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Christianity, conservatism and torture4 min read

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There have been many things recently in the news about the US military and torture. Maybe it shouldn’t be, but torture is a conflicting issue for me. My own personal faith seems to be in conflict with my political ideology.

The Senate overwhelmingly added an amendment that would impose restrictions on the treatment of terror suspects. This comes after several blogs (including Andrew Sullivan (HT to Louis) and The Conjecturer) picked up on a Human Rights Watch report citing specific cases on abuse of detainees by American soldiers.

While I could spend a post attempting to dismantle the objections raised by Human Rights Watch (actually, someone has already done it), I would rather look at how my faith and political ideology came in to conflict somewhat in this area.

As a conservative, I believe in a strong US military and to do whatever necessary to protect our troops from harm. I can see the value in coercing (torturing?) a captured terrorists to gain information about their plans of attack both in Iraq and here at home. Should we impose regulations on our soldiers that will prevent them from gaining life-saving knowledge?

What if we know a detainee was part of a plot to detonate a nuclear bomb in Chicago, is it okay to torture him to attempt to make him talk about the plot? What if the nuclear bomb is already in place and the detained terrorist is the only one that knows where it is at and how to stop it. Do we follow the regulations or do we do whatever possible to prevent the slaughter of thousands upon thousands of innocent men, women and children?

Can we simply look at the situation and say – torture bad? Do we allow for leeway in the event of saving someone’s life? Every policy raises even more questions than before. It sounds good on paper to say, “no torture,” but would we agree if the person in perail was our loved one. If our child was in the potential blast area would we want to do whatever possible to gain the information that could save their life?

If we could have stopped the Oklahoma City bombing by torturing Timothy McVeigh before it happened, would that be automatically wrong? What about convincing (through whatever means) Muhammed Atta that going through with the 9/11 attacks would be an unwise idea? The questions have to addressed, instead of blindly assuming we live in some ideal paradise where bad guys will talk to us if we tickle them long enough (if tickling is even allowed anymore).

On the other hand, I am a Christian which says that all human beings are created in the image of God. Each person has basic rights that are “endowed by their Creator” and are not forfeited simply because they are the enemy of my nation.

Personally, I am not a very violent person. I am not physically combative (perhaps verbally, but not physically). I can remember ever getting into a real fight. So it is hard for me to imagine what would possess anyone to mercilessly beat on another human being. To see some of the way the detainees looked after being beaten disgusted me. It physically made me ill.

As a conservative, the ends justify the means. As a Christian, the depravity of the means may not be justified.

Because of my conflicted nature, I seem to fall somewhere in the middle (I think). I don’t think we should remove all measures of torture from our tool belt, so to speak, but it should specifically apply to terrorist individuals who have information that can save lifes of other individuals. But I deplore the actions of many who senselessly beat Iraqis for the “fun of it.”

My opinion on torture and the use of it remains very fluid because I can see both sides of the argument (sometimes I am on either side of the argument). So I guess the question is – what should the Christian response to torture be? That is one that I am not sure I can answer without getting into a prologued discussion with myself.