New York City, June 22, 2011—Arguing that the United States owes a public debt to those who refused to support or participate in torture, PEN American Center has joined with nine other leading human rights organizations in calling on President Obama “formally to honor the soldiers and public servant who, when our nation went off course, stayed true to our nation’s most fundamental ideals.”

In a letter issued last week, the group—which includes the ACLU, Amnesty International, the Center for Victims of Torture, Human Rights First, Human Rights Watch, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, Open Society Foundations, Physicians for Human Rights, and The Rutherford Institute—commended President Obama for his executive order prohibiting American personnel from using torture and for his May 2009 speech at the National Archives, in which he declared that “too often our government made decisions based on fear rather than foresight,” and that “during this season of fear, too many of us—Democrats and Republicans, politicians, journalists, and citizens—fell silent.”

But “not everyone remained silent,” the letter noted. Citing an April 27, 2011 New York Times op-ed by PEN Freedom to Write Program Director Larry Siems and ACLU Deputy Legal Director Jameel Jaffer, the group pointed out that “throughout the military, and through the government, brave men and women reported abuse, challenged interrogation directives that permitted abuse, and refused to participate in an interrogation and detention program that they believed to be unwise, unlawful, and immoral.”

“Formally commending those who rejected torture would send a necessary message that torture is—and will always be—inconsistent with who we are as a nation,” the letter insisted.

The joint letter is part of a broader PEN and ACLU effort to foster public accountability for torture. The initiative includes both the “Honor Courage” campaign and the “Reckoning With Torture” performance and film project, which features public readings of formerly secret government documents by leading cultural figures, former service members and public servants, and ordinary citizens across the country. Director Doug Liman is spearheading a “Reckoning With Torture” feature film that will combine footage from live performances from the 2011 Sundance Film Festival and Lincoln Center with readings staged and recorded by citizen filmmakers in their own communities.

“For PEN, an organization that has both stood against torturing regimes around the world and stood with societies that have gone through processes of reckoning with legacies of torture, it is enormously important to press for a full and truthful public accounting of the human and moral costs of the United States’ post-9/11 torture program,” Siems said. “That accounting absolutely should include recognition for those who, at considerable personal risk, refused to participate in or endorse treatment they knew to be both ineffective and wrong.”

PEN American Center is the largest of the 145 centers of PEN International, the world’s oldest human rights organization and the oldest international literary organization. The Freedom to Write Program of PEN American Center works to protect the freedom of the written word wherever it is imperiled. It defends writers and journalists from all over the world who are imprisoned, threatened, persecuted, or attacked in the course of carrying out their profession.

Larry Siems, (212) 334-1660, ext. 105