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[PCUSANEWS] Religious coalition calls for ban on use of torture

From News Service <newsservice@CTR.PCUSA.ORG>
Date Tue, 19 Sep 2006 17:07:52 -0400

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06477 September 19, 2006

Religious coalition calls for ban on use of torture

Presbyterian-founded group publishes anti-torture newspaper ad

by Evan Silverstein

LOUISVILLE * As Congress debates legislation this week on the treatment of military detainees, a group of Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders in the United States has called on the U.S. government to forswear the use of torture "without exceptions" and in all cases.

"Torture violates the basic dignity of the human person that all religions, in their highest ideals, hold dear," the leaders say in a statement published as a paid advertisement in the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call on Tuesday (Sept. 19).

Originally published in the New York Times on June 13, the full-page ad is part of a new initiative by the Presbyterian-founded National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT), which says it is working "for the immediate cessation of torture by the United States, whether direct or by proxy, within our territory or abroad."

The group was founded by the Rev. George Hunsinger, a Presbyterian minister and theology professor at Princeton Theological Seminary, in response to allegations of human rights abuses at U.S. detention centers in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The issue has galvanized the religious leaders in part because the Pentagon has not included a tenet of the Geneva Convention banning torture in proposed policies for dealing with prisoners in detention.

"NRCAT opposes any effort by the President or Congress to undermine the provisions of the Geneva Conventions which are the international moral underpinnings for the conduct of war," Hunsinger said. "NRCAT urges Congress to stand by the Geneva Conventions and the moral grounding with which our country has governed itself for well over 200 years."

Though no final decision has been made about the policies, the Pentagon has said its rules on interrogation techniques need to be flexible in the fight against terrorism.

The religious leaders said that torture degrades everyone involved, whether policy-makers, perpetrators or victims. "Any policies that permit torture and inhumane treatment are shocking and morally intolerable," they asserted.

More than three-dozen faith organizations including the PC(USA) have already joined NRCAT, which was launched during a conference convened by Hunsinger at Princeton seminary in January.

The group represents Christian, Jewish and Muslim faith traditions. Such Presbyterians as former PC(USA) General Assembly Moderator Rick Ufford-Chase (216th GA) have signed up to support the faith-based group at the NRCAT Web site. (

Jeanne E. Herrick Stare, the chair of NRCAT's coordinating committee and a member of the staff of the Friends Committee on National Legislation, said the anti-torture group published the ad because "Congress is now considering legislation that would no longer make it a war crime to inflict brutal, inhuman and degrading treatment on a prisoner.

"The legislation would allow coerced testimony to be used in trials of detainees," she said. "It would strip detainees of the right to challenge their detention before independent courts, meaning individuals could languish in prison without trial indefinitely."

Stare said it would also enable detainees to be convicted of capital crimes without reviewing the evidence used against them. And, the legislation would exonerate, retroactively, any U.S. official who participated in torture since our invasion of Afghanistan."

The Roll Call newspaper is widely regarded as a leading publication for Congressional news and information. Published Monday through Thursday while Congress is in session (Mondays only during recess), the newspaper provides readers with up-to-the-minute news of the legislative and political maneuvers that happen every day on Capitol Hill.

Signatories of the NRCAT ad include Nobel laureates Elie Wiesel and former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, as well as Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the retiring Roman Catholic archbishop of Washington; the Rev. Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals; the Rev. Robert Edgar, general secretary of the U.S. National Council of Churches; Sayyid Syeed, national director of the Islamic Society of North America; and Maj. Gen. (retired) Kermit Johnson, a Presbyterian and former chaplain.


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