-- -- Where do American religious leaders
stand on torture? Their deafening silence evokes memories
of the unconscionable behavior of German church leaders in
the 1930s and early 1940s.
Despite the hate whipped up by
administration propagandists against those it brands
Americans agree that torture should not be permitted.
Few seem aware, though, that although President George W.
Bush says he is against torture, he has openly declared
that our military and other interrogators may engage in
with military necessity."
For far too long, we have been acting
like "obedient Germans." Shall we continue to
avert our eyes – even as our mainstream media begin to
expose the "routine" torture conducted by U.S.
forces in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo?
Senate Armed Forces Committee Chairman
John Warner took a strong rhetorical stand against torture
early last year after seeing the photos from Abu Ghraib.
Then he succumbed to strong political pressure to postpone
Senate hearings on the subject until after the November
2004 election. Those of us who live in Virginia might
probe our consciences on this. Shall we citizens of the
once-proud Old Dominion simply acquiesce while Sen. Warner
shirks his constitutional duty?
We have come a long way since Virginia
patriot Patrick Henry loudly insisted that the rack and
the screw were barbaric practices that must be left behind
in the Old World, or we are "lost
and undone." Can Americans from other states
consult their own consciences with respect to what justice
may require of them in denouncing torture as passionately
as the patriots who founded our nation?
On Sept. 24, The New York Times ran a detailed
report regarding the kinds of "routine"
torture that U.S. servicemen and women have been ordered
to carry out. This week's Time also has an article
on the use of torture by U.S. forces in Iraq, Afghanistan,
Those two articles are based on a new
report from Human Rights Watch, a report that relies
heavily on the testimony of a West Point graduate, an Army
captain who has had the courage to speak out. A Pentagon
spokesman has dismissed the report as "another
predictable report by an organization trying to advance an
agenda through the use of distortion and errors of
fact." Judge for yourselves; the report can be found here.
Grim but required reading.
History, even recent history,
demonstrates once again that absolute power corrupts
absolutely. See if you can guess the author of the
"In this land that has inherited
through our forebears the noblest understandings of the
rule of law, our government has deliberately chosen the
way of barbarism. …
"There is a price to be paid for
the right to be called a civilized nation. That price can
be paid in only one currency – the currency of human
rights. … When this currency is devalued, a nation
chooses the company of the world's dictatorships and
banana republics. I indict this government for the crime
of taking us into that shady fellowship.
"The rule of law says that cruel
and inhuman punishment is beneath the dignity of a
civilized state. But to prisoners we say, 'We will hold
you where no one can hear your screams.' When I used the
word 'barbarism,' this is what I meant. The entire policy
stands condemned by the methods used to pursue it.
"We send a message to the jailers,
interrogators, and those who make such practices possible
and permissible: 'Power is a fleeting thing. One day your
souls will be required of you.'"
- Bishop Peter Storey, Central Methodist
Mission, Johannesburg, June 1981
I asked a Muslim friend recently what
the Koran says about torture. After consulting an imam,
she reported that the Koran does not address the subject
because the Koran deals only "with human
behavior." Do not we of the Judeo-Christian tradition
also reject torture as inhuman and never morally
The various rationalizations for torture
do not bear close scrutiny. Intelligence specialists
concede that the information acquired by torture cannot be
considered reliable. Our own troops are brutalized when
they follow orders to brutalize. And they are exposed to
much greater risk when captured. Our country becomes a
pariah among nations. Above all, torture is simply wrong.
It falls into the same category of evil as slavery and
rape. Torture is inhuman and immoral, whether or not our
bishops and rabbis can summon the courage to name it so.
It Is Up to Us
By keeping their tongue-tied heads way
down, our religious leaders have forfeited the moral
authority with which they otherwise could speak. They end
up playing the role of Hitler's Reichsbishops, who
supported – or at least acquiesced in – the policies
and methods of the Third Reich.
Many American men and women – Jews,
Christians, Muslims of the Abrahamic tradition – have
learned not to depend on clergy leaders who bless the
Empire. The inescapable conclusion is, as popular
theologian Annie Dillard reminds us, "There is only
us; there never has been any other."
The question is this: Are we are up to
the challenge of confronting the evil of torture, or shall
we prove Patrick Henry right? Is our country about to be
"lost and undone?"
Ray McGovern is co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity and lives in Virginia.