from a public HS teacher (Gov't, Religion, Soc. Issues), who is eclectic (Dem-leaning) politically and Quaker (& open) on everything else. Hope you enjoy what you find here.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Inhuman Behavior: A chaplain’s view of torture 

I am hoping that the title got your attention. It is not my title. It is that of an article in The Christian Century by Kermit D. Johnson, a retired U.S. Army major general and chaplain. It is as powerful a piece as I have read about the wrong of what we have done in our treatment of those we think might be terrorists.

Put simply, you MUST read this article, and then distribute as widely as you can. It should be sent to every current federal office holder who represents you, to every candidate for Federal office that you know. And send it to everyone in your email list and ask them to act similarly.

To encourage to follow what I request I will offer some selections, As powerful as I think these are, they do not do justice the entire article. And because Chaplain General Hall’s words need no explanation, I will offer none, except(a) to set up some of the quotes, and (b) for one final comment at the end of the quotations.

The historian Arnold Toynbee called war "an act of religious worship." Appropriately, when most people enter the cathedral of violence, their voices become hushed. This silence, this reluctance to speak, is based in part on not wishing to trivialize or jeopardize the lives of those who have been put in harm's way. We want to support the men and women in our armed forces, whether we are crusaders, just warriors or pacifists.

Furthermore, those who interrupt this service of worship become a source of public embarrassment, if not shame. The undercurrent seems to be that dissent or critique in the midst of war is inherently unpatriotic because it violates a sacred wartime precept: support our troops.

I would say that if war causes us to suppress our deepest religious, ethical and moral convictions, then we have indeed caved in to a "higher religion" called war.

We must react when our nation breaks the moral constraints and historic values contained in treaties, laws and our Constitution, as well as violating the consciences of individuals who engage in so-called "authorized" inhuman treatment.

A clear-cut repudiation of torture or abuse is also essential to the safety of the troops. If the life and rule of Jesus and his incarnation is to be normative in the church, then we must stand for real people, not abstractions: for soldiers, their families, congregations to which they belong, and the chaplains and pastors who minister to their needs from near and far. By "real people" we also mean that tiny percentage of the armed forces who are guards and interrogators and the commanders responsible for what individuals and units do or fail to do in treating prisoners.

Real torture is what takes place in the daily interchange between guards, interrogators and prisoners, and in the everyday, unglamorous, intricate job of collecting intelligence.

Never mind the never-ending debate about the distinctions between "cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment" and "torture." The object of all such physical and mental torment is singularly clear: to terrify prisoners so they will yield information. Whenever this happens to prisoners in U.S. control, we are handing terrorists and insurgents a priceless ideological gift, known in wartime as aid and comfort to the enemy.

The torturer and the tortured are both victims, unless the torturer is a sadist or a loose cannon who needs to be court-martialed. This violation of conscience is sure to breed self-hatred, shame and mental torment for a lifetime to come.

At this point the General offers a long list of reasons for concerns about torture, despite the McCain amendment, even were the president not to have excempted himself as commander in chief in his signing statement. I offer only a few, and you really should read them all, in sequence.

• There is no indication that the outsourcing or "rendition" of brutal treatment will cease. Is it not odd that some of the countries the U.S. State Department faults for torture are the very countries we utilize in outsourcing interrogations? What credence can we put in their assurances that they will not torture?

• A Defense Department memorandum has said that "no law banning torture or regulating interrogation can bind the president when he is operating in his role as commander in chief."

• In Senate testimony, Senator Jack Reed (D., R.I.) asked the military this question: "If you were shown a video of a United States Marine or an American citizen [under the] control of a foreign power, in a cell block, naked with a bag over their head, squatting with their arms uplifted for 45 minutes, would you describe that as a good interrogation technique or a violation of the Geneva Convention?" The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine General Peter Pace, answered: "I would describe it as a violation." The next question might be: Why have these and other violations of the Geneva Conventions been certified as legal when employed by the U.S.?

The chaplain’s final two paragraphs focus specifically on the work of military chaplains:

An important footnote to the debate on torture concerns the work of military chaplains. By regulation chaplains have a dual role as religious leaders and staff officers. They have direct access to the commander as advisers on matters of religion, morals and morale. This activity, according to Army Regulation 165-1, includes "the spiritual, ethical and moral health of the command" as well as "plans and programs related to the moral and ethical quality of leadership."

Given this definition, questions come to mind. If torture or abuse takes place, what should be the chaplain's role? Should it be pastoral or prophetic or both? Should there be an ethical framework for interrogation and should chaplains have a part in maintaining it? We need to consult with the ministers, priests, rabbis and imams in the armed forces and respectfully learn from them how they see their role. But unless torture and inhuman treatment cease, chaplains will be placed in a lonely and untenable position—unless they are willing to hear no evil and see no evil.

We know members of the JAG corps strongly objected to many of the actions taken by our military. They are the officials most responsible for ensuring compliance with various legal requirements about conduct in war. They were cut off from the discussion. We now know at least by implication of one ranking chaplain who objected, and who raises in this piece the further concern of chap[ains being unable to ensure the spiritual and moral well-being of troops entrusted to their care. What we are doing in our actions not only destroys the reputation of the United States in the eyes of the rest of the world, it is destroying the very essence of those we have used to carry out our obsence policies in this endeavor. Those who should be held accountable are not those who under duress or by hint, nod, or wink, do the actual misdeeds, but those in command authority who have allowed or encouraged this to happen.

Comments, suggestions and even rude remarks are welcomed!
Email accepted at "kber at earthlink dot net"
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