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Religious Leaders Urge Bush to Sign Anti-Torture Bill

NEW YORK – Calling torture an "instrinsic evil" that must be "absolutely" rejected, four faith group leaders signed a joint letter Thursday urging President Bush to change his mind and approve the Intelligence Authorization Act.

"Nothing could be more urgent in a democratic society than to uphold the fundamental values of democracy," the letter reads.

"'Enhanced' interrogation practices – like waterboarding, hypothermia, long-time standing, sleep deprivation and the use of psychotropic drugs – which are part of the CIA interrogation program, contradict our democratic values as well as essential principles of morality and faith."

The signatories of the letter are the Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, general secretary of the National Council of Churches; the Rev. Dr. Richard J. Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary; Dr. Ingrid Mattson, president of the Islamic Society of North America; and Rabbi David Saperstein, director and counsel of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

The four faith leaders also requested, in the letter, to meet with the president before he proceeds with his threatened veto of the anti-torture bill. Bush is expected to veto the intelligence bill next week, the Congressional Quarterly reports.

Torture is an "intrinsic evil" that will doom a society to "moral breakdown" if it is embraced, the faith leaders state in the letter.

"Our scriptures couldn't be clearer in their condemnation of cruelty and abuse," Kinnamon said Thursday. "The letter we have sent sums it up very succinctly: torture is an intrinsic evil."

The faith leaders urge in the letter for torture to "be repudiated absolutely."

"There can be no exceptions to this rule. It is a rule that unites religious conscience with reason."

The plea was prompted by the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, of which NCC is a member.

On Wednesday, the national anti-torture group sent its own letter calling the president to pass H.R. 2082 and repudiate forms of torture. The United Methodist Church and Presbyterian Church (USA) also signed the NRCAT statement.

"Abolishing torture throughout the world is an essential part of our Christian calling because it violates the timeless truth that all persons are created in the image of God and therefore have basic inalienable rights," said Bill Mefford, staff member of the UMC Board of Church and Society.

"We have a unique opportunity before us to ensure this year that the U.S. halts its use of torture as a form of interrogation," he added.

Last week, the Senate approved the intelligence bill that limits the CIA to using 19 less-aggressive interrogation tactics outlined in a U.S. Army Field Manual.

Over 18,000 people have also endorsed a shorter statement by NRCAT that says torture undermines the basic human dignity people of all faiths hold dear.

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