Calling torture a religious issue, Connecticut faith leaders demanded Tuesday that the state's congressional delegation oppose any changes of federal law that would allow violation of the Geneva Conventions, which prohibit torture and inhumane treatment of prisoners of war.
"Torture is immoral, always," the Rev. Allie Perry said during an afternoon press conference on the lawn of Hartford Seminary. "I find myself wondering what have we come to as a country that we are having to debate something that is so very wrong in every way."
To give the CIA more methods to get information from Guantanamo detainees, President Bush is proposing legislation that would exclude terrorism suspects from Geneva Conventions protections. But his plan has met with mounting opposition in the Senate - even from members of his own party.
Religious leaders are rejecting Bush's plan, calling the debate a defining moment for the nation, one that has put America's reputation as a defender of human rights in jeopardy. "Nothing less is at stake than the soul of our nation," said Perry, a member of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, and of Reclaiming the Prophetic Voice, a clergy activist group.
Legislation sought by the administration would also require changes to the 1996 U.S. War Crimes Act, which makes it a war crime under American law to violate any of the Geneva Conventions.
The Rev. Davida Foy Crabtree, Connecticut Conference Minister of the United Church of Christ, called Bush's plan "an outrageous proposal that cannot go unchallenged."
"The issue before us today is torture - it may be called by different euphemisms, but let's be clear: the issue before us is torture," Crabtree said. The group called on people of faith to raise the issue with their elected officials and all candidates for public office.
"The message of this press conference is an unequivocal no to torture - anywhere anytime," said Rabbi Donna Berman of Charter Oak Cultural Center in Hartford. "Torture is a sin that degrades the image of God in those who are tortured and those who are doing the torturing. There must be no compromise on this."
Bishop Andrew Smith, leader of the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut, said that if the Bush proposal were allowed, "rather than being seen as people who bring liberation [we] could be seen as people who are agents of torture and mistreatment."
"It is inconceivable to me that we as a nation claiming to fight terrorism, in treating prisoners in the ways proposed - with deprivation, humiliation and physical pain - would ourselves be evoking terror in the hearts and minds of people who are our prisoners and those we seek to liberate," Smith said. "It's inconceivable that terrorism itself could be a weapon in our own arsenal."
Others at the briefing included the Rev. Robert Evans of Plowshares Institute, Rabbi Jeffrey Glickman of Temple Beth Hillel, the Rev. Kathleen McTigue of the Unitarian Society of New Haven, Heidi Hadsell of Hartford Seminary and Bad
r Malik of the Connecticut Council on American-Islamic Relations.
John Humphries, a member of Hartford Friends Meeting, called recent statements by Sen. Joseph Lieberman opposing Bush's proposals encouraging, but he charged that Lieberman has more often "voted on the wrong side of the torture issue," supporting a bill to strip Guantanamo detainees of their habeas corpus rights - the right to challenge their imprisonment in court.
Sen. Christopher Dodd has posted a strong statement against torture on his website, Humphries said, "But we need to hear his voice saying so on the floor of the Senate."
"We stand here today to challenge Connecticut senators and congressional members to speak out and declare themselves committed to upholding the moral values this nation has stood for half a century," Humphries said. "This is not a partisan political issue, or a campaign trail issue. It's a moral and spiritual issue."
Copyright 2006, Hartford Courant