Christians Support…Torture?

A few months ago now, the Senate Intelligence Committee finally released a report detailing their investigation into the “enhanced interrogation techniques” employed by the CIA against terrorism suspects under the Bush administration. That a large segment of our nation’s leaders, media, and everyday people has to use such a blatant euphemism for what these techniques actually are (that is, torture, plain and simple) bespeaks a startling moral bankruptcy in the so-called “land of the free”, but more startling still are those who have come running to defend this use of torture. No, it is not the fascists or the communists, nor is it the atheists or the satanists (although perhaps some members of these groups do support it), but rather the most ardent supporters of the CIA’s use of torture are evangelical Christians — the what-would-Jesus-do crowd — and I couldn’t be more disgusted.

I am an evangelical Christian myself — a card-carrying member of various Southern Baptist churches for most of my adult life — but I am absolutely sick to my stomach that a substantial majority of my fellow redeemed, those whose filthy souls were rescued from the eternal punishment they deserve by the selfless love and torture-suffering of the perfect, pure, wonderful Christ, the very Son of Almighty God, would not only turn a blind eye to the torture of these men, but would in fact rally behind it, cheering it, applauding the CIA for trying to cover it up, and even vehemently chastising any who question it. I know of nowhere in the Bible — not one place — where Jesus ever even hinted that torture might be morally acceptable under certain circumstances.

And let’s not pretend like we don’t know what is meant by “torture” or pretend that it can’t be all that bad if administered by good ol’ American boys. From the investigation report itself:

Beginning with the CIA’s first detainee, Abu Zubaydah, and continuing with numerous others, the CIA applied its enhanced interrogation techniques with significant repetition for days or weeks at a time. Interrogation techniques such as slaps and “wallings” (slamming detainees against a wall) were used in combination, frequently concurrent with sleep deprivation and nudity. Records do not support CIA representations that the CIA initially used an “an open, non-threatening approach,” or that interrogations began with the “least coercive technique possible” and escalated to more coercive techniques only as necessary.

The waterboarding technique was physically harmful, inducing convulsions and vomiting. Abu Zubaydah, for example, became “completely unresponsive, with bubbles rising through his open, full mouth.” Internal CIA records describe the waterboarding of Khalid Shaykh Mohammad as evolving into a “series of near drownings.”

Sleep deprivation involved keeping detainees awake for up to 180 hours, usually standing or in stress positions, at times with their hands shackled above their heads. At least five detainees experienced disturbing hallucinations during prolonged sleep deprivation and, in at least two of those cases, the CIA nonetheless continued the sleep deprivation.

Contrary to CIA representations to the Department of Justice, the CIA instructed personnel that the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah would take “precedence” over his medical care, resulting in the deterioration of a bullet wound Abu Zubaydah incurred during his capture. In at least two other cases, the CIA used its enhanced interrogation techniques despite warnings from CIA medical personnel that the techniques could exacerbate physical injuries. CIA medical personnel treated at least one detainee for swelling in order to allow the continued use of standing sleep deprivation.

At least five CIA detainees were subjected to “rectal rehydration” or rectal feeding without documented medical necessity. The CIA placed detainees in ice water “baths.” The CIA led several detainees to believe they would never be allowed to leave CIA custody alive, suggesting to one detainee that he would only leave in a coffin-shaped box. One interrogator told another detainee that he would never go to court, because “we can never let the world know what I have done to you.” 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.”

Conditions at CIA detention sites were poor, and were especially bleak early in the program. CIA detainees at the COBALT detention facility were kept in complete darkness and constantly shackled in isolated cells with loud noise or music and only a bucket to use for human waste. Lack of heat at the facility likely contributed to the death of a detainee. The chief of interrogations described COBALT as a “dungeon.” Another senior CIA officer stated that COBALT was itself an enhanced interrogation technique.

At times, the detainees at COBALT were walked around naked or were shackled with their hands above their heads for extended periods of time. Other times, the detainees at COBALT were subjected to what was described as a “rough takedown,” in which approximately five CIA officers would scream at a detainee, drag him outside of his cell, cut his clothes off, and secure him with Mylar tape. The detainee would then be hooded and dragged up and down a long corridor while being slapped and punched.

Even after the conditions of confinement improved with the construction of new detention facilities, detainees were held in total isolation except when being interrogated or debriefed by CIA personnel.

Throughout the program, multiple CIA detainees who were subjected to the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques and extended isolation exhibited psychological and behavioral issues, including hallucinations, paranoia, insomnia, and attempts at self-harm and self-mutilation. Multiple psychologists identified the lack of human contact experienced by detainees as a cause of psychiatric problems.

And the report goes on and on like this! If any one of those who euphemistically call this treatment “enhanced interrogation technique” were subjected to it, there would be no doubt in their mind that they were being tortured. Anyone to whom this doesn’t sound like torture is at the very least a disturbed individual in need of immediate therapy and at worst a dangerous and violent psychopath. How evil must be the minds of the men who dreamed up this torture! And how much more evil must be the Christians who, knowing the infinite depths of love and mercy shown to them by their Creator, still support it, calling it good, and condemn as evil any who would oppose it or even question it! “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil… Therefore is the anger of the Lord kindled against his people, and he hath stretched forth his hand against them, and hath smitten them…”

I don’t dispute that these men — assuming they’re actually guilty of the heinous terrorist acts of which they are accused (which to my knowledge still has never been ascertained by due process in a court of law) — are deserving of everything they got, but isn’t every one of us a sinner deserving of far worse? Should those of us who have been shown such great mercy exhibit such a callous attitude toward these men? Shouldn’t those who have been forgiven much love much? Shouldn’t we at least ask that they get a fair trial, just like we would want before receiving similar treatment? Isn’t it a dangerous precedent to permit the government to indefinitely detain and torture civilians it has labelled as “terrorists”? What if someday evangelical Christians are labelled “terrorists” (remember this and this?) — wouldn’t we still want a trial?

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