Fear has a way of constricting the human heart and imagination. When we are afraid an instinctive part of our brain called the ‘reptilian core’ takes over. This part of our brain moves us into a survival mode where we will do anything to survive.
After the horrific attack on the United States on September 11, 2001 some would argue that our nation has been guided by a survival mentality. Our fear of the enemy has taken us to Afghanistan, Iraq and a clandestine shadow war by the CIA.
This week the Senate Intelligence Committee released a study indicating that for four years during the administration of President G.W Bush the CIA’s ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ were actually torture.
Here’s an excerpt from the Senate report, on waterboarding: ‘The waterboarding technique was physically harmful, inducing convulsions and vomiting. Abu Zubaydah,for example, became “completely unresponsive, with bubbles rising through his open, full mouth”. Internal CIA records describe the waterboarding of Khalid Shaykh Mohammad as evolving into a “series of near drownings.” Sleep deprivation involved keeping detainees awake for up to 180 hours, usually standing or in-stress positions, at times with their hands shackled above their heads. At least five detainees experienced disturbing hallucinations during prolonged sleep deprivation and, in at least two of those cases, the CIA nonetheless continued the sleep deprivation.’
The study went on to say that “enhanced interrogation did not provide actionable intelligence to stop attacks”. Even if one believes that such actions resulted in useable data, the Senate report raises this fundamental question: Do the ends justify the means?
Writing from my Christian tradition, I ask this question: ‘Is torture ever justified? Can torture be consistent with the way Jesus?’ Jesus grew up in a tradition that allowed for a brutal response to a perceived injustice:
Listen to this teaching in Exodus 21: 23 – 25: ‘But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.’ In truth, this is how nations and tribes often govern themselves today.
Jesus however challenges this mindset in Matthew 5:38-48 in which he says: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy’. But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”
In reading Jesus’ words, one might think that the teachings of Jesus don’t work in the real world, particularly when we have so much to fear. But I ask: What lasting benefit have ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ provided? Such violence has only inspired our opponents such as ISIS to raise the bar in their capacity for torture and humiliation.
Can this cycle of violence leading to more violence be broken? Yes, we need only look back 2000 years to a simple carpenter from Nazareth, who met and in time overcame the violence of the Roman Empire and the narrowness of religious leaders, with forgiveness, generosity, mercy and expansive love.
Can torture ever be justified? For the love of God, ‘No’!