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Torture. Is. Not. Right.

Because of my confidence in Jesus and his gospel, I am confident that it is wrong to do to another human being what I would not want to be done to me. As a follower of an innocent man who was brutally tortured -- and who showed mercy to a guilty criminal who was tortured beside him -- I am convinced that imitating immoral techniques will always fray our moral fiber.

Associated Baptist Press recently carried a column I wrote on the subject:
http://www.abpnews.com/content/view/7366/9/

It's also included here (after the jump):


Christian theologian and Cherokee tribe member Randy Woodley recently began a blog post by quoting the maxim that truth is the first casualty of war. “Tell a lie often enough,” he said, “and it becomes your truth.”

A growing list of former U.S. government officials, including a president and a vice president, have been working hard to repeat the lie that torture is justifiable as long as the right “we” is doing the torture, and the right “they” are the ones being tortured.

Most recently, a former CIA chief counter-terrorism expert joined the chorus, singing the refrain that “enhanced interrogation techniques” work. In fact, he claims, they were pivotal in finding Osama bin Laden a year ago.

Statements like these, no matter how often they’re repeated, contradict the assessments of many in the intelligence community. For example, former FBI agent Ali Soufan, in his testimony before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, said: “From my experience -- and I speak as someone who has personally interrogated many terrorists and elicited important actionable intelligence -- I strongly believe that it is a mistake to use what has become known as the ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’.... These techniques, from an operational perspective, are ineffective, slow and unreliable, and as a result harmful to our efforts to defeat al Qaeda.”

Sen. John McCain, unique in this debate because he himself was a victim rather than perpetrator or defender of torture, offered the same assessment in a speech to the Senate: “It was not torture, or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of detainees that got us the major leads that ultimately enabled our intelligence community to find Osama bin Laden.” In fact, he wrote in a Washington Post op-ed, “the use of ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ on Khalid Sheik Mohammed produced false and misleading information.”

Hopefully soon we will have a better idea about which side is closer to the truth on the utility of torture. Along with the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, I encourage the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence to make public the results of its three-year investigation into the torture used by our government and the implications such behaviors and policies had.

As the debate continues, I can’t help but recall Winston Churchill’s assessment of World War I: “When all was over, torture and cannibalism were the only two expedients that the civilized, scientific, Christian States had been able to deny themselves: and they were of doubtful utility.” Here we are, nearly a century later, and Churchill’s quip would have to be edited, leaving cannibalism as our only remaining moral fig leaf.

That’s why I can’t help but feel that debates about the utility of torture miss the point -- and do so in a highly dangerous way. The truth about torture’s utility or expedience isn’t the point. What should be our first concern is the morality and the humanity of torture.

We try to teach our children that “expedience” and “utility” are unreliable indicators of truth and morality. We try to teach them that the latter, not the former, should be the stars they steer their lives by. We warn them that if they always take the easy way, if they put what works or what’s easiest before what’s right, they run the risk of saving themselves some trouble, but losing their souls.

That’s why, as a committed Christian and an American citizen, I stand with the National Religious Campaign against Torture. Whether or not torture is judged expedient or useful, I am convinced that the terms “enemy” or even “terrorist” don’t deprive a human being of his humanity and dignity as creation of God.

Because of my confidence in Jesus and his gospel, I am confident that it is wrong to do to another human being what I would not want to be done to me. As a follower of an innocent man who was brutally tortured -- and who showed mercy to a guilty criminal who was tortured beside him -- I am convinced that imitating immoral techniques will always fray our moral fiber.

Randy Woodley described in painful detail what happens when we succeed telling a lie so often that it becomes our truth: “Urinating on dead bodies; cutting off fingers for sport; murdering women and children; night raid home invasions on civilians; and the most recent embarrassment of soldiers posing with dead body parts, are all possible during times of war because of the original lie that starts the war, which must include dehumanizing the enemy.”

When we deny the humanity of others -- including our enemies -- we begin reducing our own. When we lie about the humanity of others, a piece of our own humanity dies. I love our nation too much to let that go on without raising my voice, and I hope others will join me.

(Brian McLaren is an author, activist and speaker who lives in Marco Island, Fla. He writes a blog that can be found at brianmclaren.net. His next book, Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road (Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World), will be released on Sept. 11.)