The Rev. George Hunsinger stood in front of the Princeton Theological Seminary library Thursday afternoon in a bright orange jumpsuit reminiscent of the uniform of a Guantanamo detainee. He handed out fliers to passersby as students gathered around a large, plain black banner bearing just three words: Torture is wrong.
Hunsinger, a Presbyterian minister and professor of systematic theology at the seminary, is the founder of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, a nonprofit organization that works to mobilize people of faith to end torture as a U.S. policy.
He and several students gathered in front of the seminary library on Mercer Street to voice their opposition to a forum set for May 8 that will feature former U.S. National Security Advisor and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The event is the third forum in a three-part series on faith and the future of American democracy.
Hunsinger and some other faculty members and students want Rice’s invitation to speak to be rescinded because Rice gave permission to the CIA to use waterboarding and other enhanced interrogation methods on alleged terrorists and has defended the torture techniques.
“We’re here to say no to Condoleezza Rice and her being invited to speak as part of the faith and democracy series,” Hunsinger said as he chatted with some students as they arrived at the library to attend the second lecture in the faith and democracy series.
“Condoleezza Rice is unrepentant and shows no remorse for the torture program,” Hunsinger said. “She doesn’t belong in this series and shouldn’t be heard on any campus, let alone a theological campus. She continues to defend the torture program.”
Hunsinger and two other seminary professors, Mark Lewis Taylor and Gordon Mikoski, have formed an “ad hoc committee for true faith and democracy” in response to Rice being invited to speak at the school. They say Rice is not qualified to speak about faith or democracy.
“We believe that the former Secretary of State stands in fundamental contradiction to both of these precious values,” reads a statement from the ad hoc group. “She is on record for a series of morally shocking policies both at home and abroad.”
Rice signed off on the torture of Abu Zubaydah, who was waterboarded more than 80 times, was buried alive for hundreds of hours, and lost an eye from being subjected to harsh interrogation techniques.
“Neither Rice nor anyone else in high places has ever been held accountable for these shocking abuses. She has consistently defended them with devious falsehoods and evasions. Nor has she evidenced any signs repentance or remorse,” reads the ad hoc group’s statement.
“Why is Condoleezza Rice being billed on our campus as a ‘towering figure’ in American public life? Why has she been issued an invitation that brings shame and disgrace to our community — to say nothing of Christ and the church? Why is PTS providing a mantle of respectability — a cover-up — to someone who does not deserve it?” reads the ad hoc group’s statement. “Torture is an international crime and a moral outrage. If we are really committed to taking our recent PTS ‘slavery audit’ to heart, we will need to act accordingly. What was the notorious U.S. torture program under Condoleezza Rice and her overlords but a continuation of slavery by other means? By doing the right thing, PTS could easily avoid tarnishing itself any further. We call for the invitation to Condoleezza Rice to be rescinded.”
Planet Princeton has reached out to the seminary for a response about the protest. This story will be updated if a response is provided.
Hunsinger said the seminary leadership sees the issue as a matter of free speech. But he sees it differently.
“I was horrified when I found out Condoleezza Rice was invited to speak. She’s billed as a towering figure in American public life. This is a whitewash of her,” Hunsinger said. “My friends in the human rights community feel rightly that torture is in a category with rape and slavery. If you have a person who instituted a torture program as she did, and she is not repentant and shows no remorse, it is not a freedom of speech issue. It is a moral issue. She should not be granted credibility.”