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