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Faith leaders implore Bush to end torture

Washington, February 28, 2008 – Four faith group leaders are urging President Bush to change his mind and sign the Intelligence Authorization Act, which would prohibit the use of torture as an interrogation tool.

The signers represent an unusual consensus of  ecumenical, evangelical, Jewish and Islamic communities.

They are the Rev Dr. Michael Kinnamon, general secretary of the National Council of Churches; Dr. Ingrid Mattson, president of the Islamic Society of North America; the Rev. Dr. Richard J. Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary; and Rabbi David Saperstein, director and counsel of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

The religious leaders asked to meet with the President before he makes his decision on his threatened veto of the bill. 

"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."

The plea to President Bush was prompted by the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT), of which the NCC is a member.

Congress voted earlier this month to require the Central Intelligence Agency to abide by the Army Field Manual on interrogations as part of the Intelligence Authorization Act of 2008.  The Army Field Manual prohibits torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.  Among other things, the Field Manual incorporates the "golden rule" standard.  Interrogators are to engage in no conduct that they would consider abusive if applied to an American prisoner.

President Bush has said he will veto the legislation that ends the Central Intelligence Agency's "enhanced interrogation techniques program," which includes waterboarding and other torture techniques. The President contends that the CIA needs "broad latitude" in employing techniques for questioning suspected terrorists.

But the four religious leaders point out that "the experience of humanity is clear: once torture has been permitted, it will spread. It will not be confined to rare cases. It will be broadly applied, despite all efforts to hold it in check. A society that embraces torture must inevitably accept moral breakdown as the outcome of its decision."

The signers ask how an instrument of defense can be effective "if its use causes us to surrender fundamental values and degrades our self-understanding as a nation?"

Should President Bush sign the bill, they said, he will "put an end to our national nightmare over torture. Let America assume a position on the right side of history, morality and faith."

The full text of the message follows.
 

 

National Religious Campaign against torture

 

February 28, 2008

 

The Honorable George W. Bush

President

The White House

Washington, D.C. 

 

Dear President Bush:

 

Last week Congress voted to require the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to abide by the Army Field Manual on interrogations. The press reports that you may veto this legislation.  We fervently urge you to sign it into law, and we ask that we have the opportunity to discuss our request with you in person before you make your decision. 

 

The Intelligence Authorization Act of 2008, approved last week by the Senate that will be sent to you for your signature, would prohibit cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of terrorist suspects by applying the prohibition on torture outlined in the Army Field Manual.  Among other things, the Field Manual incorporates the "golden rule" standard.  Interrogators are to engage in no conduct that they would consider abusive if applied to an American prisoner. 

 

Nothing could be more urgent in a democratic society than to uphold the fundamental values of democracy. No branch of government, including our intelligence services, can be made an exception to this rule.  "Enhanced" interrogation practices – like waterboarding, hypothermia, long-time standing, sleep deprivation and the use of psychotropic drugs – which are part of the CIA interrogation program, contradict our democratic values as well as essential principles of morality and faith.

 

We know you do not believe that the CIA program includes acts which amount to torture, but many in our country and around the world believe they do.  The legislation sent to you on the CIA interrogation program provides you with an opportunity to clarify to a doubting world that the United States does not support or use torture. 

 

Torture is an intrinsic evil.  It exercises a corrosive effect on the very fabric of our society.  It is to be rejected not only for the profound damage it wreaks upon the victim, but also because of the damage it inflicts, spiritual and physical, on those who are called upon to practice it and on the citizens of the country in whose name it is done.   It contradicts the rule of law which must be a focal virtue for any society that seeks the security and well-being of its citizens.

 

The experience of humanity is clear: once torture has been permitted, it will spread. It will not be confined to rare cases.  It will be broadly applied, despite all efforts to hold it in check. A society that embraces torture must inevitably accept moral breakdown as the outcome of its decision. 

 

America’s historic answer is aligned with the view of communities of faith: torture must be repudiated absolutely. There can be no exceptions to this rule.  It is a rule that unites religious conscience with reason. As religious leaders, we are committed to protecting the life and dignity of every human person.

 

The public debate surrounding torture has focused on narrow questions of effectiveness. Yet even a test of efficacy must measure more than supposed short-term benefits, however unlikely even those may be. It must test how the use of these tools affects our nation’s reputation in the world abroad.  It must ask whether a reputation for abusive interrogation undermines alliances upon which our security must rest and serves as a recruiting tool for the very people who would harm us. How can an instrument of defense be effective if its use causes us to surrender fundamental values and degrades our self-understanding as a nation?  The tools we use must reflect our religious values and most cherished ideals.

 

We urge you, Mr. President, to sign the Intelligence Authorization Act, to put an end to our national nightmare over torture, and to affirm America's position on the right side of history, morality and faith.  We welcome the opportunity to discuss this matter with you further.  Please have your staff contact Rev. Richard Killmer (202-547-1920 or rkillmer@nrcat.org)  to arrange for a meeting.  Thank you.   

 

Sincerely,

 

Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon

General Secretary

National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.

 

Dr. Ingrid Mattson,

President

Islamic Society of North America

 

Rev. Dr. Richard J Mouw

President

Fuller Theological Seminary

 

Rabbi David Saperstein

Director and Counsel

Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism

 


NCC News contact:  Philip E. Jenks, 212-870-2228, NCCnews@ncccusa.org

For more information contact the Rev. Richard Killmer, Executive Director, National Religious Campaign Against Torture, 316 F Street NE, Suite 200, Washington, DC  20002; Tel: 202.547.1920 or 207.846.1614, Fax: 202.547.1921. www.tortureisamoralissue.org


 

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