As a young adult, I remember learning of the barbaric tactics used by the Japanese military on prisoners of war during World War II. I was, of course, horrified, and I was so thankful to be an American where we didn't behave like "those people." When we captured soldiers, we treated them with basic respect and dignity because we were Americans the nation with true character.
Today I am reading the "Alleged Secret Detentions and Unlawful Interstate Transfers Involving Council of Europe Member States" by Dick Marty of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly. The report contains details of certain men who have been detained by our government for months and sometimes years, tortured, forced to endure barbaric conditions, and then in some cases released because there was no evidence of guilt in the first place. Some of these men are still in custody in Guantanamo, just because they knew someone who knew someone who was part of a terrorist organization.
The following is a description of an American prison in Kabul called the "Dark Prison," sometimes used as a detention post: There is "loud music round the clock, a total absence of light, rotten food, no possibility to wash or use a toilet, uncomfortable handcuffing and leg shackling, cold cell, inadequate clothing, prisoners frequently beaten and trampled on."
There is the testimony of Binyam Mohamed al Habashi, a resident of the United Kingdom, who has been held in Guantanamo for five years. He has kept a diary of these years and the various abuses he has suffered at the hands of CIA agents and government officials of other nations that have been involved in the rendition program. The abuses are several and severe, at the least humiliating and at the worst close to murder. It could just be one man's testimony, except that many others who have been under our custody due to the war on terror have said the same thing.
They have been subject to beatings, cutting of private parts and then having pictures taken of them, hanging them in shackles, knocking of heads against the wall, and being chained to the floor with their arms suspended above their head. These are just a few of the things that we are supposed to accept as "enhanced interrogation techniques."
According to an Associated Press report last November, more than 83,000 people have been detained in the "war on terror." About 14,500 are still in custody. Of the 112 who have died in U.S. custody, 26 are being investigated as criminal homicides.
What has happened to our character as a nation? William Bennett wrote a book entitled "Moral Outrage" about the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal. Where is Bennett's book about the moral outrage regarding the use of torture by the Bush administration? Where is the evangelical Christian response to such obvious disregard for human dignity?
Our behavior is extremely hypocritical in light of trying to build a democracy in Iraq. It is also hypocritical in light of our president's professed religious beliefs. The examples of torture in the Bible are many Jeremiah, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshah, Abed-nego, Peter, Paul, Silas, and the one who endured the most torture Jesus all victims of political power gone bad. Torture, by definition, is done by a government to a person in its custody. Imprisoned people are vulnerable and cannot fight back. That is why we could point fingers at the Japanese and Germans and decry their injustice and lack of humanity. Now we need to get the log out of our eye and demand change from our administration.
David P. Gushee, Graves professor of moral philosophy at Union University, in a Christianity Today article, states, "Just because U.S. government officials say that we can be trusted to act 'in keeping with our values' without due process, accountability and transparency does not make it so. No government is so virtuous as to be able to overturn the too often verified laws of human nature, or to be beyond the need for democratic checks and balances."
Gushee has identified five reasons that torture must not be allowed. First, it violates the intrinsic dignity of the human being, made in the image of God. Second, it mistreats the vulnerable and thus violates the demands of public justice. Third, authorizing any form of torture trusts government too much. Fourth, torture invites the dehumanization of the torturer. And fifth, torture erodes the character of the nation that tortures.
The fifth reason contains the most irony. This administration, which prides itself on representing the evangelical Christians of our nation and holds the allegiance of so many of those Christians, is condoning behavior that is so anti-Christian as well as being un-American. They are using political spin to justify sin. And where there is sin, there is need of repentance.
The Declaration of Independence states that "all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights." If these rights are God-given, then they are extended to all of mankind and not just Americans. God is just, and the guilty will not go unpunished, but we must always remember that that goes for us as well as the "bad guys."
The U.S. Supreme Court, in a June 2004 judgment, stated, "For if this nation is to remain true to the ideals symbolized by its flag, it must not wield the tools of tyrants even to resist an assault by the forces of tyranny."
Our nation is founded on the belief of the dignity of each person, and many who have gone before us have built a reputation for this nation that is worthy of our pride and patriotism. But when our behavior gets out of hand it is up to us to speak out and call for accountability. As Proverbs 14:34 says, "Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people."
Debra Miller is a pastor's wife and a home-schooling mother of five who lives in Spring Green.
© 2006 The Capital Times