A Call to Reject Torture | Center for Victims of Torture

A Call to Reject Torture

We, the undersigned, call on all of our fellow Americans and public officials to reject torture unequivocally and without exception, in keeping with American law and values.


The specter of torture as an instrument of US policy has returned.

  1. Recent terrorist attacks have prompted calls among public figures for a return to the use of torture in counterterrorism interrogations.
  1. These discussions have also taken place in the context of the 2016 election cycle, which has witnessed a disturbing rise in the use of rhetoric explicitly approving torture as a tool to ensure national security.
  1. This disturbing development is not entirely unexpected in light of security fears, terror attacks, and the dynamics of highly contested political campaigns.
  1. The return of pro-torture rhetoric may also be linked to unresolved issues related to US policy after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, in which the US government authorized and used “enhanced interrogation techniques” that came near to or crossed over the line to torture.
  1. Despite longstanding bipartisan opposition to torture, post 9/11 policies, once publicly revealed, weakened the prior national consensus rejecting torture.
  1. The discussion of a return to torture as an instrument of US policy is deeply disturbing and evokes our response.



To support torture is to support direct and explicit violations of the rule of law.

  1. Torture is defined in the following way by US law: “[A]n act committed by a person acting under the color of law specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering … upon another person within his custody or physical control.”
  1. Torture is explicitly banned, without exception, by US law in the following provisions: 18 U.S. Code § 2340A (Torture Convention Implementation Act of 1994) and 18 U.S. Code § 2441 (War Crimes Act of 1996). Torture also violates rights under the U.S. Constitution, including the Eighth Amendment’s right to be free of cruel or unusual punishment.
  1. Torture is explicitly banned, without exception, by the Uniform Code of Military Justice and Army Regulation 190-8.

10. Torture is explicitly banned, without exception, by the following treaties which the United States has ratified: UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and Article 3 Common to the Four Geneva Conventions.

11. Torture is explicitly banned, without exception, under customary international law, which binds all countries even in the absence of treaty ratification.  that no country can ever derogate from or suspend, even in times of war or national emergency.



To support torture is to support a practice that violates the inherent dignity of human beings and undermines US interests.

12. Torture consists of acts that are intrinsically wrong due to their cruelty and abusiveness; violates human dignity and humanity; violates human bodily, mental, and spiritual integrity; and is a wanton abuse of power over disarmed persons.

13. Torture inflames hatred, both on the part of the torturer and the tortured and those loyal to both.

14. Even a “limited” regime of torture against select enemies tends toward slippage to a broader pattern of abuse and torture.

15. Torture increases the likelihood that United States personnel will be tortured if captured by enemies.

16. Torture damages the US reputation in the world and with our allies.

17. Torture undermines respect for the rule of law both domestically and internationally.

18. Torture undermines respect for the very concept of human rights and for secure constraints against US violation of human rights.

19.Torture shames, degrades, and coarsens the torturer. The torturer who is unaffected by routinely inflicting severe physical and psychological pain becomes a true sadist, while the torturer whose conscience is shattered by practicing torture is a true casualty of war.

20. Torture tends to corrupt the military and security services charged with developing and implementing a secret torture protocol.

21. Given that evidence obtained through torture is not admissible in courts, torture renders the delivery of justice more difficult.



We call on the people of the United States to reject torture absolutely.

We call on all public officials to explicitly disavow torture and to adhere to legal bans on torture.



(Affiliations listed for identification purposes only)

Foreign Policy, Military and National Security Leaders; Elected Officials

Madeleine Albright
Former Secretary of State

John B. Bellinger III
Former Legal Adviser to the Department of State
Former Legal Adviser to the National Security Council

Brig. General David M. Brahms (USMC – Ret.)
Former Director of the Judge Advocate Division/Staff Judge Advocate to the Commandant

Ambassador Barbara K. Bodine
Former U.S. ambassador to the Republic of Yemen
Director, Institute for the Study of Diplomacy
The Edmund Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University

Esther Brimmer
Former Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs

Rosa Brooks
Former Counselor to the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy

Ambassador R. Nicholas Burns
Former Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs

Ambassador William J. Burns
Former Deputy Secretary of State

Major Tony Camerino (USAF – Ret.)
Former senior military interrogator

Jack Cloonan
Former FBI security and counterterrorism expert

Secretary William S. Cohen
Former Secretary of Defense, Former U.S. Senator

Lorne Craner
Co-Director, Transatlantic Renewal Initiative
Former Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor

Brig. General James P. Cullen (USA-Ret.)
U.S. Army Reserve Judge Advocate Generals Corps; Chief Judge, U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeals

Ambassador Paula J. Dobriansky
Former Undersecretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs

Maj. General Paul D. Eaton (USA – Ret.)
Managing Director, Vet Voice Foundation

Richard Fontaine
Former Foreign Policy Advisor to Senator John McCain

Carl Ford
Former Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence and Research
Former CIA National Intelligence Officer for East Asia

Maj. General Eugene Fox (USA – Ret.)
Former Deputy Director of the Strategic Defense Initiative Office

Donald M. Fraser
Former mayor of Minneapolis
Former member of Congress

Lt. General Robert G. Gard, Jr. (USA – Ret.)

Burton Gerber
Retired CIA Case Officer and Chief of Station

Ambassador Marc Grossman
Former Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs

Rear Admiral Donald J. Guter, JAGC (USN – Ret.)
President and Dean, Houston College of Law 

Secretary Chuck Hagel
Former Secretary of Defense; former U.S. Senator

Dr. John J. Hamre
Former Deputy Secretary of Defense

Rear Admiral John D. Hutson, JAGC (USN – Ret.)
Dean Emeritus, University of New Hampshire School of Law

Brig. General David Irvine (USA – Ret.)
Former faculty member, Sixth U.S. Army Intelligence School
Former Deputy Commander, 96th Regional Readiness Command

Admiral Gregory G. Johnson (USN-Ret.)
Former Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe
Former Commander, Allied Forces Southern Europe, Naples, Italy

General John P. Jumper (USAF – Ret.)
Former Chief of Staff of the Air Force

Lt. General Claudia J. Kennedy (USA – Ret.)
Former Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence, Department of the Army 

General Paul J. Kern (USA – Ret.)
Former Commanding General, Army Materiel Command

Col. Steven M. Kleinman (USAF – Ret)
Former Senior Intelligence Officer and Experienced Interrogator

Harold Hongju Koh
Sterling Professor of International Law and former Dean, Yale Law School
Legal Adviser, US Dept. of State 2009-13
Asst. Secretary of State, Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, 1998-2001

David Kramer
Former Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor

Mark P. Lagon, PhD
President, Freedom House
Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Organization Affairs

Maj. General Dennis Laich (USA – Ret.)
Former Commander of the 94th Regional Readiness Command

Barry Lowenkron
Former Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor

Ambassador Frank Loy
Former Undersecretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs

Tom Maertens
Former Director for Nonproliferation and Homeland Defense, National Security Council
Former Deputy Coordinator for Counterterrorism, U.S. Department of State

Jessica Tuchman Mathews
Former Director of the National Security Council’s Office of Global Issues
Former Deputy to the Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs

General Merrill McPeak (USA – Ret.)
Former Chief of Staff, U.S. Air Force

Hon. Walter F. Mondale
Former Vice President of the United States

Alberto Mora
Senior Fellow, Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, Harvard Kennedy School
Former General Counsel of the United States Navy

Brig. General Richard M. O’Meara (USA – Ret.)
Former U.S. Army Judge Advocate General Corps

Diane Orentlicher
Professor of Law, American University
Former Deputy, Office of War Crimes Issues, Department of State

Maria Otero 
Former Undersecretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights

Lt. General Charley Otstott (USA – Ret.)

Ambassador Thomas R. Pickering
Former ambassador to the UN, Russia, India, Israel, El Salvador, Nigeria and Jordan
Former Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs

Prof. Paul R. Pillar
Former National Intelligence Officer for the Near East and South Asia
Former Deputy Chief of DCI Counterterrorist Center 

Catherine Powell
Associate Professor of Law, Fordham Law School
Former White House, National Security Council, Director for Human Rights
Former Secretary of State Policy Planning Staff

General Joseph W. Ralston (USAF – Ret.)

Ambassador Frank Ricciardone
Former Ambassador to Turkey, Egypt, and the Philippines

Gov. Bill Richardson
Former US Ambassador to the UN and Secretary of Energy

Ambassador Peter F. Romero
Assistant Secretary of State

Maj. General Thomas J. Romig (USA – Ret.)
36th Judge Advocate General of the United States Army

Brig. General Murray G. Sagsveen (USA – Ret.)

Eric Schwartz
Dean, Humphrey School of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota
Former Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration

Ambassador Wendy R. Sherman
Former Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs

Jeffrey Smith
Former General Counsel of the Central Intelligence Agency
Former U.S. Army Judge Advocate General Officer

Ali Soufan
Chairman and CEO, The Soufan Group
Former FBI Supervisory Special Agent

Lt. General Harry E. Soyster (USA – Ret.)
Former Assistant Chief of Staff, Army Intelligence

Jane E. Stromseth
Professor of Law, Georgetown University
Former Deputy, Office of Global Criminal Justice, U.S. Department of State

William H. Taft, IV
Former Legal Advisor to the State Department
Former Permanent U.S. Representative to NATO
Former Deputy Secretary of Defense

Beth Van Schaack
Leah Kaplan Visiting Professor in Human Rights, Stanford Law School
Former Deputy to the Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues, U.S. Department of State

Col. Lawrence Wilkerson (USA – Ret.)
Former Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell

Brig. General Stephen N. Xenakis, M.D. (USA – Ret.)
Former Erik Erikson Scholar, The Austen Riggs Center
Adjunct Professor, Uniformed University of Health Sciences


Faith Leaders

Randall Balmer
Chair, Department of Religion, Dartmouth College

The Very Rev. Rob Boulter
Dean of the Cathedral of the Incarnation
The Episcopal Church

Rev. Dr. Melissa Browning 
McAfee School of Theology 

Rev. Vernon S. Broyles, III
Volunteer for Public Witness, Office of the General Assembly, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

Bishop Oscar Cantú
Chair, Committee on International Justice and Peace
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

Rich Cizik
President, New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good

Michelle Clifton-Soderstrom
Professor of Theology & Ethics, North Park Theological Seminary

Shan Cretin
General Secretary, American Friends Service Committee

Alan S. Cureton
University of Northwestern – St. Paul

Timothy W. Floyd
Tommy Malone Distinguished Chair in Trial Advocacy
Director of Experiential Education, Mercer University Walter F. George School of Law

Robert P. George
McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence, Princeton University 

Thomas Givens
Fuller Theological Seminary

Rev. Dr. Wesley Granberg-Michaelson
General Secretary Emeritus
Reformed Church in America

David P. Gushee
Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics, Mercer University

Lisa Sharon Harper
Chief Church Engagement Officer, Sojourners

Harold Heie
Senior Fellow, The Colossian Forum

Rev. Christian Iosso
Coordinator, Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy
Presbyterian Mission Agency, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

Hak Joon Lee, Ph.D.
Lewis B. Smedes Professor of Christian Ethics, Fuller Theological Seminary

Rabbi Michael Lerner
Editor, Tikkun Magazine
Chair, the Network of Spiritual Progressives

Mary Ann W. Lundy
Former Deputy General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, Geneva, Switzerland

Rev. Steven Martin
National Council of Churches

Jennifer M. McBride
McCormick Theological Seminary

Brian D. McLaren
Author/activist (convergenceus.org)

Jonathan Merritt
Author, Jesus is Better Than You Imagined
Contributing writer, The Atlantic
Senior columnist, Religion News Service

Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson II
Stated Clerk of the General Assembly
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

Roger E. Olson
Foy Valentine Professor of Christian Theology and Ethics
George W. Truett Theological Seminary

Thomas Jay Oord
Northwest Nazarene University

Prof. Marcia Pally
New York University, Author, Commonwealth and Covenant

Bishop Richard E. Pates
Bishop of Des Moines

Rev. Dr. Roger A. Paynter
Retired Senior Pastor, First Baptist Church of Austin, Texas

Julie Pennington-Russell
Senior Pastor, First Baptist Church of the City of Washington, DC

Omid Safi, Ph.D.
Professor of Islamic Studies, Duke University

Ronald J. Sider
Senior Distinguished Professor of Theology, Holistic Ministry and Public Policy
Palmer Seminary at Eastern University

The Rt. Rev. Eugene Taylor Sutton
Bishop of Maryland
The Episcopal Church

Chanequa Walker-Barnes, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Pastoral Care and Counseling, Mercer University
Board Member, Christian Community Development Association

Jim Wallis
President, Sojourners

David Wildman
Executive Secretary, Human Rights and Racial Justice
The United Methodist Church

Rev. Dr. Donald J. Wilson
Former Associate Director of Social Justice
Presbyterian Church (USA)

Jim Winkler
President and General Secretary, The National Council of Churches

Rabbi Marcia Zimmerman
Senior Rabbi, Temple Israel



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