Religious leaders push Bush to end American backing for torture

By agency reporter
March 1, 2008

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Faith leaders across America are urging President George W. Bush to stop United States-sponsored torture by signing the Intelligence Authorization Act, which prohibits the use of torture as an interrogation technique.

Letters have been sent to Bush from the National Religious Campaign Against Torture and the National Council of Churches USA.

One member of both groups, the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, the church's social action agency, launched a campaign on 20 February 2008 called "United Methodists Do Not Torture," and more than 1,000 people have signed its petition calling for Bush to sign the legislation.

Mr Bush's own religious background is Methodist, though he refused to meet his own denomination's bishops in the run up to the Iraq war, which they publicly opposed.

The Act, House of Representatives 2082, contains a provision that would ban the use of harsh interrogation techniques including waterboarding, a simulated drowning technique, and other forms of cruel and inhumane treatment. The bill was passed by the US House of Representatives last May and by the Senate last October.

President Bush has threatened to veto the bill, stating that the CIA needs "broad latitude" in techniques for questioning suspected terrorists. However, church leaders condemn the mistreatment or torture of all people by governments.

"As people of faith, we call upon you to sign H.R. 2082, the Intelligence Authorization Conference Report, which contains an anti-torture provision that would require all members of the U.S. intelligence community to abide by the restrictions laid out in the Army Field Manual on Human Intelligence Collector Operations while conducting interrogations," states a 27 February 2008 letter from the National Religious Campaign Against Torture.

While torture is used in many places in the world, the ability to speak out against such practices is limited unless the United States abolishes its use, said Bill Mefford, staff member of the Board of Church and Society.

"Abolishing torture throughout the world is an essential part of our Christian calling because it violates the timeless truth that all persons are created in the image of God and therefore have basic inalienable rights," Mefford said. "We have a unique opportunity before us to ensure this year that the US halts its use of torture as a form of interrogation."

Other faith leaders have sent their own letter asking to meet with President Bush before he makes his decision. They include the Rev Michael Kinnamon, general secretary of the National Council of Churches; Ingrid Mattson, president of the Islamic Society of North America; the Rev Richard J. Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary; and Rabbi David Saperstein, director and counsel of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

"Our Scriptures couldn't be clearer in their condemnation of cruelty and abuse," Kinnamon said. "The letter we have sent sums it up very succinctly: torture is an intrinsic evil."

By signing the bill, the letter said, Bush would "put an end to our national nightmare over torture. Let America assume a position on the right side of history, morality and faith."

The National Religion Campaign Against Torture states it its letter that "America is great not just because of our wealth and our power, but also because of our values." By signing H.R. 2082, the president "will be able to return our country to the paths of goodness and justice and to help restore America's greatness," it says.

"It is crucial for people of faith to remind the President that the United Methodist Book of Discipline clearly states 'that the mistreatment or torture of persons by governments for any purpose violates Christian teaching and must be condemned and/or opposed by Christians and churches wherever and whenever it occurs,'" Mefford said.

Section 327 of the bill requires all members of the intelligence community to abide by the restrictions of the Army Field Manual while conducting interrogations. The manual prohibits torture and many of the "enhanced interrogation techniques" currently available for use by the CIA. Those practices were banned by the military in 2006.

With acknowledgements to the United Methodist Church News Service

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