Jewish leaders join push for torture panel

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Jewish leaders joined heads of other faith groups in calling for a commission of inquiry to investigate U.S.-sponsored torture since the 9/11 attacks.

Rabbi Steve Gutow, president of the Jewish Council of Public Affairs, was one of eight religious leaders who led a "public witness" Thursday in front of the White House and participated in a news conference prior to the event sponsored by the National Religious Campaign Against Torture.

"Jewish tradition seems clear," said Gutow. "The rabbis, whose notions of humanity and its dignity reflect the Jewish views of how we must treat each other in the world, state time and again that each human and his or her life is sacred. The idea of using torture to gain an advantage over another seems far from their worldview."

A group of 33 faith leaders later met with Obama administration officials at the White House, and presented a letter stating that such a commission "is necessary to uncover the whole truth about U.S. torture policies and practices; mobilize a national consensus; and build support for the requisite safeguards to ensure that U.S.-sponsored torture never happens again."

The group notes that Obama has "publicly announced your opposition to a Commission of Inquiry, stating that our existing institutions are adequate for investigating what went wrong. You have expressed your desire to look forward, not backward. We agree we must look forward — forward to a future where torture will never happen again. But we believe that the only avenue to, and guarantee of, such a future is a Commission of Inquiry."

Gutow was one of 51 religious leaders who signed the missive. Other Jewish leaders who signed include Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism; Rabbi Jack Moline, director of public policy for the Rabbinical Assembly; Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union of Reform Judaism; Rabbi Ellen Weinberg Dreyfus, president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis; Yael Ridberg, president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association; and Rabbi Ellen Lippmann, co-chairwoman of Rabbis for Human Rights-North America.

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