I've run into a number of self-proclaimed Christians
(both Catholic and Protestant) who openly proclaim they favor torture of detainees
in the "war on terror." I've always thought that's a strange thing
for a person whose Savior was tortured
to death to say.
Arguments in favor of torture are particularly troubling for Christians. Here's
how pro-torture "Christians" typically start a conversation on torture:
"I'm for torture. We've got to get information from detainees, and we
aren't going to get anything from them if we Mirandize every detainee on the
battlefield and give them an ACLU lawyer and a comfortable prison cell with
That statement assumes that people apprehended – on the battlefield or otherwise
– should be immediately tortured in order to get timely information. This means
they should be tortured before being put on trial. If officials wait for a
trial and then torture only those found guilty, the information won't be timely
by the time the torture is administered. That's not only the problem, it's
the reason why many of those who have been tortured are innocent.
(For a longer list of some innocents and an explanation of how innocents could
be apprehended among actual terrorists, check out this
book or this
The whole point of giving the accused a trial is to sort the guilty from the
innocent. While the effectiveness of torture is highly doubtful (American
experts claimed it doesn't work but were ignored by the Bush administration),
there's no denying that torture must include accidental torture of innocents
if it is to be done in a timely manner. You simply can't wait for a trial before
the torture commences.
Torture of detainees has gone hand-in-hand with indefinite detention of these
same detainees without trial under the Bush administration. Our Constitution's
Amendment requires that anyone apprehended be put on trial: "No person
shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless
on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in
the land or naval forces…." In other words, everyone apprehended or detained
by the U.S. government must either be charged under the criminal justice system
and given a jury trial or tried under the military justice system (and therefore
be accorded Geneva Convention military protections). That's the unequivocal
requirement of our Constitution, but the Bush administration didn't follow
the Constitution. The guilty detainees were never sorted from the innocent.
Therefore, it's now common knowledge that innocent
people were detained and tortured along with the guilty. The Obama administration
to continue this legacy, so long as it is not carried out at Guantanamo.
I also sometimes hear this particularly troubling argument among self-professed
Christians: "The U.S. Constitution does not apply to foreigners. They
are not entitled to the same rights as Americans."
The first part of this statement is correct, because the Constitution's Bill
of Rights doesn't apply to American citizens either. It applies to the government.
The Bill of Rights was written to restrict the government. That's why
the Fifth Amendment says "No person shall be held to answer for a capital,
or otherwise infamous crime." The amendment makes no reference to citizens
or non-citizens, but restricts the government from imprisoning any "person"
without due process. The Eighth
Amendment bans "cruel and unusual punishments" by the government,
and it also makes no distinction between citizens and foreigners.
But the second part of the statement above that I often hear is particularly
hypocritical for Christians. It's an explicit repudiation of the Christian
and American worldview that our "Creator" gave all men rights that
are "inalienable." The un-Christian advocate of torture sees rights
only as alienable gifts and help for criminals who will be able to use them
against society, though it's hard to see how terrorist Timothy
McVeigh was helped by having a trial. The Christian worldview is that all
innocent people were protected by honoring McVeigh's right to trial, as the
right to trial prevents the execution of innocents. And here the Christian
worldview coincides with the explicit wording of the Bill of Rights: Everyone,
citizen and foreigner alike, enjoys the same inalienable rights.
How do some so-called Christians justify their very unchristian position in
support of torture? "These people don't respect human rights. They behead
not only enemy soldiers, but also the civilians they capture."
And if we do the same thing to innocent detainees that will make it right,
they seem to imply. Here's an alternative counter-argument I hear: "We
can not afford to give full rights to detainees. That's suicide."
Our Founding Fathers and laws state otherwise. Moreover, the principles of
Christianity the faithful claim to uphold also say the opposite. Do they really
think it's okay to occasionally torture an innocent detainee in order to save
thousands? Occasionally, I do get a virtual "yes" to that question;
it goes something like this: "I think it's unfortunate if an innocent
person is detained, but that's the price we have to pay in the modern world
for our safety. Yes, torturing one to save thousands is the tough choice we
have to make."
Ironically, Pontius Pilate might also have reasoned that he would save thousands
who would have otherwise died in a violent rebellion by crucifying one innocent.
Whenever I mention this, I always hear the following response: "You are
really stretching things if you are comparing these scum-bag terrorists to
And finally we've cut to the quick of why a Christian can't possibly support
torture. A Christian is required to believe that Christ is in our fellow
man, especially including the prisoner. Recall the words of Matthew
"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who
are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the
foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty
and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed
me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.'
"Then the righteous will answer him and say, 'Lord, when did we see
you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you
a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill
or in prison, and visit you?'
"And the king will say to them in reply, 'Amen, I say to you, whatever
you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.'
"Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you accursed,
into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry
and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger
and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison,
and you did not care for me.'
"Then they will answer and say, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry
or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to
"He will answer them, 'Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for
one of these least ones, you did not do for me.'
"And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to
If they really believe Christ is not in the prisoner, then they don't believe
the words of Christ himself. If self-professed Christians really believe it's
"suicide" to honor the Christ in the prisoner, can they really be
believers? If they think that the Christian worldview is impractical, isn't
that a clear example of lack of faith?
The final, desperate counter-argument I sometimes hear is the theoretical
"ticking time-bomb" scenario in favor of torture: "What if your
wife or children were kidnapped, put in an underground chamber with only one
hour left of air and you had the kidnapper before you. Would you not then torture
to get the information in time?"
But this scenario is a chimera. It has never happened and probably never will
outside of the fictional world of action movies and the television series 24.
If the torture proponents had a real-world example, they would use it. But
instances of innocents being tortured
are legion, including
multiple examples of detainees who were tortured
to death. Here, the dishonesty in these "Christians" reveals
itself. They refuse to acknowledge the reality that would continually re-create
the torture/death of Christ among innocents, taking refuge instead in a fictional,
Americans – and especially Christians – need to recognize that torture by
our own government is a far graver threat to liberty than a small number of
wackos out in the world blowing themselves up in car bombs (and thereby taking
themselves out of the gene pool). Terrorism is a manageable outside threat,
but torture by our own government is a direct attack on the U.S. Constitution
and the very fiber of liberty and our way of life.
There's a confluence of interests among Christians and lovers of liberty on
the issue of torture.The denial of our inalienable rights to trial and due
process goes hand-in-hand with the injustice of torture. No foreign terrorist
could impose such a sea-change in the nature of our government from without.