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May 3, 2011

Bin Laden's Death Reignites Torture Debate

As more details of Osama Bin Laden’s death emerge, a debate about the value of torture to gain intelligence has been revived, Wednesday's front page of The New York Times suggests.

AFP reports that the U.S. has downplayed the role of torture in the bin Laden hunt. Former Bush aides suggested bin Laden's death "justifies" torture, The Guardian reports.

Surveillance, not waterboarding led to bin Laden, argues Spencer Ackerman of Wired. It seems possible harsh interrogation tactics could have been used, says Chris Good of The Atlantic. There isn't enough information to prove either side's point, Joshua Keating suggests at Foreign Policy.

Two issues related to ethics came from President George W. Bush's memoir last year. He said that seeing his mother's miscarried fetus shaped his philosophy of life. He also said he personally approved the use of waterboarding.

In his book, titled “Decision Points,” Bush recounts being asked by the CIA whether it could proceed with waterboarding Mohammed, who Bush said was suspected of knowing about still-pending terrorist plots against the United States. Bush writes that his reply was “Damn right” and states that he would make the same decision again to save lives.

A 2009 study suggested that evangelicals were the most likely religious group to justify torture. Around 60 percent of evangelicals said use of torture against suspected terrorists can often or sometimes be justified. The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life survey found that 50 percent of Catholics 46 percent of white mainline Protestants said the same thing.

The same year, however, Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission said that waterboarding is torture and and "violates everything we stand for." In 2006, CT published a cover story on "5 Reasons Torture Is Always Wrong." In 2007, the National Association of Evangelicals board of directors affirmed the Evangelical Declaration Against Torture.


It's interesting to me that this article defines waterboarding as torture. Waterboarding has never killed anyone; it leaves no physical injury or scars. Many of our servicemen are subjected to waterboarding as a part of their training. So I fail to see clearly that waterboarding is even considered as torture.

I also find it interesting that so many are against some forms of "torture". If your wife or child were being held by a murderous group of terrorists who were threatening to cut off their heads like they did Daniel Pearl, and you had someone in your possession who knew where they were being held but wouldn't give up the information of their whereabouts through conventional interrogation methods, don't tell me you wouldn't resort to some form of torture in order to save your loved one. That would make you a hypocrite.

And this is where the conflation of Republicanism and Evangelicalism results in one of it's most unfortunate of unintended consequences - the acceptance of the unacceptable simply because "our guy" is in charge. While we may vote Republican, we should be independent in our hearts and minds.

Richard, regardless of your opinion - which I doubt is based upon personal experience - water boarding has long been considered torture by the US and the international community, at least until we wanted to do it. THAT is hypocritical.

And if someone held my child I may very well resort to torture in my desperation. But that would be my choice and I would be willing to suffer whatever legal consequences came my way in the aftermath. However, "ticking time bomb" scenario arguments, while used often by torture enthusiasts, are so rare as to have no true bearing on the discussion.

Probably the same people that God had put to death in the OT. There is one God. Jesus has always existed as God, but did not become incarnate until His birth. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one God.

I don't see a problem with torturing a terrorist or anyone we needed life or death information from as in the case of getting Osama bin Laden. Desperate times require desperate measures. You do whatever it takes.

These conversations become polarized when there is no definitive agreement on what constitutes torture. In my research for several "war story" category of books and several military novels, I saw clearly that waterboarding and playing loud Rap music could not be considered torture, especially when compared to the kinds of evil that humans committed in WW II, Korea and Vietnam, or the despicable atrocities of jihadhists who decapitate or at the very least chop off hands or feet as a means of "motivating" someone to "confess" or recant something. The same thing is true of the Mexican drug lords on our American borders. Now THAT is torture.

Men for This Season
The present age reminds me of a powerful scene in Robert Bolt's play, A Man for All Seasons. "When a man takes an oath," Sir Thomas More explains to his daughter, "he’s holding his own self in his hands. Like water." He cups his hands. "And if he opens his fingers then — he needn’t hope to find himself again. Some men aren’t capable of this, but I’d be loath to think your father one of them."
The subject here is not oath-taking but warfare against asymmetrical enemies. In World War II, when our country fought what was arguably the worst despot in history (at least in his methods of dealing with unwanted minorities), we abided by the Geneva Conventions and decried deviations from their observance by the Germans or Japanese. German soldiers were given humane treatment, allowed visitors by the Red Cross, and so on. In the context of peacetime criminal justice, we routinely allow the worst criminals to benefit from all the constitutional protections that have been developed over our national history -- Miranda warnings, their one phone call, access to defense counsel, and the like. In both these cases, we follow another bit of guidance from Bolt, (through the mouth of Sir Thomas, in debate with his prospective son-in-law, William Roper):
Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!
More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
Roper: Yes, I'd cut down every law in England to do that!
More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's! And if you cut them down, and you're just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!
At the present time, then, we are faced, as a people, with a special dilemma. We are waging a "war on terrorism," yet don't want to be constrained by war-time limitations. We are fighting hardened criminals, but do not wish to extend them the rights and privileges of ordinary suspects or defendants. We seem to be champing at the bit to escape the legal and moral safety net that wise forebears have woven around us, ready to rend its fabric, without care for what might get out through the holes we leave.
Often, this impatience comes down to a go/no-go decision on torture. We find that we hold our very selves in our own hands as we strive to develop a national will on this subject -- a balancing of notions of national security with notions of a corporate conscience. The late Psychiatrist Carl Jung asserted that "The healthy man does not torture others." Senator Edward Kennedy said, "Shamefully we now learn that Saddam's torture chambers reopened under new management, U.S. management."
Push really comes to shove when we have a "high-value" target such as Osama bin Laden. So much -- politically, psychologically, and perhaps militarily -- has rested on his discovery and disposal. The fact that the Navy Seals' mission directives did not appear to stipulate his being taken alive is evidence of the singular nature of this particular subject. Now comes the question: was torture used to elicit actional intelligence about his movements or whereabouts? And the larger question: should torture have been used, if it would have made the crucial difference?
Our country surely intends to persist well into the future. Our faith is taken to be eternal in its life-span. Dare we presume that delving into Pandora's box of unsavory methods to catch and punish an evil-doer will have no deleterious effect on either our body politic or on the Body of Christ? As Sir Thomas cautioned, if we open our hands at the wrong time, and let our moral selves slip through, we should not expect to find ourselves later.

There is a clear definition of torture in the Geneva Convention, in the US code of Military Conduct and in other places in US law. Water-boarding has been prosecuted as torture in US courts and under US military law. There is really not a question about whether legally it is torture.

The fact that we can have a discussion about a settled matter of law, as if the law actual law did not matter, is very strange.

From everything that I have seen so far, torture had nothing to do with finding bin Laden. The courier was given up by someone that was not tortured. Those that were tortured denied he existed.

In addition many of the defenders of torture used to say it would be only used in 'ticking time bomb' situations. But under multiple statements in the last week it is clear that torture was being used as punishment and 'to break' prisoners. That is clearly the point where Christians need to stand up and said that any activity that is being used as punishment for non-cooperation and 'to break' prisoners is a violation of human dignity. And the fact that more than 2/3 of the people in quantanamo were released because there was no good evidence against them is even more concerning. We tortured people that even we say had nothing to do with terrorism.

Right now I imagine water boarding would look pretty attractive ot Mr. Bin Laaden.