Is Mormonism responsible for torture?

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tortureThe release of the Senate report on torture this week brought to light several disturbing facts about U.S. involvement in “enhanced interrogation techniques” such as rectal feedings, near-drownings, extensive sleep deprivation, and death threats.

It also reminded Mormons of something we’ve known for a while: that at least two of our own were responsible for drafting and legalizing these reprehensible policies.

  • Bruce Jessen, a Washington psychologist, helped to develop the techniques; rather than reproving his actions, the LDS Church called him as a bishop in Spokane, Washington. (He resigned from his calling after a public outcry.)
  • Jay Bybee, whom Time magazine once called “The Man Behind Waterboarding,” authorized the use of torture when he was a Justice Department official. He is now a judge in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Both of these men are probably very nice people. Bybee, in fact, told Meridian magazine in 2003 that he hopes his tombstone someday reads, “He always tried to do the right thing.”

But as lyricist Stephen Sondheim has rightly pointed out, nice is different than good. Today as the specific details of our country’s approval of torture become clear, some are noting a huge disconnect between the actions of these men and the teachings of the Mormon faith.

A By Common Consent editorial observed that critics “aren’t wrong to note our [Mormons’] deference to authority”:

. . . if we, as a people, are creating good men who do not understand that it is inherently wrong to torture even the worst offenders, then we are not doing a good job at creating good men. If we create men who understand that torture is wrong in the abstract, but when faced with the pressure of keeping a job, the greed of potential government largesse, the opportunity to justify revenge and torture in the name of national security, they fold and authorize it, we are not doing a good job at creating good men.

I too am appalled by the Mormon connection. These are men who dehumanized others, or at least planned and authorized that systemic dehumanization . . . and then went to church on Sundays to partake of talks and lessons on basic morality.

How did this happen, and what can Mormons do about it?

The first step is to admit that we have a problem. Several years ago, the Mormon Times* published a shrill and defensive column about Mormonism and torture, saying that journalists had damned all Mormons for the actions of a tiny minority of the church’s members. While this is a fair point, the column went overboard by claiming that journalists’ even documenting the men’s Mormon connection was an example of anti-Mormonism.

It’s not anti-Mormonism to point out that at least two key torture advocates in the Bush administration were LDS, especially considering that Mormons only constitute less than 2% of the general population.

Worse than that overrepresentation, which could always be explained by way of coincidence, is the fact that the LDS Church as an institution has not publicly called on governments to prohibit torture. In 2005, it did not join with other religious leaders in demanding the Bush administration end all forms of torture, though it did issue a private statement that condemned “inhumane treatment of any person under any circumstances.”

Apparently we Mormons can join with other religious leaders in officially denying LGBTQ people the right to marry (as in last month’s LDS participation in the Vatican conference on the family), but we can’t join with them in saying that the physical and emotional torture of human beings is unacceptable.

Our interfaith cooperation extends only so far as it furthers our own agenda.

So let’s put torture on the agenda. Let’s talk about it. And let’s learn from the example of Mormon Alyssa Peterson, who went to Iraq in 2003 as a counter-intelligence interrogator. As was recounted in Religion Dispatches, when Peterson was ordered to use “advanced interrogation techniques,” she refused to comply. Tragically, she committed suicide rather than participate in torturing other human beings.

Mormonism helped to create Bybee and Jessen, but it also shaped Alyssa Peterson. Our tradition contains the seeds for a more robust moral courage; we only need to nurture them.


* Clarification 12/11/14: I had originally assumed that this column was part of the Deseret News since it is hosted on the Deseret News website, but I have been informed that it was first published as a personal column in Mormon Times. This should be considered a separate publication that does not reflect the editorial positions of the staff of the Deseret News. I apologize for my error in attribution. In fact, I was happy to learn that the News in 2011 published its own editorial declaring that torture is wrong.

  • Melissa

    I doubt Mormonism is any more–or less–responsible for the hideous behavior of those who practiced torture on other humans.

    And that is a key point, I think. Many pretend that Mormonism has some unique connection to the creator of the universe, that it is The One True Church, and that it uniquely represents the totality of things divine on earth. But none of that is true.

    These men did horrible things. And yet despite his acts, one of them was made a pastoral leader of a flock of people based on supposed divine inspiration. There was no unique inspiration there.

    Mormonism teaches some wonderful things. But it is no better than any other faith.

  • DougH

    Stephen Sondheim is right that there is a difference between “nice” and “good,” but you most likely have them reversed for the two men you mention in this column by name – they may not be “nice” men, but may well be GOOD. The fact that one of them was called to be a bishop after the fact lends at least some credence to that.

  • jeremy cloward

    Thats an interesting point Jana. I do see a few things in church history , that they would like to ignore. In the days of Hitler running around and doing all kinds of horrible things in Germany, the church stood behind several mandates that came down from the Nazi regieme, many of which they didnt have to, but they chose to, by not allowing jewish members to come to church and that kind of thing. They excommunicated Helmut Heubner for starting a resistance movement. Many other things that we could consider wrong and shamefull, were done by the church , and church members sucking up to a terrible government. How is this going to play out, the church has always had a great respect from the government with so many members in high places, especially in military intelligence, and in the spy world all around. But we all still wonder, where do we , should we draw the line at what the government asks us to do. I mean, If I were in combat, and I had to shoot another person, yeah I like to think I could do that. If the guy recieving the bullet was a member, I still like to think I could do that. I have heard about how members have killed enemy soldiers, only to learn later that the guy was a member. The lord is ok with that , as ok as he could be, but… where do we say, its our leaders who take the blame for all this , and we have to accept responsibility, and do it, or say no…

  • Porter

    The part of this sordid and disgraceful chapter in LDS history that may be lost on the general public, but should not be lost on us, is that Mormons are taught to be subservient to their elders and to obey authority without questioning from an early age. My children were taught to “follow the prophet” at an early age. Here is the chorus from that song:

    Follow the prophet, follow the prophet,
    Follow the prophet; don’t go astray.
    Follow the prophet, follow the prophet,
    Follow the prophet; he knows the way.

    There is no tradition of civil disobedience, conscious objection, or peace building in the LDS Church. There is only obedience. I cannot help but believe that this culture contributed to the willingness of these men to willing condone these heinous acts.

  • Danny S

    Bravo, Jana, for raising awareness on this matter. Don’t forget that Gordon Hinkley commented favorably on the start of hostilities back in 2001 or so. I’ve long been aware of Bybee’s and Jessen’s involvement as discussed in Will Grigg’s excellent blog

    When I was a young priesthood holder in the military, I took comfort from Joseph Smith’s prophecy about the priesthood saving the constitution. How naive I was. Now, I have NO confidence in Smith’s supposed prophecy. Not that there aren’t exceptions, but I have observed the servile and acquiescent attitude of far too many members toward authority in the church and out of it. I suspect since the majority of Mormons are conservative, they tend to give Republicans and the security apparatus a pass in nearly all instances.

    I think it no accident the NSA built its mega storage facility in Utah. It knew it would receive no protest there. I also think it no accident that the alphabet security organs of our government recruit heavily among Mormons. In the FBI, there is a clique referred to as the “Mormon Mafia”. Yes, the recruiting of Mormons has to do with Mormons usually having a bland background that helps them breeze through security clearance investigations. But I also think there is a recognition that Mormons will salute and follow nearly any order. Unfortunately, in terms of thinking independently, Alyssa Peterson is the exception rather than the rule. I’ve always found her story sad, troubling, and a clue that our policies were corrupt. My most profound sympathies to her family.

  • Robert Slaven

    Thank you for this, Jana!! A key problem with Mormons is that too many just click into Stepford-like blind obedience to church leaders. A related problem is that too many (very much the same people) click into IOKIYAR (It’s OK If You Are Republican), and accept anything any GOP politician does or says as gospel truth. We don’t have enough of a tradition of going away and thinking for ourselves about this or that moral issue. If Bybee et al. had gotten outside of the “blind obedience” bubble, you’d think it would be obvious to them that a) yes, “enhanced interrogation techniques” was merely the Newspeak translation of “torture”, that b) the US, if it wants to deserve its self-appointed high-and-mighty moral position in the world, shouldn’t torture anyone, and c) if the US DID torture anyone, we’d get blowback (e.g. expected rise now in recruitment for al Qaeda and ISIS et al.). But no, Bush or Cheney or Rumsfeld or Rice or whoever said It Was OK, so Bybee et al. went ahead and drafted memos to justify it. And, sadly, the Exact Same Thing could be said for so many “good” people in Nazi Germany who “just followed orders”. Sigh. I’m REALLY not looking forward to having ETB as our topic of study for PH and RS next year….

  • Danny S

    Robert, you have my sympathy. I’m thinking of his “Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet”. President Kimball made him apologize to the Q15 and said it was not doctrine. Yet now the same talk is quoted with favor from the Morg leadership. How will you be able to stay silent?

  • Robert Slaven

    I won’t. Especially because I’m one of our Elder’s Quorum instructors. 🙂 I do the even-numbered chapters on the 3rd Sunday of each month, another instructor does the odd-numbered chapters on the 2nd Sunday of each month. Trust me, I will NOT be silent!

  • Larry

    I sincerely doubt you can call someone GOOD who implements and aids in actions most of the world associates with the excesses of the Gestapo or NKVD.

    The only thing worse than the torture is the sleazy dishonest excuses of it as if such actions were normal or inherently morally justified. My problem was less in what was done, it was in saying it was perfectly OK to do it. At least show some form of shame or acknowledgment a line had been crossed. What should have brought a measure condemnation and at least a level of public censure by legal authorities got a pass.

  • Farley

    It is interesting to note that Jay Bybee served a LDS church mission in Chile from ’73-’75. Sept. 73 Augusto Pinochet was brought to power in a CIA backed coup, and the LDS church strongly backed the dictator.
    During the time Bybee spent in Chile, the Pinochet regime tortured and “disappeared” thousands, including American citizens. The LDS church response to these atrocities? “LDS President Spencer W. Kimball gave the dictator a copy of the Book of Mormon and called him, ‘one of the great leaders of Latin America.’ “

  • Charles L Dayton

    Sensationalistic title. Some historians believe Hitler was gay. Would this title – Is Homosexuality Responsible for the Death of 6 million Jews – be accurate?

  • Pleiades

    Charles, homosexuality is not a moral compass, and it does not claim to represent the will of God on the earth. Your comparison is nonsensical.

  • Loana Kirsk

    By their fruits you shall know them.

  • Larry

    No they don’t.

    Gay people got sent to death camps along with a host of others. One of many reasons SA leader Ernst Roehm was killed was being gay.

    But one can definitely point to how the teachings of various Christian churches (including the LDS) are responsible. One can see how antisemitism was promoted especially among Catholic and Lutheran churches and came useful when recruiting willing participants and collaborators. At least two groups of Nazi collaborators were recruited on the basis of religious appeals (Croatian Ustasha and Belgian Rexists).

    Jacob 4: 14
    “But behold, the Jews were a stiffnecked people; and they despised the words
    of plainness, and killed the prophets, and sought for things that they could
    not understand.”

    People should really stop invoking Hitler and the Holocaust unless they have a clue what they are talking about.

  • Benjamin

    There is nothing good about Jay Bybee. I knew him for three years of law school and he was a visiting professor. He and one other Mormon professor who worked there were an ultra-conservative clique and were the most arrogant, pompous self-righteous know-it-alls I have ever met. Bybee was proud of his “fame” and was about the opposite of what I could ever imagine Jesus Christ must have been like. He once cited in a group of LDS law students the “better one man should perish than a nation should perish in unbelief” line and all I could picture was Laban in an orange jumpsuit being beheaded by Nephi in front of a camera holding the “torture memo” as his scriptures.

  • Edward Smith

    Would someone please point out to me, in the doctrines of the church, where it
    teaches us to do anything but follow the example of the Savior. The acts of individuals within the church do not define what the church teaches. Mormonism is defined by the teachings of the Savior. Members of the church live their religion according to their own understanding of these teachings. If Christ did not teach it, it is not doctrine.

  • bwv549

    Bybee’s actions should be interpreted in light of the information contained in the latest CIA-torture report which outlines the kind of misinformation/lies fed to Bybee:

  • Dave Young

    I would go easy on Jay Bybee. Common law (the part of law that judges make) is based on precedent and following existing legal patterns as defined in rulings, dicta, etc. Blaming judges over political issues further politicizes the judiciary, and I think that is a bad idea. For example, Scalia has been taking a tack toward more literal readings of statutory law, which pressures the legislature to repair errors and inequities. Although I am often unhappy with Scalia’s decisions, I can’t deny that , in the long run, his approach best preserves the independence of our judicial branch. So, yeah, take it easy on the judges and lawyers, and elect a better congress if you don’t like their prosecutorial decisions and rulings.

  • Farley

    No one should conclude that Alyssa Peterson killed herself. She is supposed to have killed herself with her own weapon while on a suicide watch.

    “… but more likely it may have been a murder to silence her. Some of what she had witnessed was prisoners stripped naked, beaten and having lit cigarettes extinguished upon their body. In addition, cramped confinement, stress position, sleep deprivation, insects placed in a confinement box and waterboarding were also known to have been used. Considering that Army spokespersons stated that ALL records of the torture techniques had been destroyed, it was obviously egregiously worse. Then you have an alleged suicide note left by her, which of all the records requested by Kevin Elston via FOIA request, was never manifested. An official report also reported that Peterson kept a notebook of her writings that was located next to her body but the contents were conveniently blacked out.”

  • Porter

    The issues discussed in this memo re before Judge Bybee became a judge. It has nothing to do with his rulings on the bench. While serving in the Bush administration as the Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel he signed the controversial Torture Memos in August 2002. These authorized certain enhanced interrogation techniques, widely viewed as torture, that were used against detainees at Guantanamo Bay detention camp beginning in 2002 and at Abu Ghraib following the United States’ invasion of Iraq in 2003.

  • Garrett

    I dont know why this surprises anyone…Mormonism has a long history of violence that is not only condoned, but approved of by the Lord. We only have to turn to 1 Nephi to see within a few short chapters that Nephi hears the spirit whisper to him that he must cut off the head of a drunken man. We can look at the Mountain Meadow Massacre. We can look at the blood atonement. How about the Danites. The fact of the matter is that none of this should surprise anyone…and there is definitely a direct connection with mormonism that completely justifies all of this. Just like Nephi…they more than likely felt that by coming up with all of this that they were in effect doing what the lord would want for those whol willfully break his commandments and hurt others. The scriptures are pretty clear in this that the Lord allows this type of behavior all the time. We probably shouldnt even look to the bible either where the Lord commands destruction all the time, kills children, allows women to be raped and then married by their rapists, etc.

  • Tim

    Just curious, how exactly does an institution release a “private statement”?

  • Dave Young

    Hi Porter, Yes, I know that, But as an attorney your job is to predict what a judge will do. A legal memo selects a set of facts and laws and then provides likelihoods and options as to how the court (or jury) might rule. It has nothing to do with the lawyer’s own morality. He may decide to recuse himself from the process, but reticent attorneys exercise no influence and correct no wrongs. At best, as an attorney Jay was pushing on the rudder of the Titanic. Don’t blame the helmsman, blame the captain.

  • Danny S

    Garrett, I hope you are not offended,but, your avatar is very funny! Can you explain the picture a bit?

  • garrett

    Lol….it was a picture from a trip to Bermuda when my wife and I were snorkeling. It made for a funny avatar and I’ve never changed it 🙂

  • jman

    There are many many things that Mormons believe and practice that have no precedent in the Bible or even in the Book of Mormon. Mormonism today claims that whatever it believes, Christ taught it. Mormonism doesn’t start with Christ and go from there. It starts with itself, and then attaches all its teachings onto Christ.

  • ron

    I don’t like how you always lead the conversation by blaming the greatest organization for good on the face of the earth for all the things really sh***y people do. These two people are just rotten apples. Don’t throw away the whole apple cart. Maybe if these two spend more time at church they will learn something. Church is the place these people and us need to be because we all have our flaws. Its just easier to see others motes than our own beams.

  • garrett

    Um….if Jesús didn’t teach it then it’s not doctrine….lol. well first we have to understand that Jesus is a fictitious character. Second we have to realize that most of Mormon doctrines were never taught by jesus…or the Jesus that unknown authors that didn’t actually live when Jesus lived by your own admission most of Mormon doctrines are made up and not valid

  • Nicole


    And it is why I left. I don’t want my kids growing up in a culture that teaches them to merely follow without questioning. My own mother taught me that. And I think she might regret that a bit now. But I love her and I’m so glad.

  • DougH

    Decades ago I got into a debate with one of my college roommates over the morality of targeted assassination during times of war, with me in favor and him opposed. Since we both were Mormons I pointed to the example of Teancum, described as “a man who had fought valiantly for his country, yea, a true friend to liberty; and he had suffered very many exceedingly sore afflictions.” And a man who twice assassinated the Lamanite king making war on the Nephites, who was mourned by General Moroni when he was caught and killed after the second assassination. My roommate didn’t have an answer for that, but I had made the major screw-up of assuming that if someone is a good man, then his actions must be good as well. My opinion in the matter hasn’t changed, but now I wouldn’t simply point at Teancum and say, “He was a good man and he did it, so it must be all right.” Conversely, because you feel that a man’s actions are wrong, even evil, does not mean that the man is himself evil.

    But as Teancum wasn’t wrong, neither do I believe that these two men were necessarily wrong. I don’t know enough of the details to judge their specific case. I know that there were clearly cases where interrogators went too far, but I don’t specifically what was authorized or at what level (though I have heard that all of the interrogation methods okayed by the White House had been used by our military in training). But what I am sure of is that inflicting pain, mental or physical, for the purpose of gaining information is not ALWAYS wrong in ALL cases. One case that came to my attention recently involved a European kidnapping, where the authorities had the perpetrator in custody but didn’t know where the victim was and expected the victim to die soon. The officer in charge ordered everyone else to leave the room and then forced the perpetrator to give him the information needed to save the victim (and no, I don’t know the details of how he did it). That officer was prosecuted for his actions and according to the “always evil” theory committed a heinous, evil act. But he saved the life of the kidnapping victim.

    As always it is a balancing act, depending on the facts on the ground and the beliefs and motives of those involved, on both sides.

  • Danny S

    Ron, seriously? Developing torture and giving legal cover to torture are motes? I can see why you say that however. In the mormon world, what they did might not even be considered wrong. Yet every teenager who masturbates has committed a sin next to murder. So what are most people’s beams compared to those little sins like torture? To think I let a made up book and people like Boyd KKK Packer get into my head. (Shakes head sadly)

  • ron

    Let me say this realllly slllooowwwly so my point isnt lost. My point was that we all need more church not less.

  • garrett

    Yeah….because more church….more belief in a fake, supernatural being….will make everyone good…..

  • HarryStamper

    hey..garrett..with all that snorkeling…come up for air every once in awhile

  • kackyful

    You do realize how absurd you sound using a “fictional” character as your defense of these monsters?

  • HarryStamper

    There’s a story in the Bible where the Lord through Charlton Heston sent many plagues on Egypt, the last plague was the killing of all 1st born …even animals. Clearly the Lord did not follow civil authority (Pharaoh) , the Lord also violated “separation of church and state”, he violated the rights of animals(PETA), and most of all…Egyptians were black….the Lord went after the black children…not the Jewish one’s….Oh yes…the Lord sent angels to massacre all the 1st born to send a message….let Moses and Israel leave….why?…because He got tired of torturing them with the other 9 plagues…..
    Exodus 12:29-30
    29 ¶ And it came to pass, that at midnight the LORD smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sat on his throne unto the firstborn of the captive that [was] in the dungeon; and all the firstborn of cattle.
    30 And Pharaoh rose up in the night, he, and all his servants, and all the Egyptians; and there was a great cry in Egypt; for [there was] not a house where [there was] not one dead.

  • kackyful

    So you don’t read the Book of Mormon then, I’m guessing?

  • Jana

    I think you make valid points on the whole, but I am disappointed by how dismissive you are of church efforts. The church did issue a statement as you said condemning torture of all kinds. The Vatican summit was pretty unprecedented and only in the past few years has the church really been involved with multifaith statements and dialogues. Condemning the church for not doing that seems pretty petty when it did speak out on the topic.

  • kackyful

    How do you spend more time at church as a Bishop? You clearly didn’t even read the post?

  • Curious

    Come on, this is RNS! Can’t we blame the torture on Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris instead of on two nice people of faith? Guess we’ll have to wait for the next Stedman column for that…

  • Pete

    Wow, lots of Sheeple here. Including the author. Let’s put this all in proper context. 3000 people died one day because of the actions of men who were neither nice or good. I say it is more than acceptable to take almost any means possible to find their leaders to make sure it doesn’t happen again. My friend’s sister died that day when an airplane was flown into her office. Her murderers gave no thought to being humane. This column and most of the posts are pure garbage and completely ridiculous.

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  • Jeremy, I rarely post from wikipedia, but in this case it is the only immediate source I have to show your ignorance on the matter of Helmuth Hubener’s excommunication from the Church.

    “Local LDS branch president Arthur Zander was a fervent member of the Nazi Party, even to the extent of affixing notices to the church door stating “Jews not welcome” beginning in 1938. Ten days after the arrest of Helmuth Hübener, on 15 February 1942, Zander, acting for the LDS, excommunicated the young man demonstratively,[6] as had been demanded by the Gestapo, without holding a church court or notifying church headquarters in Salt Lake City, USA.

    “Four years later and after the war, Hübener was posthumously reinstated in the LDS Church in 1946 by new mission president Max Zimmer, saying the excommunication was done by mistake. He was also posthumously ordained an elder, was rebaptized on 7 January 1948, and endowed on 8 June 1948 with information on temple sheets stating “All the temple work was done for him.”[7]

  • Danny S

    Kelly, I agree with you that Hubener’s disgraceful excommunication was most likely the doing of a local leader and cannot be ascribed to higher leadership. (However I also believe the church has lied about its general authorities meddling in more recent excommunications.) But there is the troubling fact of the Deseret News publishing a article gushing about how the Nazis had adopted a fast Sunday and how Hitler observed a diet consistent with the Word of Wisdom. This article appeared on December 9, 1933, on page 19, titled, “Mormonism and the New Germany”. See here, Is it possible branch president Zander was aware of this article and thought he was acting consistently with church leadership feelings? Was he not enforcing article of faith #12? Also, the church teaches that church callings are inspired by God. So was Zander’s call to be branch president inspired? Or was the mission prez just acting as a man? Yeah, we’re straying off topic. But I continue to be astounded at the doctrinal and historical web the church has constructed and now finds itself caught in.

  • DougH

    Was Samson called of God? How about Saul? For that matter there’s Judas, called by Jesus. We all have our free agency, and so because someone is capable of fulfilling a calling does not mean that he will.

  • RancidCheese

    BE CAREFUL, my friends…

    In the article it says that Bruce Jessen was called as Bishop, instead of being “reproved”…
    How do we know he wasn’t reproved?
    Isn’t the point of being imperfect ONE OF THE REASONS people are called to leadership positions in the Church?
    If we only called perfect people as Bishop, there wouldn’t be any Bishops…

    Did he develop the torture techniques WHILE he was Bishop?
    Did he repent of having done that?


    We either believe in the Atonement, or we do not.
    Be careful to not be “lukewarm”…

  • Robert Slaven

    Pete, you must have missed the parts of the report that said the US received NO accurate, useful, or even truthful intelligence from torture. If the US HAD received valuable intel from torture … well, I’d say torture is still evil, but I might be more willing to accept it as a “necessary” evil. But when you get Absolutely No Useful Intel Whatsoever from it, then it loses any “necessity” defence, and becomes strictly an evil act of vengeance. Remember what Jesse Ventura said on the Larry King Show (and remember, Ventura UNDERWENT WATERBOARDING HIMSELF as part of his military training): “I’ll put it to you this way, you give me a water board, Dick Cheney and one hour, and I’ll have him confess to the Sharon Tate murders.”

    (Needless to say, while Dick Cheney has a LOT of sins to confess, no one seriously thinks he was pals with Charlie Manson.)

    While I’m very sorry for the murder of your friend’s sister, and all of those other horrible deaths on that day, the fact is that torture does not qualify as a “means to make sure it doesn’t happen again”. In fact, if anything, the US torture of al Qaeda members and suspected members has INSPIRED more people to join al Qaeda or ISIS or similar groups, and has probably put the US in MORE danger, with absolutely ZERO benefit on the other side. If for no other reason, the simple lack of effectiveness of the technique means that it should be abandoned, period.

  • DougH

    And every CIA Director that Obama has appointed has acknowledged that enhanced interrogation provided useful intelligence, including the current one. Considering that from what I’ve heard the Senate committee didn’t bother to interview a single person actually involved in the program, it looks to me like an attempt to avoid a debate on where the line should be drawn out of moral considerations by denying enhanced interrogation’s efficacy.

  • BillRichardsonMesa

    Jana, I find that your premise here is deeply flawed. Even if what you perceive to be true about these men is actually true (I think you don’t understand Bybee’s involvement, in particular), the actions of any particular person, be it a “leader” or not, does not an indictment of the church make. The church is full of sinners, molesters, wine bibbers, adulterers, fornicators, etc. To suggest that the actions of these two men stain the church is like saying that Gary Gilmore and Ted Bundy should be held out as representatives of the church of some sort.

    To answer your question: “What can we do about it?” I would say that each individual Mormon should live the gospel as well as he or she is able. We should leave the rest of the members to try to do the same and leave the judgment to Someone else.

  • Larry

    You miss the point entirely.

    Torture, targeted assassinations and all sorts of dirty acts in the “intelligence bag of tricks” are immoral by their nature but done in service of the country out of perceived necessity. Necessity and expedience are not morality. There is no question evil acts are done for goals that are beneficial. But it doesn’t change the immorality of them.

    It doesn’t make the act moral. It may make it justified for some reasons. But never because it was inherently good or right. That is a mistake too many religious believers make.

    The old canard is that religious morality is “absolute” in comparison to humanist or atheist views of the subject because they have their moral concepts laid down in writing. However, religious morality has so many loopholes and opt-outs that virtually any act is excusable when done in the name of the religious faith. Ends always justify the means in religious moral concepts. Making religious believers being the most relativistic people out there morally.

    The real evil in play is less the actual torture than the attacks on rule and law and morality used in justifying it to the public. Pretending doing horrific things to people is always peachy keen if they are “the enemy”. Its the lack of hand-wringing over such decisions and the casual way the government sought to downplay the gravity of their acts that is horrific here. There is no way casually considered acts of cruelty can be considered moral under any reason. Justified maybe for some political or situational necessity but never ever moral. Never GOOD.

  • Larry

    People who did bad horrific things for the Lord. Their acts were still bad but they justified it because of the ends involved.

    Would the Philistines have considered Samson moral?
    Is it moral to declare an entire people fair game for killing?

    One of the most misguided takeaways people have with the story of the putative sacrifice of Isaac is believing that Abraham’s willingness to kill his own son for God is a good thing. A sign of supreme devotion. It shows one missed the context of the story.

    In Abraham’s day child sacrifice was not unusual. It was even expected by some faiths in the region. Abraham thought nothing of following through with killing his son as so many followers of many gods have done before. However God tells him to stop. In essence God is telling Abraham, “I am not like those gods others have worshiped. I do not ask for people to shed the blood of others for me”. In their effort to emphasize the nature of the human sacrifice, they lose sight of the moral message. God doesn’t require human blood.

  • W

    “There is no tradition of civil disobedience…there is only obedience.”

    Cliven Bundy isn’t a role model for me, but would you characterize him as particularly obedient?

    One could argue he’s an outlier in terms of the lengths he’s gone to, but it would be incredible to characterize his underlying politics of hostility to civil authority as rare or unrepresented in LDS circles.

    No, Mormons are perfectly capable of defiant rhetoric and even unlawful action when it comes to civil authority. It’s just not often directed the way progressives might like.

    This doesn’t change the underlying argument that a church that failed to instill in Bybee and Jessen an aversion to torture is a church that has a call to improve. It just means obedience culture arguments aren’t likely to do much in term of stimulating helpful introspection.

  • David

    This article sounds like the author has a serious bias against Mormons in connecting two individuals who happened to claim membership in the Mormon Church as a connection to what the entire church teaches. I wonder what would happened if the reporter went out and connected all the bad things in the world with all of the religions and organizations in the world. Answer: There would be no organizations who would be without fault. Besides, I would also wonder if the author practices their beliefs!

  • Robert Slaven

    The CIA has been feeding a steady diet of lies and organic bovine manure to the American people (not to mention the rest of the world) for two-thirds of a century now. The simplest course of action is to simply not believe a damn thing they say; saves a lot of time that way. I have serious difficulty, thinking back on my four decades of politics-watching, thinking of One Single Solitary Thing that the CIA has ever said in public that wasn’t at best a half-truth, or at worst a bald-faced lie.

  • DougH

    I can say exactly the same thing about the Democrats in Congress, especially after the outright lies they fed us to ram Obamacare down our throats. After the BS Feinstein fed us then, why should we believe anything her committee says now? Especially, as I said, when her committee didn’t bother to interview the people involved in the program. As the Red Queen said, sentence first, trial after.

    And these men are OBAMA’S appointments, unless you believe that everyone that takes the job magically turns into a torturing liar you have to believe that at least some of them must have been good, honest men? And Panetta at least was extremely reluctant to admit to the efficacy of enhanced interrogation — the most he’d say was that the information the program provided was one of multiple streams. But he admitted when testifying to Congress that it was one of the streams.

  • MD Eckersley

    Excellent, thoughtful piece. I concur with the author’s sentiments.

  • Going back to Jana’s original question “Is Mormonism responsible for torture?’, no, Mormonism is not. Nothing in the doctrines of the LDS Church suggest that torture is approved. Are two members of the LDS Church somehow complicate in torture taking place? Yes. However, this article makes for interesting reading about Jay Bybee:

  • Farley

    Please note that criticism of Mormons and Mormonism is in the 1st person plural. Are you saying that members of the CoJCoLDS can not be critical of other members of the church or of the church itself?

  • maddy

    random thoughts:
    First, I’ve often wondered if the “blindly obedient” types are more likely to ascend to leadership positions within the church.

    But, I think we should not assume that agencies such as the CIA, FBI etc. look favorably on recruiting Mormons simply because they don’t challenge authority. There are other factors–such as adhering to the WofW, internationa/nationall life experiences (serving a mission) that might make them ideal candidates.

    Clearly there are authoritarian leaders and authoritarian followers within the LDS Church–and other denominations as well. But the LDS Church may be more highly structured and rigid than many other denominations.

    One bishop we had strongly held to the idea that he would always follow orders given from those above him, even if wrong, because the “sin” would like with those giving the orders, not those following orders.
    Another bishop had the philosophy that he would thoughtfully consider direction from those above him but had no problem deviating from that direction if it didn’t well serve the needs of his flock (the ward).

  • Robert Slaven

    “Clearly there are authoritarian leaders and authoritarian followers within the LDS Church–and other denominations as well. But the LDS Church may be more highly structured and rigid than many other denominations.”

    There’s a professor at the U of Manitoba, Bob Altemeyer, who’s done a ton or research on authoritarianism. He’s actually developed a test which measures how much of an authoritarian you are. The correlation between “scoring high on that test” and “holding conservative political views” and “voting Republican in the US or Conservative in Canada” is insanely high. I would LOVE to run this test on a huge random sample of American and Canadian Mormons, vs. American and Canadian non-Mormons. I suspect there would be a large, statistically-significant difference in the resulting figures.

    Actually, there’s a new book that I REALLY want to get and read: “Seeking the Promised Land: Mormons and American Politics”, by David E. Campbell, John C. Green, and J. Quin Monson. I’d like to know if they ran that test, and what their results were.

    If you want to take the test yourself to see how you score, you can go register at (, and then go to to do the test. (For comparison, I’m a social democrat/democratic socialist who thinks the Democratic party is too right-wing for me, and I scored 2.3/6.)

  • TheEnglightenedSkeptic

    Nice one Jana.

    Context is irrelevant unless it fits your narrative.


  • trytoseeitmyway

    Sometimes I’m critical, other times I’m supportive … but this is really horrible: “Jay Bybee … authorized the use of torture when he was a Justice Department official.”

    If I were Judge Bybee, I would demand a retraction. Most people couch “torture” in this context with words to the effect that some observers or some experts or something like that regard the enhanced interrogation techniques as torture. To declare flatly that the legal opinion in which Judge Bybee (while a Justice Department attorney) opined that some but not all EITs were lawful “authorized torture” denies the ambiguity and grounds for differences of opinion in a legal issue that, frankly Jana, you know nothing about. Not all interrogation is torture. Not all conditions of interrogation are torture. I fully understand that there can be differences of opinion about where to draw the line in circumstances in which, well, you know, thousands of innocent lives are at risk from vicious avowed mass murderers. I can even AGREE with you that the line needed to be drawn in a different place … but that does not mean that careful consideration of both sides of the issue is unwarranted and it does not mean that a careful, laws-of-war, precedent-based conclusion should be castigated with a conclusory statement like this one (Bybee authorized torture) when the facts show that is emphatically NOT what he thought he was doing in any way. And not when the statement ignores any subtlety to the question presented or any urgency in the need to protect the public from grievous harm.

    And by the way, exactly NONE of this has anything to do with “blindly following authority” or anything else like that which you’ve dreamed up in your sanctimonious imagination. An attorney in Bybee’s position had an OBLIGATION to examine law and facts before reaching legal conclusions that could be given operative effect. All of the evidence is that Bybee did that independently using his best legal judgment on behalf of his client, which happened to be the United States of America.

    You owe that man an apology, Ms. Riess, and we’ll learn something about your own moral character when we see whether he gets it.

  • TomW

    What I find interesting is that there is virtually no questioning of the premise that what was advocated must of necessity be considered ‘torture’ whatsoever. Just because some bleeding hearts lack the stomach to do hard things in times of extreme danger to the republic doesn’t mean that the difficult choices made by the president and his advisors is outright torture or that the interrogation tactics can never be sanctioned relative to the threat level. I’m sorry, but I remember quite vividly the scenes of people jumping off of the World Trade Center towers as imminent death by fire, smoke, or building collapse loomed. I remember how each and every one of us feared continuing attacks on U.S. soil for years to come. I am not about to smugly sit in judgment over people whose primary mission was protecting American lives, and actually succeeded in the task for the remainder of Bush 43’s terms in office. They have my eternal gratitude, and I’d gladly buy them a drink of their choosing if ever the opportunity presented itself.

    Perhaps my thoughts on this matter are best expressed by a couple of Facebook memes, the first of which outright captures my thoughts. The second of which is what some folks on the political left (and a few on the right) make me feel like reacting as well.

  • Again we’re discussing another issue without discussing the main issue. Mormonism and polygamy, Mormonism and racism, Mormonism and torture. All of these issues, though important, don’t deal with the real issue: Is Mormonism true Christianity? How about the issue of Mormonism and the Bible?

    The very foundations of Mormonism are cracking. The Smithsonian said this about the Book of Mormon: “The Smithsonian Institution has never used it in archaeological research and has found no archaeological evidence to support its claims.” A recent Meridian Magazine article (an LDS publication) said this about Joseph Smith translating the Book of Mormon from the golden plates (August 10, 2014–How Joseph Smith Translated the Book of Abraham, by Kerry Muhlestein): “While we cannot nail down the exact details, it seems he (Joseph Smith) often was not looking at the gold plates at all during much of this process.”

    And Joseph Smith claimed to have translated the Book of Abraham from an ancient Egyptian papyrus: On July 5, 1835, the Prophet recorded, “I commenced the translation of some of the characters or hieroglyphics, and much to our joy found that one of the rolls contained the writings of Abraham…. Truly we can say, the Lord is beginning to reveal the abundance of peace and truth” (HC 2:236).
    I pulled this quote from the following link:
    Now, though we see Joseph Smith claiming to understand the characters and hieroglyphics from the scroll, the following claim is also made on this link: “Likewise, it was principally divine inspiration rather than his knowledge of languages that produced the English text of the book of Abraham. His precise methodology remains unknown.”
    So, Joseph Smith claimed to understand the characters while others say he didn’t and it was translated by divine inspiration. Those who wrote this also claim the papyri has been lost: “In 1856 the papyri were sold by Joseph’s widow to Abel Combs. With the exception of a few fragments returned to the Church in 1967, the present location of the papyri is unknown.”
    Or is it unknown?
    “To every one’s surprise, in 1966 the papyri were rediscovered in one of the vault rooms of the New York’s metropolitan Museum of Art. The Deseret News of Salt Lake City on Nov. 27, 1967 acknowledged the rediscovery of the papyri. On the back of the papyri were “drawings of a temple and maps of the Kirtland, Ohio area.” There could be no doubt that this was the original document from which Joseph Smith translated the book of Abraham.”
    See following link to see that the papyri was in reality a funerary text and had nothing to do with Abraham:
    Why am I saying all this? In 1 Nephi 13:24-26 (from the Book of Mormon), And the angel of the Lord said unto me: Thou hast beheld that the book proceeded forth from the mouth of a Jew; and when it proceeded forth from the mouth of a Jew it contained the fulness of the gospel of the Lord, of whom the twelve apostles bear record; and they bear record according to the truth which is in the Lamb of God.
    Wherefore, these things go forth from the Jews in purity unto the Gentiles, according to the truth which is in God.
    And after they go forth by the hand of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, from the Jews unto the Gentiles, thou seest the formation of that great and abominable church, which is most abominable above all other churches; for behold, they have taken away from the gospel of the Lamb many parts which are plain and most precious; and also many covenants of the Lord have they taken away.”
    The evidence concerning Joseph Smith’s works is that they are fraudulent rather than inspired. In one of those works, the Book of Mormon, specifically in the book of Nephi, we are told that precious truths were extracted from the Gospel as we find it in Scripture. Joseph Smith claimed to be commissioned by God to restore those precious truths. Precious truths that a fraudulent book says were taken away.
    But those precious truths were not extracted at all. So the Gospel as presented in the Bible is indeed correct and complete. Mormonism has added to that Gospel.
    Now, with the evidence, let’s see about the issue of Mormonism and the Bible. Are Mormons indeed Christians?
    Contrary to Mormon doctrine they would have to agree with the following;
    1. God has no god.
    2. They will never become gods.
    3. God was not once a man.
    4. God did not have relations with Mary to produce Jesus.
    5. God has no wife nor is He a polygamist.
    6. Jesus has no wife nor is He a polygamist.
    7. Lucifer is not Jesus’ brother.
    8. Jesus shed His blood at the cross to atone for sin, not at Gethsemane.
    9. Jesus died for the sins of men not so they could work their way back to heaven, but that they would be saved from judgment.
    10. There are no need for temples since those who receive Christ as their Savior become temples of the Holy Spirit.
    None of these Mormon teachings are Scriptural.
    And one more thing: Joseph Smith, claiming to be a prophet, could not see that Egyptologists would discover the Book of Abraham was a funerary text. He did not see that the dead sea scrolls would show the Bible around in his day was in fact correct. And following is a link showing some of Joseph Smith’s failed prophecies.

  • Wayne Dequer

    YourMorals site fascinating. I scored more like a Democrat than a Republican although I was often inbetween, and occasionally more liberal or more conservative than both. 😉

  • Robert Slaven

    The site started as part of Jonathan Haidt’s research into “moral foundations”. The idea is that there are 5 or 6 “moral foundations” that we humans use in making decisions, including/especially political decisions. Liberals tend to rely on only 2-3, namely Care vs. Harm, Fairness, and Liberty vs. Oppression. Conservatives tend to rely on all 6 relatively equally, including Authority vs. Disrespect, Ingroup/Loyalty, and Sanctity/Purity vs. Disgust. All of the moral foundations have solid evolutionary-psychological “reasons”. Learning all this helps me understand right-wingers better. His 2012 “The Righteous Mind” is, IMHO, a Must Read for anyone on the left who goes “OMG I Just Don’t Understand how anyone could be conservative!”, AND for anyone on the right who goes “OMG I Just Don’t Understand how anyone could be liberal!”

  • Wayne Dequer

    Excellent comment.

  • Danny S

    Downtown Dave, arguing against Mormonism by using the bible and traditional Christianity is not to argue from a position of strength. Most any of the critical analysis directed against LDS doctrines can shift to traditional Christianity as well. The bible is little better, even the new testament, as an accurate history or account of things than the Book of Mormon. The only reason it gets the edge is because at least some of the things in the bible are factual. Whereas the Book of Mormon is a complete work of fiction. The Book of Mark, the earliest of the gospels and written by a non-eyewitness nearly 40 years after the death of Christ, makes little claim of Christ’s divinity, plus the last 12 verses are a forgery. The gospels increasingly embellish their claims of Christ’s miracles and divinity until you get to John, written nearly 100 years after crucifiction, referring to Christ as the Word and so forth. And while I’m at it, the story of the woman taken in adultery…didn’t happen. An addition to the manuscript long after the fact.

  • trytoseeitmyway

    By the way, did Islam “help[] to create” Osama bin Laden? I would never imagine that, but apparently Jana and others would. After all, the reasoning here is that the religion “helped to create” any adherent that ever does anything found to be objectionable or reprehensible.

    Christianity “helped to create” Auschwitz, you would say I guess.

    On your logic. Anglican Christianity “helped to create” Bishop Jonathan Ruhumuliza who knowingly denied the existence of Rwandan genocide in 1994.

    My own feeling is that adherents to any given religion are typically led by their religion to do good things. There are times when an adherent to a religion can do bad, transgressive or even evil things. The reasons why can have to do with that individual’s circumstances, character traits, and motives, which can be and often will be entirely orthogonal to the religion as an institution or as a set of doctrines. It is absurd to the point of invidious prejudice to pick out any one characteristic – such as the person’s religious affiliation – for the purpose of ascribing ANY DEGREE OF BLAME OR CRITICISM AT ALL in the absence of other factors that would more closely tie the morally blameworthy conduct to the religious affiliation.

    In this really very obnoxious essay, none of those types of factors have been mentioned or even been hinted at. It just says, these two guys are Mormon so we better have some reflection and discussion about torture.

    I’m not at all against reflection or discussion of any kind anywhere, so don’t get me wrong. On the other hand, I am not one of those people who think that every political controversy needs to be translated into religious terms. Jana Reiss is obviously on the other side of that, and pretty much wants to insist that LDS culture conform to her liberal politics. But this idea that “Mormonism created” some bureaucrats who made decisions with which she in retrospect disagrees, so that this needs to lead to all kinds of institutional soul searching is just plain silly.

  • trytoseeitmyway

    Dave’s mind is made up, don’t bother him with facts.

  • Esteban

    The church did not create Jessen and Bybee or lead them to commit their egregious actions and it did not brainwash them into blind obedience. They actively chose their course of action because of their political ideology which justified torture as a legitimate tool to achieve their ends. Blame the Republican Party, blame Fox News, blame George W. Bush, but don’t blame the church which only has the power to plead for righteousness. In the end, we all have our free agency and I have never been taught in Sunday school or priesthood meetings that torturing people is OK or that we should follow political leaders unquestioningly. The message of the church is always the same, “Follow the Spirit.”

  • Wayne Dequer

    downtown dave,

    Good effort at anti-Mormon polemics by misrepresentation. I’m so glad The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has provided a number of thoughtful and accurate essays at including , , , While it is Not an official source of the Church of Jesus
    Christ of Latter-day Saints context about the statement by the Smithsonian can be easily found at

    However, I support your right to make such statements and so does the LDS faith as can be easily seen in the recent article and moving video at .

    I wish you well in all of your positive endeavors.

  • Dave

    The president asks me if he has the legal authority to do X. My legal research indicates that he does. He does it. Am I responsible?

  • daveo

    You may rest assured that the Mormon Church gladly accepted their standard 10% of the millions in blood money these men were paid, just as they do from casino operators, or hotels that distribute pornography. Unfortunately, the source of the money doesn’t seem to matter to them.

  • Nobody Important

    Is Mormonism responsible for torture?
    Is Feminism responsible for genocide?

    Both claims are extremely inflammatory and maliciously false, but I could find more evidence for the latter.

  • MAfromMD

    The REALLY disturbing thing here is that someone who knows NOTHING about the Mormon Church and its tenets would take upon themselves a baseless smear article condemning an entire religion. And the whole thing is based on nothing but logical fallacies! Sad what our society is descending to! Then everyone else piles on … so easy to judge that which you know so little about.

  • Pete

    Even if your facts were correct, it makes no sense. That’s like saying why paint my house because ultimately the wood will rot anyway. While I appreciate your sympathy, sorry will not prevent another one of these atrocities. Waterboarding might. Finally, you live in a fairy land, if you think that if we are nice, everyone else is going to be nice. I stand by my original comments. This article is pure garbage. I expect more from this woman.

  • Jessie

    Will there be follow up posts looking into how other involved parties’ religions are responsible for the torture?

    (Yes, this is a tongue and cheek question. As a Mormon, I hope I would be just as uncomfortable with any other religion being substituted for “Mormonism” in the title).

  • David Naas

    Not LDS, although I have read the BOM. (Call me a “Friendly bystander”.)

    Almost 80 posts and none of you good people have mentioned one thing which stood our glaringly to me the first time I read the BoM. — The life and times of General Mormon. I’m sure you know the story better than I — how the Lammanites and Nephites got to hating each other so much, you couldn’t tell which wide was which by the degree of atrocity they committed on each other. Each one of them thought the other side was so sub-human it was ok to do anything, and you can tell most of it was unmentionable, for what was mentioned was horrible enough. Sort of like this CIA torture report. Neocons are justifying all manner of evil in the name of National Security (thankfully, they have not degenerated into claiming it is for God’s sake.)

    One would have thought Mormons would have noticed that thing right away.

    But, I think LDS are really no different from anyone else when it comes to compartmentalizing want you hear on Sunday from what you do the rest of the week. — namely, some practice what they preach, and some don’t. Just like everyone else.

    So, cut these two guys some slack, they were living in the DC bubble, which is not connected with the real world.

  • DougH

    Nope, sorry, belief in Jesus’ divinity predates all the Gospels. It’s all through Paul’s letters. Consider 1st Corinthians 15:

    Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

    3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

    That is what Paul preached to the Corinthians less than two decades after Jesus’ crucifixion, and I know of no reason to believe he preached anything different before he reached Corinth, from his first missionary journey starting thirteen years after the crucifixion onwards.

    For more on what Paul taught about Jesus’ divinity, check out “Did Paul Think Jesus Was GOD?”:

  • DougH

    Rather than the RWA poll (on which I split the difference at 3, BTW), you’d probably have been better to suggest the Moral Foundations poll — not only does that one include an Authority score but compares your result to Liberal and Conservative averages (I scored closer to the Liberal average than the Conservative) and supplies the other four foundations as well.

    BTW, I believe that one point the site creators make elsewhere is that Conservatives understand Liberals better than Liberals understand Conservatives precisely because Conservatives are more balanced across the five foundations.

  • The one guy shouldn’t have taken the calling to begin with. I believe that sometimes the Lord calls people to a position of power as a call to repentance. They should review their lives and see they are not worthy, rather than see it as proof they are going the right thing. But he did the right thing and stepped down when he was outed for his sins.

    I find the title of this article very misleading. Is it about gay teens being told that they are better off dead than gay? No. It is about abusive husbands practicing priestcraft in their callings and/or homes? No. Is it about the Church supporting the BSA even though they are a right-wing bigoted group? No. It’s about 2 men being involved in both the Church and illegal activities. So, no would be the answer to the title’s question.

  • Maddy

    “Senate Committee didn’t bother to interview a single person.”

    Factcheck can be found at:

    I remember very clearly (former) FBI interrorgator Ali Soufan’s strong opposition to using torture as a method of interrogation. Soufan had been involved in the successful interrorgation of many terrorists.

  • trytoseeitmyway

    Pete, your comments are very appropriate and factual. I also agree with your expression of disappointment in Jana Reiss.

    We should be clear about something. This essay was only minimally about religion; that’s just the veneer. The essay was about Reiss’s politics. It turns out that those politics are on the low-information, MSNBC-viewer end of the spectrum.

    Is that too harsh a judgment? Well, let’s consider the facts. The essay uses this emotionally-loaded, morally judgmental term “torture” without ANY ACKNOWLEDGMENT AT ALL that to be used properly, the term needs to be the product of analysis and, if used in a moral framework, needs an ethical underpinning to establish its meaning. Reiss doesn’t care. As far as Reiss is concerned, the only thing she needs to know is that some people have reached the conclusion that some enhanced interrogation techniques cross the line into morally reprehensible territory (hence, torture) and that’s good enough for her. She doesn’t need to know why they say that, she doesn’t need to know what the justification is, she just needs to know, well, lots of people think that the EITs in use prior to 2009 were in that category and, heck, that’s good enough for her.

    By the way, in reference to Bybee and even Jessen, the Senate Intelligence Committee executive summary report included, and dwelled upon, EITs that went beyond anything Jessen included in his catalog or that Bybee opined were lawful. So no one should say that either one of them authorized or developed or approved or otherwise sanctioned the explicitly un-sanctioned EITs described by the SIC’s report. Is this distinction noted in Reiss’s disgusting little smear? Don’t make me laugh.

    So, anyway, there is this idea among some politicians and policy types that if an interrogation method isn’t in the Intelligence Interrogation section of the Army Field Manual, well, it has to be immoral (hence, torture). Huh. So, um, what is it that gave God’s Stamp of Approval to the Army Field Manual? Is it scripture? Jana, do you know? Please tell all of us silly little people out here just what it is about the gosh-darned Army Field Manual that made it the revealed word of God. So that no one could ever question it or imagine that no other interrogation methods could be considered in a moral context?

    See, here’s the thing. One day a bunch of really really very bad guys from Saudi FLEW AIRPLANES INTO TWO OFFICE BUILDINGS AND THE PENTAGON IN WASHINGTON, AND WERE TRYING TO DO THE SAME THING TO THE U.S. CAPITOL BUILDING UNTIL THAT PARTICULAR GROUP WAS STOPPED BY THE HEROIC ACTS OF ORDINARY CITIZENS AT THE COST OF THEIR LIVES. Thousands died. Horribly. They were innocent of anything that merited this torture. And it became obvious that this event was deliberate, planned and part of a larger conspiracy that had killed and was intended to kill other innocents. It became obvious, too, over the course of the following weeks, that the plans weren’t detected due to a massive intelligence failure. Pretty much everyone – I would venture to say, even Jana Reiss – started screaming that this had darn well better never ever happen again if we can at all possibly help it.

    So belatedly our government went into high gear to remedy the intelligence failures that had let the evil scheme go undetected. Then some of the same people who demanded that whatever need to be done BE done decided to also demand that intelligence methods be constrained in various ways.

    And properly so. No one wants to write a blank check in the collection of information, even for national security. But it creates a tension between the overriding desire to protect the innocent victims of morally depraved mass murderers, on one hand, and the need to protect against exceedences of moral or prudential restraints on state power, on the other hand. This is the very complex and ambiguous issue with which we have been faced since 9-11 and with which governments or their citizens have been faced since, well, the dawn of time. And this is the very complex and ambiguous issue that Jana Reiss passes right by when she falsely and stupidly asserts that Judge Bybee “authorized torture.”

    Are we SURE that “sleep deprivation” is “torture?” How do we know? What standards are we applying when we say that? Does Jana Reiss have any flippin’ clue? (That last one is easy.)

    Are we SURE that every “stress position” is “torture?” How do we know? What standards govern that analysis? All of this gets ignored when we say ignorant things like, “Bybee authorized torture.”

    Well, what about waterboarding? That sounds very darned unpleasant, to create drowning panic in the interrogation subject. I am sure that I would not like that, one little bit. Perhaps it should not be allowed, I’ll grant you that. But it doesn’t do physical harm, right? It just scares the fellow, right? He maybe experiences, gosh, 0.001% of the fear and anguish that he put 9-11 or other victims and their families through, right? And what we’re trying to get at is information that will save other lives.

    (There is a very unserious person on this page who made a comment to the effect that, well, the SIC says that EITs led to no useful intelligence. That’s unserious because the SIC is laughably wrong about that. There is a wealth of other evidence to the contrary. Some of that was cited to him, and he just says, well, the CIA lies. I guess it is easy to have opinions when you can just dismiss contrary evidence as “lies” without analysis.)

  • trytoseeitmyway

    Excellent comment.

  • trytoseeitmyway

    More lies I take it.

    One former senior intelligence official says that “once KSM decided resistance was unwise, he started spilling his guts to the agency and started providing lots of info, like the noms de guerre of couriers and explaining how al-Qaeda worked.”

  • trytoseeitmyway

    Good discussion of SIC “sleight of hand” here.

    By the way, statements like “[t]he simplest course of action is to simply not believe a damn thing they say; saves a lot of time that way” represent textbook examples of the ad hominem fallacy.

  • trytoseeitmyway

    *Riess. My apologies for switching the vowels. I think I spelled it right in other comments.

  • Danny S

    Yes, Paul’s writings pre-date the Gospels. But a number of them are forgeries, such as 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, and Ephesians. Scholars seem evenly split on the authenticity of Colossians and 2 Thessalonians. In terms of things Jesus said and did, how many accounts do you find in Paul’s writings? Spoiler, not enough to even fill a 3×5 card. The ascension of Jesus to God was a direct response to the Romans’ elevation of Caesar Augustus to godhood while he was still living. Acts which contains the Damascene conversion story was not written by Paul. Line 10 or 15 people up and have them play the game telephone. That’s the New Testament.

  • trytoseeitmyway

    I always like the fact check guy. Lots of times he says, well, yes, the statement is true, but I don’t agree with the inference. This is an example.

    This analysis gives you a clearer picture, assuming you’re interested (I suspect not). The whole point is, if you like the narrative, facts should not get in the way. Rolling Stone’s editors felt the same way.

  • Lucifirous

    “The fact that one of them was called to be a bishop after the fact lends at least some credence to that.”

    Really? Those of us who have seen fraudulent business men and even child abusers called as Bishops might question whether their calling is any indication of their goodness.

  • justin

    Umm… I’m not sure what the issue is. Moses, Paul and a myriad of other Prophets of old slaughtered many- Even God himself wiped out the entire population in Noah’s time. Saying that this guy was made bishop after the fact doesn’t make the inspiration received nullified. Moses was still called of God to lead his people. Moses was a true prophet. If Joseph Smith was a true prophet like unto Moses (which you either need to completely know for sure if he was or was not) then we do have everything you denied. Totality of divinity. To suggest that all religions have all the truth is like saying all fast food chains have the Big Mac. There is only one faith, one God, one religion (according to the bible.) The article in discussion is about Torture and these men will be held accountable for what they did. But bringing up your Uniqueness and the fact the EVERY HUMAN besides Christ isn’t perfect, and justifying them not being called of God to do his work is truly ignorant. Ignorant means you have not looked at all the facts, or have conveniently left them out. Its true- there is one God. He loves you as much as me and has much and the guy who does the torture and the guy or is being tortured. Christ was tortured, beaten an bruised for you. Jesus the Christ is the head of his church- Is there any other church out there that boldly declares of this being the fact besides The Church of Jesus Christ? 12 apostles, with a prophet. Show me, tell me and understand the scriptures and who is in them and what it testifies of.

  • Robert Slaven

    Wow. I hate to be a party pooper … well, no, in this case, I DON’T hate it. So many of the comments here are going over one or more of these points:

    1. Bad guys did something very bad. We got really angry, understandably. We decided we would do Whatever It Took to prevent that kind of thing from ever happening again, also understandably (even though it led to us right-wingers saying “Sure, pass the PATRIOT Act even though it tramples all over our Constitutional rights, and even though we’re going to keep quoting Ben Franklin w.r.t. security vs. liberty”). (Implicit subtext: We also wanted revenge.)

    2. When people, like those who wrote the Senate report, say “We didn’t get any useful intel from these “enhanced interrogation techniques” (whether you call it “torture” or not), we disagree. We are POSITIVE that we got Good Intel from those techniques. (Implicit subtext: That also satisfied our desire for revenge, at least a bit.)

    3. These lawyers in the DoJ and these psychologists and other people in the Bush administration said “These enhanced interrogation techniques don’t ‘really’ count as torture.” Even though anyone who’s been waterboarded (e.g. Jesse Ventura as part of his military training) would tell you otherwise. Even though many of those “enhanced interrogation techniques” a) count as torture according to most definitions of the world, b) were considered “torture” and “war crimes” during the post-WWII trials of German and Japanese military leaders, and c) were considered “torture” and worthy of punishment when American troops used those techniques in Vietnam.

    4. Sr. Riess’ column, and the editorial at By Common Consent which she quoted, are WRONG to either a) accuse Mormons of being more deferential to authority (or “authoritarian”) than most, in part because of the focus on obedience and respect for leaders that is part and parcel of the religion, or b) imply that this obedience and respect (which we think is A Good Thing, no matter what you call it) is somehow A Bad Thing because it presumably made Bybee et al. more likely to just go ahead and come up with a justification for these “enhanced interrogation techniques”, rather than to sit back and ask themselves “Gee, should a disciple of Christ really be doing/justifying this kind of stuff?” (as Alyssa Peterson apparently did).

    5. (Because we’re deferential to authority and we worship the air our political leaders breathe, as long as they’re Republican) We are convinced that the CIA is telling the truth on this stuff, and that the rotten Democratics on the Senate Intelligence Committee are lying like rugs. Because IOKIYAR, And authoritarianism. And spies always tell the truth.

    Sorry, that’s a set of worldviews to which I will NEVER subscribe. And don’t accuse me of being a Democratic Party apologist, either; BOTH parties are, IMHO, parties of Mammon, and not fit for any nation that keeps trying to call itself “a Christian nation”.

  • Nobody

    “Pure garbage and completely ridiculous” is exactly what this website is. 🙂

  • Danny S

    And that, folks, is what in the internet world is a drive-by shooting.

  • trytoseeitmyway

    Robert Slaven, you could convince me you don’t want to be reasonable using far fewer words, but what’s done is done. Just to be clear there is no “implicit subtext” in anything I said; my effort was to say exactly what I mean. It seems as though you’re finding a “subtext” as a straw-man argument. That’s considered a fallacy.

    You think that EITs can’t possibly lead to useful intelligence and cite the SIC report as authority. I think that they could and did, and cite experienced intelligence officials who were there at the time as authority. *shrug* So we disagree. But you’re the guy who used the ad hominem argument that anything any CIA officer says (including the current Director) is unworthy of belief, which I find ludicrous and (again) fallacious. I also think that it is silly on the face of it to imagine that while Army Field Manual techniques DO produce useful information, there is something magic about adding anything to them that precludes obtaining any reliable information from the subject.

    You seem to acknowledge that the issue of what constitutes torture is a legal issue, but then cite (ahem) Jesse Ventura on the issue. OK. I can’t remember the last time anyone treated Jesse Ventura as a legal authority, but you’re entitled to your opinion. My sole point in any of these comments is that OTHERS are ALSO entitled to THEIR opinions, and it is obnoxious to suggest that good faith conclusions arrived at in a reasonable process deserve to be viciously smeared by people like you. It is not the case that every interrogation amounts to torture. It is not the case that every circumstance in which an interrogation is conducted amounts to torture. The questions of where and how to draw the lines are legal, moral and prudential, and involve multiple considerations and competing values, not one of which you have been prepared to acknowledge in extensive comments.

    You can’t find anything about “obedience to authority” in any of my comments, so it is odd that you devoted points 4 and 5 to sarcasm on that subject. See above regarding straw men.

    Omit the word “party” and you’ve hit the nail on the head.

  • maddy

    Much of the SIC report relied on information from the CIA Inspector General’s report which can be read (in part) here:

    The Torture Convention defines torture as:
    “Any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspect of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent of acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.”

    The U.S., in conducting its affairs across the world, holds itself up to be example of freedom and humanity that other nations ought emulate. (Why can’t we use these techniques on American citizens who are withholding valuable information in order to save another American life?) It is one thing to kill in self-defense of life,(as in war/combat) but it is quite another to purposely engage in a program of inflicting severe psychological and/or physical pain of those held captive.

    If the U.S. fails to uphold civil and moral ideals, it becomes “do as I say, not as I do” resulting in no standard–or a race to the bottom.
    “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.”

  • HarryStamper

    Few opinions…
    1. laser guided bomb kills 30 suspected terrorist in a house.
    2. The military raids the house, kills 10, holds and tortures the remaining 20, gets information, the 20 are sent to Gitmo.
    Which of the 2 above scenarios is more moral? or which one is less immoral?

  • Robert Slaven

    Killing is bad. We kill when we have war, and one could debate the morality of war forever.

    But to be honest, I think it’s “less evil”, at a significant level, to kill 30 suspected terrorists than to kill 10 and torture 20. (Especially because torture sucks at getting useful intel, despite the claims to the contrary by the CIA and its defenders.) I think it’s more evil and more morally disgusting to torture than to “just kill”. And most war crimes trials and international laws re: war crimes would agree. I’ve never heard of anyone being hauled up on war crimes or being convicted for just being responsible for killing X or X hundred or X thousand soldiers, but there were sure a lot of Germans and Japanese who were executed or jailed for torture.

  • HarryStamper

    Nice reply…No wrong or right
    Interesting….killing is better than torture and living
    I wonder what people who are tortured would say

  • maddy

    The CIA’s own Inspector General concluded:

    “the effectiveness of particular interrogation techniques in eliciting information that might not have otherwise been obtained, cannot be so easily measured.”

    Doesn’t sound like a resounding endorsement of EIT now does it?

  • DougH

    No, I didn’t miss your point, I disagreed with it. There is no such thing as a necessary evil, if an act is truly necessary rather than just expedient, it is not evil. Just like how the difference between killing and murder is determined by motivation and situation, so too the difference between enhanced interrogation and torture. Nor is it a case of “[p]retending doing horrific things to people is always peachy keen if they are “the enemy”.” How many German POWs did the Allies order tortured during WWII? Our response was dictated by the actions of our enemies, and the president’s duty to protect the lives of his people.

    If you are going to argue that the use of pain to extract information is at all times and in all cases evil, please explain why this is the case when killing our fellow children of God is not also at all times and in all cases evil. Because when it comes to killing, God obviously doesn’t feel that’s the case.

  • DougH

    Samson acted out of lust, Saul out of greed. I don’t know of any indication as to Judas’s motive in betraying Jesus, but I doubt it was because he thought God wanted him to. And to that list you can add David who was called by God and then committed adultery and murder out of lust and fear.

    As for your interpretation of Isaac’s near-sacrifice, it’s not the first time I’ve heard it and it doesn’t make any more sense to me now than it did the first time. All you need to do is to look at what the angel that stops the sacrifice says to Abraham:

    12 “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

    13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

    15 The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time 16 and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, 18 and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”

    It is clear from the angel’s approbation that Abraham did the right thing in choosing to obey God and trust that He knew what he was doing. Don’t forget that the standard relationship between god and man at the time was strictly quid pro quo — man would worship the gods, and the gods would reward (or at least not punish) man. But not for Abraham, not by this point.

  • DougH

    If a prosecutor declines to call the defendant to testify, you can probably assume that that is because the prosecutor doesn’t want the jury to hear what he has to say.

  • DougH

    SO you believe that no callings are ever inspired? That God has nothing to do with who is chosen to lead His Church? I do. Have all such callings been inspired? Probably not. But the default assumption is that they are.

  • DougH

    It sounds like a cop-out to me. One of the things the historians long considered to be nonsense and even today is much debated is the counterfactual, the “what if?” And that debate exists for a simple reason — however well-informed our guesses might be, we can never really know “what if?” According to Bush’s last CIA director Michael Hayden and former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, out of the thousands of unlawful combatants captured by the US fewer than 100 were detained and question by the CIA, and less than a third of those subjected to any of the techniques discussed in the memos. And as late as 2006, fully half of what we knew about Al Qaeda’s structure and activities came from those interrogations. So we got quite a lot. If the Inspector General wants to argue that we could have gained all of that same intelligence from other means, he’s going to need to produce at least as detailed an argument as the counterfactuals I enjoy so much. Anything less is wishful thinking.

  • DougH

    That’s probably because there is no comparison to make. Whatever else you can say about the enhanced interrogation program the Bush Administration signed off on, it wasn’t out of hatred and perverted pleasure. It was out of a desperate desire to acquire the information they needed to save lives, from people belonging to an organization dedicated to mass murder. Nor did the White House sink to the depths Mormon recorded.

  • DougH

    No, Paul didn’t have much to say about what Jesus’s miracles, because they were irrelevant to the points he was making. But that doesn’t change the fact that from the earliest writings we have, less than two decades after Jesus’s crucifixion about preaching that occurred only thirteen years after that crucifixion, Paul already considers Jesus to be the Risen Son of God, Lord and Creator of all things. There is no gradual evolution of a belief in Jesus’s divinity, it is there from the earliest records. (And whatever other writings whose validity scholars may argue about, Romans and 1st Corinthians aren’t among them.)

  • W

    Looks to me like you want to play games with the burden of proof, which I don’t think really goes well for the torture advocates. Because we’re talking about a morally dubious — no, morally *perilous* technique — the burden of proof for effectiveness lies soundly with those who’d advocate or approve its use. And if it isn’t not only conclusively effective but *uniquely* effective, not only are you advocating something that may damn those who approve and use it, you may also not get anything you were willing to sacrifice some degree of humanity for in the end.

    But as far as I can tell, placing the burden of proof back on torture advocates isn’t even necessary as far as the balance of the argument goes. The Inspector General’s position you’ve characterized “wishful thinking” is more than substantially supported by defense, police, and intelligence professionals. That’s certainly the perspective that those of my personal acquaintance who’ve been trained in interrogation have given me: coercive methods are considered less effective than building rapport and using subtlety.

    But I don’t expect my anecdotals to mean anything alone to readers. Here’s an argument to the same effect with citations from FBI agents and the Army Field manual:

    Or consider this report on gainining intelligence from captives/suspects:

    And… there’s also the Senate report.

    If none of this looks like a substantial challenge to the idea that torture reliable and effective — and one that comes from studied and experienced opinion — perhaps you could suggest what would like that to you.

    I can already see that you place a lot of confidence in claims like Hayden’s that we gathered uniquely available intel using torture. I suppose one can argue he’s also an authority, but I’ve been unable to find any substantiating reporting or argument for how that worked, only naked claims from people who participated. But perhaps there’s a report out there somewhere which breaks down in detail the techniques used in various sessions, the intel gleaned from the responses of the tortured, and how it was later verified and found useful. I’m happy to read such reports if they exist. Please link or suggest search terms if you’re aware of them.

    Otherwise, perhaps you should strongly consider that it’s not your opponents in this argument that are engaging in the wishful thinking and hypothetical counterfactuals.

  • USA Drones kill 28 civilians per terrorist: so for the 30 terrorists you kill 840 civilians. And the Caliph got that day 170 new recruits at 200/day-30. Might have been 30 day before the bombing.

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  • trytoseeitmyway

    Ed Rogers, not a conservative Republican or a Mormon, points out in the Washington Post that the SIC report “is nothing more than a death rattle from the ‘blame America’ crowd within the liberal Democratic majority. And after the hotly contested report was released, CIA Director John Brennan, who was appointed by President Obama, repudiated the information it contained.”

  • Jen K.

    In Jana’s defense, she’s writing a religious news column, not political. I think her question is valid (perhaps her title would be more accurate if it were, “Does Mormonism’s Culture Contribute to Justification for Torture?” – but that’s cumbersome & clunky, word-wise). It’s a sociological question & if I remember right, Jana’s academic expertise is Religious History.

    I’m baffled by the responses from LDS who say we are taught only to follow the Spirit, or to follow the Savior. I can grant we may have had different church experiences, but I disagree with those sweeping conclusions. There has been a very strong culture (imo) of obedience to authority and following the prophet. Questions and doubts have been frowned upon (more so in the past, though that is changing). This has everything to do with Mormonism’s history with racism – (Brigham stated it as a prophet, so it was ‘God’s truth’ for a very long time.) Joseph Smith’s polygamy & polyandry follow the same (imo scary) scenario – “Do what the prophet says, or else! Don’t question. Don’t oppose.” I have heard very little from the official/institutional church in my lifetime about the importance of independent thinking, civil disobedience, or defying/ignoring authority if it violates our own moral code. In fact, I’ve heard very much the opposite – even just as subtext. There were “Let this be a warning to you!” lessons about people who questioned authority and were excommunicated. Shunning and warnings to people who stepped out of line are/were not uncommon.

    I’m saying this as someone who is delighted to see this kind of thinking dying off. I have found a way to stay LDS because I think there’s a rich and beautiful theology here that almost directly contradicts the culture we’ve seen in the past. Moral agency, personal freedom that’s awe-inspiringly expansive, a personal relationship with Deity, God’s very own light and spirit alive inside each and every soul on earth, cosmologically magnificent and grand views about our potential as eternal souls – it all transcends and makes petty some of the unfortunate consequences of our all too often rigid and fear-based culture.

    I think it’s quite possible, maybe likely, that the culture of Mormonism contributed to these men making decisions out of loyalty and deference to authority. At least that’s what I was hoping would be explored in this space.

  • Kent

    As I am coming up on the one year anniversary of my leaving the Mormon Church, I am treated with regard to the overallnaivete of the Mormon responses to this article. I am not saying this as an individual who was a lukewarm Mormon, I held several leadership positions and I am well versed in the doctrines and scriptures of the church. I also will say that I am at least an agnostic now and do not subscribe to the overall idea that there is one religious entity in the world which holds all truth. My decision to leave the church was based upon the fraudulent nature of its foundation, which I also coupled with a detailed and exhaustive study of Christianity and its foundations as well. This having been said, another facet of my decision to relieve Mormonism was my belief that the institution is morally bankrupt. It is telling that in 2005 the church could not come out and join other ecclesiastical bodies and condemn torture. How difficult is that? It is the same as deciding whether we need oxygen to breathe. It should be easy for a religious institution which claims to further and promote Christ’s love in the world to say that it is against torturing that particular God’s children, whom the church states that are loved no matter who they are. This is just another example of the church ‘s inability to do what is right. During the civil rights era, when black people were suffering the worst of indignities, and back through the Jim Crow era, along with the institution of slavery, the church, through its prophets and ecclesiastical leaders,issued the most vile and derogatory statements against black people. Ezra Taft Benson likened Martin Luther King to a subversive and a communist and even lent his name and credibility as an apostle0 of the Lord to one of the most disgusting and racist books ever written. How hard would it have been for the church to have come out and said that black people are God’s children just the same as everyone else and that they don’t need to be attacked by dogs, have their churches burned, be lynched, shot, bombed, and subjected to all other types of humiliation, just because they wanted to vote and to be considered as equal partners in this nation? In my opinion the church fosters an authoritarian atmosphere so that people will never look outside of the box and discover that the emperor has no clothes, and that the institution is designed to be self perpetuating in such a way that it will only survive as long as it can convince its members that it is something that it isn’t. With regard to Jessen and his calling as a bishop, if he had been subject to any other types of moral flailing which would have been less acceptable to the brethren, such as infidelity, wine consumption, or any of the other sins that would have been more readily visible and not politically acceptable, then he never would have been issued the calling. The Mormon Church is about image and nothing else. It was that image that was being attacked, for that Jessen resigned. It was not because anyone thought that he had any moral failings or that there was anything reprehensible about rectal rehydration which is basically shoving food back up the rectum of an individual. Additionally, for those who wish to equate to Jessen’s activities with those heroic figures of the Book of Mormon who did things in the heat of battle or any other soldier who does things in the heat of battle, you must remember that this man was paid 80 million dollars to sit and devise these methods of torture. He was not being shot at and he did not have to make moral decisions in a split second. These were conscientious and deliberately undertaken activities which were designed to inflict maximum hurt upon our fellow human beings. Shame on us for believing any of this was justified, and shame on the Mormon Church for calling this man as a bishop.

  • Larry

    So your definition of what constitutes evil is relative to the situation. Anything and everything can be justified as long as the cause is allegedly “the right one”. This is the worst kind of slippery morality out there. What should make one feel guilty or at least reluctant is absolved without a hint of moral struggle or thought.

    My argument is not about the use of torture. It is against making crappy excuses for it in order to give such actions a patina of respectability.

    “Our response was dictated by the actions of our enemies ”

    That is called the doctrine of reprisal. It does not absolve the evil of the given act. It just acknowledges it in a limited context of the opponent’s action. The act is evil but it is done to meet a similar evil act. I am saying that the act of torture is always going to be evil. It is sometimes necessary and an expedient act of warfare. But it never makes it moral, never good.

    It is an acknowledgment you are doing something wrong but perhaps for a legitimate reason. It should give one pause, not be seen as a good act to me done with gleeful righteous joy. If you think the ends need to justify the means, you have to be looking long and hard at those ends. Making lame excuses for the act is hardly that.

  • Sandy

    Slaughter isn’t torture

  • Mickey

    Kackyful, you claim the right to exclude consideration of Moroni and Teancum, because you don’t believe they are real. You realize, though, don’t you, that those who do believe they are real, are invoking the very same right as you, to IN-clude them. It’s moot for one side to claim the other is “absurd” for doing so!

    Personally, I think the title of the article is provocative, which may be their intent to draw an audience, but otherwise it’s a crucial contradiction. Logic to the rescue: If Mormonism supported torture, it’s extremely inconsistent that the “perp” would be DE-moted instead of PRO-moted. Much less of his own volition. That’s passing judgment on himself, isn’t it. So, where’s the “official church” guy who’s supposed to say, “No, that’s just what we wanted! Good job! Hang in there! Do it more! We’re proud of you. . .”?

  • Rbeekah

    Nice is different than good.

    Any person can be nice, it take more to be good.

    Considering all the horrible ways Joseph Smith and followers of the church were treated in the early days of the LDS faith. Finding anyone of the LDS faith guilty or at least complicit whether directly or indirectly in these horrible acts is abhorrent to say the least. You’d think LDS in general would learn from our history that such treatment is wrong, no matter what time or what age.

    However, as a member of the church we believe that we are all given our agency. We choose our own acts and can be praised or condemned by them. Since I don’t believe these men will be punished or perhaps praised in this life, then it is to just let go and let God be the final person in judgment. Will the church do anything to them? It doesn’t look like that is going to happen either. I trust God to be the ultimate judge to those in the church and out of it. If those in the church are wrong, then God will take care of it. Perhaps I am a bit laissez-faire in this but, what else can be done? It seems to me that the chips have fallen where they may.

  • DougH

    Of course, what constitutes evil is situational. All you have to do is look at the question of when killing is murder to know that – killing someone who is trying to kill you or your loved ones is unlikely to be sinful (depending on why that someone is trying to kill you, and if you can stop it without killing in turn), killing someone to conceal a crime almost certainly is. Stealing food to feed your starving family is one thing, stealing food for the thrill (like Augustine reported doing in his autobiography) quite another. Inflicting pain on someone to save their life is one thing (say, Civil War surgeons operating without anesthetic), doing so because you enjoy it is a very different matter.

    Nor is it the “doctrine of reprisal” as you claim, because it isn’t a matter of punishment any more than killing someone trying to kill you is an act of reprisal. Going to war with the Japanese after Pearl Harbor wasn’t an act of reprisal, and neither was the eventual bombing of German and Japanese cities.

    Also, consider just what you are claiming by saying that enhanced interrogation is ALWAYS evil. First, if it is truly ALWAYS evil, then it is NEVER necessary – there is no such thing as a necessary evil. By acknowledging that it might sometimes be necessary, you are admitting that it might sometimes not be sinful. Second, you are claiming that it is more important to preserve the human dignity of mass murderers than to preserve the lives of the innocents they want to slaughter.

    Finally, the “lame excuse” in this case is 9/11 and over three thousand dead innocents, and an enemy dedicated to repeating that day if it can. You might think that’s a “crappy excuse for it in order to give such actions a patina of respectability,” I beg to differ. Nor was it a matter of giving interrogators a green light to do whatever they wanted to whomever they wanted. As I understand it Bush was given a list of twelve interrogation techniques and authorized ten of them — some of those techniques used in military training. Out of the thousands of unlawful combatants we captures those techniques were used on less than thirty. That doesn’t mean that people didn’t go beyond what was authorized, I’m sure it happened. I’ve read reports of just that, and that doesn’t even get to Abu Ghraib. But Abu Ghraib was not the norm.

  • DougH

    I took a look at your links. I’m afraid I don’t have time to look through a 372-page file, if there’s anything specific in there you want to reference you’ll need to provide quotes and page numbers. As for the Guardian article, the answer is simple: Yes, it can. two quick examples, one from ancient history and one from recent history.

    For ancient history, there’s the battle of Kadesh where the Hittites tried to ambush an Egyptian army by hiding their own army on the opposite side of a city and feeding the Egyptians false information. The ambush was blown when a couple of Hittite spies were captured and the true location of the Hittite army beaten out of them, though the Hittites almost managed to pull off a victory anyway.

    For recent history, there’s the case of Gäfgen v. Germany, where a man kidnapped and killed a child, then demanded ransom from the child’s parents and was captured by the police in the process. The police, believing the child to still be alive, threatened to torture him if he didn’t give up the child’s location. The man confessed and told the police where the body was. Though I believe that the Court came to exactly the wrong conclusion (I consider a child’s life to be worth more than a kidnapper’s autonomy and human dignity, but believe that the evidence obtained as a result of the kidnapper’s confession should not have been admissable in court), there’s no question that in this case the threat of torture worked.

  • Jason

    Because a lot of folks in this blog are making assumptions about what went through the minds of those who authored and condoned the torture in question, I feel compelled to do the same.

    I assume the individuals we are discussing were at a moral impasse regarding how to move forward – especially when considering the fact that nearly 3,000 Americans were recently burned to death or leapt to their deaths as the Twin Towers were going down. I assume the moral dilemma they experienced was compounded by the fact that chatter amongst terrorist groups at the time seemed to indicate another deadly terrorist attack was imminent. I assume no conclusions were quickly reached, but were actually the result of many sleepless nights and much hand wringing.

    No, I don’t think that just because you put a lot of thought into something it makes your choice of action right. No, I don’t condone torture. No, I’m not naively on the dreaded slippery slope of relativistic morality.

    Yes, I think this issue is WAY more complicated than many make it out to be. Oh, and yes I find it quite humorous that some see a link between Mormonism and acts of torture. Hahahahahaha!

    Oops…on second thought, I take that last statement back – I have found some fast and testimony meetings to be quite torturous…

  • Randy

    Lets not forget Mormons welcomed the NSA spy center to be located in Bluffdale, Utah. The Mormons claim to uphold the U.S. Constitution, but the NSA violates it hourly. I live in Utah and the Mormon Church is the only institution listed on the State website of prohibited areas for concealed carry of firearms ! In my opinion this is repugnant to the 2nd Amendment, and of course the “Leaders have security with giuns follow them where they go! They are losing the moral high ground!

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  • Dillian Smith

    The Mormon church teaches people to not think for themselves. I’ve found by a few friends that they do not even know most of the church history of the LDS. The church always teaches to research church history and doctrine from church libraries or officially recognized church officals. The LDS church will often throw out its past teachings to keep up with the times. Like when a LDS buisness man obtained a bunch of stock in pepsi or coca cola many bishops said to its church goers that carbanated beverages were okay now. Wow who knew communism existed in America. That is how corruption starts is not letting the people studie what they know is true from outside and inside sources. If its true I should be able to prove some things the church says with outside proof too. For example the Bible is proof that Jesus lived even though the Bible has many revisions, (as does the book of Mormon, )the Bible compares accurately with the media of the time of its happening. Such as reports to writings of the time that indicate that Jesus did perform miracles that those writers of the media were critical anti Jesus of the time. LDS people seem like they quote Joseph Smith and church prophets about what they are supposed to do than asking “God Jesus and the Holy Ghost”

  • Haroutyun

    It is interesting that the topic is whether Mormonism is responsible for torture and not a single comment about Mormon massacre or 911 and 5 dancing jews on no other than a white van. Not a single comment that CIA is under same Mormon control that’s why never the terrorists against USS Liberty were condemned if not punished and those dancing PATHOLOGIES were released not jailed
    no comments about the fact that 911 took place on very 144th year the same day of Mormon massacre where 24 and 44 or masonic version 324 or 344 are the very number of white apron Mormons. no comments about years ago closing the case of 54 tortured and molested children in Utah. No comment about satanic inverted stars on the top of Mormon temples and skull cap terrorist Zionist demand to be worshipped as the god – the root and the birth place of all terrorist attacks against humans and against countries