The Archbishops of Canterbury and York have combined in a strongly-worded protest to Tony Blair over the behaviour of coalition security forces in Iraq, it emerged today.
In a letter sent on behalf of all the bishops of the Church of England, Rowan Williams and David Hope accused the US-UK coalition of “double standards” in its treatment of Iraqi detainees.
The credibility of Western governments throughout the Muslim world was undermined by reports of abuse and deaths in custody, putting at risk Britain’s ability to act as an “honest broker” in the Middle East, they said.
In the letter, drawn up following a meeting in Liverpool of all 110 archbishops and bishops this month, they wrote: “It is clear that the apparent breach of international law in relation to the treatment of Iraqi detainees has been deeply damaging.
“The appearance of double standards inevitably diminishes the credibility of Western governments with the people of Iraq and of the Islamic world more generally.
“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.”
The archbishops’ letter followed the publication of shocking photographs showing mistreatment of detainees at Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison by US troops, as well as investigations into the alleged deaths of Iraqi prisoners being held by the UK in southern Iraq.
The letter warned: “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.”
The archbishops also raised concerns about the failure to make progress in the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which they described as a “litmus test” for Muslim and Arab communities of the sincerity of the West’s professed commitment to human rights.
Britain’s earlier even-handedness in the conflict had allowed it to act as an honest broker, they wrote, adding: “It is vitally important that this position is not eroded.”
A spokesman for the Church of England said the letter had not been intended for publication, but was designed to set out the priorities which the bishops would like to see the Government pursuing following the handover of sovereignty in Iraq on Monday.
“In our view, the way forward is to give a lead in showing that respect for human dignity, the rule of law and religious freedom are indivisible,” the letter stated.
“As a new chapter opens in Iraq and as the search continues for an end to the present cycle of violence in the Middle East, we urge our Government to keep these principles at the heart of his own policy-making.”
A Downing Street spokesman confirmed that the letter had been received.
He added: “The archbishops are entitled to their views and the Prime Minister will reply in due course.”
Anglican bishops were united from the start in their opposition to the war in Iraq.