Should Christians endorse, tolerate, or participate in the use of torture? It is a serious question. And I’ll have a serious answer.
Last week, the Senate Intelligence Committee issued a 500-page executive summary of its 6,000-page report on the CIA’s use of torture. Before I proceed, let me stipulate that, like everything else in Washington, the report and the responses to it, are very politically-charged.
Having said that, some of what’s in the report shocks the conscience, especially the Christian conscience.
Take the case of Nazar Ali. Ali was no al Qaeda mastermind — in fact, his own captors described him as “intellectually challenged.” Yet he was held in the facilities that the CIA used for what it described as “enhanced interrogation.”
Not because he knew anything. In fact, it was not clear that he was interrogated at all. Instead, the report states that Ali was detained “solely as leverage to get a family member to provide information.” Part of that “leverage” included playing a tape of Nazar Ali crying for his kinsman.
Compared to others held in detention, Nazar Ali certainly got off lightly. The CIA is known to have waterboarded at least three prisoners. Until a few years ago, no one disputed that waterboarding is a form of torture, and for good reason: waterboarding simulates drowning and can, according to Wikipedia, cause “brain damage from oxygen deprivation,” “damage to lungs,” and, in some cases, even death.
But let’s put the waterboarding controversy aside. Those who were not waterboarded were subjected to practices such as “[standing] on broken limbs for hours,” and being “deprived of sleep for up to 180 hours, sometimes standing, sometimes with their arms shackled above their heads.”
Those are the ones I can name without getting an R-rating.
Again, some people insist the report is a politically-motivated attack on the Bush administration and/or that the report gives aid to our enemies.
Neither or both may be true. But for the Christian, it doesn’t really matter.
That’s because torture is, as John Paul II wrote in “The Splendor of Truth,” “intrinsically evil;” it is always wrong regardless of the circumstances. The use of physical and psychological violence to extract information “is contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity.”
And It’s not only Catholics. A statement on torture signed by, among others, Rick Warren, Ron Sider and my friend Frederica Mathewes-Green, rightly insists that “torture violates the basic dignity of the human person” and “degrades everyone involved – policy-makers, perpetrators and victims.”
To this, I would add another party: the American people. We can make it clear that torture is incompatible with basic human decency. We should give our leaders permission—that is, political cover–to act in ways that are consistent with the basic dignity of the human person. If we don’t, we’re also tainted.
None of this is to deny that America has enemies and that swift and decisive action against them is necessary. The scriptures and the Just War theory make it clear that there are times when taking a life is not only permitted, it may be a necessary part of what it means to love your neighbor, yes.
But the same thing cannot be said about torture and the practices described in the report. These practices trade someone else’s human dignity for a sense, which may well be illusory, of added safety. It’s a trade that no Christian in good conscience can make and which Christian conscience demands we condemn.
Not only for Nazar Ali’s sake but our own.
The Torture Report: Violating Human Dignity
If torture, as Eric Metaxas said, violates human dignity and degrades everyone involved—policy makers, perpetrators and victims alike—how can Christians condone it under any circumstance? May we participate in evil that good may come? Share your thoughts with us and with fellow BreakPoint followers. Click on today’s commentary and sign in to leave a comment at our website.
Senate report on CIA detention and interrogation practices
Senate Select Committee on Intelligence | December 3, 2014
The Torture Report: Inhumane Scenes From the C.I.A.’s Prisons
Amy Davidson | The New Yorker | December 14, 2014