Monday, October 05, 2009

Torture and faith...

In the October issue of The Atlantic, Andrew Sullivan writes an open letter to President Bush ("Dear President Bush") detailing what he could do to deal with the legacy of the torture that he approved. The letter is well-balanced. Sullivan does not call for President Bush to be punished, but for him to follow President Reagan's lead and take responsibility as Reagan did in the wake of the Iran-Contra scandal.

What I found most interesting though, was the appeal to faith that Sullivan levies. I don't know how convincing his argument is for all Christians, since clearly some Christians support torture or at least seek to redefine activities that clearly fall into the torture family. Sullivan writes,

The other value you have eloquently expressed as essential to your public life is faith. We share that faith, although I am a wayward Catholic and you a born-again evangelical. Our faith tells us that what you authorized is an absolute evil. By absolute evil, I mean something that is never morally justified. I have no doubt that you believed you were doing your duty in protecting the country, and every political leader in a dangerous world has to make decisions that haunt the conscience. But even war, with all its murder and mayhem and abuse and trauma, can still, in our Christian tradition, be deemed just, under certain circumstances. I am not a pacifist by any means. Defending free countries from the architects of 9/11 is just; bringing some semblance of democracy to Iraq was just; unseating the Taliban was just. Even those decisions that cost lives—of young Americans and countless Iraqis and Afghans—can be morally defended by Christians, in good faith and clear conscience, as a last resort. In fact, fighting terrorism and jihadism is, in my view, an eminently just use of military power, if that use of power is constantly subjected to scrutiny and reflection and revision.

But torture has no defense whatsoever in Christian morality. There are no circumstances in which it can be justified, let alone integrated as a formal program within a democratic government. The Catholic catechism states, “Torture which uses physical or moral violence to extract confessions… is contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity.” Dignity is the critical word there. Even evil men are human and redeemable. Our faith demands that, even in legitimate punishment or interrogation, the dignity of prisoners must be respected. Our faith teaches that each of us—even Khalid Sheikh Mohammed—is made in the image of God. To violate that imago Dei by stripping and freezing him, by slamming him against a wall, or strapping him to a board to nearly drown him again and again and again, to bombard him with noise and light until he loses his mind, to reduce a human being to a mental and spiritual shell—nothing can justify this for a Christian. Nothing. To wield that power is to wield evil. And such evil is almost always committed by those who believe they are pursuing good.

One more voice calling for the understanding that each human being bears dignity simply by being created by God. Torture, which ignores that imago Dei, is simply unjustifiable.

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