WASHINGTON -- The National Association of Evangelicals has endorsed an anti-torture statement saying the United States has crossed "boundaries of what is legally and morally permissible" in its treatment of detainees and war prisoners in the fight against terror.
Human rights violations committed in the name of preventing terrorist attacks have made the country look hypocritical to the Muslim world, the document states. Christians have an obligation rooted in Scripture to help Americans "regain our moral clarity."
"Our military and intelligence forces have worked diligently to prevent further attacks. But such efforts must not include measures that violate our own core values," the document says. "The United States historically has been a leader in supporting international human rights efforts, but our moral vision has blurred since 9/11."
The statement, "An Evangelical Declaration Against Torture: Protecting Human Rights in an Age of Terror," was drafted by 17 evangelical scholars, writers and activists who call themselves Evangelicals for Human Rights. The board of the National Association of Evangelicals, an umbrella group, announced late Sunday that it had endorsed the document.
Several of the drafters have been advocates for a broader policy focus for Christian conservatives beyond abortion and marriage. One of the co-authors, the Rev. Rich Cizik, the NAE's Washington, D.C., policy director, has drawn criticism from Focus on the Family founder James Dobson and others for his environmental activism.
In a phone interview Monday, Cizik insisted the statement was not a critique of President George W. Bush and his administration. He said the motivation was to send a message to the rest of the country and the world that evangelicals and other U.S. citizens do not support torture.
"There is a perception out there in the Middle East that we're willing to accept any action in order to fight this war against terrorism," Cizik said. "We are the conservatives - let there be no mistake on that - who wholeheartedly support the war against terror, but that does not mean by any means necessary."
A White House spokesman said he could not immediately comment.
The document says government and outside researchers have documented "acts of torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment," against U.S. detainees, "especially in Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison, in Afghanistan's Bagram Air Base, in CIA black sites and at the hands of other nations."
The authors praise the U.S. Army for last year releasing a revised field manual that bans beating, sexually humiliating and threatening prisoners, among other interrogation procedures.
But the evangelical writers criticize the Military Commissions Act, which Bush pushed through Congress last year to set up a Defense Department system for prosecuting terror suspects. The evangelicals condemned provisions of that act that allow indefinite detention for some suspects and does not always hold intelligence officials to the same standards as the military.
Quoting a wide range of sources including the Bible, Pope John Paul II, Elie Wiesel and theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, the authors say the federal government has a moral obligation to follow international human rights treaties that the U.S. has endorsed.
"As American Christians, we are above all motivated by a desire that our nation's actions would be consistent with foundational Christian moral norms," the document says. "We believe that a scrupulous commitment to human rights, among which is the right not to be tortured, is one of these Christian moral convictions."
The NAE says it represents 45,000 evangelical churches. However, it does not include some of the best-known conservative Christian bodies, including the Southern Baptist Convention and Focus on the Family.
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