November 15, 2005

Who Would Jesus Torture?

Filed under: Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 11:12 pm

From Working for Change:

Christians of strong religious faith and sound moral conscience often end up in disagreement. Human affairs are a messy business, unfortunately, and even at the best of times we only see through a glass, darkly.

It is hard for that reason to call Christians to a universal standard of behavior. At this moment, however, we cannot afford to dilute the message of Jesus into meaningless ambiguity. There are certain acts that a follower of Jesus simply cannot accept. Here is one: A Christian cannot justify the torture of a human being.

[…] Christians must oppose torture under any circumstances. Consider this: Who would Jesus torture? I cannot imagine Jesus finding a single “exemption” that would justify such an abuse of any individual made in God’s image.

Though I bristle whenever I hear someone refer to the United States as a Christian nation — it is such a loaded phrase — many in the Muslim world see us as such. How tragic it would be for Muslims to identify the message and mission of Jesus with torture and terror. We must not allow that to happen.

There are lots of rationalizations for torture. There is the the “but they’re worse than us” rationalization. But only a moral relativist could argue that we are acting morally because we are not as immoral as our enemies. Or, as John McCain said,

“But it’s not about them; it’s about us. This battle we’re in is about the things we stand for and believe in and practice. And that is an observance of human rights, no matter how terrible our adversaries may be.”.

Then there is the “ticking timebomb” rationalization, i.e. what if a terrorist’s nuclear warhead was about to destroy Washington D.C. and we had a terrorist in custody who could tell us how to stop it? Of course we’ve been interrogating prisoners in the war on terror for years and have never had anything remotely like this scenario. Kevin Drum knocks this argument down regardless.

[I]n the fantastically unlikely 24-esque event that we capture a terrorist who knows the location of a ticking atomic bomb, he’s going to get tortured regardless. The torturer will immediately get pardoned by the president for doing so, and would be unanimously acquitted by a jury even if he weren’t. And I’m fine with that.

I’d be fine with that too if torture actually worked, but torture is an entirely ineffective interrogation method. From Andrew Sullivan:

[T]he interrogation techniques now used by the U.S. were actually first developed by the Communist interrogators of the Soviet-controlled world. They were designed not to get actionable intelligence but to destroy a person’s soul and enforce ideological conformity.

Compare these methods with what the Israelis do, according to a Knight Ridder account (ht Political Animal):

The Israelis, Baer said, have learned that they can gain valuable information by establishing personal relationships with the inmates and gaining their trust. “They found that torture, abusive tactics, made things overall worse for them politically,” Baer said. “The Israelis are friendly with their prisoners. They play cards with them and allow them to contact their families. They are getting in their minds to determine what makes up a suicide bomber.”

Then there’s the idea that what we are doing isn’t really torture unless it results in organ failure or death. From an emailer to Andrew Sullivan:

From the “Shorter Oxford English Dictionary,” torture:

A noun 1. Originally, (a disorder characterized by) contortion, distortion, or twisting. Later, (the infliction of) severe physical or mental suffering; anguish, agony, torment. b transf. A cause of severe pain or anguish. 2. The infliction of severe bodily pain as a punishment or as a means of interrogation or persuasion; a form or instance of this. b transf. An instrument or means of torture. B verb trans. 1. Subject to torture as a punishment or as a means of interrogation or persuasion. 2. Inflict severe mental or physical suffering on; cause anguish in; torment

Americans have always viewed ourselves as the good guys, the ones in white hats fighting for justice and against evil in the world. The founding of our country recognized that inalienable human rights must be defended against the exercise of raw political power. The Civil War was a noble fight to recognize the humanity and human rights of the slaves. World War II and the Cold War were fought to end the systematic oppression of Nazism and of communism. Especially after 9/11, when we invaded Afghanistan, we knew we were the innocent victims of unjustifiable terror, fighting to protect ourselves against evil.

But we have become the bad guys. We have adopted the immorality of the Soviets and the Baathists, and by so doing, have become them. The image of the U.S. in the world has been sullied. 9/11 was not our fault, but the torture of American troops captured in the future will be rationalized by our actions since then. We have retreated from the moral high ground.

Jesus did not willingly give himself up to torture and death so that we could be free to torture our enemies. It is time for us to disavow torture and to stop handing over prisoners to countries that practice torture. It’s what Jesus would do.


  1. Enforcing ideological conformity is bad enough, but the Chinese discovered
    they didn’t have to torture even for that. “Brainwashing” seemed to work
    even better for them. The Israelis must have taken their cue from them,
    but the description above makes them seem more sophisticated yet.

    Jesus forgave his torturers, not later, but as they were torturing him.
    I’m still struggling with the very idea of forgiving the 9/11 terrorists.

    Comment by wildwest — November 16, 2005 @ 8:54 am

  2. Oh you bleeding heart liberals! Jesus is all for tortue. One uses torture in order to gain something. So, what about the people of Dover, PA? Or the sinners struck by Katrina? God is inflicting pain and suffering in order to get our attention and show that Pat Robertson was right. Therefore, if Pat Robertson can call upon God to prove he was right, then God probably wants Geo Bush to use torture to prove to the world how right Geo Bush is. If torture gets one person to say they saw an atom bomb, then it,s all worth it.

    Comment by Tony — November 16, 2005 @ 9:04 am

  3. Auntie Pinko at the Democratic Underground gives a pretty good example of why the “ticking timebomb” argument doesn’t hold water. The crux of the argument goes that since torture cannot guarantee a truthful answer, the time that it takes to verify the information, discover any lies, re-interrogate the witness is unlikely to leave sufficient time to actually find and defuse the bomb. And that’s assuming the terrorist ever bothers telling the truth at any time during the process.

    Comment by Jarred — November 16, 2005 @ 10:18 am

  4. Thanks for mentioning Auntie Pinko. I checked it out. I like her.

    Comment by wildwest — November 16, 2005 @ 11:56 am

  5. No problem, wildwest. I’m rather fond of her column, myself.

    Comment by Jarred — November 16, 2005 @ 12:29 pm

  6. It’s been pretty quiet around here lately.

    Comment by wildwest — November 17, 2005 @ 5:31 am

  7. Okie Dokie, I just gotta ask.

    Since it has never been the policy of the U.S. to torture prisoners of war, in this case *detainees,* what is the point of supporting legislation that suggests that we need to put it in writing that we will not torture them?

    By supporting such legislation would we, meaning the American government (representatives of the people) have, in the past, supported torture and now we are *changing* our mind? I don’t like those implications, myself.

    We know that abuse took place at Abu Ghraib and we know that those involved in that abuse have paid a legal price for it. What evidence is there that there is, or has been, ongoing torture of detainees at other military prisons? If I recall there have been some investigations into this and nothing credible was actually found to suggest that there has been torture going on at Guantanomo, to the contrary.

    To me, if we support this sort of legislation it makes it appear that we admit that there has been a policy of torture and we must change it. I just don’t believe that is the case and in my own personal opinion I feel supporting such legislation would be an admission of torture, as policy, where none has existed. Call me stupid, I guess.

    Comment by Jacke — November 17, 2005 @ 6:48 am

  8. There are times when I get just what I ask for. 🙂

    Jacke, check this article on McCain’s torture ban. The Bush administration seeks to exempt the CIA from the ban. Not because we *do* torture, ostensibly, but because then terrorists will know they won’t be mistreated. That is not acceptable to McCain. Isn’t the United States supposed to set an example to the world by *not* torturing, among other things, and bing *known* for not torturing? If we even let people throughout the world *think* we torture, whether we do or not, we are not being true to our ideals.

    I will let other posters refer you to articles describing the evidence of torture at Guantanamo, eastern Europe, etc.

    Comment by wildwest — November 17, 2005 @ 7:18 am

  9. Actually, there is much, much more.

    Comment by wildwest — November 17, 2005 @ 7:23 am

  10. Forgive me.

    Comment by wildwest — November 17, 2005 @ 7:31 am

  11. wildwest, just to let you know that I’m not ignoring your reply. I have guests coming in from out of town and will be unavailable for a few days. Will get back to you asap. 🙂

    Comment by Jacke — November 17, 2005 @ 11:47 am

  12. wildwest provides this link:

    From the link:

    “The ban would establish the Army Field Manual as the guiding authority in interrogations and prohibit “cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment” of prisoners.”

    My problem would be with the broad terms of “cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment,” what is cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment is open to interpretation. What I consider cruel, inhumane and degrading may be entirely different from what you consider cruel, inhumane and degrading. I see this broad wording as something that could bite us all in the butt much in the same way that the McCain Feingold Campaign Reform bill bit us all in the butt in the loophole which is embodied in 527 groups. McCain isn’t very good at writing bills, in my humble opinion, he doesn’t think through what the ramifications can or could be down the road. I can see all kinds of further division among political parties based on what constitutes cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment, and we certainly do not need any more fuel for that divide.

    So, then, that brings us to clearly defining torture, if we do that then we alert the enemy about just exactly where the line is drawn and what line will not be crossed, this cannot help us with interogation. That is the basis of my non-support, that and my earlier comment concerning what I feel is an admission that the U.S. supports torture in the first place, which I disagree with. The U.S. does not and never has supported torture and many have been prosecuted because of the abuses at Abu Ghraib. I just do not see that we need another bill to enforce a policy when torture has never been endorsed in the first place.

    Comment by Jacke — November 20, 2005 @ 7:29 pm

  13. My earlier reply got hung up in moderation, so I am sure it will show up soon.

    My reply to the links you provided regarding torture comes in the form of this documentation compiled by NGO regarding Amnesty International’s 2004 Report, found here:

    An excerpt:

    “In the U.S., as in Israel, violations of human rights are the exception, not the norm, and such distortions further exploit human rights rhetoric in the service of narrow political objectives. While democratic governments are not and should not be immune from criticism, this process must be based on credible sources, and avoid political filtering. On both counts, Amnesty International has failed to meet the objectives of its mission statement, as the 2004 report clearly demonstrates.”

    From this link regarding the urging to shut down “Gitmo”:

    “For instance, on a recent television interview a representative of a “human rights” organization manipulated statistics and rhetoric taken from the broader campaign against terrorism to describe the actions and facility at Guantanamo Bay.[1] At one point in the interview, he argued that at least 28 individuals have died in U.S. custody as a result of criminal homicide. None of these deaths, however, occurred at Guantanamo. The implication was that whether these actions took place at Guantanamo was irrelevant and that actions and events occurring at any point or place in the war on terrorism may be generalized to any specific place or event.

    But the details do matter. According to the Department of Defense, “The department works closely with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and representatives visit detainees in our charge at their discretion. There have been 187 members of Congress and congressional staff who have visited Guantanamo to include (sic) 11 Senators, 77 Representatives and 99 Congressional staff members. There have also been some 400 media visits consisting of more than 1,000 national and international journalists.”[2] Even skeptics must admit that it would be hard to carry out any systematic abuse of detainees under such intense and constant scrutiny.”

    Do you, or does anyone have CREDIBLE PROOF that any detainees ANYWHERE are being TORTURED? And what is YOUR definition of TORTURE?

    The Merriam Webster Online Dictionary defines it thus:

    Main Entry: 1tor·ture
    Pronunciation: ‘tor-ch&r
    Function: noun
    Etymology: French, from Late Latin tortura, from Latin tortus, past participle of torquEre to twist; probably akin to Old High German drAhsil turner, Greek atraktos spindle
    1 a : anguish of body or mind : AGONY b : something that causes agony or pain
    2 : the infliction of intense pain (as from burning, crushing, or wounding) to punish, coerce, or afford sadistic pleasure
    3 : distortion or overrefinement of a meaning or an argument : STRAINING

    Comment by Jacke — November 20, 2005 @ 8:15 pm

  14. Gee, I don’t know. I hope you’re right.

    Comment by wildwest — November 21, 2005 @ 5:30 am

  15. A couple of points. 1. In practice, the European Court of Human Right has found it perfectly possible to reach majority verdicts on what constitutes ‘inhuman aand degrading treatment” – and in the 1970s the British government was found guilty of using such practices in Northern Ireland. Specially trained members of the armed forces had subjected some suspects to severe beatings and prolonged and intense sensory deprivation while depriving them of food and water. A number of the victims were reduced to a state where they could talk only incoherent gibberish. As far as I recall, one of the reasons of the reasons given by many of the judges for _not_ calling this ‘torture’ was that if the Court did so, there would be no adequate word left to describe the methods used by the Inquisition and the Nazis. In other words there was a majority that felt the treatment of the suspects was reprehensible, that it was ‘inhuman and degrading’ but was one degree below the most inhuman kinds of treatment.

    2. As for the ‘ticking bomb’, I wonder if it’s occurred to people that it’s quite common practice on the part of well organized terrorist groups to try to change plans if they discover that one of their members has gone missing.

    Comment by John — March 18, 2006 @ 2:57 pm

  16. Jesus wouldn’t torture? Read the following: Rev. 9:5-6; Matt. 13:41-42; 18:8-9; 25:41;
    Mark 9:43-48; Luke 16:22-24Rev. 14:10-11. Torment and torture are synonyms for each
    other. I do not know how I would react if my family’s life was threatened and torture
    was the only way to get information to prevent it.

    Comment by Bob W — December 10, 2006 @ 1:02 pm

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