Approving torture would kill the soul of U.S.
Torture is in the news of late. This in and of itself is not so unusual as humans have always committed atrocities against other humans with startling regularity. What is unusual is that it is the American government being accused of torturing prisoners.
Aside from the photographically well-documented abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq, there are allegations of abuse at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba and Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan as well as reports of other nations carrying out torture with U.S. knowledge and implied, if not explicit, support.
While I do not have knowledge which would allow me to speak to those allegations, there is something else taking place which would leave us open to charges of illegal treatment of prisoners. In recent weeks, Vice President Dick Cheney has taken flak for seeking to water down a provision in a defense spending and appropriations bills to leave torture open as an option for Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operatives.
Arizona Republican Senator John McCain had offered an amendment to the bill before the Senate which would make clear policy for all, including foreign held detainees, our current laws banning torture, and ruling out cruel or degrading treatment of prisoners. McCain, well known to have suffered abuse as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, has found support for his seemingly non-controversial amendment on both sides of the aisle.
Yet some Republicans have cited this amendment as restricting President Bush in his role as Commander-in-Chief and tipping our hand as to treatment those apprehended could expect from the United States. The White House has said the president may use his first veto to stop the measure if it succeeds in passing both houses.
Where should we stand on this issue? First, I want to acknowledge that it is possible to posit cases in which many would feel torture is justified. These cases revolve around a ticking bomb scenario in which a suspect is caught who police or soldiers feel has knowledge of an imminent threat posing the risk of great loss of life. In that scenario wouldn't authorities be justified in using any means at their disposal to gain information that could save lives?
Then beyond the worse case scenario, others will argue that as those detained would have not shrank back from horrific acts, why are we not justified in using torture as a tool to gain information which will save lives?
While worst case scenario cases of a ticking bomb are tempting, I don't feel that Christians can justify the use of torture in any case. Jesus faced up to an unjust system through non-violent means and he never taught his followers that evil could be a path to accomplishing the good. In fact, he taught that one must be willing to suffer unjustly rather than to lash out at those who wrongly oppress you. I believe that our nation is only great to the degree we continue to live up to the principals which formed us.
While some Americans may have committed atrocities in the past, we as a nation have never condoned this. The actions of the few were not committed with the knowledge or consent of the many. But if the McCain Amendment is stripped off the defense bills, or diluted to allow the CIA to be an exception, we will be condoning inhumane treatment, including known torture methods as a viable option.
Even at the strictly practical level, this makes no sense. Rather than giving us crucial information to save lives, when Americans use torture to obtain information, we only justify those who would torture Americans. Our fellow citizens—especially our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines—deserve better.
The state of affairs around the world is bad enough without us creating conditions which could lead to their being further abused by others if captured. When another nation uses torture against our citizens, on what basis will we take a moral stand against their actions if we have already stooped to their level?
Foreign detainees must be granted the same sorts of protections America has always given to its enemies, in keeping with the Geneva Convention and other international agreements. Using torture could cause Psalm 7, verse 16 to become true of our nation: They make trouble, but it backfires on them. They plan violence for others, but it falls on their own heads.
If you wonder what Jesus would do, Jesus taught, “But if you are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Pray for the happiness of those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn the other cheek. If someone demands your coat, offer your shirt also. Give what you have to anyone who asks you for it; and when things are taken away from you, don't try to get them back. Do for others as you would like them to do for you (Luke 6:27-31 in the New Living Translation).
Before you start setting exceptions, remember that Jesus willingly died to practice what he preached in these verses. He called us to nothing less.
(The Rev. Frank Logue is pastor of King of Peace Episcopal Church in Kingsland.)
King of Peace Episcopal Church + P.O. Box 2526 + Kingsland, Georgia 31548-2526