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May 5, 2009

Southern Baptists' Top Ethicist Calls Waterboarding `Torture'

Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land, a leading Christian conservative who helped advance the Bush administration's agenda on a range of social issues, said Monday that the formerly sanctioned practice of waterboarding of suspected terrorists is torture and
"violates everything we stand for."

Land, who is president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, repudiated the simulated drowning techniques in an interview with Religion News Service.


According to recently released memos, federal agents under Bush waterboarded two suspected terrorists 266 times in attempts to extract information.

"I consider waterboarding torture," Land said. "One of the definitions of torture is that it causes permanent physical harm. I can't separate physical from psychological. And I can't imagine that being repeatedly subjected to the feeling of drowning would not, in some cases, cause lasting psychological trauma."

But Land also criticized President Obama for publicly releasing Bush-era documents that authorized particular interrogation techniques.

"To leave open the possibility of prosecuting men for what the Justice Department had declared was legal, I think is a horrific mistake," Land said. "If it were to lead to trials of some sort, it would rip the country apart."

Land's comments come amidst ongoing public debate about what constitutes torture, whether harsh interrogation techniques result in useful information, and what should happen to Bush administration officials who advised that waterboarding was legal, not torture.

Land explained that while he supports capital punishment for convicted killers, he denounces torture in all cases because he's compelled to honor the image of God as reflected in all human beings -- even suspected terrorists. To justify waterboarding on the grounds that it helps save lives is to suggest that ends justify means, Land said, adding: "that is a very slippery slope that leads to dark and dangerous places."

"If the end justifies the means, then where do you draw the line?" Land said. "It's a moveable line. It's in pencil, not in ink. I believe there are absolutes. There are some things we must never do."

Former Vice President Dick Cheney has defended waterboarding as part of a "remarkably successful effort" to gather information about the al-Qaida terrorist network. Support for Cheney's position has come from such prominent Christian conservatives as former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, who is Pentecostal.


So there you have it Adam, Stan and Fleur. Even one of your own has now come out and called it torture.

I don't agree with Richard Land on a lot of issues but I do respect him. I think he is to be commended in speaking out.

I would like to hear an actual argument from Land about immorality of torture. From this blog post, it seems his argument is this:

1. Torture is immmoral.
2. The definition of torture is that it causes permanent physical harm.
3. Their is no difference between physical harm and permanent psychological harm.
4. Waterboarding causes permanent psychological harm.
5. Waterboarding is a form of torture.
therefore: Waterboarding is immoral.

I would challenge Land on the soundness of his argument. Specifically, his definition of torture is rather poor. He really doesn't define what is torture. He just claims that it causes permanent physical harm, but don't car crashes cause permanent physical harm? There needs to be a better definition of torture. Second, if there is no difference between physical and psychological permanent harm, then one can argue that a child who has been yelled at by a parent in an improper context and manner is being physically abused? I'm not quite so sure about that. There is a definite difference between psychological harm and physical harm, though there may be correlations between the two.

Of course, Land hopefully has a more exhaustive argument for his statement. From this post, his statement "I can't imagine" makes me think that there isn't much of anything though....

So, Richard Land understands that waterboarding is torture -- he just doesn't think there should be any consequences for engaging in torture. He's all for arresting, trying and sentencing petty thieves for stealing a few cans of Coke or selling a small bag of pot -- but he is firmly opposed to requiring any sort of accountability for those who engage in the most abhorrent of human behavior: torture and war crimes.

Land's utter lack of a spine or a code of ethics is appalling, but not terribly surprising.

(BTW, isn't 'Baptist ethicist' an oxymoron?)

Land--Too little, too late. If psychological torture is equivalent to physical torture, you must also repudiate the tactics of the people who placed you at the helm of the SBTS, to which you are a party. On such an issue, your history negates any credibility for your words.

Land--Too little, too late. As you equate physical and psychological torture, will you also now repudiate the tactics used to place you at the helm of the SBTS? The history of SBC power struggle tactics invalidates your words until you are ready to assume your responsibility and own up to the accountability you disown in this article for those who practiced water-boarding. Do the ends justify the means only in SBC politics?

David: we can start with the legal definition of torture from the Convention on Torture (one of the US legal defintions of torture). Note this is the legal definition of torture according to US law.

Torture' means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.

Christian Lawyer, I wouldn't say my car example is silly. I think it is simplistic. I was just showing that his definition was not sufficient. May I also remind you that Land is not speaking on issues of law. This is an ethical issue. Sure, the law will speak on the issue of torture, but my comment was pointing more to the ethical argument.

Furthermore, may I ask you what was my view besides saying that I would like to hear from Land a more substantial argument? I am in no way defending torture, nor am I attempting to provide an argument. I am offering a criticism.

As to your reply about my example on child abuse. I would agree that emotional abuse can cause harm and if your pseudonymous name implies that you are a lawyer, you would probably know more then I do that courts can remove children from the parent's custody. My example though was part of an argument saying that psychological harm and physical harm are two separate things.

Why is this discussion focused solely on waterboarding, as if there were not far more brutal forms of torture involved through "extreme rendition" to third countries where no bounds were acknowledged? And also, why no discussion of the "end justify the means" argument. If we do not reject such arguments, and the ethos they create, then why stop at foreign combatants? Why not torture a kidnapping suspect to find the location of a missing child, or a gang member to identify his confederates, or a robbery suspect to relocate stolen items? Once you have blurred the lines, then where do you redraw them?
Finally, remember that not only do you risk torturing an innocent suspect, you forever taint the conviction. That is but one of the problems we now face re the Guantanamo detainees. The world will know we convicted them with tainted evidence.

Huh? Who me?
Justin: I've never heard of Richard Land so you can't call him one of my own.
Justin, we are at war.
Jihadists want to slit our throats and are not even pretending otherwise.
I think it would be really nice if we could get critical info out of a suicidal jihadist just by being cozy and pleasant and giving him his special diet and a clean copy of the Koran but that, unfortunately, doesn't seem to be very effective.
It's just so weird to see folks getting their hacks up over fake drowning when the enemy beheads innocent journalists, puts it on uTube and makes it plain that that is what they want to do to YOU, Justin, and your family and friends.....given the opportunity. Why don't you go work for the governmental department that is in charge of extracting information out of terrorists and see what you can do with them? I'll tell you this, too, if you know your American history (not the revised version being spewed out in schools today), our problems with Muslim, jihadist, terrorists go back to the very beginnings of this country's existence. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison fought Muslim pirates who were doing the exact same thing then as their descendants are doing today: plundering, robbing, stealing, kidnapping, torturing, murdering INNOCENT people all in the name of allah. These guys are not going away and being nice isn't going to change a thing. They WILL be around until the end of time and until then all we can try to do is protect our own generation and selves.

How can Richard Land know there is permanent psychological damage? There is no evidence that he has examined or interviewed the two suspects that were waterboarded 266 times. Obviously, these two suspects were not "bonkers" after 266 times of experiencing this. They could not have had their fingernails or toenails pulled out 266 times or their eyes gouged out that many times or other forms of TRUE torture that remains permanent. Land takes a huge leap in his statements with no reliable proof other than his own speculation. Waterboarding is an effective means of extracting life saving information without apparently leaving any permanent impact. This should be evident to all until actual evidence to the contrary is produced. The US military waterboards their own soldiers for training purposes. Are we then TORTURING our own men? Some reporters have undergone the procedure and they are still reporting. Land proves he is out of his element here and should keep his speculation to himself until he can speak with authority.

Stephen and Fluer: there is still a basic problem with the fact that torture (which includes waterboarding under US law) is illegal.

As to torturing our own men, there are people that think that we are and there has been a significant call to end SERE because there is no real evidence that it does anything.

As to effectiveness, for everyone high official that says that it got needed info, there is an equally high official that says that nothing that was obtained could not have been obtained through other methods. The head of interegations in Iraq recently said that the 300 interviews of foreign born fighters in Iraq in the last year or so, all of them cited Abu Grab and/or Guantanomo as part of their motivation to come fight in Iraq.

The problem in my mind still comes down to morals. If you claim to be a Christian and do not see a problem with torturing people that are under your complete control then how do you interpret scripture?

Adam S wrote: "The problem in my mind still comes down to morals. If you claim to be a Christian and do not see a problem with torturing people that are under your complete control then how do you interpret scripture?"

Ummm, it's called "War".
War is not "Heck"; War is Hell.

Bush, Cheney, Wolfowitz and the rest of the Ziocon Neocon cabal effectively betrayed their 'own' men and women in the field by agreeing to what is acceptable practice in war - giving the other side ample excuse to use similar procedures.

Those Christians who believe that Bush, scion of an oilistic family, is a Christ follower - please tell us who in his administration, from the sneering oilistic Cheney downwards, were Christians, even nominal Christians. Who among the 'blessed be the warmakers' on the White House team that hysterically lied about 'WMD' in front of the whole watching world, were genuine Christ-followers? Who? They lied and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis died..

The US has for too long been able to behave with utter impunity on the world stage.

The evidence is out there, published by reputable authors, that the Japanese government communicated their desire to negotiate surrender in mid-July 1945, but Truman, leader of a 'Christian' nation, did not respond because he wanted to try out some new toys. Three weeks later, on 6 August, we have Hiroshima. Read John Hersey's account of what utterly hellish, works-of-satan results that that produced on the ground. Two days later the US signed the London Charter defining war crimes, including unnecessary destruction of cities, towns and villages. The following day came Nagasaki.

Who can give us the names of any US citizens prosecuted for war crimes during WW2, or for these specific spectacular atrocities-par-excellence?

The war began over Hitler invading half of Poland. At war's end, FDR gave the whole of eastern Europe including Poland to Stalin, 'our' ally, for helping 'us' to fight for 'democracy'. Stalin and his Jewish henchman Lazar Kaganovich (see Wikipedia) had killed 6 million people in the Ukraine in 1932-3 during the 'collectivisation of the Kulaks' program, and this was already known before the war. Why is one 6-million all-important and another 6-million completely unimportant?

What about Gaza and Palestine? Are money and power alone, and not ethics and Christian morality, the supreme arbiters of policy in US politics?

The decision to use an atomic bomb against the Japanese has been controversial from the day it was dropped.
The link below is a fair-handed assessment of the decision and the times.....http://www.cfo.doe.gov/me70/manhattan/potsdam_decision.htm

Regarding the capitulation of President Truman and British Prime Minster Clement Atlee to Stalin at the end of the war (Churchill had Stalin's "number" all along but the British voted Churchill out of office in the final months of the war and put the leftist Atlee in), read the excellent book, "Masters and Commanders: How Four Titans Won the War in the West, 1941-1945" by Andrew Roberts.
Regarding the "Christ follower", George W. Bush, I do believe that he is a sincere believer, IMHO. Regarding Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz---only God knows their hearts but I feel like Bush was not well advised by those men.

Christian Lawyer, I am not defending torture. Rather, I am offering a criticism of Land's argument, based on what he has said. If you would like to argue that psychological harm is torture, then create an argument that it is, but Land is not arguing that. He is saying that because physical and psychological torture is no different, then psychological harm is a form of torture.

If he would like to argue that psychological harm is a form of torture in its own right, then fine, form an argument in that direction, but as of now, it lacks soundness. As for your zombie example, the Jose Padilla might have suffered several psychological problems from his treatments. You can call that torture, I won't argue against that, but don't say that because psychological harm and physical harm are the same thing.

One last note, I am not saying I am for torture. Quite honestly, who really should, it is like saying that war is coming we should be all excited about and have a great time with.

Sorry about my last comment, let me rephrase:
Torture is horrendous like war. When a war comes, it is an event which we should not be all excited about going to. It is evil and terrible.

David: Legally, phycological torture is the same a physical torture according to US law. As such, we shouldn't need to defend the right to do one or the other. Both are illegal.

Eh Fleur

My apologies. I thought you were a Christian.

Adam S wrote: "The problem in my mind still comes down to morals. If you claim to be a Christian and do not see a problem with torturing people that are under your complete control then how do you interpret scripture?"

Ummm, it's called "War".
War is not "Heck"; War is Hell.

I read a longer interview with Land this evening and I am much less favorable to his position now. Basically, he says that waterboarding and other similar techniques are not illegal, just immoral. And not immoral enough that we shouldn't do them, just immoral enough that he wouldn't do them. He tries to get out of saying anything about the legality by claiming that he hasn't research the law around torture. But he seems to have formed an opinion that says that Obama's releasing documents about something that he admits was immoral was extremely inappropriate and dangerous.

It is a very strange line that he wants to walk. He wants it to be immoral, but not illegal and immoral but not something that we should know about publicly.

I am not sure how you can get there without a lot of convoluted thinking.

"I disagree with Land on that point. It was imperative that the memos be released to show the world that the supposed justification for what the Bush Administration did was, in non-legal terms, pure garbage."

This is where I think that Land is just being cowardly. He is smart enough to know that waterboarding is not just immoral but illegal. But he doesn't seem to be capable of saying that. He suggested in the Baptist Press article that the legal definition of torture was up for debate and that it is (or might be) mailable. It is not up for debate. That is where he seems to be just obtuse about the matter.


Jesus says "By their fruits you shall know them".

The whole world knows the bitter poisonous fruits of the Iraq invasion on blatantly false pretences, the responsibility for which lies with Bush, who stuck with the anti-Christian (criminal Neocon, ex-CEO of Halliburton) Cheney to the end, instead of putting the truth and his country and the poor men, women and children of Iraq first, let alone the men and women in the US armed forces who have had to put their lives on the line for a dirty pack of lies. The testimony of people within Bush's own cabinet was that plotting to invade Iraq began as soon as Bush took office, long before 9-11, which was then claimed, even by Bush himself (entirely without foundation) to have been behind that attack.

The decisions to use the satanic nuclear bombs on the men, women and children of Hiroshima and Nagasaki after the Japanese government had signalled to Truman that they wanted to negotiate a surrender, are merely "controversial"?
That's a convenient but ineffective escape clause, not worthy of any Christian.

How old are you, Jason, and who has been in charge of your education?
What exactly have you been taught about the atrocities of the Second World War (other than Hiroshima) and the need to get that bit of world wide torture----mostly at the hands of the Germans and the Japanese----ended as fast as it could possibly be done?
That period of world history has been referred to by even NON-Christians as the time when hell reigned and satan roamed freely throughout the earth.
My parents, my older relatives and my older friends of that generation SAW some things, Jason, that are unspeakable. My Godfather entered Germany with George Patton as a young Army captain and, literally, helped liberated Ohrdruf, the Nazi concentration camp near Weimar, Germany that was part of the Buchenwald concentration camp network and the first Nazi camp liberated by U.S. troops ----seeing with his own 26 (that's twenty-six, Jason) year old eyes things that he could not talk about without breaking down until the day he died at the age of 81.
Or would you rather discuss the Japanese atrocities in Asia? The Bataan Death March or, perhaps, the systematic starvation, slaughter of thousands of Philippino citizens where, for fun, on a daily, ongoing basis, even pregnant Philippino women were raped and then bayonated. Or shall we move to the Japanese atrocities against the Chinese people and, for one puny example, the Rape of Nanking....now there, Jason, is an example of torture.
Just google "Rape of Nanking" or "Japanese atrocities". Do you have any idea of how close the Nazis and the Japanese came to gaining complete world domination?
Take charge of your own education, Jason. Don't stop with what you've been taught by the remnant of the radicals of the 60's who have taken over the educational system of the U.S.

Fleur, the point is not who they are but who we are. It doesn't matter what they do but what we do.

Well it's obvious that to Fleur it is ok to descend to their level and become just as immoral as they are.
Adam S stated: "Fleur, the point is not who they are but who we are. It doesn't matter what they do but what we do."

You equate the water boarding of a terrorist with genocide and systematic, ongoing, genuine, physical torture---and the rape, murder and slaughter of innocent women and children?
I get it now. You folks are pacifists. Lucky for you there are those out there who are willing to do the fighting for you so that you can have the freedoms that pacifists enjoy.

Eh Fleur

I'm lucky that Jesus is out there fighthing for me-not man!

And you may not be aware but He was the biggest pacifist out! I'm just humbled to be associated with him in trying to live by his precepts

Quote: "To leave open the possibility of prosecuting men for what the Justice Department had declared was legal, I think is a horrific mistake," Land said."

Sounds a lot like a defense made at Nuremberg. I'm not too impressed with this conclusion. Proper investigation with prosecutions are necessary, but of course with all requirements of due process.

As for the arguments about the utility of waterboarding, i.e., that it prevented some attack, etc. The Federal Statute which made torture illegal & the Convention against torture, signed by President Reagan, both explicitly say that this is not a defense. Acts of torture are illegal even if they have some utility.

the fact that we are debating this clearly indicates that america has lost its way.

what's even more disheartening is how people who call them self christians can condone torture. oi we bring such shame and dishoner to the Savior's name

Dave on May 12th said, "Proper investigation [of water boarding] with prosecutions are necessary."

So, I ask does this include Nancy Pelosi, and the others in Congress who have been fully aware of the enhanced interrogations techniques being used to collect intelligence?

Do you think that Nancy Pelosi should be investigated?

The Democratically controlled Congress isn't going to investigate her, no they're not going to do anything about it.

So, does water boarding bother!

If so, then write your representative, and tell him or her that you want Nancy Pelosi investigated for knowingly ignoring the torture that has occurred since she was first briefed back in the year 2002?

I do NOT believe waterboarding is torture! What the terrorist do to people is torture! I think Mr. Pearl would have chosen waterboarding to what happened to him! As for the 266 tiimes, well that was the number of times water was "poured" not the number of times they were waterboarded. For those limpwristed liberals who are screaming about waterboarding should be FORCED to watch the video of D. Pearl having his head cut off with a large knive while he is screaming and then making grugleing sounds as his blood fills his throat! I am for waterboarding Pelosi, Reed, Dodd, Obama, Frank, Biden, Boxer, Feinstein, and a few others! Allah is NOT God and waterboardiing is NOT torture! Maranatha!

These people who do torture in our name, are these people Patriots? Or are they psychopaths? Sociopaths? Would you want to live next to one of these people? Would you call them "heroes"? Do they deserve medals or are they damaged pariahs who should seek a lifetime of therapy and beg forgiveness from us?

Dick Cheney approved a memo that cited,"It is acceptable to crush the genitals of children in the view of their parents if their parents might have information useful to the US." Of what are the children guilty? After you've crushed the genitals of a small child, only to find out the parents know nothing, how do you say you are sorry to the child? To the parents? The response that we've never done that is irrelevant. The Bush Administration believed it was "acceptable". That means we COULD do it. We WOULD do it. They believed it was ethical.

Would you expect that child or his parents to somehow forgive the US? Accept the treatment? Or would you expect them to do every single thing in their power to extract revenge? I certainly would. I bet you would also. THAT is what the Bush Administration has engendered.