THE RT. REV. GEORGE E. PACKARD
BISHOP SUFFRAGAN FOR CHAPLAINCIES
THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH
SEPTEMBER 15, 2006
The United States Congress is considering the Military Commissions Act of 2006 proposed by the White House to set the way our government will deal with and try those who are accused of terrorist acts. There are serious flaws in their approach and I urge the House and the Senate to correct those flaws for the sake of our women and men in uniform and our standing in the world.
I want to be clear that we believe that those responsible for the violence and terrorism in our world must be punished for their acts and their disregard for human life. I also recognize how difficult it is to ask that the United States deal justly with those who attack us. Yet that is exactly what we are called to do if we are to uphold the cherished values of our nation and to regain our credibility as a nation that recognizes and upholds human rights.
Compliance with the Geneva Conventions, and in particular Common Article 3 as written, maintaining federal jurisdiction over detainee lawsuits (including those pending), and the ability of defendants to know the evidence to be used against them are essential to human rights law. It is inconceivable that Congress would vote to undercut the very values we are seeking to encourage abroad, but that is exactly what will happen if significant changes are not made in the White House proposal.
As the Bishop Suffragan for Chaplaincies of The Episcopal Church I have spent many long and grace-filled hours both here and in countries throughout the globe with the women and men who so bravely serve our nation. I know that in our own actions we must consider how we would want and expect them and any American citizen to be treated if held prisoner in another country.
I commend the retired military leaders who recently wrote to the Armed Services Committee outlining their concerns that:
If degradation, humiliation, physical and mental brutalization of prisoners is decriminalized or considered permissible under a restrictive interpretation of Common Article 3, we will forfeit all credible objections should such barbaric practices be inflicted upon American prisoners.
History has shown that torture is often counterproductive, resulting not in information that would reduce violence but in a rage and desire for vengeance that only produces more. In a letter to the Senate last year regarding the nomination of Alberto R. Gonzales 12 retired generals wrote:
Repeatedly in our past, the United States has confronted foes that, at the time they emerged, posed threats of a scope or nature unlike any we had previously faced. But we have been far more steadfast in the past in keeping faith with our national commitment to the rule of law.
We must continue to keep that national commitment to the rule of law. It is essential for the safety of our military personnel and our nation. Retired General Colin Powell put it succinctly when he wrote on September 13:
The world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism. To redefine Common Article 3 would add to those doubts. Furthermore, it would put our own troops as risk.
It is my hope that in considering this legislation Congress will vote to uphold the fairness and justice that have been standards of who we are called to be as a people and a nation.