ABC News’ Kirit Radia and Jennifer Parker Report: Turning up the volume on the heated debate over the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, a bipartisan group of former cabinet members, military leaders and religious leaders released a signed statement Wednesday calling on President Bush to ban torture.
"Though we come from a variety of backgrounds and walks of life, we agree that the use of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment against prisoners is immoral, unwise, and un-American," a coalition of over 200 high-profile leaders from every administration dating back to the Johnson era said in the statement released Wednesday.
They called on Bush to issue an executive order affirming principles including the rule of law, waterboarding, and end rendition — a controversial practice where the US sends foreign nationals back to their home countries where they may face torture and interrogation.
"Our President must lead us by our core principles. We must be better than our enemies, and our treatment of prisoners captured in the battle against terrorism must reflect our character and values as Americans," the statement read.
The move comes two weeks after a deeply divided Supreme Court ruled that foreign detainees held for years at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba have the right to appeal to U.S. civilian courts to challenge their indefinite imprisonment without charges — the third time the court has repudiated him on the detainees.
It was a stinging rebuke to President Bush’s anti-terror policies, and Bush has said he strongly disagreed with the decision and suggested he might seek yet another law to keep terror suspects locked up at the prison camp.
"The allegation has been made that these practices have prevented attacks and made the country safer, I think the reality is actually contrary to that," Alberto Mora, former US Navy general counsel, told reporters on a conference call Wednesday, adding the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay has become a rallying point for people fighting US soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.
General Paul J. Kern (Ret.), the former Commanding General who led internal Army investigation of abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq told reporters the practice of torture ultimately endangers US troops on the front lines.
"[In] the investigations during the last year of my active duty, I could find no evidence that torture produces any answers that are credible and that are useful for the commanders to judge against other materials that they find in their intelligence collection," Kerns said.
Religious and evangelical leaders also signed the statement.
"It’s time to say ‘not in our name,’ its time to ban torture," Rev. John Thomas, president of the United Church of Christ, told reporters.
The statement has been endorsed by 204 public and religious officials from both sides of the aisle, including six former secretaries of State or Defense, four former members of the Joint Chiefs, and included and Organizers hope to launch a grassroots campaign to garner support before presenting the statement to President Bush.
The group is prevented by law from lobbying the presidential candidates for their support because they are incorporated a non-profit organization, but said they would welcome the candidates’ unsolicited endorsement.
High profile former administration officials signed onto the statement, including former secretaries of state George Shultz, Madeleine Albright, and Warren Christopher; former secretaries of defense Harold Brown, William Perry and William Cohen; Former Deputy Secretaries of State Richard Armitage; former national security advisors Zbigniew Brzezinski, Anthony Lake, and Samuel R. Berger; former Sens. Charles S. Robb, Chair of the Iraq Intelligence Commission, John Glenn, Sam Nunn, and Gary Hart; and former Gov. Thomas Kean, 9/11 Commission Chair.
White House press secretary Dana Perino told reporters Wednesday the Bush administration already has measures in place making clear torture is unacceptable.
"We feel like we have taken steps to address that issue. And I would also point out that we face a very different enemy today than America has ever faced before," Perino said, adding, "We face an enemy that respects no borders, respects no uniforms, and certainly has no regard for civilians, especially innocent women and children and the elderly."