Friday, November 4, 2011

Post #41 - The Poisoned Field of Diplomacy

If there is a will, other openings can be created; new bites at the apple of peace will present themselves. Iranians will not be push-overs when we do finally decide to get serious about negotiating, but they have national interests that will pull them into the process, as do we. It has been suggested that “constructive ambiguity” is almost a tool in the diplomatic toolbox of Iranian leaders, since having outsiders off-balance can be a source of strength, to off-set advantages of superior force of arms or economic clout enjoyed by their antagonists. Once the discussion becomes one of common interests, that dance can cease, or at least the music can change from a minor to a major key.

As evidence of the persistence that is a part of Persian culture, I recall a type of crocus, which can be found growing near Natanz, and which yields that most quintessentially Persian spice: saffron. For eleven-and-one-half months of the year the farmer waits. Then the plant pushes a shoot above ground, appearing for just fifteen days. For only 72 hours it blooms, and it is then that the saffron must be harvested – a minuscule amount from the stamen of each flower. The process requires patience and perfect timing. When an opportunity for peace comes, God grant that the “farmers” on each side will be there ready to harvest it. But, in the meantime, we have to prepare the soil.  We must be sure it has not become toxic to life...

"A free and civilized society is distinguished from a barbaric and oppressive society by the degree to which it treats a human being as a human being...Just as the [Talmudic] rabbis were bold enough to waive all prohibitions instituted by them where necessary to preserve human dignity, [our law] should be cautious in sacrificing human dignity on the altar of any other requirement whatsoever." (Justice Haim Cohn, Israeli Supreme Court, on the treatment of prisoners; quoted by Melissa Weintraub, Director of Education and Organizing at Rabbis for Human Rights)

Our fourth president, James Madison, said, “The means of defense against foreign danger historically have become the instruments of tyranny at home.” Now we see, in the "land of the free," near-strip-searches of grandmothers and students alike before they can travel to see one another. Listening-in on phone calls and emails. Monitoring of bank and credit transactions, video rentals and library borrowing of our own citizens. Outside our borders, things are even worse: kidnapping – anywhere in the world – of those we suspect of wrongdoing, and transporting them to a place where they can be tortured. (An April 28, 2007 press report informed us that the overseas prisons were again being used, some eight months after President Bush stated publicly that there was no one in custody under such arrangements.) And this is to say nothing of the “mistakes” or “excesses” such as the Abu Ghraib abuses. Can we again be “a city on a hill” -- a beacon not only for our cherished freedoms, but for our humanity?

Dr. M. Scott Peck has written, "All but the morally insane would agree that torture is inherently and grossly unethical." A May 17 op-ed piece by Charles C. Krulak (former Commandant of the Marine Corps) and Joseph P. Hoar (formerly in charge of the U.S. Central Command) protested the recent drift in policy – and in moral example:

"Fear is the justification offered for...the secret CIA interrogation program in which torture techniques euphemistically called “waterboarding,” “sensory deprivation,” sleep deprivation,” and “stress positions” -- conduct we used to call war crimes – were used....
"We have served in combat; we understand the reality of fear and the havoc it can wreak if left unchecked or fostered. Fear breeds panic, and it can lead people and nations to act in ways inconsistent with their character....
"These assertions that “torture works” may reassure a fearful public, but it is a false security. We don't know what's been gained through this fear-driven program. But we do know the consequences...
"...look at the military's mental health assessment report released earlier this month. The study shows a disturbing level of tolerance for abuse of prisoners in some situations. This underscores what we know as military professionals: Complex situational ethics cannot be applied during the stress of combat. The rule must be firm and absolute; if torture is broached as a possibility, it will become a reality.
This has had disastrous consequences...Former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld once wondered aloud whether we were creating more terrorists than we were killing. In counterinsurgency doctrine, that is precisely the right question. Victory in this kind of war comes when the enemy loses legitimacy in the society from which it seeks recruits and thus loses its “recuperative power.”...
"If we forfeit our values by signaling that they are negotiable in situations of grave or imminent danger, we drive those undecideds into the arms of the enemy. This way lies defeat, and we are well down the road to it....It is time to remember who we are."

Jesse Holcomb, writing in the June 2007 Sojourners Magazine, cited the dean of West Point, Brigadier General Patrick Finnegan, as well as the man who designed and taught the Law of War for Commanders curriculum at West Point, as both saying that the example of Jack Bauer (the main character on Fox's 24) was promoting unethical and illegal behavior. “The bottom line,” Holcomb said, “is that torture, whether dramatized, glorified, or simply rationalized, has no place in God's economy. And to those of us for whom 24 serves as a welcome release, the biblical writer's admonition still holds: 'Take care not to make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land to which you are going, or it will become a snare among you. (Exodus 34:12)'”

In recognition of the gravity of the breaches of prohibitions against cruelty and torture, there has been an unprecedented movement within the Christian community, including the National Religious Coalition against Torture [full disclosure: I serve on the NRCAT board], Rabbis for Human Rights and Evangelicals for Human Rights (reported in Review of Faith & International Affairs, Summer 2007). The last of these issued a serious and sober declaration opposing torture that was comprised of seventy good-sized paragraphs. Its authors included representatives of World Vision, universities and seminaries, the editor of Christianity Today, and the 45,000-church National Association of Evangelicals. They said, "Our moral vision has blurred since 9/11. We need to regain our moral clarity." The group's chairman, David P. Gushee, scholar and author of Kingdom Ethics, has stated:

"One of the most distressing things about the predictable criticism the document received was the immediate translation of the statement into a 'culture wars' paradigm -- and indeed, into the 'evangelical culture wars' of latter days. To criticize the use of torture is seen as a thinly veiled partisan attack on the Republican president of the United States. To criticize the use of torture is seen as a victory for Rich Cizik and the NAE over against James Dobson and his cohorts on the Christian Right.
"All of this marks a sad degradation of evangelical moral discourse. Not to put ourselves in too lofty a crowd, but should we interpret Wilberforce as an anti-George III partisan? Was Bonhoeffer simply confronting the socialists? Was Solzhenitsyn just a CIA agent trying to bring down the Soviet regime? ...
"What are Christians supposed to do who have actual moral objections to an action of their government? What I believe they should do is gather together to test their views in community, analyze the issue as best they can using the resources of the Christian tradition, and then offer a carefully and prayerfully crafted moral reflection that expresses dissent rooted in Christian conviction."

(My next post will be on Christianity and torture.)

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