This May 3, 2011 file photo shows Afghan newspapers in Kabul, Afghanistan headlining the killing of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.
Torture apologists are at it again, attempting to justify the unjustifiable. One year ago, former Bush administration officials like Vice President Dick Cheney, said torture (by the euphemism “enhanced interrogation”) produced “some of the results” that led to the death of Osama bin Laden.
The one year anniversary of the death of bin Laden, shot in his compound in a daring raid inside Pakistan, by the “go” order of President Obama, is once again becoming an occasion to attempt to justify torture.
Jose Rodriguez, for example, the retired CIA officer who ordered the destruction of videos showing waterboarding, has a new book, “Hard Measures: How Aggressive CIA Actions After 9/11 Saved American Lives,” which will be published April 30, the day before the anniversary of the bin Laden raid. In the book, Rodriguez makes the claim that torture (“hard measures”) led the U.S. to bin Laden.
This is a claim disputed by both former interrogators and former Republican nominee for president, Senator John McCain. Immediately after the death of bin Laden in 2011, in fact, Senator McCain labeled as “false” the claim that the “intelligence that led to bin Laden” was obtained under “the pressure of harsh interrogation techniques that included waterboarding.”
Equally crucially, Senator McCain refused the euphemistic dodges of “enhanced interrogation” and specifically called interrogation techniques such as waterboarding torture. The senator, in fact, singled out “waterboarding which is a mock execution and thus an exquisite form of torture” for criticism. He went on to say that torture, including waterboarding is “prohibited by American laws and values, and I oppose them.” The senator’s choice of the word “exquisite” in that sentence is especially riveting; one can perhaps hear his personal experience of torture as an echo.
In his book, Rodriguez expresses his repulsion at President Barack Obama’s administration for calling waterboarding torture and criticizing its use. “I cannot tell you how disgusted my former colleagues and I felt to hear ourselves labeled `torturers’ by the president of the United States,” he writes.
From a faith perspective, frankly, the disgust is all on the other side. For years now, I have been both disgusted and amazed that torture, which has been universally condemned by all the world’s major religions, is a subject even for discussion. The euphemisms such as “enhanced interrogation” or “harsh” or “hard” measures are transparently an attempt to use word play as a slight-of-hand to attempt to disguise the use of torture. This word-play as an attempt to justify torture by another name is immoral in itself. It’s a falsehood.
As I have written before, “torture is moral stupidity.” “It is the most corrupt act any one person can inflict on another–it is the most corrupt policy any society can adopt. It is more corrupt and demoralizing even than killing in war.”
The National Religious Campaign Against Torture was created in January 2006 to bring American faith communities together to unambiguously state that “torture is a moral issue” and a “matter of conscience” from a faith perspective.
For as long as the torture apologists continue to try to justify the unjustifiable, we in the faith community will continue to call them on it and insist that that the United States abide by the law. Torture is illegal in the U.S. because Congress ratified the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in 1994 and thus prohibition on torture has the weight of U.S. law. The convention defines torture as: “For the purposes of this Convention, the term ‘torture’ means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information…”
We in the faith community will also continue to insist that a nation that adopts torture as a policy loses its soul.
Former president of Chicago Theological Seminary (1998-2008), Thistlethwaite is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.