Author Topic: Support for torture?  (Read 22756 times)

Jim_Krauser

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Support for torture?
« on: May 05, 2009, 02:32:34 PM »
The headlines regarding a corrolation between church attendance and support for torture were eye-popping.  Apparently the correlation isn't so strong for us mainline denomination types but I don't hold out much hope.  It may be that we're not really supportive, but our quietist tendencies keep us from making too much of a fuss.

Coincidentally, I wrote the following for my congregational newsletter before the survey was published.  I'm expecting some flack.

We Have Sinned

Torture is wrong.  Our government has consistently affirmed this.  This idea lies behind the rejection of “cruel and unusual punishment” in our Bill of Rights.  Where we lost our way was when we tried to draw a line as to “how far one can go” in the use of “aggressive” or “enhanced” interrogation methods.  These terms themselves are cynical euphemisms.  The rule should be quite simple.  If it would even look like torture to the average person, if you would be ashamed to have a video of it put on national television, the line is crossed.
Some will undoubtedly disapprove of this column as political.  It is not.  Indeed, therein lies the problem.  Those who advocated the use of these “brutal” methods, as the New York Times called them, looked only to the legal limitations, not the larger principles.  Simply because something may be legal, and the legal justifications in this instance are far from certain, does not mean it is moral.

It is shocking that there has not been a greater sense of moral outrage.  It is understandable, I suppose, on one level.  These things were done to (most certainly) bad and evil men.  In the mind of most, they deserve no pity, no mercy.  And of course, humanly speaking, they do not.  But righteousness is not measured only by how one treats one’s friends or how one benefits one’s own, but Jesus teaches us that it reaches to how we treat our neighbors, whether they be near or far, countrymen or strangers, friends or, yes, enemies.

The question of our morality or righteousness is one which is most effectively analyzed when we are tempted to lose control.  It is when we are anxious or enraged that our moral character is supposed to kick in and overrule our baser thoughts and desires.  It is supposed to stop us from “taking the gloves off” and applying the “whatever it takes” standard.  A “whatever it takes” standard is a frightening notion in the hands of individuals, let alone in the hands of a government as powerful as our own.  It suggests there is no overriding moral judgment or moral compass other than results—to guide us and that the real standard in place is that the ends justify the means.  But such a strategy, if it can be called that, does not take into account the real and long term costs,  not only the legal costs or political costs, but the costs to our very own souls.

Bishop Hanson, along with the leaders of many denominations in the US, signed on to a statement by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.  It states the argument against torture with unambiguous moral clarity.


Torture is a Moral Issue
Torture violates the basic dignity of the human person that all religions, in their highest ideals, hold dear. It degrades everyone involved — policy-makers, perpetrators and victims. It contradicts our nation's most cherished values. Any policies that permit torture and inhumane treatment are shocking and morally intolerable.
Nothing less is at stake in the torture abuse crisis than the soul of our nation. What does it signify if torture is condemned in word but allowed in deed? Let America abolish torture now without exceptions.


The materials revealed in the last few weeks should remove all doubt as to the moral quicksand surrounding the defense of these tactics.  The claims of efficiency and effectiveness in defense of these or other “harsh” methods are mocked by the disclosure that two men were water-boarded more than 250 times in one month.  In the past, our government sought to assuage our pricked consciences by assuring us that these “special methods” were only used against two “detainess” and the impression was given that these events were limited.  Well, yes and no.  The water-boarding all took place in the span of a month.  But, as we now know, at a high level of repetition.  Exactly how this is calculated — whether by the number of times water was poured over the face of the individual or the number of sessions involved — it betokens a level of sadism and savagery, most of us would not have thought possible at the hands of the American government, which is to say, at our hands.

And there is the worst of it.  In a democracy we cannot simply denounce government actions and turn our backs.  If the government did it and those responsible for it are not held accountable or punished for it by the American people, then we have acquiesced to, approved of and abetted in this disgraceful episode.  We must and should expect accountability in some form.  The legal consequences, if any, for those who devised and authorized this policy the courts will have to sort out.  But the judgment of the conscience of the nation should be harsh and severe.  We have sinned. 


Jim Krauser

Pastor-Grace Evang. Lutheran Church, North Bellmore, NY

Michael Slusser

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Re: Support for torture?
« Reply #1 on: May 05, 2009, 04:46:01 PM »
Those statistics are a challenge, all right. The RC Bishops' teaching statement before the last elections, "Faithful Citizenship," made the same point about the iniquity of torture, which gets put on the same plane of moral condemnation as abortion:

23. Similarly, direct threats to the sanctity and dignity of human life, such as
human cloning and destructive research on human embryos, are also intrinsically
evil. These must always be opposed. Other direct assaults on innocent human
life and violations of human dignity, such as genocide, torture, racism, and the
targeting of noncombatants in acts of terror or war, can never be justified.

The high degree of acceptance of torture by Roman Catholics is an indication of how little the bishops are heeded, or else of how reluctant the bishops are to teach on this topic.

It will be interesting to see if any bishops react with dismay to this finding.

Peace,
Michael
Fr. Michael Slusser
Retired Roman Catholic priest and theologian

Matt Staneck

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Re: Support for torture?
« Reply #2 on: May 05, 2009, 04:59:47 PM »
I'm not down with the ELCA on a lot of things by any stretch of the imagination, but I'm down with them on this (as well as the Roman Catholics who signed on), torture is nonsensical.  And Christians should not be behind it.

M. Staneck
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Iowegian

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Re: Support for torture?
« Reply #3 on: May 05, 2009, 05:28:36 PM »
The high degree of acceptance of torture by Roman Catholics is an indication of how little the bishops are heeded, or else of how reluctant the bishops are to teach on this topic.

I missed the actual survey/data itself - are you citing a survey? [EDIT:  Here's the survey link. ]

There was also another article on this issue by a familiar voice around these parts:  http://www.firstthings.com/onthesquare/?p=1397
« Last Edit: May 05, 2009, 05:31:07 PM by Chad Thompson »

peter_speckhard

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Re: Support for torture?
« Reply #4 on: May 05, 2009, 05:56:35 PM »
Trying to put the best construction on both sides of this, let me say, first of all, that I tend not to buy into the many equivocations on this point among conservatives for the simple reason that I learned how to be a prisoner as part of basic training. I'm quite certain that if any U.S. citizens were being treated this way by, say, China, we would recognize it as torture (even if the U.S. citizens in question really were seeking to overthrow the Chinese government). However, I also think that many people are not for torture but are for measures like waterboarding, with the idea that the difference in degree between that and the sort of torture one reads about in other contexts is so great as to be a difference in kind. Also, I think some conservatives end up defending a position out of desperation with the fact that so many people have lost a sense of who are the good guys and who are the bad guys. In their effort to be objective, some people who cry foul about torture lose all judgment and can't see the difference these (still inexcusable) violent acts done in the name of preserving humanity, freedom, and Western Civilization and similar acts done in the name of destroying all those things. I watched "Life is Beautiful" again last night, and one refreshing thing about it amid the p-c-ness of most movies as that the triumph involves the presense of an American tank. The American tank is designed to blow people up, as were the Nazi tanks. But American tanks blowing up Nazis is a different thing than Nazi tanks blowing up Americans because of the difference in what they stood for. The inability of many people who complain about GITMO to understand that about the prisoners in GITMO-- that they are a force for evil like the Nazis, that they are not victims, or misunderstood, or whatever, but that they hate America, freedom, Christianity, Jews, and are willing to die to watch all those things burn-- tempts many conservative to defend things they wouldn't otherwise defend just to somehow try to get it across that these distinctions are important. So on one hand, I agree that we should not be doing anything to enemies in our custody that we would cry foul about if our enemies did them to our soldiers. But in agreeing with that statement as a conservative in this context I sadly admit that I am giving aid and comfort to the wrong side of the culture wars in the U.S. and to the people who were dancing the streets on 9/11, who are in the end the same people, the one seeking to deconstruct Western Civilization in one way, the other seeking to deconstruct it more bluntly.  

Erme Wolf

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Re: Support for torture?
« Reply #5 on: May 05, 2009, 06:06:54 PM »
     Waterboarding is torture.  It was torture when the Japanese army used it on prisoners of war during WWII, and when the Chinese used it on prisoners of war during the Korean conflict.  If we are doing that, it is torture.  Period.

Dave_Poedel

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Re: Support for torture?
« Reply #6 on: May 05, 2009, 06:21:40 PM »
Even as a veteran (OK, an honorary one since I was a medic) I find the use of torture abhorrent and totally out of place in a country that holds the sanctity of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. As a Christian of the clergy type,I believe torture of another human being violates the dignity of both tortured and torturer.  As a human being who suffered physical and emotional abuse as a child, I know the long-term damage that physical and psychological abuse designed to degrade does to a person.

peter_speckhard

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Re: Support for torture?
« Reply #7 on: May 05, 2009, 06:36:27 PM »
     Waterboarding is torture.  It was torture when the Japanese army used it on prisoners of war during WWII, and when the Chinese used it on prisoners of war during the Korean conflict.  If we are doing that, it is torture.  Period.
Understanding that such black-and-white certainty on this point necessarily means that it has been the policy (I think) of the U.S. military under both Democrat and Republican commanders-in-chief to torture its own trainees. Before offering blanket statements as to what is and is not torture, I would want to see a working definition of the term and test it in various scenarios. I'm sure many armies have used it against U.S. presonnel, but to hear those U.S. personnel tell it, waterboarding was not high on their list of worries as POW's of those regimes. Is any and every attempt to break down a prisoner's resistance to get them to talk automatically torture? If so, should we not bother seeking information from them? And if not, what could we theoretically do to them? It is easy to look at photos and say, "That's bad." But apart from a workable suggestion it doesn't amount to much.

peter_speckhard

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Re: Support for torture?
« Reply #8 on: May 05, 2009, 06:51:39 PM »
Even as a veteran (OK, an honorary one since I was a medic) I find the use of torture abhorrent and totally out of place in a country that holds the sanctity of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. As a Christian of the clergy type,I believe torture of another human being violates the dignity of both tortured and torturer.  As a human being who suffered physical and emotional abuse as a child, I know the long-term damage that physical and psychological abuse designed to degrade does to a person.

I'm with you, Dave, about torture. But is all emotional abuse torture? I think what one suffers as a child is entirely different from what one suffers as a captive fighter. It seems to me that if we start defining everything that someone could take as emotionally traumatizing as torture, then we must get rid of all prisons, penalties, and consequences. Again, I want a working definition of torture that all parties can agree about before I think a conversation on the topic can be fruitful. Torture has become a word like rape. Nobody is for rape, per se, but when people (and they are out there, and influential) define it as rape whenever a girlfriend says she felt pressured to have sex with her boyfriend, then suddenly a lot of scoundrels are suddenly not just scoundrels but rapists. I am against waterboarding, but hesitant to say that the U.S. military is full of torturers. So until someone gives me a working definition of torture that holds up to scrutiny, I won't define U.S. policies as such.   

Jim_Krauser

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Re: Support for torture?
« Reply #9 on: May 05, 2009, 07:01:09 PM »
And if not, what could we theoretically do to them? It is easy to look at photos and say, "That's bad." But apart from a workable suggestion it doesn't amount to much.

My suggestion was simple.  If it would look like torture to a reasonable person, we've crossed the line. 
The danger here, as you suggest, is that a blanket statement gives no specificity; the danger of specifiity is the ingenious ways the human mind finds to violate the spirit but not the letter of the law.  What we have to recognize is that to authorize the use of physical or mental violence to coerce another captive human being is to stand at the edge of an abyss whose rim is unstable. 
Jim Krauser

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RevSteve

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Re: Support for torture?
« Reply #10 on: May 05, 2009, 07:04:02 PM »
Even as a veteran (OK, an honorary one since I was a medic) I find the use of torture abhorrent and totally out of place in a country that holds the sanctity of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Fisrt of all, as a former US Navy Dental Tech who considers myself every bit the veteran that a former Marine Corps grunt might be I take umbrage with your designation of "honorary" based on the fact that you were a medic.

Now that I've got that off my chest I must say it is because of the sanctity of life that you mention that indeed all people, but most certainly all Christians should hold sacred that Bishop Hanson's name being on this rings hollow and opportunistic.

I am not nearly informed enough on this issue to say whether or not waterboarding is torture so for the sake of argument I will assume it is. That said, I know enough and have spoken to enough Marines and Navy Seals to know that sometimes, whats the phrase that is being used, "escessive interrogation" methods are necessary and we have benefitted from using them. But that really has nothing to do with my point I am just clarifying where my knowledge of what constitutes torture is.

Now back to Bishop Hanson. While, on one hand I commend him for speaking out on this issue, on the other hand I can't help but be extremely dissapointed and even confused at how he can see the biblical case against torture and yet be so ambiguous when it comes to abortion. I know I am beating a dead horse here, but every time he makes one of these public declarations on social issues, I am always left asking that same question.
« Last Edit: May 05, 2009, 08:00:39 PM by RevSteve »
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peter_speckhard

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Re: Support for torture?
« Reply #11 on: May 05, 2009, 07:21:16 PM »
What we have to recognize is that to authorize the use of physical or mental violence to coerce another captive human being is to stand at the edge of an abyss whose rim is unstable. 
I agree. And to lable fellow Americans torturers apart from any definition of the term because what they were doing looked like torture seems to many reasonable people like an act of betrayal. So while we're on the unstable rim of an abyss, it is an abyss no matter which way we fall off.

Jim_Krauser

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Re: Support for torture?
« Reply #12 on: May 05, 2009, 07:57:54 PM »
What we have to recognize is that to authorize the use of physical or mental violence to coerce another captive human being is to stand at the edge of an abyss whose rim is unstable. 
I agree. And to lable fellow Americans torturers apart from any definition of the term because what they were doing looked like torture seems to many reasonable people like an act of betrayal. So while we're on the unstable rim of an abyss, it is an abyss no matter which way we fall off.

Lacking any other information I still think it is fair and necessary to ask the person in authority or doing the interrogation, "Just what do you think you're doing there!?"  It's not betrayal when our standard is "we do not torture" and what they are doing gives every appearance of exactly that.  The burden is, and should be, on them to justify their actions.
Jim Krauser

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Dave_Poedel

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Re: Support for torture?
« Reply #13 on: May 05, 2009, 08:00:06 PM »
Even as a veteran (OK, an honorary one since I was a medic) I find the use of torture abhorrent and totally out of place in a country that holds the sanctity of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Fisrt of all, as a former US Navy Hospital Corpsman/Dental Tech who considers myself every bit the veteran that a former Marine Corps grunt might be I take umbrage with your designation of "honorary" based on the fact that you were a medic.

Now that I've got that off my chest I must say it is because of the sanctity of life that you mention that indeed all people, but most certainly all Christians should hold sacred that Bishop Hanson's name being on this rings hollow and opportunistic.

I am not nearly informed enough on this issue to say whether or not waterboarding is torture so for the sake of argument I will assume it is. That said, I know enough and have spoken to enough Marines and Navy Seals to know that sometimes, whats the phrase that is being used, "escessive interrogation" methods are necessary and we have benefitted from using them. But that really has nothing to do with my point I am just clarifying where my knowledge of what constitutes torture is.

Now back to Bishop Hanson. While, on one hand I commend him for speaking out on this issue, on the other hand I can't help but be extremely dissapointed and even confused at how he can see the biblical case against torture and yet be so ambiguous when it comes to abortion. I know I am beating a dead horse here, but every time he makes one of these public declarations on social issues, I am always left asking that same question.

Steve:

My "honorary" designation to the Medical Service is because we always represent something that was "in, but not always of" the mission of the military.  Our service was to provide care to the troops, and if necessary to captured enemy prisoners.  As an NCO and commissioned officer, I am very proud of my service to my country.  Having served on active duty during the Vietnam era (though not in-country) there was a distinct cultural difference between the "hospital" guys and the line guys (they were mostly guys then).  The exception was the FMF medic (I spent a couple of years drilling for points in the Naval Reserve as a HM2).

To show the cultural difference, I know that I would stand by to "evaluate" the "interviewee" during what is now being referred to as "enhanced" interrogation techniques only under direct order, and under protest.  I also grant that the torture that our current enemy uses on those whom they capture, often their own neighbors, makes our techniques seem very pale.  That being said, I do not agree with the use of any of these techniques by our military or intelligence services.  If that means we lose some information,  then so be it.

Harvey_Mozolak

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Re: Support for torture?
« Reply #14 on: May 05, 2009, 08:20:48 PM »
Peter's request for some definition should not be left to seem unreasonable.  Laws always define and there has to be laws in regard to torture.  Having said that, and also saying that I do feel betrayed by what seems to have been our interrogation methods like water boarding and demeaning of others (even non-Christian faiths).... 

Would it be helpful to ask the question in this context:

A team of terrorists has a US school with several hundred of our kids held not only at gun point but also set up with explosives enough to level the building...  can/should those police/military dealing with the situation tell lies or untruths to the terrorist if they feel it might somehow end the situation without harm to the children?  Same answer if the police/military person doing the negotiating is a Christian?

Add to the example the fact that one of terrorists is captured and is able to be interrogated for information or plans.  To what extent can/should the authorities become rough/torturous in their interrogation if that seems to be the only way to possibly free the children.

What is the difference between lying and torturing in terms of sin?  What is the difference between the possible destruction of lives somewhere and the almost certain death of several hundred children?

Thoughts, theology?   Harvey Mozolak
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