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Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Announcing A National Summit On Torture

Press Release From Mercer University:
ATLANTA — An impressive lineup of speakers including prominent scholars, leaders from the faith community, former military officers and a victim of torture are on the program for a sold-out National Summit on Torture at Mercer University's Atlanta campus later this week. Titled "Religious Faith, Torture, and Our National Soul" and scheduled for Thursday and Friday, the conference is being organized by Dr. David P. Gushee, Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics at Mercer.

Gushee, who also serves as president of Evangelicals for Human Rights, a conference co-sponsor, said the program is designed to "go to the source of the problem, to diagnose how we got here, and to chart a way forward to a better American future."

On Thursday at 10:45 a.m., results from a new poll commissioned by Mercer University and Faith in Public Life and conducted by Public Religion Research will be released. Among the findings are evidence that white evangelical Christians in the South are significantly more likely to oppose torture if they rely on Christian teachings or beliefs to form their views and that a majority agree with the Golden Rule argument against torture — that the U.S. government should not use methods against our enemies that we would not want used on American soldiers.

Among the more than 50 speakers, presenters and moderators scheduled to participate in the conference are academics from institutions such as Yale University, the University of Notre Dame, New York University, Seton Hall Law School, Morehouse College, Georgetown University, Vanderbilt University, Princeton Theological Seminary and Mercer. Presenters will also include retired senior military officers, leaders from Christian, Jewish and Islamic organizations, and a Catholic nun who was tortured while serving as a missionary in Guatemala.

Among the other co-sponsors of the conference are the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, the Center for Victims of Torture, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Evangelicals for Social Action, Faith and the City, the Islamic Society of North America, Morehouse College, the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, No2Torture, Rabbis for Human Rights, Sojourners and Third Way.

Here's a list of the speakers and the program.

All sessions of the National Summit on Torture will be streamed live on the internet.

So, you can watch the Summit pretty much all day Thursday and Friday via http://www.evangelicalsforhumanrights.org



Blogger Bart Barber said...

Hopefully this will come with a definition of "torture." Are we talking about The Rack, or are we talking about playing music too loudly to suit somebody's taste or taking pictures of them in their skivvies?

It makes a big difference, by my estimation.

8:48 AM

Blogger Big Daddy Weave said...

With ethicists, theologians, constitutional lawyers, and actual torture victims on the Summit's program, I have a hunch that "torture" will be defined.

Interestingly, the "techniques" used against McCain during his imprisonment (sleep deprivation, withholding of medical treatment, stress positions, long-time standing, beating) would not be defined as "torture" by the Bush Administration. According to Dubya, those "techniques" would qualify as merely "enhanced interrogation." Unfortunately, I don't recall the Republicans discussing torture during their Convention even while celebrating John McCain's bravery....

10:15 AM

Blogger Georgia Mountain Man said...

You go guy! Too many people have the idea that torture, as defined by the Bush Regime, is little more than a nuisance. Believe me, if it were used on them, they would find out. It's kind of like those who think prison is a free ride with cable tv, weight machines, and a nice meal every day, instead of what it really is, a daily stuggle to survive.

3:17 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

My question for georgia mountain man is has he considered why the prisoner was there? Are we to reward people for criminal behavior? Have you any pity for the victims of crime or are we only allowed that for the "poor" prisoners? mom2

6:46 PM

Anonymous Tom from Indiana said...

As a Christian, it concerns me that such a program would be necessary. Torture seems to me to be something that Christians ought to be able to reject with a single voice. However, given some of the comments already posted, it appears that there are those who still haven't decided that torture is a bad thing. I still struggle with all that "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" stuff that Matthew has and the "Remember ... those who are being tortured as though you yourselves are being tortured" from Hebrews 13:3. It would seem to me that torture would clearly be one of those things we, as Christians, ought not to do if we want to love our enemies like Jesus commanded. (But I'm still stuck in that rut of taking the Bible seriously...)

7:13 PM

Blogger Georgia Mountain Man said...

To the person who won't show us a name. Read it again. I didn't say that prison should be easy. That's my point. Some people think it's a free ride. Instead, it is a terrible place to try to exist. As for torture, that is for the uncivilized. We are supposed to be a civilized nation. Now we are no better than those who tortured McCain and others. We can no longer take the high road,when our people are captured and tortured. Those in the know will tell you that torture rarely elicits accurate information except in the movies.

6:28 AM

Blogger Ken Coffee said...

"Interestingly, the "techniques" used against McCain during his imprisonment (sleep deprivation, withholding of medical treatment, stress positions, long-time standing, beating) would not be defined as "torture" by the Bush Administration."

BDW, I think that is a stretch. Putting sleep deprivation in the same category as thebone breaking beatings, such as McCain experienced, is a bit disingenuous. I believe you are letting yor partisanship show.

9:12 AM

Blogger Cat's Dad said...

From a quick look at the lengthy speakers list and program, it appears that torture will not only be defined during the summit, but demonstrated and endured as well.

I'm glad to see the defense lawyer is included!

9:35 AM

Blogger Big Daddy Weave said...

Hey Ken,

I was merely listing the *techniques* used against John McCain.

I was not trying to equate sleep deprivation with the physical beatings that McCain endured. Nor was I trying to diminish the suffering that McCain experienced. You know that already. One could conclude that you misinterpreted me intentionally....

Torture is a moral issue, an issue of basic human rights. Partisan politics should be set aside when it comes to torture. Participants at this National Summit would like to see President Bush issue an executive order banning torture based on six core principles embodied in a Declaration of Principles. Here's a list of those principles:

"Though we come from a variety of backgrounds and walks of life, we agree that the use of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment against prisoners is immoral, unwise, and un-American.
In our effort to secure ourselves, we have resorted to tactics which do not work, which endanger US personnel abroad, which discourage political, military, and intelligence cooperation from our allies, and which ultimately do not enhance our security.
Our President must lead us by our core principles. We must be better than our enemies, and our treatment of prisoners captured in the battle against terrorism must reflect our character and values as Americans.
Therefore, we believe the President of the United States should issue an Executive Order that provides as follows:
The "Golden Rule." We will not authorize or use any methods of interrogation that we would not find acceptable if used against Americans, be they civilians or soldiers.
One national standard. We will have one national standard for all US personnel and agencies for the interrogation and treatment of prisoners. Currently, the best expression of that standard is the US Army Field Manual, which will be used until any other interrogation technique has been approved based on the Golden Rule principle.
The rule of law. We will acknowledge all prisoners to our courts or the International Red Cross. We will in no circumstance hold persons in secret prisons or engage in disappearances. In all cases, prisoners will have the opportunity to prove their innocence in ways that fully conform to American principles of fairness.
Duty to protect. We acknowledge our historical commitment to end the use of torture and cruelty in the world. The US will not transfer any person to countries that use torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.
Checks and balances. Congress and the courts play an invaluable role in protecting the values and institutions of our nation and must have and will have access to the information they need to be fully informed about our detention and interrogation policies.
Clarity and accountability. All US personnel-whether soldiers or intelligence staff-deserve the certainty that they are implementing policy that complies fully with the law. Henceforth all US officials who authorize, implement, or fail in their duty to prevent the use of torture and ill treatment of prisoners will be held accountable, regardless of rank or position."

11:45 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

BDW, Now go preach to the enemy. Do you really think they care what we do or what we think, they do as they please and know that they can count on liberals here to defend them. mom2

9:21 AM

Blogger Alexis said...

wow mom2, thats a terrific Christian attitude. are you saying you support torture?

for me, I think that it is much more likely to find the face of Christ in the prisoners at Abu Ghraib and in the numerous unknown countries where "suspects" are taken in secrecy and tortured than in those performing the torture for our 'security'.

11:09 AM

Anonymous Tom from Indiana said...

It seems to me that torture says a lot more about the quality of character of the captor than the quality of character of the prisoner. If, somehow, the evil nature of a prisoner causes me to want to torture him or her, then the prisoner has succeeded in turning me from good to evil. So, it isn't about them, it is about us.

Call me naive if you wish, but George Washington opposed torture (and, no, I don't think he'd change his mind for Islamic terrorists....), John McCain opposes torture on his better days (I just wish he'd have more of those better days), people who take Jesus' command to love their enemies oppose torture...

Treating prisoners decently does not dishonor America or the cause of Christ. Rather, I think that mistreating prisoners does dishonor America and the cause of Christ. Yes, I'm talking to you mom2. Call me liberal if you like, I'll take my stand with Jesus and George and those other liberals who oppose torture.

2:34 PM

Blogger Bart Barber said...

I can see how one might, eventually, define torture to include incarceration itself. Certainly, from the look of the lady I visited in jail this morning, it is a terrifying, disorienting, bewildering, inconveniencing, heart-wrenching experience to be incarcerated!

And, thus, I would not incarcerate anyone. Nor would my church ever incarcerate anyone. But there are "two swords" aren't there, my friend? And it seems to me a bit out of step with the broad exegetical history of Christian orthodoxy to interpret the Sermon on the Mount as being addressed primarily to government.

If Christians cannot incarcerate, cannot interrogate, cannot participate in warfare, cannot punish, and cannot execute, the only tenable position (again, it seems to me) is the Anabaptist conclusion that we must have a magistracy composed entirely of nonbelievers.

5:18 PM

Anonymous tom from indiana said...

Bart, Since I didn't make the argument that incarceration was unacceptable, I would guess that you must either be arguing with someone else or constructing a straw man that you can easily knock down. Neither did I suggest that the Sermon on the Mount was primarily directed toward the government. You know that the Anabaptist option is not the only one that would eschew torture. Furthermore, you ought to know that even some pagan governments (I know that's redundant) refused to practice torture. In fact, I presented two arguments: one, that I as a Christian have an obligation to object to the use of torture by the government and, two, that for totally different reasons diverse political figures such as George Washington and John McCain have objected to the use of torture by the government.

We don't have to be evil to address evil, but that doesn't mean we ignore evil either. I fear that your argument amounts to dismissing the words of Jesus as being idealistic and unworkable (which is a slippery slope that I'd rather avoid).

6:33 AM

Blogger Alexis said...

Tom, I wholeheartedly agree with your statements.

7:23 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Where did I say that I approve of torture? What I do wonder is what liberals consider torture. With your way of thinking, we just as well tell everyone to come take us over and we will be nice while you do as you please. Be real! We live in an imperfect world and no politician (even a Democrat) is going to turn this world into heaven on earth. Until Christ returns, evil will exist and prevail where allowed. mom2

9:14 AM

Blogger Big Daddy Weave said...


We'll ust let your words speak for themselves.

In this conversation on the morality of torture, nothing you have written indicates that you oppose the use of torture or that you even grasp the basic concept that "Torture is a Moral Issue" that Christians should be concerned about...

9:56 AM

Blogger Bart Barber said...


As we have not previously interacted, to my knowledge, I would not have referred to you as "friend." My previous interaction with Aaron I would describe as friendly, so I was really directing my comments mostly to him, tangentially to the conversation at large, and somewhat just out into the ether. But I had not drawn you into my sights.

My point is one that Aaron would have perceived, I suspect. Ethics differ when applied to individuals on the one hand versus when applied to governments on the other.

A biblical example: It is unethical (by the Christian standard) for me to take revenge (Romans 12:17-21), but it is not unethical for the government to do so (the very next breath...Romans 13:1-4). Indeed, the government does so as "a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.

Another non-biblical example: It is unethical for me to lie. It would be unethical for me to conceal my identity in order to be hired by a church. Yet, for the government to send someone to conceal his identity and penetrate a drug-peddling organization, a terrorist organization, etc., is not generally considered unethical.

Or even further: It would be unethical for me, wanting to send my child to a more expensive college, to walk up and down my street with a pistol and extort money from my neighbors to require them to pay for my child to go to college. On the other hand, when you're running for President, it's not extortion; it's a campaign pledge.

Even if you disagree with the Bible in Romans and the other examples that I've given, you'll eventually agree that a different set of ethical rules apply to the government than to individuals.

Which brings me to the two points that I have made in this thread: 1. That my position on the ethical implications of torture depends greatly upon whether "torture" has been defined clearly and upon the exact nature of that clear definition. 2. That any discussion of the ethical implications of torture, if it will seek to apply biblical materials toward the discussion, must devote at least some attention to addressing the differing ethical constraints of (to use historical terminology) each of the "two swords" and examining whether the passages in question are meant to stipulate the terms of ethical government or ethical Christian living or both.

I'm more than willing to hear the argument that the Sermon on the Mount is a textbook for government. I'm merely demanding that you actually make it.

10:34 AM

Blogger Bart Barber said...

It occurs to me that, lest I be considered timid, I ought to be forthcoming somewhat with my own views on the subject.

1. I think it is unethical for the government deliberately to deprive any individual of life without due process. Once a person becomes a prisoner of war, due process involves at least a legal process before a military tribunal. Killing an active combatant during battle is, at least to some degree, a defensive action and is therefore something a bit different if the nation's role in the war is just.

2. I think it is unethical for the government deliberately to inflict permanent injury or disfigurement upon an individual without due process (see a fuller expansion of that sentiment in #1).

3. I think it is unethical for the government deliberately to withhold from an individual in its custody the basic necessities of life (presuming that the government has adequate stores of those "basic necessities") such as to cause either #1 or #2.

Of course, there are MANY other things that the government might do that I might consider unethical, but I think that these will suffice as at least a summary of my personal views about torture.

10:59 AM

Blogger The Whited Sepulchre said...

Why is no one mentioning the Christian justification for torture that's been used during everything from the Crusades to the Inquisition to the Holocaust?

A few years of discomfort in Abu Ghraib is nothing compared to what God supposedly has waiting for Muslims in the next life.

Until so-called "liberal" theologians start publicly renouncing the doctrine of Hell/Eternal Punishment, we're going to keep getting what we've been getting from evangelical politicians.

If it's ok for God to do it, surely it's ok for the Bush regime, right?

8:30 PM


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