churches

Rev. Geoffrey A. Black
Conference Minister
New York Conference
United Church of Christ

Rev. Jill Job Saxby
Executive Director
Maine Council of Churches

Rev. Dr. Rick Schlosser
Executive Director
California Council of Churches

Rev. Chuck Barnes
Conference Minister
Rhode Island Conference
United Church of Christ

Scott D. Anderson
Executive Director
Wisconsin Council of Churches

Bishop Sally Dyck,
Minnesota Annual Conference,
The United Methodist Church

Bishop Neil L. Irons
Executive Secretary
The Council of Bishops
The United Methodist Church

Rev. Dr. Jim Antal
Minister and President
Massachusetts Conference
United Church of Christ

Rabbi Ellen Lippmann
Rabbis for Human Rights-North America

Marilyn P. Mecham
Interchurch Ministries of Nebraska

Rev. Gary M. Schulte
Conference Minister
New Hampshire Conference
United Church of Christ

Rev. Dr. Davida Foy Crabtree
Conference Minister
Connecticut Conference
United Church of Christ

Rev. Dennis D. Sparks
Executive Director
West Virginia Council of Churches

Rev. Dr. Barbara Dua
Executive Director
New Mexico Conference of Churches

Rev. David R. Gaewski
Conference Minister
Maine Conference
United Church of Christ

Rev. Lynn Bujnak
Conference Minister
Vermont Conference
United Church of Christ

Rev. Gary Harke
Executive director
Pennsylvania Council of Churches

Bishop Warner Brown
California-Nevada Annual Conference
The United Methodist Church

Rev. Jan Olav Flaaten
Executive Director
Arizona Ecumenical Council

James Schrag
Executive Director
Mennonite Church USA