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General Synod London Sessions, 15-16 November 2005 Archbishop's contribution in debate on terrorism

Tuesday 15th November 2005

A contribution by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams.

Mr Chairman, members of Synod. There is one issue which is touched on in passing in this excellent document but which I believe needs quite sustained attention from the churches in the years ahead, and that is the question of torture.

One of the very few absolutes left in the legal and moral consensus of the modern west is the prohibition against torture. There are many things that are wrong about that legal and moral consensus and many faults and failings in it, but that is one of the remaining signs, as I would see it, of a recognition of some element of transcendent value inn the human person. We read in paragraphs 48 and 50 of this document something of the confusion that affects government policy over deportation in relation to possible torture in countries of peoples' origin. We've also seen in recent months some cautious but rather worrying rationalizations of the possible legitimacy of torture or robust interrogation or however you want to dress it up in the fight against terrorism. In response to this we have already been reminded by many legal experts of the weakness of evidence obtained under torture, and that's clearly a very significant factor in the debate.

However I think that as a Christian church we ought to stand up in the clearest possible way in defence of and in solidarity with what I've called that reminiscence or remnant of transcendence in our legal consensus and hold firm that the idea that torture is always and in every circumstance an inadmissible invasion of the dignity of the human person. As I've said, this is not a matter absolutely directly addressed by the document before us, yet we have enough signs around us to make it clear, I think, that in discussion of our response to terrorism in the months and years ahead, this is an issue that will not go away; I hope that this Synod, this Church, and indeed the Church worldwide, will continue to have clear conviction and vision on this subject.

© Rowan Williams 2005

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