Church Group Wants U.N. to Take Over Iraq

Published May 11, 2004

| Associated Press

A national religious group representing 36 Protestant and Orthodox denominations said Tuesday that U.S. foreign policy is "dangerous" and urged President Bush to turn over authority in Iraq to the United Nations.

The National Council of Churches (search), which has been highly critical of the war, acknowledged that Christians disagree on the issue, but said that giving control to the U.N. was the only way to create "lasting peace."

"Many people see our policy as one based on protection of our country's economic interests narrowly defined, rather than on principles of human rights and justice that would serve our nation's interests," read the letter, which the council hopes will be read in churches nationwide. "We are convinced that current policy is dangerous for America and the world and will only lead to further violence."

Also Tuesday, the United Methodist Church (search) said its Council of Bishops "laments the continued warfare by the United States and coalition forces" and said the U.S. premises for the war — alleged Iraqi links with Al Qaeda and a buildup of weapons of mass destruction — "have not been verified."

The 8.3 million-member denomination, which counts President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney as members, is the third-largest in the nation.

"The cycle of violence in which the United States is engaged has created a context for the denigration of human dignity and gross violations of human rights of Iraqi prisoners of war," the bishops said in their resolution. They also demanded a greater U.N. role in rebuilding Iraq.

The statements came as the furor over photos of Iraqi prisoner mistreatment by American soldiers intensified.

The Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano took aim Monday at the now infamous photo of a soldier holding a prisoner by a leash. In an editorial, the newspaper said the soldier's goal was to dehumanize the prisoner, but that the image achieved the opposite effect.

"On the contrary, it is the torturer who with her leash stifles within herself any residue of humanity," it said.

Roman Catholic Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien, head of the U.S. military archdiocese, has called the maltreatment of prisoners "outrageous" and said it must be "condemned without equivocation."

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (search), a civil rights group based in Washington, has demanded that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his top advisers step down, saying "no other action" could restore the image of the United States.

However, Richard Land, head of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (search), the public policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention (search), said that based on the information disclosed so far, Rumsfeld should stay.

Land, who backed the war, contended the soldiers' actions reflected a broad lack of moral values in the culture at large.

"This is not a breakdown in the system. This reflects a breakdown in society," Land said. "These people's moral compass didn't work for some reason. My guess is because they've been infected with relativism."

Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, (search) the public policy arm of the Reform Jewish movement, called the prisoner mistreatment "a disgrace to the international rule of law, the ideals for which our country stands and the values we are trying to inculcate in a new Iraq."

The Reform movement is the largest branch of American Judaism, with about 920 synagogues, and its leaders were divided over the war.

"Jewish law taught 3,000 years ago that in times of war no less than in times of peace, maintaining that dignity of all people, which flows from being created in God's image, is incumbent upon each of us," said Saperstein, who commended Bush for his apology for prisoner mistreatment.

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