WATERBURY -- As early as today, drivers heading east out of Waterbury will be confronted by a billboard image of a bound and exhausted Abu Ghraib prisoner with spittle running down his chin.
A Connecticut-based clergy group opposed to the Iraq war -- Reclaiming the Prophetic Voice -- is sponsoring the billboard, along with a twin billboard unveiled in Stratford on Monday. The message accuses three incumbent Republican members of Congress and Democratic Sen. Joseph Lieberman of supporting a move by President Bush to legalize torture of terror suspects.
At issue is the Military Commissions Act of 2006, which Bush is expected to sign into law today.
The act suspends the right of "unlawful enemy combatants" to challenge their imprisonment in a public court, and also redefines what constitutes torture. It was crafted to allow the CIA to continue a terrorist interrogation program that was recently made public.
Critics contend the law allows the CIA to engage in forceful interrogation techniques without review in a public court. This, they contend, is eroding the moral standing of the United States that is critical to fighting terror. Along with Lieberman, the billboard advertisements accuse House Representatives Christopher Shays, R-4th; Rob Simmons, R-2nd and Nancy Johnson, R-5th of endorsing torture by voting for the bill.
"We are saying, on this issue, we needed moral leadership in Washington and, in this case, the incumbents failed to provide it," said John Humphries, a Hartford man of Quaker faith and a charter member of the 4-year-old Prophetic Voice. The billboards, he said, are intended to hold these politicians accountable in the Nov. 7 election.
Johnson is facing a tough election challenge from state Sen. Christopher Murphy, D-Cheshire. Her campaign manager, David Boomer, stressed the bill specifically prohibits torture, an argument also presented by Bush.
Boomer said the act improves upon existing court procedure by not allowing terrorist suspects access to classified information that could jeopardize American operatives. He also called upon Murphy to "disavow the billboard immediately."
Members of Murphy's campaign, however, said they had no input on the Prophetic Voice message.
"I'm sure there will be many outside groups weighing in on both sides of this race, but Chris can only speak for himself," said Murphy spokesperson Kristen Bossi.
In an e-mail response, Bossi quoted Murphy as saying the bill "presents a false choice between protecting civil liberties and protecting the nation from terrorists."
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