Faith groups mount campaign against torture
They're protesting Bush administration policies. But polls show Americans are split on the issue.
As Congress and the Bush administration skirmish over still-secret interrogation techniques, American faith communities are mounting a national campaign to prohibit torture and cruel and inhumane treatment of US-held detainees.Skip to next paragraph
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More than 175 religious organizations have joined the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT). Their aim is to build a moral consensus among Americans on the issue and to bring government policies in line with US law and international norms.
"Religions of the world do agree on basic tenets about how people should treat each other because of the dignity of the human person," says the Rev. Richard Killmer, executive director. The group involves mainline and evangelical Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, and other members.
The campaign has its work cut out for it. Polls since 2001 show great divergence and ambivalence in public attitudes toward the interrogation and treatment of alleged terrorists. And Congress so far has not convinced the administration to change course.
NRCAT worked for congressional passage of the 2008 intelligence bill, which required the Central Intelligence Agency and other agencies to conform to the Army Field Manual in their interrogations. The manual, revised in 2006 after the abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, prohibits the use of waterboarding (simulated drowning), military dogs, beatings, and electric shocks, among other techniques.
President Bush vetoed the bill in March, and Congress was unable to override the veto. But the Senate intelligence committee voted last week to try again, this time in the 2009 intelligence spending bill.
Meanwhile, a Justice Department official revealed in a letter to Congress last week that secret rules for CIA interrogations may allow even more latitude to interrogators than was indicated in a presidential executive order last summer, stirring more outcries.
The campaign is calling on Americans to sign a statement of conscience that torture is a moral issue and that such practices should be abolished, without exceptions. Some 25,000 individuals have signed the statement so far.
"The belief in human dignity leads people to reject practices such as slavery, genocide, and rape. Are exceptions made for those practices?" Mr. Killmer asks. "I put torture in the same category."
Others involved say that authorizing any form of torture trusts government too much. Not only does such interrogation not produce reliable information, many say, but it also endangers the nation's character.