It’s Not Torture, But If It Was It Would Still Be Ok

Dick Cheney was on Meet the Press yesterday, and it was pretty ugly. Conor Friedersdorf does a good job summarizing Mr. Cheney’s answers to certain questions, as well as the larger logic employed. Certainly the most scandalous answer given by the Vice President was when he said that he had “no problem” with the fact that nearly 25% of the detainees were innocent. He explicitly and unwavering used an “ends justify the means” argument to vindicate wrongful arrest and subsequent abuse to innocent people. This confirms everything I have been writing about the moral problems with the current defense of torture by America. But there’s more.

The one charge which Mr. Cheney did struggle with answering was that of rectal hyrdation Here is the transcript:

CHUCK TODD: Let me go through some of those techniques that were used, Majid Khan, was subjected to involuntary rectal feeding and rectal hydration. It included two bottles of Ensure, later in the same day Majid Khan’s lunch tray consisting of hummus, pasta, sauce, nuts and raisins was pureed and rectally infused.

DICK CHENEY: That wasn’t–

CHUCK TODD: Does that meet the definition of torture?

DICK CHENEY: –that does not meet the definition of what was used in the program as–

CHUCK TODD: I understand. But does that meet the definition of torture in your mind?

DICK CHENEY: –in my mind, I’ve told you what meets the definition of torture. It’s what 19 guys armed with airline tickets and box cutters did to 3,000 Americans on 9/11. What was done here apparently certainly was not one of the techniques that was approved. I believe it was done for medical reasons.

CHUCK TODD: I mean, medical community has said there is no medical–

DICK CHENEY: If you go and look, for example, at Jose Rodriguez book, and he was the guy running the program, he’s got a very clear description of how, in fact, the program operated. With respect to that I think the agency has answered it and its response to the committee report and I–

CHUCK TODD: –but you acknowledge this was over and above.

DICK CHENEY: –that was not something that was done as part of the interrogation program.

CHUCK TODD: But you won’t call it torture.

DICK CHENEY: It wasn’t torture in terms of it wasn’t part of the program.

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What are You Prepared to Do?

The so-called “conservative” responses to the Senate torture report are now making their rounds, and they tell us quite a bit about what really matters to certain people. Thus far no one has denied that the most morally repugnant alleged practices actually took place. No one has said, “That’s crazy! We would never use rape as a weapon! We could never forcibly insert food into someone’s rectum! No way!” No. They have not said that. They have attempted to justify the practices by arguing that the practices produced important information, that the proper authorities knew about them, and that our enemies do much worse. But they are not denying those practices.

Tellingly, Dick Cheney declined to refute the charge of rectal re-hydration. He sidestepped the gravity of the question entirely by saying he had “no knowledge” of that specific practice, but then he went straight to a defense of its hypothetical use on the grounds that it would have been necessary: “What are you prepared to do to get the truth against future attacks against the United States?” It’s a good question. What are you prepared to do? Are you prepared to threaten to rape someone’s mother? Are you prepared to make that threat within a context where it is credible? Are you prepared to carry through with that threat? If the answer is NO!, which it should be, then Mr. Cheney’s justification fails. Continue reading

Jesus Died For Torture Apologists

Discussions of torture and the United States’s use of it in the “War on Terror” are not new. Many thinkers, including Christian theologians, have considered the matter before, and there are some legitimate qualifications and discussions to be had. However, in the wake of the recent Senate Intelligence Committee’s report, there are no longer relevant reasons to prevent us from concluding that the United States did participate in torture and that many of the specific forms were unjust and abhorrent. They were evil.

Writing for The New Yorker, Amy Davidson summarizes the report explaining:

The interrogators didn’t know the languages that would have been useful for real intelligence, but they did come up with a lexicon of their own: “walling,” which meant slamming a person against a wall; “rough takedown,” in which a group would rush into a cell yelling, then drag a detainee down the hall while punching him, perhaps after having “cut off his clothes and secured him with Mylar tape”; “confinement box,” an instrument to make a prisoner feel he was closed in a coffin (the box came in large or small sizes); “sleep deprivation,” which might mean being kept awake for a hundred and eighty hours before succumbing to “disturbing hallucinations”; the ability to, as the report put it, “earn a bucket,” the bucket being what a prisoner might get to relieve himself in, rather than having to soil himself or being chained to a wall with a diaper (an “image” that President Bush was said to have found disturbing); “waterboarding,” which often itself seems to have been a euphemism for near, rather than simulated, drowning; “rectal rehydration as a means of behavioral control”; “lunch tray,” the assembly of foods that were puréed and used to rectally force-feed prisoners.

This is what the talk of family could look like: “CIA officers also threatened at least three detainees with harm to their families—to include threats to harm the children of a detainee, threats to sexually abuse the mother of a detainee, and a threat to ‘cut [a detainee’s] mother’s throat.’ ” The interrogation of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri included “implying that his mother would be brought before him and sexually abused.”

These ought to be shocking and disgusting revelations. The use of sexual assault and threats of sexual assault (and murder!) against family members are the kind of enormities which make rational men go mute in shock and moral disbelief. Yet sadly, many of these very practices were not surprises just revealed this week. Taxi to the Dark Side documented several of them 7 years ago. The new revelation is that they were not episodic offenses carried out by individuals but were rather intentional parts of official strategy.

Americans ought to be upset. Americans ought to be sad. Americans ought to be driven to introspection.

And this should be especially true for Christians. Continue reading

Partisan Anxiety, Extremism, and Fight Club

It really isn’t the case that social and political phenomena, particularly in non-establishment forms, can be explained fully by pointing out basic religious and philosophical principles. Those are important, but they never tell the whole story. We have to look at a bit of psychology, as well as noting wider trends among similar groups of people. I tried to do this in my first lecture on religious converts at the Bucer Institute (mp3s here). I found that I got two primary reactions.  One said that it was totally unscientific and therefore of no use, and the other said my description was precisely what had occurred in their own experience and was among the most valuable insights in the whole lecture series. So I suppose I will confess to being unscientific in this regard while continuing to insist that certain psychological and personal issues are real. Pastors and politicians especially need to understand this.

This definitely applies to certain personalities that are attracted to religious extremism. It really isn’t even correct to call it religious extremism, because, as we saw in the case of Breivik, they can routinely admit to not being very religious at all. So let’s call it cultural extremism. Continue reading

Culture War, Faith, and Terror

As a young pastor and writer who has often defended the notion of “Christendom” and even advocated for something of a recovery of it in our current day, I was particularly alarmed when the ideology of Anders Behring Breivik came out.  The murders in Norway were a tragedy in their own right and we shouldn’t fail to mourn them before rushing to “the big picture” significance, but it is still the case that Breivik is now a symbol for the right wing and perhaps even “Christian” equivalent of Islamic terror.  Correctly or not, he will always play that role in the public discourse and his use of “Christendom” will have to be accounted for before anyone can speak positively of that term again. Continue reading