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Friday, March 16, 2007

National Assoc. of Evangelicals condemns U.S. torture.

On Sunday, the board of the National Association of Evangelicals endorsed "An Evangelical Declaration Against Torture: Protecting Human Rights in an Age of Terror." (Here's the NAE's statement; here's the declaration on the Evangelicals for Human Rights site.) The NAE, which claims the affiliation of 45,000 Evangelical churches in the U.S., is also in the news because the bulldogs of the Christian Right are trying to rein in its emerging interest in "creation care" — known to the rest of us as environmental stewardship. What promising signs from our Evangelical friends!

According to the New York Times, the vote to endorse the anti-torture declaration by the NAE board was almost unanimous. The lone dissenter in the 38-1 vote was the representative of the Institute for Religion and Democracy. But of course! The national chauvinists at the IRD (who have spent twenty years encouraging denominational fights over politics in the mainline Protestant churches) are now getting antsy about the Evangelical leadership's growing awareness of issues of the common good. The IRD is now pushing hard to keep the National Association of Evangelicals out of "political" issues like poverty, torture, and environmental stewardship — issues that presumably make the Institute's wealthy sponsors unhappy. After all, it's not like the Bible has anything to say about our obligations to the poor, the imprisoned, or the world God entrusted to our care. (Noteworthy, too, is the way the IRD's critical essay about the NAE's developing public theology gives such prominence to Ted Haggard.) Apparently IRD's agenda isn't just to the right of the National Council of Churches; it's also to the right of most orthodox Evangelicals.

(Resources: "Evangelicals condemn torture," Rachel Zoll [AP], 3.12.07, reg req'd; "An Evangelical declaration against torture: Protecting human rights in an age of terror," Evangelicals for Human Rights; "NAE leaders advance broad agenda with landmark document on human rights and torture," press release, NAE 3.11.07; "Evangelical group rebuffs critics on right," Laurie Goodstein, New York Times 3.14.07, reg req'd; "Uncertain future: The National Association of Evangelicals after Ted Haggard," Alan Wisdom, Institute for Religion and Democracy 3.8.07.)

Copyright © 2007 by Philocrites | Posted 16 March 2007 at 11:14 AM

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Bill Baar:

March 16, 2007 03:22 PM | Permalink for this comment

No one endorses torture. The problem, which few save the DoD will grapple with is this: A POW, protected by the Geneva Convention, need only disclose name, rank, and serial number.

An enemy combatant, captured on the battlefield fighting outside the rules of the Geneva convention is not protected. Nor is the combatant a criminal to be bound over to a court for what could only be unjust trial.

So what can be asked of a enemy combatant: Name, rank, serial number? Can the combatant be coerced to tell more? And if coercion can be use where is the line between coercion and torture?

Otherwise, should we allow the combatants remain mute; not even required to tell the names?

All the moralists dodge the moral questions with these we condem torture comments with little guidance on what to do.


March 16, 2007 03:26 PM | Permalink for this comment

Bill, I'd be delighted to know where you'd draw the line, since you're the one who thinks current international standards on the treatment of detainees doesn't give the captors enough latitude to coerce information. How low will you go?

Comrade Kevin:

March 16, 2007 05:00 PM | Permalink for this comment

I have wracked my brain and my conscience on this issue over and over again and I still can't understand how anyone could defend torture.

I mean, I have serious doubts about the application of capital punishment as it currently stands. I wonder if it's counter-productive to humanity. But before I stray off topic, I have to mention that I just don't see how anyone could condone such a practice and I'm heartened by the evangelical community for once for taking a stand.

Steve Caldwell:

March 18, 2007 11:54 PM | Permalink for this comment

On 16 March 2007, Bill Baar wrote:
"So what can be asked of a enemy combatant: Name, rank, serial number? Can the combatant be coerced to tell more? And if coercion can be use where is the line between coercion and torture?

Otherwise, should we allow the combatants remain mute; not even required to tell the names?


I think we should look at the reasons behind Geneva Convention and other international law protection for armed combatants.

From what I remember from my 20+ years of military service, the reason for not torturing and not engaging in similar actions is two-fold:

(1) By treating captured combatants fairly, we encourage reciprocal behavior in the other side.

(2) By treating captured combatants fairly, we reduce the likelihood of resentment after the cessation of combat.

Additionally, we should ask if torture is an effective means of eliciting information and if the reason for the torture is for information collection or some other reason(s).

In a recent UU World Magazine article, Rev. William Schultz says the following about torture:

"For about 150 years torture went out of vogue as an official instrument of government policy. But in the twentieth century it raised its ugly head again, with an important difference: Torture became an instrument of pleasure, a means of intimidating political opponents, a way to inflict pain on another person for the sheer sadistic joy of it. Abu Ghraib struck Americans like a thunderbolt because even the staunchest defender of the use of torture could not pretend that forcing naked prisoners to form a pyramid or to masturbate for the cameras or to be tethered to a leash like a dog has any purpose other than humiliation."

So ... much of what our government is doing with torture isn't the perennial "ticking time bomb" situation that comes up in torture discussions.

I strongly doubt that sexual humiliation of prisoners was intended to elicit information but rather to serve other needs.

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