I continue to be baffled by the arguments in favor of torture, and the justifications that are made for America’s use of torture. Darth Cheney claims that it “kept us safe” by providing actionable intelligence allowing the U.S. to subvert terrorists plots. We know this to be untrue…in some cases, it had just the opposite effect.
Newt Gingrich is claiming it was all OK because Nancy Pelosi was briefed on it. Well, there is no provision in the Constitution that says a law can be circumvented by briefing someone in Congress.
The subversion of the Constitution and the rule of law should be troubling to every American, but I think I am most disturbed by our behavior from my moral and Christian perspective.
When we get people who are more concerned about reading the rights to an Al Qaida terrorist than they are with protecting the United States against people who are absolutely committed to do anything they can to kill Americans, then I worry…. These are evil people. And we’re not going to win this fight by turning the other cheek. –Former Vice President Dick Cheney, February 4, 2009
But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. –Jesus, Luke 6:27-31.
These two opposing statements by former Vice-President Dick Cheney and Jesus Christ bring into sharp focus the contradictions of being a country that simultaneously lays claim to Judeo Christian values while going to any lengths to protect and preserve the American empire – including torture. What does the practice of torture by our government say about those of us who are American Christians?
The great biblical evangelists Paul and Steven were tortured, but continued to profess what they believe. They never used violence or coercion to spread the faith; rather people came to Jesus in part because of the non-violent Christian witness of the early members.
And lest we forget, it was Jesus who was himself tortured and killed. Early Christians espoused love in the face of hate, generosity in the face of theft, blessings for curses, and turning the cheek in the face of violence. They did this not out of weakness, but out of strength.
George Bush and other professing Christians succumbed to the temptation of perceived expediency to employ torture in order to try to create the non-existent link between Iraq and Al Qaeda. Dick Cheney says “these are evil people” as a way to justify torture. But Christians have dealt with evil people before and Jesus taught us explicitly that evil is never overcome by evil; it is over come by Good. Plus, Jesus’ words in Luke 6 – Do unto others as you would have them do unto you – have a chilling resonance when it comes to torture.
A recent Pew Center survey indicates that the more a person attends church, the more supportive they tend to be of torture as practiced by the U.S. Government.1 This raises a very serious crisis of faith within my soul, and it makes me fear for the very soul of my country. I fear what is to become of us and our Republic.
Over two years ago I spent time begging the Methodist Episcopacy to condemn American torture. Only five Bishops cared enough to call on Bush to halt the practice of torture.2345 The more one attends church, the greater should be the outrage when one reads comments like Cheney’s. Loyalty to a political cause should not triumph belief in human rights.
Sadly the new century seems to have changed our belief that we should be that “shining city on a hill” Regean talked about. We now consider the Constitution and the Geneva Conventions to be quaint and outdated. Defending the abuses by party leaders like Bush, Cheney and their henchmen have become more important that defending the basic human rights we claim to live by. And the media’s lack of calling people out for their hypocrisy has made the situation even worse.
Beginning in August 2002, was Justice Department memos authorizing waterboarding, sleep deprivation and beatings falling short of “organ failure and death,” specifically against captured al-Qaida functionary Abu Zubaydah. The FBI, believing the orders illegal, actually withdrew from the investigation — a development conveniently overlooked by establishment Beltway pundits now bleating like sheep that despite their shamefulness, the “memos on torture represented a deliberate, and internally well-debated, policy decision, made in the proper places … by the proper officials.
Experienced FBI interrogators who’d extracted crucial evidence from Zubaydah — including the identity of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Muhummad — were unable to confirm Cheney’s obsessions. Was it truth or useful fiction Cheney’s thugs were after? Authoritarian regimes have always used torture to secure false confessions.
The time-line is significant. All this took place precisely as the Bush White House began its 2002 pre-election propaganda campaign urging war with Iraq: “mushroom clouds,” yellowcake uranium, and so on.
As a result, we now, here in America, are having a discussion about the justifications for torture. Cheney is on the stump constantly claiming it was OK because we got actionable intelligence that saved lies, but we know that to be a lie:
“In the first congressional hearing on torture since the release of Bush administration memos that provided the legal justification for torture, Soufan told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the CIA’s abusive techniques were “ineffective, slow and unreliable, and as a result harmful to our efforts to defeat al-Qaida.” According to Soufan, his own nonviolent interrogation of an al-Qaida suspect was quickly yielding valuable, actionable intelligence — until the CIA intervened.”6
We hear about the “ticking time bomb” scenario played out so often on the fictional TV show “24.”
“Torture is an impermissible evil. Except under two circumstances. The first is the ticking time bomb. . . . The second exception to the no-torture rule is the extraction of information from a high-value enemy in possession of high-value information likely to save lives. . . .”7
U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, at recent congressional hearings on the matter, tried to explain the Administrations attempts to make torture legal by saying, “they saw the law as a nicety we could not afford.”8
Some people, however, believe you never torture. Ever. Ronald Reagan, May 20, 1988, transmitting the Convention Against Torture to the Senate for ratification:9
The United States participated actively and effectively in the negotiation of the Convention. It marks a significant step in the development during this century of international measures against torture and other inhuman treatment or punishment. Ratification of the Convention by the United States will clearly express United States opposition to torture, an abhorrent practice unfortunately still prevalent in the world today.
The core provisions of the Convention establish a regime for international cooperation in the criminal prosecution of torturers relying on so-called “universal jurisdiction.” Each State Party is required either to prosecute torturers who are found in its territory or to extradite them to other countries for prosecution.
Convention Against Torture, signed and championed by Ronald Reagan, Article II/IV:
No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture. . . Each State Party shall ensure that all acts of torture are offences under its criminal law.
Jesse Ventura, former Governor or Minnesota and Former Navy SEAL said this on a recent appearance on Larry King Live:
I’m bothered over Guantanamo because it seems we’ve created our own Hanoi Hilton. We can live with that? I have a problem.
I will criticize President Obama on this level; it’s a good thing I’m not president because I would prosecute every person that was involved in that torture. I would prosecute the people that did it. I would prosecute the people that ordered it. Because torture is against the law.
We’ve heard the claims:
- We got actionable intelligence — We know that to be not true.
- We saved lives — We’ve seen no evidence that plots have been foiled by information obtained through torture.
- We used torture only when necessary — We waterboarded one person over 100 times…really?
- It was OK because the Justice Department issued memos — The Justice Department has no Constitutional standing to make law or to authorized the circumvention of law.
- It was OK because we briefed members of Congress — As previously noted, no where does the Constitution provide that briefing members of Congress that you are about to break laws pardons you from the act.
John Adams (I suppose a screaming leftest) said: “the very definition of a republic is an empire of laws, and not of men. . . . that form of government which is best contrived to secure an impartial and exact execution of law, is the best of republics.”
It is time that Americans demand what Adams called on for, “the best of republics.” It is time we demand that those who tortured other human beings be called to account for what they have done.
The US was one of the countries that demonstrated how vital and essential it was, after the defeat of Germany in 1945, to not let war crimes get swept under the rug. Thomas Paine said:
“But where says some is the King of America? I’ll tell you Friend, he reigns above, and doth not make havoc of mankind like the Royal Brute of Britain… let a crown be placed thereon, by which the world may know, that so far as we approve as monarchy, that in America the law is King. For as in absolute governments the King is law, so in free countries the law ought to be King; and there ought to be no other.”
But let us look no further back than Teddy Roosevelt: “No man is above the law and no man is below it; nor do we ask any man’s permission when we require him to obey it. Obedience to the law is demanded as a right; not asked as a favor.”
Is Torture ever OK?
- No (75%, 6 Votes)
- In some situations (0%, 0 Votes)
- Yes (25%, 2 Votes)
- I don't know (0%, 0 Votes)
Total Voters: 8
Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, April 29, 2009: More than half of people who attend services at least once a week — 54 percent — said the use of torture against suspected terrorists is “often” or “sometimes” justified. ↩
John Masters, “Resolutions By The United Methodist Council of Bishops,” Deep Something, May 13, 2005 ↩
John Masters, “Once Again A Call to Methodist Bishops to Denounce Torture,” Deep Something, Sept. 28, 2005. ↩
Mark Benjamin, “Soufan: CIA torture actually hindered our intelligence gathering,” Salon.com. ↩
Eric Zimmerman, “Graham: Bush admin saw law as unaffordable ‘nicety’,” The Hill’s Blog Briefing Room, May 13, 2009 ↩
Glenn Greenwald, “Ronald Reagan: vengeful, score-settling, Hard Left idealogue,” Salon.com, May 1, 2009 ↩