Christianity and the Torture Issue

The Problem

Guantanamo Bay is being shut down, and there are all sorts of problems that are coming out because of this. What is permissible in war-time? Was the War on Terror a just war? How far can/should we go in the name of safety?

The UN Convention Against Torture (which the U.S. signed) says no torture for information.

Ever.

So what is torture? Is it psychological or merely physical? Are "enhanced interrogation techniques" and torture the same thing? The Physicians for Human Rights came out with a 135-page report in May 2005 answering just these questions. I am not convinced, as they are, that psychological torture must be off-limits; we cannot limit our military entirely because otherwise, how will they obtain information? Sleep deprivation is one thing, and waterboarding is quite another. Lumping them in the same category seems, to me, a grave mistake. Nevertheless, that report details striking consequences of prolonged torture, both for physical health and for mental health.

Just War Theory

Just War Theory, based originally on Roman and Christian ideals, was not studied in the public school I attended, but Americans hear the language of Just War all the time:

  • "limited casualties" or "minimum force"
  • war as a "last resort"
  • "authority" to declare war

These are just some of the words and phrases that were used to describe the now-ended War on Terror.  And yet most of us have no idea what they mean or what their origins are.  The answer?  Just War Theory.

Prior to reading this hub, did you know that the Bush Administration used the language of Just War Theory to rally support for the War on Terror?

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The Debate

And these phrases shape the argument regarding torture. The debate rages on, some laying blame, some saying we just need to condemn it from now on, and some insisting that we never tortured anyone anyway. That commenter writes that since no one bled, there was no torture. We merely made the "criminals" uncomfortable, he argues. In fact, he goes so far as to say,

"Waterboarding may have come close [to qualifying as torture], but it does not fit the bill. Torture is severe and agonizing. Waterboarding may have been trying and monotonous; but that's it."

Wow. If waterboarding does not classify as torture, I am not sure what does.

Assuming that most people are not lunatics like the one above, we then come to the questions: Whose fault is it? Who can we hold accountable for the torture that has happened, if anyone?

People with common sense and who are familiar with the Stanford Prison Experiment will not question the fact that the soldiers who actually committed the torture (by following their orders) should not be held accountable; almost any otherwise-rational human being would have done exactly the same thing in those circumstances. This leaves the officials who proposed and then approved the torture as necessary for interrogation.

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Just War

Does torture fit in with the largely Christian theory of a Just War? One of the problems inherent with detaining "enemy combatants" is that some of them will be civilians -- I don't see any way to avoid this.

So torturing the detainees is therefore going to torture some civilians, and even though those civilians are not the "targets," they are still being directly prosecuted.

The words "just war" sound like they would exclude torture, but other than the fuzzy point I just described, I don't see how torture alone could make a war "unjust" (with the strict definition given in Just War Theory). It may inconvenient or harm a few people, but arguably it could save thousands. For me, neglecting to rule out torture is a major fault of the Just War Theory.

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Comments 12 comments

einron profile image

einron 7 years ago from Toronto, Ontario, CANADA

helenathegreat,

It's hard to say what is right and what is wrong when dealing with enemies who want to harm you.  To extract information from captured prisoners, I suppose you have to use some sort of tactics to force them to talk.  Without using some form of force at all, you will not get the information, be it sleep deprivation or waterboarding.   

There is a saying that all is fair in love and war.  How far would one have to go to achieve the result?  That is hard to say.  Some are quite stubborn and would not submit to mild form of questioning while others can be very resistant and not budge at all.  For me, sleep is very important and to deprive me of just mild form of sleep deprivation would be torture to me.


helenathegreat profile image

helenathegreat 7 years ago from Manhattan Author

Thanks for the comment, einron. There have been many studies that show the extreme unreliability of information begotten under torture; the tortured person will lie just to make the torture stop (I know I would). And the last thing we need is false information. More than that, many prisoners in Guantanamo are not dangerous or terrorists at all (though they are not the ones who were tortured, but still). It's an issue that offers no easy answer.


Teresa McGurk profile image

Teresa McGurk 7 years ago from The Other Bangor

I don't think it's very difficult to differentiate between what is torture and what isn't. If you wouldn't want it done to you, then it's torture. I used to think that it was permissible in some cases, until I realized that people are all cases, not just some.


helenathegreat profile image

helenathegreat 7 years ago from Manhattan Author

Thanks for commenting, Teresa. I'm not sure if I agree with your definition; I wouldn't want a "wet willy" done to me, but I don't think I'd call it torture. But I agree that it's pretty obvious when something is torture or not.


stevenschenck profile image

stevenschenck 7 years ago from Sacramento California

I would like to note that most real military personnel do not condone torture, only the guys like Bush and Cheney that pretended to be in the military condone torture.

When they started calling it "Enhanced Interrogation" you knew it was so bad they could not call it what it was.

How could you call anything you did 183 times to one guy ineffective. Oh, ya, he never gave anything up... Doh...

We hung Japanese officers for water-boarding after WW11, but then said it was legal for us to do it... Hu.

Looks like only the guys that ordered it done are the only ones claiming it was a good thing to do. Perhaps they do not want to go to jail???

Is telling them the 72 virgins they are going to spend eternity with so ugly that..... Is marriage to 72 virgins really a definition of heaven or hell.... do they get ear plugs...


helenathegreat profile image

helenathegreat 7 years ago from Manhattan Author

I certainly do not blame military personell for torture. Even the people who carried it out were following orders, and psychologically most of us would do exactly the same thing. My problem is with the guys who ordered the torture to take place. We know that it gives unreliable information, so it seems like we just did it to "get back" at them.


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 7 years ago from Chicago

I think Americans are treated worse in our state prison systems—who might be there for theft or selling drugs—than were these unlawful combatants—who were there for participating, unrepentantly, in mass murder. 


helenathegreat profile image

helenathegreat 7 years ago from Manhattan Author

Thanks for all your thoughtful comments, James! I do want to say, though, that there are more than a few prisoners who were in Guantanamo literally for no reason at all. Yes, many prisoners in the American prison system (which is terribly broken) should probably not even be there are live in subpar conditions, but there were also plenty of Guantanamo prisoners who were there only because of their religion and past travel. It's the imprisonment of those people -- more than the torture of the three men who actually perpetrated acts of war against the U.S. -- that really disturbs me.


Charles Crosby 7 years ago

There is no Christianity torture issue. Christians do not torture people nor do they do others any harm, so you must be talking about people who are posing as Christians or who have posed as Christians in the past, i.e. those of the Spanish Inquisition etc. etc. but in reality they are sons of the Devil.


helenathegreat profile image

helenathegreat 7 years ago from Manhattan Author

Charles, did you even read my hub? I am not saying there is a "Christianity torture issue" at all... I am talking about Just War Theory, which is heavily rooted in Christian and Socratic thought. I suggest you read entire articles before trying to respond to them because I am not even talking about Christians torturing people in this hub. I don't appreciate thoughtless comments like this.


Charles Crosby 7 years ago

"I am not saying there is a "Christianity torture issue" at all."

Then try not to use misleading hub titles. Is the title a part of the hub or not?

As for waging 'Just Wars' there is no such thing. All wars are deliberate evil contructs of the banksters. From the French Revolution onwards, and before that too, the Cainite/Canaanite non-Jewish money lenders have instigated and manipulated wars in order to bring about their world dominating New World Order - One World Government. In turn they always finance both sides in any conflict. Nothing makes them as much money as do wars.

Finally, may I point out that my comment was relevant and you encapsulate that relevance with this remark:

"I am talking about Just War Theory, which is heavily rooted in Christian and Socratic thought."

Christian Socratic thought is philosophy, it is not Christianity. It's all of man and his vain egotistic intellect - meaningless theology. Furthermore, Christian Socratic thought forms part of the sandy foundation that is the counterfeit Cainite-Judeo-Christian Religion, which is not Christianity.


helenathegreat profile image

helenathegreat 7 years ago from Manhattan Author

Yes, the title is part of the hub, but the title isn't "The Christian Torture Issue," which is how I think you're hearing it. It's "Christianity AND the Torture Issue." This means that there is a Torture Issue being discussed in the United States right now, and my hub explores what Christianity (parts of it, of course, because examining all of a religion at once would make no sense) might have to say about that debate.

You are absolutely correct that Christianity is not equal to the Judeo-Christian thought base. At the same time, though, many Christians of all denominations believe in the possibility of a Just War, and I wouldn't say that all of them are Sons of the Devil.

The point of this hub is to criticize Just War Theory because it does not seem to address torture in the way I believe Christianity would.

Thank you for coming back to reply to my comment! One of my favorite thing about HubPages is spurring discussion like this.

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