|NRCAT Policy Successes|
During its history, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) played a major role in accomplishing four policy successes. We often did this work with other organizations, but always brought our unique message and branding to the effort.
1. Executive Order 13491
On January 22nd, 2009, President Obama signed Executive Order 13491. This executive order put a halt to the use of torture as an interrogation tactic and mandated that the International Committee of the Red Cross be provided access to all detainees. The order was issued following a year-long effort in which NRCAT, working with the Center for Victims of Torture, built broad bi-partisan support, both at the leadership and the grassroots levels, for an executive order ending torture.
In 2008 NRCAT persuaded top U.S. religious leaders to declare their support for the possible executive order and enabled thousands of grassroots faith leaders to ask the 2008 presidential candidates to commit to issuing it. NRCAT convinced hundreds of churches, temples and other places of worship to demonstrate their opposition to torture by flying anti-torture banners. NRCAT staff met with the staff for both major party candidates to make the case for the executive order, and NRCAT also arranged for a meeting between top religious leaders and the Obama transition team to discuss the importance of the order.
Since President Obama issued Executive Order 13491, it has been firm U.S. policy to disallow the use of torture in interrogations. While there are always issues of concern, this order has been a vital improvement in U.S. policy.
2. Section 1080 of the National Defense Authorization Act of FY 2010
In the fall of 2009, President Obama signed into law a bill (the FY 2010 National Defense Authorization Act) that included a provision authored by Rep. Rush Holt requiring the videotaping of the interrogations of detainees in DOD custody. NRCAT lobbied aggressively for this provision – meeting with members of the conference committee that made the decision to include it in the final bill and urging NRCAT supporters to contact their Members of Congress in support the videotaping provision.
3. The Maine Success Story
NRCAT’s work to end the use of prolonged solitary confinement in U.S. prisons started in the state of Maine. In January 2010, a bill was introduced that would have reduced the amount of time that most prisoners spend in solitary confinement and prohibited the placement of prisoners with mental illness in isolation.
In January 2010, NRCAT joined a diverse coalition of organizations including NRCAT’s local partner, the Maine Council of Churches, to educate Maine citizens about this issue. NRCAT engaged in lobbying, provided five model emails for our supporters to send to their legislators, and did significant press work which resulted in 25 press stories that mentioned NRCAT.
Although the bill did not pass, the immense momentum that people of faith and other advocates initiated against solitary confinement did pay off. The Legislature did pass a resolve requiring the Department of Corrections to review its use of isolation and report its findings.
Accordingly, the Maine Department of Corrections prepared an excellent report that listed many recommendations to improve due process and other policies related to the placement of prisoners in solitary confinement. Prompted by those recommendations, the newly appointed Maine Department of Corrections Commissioner, Joseph Ponte, reduced the number of prisoners held in solitary confinement by over 70 percent in 2011.
Commissioner Ponte has since spoken publicly, including in NRCAT’s recent film, Solitary Confinement: Torture in Your Backyard, about Maine’s success in decreasing the solitary confinement population and improving prison safety. “Over time, the more data we’re pulling is showing that what we’re doing now is safer than what we were doing before,” Ponte states in the film.
4. Section 7067 of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2012
At the end of 2011, President Obama signed into law a bill (the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2012) that included a provision authored by Senator Patrick Leahy making funds available to help eliminate torture by foreign police, military or other security forces that receive assistance from the U.S. As originally written, this provision would have also mandated the creation of a list of countries whose security forces engage in torture.
In 2010 and 2011 NRCAT staff lobbied for inclusion of this provision in the final appropriations bills and provided people of faith with the opportunity to contact their Members of Congress to express support for it. In 2010, a version of the provision was included in the Senate’s final omnibus appropriations bill, but Congress was unable to pass an omnibus appropriations bill that year. In 2011, the portion of the provision providing funding for efforts to eliminate torture was successfully included in the year-end omnibus appropriations bill and signed into law.