National Religious Coalition Against Torture Annual Reports
The text of recently received Annual Reports are below, with the most recently received at the top and older reports below. To jump to a particular report, simply click the year listed below.
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The National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) came into existence following the revelations in 2004 that the United States was using torture and abusive treatment of prisoners while waging it's "War on Terror" abroad. The revelations of this torture and abuse in places like Guantanamo, Bagram, and other secret locations disturbed people of faith and action was taken to address this issue. Initially NRCAT focused it's efforts on Capitol Hill concerning the torture abroad. However, over the years it became apparent that within US borders abusive treatment of those incarcerated, including the torture practice of solitary confinement, needed to be addressed.
Within the last year NRCAT has devoted a lot of time to the issue of solitary confinement on the federal and state level. NRCAT has worked with other groups around the US calling for an end to this particular torture practice including in juvenile facilities. Continuing to focus on solitary confinement in 2015-2016 NRCAT hired a carpenter to build a cell that would simulate a place where prisoners are held for extended periods of time. The solitary confinement cell has been travelling around the country and is hosted in churches around the US.
In January of 2002 the first captives were brought to the US prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Since that time hundreds upon hundreds of men and also boys were held without charge or trial. Most have been released. Over the many years numerous accounts of abusive treatment, degrading treatment, and torture have been reported. Lacking hope of release many men have taken to hunger strikes over the last several years to draw attention to their indefinite detention. The US has responded to the hunger strikes by force feeding these prisoners. Force feeding is considered torture. NRCAT has consistently called for the release of those unjustly held and has made several statements with other human rights organizations over the last year on behalf of those held in Guantanamo. At this writing the number of prisoners has just fallen to just under 80 prisoners.
At the end of 2015 NRCAT released a documentary film entitled "Out of the Shadows: Casting Light on CIA Torture". Executive Director of NRCAT, Ron Stief, said upon the release of this film: "The period in which the CIA tortured detainees was tragic for our country. Torture violated our deepest morals and failed to make our country safer. The film describes the CIA's use of torture as well as the eventual rejection of torture by people from a wide swath of America's different communities. Watching it will not only provide viewers with information about torture, but also enable them to join the growing community of folks who are working to end torture."
NRCAT has also been working to support the efforts of those addressing Islamophobia and bigotry directed against Muslims in the US. NRCAT is actively supporting "Shoulder-to-Shoulder: Standing with American Muslims; Upholding American Values" campaign which addresses anti-Muslim bigotry.
Friends who would like to support the work of NRCAT can find out mroe information at www.nrcat.org.
No report received.
No report received.
There have been four major points of focus for NRCAT this year:
- Release of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report (SSCI report)on CIA interrogation practices from 9/11/01 - 2008;
- A focus on Guantanamo - freeing those 86 prisoners who have been long cleared for release, bringing to trial those accused of crimes, and closing Guantanamo;
- Reducing the use of solitary confinement in U.S. prisons, and
- Efforts to counter anti-Muslim sentiment in the U.S.
BYM Friends Monthly Meetings that are Endorsing or Participating Members of NRCAT include Stony Run Friends and Homewood Friends Meetings, Baltimore; Annapolis Friends Meeting, Sandy Spring Meeting, Friends Meeting of Washington and Valley Friends Meeting. FCNL and QUIT are also members of NRCAT.
NRCAT activities in which BYM Friends participated include
- A march in DC on the anniversary of the founding of Guantanamo - with a focus on closing the facility
- Presentation to a combined Young Friends group from Homewood and Stony Run showing the NRCAT video “Ending U.S. -Sponsored Torture Forever”
- Showing of the NRCAT video also at Annapolis Friends Meeting
- A meeting with staff at Senator Mikulski’s office to seek publication of the SSCI report
- A month of vigils every Friday in June in Baltimore in collaboration with the Episcopal Cathedral of the Incarnation to focus on anti-torture, led by Homewood Friends Meeting
- Planning for a June 12 event, “Torture is a Moral Issue - Our Issue,” to be held at St. Francis of Assisi Roman Catholic Church in Derwood, MD, with Col. Morris Davis, Ret., former Chief Prosecutor at Guantanamo, and Dr. Stephen Collechi, Director of Social Justice issues for the U.S. Conference of Bishops.
- Visit to North Branch Correctional Institution in Cumberland, MD
- Initial planning for a mid-Atlantic conference on solitary confinement slated for 2014
A mid-Atlantic regional affiliate of NRCAT, Interfaith Action for Human Rights, is chaired by Stony Run Friend Suzanne O’Hatnick and includes on the Steering Committee Jack Lahr from Annapolis Friends Meeting and Malachy Kilbride of Friends Meeting of Washington, DC.
The BYM representative to NRCAT met with Friends at Stony Run, Homewood, Annapolis and Patapsco Meetings.
Suzanne O’Hatnick, BYM Representative to NRCAT.
NRCAT program areas focus on the following:
• making sure that US sponsored torture will never be practiced again
• reducing the use of solitary confinement in US prisons - a practice that has grown dramatically, especially since 9/11/2001
• calling for the monitoring of prison conditions in the US and abroad through the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture
• countering anti-Muslim sentiment in the US
Educating Americans about the issues and lobbying for laws that assure our adherence to the rule of law in the future are goals of NRCAT. Above all, as people of faith, we affirm that we will treat those held under our country’s control with respect.
We see increasing collaboration on the national level among organizations working to end torture and abuse. The National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT), The Quaker Initiative to End Torture (QUIT), Amnesty International USA (AIUSA), Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), ACLU and others try to mesh their national efforts for greater impact. That level of cooperation has not yet been achieved on the local level, but attempts are being made to bring our local actions in line in terms of timing with national efforts for greater impact.
An example of that coordination was the campaign to get the US to apologize to Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen who was kidnapped by American agents, sent to Syria where he was tortured and finally released and returned to Canada. The Canadian government thoroughly investigated, found Mr. Arar completely innocent, apologized to him and paid him reparations for his pain and suffering. We have not apologized to anyone we have detained, let alone paid reparations. An apology to Mr. Arar would be a symbol that we recognize we made a mistake.
60,000 citizens signed a petition asking the US to apologize to Mr. Arar. The petition was a joint effort of NRCAT, the Center for Constitutional Rights and AIUSA and they delivered the names to the White House in May.
While all of these organizations - and others - are working for accountability for torture, NRCAT and QUIT focus on directing these efforts through people of faith. NRCAT is a national interfaith coalition of more than 300 member organizations representing national, regional and local groups. QUIT is at this time a small group of dedicated individuals who provide leadership in the Quaker community on this issue.
The United States is the only democracy in the world where there is a debate about the advisability of using torture.
Sadly, the United States leads in the developed world in the percentage of its citizens who think torture is sometimes justified. According to recent polls as many as 60% of Americans approve - sometimes - of using torture. Among young people, the percentage is sometimes higher than 60%. In the rest of the developed world that figure is closer to 30%.
Of the 30 Monthly Meeting Peace and/or Social Concern Committees of BYM, 11 responded about the work that they as a committee or as individuals have done or are doing on the subject of torture and abuse.
Bringing the issue to the attention of the public, one Monthly Meeting is flying a Torture is Wrong banner for the month of June; another uses a NRCAT Torture is Wrong banner in its weekly peace vigil. Another Monthly Meeting confessed that they had been active in the past but not this year. When the end is not in sight, it can be easy to get discouraged! Other committees or individuals participated on one or more of the petition drives - to apologize to Maher Arar, to call for a Commission of Inquiry into past abuse, to close Guantanamo. A number of individuals have participated in demonstrations in Washington, DC, calling for an end to indefinite detention without charge or trial. A few are Participating Members of NRCAT, dedicating a portion of their budget toward support for NRCAT’s programs. At least two have had speakers on torture this year.
Addressing the subject of torture itself was replaced by some Monthly Meetings with concern about interfaith dialogue and greater understanding of other faiths, including Islam. Countering anti-Muslim sentiment is one of NRCAT’s program areas - willingness to mistreat Muslim detainees is related to seeing Muslims as “the Other,” to be feared and hated. Learning more about other faiths is one way to counter this sort of ignorance. One Monthly Meeting showed and then discussed “Hawo’s Dinner Party,” a video about Muslim immigrants in America.
While some committees are addressing the issue of torture and abuse (and many thanks to those that have!), that only 11 of 30 committees responded to my query about their work tells me I need to find new ways to communicate about the resources available - and the importance of the work for our future and our children’s future world.
I have communicated this year primarily through e-mail to BYM committees of peace and social concerns. I am considering making visits to a number of BYM Monthly Meeting Peace and Social Concern committees in the coming year to learn more about their interests, to explore common concerns and also to talk with Young Friends.
Suzanne O’Hatnick, BYM Representative to NRCAT
NRCAT is the only national interfaith organization devoted exclusively to ending torture here and abroad where the US has influence. BYM is a Participating Member of NRCAT.
Many Americans have come to accept that torture is sometimes acceptable. NRCAT works to transform that attitude into one that finds torture utterly unacceptable. NRCAT has also expanded its mandate from calling for a Commission of Inquiry to investigate US-sponsored abuse of detainees to
call for the public release of the investigation of detainee abuse by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence
urge the Presidential signing and Senate ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture
work to counter anti-Muslim bigotry
end extended isolation in US prisons
Today’s environment is a challenging one in which to work for human rights. 75 Quaker Meetings, 6 Yearly Meetings (BYM is one) and 3 national Quaker organizations are members of NRCAT with varying degrees of participation.
In BYM six Monthly Meetings have been active in some way with NRCAT and anti-torture work in this recording period. They include Bethesda, Sandy Spring, Charlottesville, York, State College and Stony Run Friends Meetings. Two of these Monthly Meetings, Sandy Spring and Stony Run, provide financial support for the anti-torture work of NRCAT. Homewood Friends Meeting engages in anti-torture work, but is not (yet) active in NRCAT. Richmond Friends have planned an event for next October with Quaker House’s Chuck Fager to speak on torture.
In the past year anti-torture work among BYM Friends has included
- displaying the anti-torture banner Torture is a Moral Issue or Torture is Wrong
- viewing one or more of the NRCAT DVDs and holding discussions about torture
- lobbying in Washington in Congressional offices with citizen delegations
- speaking at other Monthly Meetings or other religious organizations about torture
- meeting with the State Secretary of Corrections about extended isolation in Maryland prisons
- organizing petition signing days at Monthly Meeting and/or Business Meetings for individuals to sign the petitions seeking an investigation of abuse of detainees and support for the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (OPCAT)
- requesting of Monthly Meetings to sign the Statement of Conscience, the request for a Commission of Inquiry and OPCAT
- holding vigils against torture
While the activities are broad, the involvement has not been, with only a few BYM Monthly Meetings doing any of the activities listed above.
As the new liaison with NRCAT I am puzzled by the lack of broader support for NRCAT’s anti-torture efforts and I hope to reach out to all of the peace committees of BYM over this year to encourage deeper engagement.
Of particular interest to Friends might be NRCAT’s more recent efforts to address extended isolation in US prisons. It was Quakers who first instituted the practice in the 1800s of isolating prisoners, thinking that separation and silence might be helpful. What we discovered instead is that isolation, especially extended isolation, can be profoundly disorienting and now is characterized in international law as torture. Quakers disavowed the practice after it was found to be destructive.
Nonetheless, after 9/11, the practice of using extended isolation has expanded dramatically in the US. In Maryland on any given day 8% of the prison population is in isolation. Work to end this practice might be an area of interest for Friends who seek to do human rights work close to home.
I have found in speaking to Quaker and other religious groups that there are always some in every group who think that torture is sometimes justified. There are two dominant reasons why people accept torture: they think that Americans would only use torture if it was the only (or best) way to get information to save lives; and they do not realize the ripple effect of torture - not only on the individual, but also on the families, friends and communities of the person tortured -AND on the torturer and the community to which he or she returns.
Torture is not new. It has almost never been used to get information. It has been used to gain false confessions, to punish and to destroy the personality - or the resistance - of the person tortured. Acceptance of torture has spread in the US over the past decade, principally because our elected leaders assured us that it keeps us safe and the popular media did not until recently challenge that notion.
It is good that President Obama declared torture illegal on his first day in office. Unfortunately, that Executive Order did not end the practice or the acceptance of torture. One can simply read the newspaper or watch TV or go online to see the “torture debate” - an unthinkable discussion a decade ago when we agreed torture is always unacceptable. NRCAT’s continuing educational efforts are vital.
A goal for the year coming up is to engage every BYM Monthly Meeting in some level of discussion on this subject and to encourage our Monthly Meetings to join NRCAT as an Endorsing (no dues, but participation in programs) or Participating Member (with dues and a voice in decision making).
Suzanne O’Hatnick, BYM Representative to NRCAT