In support of human rights

The White House 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW Washington, DC 20500 Dear Sir: It is with a degree of relief that we, the undersigned, have heard your commitment to a new direction on America's participation in the international and yet all-too local wars that trouble these years. The conduct of those wars has undercut our safety and degraded our polity. Now, as we stand at a precarious moment of opportunity, we as a nation have a rare opportunity for choice on what we will tolerate in the name of safety. Two issues emerge as of paramount importance: our role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and our own conduct in the "War on Terror." We have watched the events unfold in Gaza with anguish, as thousands of innocents -- including our friends, family, and the family of friends -- are desperately injured and killed. Discussion of this conflict is so fraught with its history of blood that it is often difficult even to approach the subject without the discussion's participants immediately taking sides. Too often any criticism of Israel is met with accusations of Anti-Semitism, while support of Israel is seen as marking one as Anti-Arab. We hail from all different religions and professions. We deplore hatred in all its forms. We acknowledge the war crimes Hamas has committed, by shelling Israeli communities, and by using civilians and their houses, schools and public buildings as human shields. Such crimes must be confronted and addressed. But Israel too has much to answer for. It has subjected the citizens of Gaza to retribution for their government's actions. This itself constitutes a war crime. Attacking schools, hospitals, and supply convoys; deploying massive and disproportionate force; lobbing phosphorus bombs over densely populated areas; firing on civilians during cease-fires and in so-called safe corridors; cutting off humanitarian and medical access to the wounded and hungry residents of this besieged fragment of a country; targeting ambulances and medical crews -- these all represent violations of the laws of war, and offend our most basic notions of human decency. The residents of Gaza are trapped there. The situation had grown desperate even before Israel invaded. The solutions to the conflict are not easy or readily apparent, but it is imperative that at least two things happen: first, that both Hamas and Israel be called to account by the international community for their actions during this war; and second, that any peace plan involve real relief for Palestinians, including basic freedoms of movement and commerce, without which the community cannot demilitarize, since without them, the community cannot ever regain a normal life. The United States is at a critical point in its world standing. Holding Israel as well as Hamas accountable for its actions will signal to the Arab world that we are not engaged in a religious or cultural war against them; that we deplore terrorism and war crimes in all forms and all situations; and that no one is above the law. Failing to demonstrate that can only subject us to more acts of terrorism and hatred against us, whom many already feel to be an enemy sworn to their destruction. That message cannot resonate, however, unless we ourselves abide by our own commitments to human rights, by doing our utmost to reduce the harm to civilians in our engagements, and by ending the horror of our treatment of accused enemy combatants. We must take a strong stand against torture, which includes accountability for those U.S. citizens, military personnel, and government figures who have promoted it. We must also ensure that in the future, we will have procedures in place to require fair trials for those accused of conspiring against us. Finally, the recommendation that certain individuals now at Guantanamo continue to be held without trial until the cessation of hostilities in a war without end violates the basic tenets of law that support this country. Such action would reduce us from a nation of laws to a nation regulated by despotic principles. Long ago, the drafters of our Constitution created a system by which we would agree to relinquish a certain proportion of safety as a nation in exchange for safety from government tyranny. Not even the prevention of another 9/11 is worth holding individuals indefinitely, on nothing more than the suspicion of intelligence analysts whose suspicions have proven all too fallible -- or on the basis of confessions tortured out of the prisoners (such confessions being widely acknowledged to be as unreliable factually as the torture that produces them is morally repugnant). We stand together in the hope that, during this moment of unprecedented international faith in a new direction for America, you can chart a new course for how these conflicts shall be conducted.

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We are a collection of citizens who are deeply troubled by the direction the United States has taken in the past regarding human rights and who are hopeful for a better future.

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