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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.

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"Other countries have cut back their cooperation with us ... on the battlefield and in intelligence," said Alberto Mora, former general counsel of the US Navy, in a conference call with reporters. "There are serving US military officers today who are of the view that the first [two] identifiable causes of combat deaths in Iraq are Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo" because of their power as recruiting tools.

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The Bush administration counters that interrogations have prevented further terrorist attacks. Responding to a question specifically on the declaration at a White House press briefing, spokeswoman Dana Perino said, "We face a very different enemy today than America has ever faced before," and "we think we have the mechanisms in place to address the issue."

Retired Gen. Paul Kern, who led the Army's internal investigation of Abu Ghraib prison, takes issue with that view. "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 useful for commanders...."

He spoke of his 40 years in uniform following the Geneva Conventions, and said recent deviations have hurt the uniformed soldier. "This declaration of principles returns our country to the values embodied in our Constitution, which we in uniform have taken an oath to follow."

The declaration endorses the "Golden Rule" – no interrogation methods we would not want used against Americans – and one national standard for the treatment of prisoners across all agencies. It emphasizes the rule of law – no secret prisons or disappearances, and an opportunity to prisoners to prove their innocence – and calls for clarity in policy and accountability regardless of rank.

Supporters of the campaign face obstacles. Many citizens think torture is necessary to protect the country, and the administration fears failing to do what's necessary to protect Americans, says Douglas Johnson of the Center for Victims of Torture in Minneapolis, Minn.

Coalition members hope the American people will come to realize that the bifurcation between national security and moral values is a false dichotomy.