United States must seek an end to torture

It’s time to stop using torture anywhere for any purpose.

That was the message at a recent public meeting in Rochester sponsored by the Rochester Citizens Coalition. The meeting was held at the Heintz Center, Rochester Community and Technical College.

The purpose of the meeting was to gain support for the Campaign to End Torture, a national organization whose goal is to expose the damage done when torture is used and to urge worldwide support for ending the practice.

Sheila Kiscaden, a leader of the coalition, served as moderator for the meeting.

She introduced four speakers who are leaders in a worldwide campaign to ban torture. They are:


• Brig. Gen. John Johns, who has had more than 26 years of service in the U.S. Army and is a veteran of the Vietnam War.

• Brig. Gen. Murray Sagsveen, a lawyer and a veteran of 29 years in the U.S. Army.

• Douglas Johnson, executive director of the Center for Victims of Torture, which is based in Minneapolis.

• Carl Nelson, an Evangelical Church pastor and president of the Greater Minnesota Association of Evangelicals.

Gen. Johns said that U.S. military leaders are opposed to the use of torture for any purpose because it is cruel and because it is ineffective. They say it is ineffective as a tool in questioning suspects because experience shows that a victim of torture will say anything — true or false — to escape the pain of torture. For that reason, anything a victim says cannot be accepted as true.

He added that U.S. military leaders follow this rule: If you would not want your own troops to be treated in this way, you should not use the treatment against any enemy soldier.

Gen. Sagsveen offered the same opinion and said another problem is caused by movies and two television programs in which torture is a recurring theme. He said the programs have caused the public in general to be less opposed to torture and that people should express their opposition to the movies and the TV programs. He said polls showed that 64 percent of Americans were outraged by the use of torture in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, but three years later only 36 percent felt that way.

Johnson said that the Center for Victims of Torture is a private non-profit organization that provides victims of politically motivated torture with medical, psychological and social services in the Twin Cities and around the world.


The center runs international programs for health care and human service workers who work with refugees and also advocates domestic and international legislation to ban torture worldwide.

Nelson said Evangelical churches have organized a campaign to oppose torture as a violation of Christian principles. He said torture is an outrage and the moral integrity of the nation depends on seeking to end it.

One member of the audience asked whether the speakers opposed capital punishment, in addition to opposing torture.

All of the speakers agreed that the president should issue an executive order banning torture and should later seek legislation to support that order.

President Bush has disgraced the United States in the eyes of the world by making torture a routine policy.   

An even more atrocious policy that Bush began was "extraordinary rendition." In that program, an undetermined number of people were kidnapped in foreign countries and sent to other countries to be tortured.

With a new president, there will be every reason to develop and publicize new national policies that will meet humane and civilized standards.

Bill Boyne is a retired editor and publisher of the Post-Bulletin. His column appears weekly.

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