WASHINGTON — National Council of Churches General Secretary Bob Edgar has written an open letter, signed by 13,000 others, demanding that the Bush administration close the Guantanamo Bay torture prison where 500 detainees have been held for as long as four years without criminal charges.

Under a headline, “Who Would Jesus Torture?” the NCC web site urges people to sign the Edgar letter addressed to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice demanding closure of the prison.

“New photos of detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and a blistering United Nations report calling on the U.S. to shut down the Guantanamo Prison in Cuba have once again reminded us that this chapter in our nation’s history is a moral disgrace and must end,” the NCC declares.

Edgar writes, “We emphatically support” the recommendations that the U.S. either expeditiously bring all detainees to trial or release them without further delay and that the U.S. government should promptly close the Guantanamo detention facility.

Edgar rebutted attempts to discredit the UN report on grounds that the five UN human rights investigators turned down the Pentagon’s prison tour offer. The Pentagon “ignores well established international practice that an investigation cannot be conducted without private access to detainees,” he writes.

In 2003 and 2004, the NCC was denied an opportunity to send a delegation to Guantanamo to monitor the physical, mental and spiritual condition of the detainees. The NCC renewed its request “not only for the benefit of the detainees but for the benefit of the reputation of our country.”

Vince Isner of the NCC’s Washington office told the World that the 13,000 signers is just the beginning. “We’ve appealed to online groups to help mobilize support,” he said.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan swiftly endorsed the UN report. France, Germany and other European nations joined in its call.

The UN report cited a Dec. 2, 2002 memo signed by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld approving a long list of interrogation methods including “stress positions” and “hooding” of detainees, stripping them of all clothing while also exposing them to freezing cold or sweltering heat, sensory deprivation, sleep deprivation, and interrogation for up to 20 hours. The memo also calls for exploiting detainees’ “phobias” such as fear of attack dogs.

Most recently, hunger strikers at Guantanamo have been strapped to chairs and had feeding tubes jammed up their nostrils, the report charges. Doctors and other medical personnel have participated in this “force-feeding” in violation of medical ethics, the report states. This “must be assessed as amounting to torture as defined in Article One of the Convention Against Torture.” The U.S. is a signatory to this law.

The report also singles out interrogation methods “specifically designed to offend the religious sensitivities of the detainees” such as trampling on the Koran.

“Extraordinary rendition,” the practice of transferring detainees to other countries where even more brutal methods of torture are used, is also condemned.