Thoughtlessness and Torture

The revelation today regarding American use of torture (harsh interrogation methods) is that nobody seems to have looked into their origins or use. Looking for ways to get more information, they happened across a military agency that trains American pilots to withstand interrogations, and decided that these looked interesting. Thus, the plans began to be hatched. No one really bothered to ask if they worked, whether they were immoral, even their legality. Apparently no one bothered to look at the previous uses of water boarding -- and that we prosecuted Japanese soldiers for using it on our people.


In a series of high-level meetings in 2002, without a single dissent from cabinet members or lawmakers, the United States for the first time officially embraced the brutal methods of interrogation it had always condemned.

This extraordinary consensus was possible, an examination by The New York Times shows, largely because no one involved — not the top two C.I.A. officials who were pushing the program, not the senior aides to President George W. Bush, not the leaders of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees — investigated the gruesome origins of the techniques they were approving with little debate.
They were looking for a tool and decided this would work -- but as the article in the Times shows, the people involved in devising the program -- psychologists -- really had no real understanding of interrogations, and how to discern whether they worked or not. They were going on theory, theory that is suspect.

Thus, while I'm not sure it makes sense to prosecute CIA interrogators operating under legal guidelines from the Justice Department, and apparently approved by the Cabinet, and which received little negative comments from Congressional oversight authorities, I do believe there is the need to investigate how these decisions were made, and how they could have been made without any exploration of their origins, their usefulness, or their morality. What we have here is a process devised without thought, without consideration, and with great hurry.

Today, our nation's credibility suffers because of this -- and it would appear that a whole lot of people, many of whom probably want to wash their hands of this affair, will have egg on their faces.

An investigation that will make sure that such things don't happen in the future is very much needed. And likely some people will take a fall for this, especially since President Obama is more open now to such an investigation. But the point is: How can our government make decisions with so little thought?


John said…
I keep hearing and reading statements that the Bush Administration, in legalizing torture, was acting in the face of clear and present threat, and not in the 20/20 hindsight of 2009. I find those statements disingenuous and wholly without merit.

The pre-9/11 decisions, treaties, laws, research, etc., against torture were worked out in a non-crisis environment and were achieved with the idea in mind that these would apply when a crisis occurred and by having them in place we would not be tempted to jeopardize our values while blinded by the "fog of war".

Nevertheless, the Bush Administration, under the ideological and practical leadership of Dick Chaney and his chief of staff, David Addington, purposely set about to undo all the anti-torture legal restraints put in place by cooler heads in cooler times, because they thought they were wiser and in a better position to discern threats and appropriate responses than the cooler heads who worked in cooler times.

It is bizarre for anyone to now defend those crisis decisions by saying the Administration was operating in a crisis and thus should be forgiven for any mistakes which may have been made.

The more serious argument we hear so much of is the notion that the ends justified the means. That really is the question isn't it?

The "end" is national security. The means include violating international treaties and breaking domestic laws (or - to put a fine point on it - extra-judicially reinterpreting the laws in an effort to give the appearance of legality to that which every informed person agrees is illegal) and finally resorting to interpersonal terror without first determining whether there is any research or statistical basis to believe that the methodology would be productive of the desired results.

Simply put, Chaney and Addington, and those under their influence and control, determined to fight public terror with personal terror. These administration officials were lawyers for the most part, and complete amateurs in the field of intelligence gathering and interrogation and chose to resort to torture because they intuitively believed torture would produce the desired results. They did not consult with experts in the field, and relied entirely on their own judgment in the matter. In short, they saw too many Dirty Harry movies.

They believed the ends justified the means. And they continue to this day to do so, which why they are clamoring for release of anecdotal information to support their contention that at least in some cases the desired ends were accomplished.

As a nation we have to decide whether these ends are justified by these means.

Jody said…
If you haven't read William Cavanaugh's book Torture and Eucharist, here is an interview with him, which summarizes much of the argument of his book (written before 9-11, talking about the Pinochet regime) and applying those ideas to 9-11: At least the interview, if not Cavanugh's book itself, should be required reading for all Christians, in my opinion.

The torture issue has probably been the issue that has most affected the changes in my political theology over the past few years- or put more accurately, the Prior to Bush's presidency, I identified myself as a Republican, though a moderate one. Still, I enthusiastically voted for Bush the first time and more reluctantly voted for him the second time. I've since become a a staunch Independent and am much more critical of the war in Iraq and the "war on terror." It would surprise both liberals and fundamentalists to know it was my belief in substitutionary atonement and bodily resurrection that shaped my response to the torture issue.

Paul's words in Romans 5:10 spoke very clearly to me that as a Christian, I could in no way affirm our practice on torture, no matter what information the practice may provide. If God's method of dealing with his enemies is to forego his own wrath and to justify his enemies through the cross, this fact HAS to shape my political theology and, more specifically, how I viewed the torture practices.

N.T. Wright helped me realize that if God would undo death by bringing Christ back to life in the flesh and bringing about a new heavens and a new earth (not just helping us escape earth, as some ostensibly orthodox Christians believe), then the kingdom of God isn't just some otherwordly ideal that we'll only know after death. The stuff of earth matters. Our acts on earth toward God's creation (including to our enemies made in God's image) are to bear witness to this truth. Intentional acts of brutality like waterboarding are inimical to the new earth God has introduced through the bodily resurrection.

I became horrified to see Christians who claimed to believe in these doctrines behave as if these had no political meaning at all, either supporting our torture methods or claiming the ends would justify the means. Supporting the "good of the country" (even though these policies were strategically damaging, too) was going to take precedence over following the way of the cross and living in the resurrection. As Cavanaugh puts it very well, "'Take up your cross and follow me' is a call to stand with the victims of this world and identify with them, to undo the mechanism of violence and not contribute to it."

I understand Obama's desire to be prudent and actually support giving immunity to CIA field agents. Also, I think public hearings on torture a la the Cooper-Church hearings would be problematic. God knows after eight years of an administration that was allergic to nuance, it's refershing to have an administration that doesn't make thoughtless emotional decisions. I still haven't decided what accountability I think the authors of these policies should face. However, I think releasing the memos was a necessary step to force us to look more critically at our torture policies. The Christian has an obligation, I think, to look critically at these revelations and ask “what do the cross and the resurrection have to say about this?”, not just "what's best for the country?" I know that's not easy. I'm sorry to say it took me a while to ask that question, too.

Sorry for the long post . . .
Jody said…
Sorry- I should edit better. I meant to say in the first sentence in the second paragraph that, to put it more accurately, the torture issue actually made me think about political theology. Before then, I had been a good dualist. Jesus would be lord of everything else (well, most other things), but I didn't assume he had must interest in my political opinions. I'm glad I now see that's a mistake.
John said…
You ask: The Christian has an obligation, I think, to look critically at these revelations and ask “what do the cross and the resurrection have to say about this?”

And I cannot wait for the answers!

John said…
So much of Scripture is about kings, Kingdoms, and shepherds, and nations and prophets! It amazes me that so many people fail to comprehend the political dimension of Scripture.

As for the 'this-worldly' connection to the Resurrection - well it happened here on earth did it not? The consequences of our violence and the Divine response, happen right here. It is not about the next world, but about this one, and about the New Kingdom.

Anonymous said…
Thanks Jody. If you cut that short, please add. I hung on every word.

I come here (Thursday) to find my thoughts were your thoughts...

"The stuff of earth matters. Our acts on earth toward God's creation (including to our enemies made in God's image) are to bear witness to this truth."

“Well it happened here on earth did it not? The consequences of our violence and the Divine response, happen right here. It is not about the next world, but about this one, and about the New Kingdom. "

Yesterday was the 39 anniversary of Earth Day. If you’re old enough, think back to this time.

20 million Americans, of the same mind can do great things.

Earth Day 1970 achieved a rare political alignment, enlisting support from Republicans and Democrats, rich and poor, city slickers and farmers, tycoons and labor leaders. The first Earth Day led to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (Richard Nixon couldn't stop it!) and the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species acts.

We are now renewing this spirit to fight new environmental threats.

Let’s use the same tactic to expose and clean up here. For human dignity and for the absolute rule of the peoples’ law. No = No. Again and again and again.
But let's enlist even more people, and include the world. And let us be included in the wide world, and the universe of faith. A key question here is- do we have as many enemies as we are led to believe?
We have mostly heard from those invested in the tools of war and control. The takers of freedom.

Thanks for showing me His/ Her face tonight- David Mc

Watch and listen. We are all created in the image of our God.
Anonymous said…

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