Posted Online: June 23, 2008, 2:30 pm

Raise a banner to raise torture awareness

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By Claudia Loucks,

Photo: Claudia Loucks / correspondent
Patti VanSandt, left; the Rev. Roger Butts, pastor of the Unitarian Church of Davenport, and Linda Gustitus, president of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT), hold the banner used in a ceremony held June 15 on the grounds of the church.
DAVENPORT -- Raise a banner to raise awareness. That was the mission of a recent ''Torture is wrong'' ceremony at the Unitarian Church in Davenport.

More than 300 U.S. congregations performed such ceremonies and displayed anti-torture material to mark Torture Awareness Month.

The ''Banners Across America'' initiative was organized by the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. Congregations were invited to participate in the nationwide, interfaith event, according to organization president Linda Gustitus.

Locally, the Unitarian Church was joined at the ceremony by members of St. Andrew Presbyterian Church, St. Ambrose University Campus Ministry, Sisters of Humility and Faith United Church of Christ, all of Davenport.

Large black-and-white banners bearing messages of ''Torture is Wrong'' and ''Torture is a Moral Issue'' were designed to ''to raise awareness of the use of torture and to lift a religious voice of prophetic witness,'' Ms. Gustitus said.

The June 15 ceremony also featured a message by Unitarian pastor, the Rev. Roger Butts, who described the banners' significance and the church's long-standing history of social justice.

''As a person of faith who believes in the inherent worth and dignity of every single person, I am so proud that the Unitarian Church and other faith communities across the Quad-Cities are displaying banners that say simply, ‘Torture is wrong,''' Rev. Butts said.

''Never in my life did I think I would live long enough to see the U.S. as an agent of torture against our enemies,'' he said. ''It is beneath our enduring, strong ideals as a nation.''

''NRCAT is an effort to stop U.S.-sponsored torture -- the enhanced interrogation techniques adopted by the administration with respect to detainees from the war on terror as the result of 9/11,'' Ms. Gustitus said. ''The United States has allowed the CIA to use what international law has determined to be illegal without exceptions. There are no exceptions when it comes to torture.''

Ms. Gustitus cited “water boarding'' as an example.

Water boarding is a technique used illegally since the Spanish inquisitions, she said. It is where you strap someone to a board, put and hold a cloth in their mouth, and pour water over their face.

''The objective is to simulate a drowning experience,'' she said.

''The CIA has admitted engaging in water boarding of three detainees, and there are dozens of stories of individuals who have been brutally beaten, placed in stress positions for extended periods of time, subjected to extreme temperatures, isolation and many other inhumane acts,'' she said.

The goal of her organization is ''to bring about changes in U.S. policy to prohibit -- without exception -- all U.S. sponsored torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of detainees,'' she said.

''These polices must include eliminating the use of torture by the CIA, closing secret prisons, stopping the transfer of detainees to countries where it is likely they will be tortured and holding U.S. officials who have engaged in torture accountable.''

More than 200 members representing all major U.S. belong to the organization, which was founded in January 2006.

Ms. Gustitus became involved in the group after learning ''what our country was doing to detainees.''

''I asked my congregation in Washington, D.C., to join me in a vigil at the home of our vice president to say that torture is illegal, immoral and un-American.''

Hundreds of people participated in that vigil, which led her to getting involved in the national organization in January 2006.

''When I came to Iowa in October, we were able to establish a NRCAT chapter, the Quad-Cities Religious Campaign Against Torture,'' chaired by Rev. Butts.

She plans to live in the Quad-Cities for a year before returning to Washington, D.C.

For information about the local chapter, call the church at (563) 359-0816.

The National Religious Campaign Against Torture's mission statement reads: ''Torture is a moral issue.'' ''Torture violates the basic dignity of the human person that all religions, in their highest ideals, hold dear. It degrades everyone involved – policy-makers, perpetrators and victims. It contradicts our nation’s most cherished ideals. Any policies that permit torture and inhumane treatment are shocking and morally intolerable. Nothing less is at stake in the torture abuse crisis than the soul of our nation. What does it signify if torture is condemned in word but allowed in deed? Let American abolish torture now – without exceptions.''

Stating its mission...