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Silence on Suffering

Where are the voices from the Christian community on cruel and degrading treatment of detainees?

President Bush faces a defining question of morality on which he has yet to receive any discernible guidance from the faith-based coalition that helped put him in office. The question: whether it is ever right for Americans to inflict cruel and degrading treatment on suspected terrorist detainees.

We read credible reports—some from FBI agents—that prisoners have been stripped naked, sexually humiliated, chained to the floor, and left to defecate on themselves. These and other practices like "waterboarding" (in which a detainee is made to feel as if he is being drowned) may or may not meet the technical definition of torture, but no one denies that these practices are cruel, inhuman, and degrading.

Today, the practical application of that question is whether the President should fight the efforts of a group of Republican senators, led by John McCain, who has introduced amendments to a defense bill that would outlaw such abuse. Two weeks ago, the Senate passed the McCain amendment, but whether it is put into place will be determined by the conference committee charged with resolving differences between the Senate and House defense bills.

For the President's base of evangelicals and conservative Catholics, no practical expediency, however compelling, should determine fundamental moral issues of marriage, abortion, or bioethics. Instead, these questions should be resolved with principles of revealed moral absolutes, granted by a righteous and loving Creator.

Indeed, recent survey results from the Pew Research Center indicated that, in rating the importance of Supreme Court issues, the treatment of terrorist detainees is a close second only to abortion on the list of concerns of evangelical and Catholic voters. Where, then, ...

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