A religious advocacy group said yesterday it is raising money over the Internet to pay for advertising spots on Arabic-language television networks in which American religious leaders express sorrow over the "sinful" abuses committed by U.S. forces in Iraqi prisons.
Tom Perriello, co-director of FaithfulAmerica.org, said Jewish, Protestant, Roman Catholic and Muslim leaders will appear in the spots beginning June 15 on the al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya networks, which reach millions of Arabic speakers around the world.
"As Americans of faith, we express our deep sorrow at abuses committed in Iraqi prisons," the text of the ad says. "We stand in solidarity with all those in Iraq and everywhere who demand justice and human dignity. We condemn the sinful and systemic abuses committed in our name, and pledge to work to right these wrongs."
The clergy members who speak those words are: Rabbi Arthur Waskow of the Shalom Center in Philadelphia, Sister Betty Obal of the Sisters of Loretto, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf of the American Sufi Muslim Association and the Rev. Donald W. Shriver Jr., former president of Union Theological Seminary.
Perriello said FaithfulAmerica.org was formed in April as "an electronic advocacy community for people of faith" modeled on MoveOn.org, the Internet-based group that has raised millions of dollars for liberal candidates and causes.
In two days this week, Perriello said, it raised $36,000, enough to buy several spots on the Arabic channels. At the end of the ad is a notice saying: "This message was endorsed and paid for by thousands of Americans."
"At a point where the dialogue between America and the Arab world appears to be increasingly dehumanized and antagonistic, we believe that a sincere expression of regret that comes from an authentic place of faith can have a profound reconciliatory role," Perriello said.
A State Department spokesman, Kurtis Cooper, said the department had no immediate comment on the ad, which it had not yet seen.
Edward P. Djerejian, a former ambassador to Syria who wrote a report last year critical of U.S. public relations in the Middle East, said that if the ad "is an attempt to criticize the current administration with a political agenda, it could be harmful" to U.S. interests.
"If, however, it is an attempt by known religious leaders in America to say torture is contrary to our religious beliefs, then that I think would be helpful," Djerejian said.