The Torture Report

Violating Human Dignity

Rating: 3.50

Should Christians endorse, tolerate, or participate in the use of torture? It is a serious question. And I’ll have a serious answer.

Listen Now | Download

Eric Metaxas

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.daily_commentary_12_15_14

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.

Further Reading and Information

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.

Further Reading and Information

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


Total: 25 << Previous Page     Next Page >>
Civilians are irrational. It is not torture for a soldier to squeeze the trigger on his M16 and cause an enemy grievous injury or death but it is torture, in their eyes, to deprive an enemy of sleep. It is not torture for a Marine to engage in hand to hand combat with an enemy and impale him with a knife but it is torture if we water board him. Lastly is more moral in their eyes to allow a terrorist monster to retain information that might save the lives of many innocent women and children than to extract that information and save those lives.

Only those who have never been stung by battle, to be wounded, maimed, or had their souls scared forever who can stand on that high lofty plane and pronounce judgment on those who have either paid the price or tried to save others from paying it.

Torture performed for some sadistic thrill is wrong. Torture performed to demonstrate ones power over another is wrong. Torture as end to itself is wrong. Torture performed to save the lives of others or to bring to justice the evil degenerates who cut off peoples heads for propaganda purposes; that most assuredly is not torture, it is war. The goal in war is to force an enemy to give up the fight, to lose hope of victory, to decide that since winning is impossible capitulation is necessary. Achieving that goal, depriving the enemy of hope is only truly effective way to end a war. To achieve that end-state many horrific things will happen but the sooner that the enemy can be brought to his knees the less lives will be lost and peace restored. The most moral thing in war is to end it as quickly as possible and to insure that a just and generous peace is the result. Anything that impedes that goal is sentimental fantasy and only prolongs the horror.
Golden Rule
To me, this is an issue that falls under the Golden Rule from Matthew 7:12 "In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” I certainly would not to be subjected to "enhanced interogations, so I cannot condone doing this to someone else. Sometimes I think we get so wrapped up in the politics of an issue, we forget that Jesus is pushing us to a higher calling.
"It is easy to sit in a heated room surrounded by police officers not far away in a country mostly ruled by rule of law and declare something like waterboarding must never occur, or that war is evil."

Quite so. Few of us have the direct responsibility for judging what ends justify what means. However that argument is yet another step toward oligarchy. Certainly we must not be Pharisees about this any more then anything else. But the implication that we should delegate all the responsibility of power to professionals is not wholesome. It is not just a question of whether or not we are in the hot seat. It is also a question of whether or not we want to be Prussia instead of America. Now Prussia was for awhile not that bad a state as states go. But it definitely was not America. Putting aside this particular issue for the moment, the argument about what is morally permissible in intelligence gathering or any security concern is an argument we have a right and duty to have a say in. If one feels unqualified there is a solution. Study up on it.
@ Everyone who supports torture.
Things like due process and humane treatment of prisoners exist for a reason. Now let me ask this of you all one more time, if you remove such restrictions on what the government can do, what do you imagine will stop them from doing it to whoever they please, including you? Do you really imagine this out of control government will act in good faith and with good judgement? In an age in which even the IRS is used against political enemies by the highest offices, and they barely even try to hide that fact, why would you possible imagine this won't be?

Why do supposedly small government conservatives suddenly trust the government so much when we throw the word terrorist out there?

-The Bechtloff
Christian response
I participatated in EI perhaps the hard way, but I volunteered for the Escape & Evasion course and endured some of the tricks and rough treatment the enemy may use upon capture. One technique I particularly remember was to be put in a coffin sized box with a lid that was then jumped on by the administrator, then banged and pounded on while I was face down. The floor had been lined with bottle caps, which if the experiment had been for real, would only have been turned sharp side up.
This kind of treatment was not the norm, but after all, I had volunteered for the course, but I never thought about calling relatives, and certainly would be insulted if a government investigation would have been held.
Come on, do you remember who LOST the SuperBowl ten years ago? Why criticize their decisions made, and minutely pick apart every one of them? Why did they decide to take the actions, each one of them that led to the loss? As Hillary famously said "At this point, what does it matter? Talk about beating a dead horse!
Listen to the interview with Dr. Mitchell
With the ticking time bomb scenario, what would you do to save thousands of people? Dr. Mitchell talks about how they tried to minimize any suffering during the enhanced interrogations. Why? Because of human dignity. They did not want to make these people suffer for the sake of suffering. They wanted the information so as to prevent another attack. Easy to judge from a comfortable home or office. Sorry, but I think you are wrong in this specific situation yet love your work and sentiments and devotion to Christ.
I will not debate your opinion, Eric, but I will challenge your basis for the argument you make. As a defender of Biblical truth, you should be using the Bible as your basis, not quotes from popes and others. Popes are as much political figures as they are church representatives, and the current pope is a prime example. The Bible does have much to say about torture, and God even allowed Satan to torture Job. While using torture to interrogate may not be mentioned in the Bible, it certainly is something God uses to punish and turn people back to Him. Please make your opinions Biblically sound.
Respectfully disagree ...
I agree with others who have commented that what constitutes tortue has yet to be agreed upon. I think water boarding is pretty trivial compared to dying/maming by phospherous grenade, IED's, ... or beheading with a knife. ANYTHING that can be done to prevent the killing/maming of war short of killing/maming in my view is justifiably on the table.
When is something torture
I have been struggling with this since 3 men I respect, Robert George, John Stonestreet, and Eric Metaxas all came out and basically said the same thing torture is evil.
But when is something torture Eric failed to define that. His article came across very biased and he picked and chose only those things he felt would best benefit his view.
I don't agree that this is a dignity of personhood issue.
God gave the government authority to punish evil. We are in a war with a group that desires to eliminate us.
If we capture someone that we know has information that can stop future attacks and even help us find their leader the government must punish them so we can achieve that.
Having said that, we must do it in a humane manner that does protect their dignity as best we can under the circumstances.
Clearly torturing someone for just the sake of torturing them is evil. Eg Abu Ghraib incident.
Also torturing someone to get at someone else, Eric's example, is also clearly evil.
We must begin at what I would call the low end of torture, keeping them up, playing loud rock music, etc.
Then continue increasing it until they give up the information.
Once that happens all torture stops and they help that person to recover.
To insure that abuses don't happen there needs to be a strict oversight and abuses punished quickly .
Since the report was biased it is hard to determine if real abuses occurred but probably did.
I was disappointed in Eric's commentary.
Finally Jesus said we are to love our enemies but that doesn't mean the government should stop punishing evil.
@John Haynes
*Sorry about the multiple posts but I forgot to add this part*


If waterboarding is so OK, why, after WW2, did we put Japanese soldiers on trial for doing it to our boys?

-The Bechtloff
Wow, this comment thread had blown up. To all you conservatives that support torture and all these other war on terror abuses of power, I ask this:
Things like due process and humane treatment of prisoners exist for a reason. If you remove such restrictions on what the government can do, what, exactly, do you imagine would prevent them from doing such things to you? Are you truly banking on the good nature and better judgement of our increasingly corrupt, incompetent, and out of control government to only use these powers against "the bad guys"? Are you truly so afraid of savages living in caves on the other half of the world you're willing to make such a Faustian deal? I'm afraid such thinking strikes me as, to put it mildy, cowardly and foolish.

-The Bechtloff
Proposed Criteria for Enhanced Interrogations
I propose the following six criteria for Enhanced Interrogations (EI):

1. Exhaustion of all Available Intelligence
2. Formulation of Specific Questions before EI Begins
3. Credible Interrogation Tradecraft
4. Temporary Physical Discomfort
5. Proportionality
6. Tight Process Control

#1 ensures* that the EI is kept to a minimum. #2 reinforces #1, which helps to keep the EI to a minimum. #3 ensures that true information is actually obtained from EI. #4 is self-explanatory. #5 refers to the value of the information to be obtained, and is confirmed/denied in #2. #6 means micromanagement- some things just have to be controlled with great oversight.

*I use the verb "ensure" for brevity; but I recognize that humans are fallible.

It is true that EI affects the dignity of the person, and that it is on dangerous moral ground, but one must also remember the dignity of the potential persons who could be torn to pieces as if by a wild beast. Think Permanent Physical Deformation (terrorist attack) vs Temporary Physical Discomfort (EI). Nevertheless, this is dangerous moral ground; but are not Christians called to make difficult moral judgements? Acts 15, John 7:21-24, Proverbs, et al.

Any thoughts?
Let's make sure we keep the tone civil, please. Critiques are welcome, but "get a clue, pal" is a little beyond the pale.
Eric, You spent the first half of your article referring to alleged interrogation techniques as found in the "Senate Intelligence Committee" report, without making your readers aware of the fact that this was the report of the majority party on the committee only, ie. all of the Democrats; the Republicans issued a separate minority report in contradiction to the majority's, which you failed to mention or quote even once. Moreover, not one of the previous 6 heads of the CIA were even interviewed for the report. Imagine that! Their joint article refuting the Report was published last week in the Wall Street Journal.....did you read it?? The second half of your article condemns torture without a well grounded definition of the word., except for opinions gleaned from a Catholic pope, a couple of Protestant dignitaries, and your friend. Eric, the definition of torture is ever changing, depending upon the mood of the time, the circumstances involved, and many other factors. Dick Cheney in an interview last week on Fox, replied to Sen Udall's critique of his role following 911 by stating without hesitation,: "He wasn't in the bunker, like I was. He wasn't in the bunker." Context sir! Context! 911 happened almost 15 years ago, and many of the current critics in Congress were briefed multiple times by the CIA and raised no objections at that time to the use of "Enhanced Interrogations". The nation was sorely lacking on information regarding this new kid on the block - Al Queda, and this desperate lack of info. necessitated strong, immediate measures to gain that information. You call it "torture" all you want . Logic and common sense dictates otherwise.
Eric, I listen to BreakPoint every day, but if this is where you're going, I'll think twice. You are clueless about EIT. It's NOT torture. Not by any stretch. I find it interesting that you fail to point out that even today, the Navy Seals use waterboarding in their training. Do you honestly think they would do that if it were torture? Get a clue, pal.
Kam's comments
Agree with Kam (and disagree with Eric). I have yet to hear anyone argue against the ticking time bomb scenario - you do what it takes to get the information necessary to prevent mass murder. And remember we are not talking about real torture here (think John McCain).

What would Eric propose to get the information necessary to prevent another 9/11? Kam facetiously suggested chatting over a pot of tea? Any other ideas?
"But let's put the waterboarding controversy aside. ..."
No let's not. Why should torture be a controversy for Christians? Those above who want torture defined can begin there. When we let politics blind us to our own evil, there is not much hope of redemption for this country.
why don't we get Jesus' opinion?
I agree with the thesis. A question though is why do we look to Pope John Paul II, Rick Warren & others for input on how we should treat our enemies, but not Jesus Himself?

Jesus, in His best "selling" sermon said: "...I say unto you, *Love* your enemies, *bless* them that curse you, *do good* to them that hate you, and *pray* for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;"

(emphasis mine) Looks like Jesus is clearly against torture. But does He concede *too* much? :P
It is easy to use a term like torture and say it is evil. But defining torture is much more difficult. It is this failure that is the biggest problem with this article.
It is easy to sit in a heated room surrounded by police officers not far away in a country mostly ruled by rule of law and declare something like waterboarding must never occur, or that war is evil.

I ask you, Eric Metaxas, if your wife and daughter were held somewhere and a captor knew their whereabouts, if you wouldn't demand they do whatever it took to get information.

Everything I've read suggests that actionable intelligence (such as the whereabouts of OBL courier which led to his death) came out of this "torture." Make no mistake, islam, is satanic and they will stop at nothing to terrorize and try to bring us down and kill as many Christians in the process as they can in the most gory ways they can imagine.

The Bible is full of stories of God commanding war in such a way that would also probably be "shocking" to your senses. Kill every man, woman, and child?

Your note suggests you understand this and that killing them is more acceptable to you than doing what (I hate to tell you this) police departments do every day (psychological torture) to keep you safe.
That's a strange way of looking at it but again if your wife or daughter were involved I suspect your priorities would change rather quickly.

That is what I want our leaders to think about when we are at war. How do we best protect our country and fight evil? It's not with a cup of tea.
Total: 25 << Previous Page     Next Page >>