May 1, 2009

Frequent Churchgoers Pro-Torture

Variety of Tortures Used during the Spanish Inquisition

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A while ago I asked if we need God to moral. Perhaps a more appropriate question would be, does religion make us immoral? I have to ask, in light of this Pew poll, which found that very observant Christians are more likely than their more secular countrymen to support the use of torture. Staunch Catholic Andrew Sullivan bemoans the startling news:

So Christian devotion correlates with approval for absolute evil in America. And people wonder why atheism is gaining in this country. Notice the poll does not even use a euphemism like "coercive interrogation" - forcing Allahpundit to substitute it. (Even HotAir, it seems, finds it difficult to write the sentence: "Evangelicals are more likely to be conservative and conservatives are more likely to support torture.") But it remains a fact that white evangelicals are the most pro-torture of any grouping. Mainline Protestant groups were the most opposed. A mere 20 percent of non-Hispanic Catholics believe that torture is never justified.

He also points out that in another recent poll, Southern Evangelicals turn to expediency over scripture when it comes to questions of torture. Personally, I don't think scripture would help much, as the Bible condones a wide range of violent, even genocidal, behavior against enemies. Still, you'd think a few of our most devout might ask themselves, "Whom would Jesus torture?"

I think the worst news coming out of this poll is that nearly half the country, overall, thinks the use of torture can be often or sometimes justified, with only 25% opposing torture in all circumstances. In addition to exposing flagrant immorality, it points to a disturbing, underlying ignorance. Part of the problem may be the question asked: "Can torture be justified?" The implication is that it may be a necessary evil. What an appalling number of Americans fail to understand, as they struggle with moral implications, is that TORTURE DOES NOT WORK. So the question would be better phrased, can terrorizing and degrading people into false confessions and bad intelligence ever be justified?

This seminal point has been made over and over by military, CIA, and FBI interrogation specialists, to stunningly deaf ears.

In November of 2007, U.S Army Brigadier General Finnegan took time away from his duties as dean of West Point Academy and flew to Southern California to plead with the brain trust behind the Keifer Sutherland vehicle "24," to stop glorifying torture, because it was confusing recruits. He was accompanied by both military and F.B.I. interrogators. Their overall point: While it may make good television, torture is not legal, not moral, and not effective.

Finnegan told the producers that “24,” by suggesting that the U.S. government perpetrates myriad forms of torture, hurts the country’s image internationally. Finnegan, who is a lawyer, has for a number of years taught a course on the laws of war to West Point seniors — cadets who would soon be commanders in the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. He always tries, he said, to get his students to sort out not just what is legal but what is right. However, it had become increasingly hard to convince some cadets that America had to respect the rule of law and human rights, even when terrorists did not. One reason for the growing resistance, he suggested, was misperceptions [stet] spread by “24,” which was exceptionally popular with his students. As he told me, “The kids see it, and say, ‘If torture is wrong, what about “24”?’ ” He continued, “The disturbing thing is that although torture may cause Jack Bauer some angst, it is always the patriotic thing to do.”

Gary Solis, a retired law professor who designed and taught the Law of War for Commanders curriculum at West Point, told me that he had similar arguments with his students. He said that, under both U.S. and international law, “Jack Bauer is a criminal. In real life, he would be prosecuted.” Yet the motto of many of his students was identical to Jack Bauer’s: “Whatever it takes.” His students were particularly impressed by a scene in which Bauer barges into a room where a stubborn suspect is being held, shoots him in one leg, and threatens to shoot the other if he doesn’t talk. In less than ten seconds, the suspect reveals that his associates plan to assassinate the Secretary of Defense. Solis told me, “I tried to impress on them that this technique would open the wrong doors, but it was like trying to stomp out an anthill.”

. . .

Cochran, who has a law degree, listened politely to the delegation’s complaints. He told me that he supports the use of torture “in narrow circumstances” and believes that it can be justified under the Constitution. “The Doctrine of Necessity says you can occasionally break the law to prevent greater harm,” he said. “I think that could supersede the Convention Against Torture.” (Few legal scholars agree with this argument.) At the meeting, Cochran demanded to know what the interrogators would do if they faced the imminent threat of a nuclear blast in New York City, and had custody of a suspect who knew how to stop it. One interrogator said that he would apply physical coercion only if he received a personal directive from the President. But Navarro, who estimates that he has conducted some twelve thousand interrogations, replied that torture was not an effective response. “These are very determined people, and they won’t turn just because you pull a fingernail out,” he told me. And Finnegan argued that torturing fanatical Islamist terrorists is particularly pointless. “They almost welcome torture,” he said. “They expect it. They want to be martyred.” A ticking time bomb, he pointed out, would make a suspect only more unwilling to talk. “They know if they can simply hold out several hours, all the more glory—the ticking time bomb will go off!”

. . .

“In Iraq, I never saw pain produce intelligence,” [former Army interrogator Tony] Lagouranis told me. “I worked with someone who used waterboarding”—an interrogation method involving the repeated near-drowning of a suspect. “I used severe hypothermia, dogs, and sleep deprivation. I saw suspects after soldiers had gone into their homes and broken their bones, or made them sit on a Humvee’s hot exhaust pipes until they got third-degree burns. Nothing happened.” Some people, he said, “gave confessions. But they just told us what we already knew. It never opened up a stream of new information.” If anything, he said, “physical pain can strengthen the resolve to clam up.”

Lagouranis also detailed his Iraq war experiences in a book, and numerous media appearances. His life lesson was a hard one. He compromised his moral compass and put himself in legal jeopardy... for nothing.

In some of the discussion I've read of the poll, I think the wrong conclusion has been reached, correlating Christianity with this appalling ethical lapse. The poll, itself, says otherwise. The largest percentage of those opposed to all torture was among mainline Protestants. (31%) The defining factor seemed to be religious fervor, as indicated by church attendance. This, of course, skews the overall result towards Evangelicals, and it is among Christian Evangelicals that torture was indicated to be the most popular. How much of this has to do with Christian teaching and how much to do with the political leanings, is a key question. Personally, I think it may have a good deal to do with an attraction to fundamentalism in authoritiarian personalities, but that's pure conjecture.

Of course, it wouldn't be the first time religious fervor, grafted to imperial aspirations, was fueled by torture and false confessions.

It appears that the Franciscans participated in the witch trials in a supporting or facilitating function by gathering or manufacturing evidence such as for the Logroño witch tribunal (in Euskadi), for which they interrupted their preaching crusade to present a "dressed toad" and pots of "witches' salve" as evidence of witchcraft (Henningson p.345). They were deeply involved in spying out potential witches and reporting them to the authorities. The Franciscans even tortured women extracting false confessions such as the one done by the monk Fray Juan de Ladron. He took part in the witch-hunt in Alava as one of the Inquisition's special emissaries. Three women were reported by him after the priest at Larrea, Martin Lopez de Lazarraga, had tied them by the hands and neck, assisted by de Ladron, who then threatened to take the women to the Logroño showcase witch-trial if they did not confess. They did confess but later told Salazar what happened. Lazarraga had been appointed inquisitorial commissioner and put into the head of one of the women the idea of accusing six uncooperative locals priests of witchcraft. At Logroño many people were tortured into admitting anything the monks told them to say. One of the women, Mariquita de Atauri, felt so bad after denouncing so many innocent people under torture that she drowned herself in the river near her house.

Inquisition of a Witch

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