If you even so much as glanced a headline in the last week then you’ve most likely seen something in regards to the CIA, torture, and some senate report that was released. To say the revelations in the report about the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation tactics,” a.k.a. torture, are somewhat of a bombshell is an understatement. In fact, those very revelations have proven to be a lightning rod of sorts whereby an intense national debate about how the United States goes about it’s business when it comes to gathering intelligence.
Let’s be honest: previous to 9/11 most Americans had exactly no clue, none, as to the extent to which militant extremists would go to harm us, or how deep their hatred ran. In the years since our understanding of that reality has become quite acute. And, just when we believe that we’ve seen the worst and there cannot to be a more hateful, vile, and evil group declaring a war against us, along comes a group like the Islamic State (ISIS). And while I’m not a sensationalist, I dare say that sooner or later the U.S. and it’s allies will ultimately destroy ISIS’s complex network and they will fade, and, sadly, another group will probably step in to fill the void of true, real-world villainy. And, they may prove to be even more hateful, vile, and evil. As I said – just when we think we’ve seen the worst…
The odd reality of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report, given that it outlines a number of the CIA’s interrogation tactics, is that while those tactics are pretty heinous, to anyone who has watched a good spook or war movie it’s not like we should be surprised to learn what we did. There is a reason that the movie Zero Dark Thirty while receiving rave reviews also took a lot of criticism for what many believed to be the glorification of “enhanced” interrogation tactics. They were on full display in the interrogation of one character. Said character was waterboarded, shackled at all times, made to stand for long periods, humiliated, and left in a small box for long periods of time. The truth is Zero Dark Thirty was as accurate then as it is now in light of the committee’s report. Yet, the report comes out and suddenly everyone is incredulous to learn what the CIA has been up to all these years. And, much to everyone’s chagrin, we’ve learned from the report and testimony from folks who have first-hand account that those tactics failed to produce their intended result. In most cases, it seems from the report, those enhanced tactics failed to produce little, if any, actionable intelligence. In fact, the report details who some agents of the CIA did not feel at the time that the tactics were useful, and tried to stop them from being employed. Their superiors, however, ordered them to continue. And, not only have these tactics been utilized against man, and probably women, and damaged them forever without producing intelligence the CIA sought, but subsequent reporting and research has shown that it’s also damaged the CIA employees who were tasked with utilizing those tactics.
Now, one thing I should say before moving on with the rest of my thoughts is that it’s worth noting that I’m no pacifist. I realize that someone reading this is seeing the writing on the wall in respect to where I’m headed in the following words and will simply let out of huff of derision and simply say, “Oh here we go… another bleeding heart.” While I do not relish the idea of war, nor believe we should go looking for it, I do understand that in light of the evils that, at different times, imperil our world that taking up arms and defending ourselves or our allies will become a necessity. Simply standing idly by and watching evil march onward is not an option, and in those times nations will have to engage that evil for the good of humanity. So, don’t go labeling me a bleeding heart pacifist or something to that effect. That is not what I’m getting at and should not misattributed or applied here.
What I am getting at is that these “enhanced” interrogation tactics are nothing more than blatant torture. Not only do they violate the Geneva Conventions, a point that cannot be argued, but they also violate basic American principles and standards. To sit by and root for such an avenue of intelligence gathering is naive, negligent, and absurd. The records show that these tactics were not useful in gathering the intelligence the CIA sought, so let’s not go about glorifying the act of torturing someone as though we live in the same world as Jack Bauer, because we don’t. I’ll admit it, I’ve sat around watching 24 while rooting on Jack Bauer’s fight against terrorism. Guilty. However, I never sat there and watched Jack torture anyone for information and believed it to be how the real world works. The committee report proves that reality. “But Shaun, you yourself mentioned Zero Dark Thirty and that instance you referenced was useful in getting intelligence.” Yea, but it’s also a movie. The true circumstances of that particular element of the plot are questionable as a result. And, within the movie itself there are other instances where prisoners suspected of being terrorist or having ties to terrorism provided more useful information without being tortured. So let’s not try to split hairs here.
If it’s not saddening enough to read at least portions of the report, something I encourage everyone to do, then it’s even more saddening to read that former Vice President of the United States, Dick Cheney, marched out on NBC’s Meet the Press, and doubled-down on the CIA tactics outlined and even offered that time-honored gem that we so often as a result of woeful pride… “I would do it again in a minute.” This is typically something we seem to hear when we learn that a situation was mishandled, and the person responsible for the mishandling demonstrates just insane pride makes us. In the face of official documentation that essentially says, “these practices did not produce the results we’d hoped,” a former vice president still has the gravitas to say, “I’d do it the same way if I had to.” Well, no, actually the rational and reasoned approach if faced with the same situation would be to say, “Well, we know that this approach doesn’t work, so let’s try something else, shall we?” I’m just boggled by the sentiment each and every time I hear it or read it. Again, pride is a deadly creature.
So, in light of the revelations found in the committee’s report, how then are we to proceed?
Well, the reality of this is we can’t continue with these programs in their current state. Secret jails? Waterboarding? Neglecting basic medical attention of detainees? We can’t do this and we as Americans shouldn’t accept it. I know some would like to argue that this is a politically charged and motived report aimed at further painting the Bush Administration in negative light, but you can’t argue the facts contained in the report. You can’t argue that one of the primary architects of the enhanced interrogation program himself has stated that it’s not as beneficial as they initially believed. Or that he is one of the two people identified in the report as raising concerns about it’s usefulness. Those are hard facts to get over when playing the “playing politics” card. You may also try and assert that it’s nothing short of what the enemy is doing to us and these are prisoners of war. The problem is that effectively puts on on their level. The fact that the enemy employs such torturous means isn’t a justifiable reason as to why we should also. The fact is the United States should hold itself to a higher standard for conduct and treatment of human life. It’s hard to imagine that everyone the CIA detained was a dyed-in-the-wool terrorist or co-conspirator. What do we make of those cases? And what do we make of the hard fact that while the Attorney General (whomever that was at various points) believed such tactics to be legal at various points, the CIA utilized tactics that were not covered in the AG’s view? Those are out of bounds and as such shouldn’t be utilized by any means.
And, for the Christian, how should this be received? Well, it shouldn’t be received. It should be systematically rejected. Torture is never a resource that a Christian should endorse, regardless of circumstance. Sorry, there just isn’t a Biblical argument for such a course of action. Defending one’s own self? Yes. Defending one’s home? Yes. Defending one’s family? Yes. Taking up arms in the face of an encroaching and evil enemy? Yes. Torturing another human being in order to obtain actionable intelligence, much of which could be fabricated, questionable, or outdated? No. It just isn’t permissible. As the church we should advocate that those detained on allegations of terrorist actions, or knowledge thereof, be brought to justice where the legal system can be brought to bear it’s full weight on those individuals should they be proven guilty. If not for the humanity of it, then for the honor of our nation in this world. I won’t go about Jesus-juking anyone here, but you simply cannot make the argument that there is scriptural evidence for torture. There just isn’t. In fact, that’s the punishment that Jesus himself bore: torture. This is not to say that you can sit and reason with a terrorist and reform them. Stranger things certainly have happened, but if we’re going to hold ourselves to any standard it cannot be done by employing torture, which many would argue is warranted because terrorists use it on us. I would invite you to see the error in such logic. Additionally, high alerts were placed on all foreign embassies of the United States in preparation for international outrage over the release of the report. It puts other individuals serving the interests of our country needlessly in harms way. And, furthermore, the goal of the church is to advance the cause of the gospel, and, like it or not, many around the world see American missionaries darkening their doors. Programs like that of the CIA that involve torture by definition only serve to put a black eye on Americans everywhere and thus hurt the cause of advancing the gospel. To some it may seem folly, or naive, but I for one believe that the peace found in the gospel is the only thing that will every truly put an end to terrorism and it’s efforts. We should grieve and plead for their souls more than we wish to see vengeance. This is not to negate the honor of our men and women serving valiantly on our behalf against deadly foes. On the contrary, we should honor them, hold them in high regard, and pray for their safety as well. They face an enemy that we as civilians cannot even fathom. However, we shouldn’t wish them into wars simply for the sake of seeking revenge. While we honor men and women protecting us, war takes it toll on our people also, and it is right for us to pray and hope that they never have to bear their arms and do violence on our behalf. Ultimately because we live in a broken world, they will, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pray they don’t.
At the end of the day it’s simply not valid to say that such disregard for life yielded overwhelming successes. That argument just can’t be made based on the documents from the CIA that have been reviewed, some 6 million of them. That’s a pretty healthy study conducted over the course of 5 years. At some point we have to place the value of life, dignity, and our legal system over such a practice. Especially one that is wrought with questionable returns.