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Petition circulates regarding treament of Iraqis

University staff and graduate students started a petition May 14 urging President George W. Bush to follow basic human rights tenets.

Approximately 300 University staff, faculty and graduate students signed a petition protesting the recent alleged prisoner torture and abuse in Iraq.

A group of University professors and faculty started the petition, “An Open Statement to President George W. Bush,” and circulated it around the University from May 14 to May 19.

It urges the president to follow basic human rights tenets in foreign policy, said Katherine Fennelly, a Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs professor.

“It’s important to get this message out to President Bush in a timely fashion now that this issue is in the spotlight,” Fennelly said.

She said the petition will be delivered to Sen. Mark Dayton, D-Minn., on June 5.

She and others from the group hope to present it to Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., as well.

In a statement released by his press office, Coleman said he was shocked and appalled by the photographs from Abu Ghraib, and said the abuses are not representative of most U.S. soldiers.

Coleman’s statement also called for swift and decisive action from the Pentagon, and said those responsible must be held accountable. His office did not comment specifically on the petition.

Barb Frey, Institute for Global Studies program director, said the petition is the brainchild of several University faculty and staff who wanted to publicly show their concern about the recent events in U.S. prisons in Iraq. The petition’s founders work in human rights programs or teach classes on human rights.

She said the organizers met to discuss their concerns on May 10, and by May 14 the petition began circulating.

“The least we could do (was) to encourage steps to be taken to restore credibility and require immediate investigation and disciplinary action against those who knew the abuse was taking place,” she said.

Frey said she wrote most of the petition. The main points are taken from the Istanbul Protocol – an international standard for the investigation of torture – which Frey helped draft.

“These aren’t just ideas

we thought up as a group; they’re ideas that have evolved in the international community for torture investigation,” she said.

Frey said the petition was intended to appeal to the entire spectrum of political opinion.

Other people who signed the petition agreed.

“Speaking out against war is one thing, speaking out against torture is another,” said Dr. Stephen Feinstein, Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies director.

He also said people should be against torture regardless of their views on the war in Iraq.

Graduate student Margot Canaday, who also signed the petition, said the abuse could change the minds of people who have been less critical of the war in Iraq.

“It’s hard not to look at those photos and feel very upset,” she said.

Fennelly and Frey said the petition has traveled to other universities and organizations via the Internet. Both said even though the petition has ended, students who did not sign the petition should contact their senators to do so.

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