That All May Have Life in Fullness - Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) 216th General Assembly; Richmond, Virginia - June 26 - July 3, 2004 PC(USA) Seal

Measures condemn Iraq war, prisoner abuse

  Assembly rejects U.S. policy of 'pre-emptive' military action  

by Alexa Smith

  RICHMOND, July 2 - The 216th General Assembly approved two actions on Iraq Friday afternoon.

The first was a report, "Iraq: Our Responsibility and the Future," that lays out a plan for Iraq's reconstruction and pledges the Presbyterian Church (USA) to support the approximately one million Christians there - including about 2,500 Presbyterians.

The Assembly also passed a measure deploring the torture and abuse of prisoners in U.S. custody in Iraq and in Guantanamo, Cuba, and calling Presbyterians to repentance on their account.

Both measures came to the Assembly through the Committee on Peacemaking.

The paper on Iraq condemns the U.S. policy of pre-emptive military action against nations perceived as a threat to the United States as ethically indefensible and contrary to the "just war" theory that has been the basis of much Christian theology on warfare.

Just war theory holds, among other things, that a war can be just only when waged as a last resort, after all non-violent options have been exhausted; when the violence used is proportional to the injury the war is intended to redress; and when the weapons used discriminate between combatants and non-combatants.

The paper approved by the Assembly calls the U.S.-led coalition's invasion of Iraq was "unwise, immoral and illegal," and says further that, because it was not directly linked to the U.S. effort to deal with terrorism, it raises different moral questions than the U.S. bombing of Afghanistan in response to the Sept. 11 terror attacks on New York City and Washington, DC.

It also demands that the U.S. government "internationalize" the reconstruction effort in Iraq; that the United Nations play a leading role in recruiting and training Iraqis to re-establish the rule of law in the country, and reducing the role of the U.S. military as much as possible; and condemns "in the strongest possible terms" the torture and abuse of prisoners in U.S. custody anywhere in the world.

Ethicist Ed Long, the principal author of the paper, told reporters that it condemns the United States' "international Lone Ranger-ism" because it destabilizes the international community. "It also urges us to cooperate with all nations in the world, through the United Nations, for the reconstruction and rehabilitation of Iraq," he said.

The paper also calls on the General Assembly Council (GAC) to have an action plan in place by 2006 that includes sending mission personnel to Iraq to work with churches there; and urges Presbyterians to "give sacrificially" in support of Iraqi Christians.

The Rev. Younan Shiba, the pastor of two Presbyterian churches in Baghdad and a guest at the Assembly, had told the commissioners, "We need your help."

In debate about whether to term the war "illegal," a commissioner asked Shiba whether Iraqis were better off before the invasion - and he said yes. He has said repeatedly that the United States had no plan to govern Iraq after toppling its government, and the results have included rampant crime and chaos.

In the resolution on abuse of prisoners, the Assembly said: "These actions have undercut American claims to a moral high ground and opened the way for enemies to maltreat members of our own society that fall into their hands. Moreover, they constitute flagrant violations" of the Geneva Convention.

The Assembly approved a resolution "On Violence, Religion and Terrorism" that lays out Christian beliefs about terrorism and disavows the use of preemptive strikes against other nations to deter terrorism.

Finally, the Assembly approved an overture calling for an end to human-rights abuses in Colombia and calling for pressure on transnational corporations to protect employees who engage in trade-union activities.

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