Faith groups mount campaign against torture
They're protesting Bush administration policies. But polls show Americans are split on the issue.
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"Most people, even if they are uneasy about a policy, tend to go along with it out of inertia, or lack of information, or a sense of loyalty to their president or country," says David Gushee, who teaches Christian ethics at Mercer University in Atlanta. "But faith gives you a transcendent reference point where you can assess what your country is doing in the name of higher values. What's at stake is whether the US will return to its own best self."Skip to next paragraph
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Several denominations have stated policies against torture. And Evangelicals for Human Rights (EHR), a group formed by NRCAT, drew up a statement on torture approved in 2007 by the National Association of Evangelicals.
But not all people of faith agree with the idea of blanket elimination of "enhanced interrogation techniques." Some argue that rules may have to be suspended temporarily under extreme circumstances. Others have begun suggesting that elements of "just war" theory can justify certain techniques, according to Jean Bethke Elshtain, professor of social and political ethics at the University of Chicago Divinity School. As in the case where a military target is hit legitimately although civilians nearby might be harmed, the idea is that the intention is not to harm the person but to ultimately save lives.
"That 'double effect' idea hasn't yet been vetted by the community of just-war thinkers," Dr. Elshtain says. "I'm sure many will find it a very strained argument and others may see some merit."
Debate continues over the techniques themselves, such as waterboarding. In a CNN poll last fall, 69 percent of Americans called it torture. Asked whether the government should be allowed to use it, 58 percent said no, and 40 percent said yes.
The Pew Research Center reported a year ago that when asked if torture can be justified to gain key information, 29 percent of Americans said "never," 25 percent said "rarely," 31 percent chose "sometimes," and 12 percent "often."
Those in the campaign believe that on this issue, leadership can make all the difference. "If Americans can be shown there is a path that protects the nation without using torture, most people will choose that, because they are uneasy about torture," says Dr. Gushee, who is president of EHR.
They are hoping that any of the three presidential candidates will be willing to provide that leadership, and they're encouraging members to question the candidates publicly. Gushee posed a question on torture policy during the Compassion Forum on CNN in April and, in response, Sen. Barack Obama unequivocally rejected torture and rendition of prisoners to other countries known to use torture.
During June, which is Torture Awareness Month, NRCAT is sponsoring "Banners Across America." Congregations of various faiths in all 50 states are asked to display a banner outside their place of worship that would say either "Torture Is Wrong" or "Torture Is a Moral Issue." Rabbis for Human Rights is making available a third banner: "Honor the Image of God: Stop Torture Now."
On Sept. 11 and 12 in Atlanta, EHR and NRCAT will host a National Summit on Torture.