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Shattering a Christian illusion

“There is no longer any doubt as to whether this administration has committed war crimes. The Commander-in-Chief and those under him authorized a systematic regime of torture. The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account." – Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba in 2004

June 10, 2009
By Rob Lafferty

That was, indeed, the question five years ago at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. General Taguba made that statement after investigating the abuse of prisoners at that now-infamous rathole, but he wasn’t the first to speak of it. Five years later, even after his further revelations of rape and sexual abuse of prisoners by American guards, the answer to Tagabu’s question remains clear – no, the architects of torture won’t be tried for their crimes.

Dick Cheney spoke openly of “taking the gloves off” and “traveling to the dark side” in order to deal with the jihadists who planned the 9/11 attacks. He used carefully cultivated attorneys who lawyered torture down into “enhanced interrogation techniques” by ignoring dozens of legal precedents set across more than a century of national and international law. It worked. Changing the description of that foul practice seems to have masked its stench fairly well.

If we can trust the results from three different nationwide polls conducted during the past six months, about half of all Americans believe that torture of evildoers may a necessary thing. Not as a general practice, of course, but only on suspected terrorists, and only if a ticking time bomb is about to explode, or perhaps anytime lives might be saved should the tortured suspect crack and confess.

Many of our representatives in Washington today knew in 2002 that torture had officially become a part of our national security policy. Sen. Nancy Pelosi and Colin Powell are just two among a bunch of politicians and bureaucrats who want the subject to fade away before they’re called to account for their complicity. Most other members of Congress can recognize an exercise in futility when they see one; they won’t support a politically risky investigation unless a large majority of their constituents demand one.

That’s not likely to happen. Along with the half of us who are able to morally justify torture, another one-third of Americans simply ignore the crimes and excesses of the Global War On Terror. Those folks aren’t interested in prosecuting war crimes against any American, especially not a former Vice President who deserves respect because...well, just because...

That leaves maybe one out of every seven Americans who believe that torture is always wrong and can never be justified. That minority won’t see justice served in a public court, at least not in this country. It might be found in a Spanish court, where charges have been filed against a few of the promoters of torture, but in America only eleven soldiers reckless enough to mistreat prisoners in front of a camera were convicted of crimes in a military court. No officers received more than a reprimand, yet everyone followed directions issued from higher in the chain of command, all the way up to Cheney himself.

As a nation, as a people, we knew this was happening five years ago. We didn’t voice enough outrage then and we aren’t voicing much outrage today, even though we know that prisoners were tortured in search of political information that would justify the invasion of Iraq. Instead, far too many of us consider the mistreatment of prisoners acceptable behavior while others actually want to make certain torture techniques legal.

That’s just one of several reasons why we should stop claiming to be a Christian Nation. Here’s another: we invaded Iraq with waves of aerial bombing onto the heavily populated city of Baghdad that killed hundreds of innocent men, women and children. Instead of being appalled we watched the explosions on television, and we sanctioned the nickname “Shock and Awe” in place of a more honest label – Naked Imperial Aggression.

It was a display of firepower meant to invoke terror in the hearts of jihadists everywhere. It was also a barbaric act that enraged Arabs and Muslims everywhere and triggered a never-ending insurgency. Six years later, US soldiers are still fighting and dying and killing innocent people by mistake during street battles in towns and villages across Iraq and Afghanistan. Last week a dozen more US soldiers were sent home to their families in caskets.

Where’s the sanctity of life in that behavior? There were no true Christian principles behind the invasion and occupation of Iraq; instead there was a modern Crusade mentality that should have died out four centuries ago. It didn’t – instead, Donald Rumsfeld made certain it was presented to President Bush on the cover of his daily briefing folders, right after breakfast every day, complete with Biblical quotations and graphic images of war.

How can we be a Christian nation when we contemplate legalized torture for any reason? How do Christians justify the continued killing of innocent people in Iraq and Afghanistan? In the quest for safety from jihadists who wear explosives and blow themselves up in public places – or become suicidal pilots and crash airplanes into cities – will we finally abandon two centuries of pretending to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ?

A truly Christian society would never allow any form of torture or prisoner abuse. We can accept that circumstances might drive someone to torture another human being for information because people will do whatever they think is necessary in order to save lives. Afterwards, they can offer an honest guilty plea and accept society’s judgement based on those driving circumstances. But passing laws to allow the mistreatment of others is not a Christian act, and never will be.

As a nation, as a people we have supported some terrible things in the name of national security. If we expect to become a more just nation, we should take a long, hard look at what we have sanctioned out of fear.

We need to rediscover our national courage and restore human dignity to its rightful place of importance. We must administer justice where possible in order to restore those laws that protect the rights of every human being. We must do penance, for we have sinned. Then, perhaps, we’ll earn the right to call ourselves a Christian nation.

Rob Lafferty is a former editor of the Haleakala Times. He can be reached via email at rob@moonvalleypress.com