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Ban torture for security's sake, coalition tells Bush

The bipartisan group this week sought an executive order, but acknowledged change may not occur until next presidency.

By Jane LampmanStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / June 27, 2008

A bipartisan coalition of elder statesmen, military and national security honchos, and religious leaders is calling on the president to return to pre-9/11 standards for the treatment of prisoners.

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An executive order to ban torture is essential, they say, to improve national security, shore up alliances in the war on terror, and recommit to American values.

"I've been worried for some time that the way we're conducting our struggle against terrorism was undercutting America's 'soft power' – our ability to attract others," says Joseph Nye Jr., former assistant secretary of Defense for international security affairs and chair of the National Intelligence Council, in an interview. "We're not only committing something unethical, but counterproductive at the same time."

But will President Bush pay attention? For the politically savvy folks involved, it's not a strong expectation. Yet they say the stakes are too high not to move forward now and build public support and momentum. "I'm not sure the outgoing administration is going to issue an executive order," Dr. Nye adds. "But I think a new president, whether McCain or Obama, would be willing to consider it."

The coalition released its statement June 25 with more than 200 prominent signatures, including former secretaries of State George Shultz and Madeleine Albright, former secretaries of Defense Harold Brown and William Cohen, national security advisers, retired military leaders, counterterrorism experts, and religious leaders.

"We have the synergy here of realpolitik with moral values," says Linda Gustitus, president of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture.

The plan now is to seek broad public endorsement of the declaration in coming weeks, and then take it to the president.

Those involved see the current policy, in which CIA interrogators are not restricted by military interrogation rules, as having devastating consequences.