Terrorism, Torture and a Pro-Life Foreign Policy
By Robert Peters
This week ISIS released a video in which a Jordanian pilot was burned alive in a cage. Their film relished the violence, capturing this man’s agony and death in slow motion.
There is no moral equivalency between the United States of America and ISIS. There is no comparison of the ways they respectively conduct war.
Given the execution of U.S. citizens, the threat posed by ISIS, the humanitarian atrocities, and our own substantial role in its creation, the United States has a moral responsibility to eradicate ISIS.
The “how” and “why” questions are very important, though. War must not be fought gleefully or glibly, but as a last resort, and with a grim resolve to preserve life.
Too often attitudes on foreign policy are imbued with ethnocentric undertones. We rightly mourn the loss of life in the womb and the death of U.S. soldiers, but often we are not moved by the massive collateral damage of war overseas.
Do we mourn that half a million civilians died as a result of the Iraq war? Do we mourn over the many innocent lives lost from drone strikes. This has become so common that one 13-year-old Pakistani boy, who lost his grandmother, fears blue sky because “The drones do not fly when the skies are grey.” Where is the care and concern for the least of these? (Matthew 25:40)
In The Ragamuffin Gospel, Brennan Manning noted that while we “proclaim how precious each life is to God and should be to us,” when the enemy suffers, we rejoice and call for more.
Perhaps the most disturbing example of this was the reaction of many to the Senate Report on CIA Torture.
Bryan Fischer, Director of Issues Analysis for the American Family Association, admits that the “techniques used” could constitute criminal acts, but argues that in a time of war, they are entirely justified.
Fischer and others carefully sanitize their language to conceal the depravity of the acts. This is understandable, since CIA officers “used the largest Ewal [sic] tube we had” to anally penetrate prisoners, dumping a pureed “lunch tray” of hummus, pasta with sauce, nuts, and raisins, into prisoners’ intestines. This procedure was conducted with “excessive force” on multiple prisoners, and CIA records show that as a result, at least one prisoner was diagnosed with chronic hemorrhoids, an anal fissure (tear), and symptomatic rectal prolapse (don’t google it). Rectal rehydration was also administered “without a determination of medical need,” and used to establish complete control.
Former President Bush heralded CIA officials as patriots, but violent anal penetration can only be described as rape.
Detainees were repeatedly stripped naked and beaten. One prisoner died from hypothermia “in part from having been forced to sit on the bare concrete floor without pants.” The CIA simply forgot about one prisoner, who “had been chained to a wall in a standing position for 17 days.” Other prisoners were forced to stand on broken limbs. In addition to the physical violations, the CIA threatened prisoners’ mothers with slit throats and sexual abuse, and also threatened their children.
Many have suggested that the methods don’t matter, because all involved were terrorists who tried to kill Americans.
Even if this were true, it is disturbing (and hardly pro-life) to justify literally any act of torture based on enemy combatant status; the worst war crimes in history would also be justified under such a standard. The ends do not justify the means, and suggesting otherwise is neither Biblical nor moral.
Furthermore, not all involved were terrorists; of 119 “known detainees, at least 26 were wrongfully held” and did not meet the CIA’s own detention standard. One of these was an “intellectually challenged” man, imprisoned by the CIA “solely as leverage to get a family member to provide information.” Other prisoners remained in custody for months after the CIA decided they did not meet the detention standard.
Dick Cheney argued that this extensive false detention is irrelevant, because American lives were saved, while Fischer asserted that in a time of war, the moral calculus changes. (No word on whether the basis for their morality, God’s immutable character, changes with it.)
Consistency demands that we lambast these statements as immoral utilitarianism and relativistic nonsense, respectively, but no such luck.
Fischer proceeds from moral to factual bankruptcy, falsely asserting that every technique was reviewed by the DOJ and deemed permissible, that Congressional leaders were fully briefed on these methods, and that the techniques were effective, all conclusions that the Report undermines. For good measure, Fischer cites two Bible passages as support, neither of which are on point, yet he can’t resist a hypocritical partisan jab at the “Bible-illiterate” Left.
Ironically, while Fischer justifies the tyranny of false imprisonment and anal rape, he has the temerity to accuse homosexual activists (or “jack-booted homofascist thugs”) of being “tyrannical and totalitarian.”
Unlike Cheney and Fischer, Scripture does not cheapen the sanctity of life.
Christianity Today’s David Gushee listed 5 ways that torture is always wrong: It violates the God-given dignity of the human being. It mistreats the vulnerable and violates principles of justice. Authorizing torture misconceives man’s sin nature and trusts an inherently flawed government with unchecked power. Lastly, torture dehumanizes the torturer and erodes the nation’s character.
If this weren’t enough, “hands that shed innocent blood” are “an abomination” to God. (Proverbs 6:16-19) If we whitewash the abomination of violent dehumanization as Biblical or patriotic, we’re not pro-life. If we don’t care about the suffering of others, simply because they live in another country, we’re not pro-life.
The time has come for Christians to affirm all life as we defend it from both the barbaric acts of ISIS and our own indifference.
Robert Peters is a law clerk with the United States Attorney’s Office and a third year law student at Liberty University School of Law. He lives in Virginia with his wife and they are expecting their first child in July. You can follow Robert at @The BobbyPeters.
This article was originally published on February 6, 2015 for the Religion News Service (RNS). Used with permission.