New York, NY, October 14, 2005—PEN President Salman Rushdie addressed the following letter to members of the House-Senate Defense Appropriations conference committee on behalf of PEN American Center.

Dear Committee Members,

We are writing to you and your colleagues on the Defense Appropriations conference committee to urge you to ensure that the Senate amendment prohibiting the torture of prisoners in U.S. military custody remains in the final military spending bill.

As you know, that amendment, which passed the Senate on a 90–9 vote, reaffirms and restores clear bans on torture and other cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment enshrined in U.S. law and in treaties endorsed by the United States, including the binding Convention Against Torture. The fact that this amendment is even necessary—that the terms of those commitments have been so badly blurred and violations of the letter and spirit of those laws have occurred—is an ongoing scandal and a disgrace. We appeal to you to use this opportunity to bring the confusion and abuses to an end.

As an organization that is called upon to defend writers and journalists who are jailed or persecuted for their work, PEN American Center has handled hundreds of cases where our colleagues in other countries have been tortured, often until they confessed to crimes they did not commit. In every case, we have challenged their convictions and appealed for their release in part by referring to international laws prohibiting torture. Until very recently, we were confident when we did so that our appeals were echoed by the U.S. government and underscored by our country’s 1994 ratification of the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

More than a year and a half has passed since the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison became public. Since then, information released in a Freedom of Information action and the direct testimony of detainees and U.S. military personnel have shredded the Administration’s assertions that the Abu Ghraib abuses were isolated incidents perpetrated by rogue servicemen and women. We now know that congressional investigations into the Abu Ghraib abuses were shamefully inadequate; that torture has occurred routinely at Guantánamo, in Afghanistan, and at secret U.S. detention facilities in several countries, including the United States; and that the abuses documented in the Abu Ghraib photographs are not at the center but rather the periphery of an international scandal. We also know that official U.S. conduct includes the rendition of detainees to countries where they are likely to face additional, even more brutal interrogations.

The Convention Against Torture, originally signed by Ronald Reagan and supported by George H. W. Bush, reflects an American rejection of torture that has not lessened in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. A July 2004 survey by the University of Maryland’s Program of International Policy Attitudes confirmed that two-thirds of Americans believe that governments should never use physical torture; 81 percent oppose beatings, submersion, and electric shocks; 89 percent reject sexual humiliation; three in four reject forcing detainees to be naked in any circumstances. Seven in ten Americans agree with the Supreme Court that detainees are entitled to an independent hearing to challenge their detention.

The vote for the Senate amendment to the military appropriations bill reflects this consensus. Failure to ensure that this prohibition is included in the final bill will betray a core value of the United States and the clear will of the American people. Worse, it will strike a blow to the democratic aspirations of men and women in countries around the world where justice is routinely perverted by torture. On behalf of the 2,900 professional writers who are members of PEN American Center, and our PEN colleagues throughout the world, I urge you to preserve the Senate legislation intact.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

Salman Rushdie
President, PEN American Center

Larry Siems, (212) 334-1660, ext. 105, lsiems@pen.org