Terrorism, torture and a pro-life foreign policy

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End Torture - courtesy of Chip Somodevilla via Getty Images

End Torture - courtesy of Chip Somodevilla via Getty Images

As I have spent a large part of time this week taking care of sick children at home, this was a good week to share the second half of the guest post by Robert Peters.  His post challenges us to re-examine how we approach the value of life when confronted with terrorism and torture. – Boz

This week ISIS released a video in which a Jordanian pilot was burned alive in a cage. Their film relished the violence, capturing this man’s agony and death in slow motion.

There is no moral equivalency between the United States of America and ISIS. There is no comparison of the ways they respectively conduct war.

Given the execution of U.S. citizens, the threat posed by ISIS, the humanitarian atrocities, and our own substantial role in its creation, the United States has a moral responsibility to eradicate ISIS.

The “how” and “why” questions are very important, though. War must not be fought gleefully or glibly, but as a last resort, and with a grim resolve to preserve life.

Too often attitudes on foreign policy are imbued with ethnocentric undertones. We rightly mourn the loss of life in the womb and the death of U.S. soldiers, but often we are not moved by the massive collateral damage of war overseas.

End Torture - courtesy of Chip Somodevilla via Getty Images

End Torture – courtesy of Chip Somodevilla via Getty Images

Do we mourn that half a million civilians died as a result of the Iraq war? Do we mourn over the many innocent lives lost from drone strikes. This has become so common that one 13-year-old Pakistani boy, who lost his grandmother, fears blue sky because “The drones do not fly when the skies are grey.” Where is the care and concern for the least of these? (Matthew 25:40)

In The Ragamuffin Gospel, Brennan Manning noted that while we “proclaim how precious each life is to God and should be to us,” when the enemy suffers, we rejoice and call for more.

Perhaps the most disturbing example of this was the reaction of many to the Senate Report on CIA Torture.

Bryan Fischer, Director of Issues Analysis for the American Family Association, admits that the “techniques used” could constitute criminal acts, but argues that in a time of war, they are entirely justified.

Fischer and others carefully sanitize their language to conceal the depravity of the acts. This is understandable, since CIA officers “used the largest Ewal [sic] tube we had” to anally penetrate prisoners, dumping a pureed “lunch tray” of hummus, pasta with sauce, nuts, and raisins, into prisoners’ intestines. This procedure was conducted with “excessive force” on multiple prisoners, and CIA records show that as a result, at least one prisoner was diagnosed with chronic hemorrhoids, an anal fissure (tear), and symptomatic rectal prolapse (don’t google it). Rectal rehydration was also administered “without a determination of medical need,” and used to establish complete control.

Former President Bush heralded CIA officials as patriots, but violent anal penetration can only be described as rape.

Detainees were repeatedly stripped naked and beaten. One prisoner died from hypothermia “in part from having been forced to sit on the bare concrete floor without pants.” The CIA simply forgot about one prisoner, who “had been chained to a wall in a standing position for 17 days.” Other prisoners were forced to stand on broken limbs. In addition to the physical violations, the CIA threatened prisoners’ mothers with slit throats and sexual abuse, and also threatened their children.

Many have suggested that the methods don’t matter, because all involved were terrorists who tried to kill Americans.

Even if this were true, it is disturbing (and hardly pro-life) to justify literally any act of torture based on enemy combatant status; the worst war crimes in history would also be justified under such a standard. The ends do not justify the means, and suggesting otherwise is neither Biblical nor moral.

Furthermore, not all involved were terrorists; of 119 “known detainees, at least 26 were wrongfully held” and did not meet the CIA’s own detention standard. One of these was an “intellectually challenged” man, imprisoned by the CIA “solely as leverage to get a family member to provide information.” Other prisoners remained in custody for months after the CIA decided they did not meet the detention standard.

Dick Cheney argued that this extensive false detention is irrelevant, because American lives were saved, while Fischer asserted that in a time of war, the moral calculus changes. (No word on whether the basis for their morality, God’s immutable character, changes with it.)

Consistency demands that we lambast these statements as immoral utilitarianism and relativistic nonsense, respectively, but no such luck.

Fischer proceeds from moral to factual bankruptcy, falsely asserting that every technique was reviewed by the DOJ and deemed permissible, that Congressional leaders were fully briefed on these methods, and that the techniques were effective, all conclusions that the Report undermines. For good measure, Fischer cites two Bible passages as support, neither of which are on point, yet he can’t resist a hypocritical partisan jab at the “Bible-illiterate” Left.

Ironically, while Fischer justifies the tyranny of false imprisonment and anal rape, he has the temerity to accuse homosexual activists (or “jack-booted homofascist thugs”) of being “tyrannical and totalitarian.”

Unlike Cheney and Fischer, Scripture does not cheapen the sanctity of life.

Christianity Today’s David Gushee listed 5 ways that torture is always wrong: It violates the God-given dignity of the human being. It mistreats the vulnerable and violates principles of justice. Authorizing torture misconceives man’s sin nature and trusts an inherently flawed government with unchecked power. Lastly, torture dehumanizes the torturer and erodes the nation’s character.

If this weren’t enough, “hands that shed innocent blood” are “an abomination” to God. (Proverbs 6:16-19) If we whitewash the abomination of violent dehumanization as Biblical or patriotic, we’re not pro-life. If we don’t care about the suffering of others, simply because they live in another country, we’re not pro-life.

The time has come for Christians to affirm all life as we defend it from both the barbaric acts of ISIS and our own indifference.

Robert Peters is a law clerk with the United States Attorney’s Office and a third year law student at Liberty University School of Law. He lives in Virginia with his wife and they are expecting their first child in July. You can follow Robert at @The BobbyPeters

  • As our nation progressively rejects the God of the Bible, we increasingly as a nation become more like other godless nations. As G.K. Beale has noted in his book by this title, We Become What We Worship, so it is playing out here in America. And I suppose the worst idol is the “unknown god” – the “no-god.” In that system, man worships himself and his evil is unleashed, unrestrained.

  • Larry

    Way to miss the point.

    Rather than rail about those who do not believe in God or a system which shows respect to all faiths by not being entangled in any given one, maybe you should have read the article more closely. The author’s criticism is clearly leveled at those people who wrap themselves in the Bible to justify atrocity and torture.

    One figure, Bryan Fischer not only makes Biblical based excuses for torture but also rails against the civil liberties of fellow Americans. As I see it those who are worshiping themselves are calling themselves Christian, using scripture to justify any acts, no matter how repugnant. Any act, no matter how evil is considered morally justified if one claims God wills it.

  • Larry – why do you have to be so antagonistic? Look, here’s the point – when anyone, whether they claim to be Christians or not, in reality are worshiping a false god, a distortion of the living and true God of the Bible, they will become like that idol, with very bad consequences. Idols do not produce kindness, love, and righteousness. Just the opposite. And everyone has a god. No exceptions – not even for the professing atheist. False religion is evil, and one of the most evil is the kind that says “no God!” Check out the French Revolution as a historic example.

  • Xian Atty

    It’s not just fringe radicals like Fischer who spread the false theology that when Christians do it, it’s not terrorism or oppression. Here’s the former editor in chief at Christianity Today, David Neff, trying to excuse parts of the Inquisition:

    “Christian anti-Semitism was historically different in several key ways from Nazi anti-Semitism. One of those ways is the distinction between placing an accent on race (as the Nazis did) or on religious identity (as the medieval church did). Even in the church’s teaching of contempt, the focus was on the spiritual blindness of Jews who refused to recognize what God was doing in Jesus of Nazareth. Baptism and conversion (and thus a changed religious identity) were always open doors for Jews who wished to escape prejudice and oppression.” http://www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2009/april/holocaust-remembrance-and-christian-responsibility.html?paging=off#bmb=1

  • Larry

    Because you are attacking the wrong people. Rather than reflect on what fellow members of your faith say, you chose to attack those who are not involved.

    ” when anyone, whether they claim to be Christians or not, in reality are worshiping a false god, a distortion of the living and true God of the Bible”

    Since Christians like yourself only say such things when embarrassed in public by those outside the group, such excuses are less than useless. They undermine any claimed moral authority you my try to invoke. Rather than criticize people who invoke Christianity towards immoral ends, you remain silent until called out on it by others.

    “False religion” is a self-serving title for anything you do not personally believe in. It is of no value to anyone else. Your false religion is another person’s true religion and visa versa.

    “and one of the most evil is the kind that says “no God!” ”

    So naturally you have no respect for our religious liberties. Rather than respect the beliefs of others or acknowledge them, you demonize others and vilify them. Especially beliefs which HAVE NO BEARING ON THIS ARTICLE WHATSOEVER.

    No religion has credibly objective claims in of themselves. One can only judge them by the behavior of their adherents. For many Christians I see a lot of moral equivocation, relativism and bad excuses in service of faith. The author saw the same and finds it speaks badly of the faith. The major difference is the author expects Christians to act better, I have no such expectations.

  • Larry – I don’t continue conversations with people who are abusive and who try to tell me what my motives and thoughts are. End of discussion.

  • Larry

    Instead of making post-facto excuses, especially after years of ridiculous hateful statements by people invoking their Christian faith, call them out on it.

    Do it in a contemporaneous manner, so it doesn’t look like so many bad excuses. You guys expect people of other faiths to do so, especially Muslims, but are unwilling to apply the same lessons to yourselves.

  • Larry

    You didn’t engage in conversation. You tried to pontificate.

    I am not the one calling others “evil” or “false”. You chose to attack others but could not deal with an actual response. It was you who was abusive.

  • Paula

    Maybe you have some context I don’t have but I read his comments as agreeing with the article…

  • Paula

    The problem is, Muslims who commit such atrocities are being consistent with what their religious documents teach. I’m all for peaceful Muslims, and a Muslim reformation of sorts, but I don’t think it’ll catch on too quickly.

  • Larry

    Show me where the author speaks of the “godless”. It wasn’t relevant to the article in any way, besides cheap disavowal.

    The author was challenging Christians to do more than disavowal and claims of “its not really us”. He was asking for them to actively oppose atrocity and torture. Mr. Crippen was only interested in shifting blame and attacking those not of his faith.

  • Larry

    So that means as a Christian you don’t have ANY excuses then. Christians should be much MORE active in opposing atrocity done in the name of their faith, but are choosing to avoid it. It makes such unwillingness to decry hatefulness and atrocity even more damaging to the reputation of the faith.

  • Oscar

    But what about when the “men of God” are doing the torturing, the beating and the raping in foreign lands, not because they were soldiers who had misguided faith but because they were men of faith who were acting like a conquering soldier of the worst kind.

    I spent 6 years of my childhood witnessing the atrocities of missionaries commit acts that would have had them locked up if they had committed them in the U.S. and all done with the knowledge of the good folk at headquarter back home.

    Decades have past, I was one of the lucky ones who escaped with sanity relatively intact. But many didn’t and will never live full and productive lives.

    The problem is the desire for power at any cost, religion is just the vehicle that fanatics use to get what they want. And there is no shortage of fanatics who can spout religion, no matter what label they call themselves.