Thu, Jul 01, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Anglican leaders slam Iraq abuse as `deeply damaging'

`MORAL SHOCK' The Church of England's letter to Blair accuses the occupation of double standards that violate its stated purpose in Iraq


The Church of England's top officials delivered a harsh rebuke to Prime Minister Tony Blair yesterday for the behavior of coalition troops in Iraq.

In a letter on behalf of all Anglican bishops, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York said the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners was "deeply damaging" and would harm the credibility and moral authority of Western governments.

"It is clear that the apparent breach of international law in relation to the treatment of Iraqi detainees has been deeply damaging," they wrote in the letter, which was printed in yesterday's Times newspaper.

"The appearance of double standards inevitably diminishes the credibility of Western governments with the people of Iraq and of the Islamic world more generally," the bishops' letter said.

A Downing Street spokesman confirmed the prime minister had received the letter, saying only that: "The archbishops are entitled to their views and the prime minister will reply in due course."

The US is investigating abuse, including sexual humiliation, of prisoners in Iraq's Abu Ghraib jail.

A series of gruesome photographs showing prisoners being humiliated have been published worldwide. Britain is also investigating alleged abuse of Iraqi detainees by its troops, including alleged deaths of Iraqis in UK custody.

In their letter, drawn up after a meeting of more than 100 archbishops and bishops last week, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and Archbishop of York David Hope warned Blair that the sense of "moral shock" was wearing off in relation to news of the prisoners' treatment.

"More fundamentally still, there is a wider risk to our own integrity if we no longer experience a sense of moral shock at the enormity of what appears to have been inflicted on those who were in the custody of Western security forces," they wrote.

"The credibility of coalition partners in advocating respect for the law and the peaceful resolution of disputes will, we fear, be undermined unless the necessary moral authority is clearly demonstrated at every level."

Bishop of Southwark Tom Butler told BBC radio the churchmen wanted to express their shock about alleged prisoner abuse.

"Because our government had really been very firm about the war with Iraq for moral reasons, the treatment of the prisoners was undermining that whole moral argument, particularly in Arab nations, and we wanted to express our own moral shock," he said.

The bishops also expressed concern about the lack of progress in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and warned Blair that Britain's position as an "honest broker" between the two sides should not be jeopardized.

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