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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, March 17, 2008

Abercrombie seeks Vatican's view on torture

By Dennis Camire
Advertiser Washington Bureau

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie

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WASHINGTON The Vatican recently expanded the list of sinful behavior to include genetic manipulation, drug use and pollution, but U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie wants to know about torture during interrogations.

The Hawai'i Democrat sent a letter to Monsignor Gianfranco Girotti, the head of the Vatican's office that deals in matters of conscience and grants absolution, asking for more information.

"For centuries, the Catholic Church has defined sins for millions of people throughout the world," said Abercrombie, one of six religiously unaffiliated House members. "I wrote him to ask if the Catholic Church also considered the use of or support for the use of torture in interrogation as a mortal sin."

Abercrombie said that Girotti was quoted in the news last week as saying that genetic manipulation, drug abuse and an imbalance between the rich and the poor should be considered mortal sins.

In his letter, Abercrombie also noted Girotti had said that if sin had an individualistic dimension in the past, in the modern world it has a weight that is especially social.

Abercrombie said that he was "deeply troubled" that the Catholic Church has not addressed the contemporary issue of the use of torture.

The congressman said it is "ironic" that Girotti's comments came at the same time President Bush vetoed an intelligence authorization bill because it bans the use of torture by federal agents.

"I believe the institutions of civilized society have a moral obligation to speak out on the matter," Abercrombie wrote. "Accordingly, I sincerely request your views on the position of the Catholic Church on the use of torture as an interrogations technique."

Abercrombie said the church's judgment on the question would provide an important context for the dialogue on torture now taking place throughout the world.

"As the controversy has already begun in my country with President Bush's veto of legislation banning the use of torture, your earliest response would be most welcome," Abercrombie said.

The House also failed Tuesday to override Bush's veto of the intelligence bill on a 225-188 vote, which was short of the necessary two-thirds majority.

The torture provisions in the intelligence bill would restrict intelligence agencies to 19 interrogation techniques that are in an Army field manual that bans harsh methods such as waterboarding a simulated drowning technique. The manual also prohibits treating enemy prisoners in a cruel and inhumane manner.

The bill's supporters said they would not give in to the White House on the torture provisions and would not try to pass the measure again this year.

The White House also raised objections to other parts of the bill, including the requirement that the Senate confirm the directors of the National Security Agency and the National Reconnaissance Office and the creation of a new inspector general for intelligence.

Reach Dennis Camire at dcamire@gns.gannett.com.