The National Association of Evangelicals has endorsed an anti-torture statement denouncing “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment” to those detained in the U.S.-led “war on terror.”
“When torture is employed by a state, that act communicates to the world and to one’s own people that human lives are not sacred, that they are not reflections of the Creator, that they are expendable, exploitable, and disposable, and that their intrinsic value can be overridden by utilitarian arguments that trump that value,” said an 18-page declaration produced by Evangelicals for Human Rights. “These are claims that no one who confesses Christ as Lord can accept.”
The NAE board of directors endorsed the document at a meeting in Eden Prairie, Minn. The group also reaffirmed a 2003 statement calling for civic engagement that mentions “creation care.” According to the Washington Post, that was the board’s only response to a letter earlier this month from evangelical leaders including James Dobson denouncing the NAE’s vice president, Richard Cizik, for urging action on global warming.
The anti-torture declaration said evangelicals’ commitment to human rights, including the rights of suspected terrorists, is rooted in “the core Christian belief that human life is sacred.”
“Human rights must be protected for all humankind,” it said. “A commitment to life’s sacredness and to human rights is a seamless garment. It cannot be torn anywhere without compromising its integrity everywhere.”
The statement came in response to debate that has occurred in the United States since 2004 over the use of torture in the war on terror, which in 2005 and 2006 developed into a broader discussion of policies related to the legal standards that would be employed in detaining, trying, transferring or punishing suspected terrorists.
“With a raging ‘war on terror,'” the statement said, “American policymakers and interrogators have faced the temptation of looking to torture, and to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of their detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo and other U.S. detention centers.”
“Torture has often been a temptation (and far too many times a practice) in other countries facing
perceived or actual security threats,” it continued. “Despite these abuses, the articles of the Geneva Convention and of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights are unambiguous.”
“The most widely publicized acts of torture by the U.S. came on the heels of the 9/11 attack,” the statement said. “As our nation mobilized, the eyes of the Muslim world were on the U.S. and how a Western civilization–in their eyes a Christian civilization–would respond to such barbarism. In this setting, that our actions were not bound by principles of human rights that we in the West profess was rightly seen by Muslims as hypocrisy and thus all the more damaging.”
The NAE leaders renounced the “use of torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment by any branch of our government (or any other government)–even in the current circumstance of a war between the United States and various radical terrorist groups.”
They called for “the extension of basic human rights and procedural protections to all persons held in United States custody now or in the future, wherever and by whomever they are held.”
The leaders called for “every agency of the United States government to join with the United States military and to state publicly its commitment to the terms of the Geneva Conventions related to the treatment of prisoners, especially Common Article 3.” That statement, adopted in 1949, prohibits “humiliating and degrading treatment” of persons not involved in combat.
They also called for “the legislative or judicial reversal of those executive and legislative provisions that violate the moral and legal standards articulated in this declaration.”
“We make these renunciations and calls for action as Christians and as U.S. citizens,” the leaders said. “Undoubtedly there are occasions where the demands of Christian discipleship and American citizenship conflict. This is not one of them. Returning to the absolute commitment to human rights outlined here is right in terms of Christian convictions and right in terms of the interests of our nation. We commend these moral commitments to our fellow believers, and our fellow citizens, for such a time as this.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.