A Christian Response to Torture

"With the Bush administration seeking to redefine the Geneva Conventions so some forms of torture are legally permitted, what is a Christian view of the issue?"  T.R., New York City

"With the Bush administration seeking to redefine the Geneva
Conventions so some forms of torture are legally permitted, what is a
Christian view of the issue?" 
T.R., New York City



None defend torture as inherently good; rather, arguments for its use
are based on appeal to a greater good—torture accomplishes goods that
outweigh its inherent moral evil. The claim is often made that we are
engaged in a very different kind of war, one in which our enemies are a
unique threat to civilian populations. So, we must "take the gloves
off" to get the information needed to protect our people. Torture,
though gruesome, is a technique that we need to have in our tool kit.


Will the use of torture accomplish the goals we have in mind? Well, if
the goal is to get detainees to say specific things, torture is very
effective—those being tortured will say anything to stop the pain.
However, if the goal is obtaining truth, torture is notoriously
unreliable. So if one cares little about the truth, but wants prisoners
to confess to something (guilty or not), torture is the technique to
use. If one wants valid and useful information, it is not.


If we think we should use torture to protect our "way of life"
because of its inherent moral rightness, then surely we as Christians
can agree that torture is never a valid tool. Immoral practices so
corrupt our way of life that any pretense to the moral high ground
would be absurd. To treat the enemy to cruel torture and inhuman
degradation is to take a step backwards into barbarism.  Ultimately,
torture is a terrorist tool, and by using it we ourselves become


From a purely selfish standpoint, by defending the use of torture "when
appropriate" invites other countries to treat our soldiers in accord
with the same rule.  Do we really want to signal to others that we
consider torture an acceptable means of gathering information?


Walking the moral high ground is costly, and one cost is
accepting that some tactics are immoral and, thus, unavailable for
those who choose the high ground. That we seem to have lost sight of
this is exemplified by the fact that 1) though some regimes use
torture, Human Rights Watch reported that only this administration has
openly tried to offer legal justification for it, and 2) the church has
largely remained silent.


In the words of South African Bishop Peter Storey: "There is
a price to be paid for the right to be called a civilized nation. That
price can be paid in only one currency—the currency of human rights….
The rule of law says that cruel and inhuman punishment is beneath the
dignity of a civilized state…. We send a message to the jailers,
interrogators, and those who make such practices possible and
permissible: 'Power is a fleeting thing. One day your souls will be
required of you.'"
For more commentary and a longer version of this post from Chuck, join him at imitatiochristi.blogs.com

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