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United Methodist Women urged to fight torture

 


United Methodist Women urged to fight torture

May 18, 2005

By Kelly Martini*

NEW YORK (UMNS)—In a letter to United Methodist Women, the president and chief executive of the group’s administrative arm are urging members to take a stand against torture by any government.

The letter, sent May 10 by Kyung Za Yim and Jan Love, says that torture is being allowed by the U.S. government under the guise of national security and the war on terror, as reported by reputable organizations such as the International Red Cross and Human Rights Watch. These groups cite incidents at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in Afghanistan and at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

In other cases, the United States is sending prisoners to countries where torture is often used as part of interrogation—Saudi Arabia, Syria, Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan.

"We believe President Bush’s public statement—that torture is wrong—is commendable. Yet, according to reports from human rights groups, the practice continues," the letter says. "We hope President Bush will uphold the Constitutional principles prohibiting ‘cruel and unusual punishment’ and ensure that all decision makers, civilian and military—not just those in the lowest ranks—are held accountable."

A U.S. army reservist was convicted May 16 by a military court for her involvement in prison abuse at Abu Ghraib prison. In January, the soldier believed to have organized the abuse was convicted and sentenced to a 10-year term. A colonel who oversaw the notorious prison also has been reprimanded and fined. Photos of the abuse spurred condemnation from countries around the globe.

The Women’s Division, part of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, said it does not want citizens to be numbed by the abuses, which a recent survey suggests is happening. A USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll in May 2004 suggested that 54 percent of the public were bothered a "great deal" by the acts of torture. The number had dropped to 39 percent in May 2005. Nineteen percent are saying the acts do not bother them at all, according to polls.

Meanwhile, former detainees testify to sexual torture, religious humiliation, temperature extremes, electric shock, beatings, sleep and food deprivation, injection of drugs under interrogation, denial of medical care, and the use of cages and isolation cells.

"Violence begets violence. When we abandon basic principles of international law prohibiting torture, we sink into barbarism, which puts soldiers, military personnel, and civilians of all nations at risk for the same treatment," says the Women’s Division letter.

The letter praises soldiers like Spc. Matthew Carl Wisdom—son of the Rev. Dick and Cheryl Wisdom of Christ United Methodist Church in Rockford, Ill.—and Sgt. Joseph Darby for their bravery in exposing torture at Abu Ghraib. The letter also notes that the soldiers have publicly anguished over what happens to decent military personnel when the command and control system allows torture and abuse.

"We recognize and affirm that most military personnel, like these men, serve their country honorably and fulfill their duties with integrity," the letter says.

Yim and Love are asking UMW members and others in the denomination to act by educating themselves further on the issue; contacting the Council of Bishops and requesting that they take a denominational stance; and writing letters to editors and politicians.

Paragraph 164 of the United Methodist Social Principles states that "mistreatment or torture of persons by governments for any purpose violates Christian teaching and must be condemned and/or opposed by Christians and churches wherever and whenever it occurs."

The denomination’s top lawmaking assembly, the General Conference, approved a resolution last year supporting calls for a full investigation of abuses of Iraqi prisoners. General Conference also urged adherence to the Geneva Convention regarding the treatment of prisoners of war.

The Women’s Division represents United Methodist Women, an organization of about a million members that works to foster spiritual growth, develop leaders and advocate for justice.

*Martini is the communications director for the Women’s Division.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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