As the US Congress debates the meaning of provisions of the Geneva Convention, religious and human rights leaders are repeating their plea to eliminate torture as a tool of American policy.
The statement, signed by the general secretary of the National Council of Churches USA and 26 other national leaders, is published as a full-page advertisement in yesterdayís Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper. The ad was originally published in The New York Times on 13June 2006.
The statement, "Torture is a Moral Issue," proclaims that torture violates the basic dignity of the human person that all religions hold dear.
"There are few other issues on which the NCC's 35 member communions are more united," said National Council of Churches USA general secretary, the Rev Dr Bob Edgar. "The use of torture or other dehumanizing measures is diametrically contrary to the love of God and the gospel of Jesus. One of the ideals of the United States is to stand in the world as a bastion against torture."
Coalesced by the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT), the statement is signed by national religious leaders, including Dr Edgar, Nobel laureates President Jimmy Carter and Elie Wiesel, the Rev Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, Theodore Cardinal McCarrick, Archbishop of Washington DC, and the Rev Joseph Lowery, co-founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
Other signatories include Dr Rick Warren (the well-known evangelical author), Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, Dr. Frank Thomas, pastor and editor of The African-American Pulpit; and Dr Sayyid Syeed, National Director of the Islamic Society of North America.
NRCAT bridges theological and political divides by uniting mainstream Protestants and evangelical Christians, Muslims with Reform and Conservative Jews, Orthodox and Roman Catholics, Sikhs and members of peace churches (Mennonites, Quakers and Church of the Brethren).
Fifty-four national, regional and local religious organizations and congregations have already joined NRCAT. NRCAT will continue the "Torture is a Moral Issue" campaign by encouraging people of faith across the country to endorse the statement by visiting www.nrcat.org.
Jeanne E. Herrick Stare, the chair of the Coordinating Committee of NRCAT and a member of the staff of the Friends Committee on National Legislation, stated that NRCAT is publishing this advert in Roll Call 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. It would strip detainees of the right to challenge their detention before independent courts, meaning individuals could languish in prison without trial indefinitely."
Herrick-Stare added: "It would enable detainees to be convicted of capital crimes without seeing the evidence used against them. And, the legislation would exonerate, retroactively, any US official who participated in torture since our invasion of Afghanistan."
Dr George Hunsinger, the founder of NRCAT and a professor of theology at Princeton Theological Seminary, declared: "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."
[Also on Ekklesia: US Christians urged to speak out against torture; American church leaders condemn torture; Evangelicals join US faith leaders in opposition to torture; Report finds detainees tortured to death by US military; Churches challenge Canada-US refugee agreement; Evidence of Iraqi torture presented four months ago; US Christians urge opposition to proposed Attorney General; Government minister joins Christians in calling for Guantanamo Bay closure; President Bush's church decries injustice and war in Iraq; Methodists to investigate human rights in the Philippines]