Tortured By The Government: On Christians and the Language of ‘Torture’

Published on May 6, 2013

MH900442411by Jeff Wright, Jr.
Clash Daily Guest Contributor

“Get down on the ground! Get down!”

My worst fears became reality as I raced through the forest. I had finally been captured. The gunmen slammed a hood over my head and led me away to a vehicle with the other captured crew members. They led us away to a make-shift prison in who-knows-where. 

The psychological abuse began immediately with threats to harm us or our fellow-airmen if we tried to escape, remove our hoods, or even move the wrong way. We were separated, placed in cells approximately 4×3 feet, and told to stand. I was dirty, hungry, and alone. 

Sleep was out of the question. Music was blaring in a continual loop with the same odd sentence being repeated over and over again. I can still hear it today. This was enjoyable compared to the alarming sound of a baby crying. Again and again. 

They led me away to what I knew was going to be an interrogation room. And then it began. I was ordered to extend my pointer fingers, place them against the wall, and lean into the wall. My fingers strained against the weight of my body. And it hurt. Badly. 

Reenactment of my torture

According to my fellow brother in Christ, Christian ethicist David Gushee, I was tortured by the United States government. I was participating in the United States Air Force’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) training. And it was one of the most enjoyable experiences of my life. 

At least, I think Gushee and the New Evangelical Partnership think I was tortured. After reviewing An Evangelical Declaration Against Torture and The Constitution Project’s Task Force of Detainee Treatment report, I’m still not sure.

The declaration affirms Article 3 of the 3rd Geneva Convention (1949) and cites the United Nations High Commission on Human Rights Civil and Political Rights, Including the Questions of Torture and Detention (2005) and states, “Cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment (CIDT), although falling short of torture, is still completely prohibited along with all forms of torture.”

Although “torture” is not spelled out, it’s interesting to note that the  U.N. Commission’s distinguishes between CIDT and torture. The NEP’s declaration goes on to condemn both torture and CIDT in section 7.12.

hood_zps42c13627In The Constitution Project’s Task Force of Detainee Treatment report’s findings and recommendations they recommend:

(3) Congress and the president should strengthen the criminal prohibitions against torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment by:
   a. amending the Torture Statute and War Crimes Act’s definition of “torture” to mean “an intentional act committed by a person acting under the color of law that inflicts severe physical or mental pain or suffering (other than pain or suffering incidental to lawful sanctions) upon another person within his custody or physical control.”
   b. amending the War Crimes Act’s definition of “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment” to make clear that cruel and inhuman treatment of detainees is a federal crime even if it falls short of torture and regardless of the location or circumstances in which detainees are held or the state’s interest in obtaining information from detainees.’’
   c. amending the Uniform Code of Military Justice to define specific offenses of torture, cruel and inhuman treatment, and war crimes, whose definitions and sentences track those in the U.S. Code.

I note this broadening of the definition of torture in light of a comment Gushee recently made on the subject. David Gushee spoke during the “Public Theology and the Sacredness of Human Life” series at All Saints Church on April 21, 2013. In his remarks, he stated, “Still, today public opinion polls show that an absolute rejection of the morality of torture is the minority view in the US population and especially among my own community of southern white evangelicals.”

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