Saturday, May 14, 2011

All Saints Speaks Out Against Torture

Op-ed from 5/11/2011 Pasadena Star-News

by the Reverend J. Edwin Bacon
All Saints Church, Pasadena

In the aftermath of Osama bin Laden's death, supporters of the Bush administration torture program are eager to declare that the decision to use enhanced interrogation techniques on high-level detainees has been "vindicated." They claim the use of waterboarding and other torture practices led us to bin Laden, and are therefore justifiable. However, it is clear that the U.S.'s practice of torture has only hurt us, rather than
helped us, in the years following 9/11. Torture weakens our reputation in the international community, alienates potential allies and remains a stain on our nation's soul.

The religious community has been nearly unanimous in the assertion that torture is always wrong. People of faith agree that the practice of torture violates the tenets of every major religion. All faiths have the basic teaching that human beings are created with dignity and worth, and some believe that human beings are created in the image of God. Torture desecrates the inherent worth that God endows in each individual. If the image of God is in every human being, then acts of torture dehumanize both the tortured and the torturer. It is morally wrong from a religious perspective.

However, proponents of the torture program under the Bush administration - including John Yoo, Jose Rodriquez, Marc Thiessen, Donald Rumsfeld, among others - have failed to understand this crucial point over the past few days. Instead, they are attempting to use bin Laden's death as a justification for the United States' continued use of enhanced interrogation techniques, despite the fact that the international community has condemned torture in Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Even outside of religious standards, torture is unacceptable. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a response to the atrocities of two world wars, led to the establishment of the Convention Against Torture as part of international law. This treaty explicitly prohibits the use of torture under all circumstances, without exception. The United States is among the 77 countries that have signed the Convention Against Torture, making torture illegal under our own U.S. law.

Torture is both immoral and illegal; furthermore, it has not made us safer as a country. Instead, it creates passionate enemies who feel compelled to respond to the degradation and inflicted pain. It stains the soul of our entire nation. By turning to torture, the United States has placed ourselves in the same league as the countries we disdain for their failure on human rights. It results in unreliable information that can cause terrible damage. All we need to do is recall the statement by Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, that information Powell used to prove that Saddam Hussein was working with al-Qaida was obtained through torture and ended up being wrong - information that we relied on in part to
go to war in Iraq.

For people of faith, the serious religious implications of our country's torture practices are paramount. We cannot condone this evil in good conscience. As the Statement of Conscience of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture states, "Torture violates the basic dignity of the human person that all religions, in their highest ideals, hold dear "

In the aftermath of bin Laden's death we must hold our leaders accountable for the moral and religious implications of their decisions. The ends cannot justify the means; the intrinsic evil of torture is never vindicated. Torture weighs heavily on the soul of our nation, and the death of bin Laden does not erase that stain.

The religious community stands in firm opposition to the immoral practices of torture, and it is time for our political leaders to understand that and act on it. This is the time to establish a government-sponsored Commission of Inquiry with full subpoena power to let the public know the full extent and consequences of
the torture program, so our leaders don't make the same moral errors again. The vehemence of the proponents' support for the torture program, the exposure they have been given by the press to their claims, and the lack of a complete record of what we did in the secret prisons, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and Bagram demand a full accounting. At this time, rather than attempting to justify an evil practice that is beyond
redemption, America needs an unlimited review of the U.S. torture program.

Rev. J. Edwin Bacon is the rector of All Saints
Episcopal Church in Pasadena.

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