By Alan Cooperman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 13, 2006
Twenty-seven religious leaders, including megachurch pastor Rick Warren, Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel and Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington, have signed a statement urging the United States to "abolish torture now -- without exceptions."
The statement, being published in newspaper advertisements starting today, is the opening salvo of a new organization called the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, which has formed in response to allegations of human rights abuse at U.S. detention centers in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Titled "Torture is a Moral Issue," the statement says that torture "violates the basic dignity of the human person" and "contradicts our nation's most cherished values." "Nothing less is at stake in the torture abuse crisis than the soul of our nation. What does it signify if torture is condemned in word but allowed in deed?" it asks.
The signers come from a broad range of denominations and include notable religious conservatives, such as the Rev. Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals; Archbishop Demetrios, primate of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America; and the Rev. William J. Byron, former president of Catholic University.
By suggesting that recent abuse of prisoners may not be just an aberration but a reflection of U.S. policy, the statement contains an implicit challenge to the Bush administration, according to some signers.
"I'm not persuaded that this issue has been put to bed yet by the Bush administration," said David P. Gushee, a philosophy professor at Union University in Tennessee who wrote an influential article against torture this year in Christianity Today, an evangelical magazine. "I'm worried that we still don't truly know what is going on in all our detention centers around the world."
Deputy White House press secretary Dana Perino said the administration has "the utmost respect for all these religious leaders." But, she said, "I'll simply repeat what the president has said many times, which is that this government does not torture, and we adhere to the international conventions against torture. That is our policy, and it will remain our policy."
On its Web site, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture urges Congress and the president to "remove all ambiguities" by prohibiting secret U.S. prisons around the world, ending the rendition of suspects to countries that use torture, granting the Red Cross access to all detainees and not exempting any arm of the government from human rights standards.
McCarrick said last night that he had signed on to "the general principle" that torture is unacceptable but had not seen the new organization's specific proposals. Gushee said he is "not sure that everyone who signed the statement would concur with that platform," though he said he, personally, does.