Our country is currently wrestling with what to do about the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian civil war. Both those who favor a military strike and those who oppose that action agree on one point: There are behaviors, even in war, that we cannot allow.
To turn our backs on the use of chemical weapons is to condone behavior that takes the human race down a dark and barbarous road that we should have long ago moved past.
It is a hopeful sign that, at least as far as the crisis in Syria goes, our country stands with others in drawing that proverbial line in the sand beyond which we must not allow others to cross.
Sadly, since Sept. 11, our nation has had fewer qualms about crossing that same proverbial line in terms of the issue of torture. The Constitution Project’s bipartisan Task Force on Detainee Treatment recently released findings that catalog the tragic history of our nation’s illegal treatment of detainees.
Much as the members of the Assad regime in Syria will likely justify its now-indisputable use of chemical weapons by saying something along the lines of how their evil opponents forced them to take this step, our nation has justified the use of torture toward detainees after Sept. 11.
It is this justification that has made us insensitive as a nation to the revelations by this task force and other fact-finding groups regarding the use of waterboarding, sleep deprivation and agonizing stress postures on detainees at Guantanamo and other
“cooperating prisons” elsewhere in the world.
Instead of pondering how our nation, which purports to stand for human rights, has descended into depths plumbed before us by governments in Nazi Germany, the Soviet Gulag, the Khmer Rouge and, more recently, Argentina during the Dirty War and South Africa under apartheid, we shamefully continue to view ourselves as the “good guys” who use and justify torture by claiming that this enemy is beyond moral considerations.
The task force’s report is not the final word on U.S.-sponsored torture. The Senate Intelligence Committee adopted its own, much more lengthy and in-depth report investigating post-Sept. 11 torture of American detainees and suspected terrorists, back in December of last year.
That report remains classified; the American people deserve for our government to be transparent and to reveal to us the full truth. Without it, how can we expect to never go back?
We who call ourselves people of faith cannot accept these moral evasions. In Matthew 25: 31-46, Jesus offers the only criteria to be used at the Last Judgment. In this passage, the “sheep” will enter the Kingdom of heaven because they fed Jesus when he was hungry, clothed him when he was needy, gave water when he was thirsty, and visited him when he was in prison. The “goats,” on the other hand, will be excluded from the Kingdom because they failed to do any of these things.
We are commanded to love God by caring for the neighbor in need. And one of the specific acts commanded in Matthew 25 is to visit and care for those in prison.
Americans are prohibited from even visiting the detainees at Guantanamo, and one must wonder how many other prisoners languish today in secret prisons around the world.
In times of war, it is common to demonize one’s adversaries and conclude that they are not our neighbors. This we have done with those we have tortured, but as a faith leader, I must stand up against torture. As faith leaders, we work to encourage the health, safety and humane treatment, even of those we suspect of being against us.
It is time Americans learned the full truth about our legacy of torture.
I join with people of faith from hundreds of diverse religious and faith-based groups who have come together through the National Religious Campaign Against Torture to call on the Senate Intelligence Committee to release its report about U.S.-sponsored torture to the American people.
David Carlson is a professor of philosophy and religion at Franklin College and the author of “Peace Be with You: Monastic Wisdom for a Terror-Filled World.” Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.