WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Barack Obama should act from the moment of his inauguration to restore a U.S. image battered by allegations of torturing terrorism suspects, said a group of retired military leaders planning to press their case with the president-elect’s transition team on Wednesday.
“We need to remove the stain, and the stain is on us, as well as on our reputation overseas,” said retired Vice Adm. Lee Gunn, former Navy inspector general.
Gunn and about a dozen other retired generals and admirals, who are scheduled to meet Obama’s team in Washington, said they plan to offer a list of anti-torture principles, including some that could be implemented immediately.
They include making the Army Field Manual the single standard for all U.S. interrogators. The manual requires humane treatment and forbids practices such as waterboarding — a form of simulated drowning widely condemned as torture.
Other immediate steps Obama could take are revoking presidential orders allowing the CIA to use harsh treatment, giving the International Red Cross access to all prisoners held by intelligence agencies and declaring a moratorium on taking prisoners to a third country for harsh interrogations.
“If he’d just put a couple of sentences in his inaugural address, stating the new position, then everything would flow from that,” said retired Maj. Gen. Fred Haynes, whose regiment in World War Two raised the American flag on Iwo Jima.
Obama has denounced waterboarding and other forms of harsh questioning allowed by secret orders.
“Torture is how you create enemies, not how you defeat them,” he said in October 2007. He has also vowed to close the Guantanamo Bay prison for terrorism suspects, an international symbol of prisoner abuse.
U.S. President George W. Bush has repeatedly denied condoning torture, but the denials have widely rung hollow among U.S. and international audiences. A Justice Department report this year found the White House ignored reports it received that FBI agents viewed some interrogations as “borderline torture.”
Obama, Vice President-elect Joseph Biden and Sen. Hillary Clinton, Obama’s pick to be secretary of state, all met with the group of generals speaking out against torture during the Democratic presidential nomination race.
The group also has worked with Obama’s defeated opponent in the presidential race, Republican Sen. John McCain, in passing anti-torture legislation in the past, and he can continue to play a vital role, the officers said.
Some officers said they were comfortable with Obama’s decision to retain Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Retired Gen. Joseph Hoar, former head of the U.S. Central Command, said he was confident Gates was willing to carry out Obama’s agenda. He said Gates had done well since succeeding Donald Rumsfeld, who was blamed for fostering prisoner abuse.
Editing by Mohammad Zargham