This past April, President Barack Obama released several memos detailing enhanced interrogation techniques used on terrorism suspects during the Bush administration. Originally issued by the Office of Legal Counsel from 2002 to 2005, the memos state that C.I.A. operatives used such techniques as keeping terrorism suspects awake for eleven days straight, forced nudity, slamming detainees against a wall and waterboarding. While Obama has decided not to press any charges, the debate over torture rages on in America.
In an interview with The Washington Times, former Vice President Dick Cheney defended the Bush administration’s use of interrogation techniques. “I feel very good about what we did,” he said. “I think it was the right thing to do. If I was faced with those circumstances again I’d do exactly the same thing.” Cheney applauded Obama for releasing the memos, and said that there were more memos he wanted revealed as well. As Cheney told Sean Hannity: “There are reports that show specifically what we gained as a result of this activity. They have not been declassified.”
Many Americans, however, do not share Cheney’s enthusiasm. Representative Dr. Ron Paul has stated that torture can never be justified, legally or morally. “A decent society never accepts or justifies torture,” he says. “It dehumanizes both torturer and victim, yet seldom produces reliable intelligence. Torture by rogue American troops or agents puts all Americans at risk, especially our rank-and-file soldiers stationed in dozens of dangerous places around the globe. God forbid terrorists take American soldiers or travelers hostage and torture them as some kind of sick retaliation for Abu Ghraib.” Also, during a now-famous episode of FoxNews.com’s The Strategy Room, anchorman Shepard Smith slammed his fist on the table and shouted, “I don’t give a (expletive) if it helps. We are America! We don’t (expletive) torture!”
Surprisingly there is no group more divided by the torture debate than the Church. The Pew Forum recently asked a select number of Americans of different religious backgrounds whether or not the use of torture can be justified. According to the survey, 44 percent of white evangelical Protestants said torture could sometimes be justified. Also, the survey shows that people who go to religious services weekly are more likely to support torture in certain cases, rather than those who hardly attend. If the Bible says, “Love your enemy,” why then would so many Christians support torture?
Missionary Aaron Taylor thinks it is closely related to the evangelical church’s overemphasis on man’s sinful nature. “Whether most evangelicals realize it or not,” he writes on Sojourners’ blog, “our underlying assumption is that those who are not born again are only capable of evil. Even if we notice good behavior in nonbelievers, our understanding of the Christian faith demands that we attribute it to selfish motives.” While Taylor does not deny that man is sinful by nature, he also believes that focusing too much on it does more harm than good. “When we take total depravity to mean that every nonbeliever at all times is only capable of sinning,” he writes, “we forget that even fallen human beings are created in the image of God and are therefore capable of reason.”
Certainly not all Christians are in favor of torture. A group of religious leaders recently drafted a letter to the Obama administration in which they pressed the president to create a Commission of Inquiry to investigate government-sponsored torture that may have occurred since 9/11. According to the group, an independent commission would have more credibility than existing measures. The group lauded the administration’s previous efforts to investigate incidents of torture, but called for more stringent investigation, saying, “Our nation can guarantee the abolition of torture only if and when we put in place safeguards to prevent once and for all the future twisting and abrogation of the existing laws that prohibit torture.” Moreover, faith was a very vocal component of the letter, and was elucidated as one of the primary reasons to reject torture. “As people of faith we know that only the truth can set us free,” the leaders stated. “We must therefore, as a nation, be mature and honest enough to examine fully and disclose completely the wrong doing that has been committed.”
So, is torture defensible from a Christian standpoint? While what’s permissible for a government may be murky, the Christian ethic is clear. While the Bible does not say explicitly “Thou shall not torture,” there are several Scriptures to consider. For starters, the Bible tells us not to seek revenge, for vengeance is the Lord’s only [Romans 12:19]. We are also told, “Do not repay evil for evil … but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing” (1 Peter 3:9). In addition, consider Jesus’ passion. He was beaten, mocked, spit upon and nailed on a cross. But in the end, all He could say was, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:24). Christ’s was an unwavering ethic of forgiveness and mercy.
Lastly, the Bible tells us to pray for “all those in authority” [1 Timothy 2:2], so let us pray for wisdom for our leaders. Let us pray that our new president will protect our country with peace and justice. And may we lead by example in our own lives, by showing our neighbors the love of Christ through our actions.