Saturday, April 25, 2009
Christian's Take on Waterboarding
The above picture was a group demonstration of waterboarding
Christians are hardly in agreement on the question of “harsh interrogation techniques” including the controversial waterboarding on terror suspects. Particular right now the water boarding debate is raging. And it should I guess. However, the “politicizing” and “witch hunt” that some want to pursue on the previous Bush administration is ridiculous.
Every administration has greatly differed on the policies of the previous presidential administration. And when a new administratation comes in, there is the moment to change and differ on the policy issues. And President Obama clearly has done that. Right or wrong. I agree with Senator John McCain who on Thursday warned that any attempt by the Obama administration to prosecute the Bush-era officials who wrote memos signing off on water boarding would start a "witch hunt." I thought change meant moving forward and not looking back and focusing on the past mistakes.
I mean even Democrats like Bill Clinton and other leading Republicans who oppose torture like Sen. John McCain say it is acceptable to torture someone in a "ticking bomb" scenario. Real life doesn't produce the kind of a-nuke-is-about-to-go-off scenarios featured on the television drama "24." The closest we are likely to get is the capture of high-level al-Qaida operatives like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed with knowledge of ongoing plots. Should we have tortured KSM? Well, we did and reportedly helped roll up al-Qaida terrorists around the world.
Circumstances matter. If we were water boarding political dissidents, then it would be right to compare us to Saddam Hussein. If interrogators were water boarding KSM every morning for their own amusement that would shock the conscience. But not many consciences will be shocked at subjecting him to 90 seconds of uncontrollable panic to get information that might save lives.
If the Senate disagrees, Congress and the President should put itself clearly on record forbidding water boarding. And I think they are probably going to. Enough already with the Bush witch hunts though!
Now, what should a Christian’s perspective and view be concerning all this current watering board controversy? Well, quite frankly, I think you’ll find all kinds of opinions and views from across the broad “Christian perspective.” I think good people, good, sincere, devote, loving Christian people can and will differ over this issue.
I mean, what would Jesus do? Difficult to say the least. .
Well, here’s my Christian view on it.
Many Christians and some leading evangelicals say that water boarding is torture, and that the Christian response has been “shameful.” One writer said in a nutshell: “As Christians we must never condone the use of methods that threaten to undermine the inherent dignity of the person created in the image of God.”
Well, that is not wrong. But it is also not completely right. Water boarding is a form of duress applied during an interrogation. It is not fatal, but it is extreme duress, if the waterboardee doesn’t know if he will live or die.
There are two questions: first, is this an effective means for getting a suspected terrorist to reveal information that might save innocent lives. Second, does the means by which we would obtain this potentially life-saving information undermine our claim to be Christian?
First answer: the effectiveness of the technique is conditional. Those who serve in the military combat arms are waterboarded as part of their training. But virtually all pass through this, knowing that it isn’t for real. Knowing that the service doesn’t want to drown them, only to toughen us up. So it isn’t “torture” when used as a training tool.
For a captured terror suspect, different matter. He doesn’t know he isn’t going to die heinously. It is torture. To which I would add, “so what?” — if, and only if, this is a last resort to protect innocent lives. And, please, terror suspects don’t tend to be innocent. As for whether the technique works, sometimes it does; sometimes it doesn’t.
Second answer is no. The Bible may be silent on this particular matter, but it does reserve the right for lawfully constituted governments to use the sword (Romans 13). To claim that waterboarding that does not lead to death (or even to permanent injury) is worse than killing is to lose sight of the big picture.
More importantly, we have a duty as Christians to protect those unable to protect themselves. This goes as much for unborn children and the sick and elderly as it does for innocent civilians who are the usual target of cowardly terrorists.
Under the right, and we hope, extraordinarily rare circumstances, waterboarding of a suspected terrorist can be a necessary thing to do and I don’t believe “unChristian”— if there is some potential to protect innocent life.
What do you think?