R' Waskow & Other US Clergy Speak on Arab TV against US Military Use of Torture

Rabbi Arthur Waskow & NY Times, 6/14/2004

Dear Friends,

Along with three other clergyfolk, I have recorded a 30-second videotape about the torture of prisoners by the US military. It will soon be broadcast as an ad on two major Arab TV networks.

In it we say, "We condemn the sinful and systemic abuses committed in our name, and pledge to work to right these wrongs."

During the last few days, the New York Times, Associated Press, Philadelphia Inquirer, Washington Post, and BBC, along with many other media, have carried a story about the ad.

(For the past week, I've been in Geneva, Switzerland, in a multireligious/ multispiritual consultation called by the World Council of Churches to examine "Religion, Power, & Violence." I got back to Philadelphia last night.)

The other clergy were the Rev. Donald Shriver, former president of the Union Theological Seminary; Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, founder and president of the American Sufi Muslim Association; and Sister Betty Obal of the Sisters of Loretto.

The whole project was sponsored by TruthOut, a progressive public-relations firm that has done a great deal of work on issues arising from the Iraq War, and Faithful America, a new effort at multireligious action for peace and justice.

In the ad, the four of us expressed our revulsion and sorrow at the torture of prisoners. The words "sinful and systemic" were crucial, and came out of considerable debate among the ad experts and the four of us in the clergy.

The original draft we were shown had neither word. I felt it could easily have been signed by Mr. Bush, since it left open the possibility that only a few low-level military were responsible. I proposed to add "abuses committed by our government," but one of the clergy and some in the PR group objected.

(Three weeks ago, it was beginning - but only beginning — to be clear that high-level officials had condoned or ordered the use of torture. More of that truth has emerged since.)

I was prepared to withdraw if the text could be understood as blaming only a few low-level soldiers.

Finally, one of the PR experts came up with a very effective solution: "systemic."

As for "sinful": I was concerned that the first draft contained not a single word of religious language. I suggested naming the torture as a "sinful" act, and all of us agreed.

The ad was made by having each of the four of us speak the whole text (it's in the NY Times article below) and then weaving together different passages from each of us into a single flowing message.

I hope you will make a contribution to The Shalom Center to help us continue and increase our own multireligious work on issues of peace, justice, and healing of the earth.

Much of our work for the past year has been to weave Jewish wisdom together with the wisdoms of other traditions. - It's a deeper, fuller version of the way this ad weaves us together into a single truth, while making clear our distinctive identities.

Since much of the "official" leadership of the Jewish community has been paralyzed or silent about the Iraq war and its implications, The Shalom Center has been crucial to bringing Judaism into the work that needs to be done.

We have also been crucial in bringing to the Jewish community a vision of Judaism renewed and strengthened so as to deal with these issues from a deeply spiritual root and drawing deeply, not just for a verse to quote, on Torah from ancient days to our own generation.

To see what we have been doing about the war, and what the official Jewish community has failed to do, see our Iraq section

In Geneva, it was extraordinary to meet with 30 people from every continent except Antarctica and Australia — Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, and those of indigenous spiritual paths — all addressing issues of war, terrorism, and the violence flowing from top-down corporate globalization and new efforts at global empire.

Shortly I'll be writing you about that gathering.

The NY Times article about the four-clergy statement follows.

Shalom, Arthur

U.S. Religious Figures Offer Abuse Apology on Arab TV

New York Times: June 11, 2004

WASHINGTON, June 10 - American spiritual leaders from different faiths condemn the prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib in a 30-second advertisement to be broadcast next week on the Arabic television networks Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya.

"The impetus for this ad was from the deep sense of moral regret that we were hearing from people of faith across the country," said Tom Perriello, the co-director of FaithfulAmerica.org - the month-old nonprofit advocacy group that created the ad.

"We believe that the abuses are both sinful and systematic and that the moral damage of this around the world will last a long time," he said.

FaithfulAmerica.org - which has also focused on the human suffering in western Sudan - raised about $36,000 from more than 1,000 donors to produce and broadcast the ad. It is paying $20,000 for 10 slots on the two networks beginning Tuesday.

In the ad, a Presbyterian, a Muslim, a Catholic and a Jew read a statement as written Arabic translations appear.

"A salaam aleikum," the Rev. Donald Shriver, a former president of the Union Theological Seminary in New York, begins. "As Americans of faith, we express our deep sorrow at abuses committed in Iraqi prisons. We stand in solidarity with all those in Iraq and everywhere who demand justice and human dignity. We condemn the sinful and systemic abuses committed in our name, and pledge to work to right these wrongs."

The ad continues with Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the founder and president of the American Sufi Muslim Association; Sister Betty Obal, of the Sisters of Loretto; and Rabbi Arthur Waskow, the director of the Shalom Center in Philadelphia.

Mr. Perriello said recent news articles about Justice Department memos discussing the legality of the abuse made the ad's message more salient.

"When the administration is even considering the legality of torture, that seems like a moral regression," Mr. Perriello said, adding, "We don't see this as a matter of legal terms, we see it as a matter of right and wrong."