A Religious Liberal Blog

This site hopefully can provide some vehicle by which I can comment, complain, and once in a while praise the state of religion in this country and around the world from a liberal protestant perspective.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The torture party

At a recent Republican presidential debate a number of the candidates embraced indefinite detentions and the use of torture, to much applause and support of the audience.

In conversations I've had with conservatives, including some family members, the belief in torture and opposition to any requirements concerning the treatment and handling of prisoners abroad seems to be a given, perhaps something that defines support for Bush.

Maybe the impetus behind such a view was expressed earlier, from the School of the Americas to our own prison system in the US. But I can't help but think that Bush's embrace of torture, hasn't somehow coarsened the American people, made us less good.

There is no scandal in this country of having 19,000 Iraqis in prison, most without cause. Or that Romney received applause when he called for doubling Gitmo. This war, like many, have caused us to embrace the unconscionable.

I'm not sure what it will take to turn things around. But I am convinced that any candidate who does not articulate opposition to torture, due process, following the Geneva convention, and the limits of presidential power is not fit to the hold the presidency.


At 8:45 PM , Blogger jonathan said...

You said repeatedly that President Bush, along with the Republicans at the latest debate, accept torture. You illustrate their stance as if they enjoy and relish the action. That is hardly the case.

In each example, the candidates (other than McCain, the loner on this one) expressed a displeasure towards torture, but at the same time were willing to understand that saving American lives and avoiding another 9/11 is more important the world affirmation (except, again, for McCain).

They do not accept torture, and would rather have the terrorist tell them the information easily and obviously. But that isn't how it works, and believe it or not terrorists won't tell the US services with a slap on the wrist or some good old fashioned law school persuasion.

Ironically, I would say a man that cannot hold firm and is unwilling to take responsibilty for saving countless lives is not fit to sit in the Oval Office.

It comes down to the value of American lives.

At 11:01 PM , Blogger Dwight said...

I'd propose that the use of torture endangers American lives, because it fuels the sort of anger against this country that terrorist groups recruit with. Same goes with the occupation of Iraq. I also think that as Christians our concern ought to be for all lives, not just one country.

At 9:12 AM , Blogger jonathan said...

It's in an interesting theory, but that same anger would be aroused just by imprisoning terrorist soldiers in the first place. Prison isn't supposed to be a 5 star hotel, and we can't go out of our way to make the terrorists happy.

I agree with you that Christians ought to be concerned with all lives. But I would say that you are not truly caring for the needs of many others by focusing so much compassion on one undeserving individual.

These are not unjustly imprisoned criminals. These are terrorists willing to kill any infidels for the sake of their God. They have brought the consequences upon themselves.

At 11:01 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

`These are not unjustly imprisoned criminals. These are terrorists willing to kill any infidels for the sake of their God. '

Really? How do you think you know that?

At 1:00 PM , Blogger jonathan said...

Because that was the context of the question in the debate.

That is what we are talking about, right?

At 1:45 PM , Blogger Dwight said...

Most of the prisoners we have actually are Iraqis who happened to be in the wrong place, wrong time, caught by some military sweep of an area. Spend an indefinite amount of time with no charges or trial (and with abusive conditions) and your view of this country might change. You might even be eager for the US to leave.

At 6:51 PM , Blogger Virginia said...

"focusing so much compassion on one undeserving individual."

Isn't that just what we are called to do as Christians? Love abundantly? Never say "well, I have to choose, so I'm going to show more compassion for this person over here because s/he is more deserving"? I don't believe Jesus said "love your enemies unless they are undeserving."

At 7:20 PM , Blogger jonathan said...


I am glad you are an expert on our horrible dungeons. I should have known better than to think that our soldiers that capture the terrorists...I mean innoncent people...are out to ruin the lives of those we are trying to help. I should have known that the majroity of prisoners of war we have detained are actually nice people with no terrorist connections at all. Whatever was I thinking.

Obviously, Christ was very harsh with the pharisees, and even those that didn't follow him the exact right way. He taught of people that wouldn't go to heaven even though they cast out demons! That's harsh stuff.


You are twisting the words of Jesus.

God also condoned war, and used war to meet his purposes. During those times, there were far worse actions than the very subdued forms of "torture" spoken about during the Republican debate.

Yes we need to love our enemies, and reach out to anyone and everyone around us. But there are also times where the lives of many outweigh the life of one man, and if thousands can be saved through the discomfort of one man, how can we not take that stance?

In our personal lives, we need to make the most of our oppurtunities to witness to others. I am not arguing that in any way, shape or form. But your attitude of "let's be nice to everyone all the time anytime" doesn't match up with the rest of the biblical accord.


We don't go around just torturing people for fun. And that is certainly not what "the Torture party" condoned. The question during the debate revovled around a dire situation involving the lives of countless American citizens, and what actions the future presidents would be willing to take. Mind you they were held back and careful with their responses, but also realized that American lives need to be saved if possible. The job of the President is to take care of his country, not to make life comfortable for terrorists.

What I don't understand is why this same outrage towards torture (even the subdued, controlled, lessened forms used by our government) is not equal against other countries. Our POWs have experienced things we have never even considered in America, yet the criticsm is nearly always directed towards our nation.

At 8:41 PM , Blogger Dwight said...

It's usually been that way with war. All sorts of nations we've "helped" from the Philippines to Vietnam to Iraq saw hundreds of thousands to millions of their people killed.

I don't have any special knowledge outside of the claims of respected human rights organizations such as the Red Cross and Amnesty International.

Jesus was harsh with the pharisees. But Jesus was himself, Jewish, held much of the same beliefs as the pharisees. He's harsh on his own people. He doesn't respond that way to outsiders in that manner.

That might be a lesson for us. We can change the practices our gov't commits. We can elect people who respect human rights and int'l law. So we're harsh and rightfully so on our country. Because we hold ourselves to a higher ideal than others. Jesus' outrage was directed against those who should have known better. So should ours be.

At 1:20 AM , Blogger Virginia said...

I am twisting nothing. Jesus said all the law and prophets rest on love of God and love of neighbor, and when somebody tried to play games with him and test the limits of that love by asking "who is my neighbor," Jesus told the story of the Samaritan. Nope, Jesus never once said that because scriptures told stories of God condoning war that we were allowed to torture those whom we consider our enemies. Our neighbors, those we are called to "love as ourselves," include those far away, very different from us, and perfectly "undeserving."

At 5:20 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

To answer this: "Because that was the context of the question in the debate. That is what we are talking about, right?"

You are gravely mistaken. The nature of Guantanamo is that hundreds of people are languishing at W's pleasure *WITHOUT TRIAL*, so you have no grounds on which to accuse them of being terrorists.

At 8:52 AM , Blogger jonathan said...

The context of the question IN THE DEBATE was referring to a terrorist who had information in a possible terrorist attack.

That is not an innocent person. That is what I meant by the comment.

I would love to see some hard proof for your claims that the overwhelming majority of terrorist prisoners are actually innocent.

At 9:39 AM , Blogger Dwight said...

I think the point was that innocence is presumed, until there is a trial or some due process, something nothing of these prisoners have had. The Red Cross estimates 70-90% of prisoners held are innocent.

At 4:57 PM , Blogger jonathan said...

Interestingly, some of Al Queada's techniques and torture forms have been discovered.

Will they be attacked as vigorously? I highly doubt it. To much of the media hates conservative thinking... conservative thinking supports the ideas behind the war...and liberals don't. It's that simple.

At 2:42 PM , Blogger Virginia said...


Of course do not condone the torture that others engage in. The problem here is that, as Christians, we do not get to say "but but but... they do even worse!!!!!" when we are called to account for our sins. Bringing that up here is a clear attempt to avoid focusing on what we were originally being asked to repent for.

At 5:32 PM , Blogger jonathan said...

Nope, they weren't. Surprise, surprise. If you can stomach it, this is what REAL torture is, not the stuff we have been complaining about the past few days.

I brought not to say that our torture isn't that bad...but to show that we don't even USE torture. The Republicans wouldn't even use the word in the debate! The true villians in this world are not conservative legislators, no matter how badly you would like them to be.

At 2:00 AM , Blogger Virginia said...

Okay, we could play with the word torture, but from a Christian perspective, I think the more important word is love. I cannot look at what we do to these people and say "yes we are loving our enemies, we are loving our neighbors as ourselves." Just can't do it. I don't care if it is torture. I care that it isn't love. It is not what I would bring upon myself or my own children or my own parents or my own siblings.

At 2:36 AM , Blogger Dwight said...

Water boarding is torture. In fact it was perfected by folks like the Vietcong and now endorsed by the likes of Giulani. We've had the kind of treatment which has led to the death of scores of prisoners. so trying to measure out which torture is better or worse seems amoral if not immoral. But that's what the GOP has brought us to these days.

At 2:34 PM , Blogger jonathan said...


Jesus called for us to love our enemies, but God also proclaimed war on entire nations, and even commanded Saul to wipe out the entire Midianite nation. War is a part of God's work, and if you think that all violence is wrong, then you are being very selective in your thought process.

We live in a fallen world. God had no need for violence or death, but guess what? Sin came in. Since then we have had to deal with all kinds of garbage, and its OUR fault because we are sinful people.

Now, we deal with an enemy that is as close to pure evil as possible...killing innocent people at will and with a religour fervor never seen. You think we have lowered ourselves to their level, yet that is so far from the truth it's silly. They have done things so awful and so terrible to our citizens, yet we are MERCIFUL in comparison.

War is a part of our world. We can allow ourselves to be exterminated, or we can live. Part of living is fighting to survive.



Waterboarding consists of immobilizing an individual and pouring water over his face to simulate drowning, which produces a severe gag reflex, making the subject believe his death is imminent while ideally not causing any permanent physical damage.

"The threat of imminent death" is one of the legal definitions of torture under U.S. law, and obviously that is not the case in waterboarding.

You claim that waterboarding kills people...that is impossible. it is not a life threatening situation. Yes, it's not fun, but you can't die from it.


During this lovely discussion :P, I was attempting to find the terrible things that we do in this country for people like you to so easily condemn as evil. However, a fellow blogging friend of mine beat me to it, and actually wrote a fantastic post on the subject.

Take the time to read it. Realize the things that we do. Virginia, you are right to say that we shouldn't JUST compare ourselves to them. But just look at the 2 lists. There is NO comparison.

There are better things to do in our time rather than condmen our own nations for actions that are pitiful in comparison to the many other terrible things that happen in our country.

These people do not die from these "torture" forms. Millions and millions and millions of unborn children have died in our own nation, yet I could hardly get the same reaction out of you guys if we spoke on that subject.

At 7:40 PM , Blogger Virginia said...


Again, we don't get the luxury of comparing. We are Christians. Continuing to point out what others do (or even trying to point to the issue of abortion) is not a privilege we as Christians get to enjoy when we are called on our unloving behavior. We aren't called to be the best. We are called to perfection. Jesus didn't say "hurt your enemies less than they hurt people" or "curse those who persecute you, but not as much as they curse you." He said "love your enemies and bless those that persecute you." That is the standard to which I hold myself, REGARDLESS of what others in this world do that seems so much worse or even, as you claim, beyond comparison. I'm not going to search scriptures for some justification to act in an unloving way when Jesus said ALL of those scriptures rest on love of God and love of neighbor.

At 8:13 PM , Blogger Dwight said...

I will be following up with a post about water boarding as well as other forms of torture and the resultant prisoner deaths which have followed from those actions.

But in terms of war, that isn't the ultimate aim of God. We're presented instead with a different vision. Where nations will study war no more, where the lion and lamb will lay down together, where swords will be beaten into plowshares.

The fact that we are not there, is not an excuse to continue in that state or to encourage it. In other words, we may live in a sinful world but does that mean we should sin more abundantly?

And we have the example of Jesus, who wouldn't raise a sword against the Romans but spoke about non violence from the sermon on the mount to his example of death on the cross. And we're told to do likewise.

Impossible? Probably, but if Jesus was just given us some prudential advice I don't think he'd be known as savior as much as a guy with some interesting ideas.

That doesn't mean we can live up to that example. But it certainly casts into doubt any excuses we make for ourselves on why our practices are good and the others are not, justifications for doing about anything to the other are as old as time and they all ought to be shamed by the example of Jesus.

At 3:25 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

If making someone think they are drowning will loosen their lips sufficiently to disclose information that can save American lives, I'm all for it. What irks me is that someone leaked some of the methods we use to extract information to the public, giving the enemy some foresight into our operations at the interrogation level. Clearly, the press needs to be held accountable for their reporting. Perhaps its time to bring back a modernized version of the Sedition Act of 1918...

At 2:20 AM , Blogger Dwight said...

If effectiveness was the only criteria, why don't we feel free to do anything we want short of death to get information? Indications are we already do that. But what about threatening to or actually visiting harm on the prisoner's children and family. If it works, is there any reason why we shouldn't pursue that route? I hear it works well in Egypt. I forgot to mention that often such allies are called on to do things to prisoners that we don't want our hands implicated directly with.


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