Local groups draw attention to U.S. torture

Torture is a moral issue and Americans have the responsibility to stop the use of torture. That is the message a coalition of local religious groups would like to send to Congress and to fellow Americans.

The Whidbey Friends (Quaker) Worship Group, with participation and endorsement of local clergy members, will host a public viewing of the HBO documentary film “Ghosts of Abu Ghraib” in the Fellowship Hall of the Langley United Methodist Church. The film will be shown at 7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 11.

The group is also inviting Congressional representatives to view the movie.

The movie highlights many questions that arose out of the controversial photos of human rights abuses of detainees held at the Abu Ghraib prison at the hands of U.S. military members.

The key question raised in the movie is “How can ordinary American soldiers participate in torture?”

The apparent answer, according to Tom Ewell, chairman of the Whidbey Friends (Quaker) Worship Group Peace and Social Concerns Committee: “Because they were told to.”

“The use of torture came all the way down from the upper echelon of the American government,” Ewell said.

“The movie says we were above the Geneva Conventions because the situation was so grave. The torture is illegal,” he added. “It is always wrong — with no exceptions.”

While Ewell does not excuse the soldiers, he does see that they did not want to follow the orders they were given.

“What you see in the movie is that the people who were doing the torture felt awful,” he said.

“How dehumanizing it must be. It is eating at the very soul of our own nature. It is U.S.-sponsored torture.”

Rev. David Vergin agreed with Ewell.

“There is clear compassion for enlisted people who became involved in the situation,” Vergin said. “The film allows people to come away from the film with different judgments regarding where responsibility lies. This film will provide a greater appreciation for the human dimensions of this complicated issue.”

Ewell hopes that by showing the movie, people will find themselves persuaded to speak out that torture should be stopped. He wants to see Congress act, as well.

“We are asking Congressional leaders to address this issue forcefully,” he said. “We are destroying the soul of our nation.”

“This is a moral issue and we should speak out about it whenever possible,” added Rev. Elizabeth “Kit” Ketcham, Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Whidbey Island.

“This movie is a vivid portrayal of how easy it is for good people to be persuaded to do evil things,” she said.

Ketcham looks forward to being able to talk about the controversial topic with people of different faiths.

“As a Unitarian Universalist, I welcome any opportunity to present moral issues with other religious congregations and ministers,” she said. “Inter-faith sponsorship is important. I would encourage people of all faith to come view this movie.”

The movie’s showing coincides with the sixth anniversary of the opening of Guantanamo Bay’s Camp Delta. After the film, Whidbey Friends (Quaker) Worship Group will host a discussion and a petition-signing campaign.

In the end, Ewell would like to see changes made.

“We don’t have a moral leadership, which is what our country was founded on for the most part,” Ewell said. “We respect human rights. Torture is the exact opposite of those values.

“You can always justify bullying and hurting somebody if you feel hurt. The civilized thing is a world where we address wrongs through the legal process.”

Spencer Webster can be reached at 221-5300 or

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