A man in a long, fatigue-green trench coat stood on the east steps of the Capitol, swinging the butt end of a rifle toward another man whose hands were chained to stakes. Beside them stood a Christ figure who was stooped over from bearing the weight of a huge wooden cross.
The "prisoner," whose head was covered with a black hood, was not a real prisoner, and his "oppressor" was not really ramming the rifle at him. The scene was a simulation of torture techniques used against political prisoners in repressive nations.
The Christ figure was invovled in this tableau organized by the Holy Week "Christian Campaign Against Torture" because, He, too, had been tortured to death by government authorities.
"He still suffers among the world's imprisoned," stated a flyer handed out to Capitol visitors on Monday.
In recent years during Holy Week, which precedes Easter, some Christian groups have adopted human rights themes for their penitential observances.
In the "campaign against torture" held here this week, Christian activists are holding vigils and worship services and giving speeches and street plays at the White House, the Capitol, the State Department, the World Bank and ITT headquarters to dramatize their claims that the United States should end its military and economic support of repressive regimes around the world.
Staging the program are Sojourners, an ecumenical Christian community here; Liberty to the captives, based in philadelphia, and The Other Side, a magazine of Christian discipleship.
The 100 participants are showing up all over town. In preparation for this week, some representatives met with State Department human rights officials. Members of Congress sympathetic to their cause are greeting them at the various vigil locations and giving supportive speeches of their own.
The campaign organizers sent a letter to President Carter appealing to him "as a brother in Christ" to stop U.S. support to repressive governments, and in visits to their representatives in Congress, the campaign participants have lobbied for specific human rights legislation.
"We are appalled by torture in Communist nations, like the U.S.S.R.," states one flyer.
"But all too often, the governments that practice or allow torture (such as Iran, the Philippines, Chile South Korea, Indonesia, Argentina, Brazil) receive large-scale military and ecomomic aid, bank loans and corporate investment from the United States. Such aid serves to strengthen these regimes. It increases the force of repression. We must speak and act for justice against those forces that 'trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth' (Amos 2:7)." the flyer said.
Although Carter has condemned human rights violations, "our concern is how vigorously and consistently these statements are being implemented into policy," said Jim Wallis, a Sojourners member.
The Carter administration has proposed that aid to some nations, such as South Korea, the Philippines and Indonesia, be increased in 1978.
The administration also opposes a move promised by Rep. Thomas Harkin (D-Iowa) to amend the International Financial Institutions bill being loans to nations violating internationally recognized human rights standards. That bill is expected to be debated on the House floor today.
"The administration says it wants flexibility in its foreign policy," said Wes Michaelson, a Sojourners member and former aide to Sen. Mark Hatfield (R-Ore.). "But we think their position weakens existing human rights standards."
"So we're here," said Wallis, standing on the Capitol's East steps, "because we feel our presence is crucial to what's happening inside (in legislative deliberations)."
While he spoke, the nonviolent demonstrators stood somberly on the steps, singing a song written for the occasion. Called "Liberty to the Captives," the text of the hymm is Luke 4, when Jesus said the Lord has anointed Him "to set at liberty those who are oppressed."
The campaign will end with a "stations of the cross" procession through the city Friday, when the torture tableaux will be dramatized in front of various government buildings.
On a similar theme, North American Catholic, Protestant and Jewish clergymen serving in Latin America are distributing a joint letter to U.S. churches and synagogues listing human rights violations they have witnessed. The document, distributed by the Maryknoll Justice and Peace Office in New York, urges recipients to write Carter, calling for "effective action" against these governments.
And in New York, the Foundation for New Educational Projects - sponsored by several American religious leaders who opposed the Vietnam war - and Clergy and Laity Concerned, a peace group, and sending out a letter this week asking others who objected to Vietnam to assert pressure as a citizens' lobby to end human rights violations in 12 nations.