Special Report

Tortured Reasoning

The religious left and the ACLU join forces to lecture Congress on proper interrogation techniques and have some liberal fun.

By 7.11.07

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The ACLU threw an anti-torture rally on Capitol Hill late last month, with a little help from comedian Greg Proops, and the National Religious Coalition Against Torture (NRCAT).

"What I love about Dick Cheney is his fake window of health," Proops crooned. "Because he's about two green M&Ms away from complete coronary meltdown. He's like half a Ho-Ho from having his aorta congeal into a hockey puck and fire out his ass."

Who's to say that fighting torture cannot be mixed with a little fun!?

"I didn't know you were going to send the Wal-Mart assistant manager," Proops recounted of the typical foreign head of state upon meeting President Bush. "Sure, you can talk to someone in charge -- he's lying over here on a gurney with a defibrillator stuck inside him. I've got him on the 'clapper' -- I'll wake him up for you. Clap on, Mr. Cheney! Clap off! Dick Cheney is doing such a great job as president."

Rally organizers claimed several thousand rallied against torture and enjoyed the Proop's comedic performance. Other press accounts put the crowd in the hundreds. Whatever the number, the speaker list was top-heavy with Democratic members of Congress: Senator Pat Leahy, Senator Tom Harkin, Senator Ben Cardin, Senator Chris Dodd, Representative Jerald Nadler, Representative Dennis Kucinich.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi could not make it, but the crowd was assured of her good wishes. "She frightened everybody here in Washington to death because she has a uterus and a brain and she can use them both," Proop chortled.

"Are there any 'card carrying members' in the house?" asked ACLU executive director Anthony Romero, with equal comedic effect, to cheers and laughter. "This is a remarkable day, when true patriots storm Capitol Hill to demand the return of our basic liberties and basic rights. We've lived through some very dark times over these last six years, but we're making progress."

Amnesty International's Larry Cox was a little more explicit. "The present administration has taken our flag...and has raised it over Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, secret detention sites, made it a recruitment poster for terror. We, we are here to say today, 'We want our flag back!'"

With equal indignation, the Islamic Society of America's Ingrid Matson recounted that Muslims in America had warned newly arrived immigrants not to take American liberties for granted, with American slavery in mind, 150 years ago.

"The Koran says, 'Do not let hatred of others toward you make you swerve from justice," Matson recounted.. "Torture is a major transgression of God's limits. The impact of such a transgression is not just on the victim, but on the souls of all those engaged in and complicit in this evil act."

Perhaps most interesting among the rally's sponsors was the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT), which has specifically highlighted evangelicals who oppose Bush Administration policies.

"The religious community and millions of others across the nation are deeply concerned that U.S.-sponsored torture, and other denials of human rights, have diminished the goodness of our nation," NCAT's Rich Kilmer told the rally. "The religious community has concluded that torture is a moral issue."

NCAT has declined to delve fully into the details of what should or should not be permitted in interrogation. To specifically reject some practices would imply permission for other questionable practices, they profess. Instead, they assume the truth of the worst bumper sticker allegations against U.S. policies, and denounce "torture" by the U.S. without really defining it.

Kilmer recounted, non-controversially: "Religions require adherence to protect the dignity of human beings; to treat everyone with compassion -- including our enemies; to welcome all people, even those of a different religion or tradition; to work for fairness and justice for all."

That the debates over U.S. detention policies might benefit from more theological nuance does not seem to occur to Kilmer and the NCAT. Speaking at more length for NCAT was Methodist ethicist and left-wing blogger Chuck Gutenson from evangelical Asbury Seminary outside Lexington, Kentucky.

"On what basis, however, are we normally assured that torture of detainees is an acceptable practice?" Gutenson asked. "Everyone agrees, as far as I can tell, that gratuitously creating pain in others is a heinous evil."

Gutenson described the purported supporters of torture by the U.S. as justifying the evil by claiming lives will be saved by the extracted intelligence.

"One member of the Supreme Court recently responded to the torture question, not by appeal to hard fact, but rather by asking what jury would convict Jack Bauer," Gutenson remembered, referring to Justice Antonin Scalia. "Thereby this Supreme Court justice conflated reality and drama in such a way as to create the illusion that a scenario from the hit TV series 24 was an accurate representation of the world in which torture is used."

But Scalia has not been alone in his reference to 24. National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) lobbyist Richard Cizik, in touting NAE's new statement against supposed U.S. policies of torture, reportedly said: "If you don't think torture is a topic worthy of a statement, just watch 24."

Unfortunately, much of the debate about "torture" by the U.S. revolves around vague assumptions, shaped more by fiction than by reality.

"Jesus not only commanded, but also modeled a way of life that refused to repay evil with evil," Gutenson declared. "When His enemies came for him, He embodied the call to love our enemies. How, then, can we who seek to imitate this Jesus ever see torture as a legitimate toll wielded to serve our own purposes?"

With or without torture, Jesus would never have served as a prison interrogator, any more than He would have led a rally on Capitol Hill, with the ACLU, or anybody else. Simply asking What Would Jesus Do, no more than referencing plot lines from 24, contributes almost nothing to debates about U.S. detention policies.

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About the Author

Mark Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington, D.C. and author of Methodism and Politics in the Twentieth CenturyYou can follow him on Twitter @markdtooley.