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Anti-torture fight unites faiths on treatment of terrorists

By Maureen Shea

The Rt. Rev. George E. Packard, Bishop Suffragan for Chaplaincies.  

[Episcopal News Service]  While Congress votes this week on legislation proposed by the White House concerning the treatment of terrorist suspects, Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold joined 27 other religious leaders in signing the statement of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, proclaiming that torture violates the basic dignity of the human person that all religions hold dear.

The Rt. Rev. George E. Packard, Bishop Suffragan for Chaplaincies for the Episcopal Church, issued a statement September 15 that was delivered to both houses of Congress, reminding them of "the cherished values of our nation" in recognizing and upholding human rights.
The White House proposal, known as the Military Commissions Act of 2006, results from the Supreme Court decisions in June that rejected the administration's position on the rights of detainees held in America. The White House proposal would:

  • Redefine obligations regarding the treatment of prisoners as presently defined by the Geneva Conventions, and in particular Common Article 3 which prohibits cruel and degrading treatment of detainees
  • Allow trials where defendants would not know the evidence used against them
  • Remove federal jurisdiction over detainee lawsuits (including those pending)

The White House draft has drawn widespread criticism from across the political spectrum. Last week, the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, John Warner (Republican-Virginia), as well as committee members Senators John McCain (Republican-Arizona), Lindsey Graham (Republican –South Carolina), and Susan Collins (Republican -Maine), and all 11 Democrats voted for an alternative proposal. Their bill is intended to uphold the Geneva Conventions and would bar conviction of combatants who have not seen the evidence against them.

It is not yet known which proposal Senate Majority Leader Frist (Republican -Tennessee) will take to the Senate floor for a vote. The House is expected to vote on HR 6054, the White House proposal, on Wednesday, September 20.

Among those opposing the Administration's proposals, especially rewriting of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention which prohibits cruel and degrading treatment of detainees, are a group of retired generals, as well as former Secretary of State and General Colin Powell (Ret). All pointed out the danger to US military personnel if these protections were lifted.

In a letter to Senator John McCain last week, Powell wrote: "The world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism. To redefine Common Article 3 would add to those doubts. Furthermore, it would put our own troops as risk."

Packard's statement is part of an alert sent today by the Episcopal Public Policy Network asking Episcopalians to write their members of Congress.

"I want to be clear that we believe that those responsible for the violence and terrorism in our world must be punished for their acts and their disregard for human life," Packard said.

"I also recognize how difficult it is to ask that the United States deal justly with those who attack us. Yet that is exactly what we are called to do if we are to uphold the cherished values of our nation and to regain our credibility as a nation that recognizes and upholds human rights.
"It is my hope that in considering this legislation Congress will vote to uphold the fairness and justice that have been standards of who we are called to be as a people and a nation," Packard added.