WASHINGTON – Christian and religious leaders joined hundreds for a Capitol Hill rally to call for the restoration of habeas corpus – a tenet of the Constitution that protects people from unlawful imprisonment – and the end to all acts of torture Tuesday.
Up to 4,000 people gathered on Capitol Hill for the "Day of Action to Restore Law and Justice" rally organized by rights groups such as the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT), Amnesty International and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). While one of the organizers estimated a presence of 4,000 people at the rally, Agence France-Presse estimated the figure to be only a few hundred.
During a press conference, religious leaders emphasized that torture is condemned by religions because it breaks the human spirit and dishonors God by defiling man who is made in the image of God.
"Jesus not only commanded, but also modeled a way of life that refused to repay evil with evil," said Dr. Charles Gutenson, an evangelical leader and professor at Asbury Theological Seminary. "When his enemies came for him, he embodied the call to love our enemies.
"How, then, can we who seek to imitate this Jesus ever see torture as a legitimate toll wielded to serve our own purposes?" he asked.
The rally was held in response to Congress's preparation to consider restoring habeas corpus for individuals held in U.S. custody. More specifically, there is growing concern for the rights of those held in the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, who are detained without the right of a fair trial.
Furthermore, June 26 was designated as International Day in Support of Victims of Torture and commemorated the U.N. Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which went into force that day in 1987.
Torture was also recently made an official agenda of the largest evangelical body in the United States.
The National Association of Evangelicals endorsed an anti-torture document in March that stated sanctity of life is a "non-negotiable" moral tenet of evangelical Christians. The document concluded that it supports detainee human rights and opposes any form of 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," the Rev. Richard Cizik said to The Associated Press. Cizik is vice president of governmental affairs for NAE and one of the 17 drafters of the torture document.
"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."
The NAE says it represents 45,000 evangelical churches and some 30 million members.
Prominent human rights group such as Freedom House also urged President Bush earlier this week to ban the use of torture by any individual working for the government.
The National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT), with over 115 religious member groups, has advocated for the end to U.S.-sponsored torture by visiting members of Congress; supporting the Evangelicals for Human Rights which authored the NAE-supported "An Evangelical Declaration Against Torture;" and gathering nearly 16,000 individual endorsement of the NRCAT's statement of conscience, "Torture is a Moral Issue," including Pastor Rick Warren, former President Jimmy Carter, and Nobel Peace Prize Winner Elie Weisel and placing it in the New York Times.
Also, the campaign has arranged for 1,000 congregations to screen the anti-torture HBO documentary Ghosts of Abu Ghraib during the week of Oct. 21-28.
The Senate is schedule to consider legislation on defense issues and habeas corpus when it returns from its Fourth of July recess.