Saturday, January 7, 2012

Post #148 - When it Comes to National Security, Some People Stop at Nothing

"A free and civilized society is distinguished from a barbaric and oppressive 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, speaking on the treatment of prisoners; quoted by Melissa Weintraub, Director of Education and Organizing at Rabbis for Human Rights)

Fourth President of the United States
Our fourth president, James Madison, said, “The means of defense against foreign danger historically have become the instruments of tyranny at home.” Nowadays we see 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. Recently the power was given, in law, for the president to order the assassination, on U.S. soil, even of a citizen of the United States. Outside our borders, things are even worse: there has officially-sanctioned kidnapping – various places around the world – of those we have suspected of wrongdoing, and transportation of 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. President Obama campaigned against the practice, but can we be certain that it does not continue under his administration?) And this is to say nothing of the “mistakes” or “excesses” such as the Abu Ghraib abuses, and the civilian killings in Haditha. Can we ever again be “a city on a hill” -- a beacon not only for our cherished freedoms, but for our humanity and our protection of individual rights?

Dr. M. Scott Peck (The Road Less Traveled, People of the Lie) has written, "All but the morally insane would agree that torture is inherently and grossly unethical." A 2007 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 drift in U.S. 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 officer 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)'”

David Gushee, speaking on torture at Duke Divinity School
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 Campaign against Torture, 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 was 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." Since the same campaign against torture has continued unabated during the current administration, its critics will have to find some other rationale to explain it away.

All of this marks a sad degradation of evangelical moral discourse. Not to put ourselves in too lofty a crowd, but should history interpret Wilberforce as merely an anti-George III partisan? Was Bonhoeffer simply confronting the socialists for political reasons? Was Solzhenitsyn just a provocateur trying to bring down the Soviet regime? ...

What are Christians who have deeply-felt moral objections to an action of their government supposed to do? What I believe they should do, for a start, is to 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. It may not change the status quo immediately, but an individual or a group at a minimum goes on record as opposing morally repugnant practices. It is the very least one can do.

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