Torture, the CIA, and the Christian
Guest Author: Jack Wilkie Like a growing number of my fellow Americans and fellow Millennials, I’ve grown increasingly disenchanted with the realm of politics in the last few years. However, from time to time an issue will arise that I feel demands some kind of response, where disenchantment with the people and process takes a back seat as a Christian duty becomes apparent. This week was one of those times, as the Senate’s report on the CIA’s torture program was released. After reading the summary of the kind of “enhanced interrogation” practices used, I took to social media to find to my great disappointment (but, sadly, not to my great surprise) that some of the most vocal advocates of these practices were those who bear the name of Jesus Christ. Instead of speaking loudly against these stomach-turning acts as I believe Christians should (something this article will discuss), they were cheering the acts of torture, defending those responsible, and shaming the whistleblowers for “hating our country.”
We’ll get to the debate and what the Bible says in a minute, but before having a discussion over what we should or shouldn’t support, we need to have a common grasp of the facts of the matter. Originally I planned to write this article as a simple response to the common reasons given to support these tactics, leaving out the details of the Senate’s findings due to their gruesome nature. But any moral dilemma that is weighed without examining the most cringe-worthy details of either side is biased and incomplete.
The report revealed that approved practices included waterboarding (simulated drowning that can cause multiple panic attacks), rectal hydration (forcing food into the intestines rectally when a simple IV would have accomplished the same purpose), forcing prisoners to stay awake for up to a week, dragging prisoners through the dirt, mock executions, mock burials, Russian Roulette, threats to sexually assault and kill the prisoners’ family members, complete darkness with loud music and noises for psychological effect, exposure to near freezing water and temperatures (to the point that it led to one prisoner’s death), and being forced to stand with arms chained above the head for 22 hours clothed in nothing but a diaper. Some of those tortured were later proven innocent. The CIA even tortured some of their own informants by mistake. Another revelation was that a mentally challenged man was detained and video of him crying was sent to his family in order to try to receive cooperation from his brother.
It literally made my stomach sick to read through the reports (many of which I softened) and write that paragraph… and yet, for some bizarre reason, I now have to explain why those actions weren’t ok and why Christians shouldn’t support any of them.
It seems the best way to do so would be to sort through the most common reasons given in favor of torture.
“We have to torture to get the information we need to save lives.”
First of all, that’s consequentialism and/or pragmatism (“ends justify the means” reasoning). These approaches always fail because you can’t determine that your ends are just if there is no objective standard by which you measure the means. If you won’t speak to the morality of the means, you can’t speak to the desirability (or morality) of the ends. And, even if that were a reasonable rationale, the report revealed that no life-saving intelligence was gathered through the torture program. This tells us that the CIA lied about the protection of lives in the first place to manipulate the public into supporting their actions.
“They would do the same to us, or worse!”
Exactly. We (rightly) describe these people as heartless savages for their acts of terrorism. Instead of learning from that and doing the right thing, why do we attempt to embrace that evil and make it our own? Sinking to the level of those who represent the antithesis of Christ should never be what we endorse. You’re not going to find a Bible verse that says “Thou shalt not torture,” but we look rather hypocritical when we talk about the sanctity and dignity of human life in matters of abortion and euthanasia and then tweet our unreserved support for torture or share that viral Facebook post about how waterboarding is the terrorists’ baptism. Obviously the aborted and the aged/suffering are not the equivalents of those who commit mass murder, but that’s not what I’m saying (or implying) and it’s not the point at all. The point is that they are all made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26) and that alone should ensure all people a certain measure of respect and dignity. If we don’t believe ALL life has value, we need to quit saying we do when it’s convenient. As those created by Him, even the worst criminals and terrorists must be afforded some level of human decency, even in their punishment.
“God authorized all kinds of cruel acts in the Old Testament.”
Yes, he did. While that makes for an incredibly interesting discussion about God’s nature and the “otherness” of His chosen people, it doesn’t apply to this issue because the CIA does not have direct command from God and the USA is not Israel. It is when we forget that second point that our nationalism takes over and we assume that anything done by the USA has God’s blessing. Despite the biblical influences evident in the work of our founding fathers, there is no divine right for America to act with impunity. Instead, our government is subject to Romans 13. Government has the authority to punish evil and they “bear the sword” for a reason. The Bible allows for governments to use the death penalty (Romans 13:4, bringing to mind Genesis 9:6) but the ability to torture isn’t part of the authorization we read in Scripture.
“To disagree with torture is to support terrorists.”
That’s simply not true. These are people who should be punished severely for the deaths and pain they’ve caused. Nobody denies that. To say that means they can be treated however we want them to is wrong. The Bible also says that governing authorities should be obeyed (Romans 13:1), and in America’s case the Constitution is part of that. That means due process and a ban on cruel and unusual punishment are in place and must be obeyed. Even if you support torture as a Christian, your biblical submission to the foundational authority of American government must preclude you from doing so.
“We’ll be unsafe if A) the US stops torturing or B) our torturing tactics are revealed.”
First, that’s demonstrably untrue, as mentioned above and as covered in the CIA report. Second, that’s just pragmatism again. “We have to do awful, horrific things to other human beings because of our earthly safety” reveals the heart of a Christian whose focus is completely in the wrong place.
“That’s just liberal/leftist/conservative/republican rhetoric.”
These issues cross all partisan lines. To dismiss the atrocities of torture because your favorite politician supports it (or was partially responsible for it) or because a politician you dislike is against it is, again, purely earthly-minded. The Christian’s duties and allegiance are to God, not to a party or politician.
I truly cringe when I open up my laptop and see Christians clamoring for more torture or bragging about their support of it. It still boggles my mind that articles like this need to be written, but they do. It seems the old “What Would Jesus Do?” bracelets and t-shirts go out the window when discussing foreign policy and terrorism, but we can’t afford to do that. We need to consider just what we’re broadcasting to the non-Christians who learn what we support. May our American patriotism never, ever turn someone away from Christ. We owe it to our Father and to our fellow humans to follow His instructions and to allow for the humanity of even the most murderous humans.
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