U.S. religious groups want Obama to ban torture

CHICAGO (Reuters) - A coalition of more than 200 religious groups urged U.S. President-elect Barack Obama on Wednesday to sign an order, once he takes office, banning torture by any federal government entity.

“This is an opportunity where one official could ... with one stroke of a pen, really change history here,” said Linda Gustitus, president of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture.

The group, which has been pressing the issue since 2006, also wants the U.S. Congress to establish a special committee to investigate the use of what the Bush administration has called “enhanced interrogation techniques” used on terrorism suspects detained after the attacks of September 11, 2001.

President George W. Bush has said the United States does not practice torture. But the Central Intelligence Agency has admitted using waterboarding, a form of simulated drowning, on three occasions. Critics consider waterboarding torture.

“We want a full accounting,” Gustitus said in a telephone briefing from Washington. “We know that we tortured people ... the country needs to come to grips with this.”

The Bush administration has been under fire both at home and abroad for its interrogation and detainment practices, particularly at the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

During the campaign both Democrat Obama and his Republican opponent, Sen. John McCain, said they wanted the detention center at Guantanamo closed. Obama takes office on January 20.

Revelations of prisoner abuse by U.S. military personnel at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq caused an international outcry in 2004.

The coalition said it was mounting events on Wednesday at locations across the country, including a demonstration outside the White House, and was lobbying members of Congress on the issue. It was also dropping off its petition to Obama’s representatives at his offices in Chicago.

The coalition said more than 240 religious groups have joined in the effort, including representatives of Roman Catholic, evangelical Christian, mainline Protestant, Unitarian, Quaker, Orthodox Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, and Sikh communities.

Editing by Eric Beech