On the second full day of his presidency, President Obama signed executive orders requiring all interrogations to follow the non-coercive methods of the Army Field Manual consistent with international conventions, making good on a campaign promise that attracted the support of civil libertarians and constitutional scholars alike. The orders also ended the Central Intelligence Agency’s program of operating secret prisons in foreign countries and ordered the closure of the detention camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, within a year.

These actions send a powerful message that the controversial interrogation policies of questionable ethics, legality and morality and suspension of due process approved by the previous Administration will no longer stand. What timely tribute to the 80th birthday celebration to the nation’s most powerful voice against the cruelties of war.

Last year, while serving in the State Senate, California became the first state in the nation to officially condemn the participation of health professionals, including psychologists, in coercive interrogations of prisoners in the so-called war on terror. Since professional licensure and codes of ethics are regulated by states, California has the obligation to notify members of laws concerning torture that may result in their prosecution. Senate Joint Resolution 19, which passed in the state legislature, instructs the state’s health professions licensing boards to inform health professionals licensed by the State that they may one day be subject to prosecution if they participate in interrogations that do not conform to international standards of treatment of prisoners.

As past chairman of the Senate Committee on Business, Professions and Economic Development, which has oversight of medical and health professional licenses, I heard testimony on this issue. Representatives from the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Nurses Association, the American Friends Service Committee and Physicians for Social Responsibility were unanimous in support of the measure and backed my Resolution.

The executive orders issued last week are a fundamental step in remaking America in a way that respects the human rights of all and ensures due process. Torture is much more than a political issue. It is an ethical, moral and spiritual issue that has not only become a shame, but it is an evil in our midst. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. repeatedly warned us that, “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it.”

Dr. King would not remain silent on an issue of such moral importance. He was not during the Vietnam War, saying of war and its attendant evils, that it “mutilates” the conscience.

During his Inaugural Address, President Obama said, “Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.” If Dr. King addressed this matter today he would remind us of the credo of the organization that he founded, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference: “To Redeem the soul of America.” Indeed, President Obama understands what it means to fulfill the promises of democracy and to cause the dream of the beloved country to become a reality–a fitting tribute to Dr. King.

– Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas served for a decade as the Executive Director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Los Angeles, more recently he was one the California Co-Chairs for Obama for President.

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