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Torture February 2, 2008

Posted by Tim in Observations, Politics.

Most people are probably vaguely aware that there is a debate going on in Washington regarding whether torture should be illegal, what exactly is torture, whether there are ever good reasons to torture someone, etc.  Some aspects of this debate have become buzzwords; “water-boarding” and “ticking-time-bomb” are the two that come to my mind.

The majority of talk radio pundits support Guantanamo Bay, and believe it plays a crucial role in our national security.  They are so convinced of its obvious helpfulness that one pundit railed against John McCain, “He wants to close Guantanamo Bay and give terrorist suspects constitutional rights!”

This is first confusing and then painful for me.  Confusing, because these champions of the “Conservative Movement” essentially worship the Constitution.  Another pundit declared last week, without irony, “The Constitution is divinely inspired.”  Yet it is the constitutional rights of habeus corpus, and the Bill of Rights guarantees to due process and against self-incrimination that Guantanamo Bay explicitly denies.  If these rights are a good thing, to protect individuals from the menacing government so many conservatives fear, then why not extend them toward terrorist suspects?  There are no conditions applied to these constitutional rights.  Is the Constitution wrong on these points?  Or is this pure racist-nationalism, that would deny a foreign terrorist suspect rights but grant a native terrorist suspect every right that can be afforded?  Politically, either choice is… disastrous.  Why are so many politicians and pundits insistent on its benefits and its legality?

The pain comes from the fact that this support for Guantanamo and, often, torture itself comes from the same conservative right that claims to carry the banner of socially-responsible Christianity.  I fear that believers in this movement have abandoned faith for political dogma.

I am a pacifist, but that is beside the point.  The issue of torture is clearly not a question of the rules of war: even prisoners of war would be granted far more rights than the Guantanamo victims are given.  It is a question of the value of the individual human being.  For me, it is rooted in the belief that we bear the image of God and have been imbued with infinite value by the redemptive death of his only Son.  It is that same inalienable value that informs my position on abortion.  Where life begins is, frankly, ambiguous.  But because the value of a person is so great, we must not err on the wrong side.  So too, with the men and women at Guantanamo Bay, we must remember as we discern truth and administer justice that no matter a person’s crime, we are all infinitely and equally loved by God.  Or, so as the pundits can understand:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights…”

I fear for the soul of America, that we even debate such things.


1. Joe - February 2, 2008

Interesting comments, Tim. I’m curious; do you feel people only have value in the context of the Christian faith? I guess what I’m getting at is this: how would you present your argument against torture to another American who doesn’t happen to be an Evangelical Christian or a Christian at all?

Does opposition to torture make sense from the perspective of other religions? From the perspective of someone with no faith or someone opposed to all religion?

I ask these questions not because I know the answer. But you seem to have pondered these things quite a bit. Like you, I oppose torture. I wouldn’t go as far as to say I am a pacifist, though.

2. Joe - February 2, 2008

Tim, this link was just given to me by a friend, and I thought you might be interested. It’s a PBS documentary on Cheney’s role in consolidating more powers for the President over the past 7 years. The whole view is accessible online for free.

If you choose the “watch the full program online option,” click on the chapter titled “the education of Jack Goldsmith.” It’s all about enemy combatants, Guantanamo, etc.

compelling/disturbing stuff


3. Kyle Collins - February 3, 2008


I completely agree with you that torture is morally and ethically wrong, and certainly against the Constitution. While it’s easy to come up with “what if” situations (like “what if we KNEW that this guy knew the location of a bomb soon to go off”), it is, traditionally, these questions that grant additional “discretion” to interrogators while never actually arising.

Completely above and beyond any sort of legal question, as a Christian one CAN NOT be supportive of torture, in the same way that one CAN NOT support abortion. In what way is that sharing the love of Christ with people? Oh wait- it’s not.

To another point, it’s us doing reprehensible things like torturing prisoners that winds up creating the very terrorists that we are torturing in the first place.


4. Meghan - February 3, 2008

this really has nothing to do with your post, but still somehow seems appropriate:


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