May 6, 2009

Blessed are the…waterboarders?

More Evangelical lunacy.

The other day, I heard a Christian pastor defend torture. Eight years ago this would have shocked me. But now, after two terms of the Bush-Cheney regime, nothing Christians do shocks me. For those eight horrid years proved that Christians will defend all sorts of evils and monstrosities—so long, of course, that they’re committed by Republicans who say they believe in Jesus. Never mind if these Republicans actually believe in Jesus. Never mind if they live like they believe in Jesus. If they have an (R) after their name and occasionally pay lip service to God, then that invaluable “Christian vote” is theirs.

But back to this pastor. We were at dinner. Someone started talking politics, one thing led to another, and before I knew it this guy was justifying all the worst crimes of the Bush administration: mass-murder in Iraq, the loss of civil liberties at home, and finally torture at Guantanamo Bay. As some of his female congregants began nodding their heads approvingly—the same women, mind you, who spend their Sunday mornings in the playroom, leading the kids in “Jesus Loves the Little Children”—I kept my head down, kept flipping through the menu, trying my hardest not to say anything. Of course I wanted to stand up, more than anything in the world I wanted to stand up, pound my fist against the table, and yell, “What in God’s name is wrong with you people?!”

This issue should be a no-brainer. Torture is obviously, self-evidently evil and barbaric: kind of like, I don’t know, tripping up old ladies or dousing small children with acid. Of course, the torture-mongers disagree, and this pastor, undoubtedly voicing the sentiments of millions of churchgoers, seemed to think that the following hypothetical situation justified his position: A nuclear bomb is about to be detonated somewhere in Manhattan; we have a terrorist in custody who knows where the bomb is; our only way of saving the lives of millions of innocent Americans is to torture the hell out of this guy until he divulges the bomb’s location.

Now the problem with this argument is that it’s based on a number of unwarranted assumptions. For instance, it assumes that the guy in our custody knows the bomb’s location. But maybe he doesn’t. Maybe we apprehended the wrong guy. Or maybe we have the right guy, but he has the wrong information. And even if we have the right guy, this argument assumes that torturing him will yield the right information. But there’s obviously no guarantee that that will happen.

Regarding this latter point, some have recently argued that the torture performed by officials under the Bush regime garnered all sorts of life-saving information. Clifford May notes that Dennis Blair, Michael Hayden, Michael Mukasey, George Tenet, and Mike McConnell all hold this view. But I don’t see why we should accept their word. None of these men are unbiased parties; all but Blair served in the Bush administration, and even Blair has his own agenda. Moreover, according to declassified Justice Department memos, the CIA inspector general declared in 2004 that he hadn’t found any proof that these techniques helped prevent any “specific imminent attacks.” Just last year, former FBI Director Robert Mueller admitted that he had reached the same conclusion.

The truth of the matter is that torture is horribly ineffective. As Jane Mayer writes: “Torture works in several ways. It can intimidate enemies, it can elicit false confessions, and it can produce true confessions. Setting aside the moral issues, the problem is recognizing what’s true. [Abu] Zubayda, for instance, reportedly confessed to dozens of half-hatched or entirely imaginary plots to blow up American banks, supermarkets, malls, the Statue of Liberty, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Brooklyn Bridge, and nuclear power plants. Federal law-enforcement officials were dispatched to unlikely locations across the country in an effort to follow these false leads” (The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals, 178-79).

A similar point has been made by Matthew Alexander, a former U.S. Air Force Special Operations pilot who headed a team of interrogators in Iraq in 2006. Upon arriving in Iraq, Alexander was “astonished” by what he saw: “These interrogations were based on fear and control; they often resulted in torture and abuse.” Alexander immediately began teaching his men a new method, “one based on building rapport with suspects, showing cultural understanding and using good old-fashioned brainpower to tease out information.” And his team went on to have great success, eventually tracking down and killing Abu Musab al-Azraqwi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq.

Far from keeping Americans safe, Alexander notes that torturing suspects has cost many American lives. “I learned in Iraq that the No. 1 reason foreign fighters flocked there to fight were the abuses carried out at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. Our policy of torture was directly and swiftly recruiting fighters for al-Qaeda in Iraq. The large majority of suicide bombings in Iraq are still carried out by these foreigners. They are also involved in most of the attacks on U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq. It’s no exaggeration to say that at least half of our losses and casualties in that country have come at the hands of foreigners who joined the fray because of our program of detainee abuse.”

But I’m digressing, aren’t I? Yes, I’m digressing. Torture, as I was saying a few paragraphs ago, is obviously wrong. Even if it weren’t ineffective, it would be wrong. And, of all people, Christians should realize this. As Laurence Vance writes, “Christians are told to put off anger, wrath, and malice (Colossians 3:8), to not render evil for evil (1 Thessalonians 5:15), to not give offense (1 Corinthians 10:30), to abstain from all appearance of evil (1 Thessalonians 5:22), to not be a brawler (Titus 3:2), and to abhor that which is evil (Romans 12:9). I think this rules out waterboarding.”

But, as my dinner with Pastor Meathead made eminently clear, Christians continue defending Bush’s “enhanced interrogation techniques.” All I can say is, good thing for all those pagans at the ACLU. Without them, we’d really be a godless nation.

Also posted at Strike the Root.


Domestic Water Meter said...

I agree with you and your thoughts about the worst crimes that sometimes people defend for.

Don Emmerich Jr. said...

Thank you for your comment!