Guantanamo: time to shut the door on ten years of shame

Jahi Chikwendiu WASHINGTON POST David Barrows of DC is among the activists from Witness Against Torture, Amnesty International and other … Continued

Jahi Chikwendiu


David Barrows of DC is among the activists from Witness Against Torture, Amnesty International and other organizations making their way from the White House to the Supreme Court to protest the continuing use of Guantanamo Bay to detain prisoners without trial and the use of torture on January 11, 2012, in Washington, DC.

January 11, 2012 is the tenth anniversary of the U.S. opening the doors of a military detention center at Guantanamo Bay. This prison and all it represents to the world of a shameful period in the history of the United States has been a stain on our national conscience. It is time to shut the door.

As a Christian pastor and as a citizen, I feel enormous grief that Guantanamo remains open, and those responsible for authorizing torture of prisoners there, as well as elsewhere, have never been held accountable. This prison and what it represents is one of the darkest periods in American history.

Within weeks of the first prisoners’ arrival at the prison, the government declared that these prisoners did not enjoy the protections of the Geneva Conventions, and the prison soon developed a reputation for torture and mistreatment of detainees. Guantanamo represents a time when the U.S. became known around the world for abandoning its core principles of respect for the rule of law and adherence to the Geneva Conventions.

The National Religious Campaign Against Torture along with Amnesty International USA, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and Witness Against Torture demonstrated in Washington DC, and there are protests planned around the world.

Their witness is a testimony to the fact that January 11, 2011 is a solemn day in which we as a nation should reflect on how we came to be so morally confused that descriptions of torture such as the simulated drowning of waterboarding were lightly dismissed as “a dunk in the water,” but internal CIA documents reveal it was a much more brutal and cruel process. A confidential Red Cross report has indicated that CIA medical personnel “monitored” this kind of torture. The Red Cross concluded, “The alleged participation of health personnel in the interrogation process and, either directly or indirectly, in the infliction of ill-treatment constituted a gross breach of medical ethics and, in some cases, amounted to participation in torture and/or cruel inhuman or degrading treatment.”

Let us be clear. Not only are these “techniques” such as simulated drowning unquestionably torture and therefore illegal, they are outside of God’s law as well. Torture amounts to soul murder because what happens to your body or your mind happens to your spirit too. “Human dignity” as a religious principle means respecting the integrity of the human person and his or her right to be whole. Torture, whether induced physically or emotionally, is based on the degraded idea that certain people do not have to be accorded human dignity. In Christian theology, we say that human dignity is “being created in the image of God.”

Torture places the torturer automatically in an unjust relationship with the one being tortured. Torture is intimate and personal. The torturer first of all has to consent to the idea that the tortured is without the fundamental human dignity of being created in the image of God. This moral error strips the torturer of his or her own human dignity because he or she is using another human being as a means and not an end in themselves. Is it moral to assign the task of torturing to anyone in military service or the CIA?

Finally, torture destroys the dignity of the society that authorizes it. The community that offers a license to torture is fundamentally degraded in its claim to be a civilized nation. The people of faith and humanist values in that society should, indeed, must feel that their nation and its principles are out of line with their beliefs.

The Obama administration insisted this week that the president still plans to close Guantanamo. One roadblock after another has been placed in the way of doing so, but it is the right course to pursue. New challenges to the rule of law in the U.S. have arisen with the passage, and the president’s signing, even with reservations, of the National Defense Authorization Act that could be used to indefinitely detain Americans, and make it more difficult for the administration to move prisoners out of Guantanamo.

Nevertheless, closing Guantanamo would send a powerful signal to the world that the U.S. is shutting the door on this shameful chapter in its history.


Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is Professor of Theology and immediate past President of Chicago Theological Seminary. She is also a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress. Her most recent books are "#OccupytheBible: What Jesus Really Said (and Did) About Money and Power" and, as contributor and editor, "Interfaith Just Peacemaking: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Perspectives on the New Paradigm of Peace and War."
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