Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The CIA Torture Report: Our need to turn away from evil Update

I am totally unsettled and ashamed of what members of the CIA have done to other’s who are created in the image of God. Back during the time of the Soviet Union I remember reading stories of Christian prisoners who were tortured in some of the same ways, standing for days in one spot without sleep, being put into cold rooms and having cold water thrown over them. To use a phrase of C.S. Lewis’ are we becoming monsters that one would only meet in a nightmare? It is confession time for the Church and the United States government.

There are several good articles, written by Christians, deploring the CIA’s use of torture.  

Rev. Joe Carter has written, “7 Things Christians Should Know About Torture.” It is on the Canon & Culture site of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist site. The article gives definitions about torture and information about what the United States has adhered to in the past.

A good Catholic writer, Leah Libresco, on her blog, Unequally Yoked, writes, Torture Report Details Wounds to Prisoners and Guards. This is an important posting because not only do we see the great hurt to the prisoners we read of those who objected and how badly their souls were hurt. For instance Libresco writes:

“The victims of the abuses we’ve committed aren’t limited to the people who were tortured, though they are certainly the most grave examples.  There has been violence done to every person asked to carry out illegal and immoral orders, from the Navy nurse who refused to carry out force-feeding to the CIA interrogators who, according to the report, cried when asked to administer waterboarding and asked to be transferred.”

Another Catholic, Father Dwight Longenecker has written, The Terrorism of Torture, where he compares torturers to terrorist. Longenecker writes:

“The victims of both the terrorist and the torturer does not know truth anymore. He has lost all bearings. He does not know trust or hope. Truth has been destroyed and all is awash in a sea of uncertainty, fear, confusion and pain.

By condoning torture, therefore, we are condoning terrorism. We are saying that any means is appropriate to achieve the ends.”

I have written many times of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his confession of sin for the church. It is found in his Ethics. I do not believe I have quoted this part until now:

“The Church confesses that she has witnessed the lawless application of brutal force, the physical and spiritual suffering of countless innocent people [and there were, according to the report some prisoners that were innocent], oppression, hatred and murder [and some died under torture], and that she has not raised her voice on behalf of the victims and has not found ways to hasten to their aid.”

Update: Here is an excellent article on Breakpoint Commentaries by Eric Metaxas "The Torture Report" http://www.breakpoint.org/bpcommentaries/entry/13/%2026559#comments For some reason I can only get this to go to the comments. Just scroll up.

Here is Senator John McCain on the release of the CIA torture report:


Anonymous said...

I just wish the members of the Evangelical Community had shown some moral spine and had been even a little protective of our values back when America first went down this path.

"I told you so" is much to trite for this sin. But my break with the Evangelical Community back then was precisely on this account, because for all the lofty words in defense of orthodoxy, orthopraxis took a back seat, and when it came time to choose between worshiping the Prince of Peace or the God of War, they chose the God of War.

What a handful of Islamic Fundamentalists did to us on 911, killing and maiming Thousands, that was on them. But corrupting our values, and the sin we committed in the aftermath, that's all on us.

Jodie Gallo
Los Angeles, CA

Viola Larson said...

Jodie I am not going to engage in a long argument with you. This posting in no way points at the Evangelical community. They did not chose a god of war. I meant this to point to myself and everyone-we did not know what was happening. I pray it does not happen again.

Viola-Blogger doesn't seem to know I am signed in.

Anonymous said...


No need to engage in a long argument. I had those 12 and 13 years ago, and have long since tired of them. I may have misunderstood you, however. You may not be pointing to the Evangelical community but I am.


Because it was my community, and like the German church that claimed it did not really know what was going on at the time, the American Evangelicals want to claim the same. And like them, if they did not know, its because they did not want to know. There was plenty of evidence and literature available at the time. And when I would show it to my friends they labeled it "liberal propaganda".

Maybe folks were blinded by their own ideology. But for whatever reason, they had to try to avoid knowing.

It has happened before and it will happen again. For as long as people pre-judge facts and data through ideological lenses.

I felt - and this is me - very embarrassed and ashamed for my brothers and sisters in Christ who hung up the Gospel and their values and joined the war parade. And if you think they did not choose the god of war, you might go back and study their vocabulary as a starting point. Even in our own Presbyterian denomination, the language used to express our own internal polemics is the language not of grace but of war. People even said they were "at war" verbatim. With each other. In church.

(As an example, what did everyone call the PUP Committee? They called it a "task force". A naval term out of World War 2 to describe a an ad hoc flotilla convened for the purpose of bringing death and destruction to the enemy. Think of the irony: Peace Unity Purity Task Force. The Holy Spirit must have either been weeping or laughing his head off)

The CIA report does not say anything new. But if it forces us to look ourselves in the mirror, even if just a little, it will serve its purpose.


Viola Larson said...

Jodie, are you aware that the New Testament, in places, speaks of the Christian life as a battle.
But not against flesh and blood but against "the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places."

And there is enough sin to go around-killing unborn children is to me another form of torture. I could go on but I won't.

Anonymous said...


You are quite right in Paul's focus on who our battle is with. So why do we insist on fighting against flesh and blood instead?

Is it because that is who the god of war would have us fight?

About that battle that is not with flesh and blood, is that really a battle that is ours to fight? What else do the Scriptures say about it?


Anonymous said...

Viola, someone I respect, Peter Wehner (who is incidentally, a Presbyterian) offers these reflections on the CIA "Torture Report." I think what he says is worth pondering even if, at the end of the day, one is not persuaded:


Blessings to you!

John Erthein
DeFuniak Springs, FL

Viola Larson said...

Thanks John,
It is a good article and yes the moral dilemma is clear, and yet the things that caught my attention in the torture report were more than that. An innocent person with mental problems suffering to gain his relatives attention, a prisoner dying on a cold floor, anal dehydration. I am aware of the context. We were all frightened about what was happening-but I also consider Dresden and the two Japanese cities wrong. I believe in a just war theory, I am not a pacifist, but just war theory does not include over-kill.

Anonymous said...

I can respect moral relativism, even if I don't agree with it. It can even fall under the category of "sin boldly".

It's the intentional blind eye that I have most trouble with. The pretending to be morally justified on the one hand and not being complicitous on the other.


BTW "3 cases" my foot.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your (typically!)thoughtful response, Viola. Yes, in hindsight, a lot of stuff "the good guys" did, even in World War Two, was morally reprehensible.

John Erthein
DeFuniak Springs, FL

Greg Scandlen said...

I am coming to this very late in the discussion, so I apologize. But I have been wrestling with the broader issue of what should be the Christian response to Islamic terrorism. If we use Christ and the Apostles as a guide, it seems to me we should pray and preach but otherwise not resist, secure in the knowledge that we will be united with Jesus and that God will win the final battle.

But I don't like that answer one bit. I don't think I can live up to it. But even if I could, I don't think I should expect others to do it.

We are reminded often enough by the secular Left that the United States is not a Christian nation. That certainly seems to be the case given where we are on abortion, sexual morality, and a host of other issues. So how can we expect this secular government to abide by Christian morals when it comes to dealing with terrorists? What would make an abortionist queasy about torturing a known terrorist?

But more to the point, I have a few objections to your post.

1. The so-called "torture report" is a one-sided hatchet job, written exclusively by the Democrat staff on the Intelligence Committee. Maybe it is correct, but it is like listening solely to the prosecution's side in a criminal trial. It is essential to hear both sides before coming to any judgment.

2. Sen, Feinstein was well aware of what was happening as it was happening and raised no objection. Her hypocrisy is mind boggling.

3. Your link to the article equating this sort of "torture" to terrorism is offensive. Gleefully killing or beheading thousands of innocent civilians and children is nothing at all like interrogating specific known terrorist leaders to gain information about pending attacks.

4. I fail to see how drone strikes that kill both the terrorist and his family members is a morally superior response.

I rarely disagree with your views, Viola, but here I think you are missing your usual thoughtfulness.


Viola Larson said...

Greg, thank you for your well thought out response. I do agree with you that the committee was one sided and should not have been. However the only real objection I have seen to the report is that intelligence was gathered from it. No one said no we didn't do that. As a Christian I cannot agree to torture.

Yes, you are right what happened to the prisoners does not compare to those who have suffered at the hands of terrorists. I think the example was meant to show the mind set of those who are terrorized. And also there is the fact that some of our prisoners were innocent also.

I am remembering a line in The Hiding Place where Corrie Ten Boon points out that in the concentration camp it was too easy to forget in the place of so much evil that they still need to respond with goodness. They could not excuse their own sin.

I was fairly certain that some of my friends would not agree with me, but I don't expect everyone to agree with me all the time.

I think we sometimes fail to realize that we either grow towards goodness or toward evil. I don't won't to see my government grow the wrong direction although I believe they already have, because of abortion and the failure to uphold marriage as between a man and a woman. For me the era of torture just adds to those sins.

will spotts said...

I just want to thank you for posting this.

Viola Larson said...

Thank you for saying so Will.

Anonymous said...


As always you present thoughtful questions, but I perceive them as still too colored by the lenses of left vs right wing ideological polemics. Jesus Christ cannot be found on that playing field.

When Christianity became the religion of the late Roman and then Byzantine Empire, the pragmatics of the ethics of Jesus and the Apostles came under severe scrutiny. It is one thing to follow the ethics of Jesus when you are the oppressed and powerless. It is quite another to practice the Faith from a position of military power and authority. There were many debates and confessions that came out of that thought process over the centuries. One of the early outcomes was the criteria for “Just War”. A criteria which the Evangelical community did not adequately consult or proclaim in the run up to the war in Iraq. George W. got Billy Graham to mumble something about it, and that interview ended the debate before it even started.

As members of a democracy, we Christians have as much of a responsibility to be heard as anybody else. We share in its benefits and we share in its cost. We can’t stand up and judge entire political parties on the basis of their talking points on abortion and then turn a blind eye when they kill Tens or Hundreds of Thousands of innocent civilians calling them collateral damage – in an unjust war. Nor can we claim innocence when the result is even more mayhem. It’s a hypocrisy that betrays a false Faith. It betrays a motivation based not on discipleship to Christ but rather on a political discipleship to a secular ideology that paints itself with religious colors. Such Faith is what Jesus called a “white washed sepulcher”.

I am puzzled by your specific objections that the CIA report is a “one-sided hatchet job”. Why, because the author wears a donkey mask instead of an elephant mask? As Viola mentioned, nobody is claiming the report is therefore false. Is it that they do not adequately defend the pragmatism of the moral compromise we made? Is there such a defense? Torture is OK, but abortion is not? Unjust war is OK, but same sex marriage is not? Killing innocent civilians with remote control bombs is OK, but beheading them up close and personal is not?

Where do >you< draw the line, and why there?

Jodie Gallo