Friday, June 20, 2008


June is Torture Awareness Month.  We're two thirds of the way through June, and I have not said anything about it, and I'm a bit ashamed by that.  After all, we, the Church, are here to stand up for the poor and oppressed.  

Instead, I've spent much of my month worrying about Sunday School ceremonies, grant requests for maintenance, and vacation.  But at a meeting last night, other clergy were talking about events they had attended to protest our country's seeming acceptance of torture against "the bad guys."  So, while this little piece may not do much, I want to add my voice to the many out there who believe no country -- including our own -- should ever ever torture.

Why should the church say anything about torture at all?  I mean, shouldn't we leave that to the politicians? Shouldn't we keep out naive noses out of the business of protecting our country from "evil doers?"

Um, lest we forget, how we treat each other is the church's business.  Lest we forget, the church teaches that we are all created in God's image, no exceptions.  There is not, nor has there ever been sanction for cruelty, even though segments of the church itself have clearly and painfully been guilty of the same.

As Christians, we are bound to the words of Christ.  This is the Son of God who said, "Love your enemies."  This is the Savior who said, "To him who strikes you on the one cheek, also offer the other.  And to him who takes away your garment, do not forbid your tunic also."  The one who said, "He who lives by the sword, dies by the sword."  Not to mention, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," and "Love your neighbors as yourself."

Christ does not allow cruel treatment of those who are in our power.  

Incidentally, neither does the U.S. Constitution.  The courts have told us time and again that things our country has been guilty of in recent years are clearly illegal.  The constitution declares that the writ of habeas corpus may be suspended only “in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion.”  The courts have throughout history declared "harsh interrogation" techniques to be torture and thus illegal.  Our government specifically mentioned water-boarding as a reprehensible act of torture when it was used against our troops in World War II and in the Korean War.  We sentenced on Japanese soldier to 25 years hard labor for practicing it on American prisoners.

But even if, as the president says, we are allowed to use these methods because it's an emergency, should we?  No.  

Study after study has shown that torture almost never yields useful information.  Victims will say whatever they think the torturer wants to hear in order to make the suffering stop.

But even if it yielded useful information, we should never do it, because it destroys us more thoroughly  than terrorism or war.  It infects us like a virus, eating our moral fiber and making us no different from the very people we want to protect ourselves against.  Anyone who resorts to torture has become morally bankrupt.  Period.

Officially speaking, the Army does not torture anymore (not that they ever called it that).  But other agencies, such as the CIA, are said to still make use of it when agents deem it appropriate.  And we still hold untold "detainees" in secret prisons (not just Guantanamo Bay).  

I am a Christian, and as such, I reject treating any other human being as an object to be manipulated any way I choose.  We treat our prisoners with respect because we would want ourselves, our sons and daughters to be treated with respect as well.  And just because others don't do it is no reason for us to resort to similar behavior.  

I've always thought we were better than that.  I pray we are.