A total of 27 U.S. religious leaders have signed a statement calling on the United States to repudiate torture and inhumane treatment. The statement comes in response to allegations of human rights abuses at U.S. detention centers in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The White House maintains that the U.S. government does not torture.
In an advertisement published in The New York Times, a broad coalition of religious leaders has called on President Bush and Congress to remove all ambiguities from U.S. policy and ban torture without exception. The signers come from a range of denominations and include the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Washington, Theodore Cardinal McCarrick, the Reverend Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, and Dr. Sayyid M. Syeed, the National Director of the Islamic Society of North America. Nobel laureates Elie Wiesel and Former President Jimmy Carter are also among the signers.
A White House spokesman, Ken Lisaius, told VOA the administration has "the utmost respect for all these religious leaders." But he reaffirmed what President Bush has said many times, that the U.S. government does not torture, and that it adheres to international conventions against torture. He said that is, and would remain, U.S. policy.
The statement by religious leaders comes as the United Nations and human rights groups have criticized the Bush administration and other countries for adopting a narrower definition of torture in response to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture, Manfred Nowak, said prior to the 2001 attacks, governments realized that torture was absolutely prohibited and something they should be ashamed of.
"After 11 September, a very unfortunate discussion was started whether or not in extreme cases like the ticking bomb scenario, torture might not be justified in order for a higher goal, national security, saving the lives of innocent people, etc.," he said.
Nowak said he considered the blurring of the lines on the absolute ban on torture to be the most serious challenge to international law and human rights protection since World War II.
The ad in The New York Times came one day after a Washington meeting of human rights officials questioned what religious groups were doing in response to the charges of torture.
Elisa Massimino is the Washington director of Human Rights First.
"Where has the religious community been on the question of torture? With some notable exceptions, I would say largely silent," she said.
The human rights leader welcomed the statement, saying it was "better late than never" to hear moral leadership on torture from the religious community.