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

Published on May 6, 2013

Am I pro-torture? That’s not what I’m saying. What I would like to see, though, is an even more careful treatment of the subject. As a southern (transplant), white, evangelical I believe many of us are skeptical of pronouncements on torture due to this blurring of “torture” versus “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment” versus “enhanced techniques” and so on.

For example, the controversial Bybee Memo found that water boarding, sleep deprivation, and stress positions do not rise to the level of torture. As I recounted in my opening story, I was subjected to sleep deprivation and stress positions during survival training. I wasn’t water boarded but others were. [Granted, just because the U.S. government prepares it’s military to be subjected to abuses at the hands of foreign governments doesn’t necessarily mean that the U.S. government ought to treat prisoners and detainees in the same manner].

Are these techniques “torture”? If so, I’m afraid those poll numbers Gushee cites are going to continue to remain where they are. Especially among the dreaded and fearsome southern, white, evangelical males. 

There is much to commend in An Evangelical Declaration Against Torture and The Constitution Project’s Task Force of Detainee Treatment report. I affirm their biblical statements on the worth of every human being and the protection of the weak and vulnerable. However, we live in a country that:

— finds (Anwar al-Awlaki pen-pal) Nidal Hasan’s murder of 13 people and wounding of 29 others while shouting “Allahu Akbar!” to be “workplace violence;” 

— calls the snipping of the necks of live-born babies to be “family planning;” 

— hires a Pentagon consultant for religious tolerance who believes Christian Chaplains who share the Gospel with service members are guilty of  “spiritual rape” and ought to be court-martialed.

You’ll have to forgive some of us if we’re skeptical of playing games with the language of “torture” so that it includes losing sleep and standing in uncomfortable positions. 

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