Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Questions for the President and Evangelicals

On Monday, when asked a direct question about why his Administration has advocated the use of torture, President Bush responded:
Any activity we conduct is within the law. We do not torture.
Of course, his Administration has, I'm thinking of the most charitable way to describe this, redefined what the law is, and has also asserted that the President is literally above the law when it has anything to do with his role in leading the American military.

But since the President has made a clear and unambiguous assertion, "We do not torture", then in the face of clear evidence that we are torturing people, it only makes sense that he should answer some questions about just what he means. Andrew Sullivan has a list:
If that's the case, why threaten to veto a law that would simply codify what Bush alleges is already the current policy? If "we do not torture," how to account for the hundreds and hundreds of cases of abuse and torture by U.S. troops, documented by the government itself? If "we do not torture," why the memos that expanded exponentially the lee-way given to the military to abuse detainees in order to get intelligence? The president's only defense against being a liar is that he is defining "torture" in such a way that no other reasonable person on the planet, apart from Bush's own torture apologists (and they are now down to one who will say so publicly), would agree. The press must now ask the president: does he regard the repeated, forcible near-drowning of detainees to be torture? Does he believe that tying naked detainees up and leaving them outside all night to die of hypothermia is "torture"? Does he believe that beating the legs of a detainee until they are pulp and he dies is torture? Does he believe that beating detainees till they die is torture? Does he believe that using someone's religious faith against them in interrogations is "cruel, inhumane and degrading" treatment and thereby illegal? What is his definition of torture?
Sullivan goes on to wonder about what this says about the President:
Watching and listening to this man, it seems to me we have a few possible interpretations in front of us. Either the president simply does not know what is being done in his name in his own military or he is lying through his teeth to the American people and the world. I guess there is also a third possibility: that he is simply unable to acknowledge the enormity of what he has done to the honor of the United States, the success of the war and the safety of American servicemembers. And so he has gone into clinical denial. Or he is so ashamed he cannot bear to face the truth of what he has done. None of these options are, shall we say, encouraging. But there is, of course, an easy way forward for the president if this is truly what he believes: support the Congress in backing the president's own position. Pass the McCain Amendment. Given what he said today, why on earth would he not?
Evangelical Christians have intensely supported this President. They like to talk about how he is "one of us". Our evangelical "leaders" were ready to mobilize us to support the confirmation of a manifestly unqualified Harriet Meiers to the Supreme Court, but those same war rooms and phone trees and radio shows are silent about torture.

The United States is torturing people. And the Evangelical response is... [crickets, crickets]

A search of the website for James Dobson's Family Research Council shows no mention of torture or the McCain amendment, but they are all over the Alito nomination. The website for the National Association of Evangelicals still leads with a tribute to noted evangelical Ronald Reagan, which includes the statement, "Reagan saved the world", but nothing about torture. Ironically, there is a prominent link to a policy paper called "For the Health of the Nation", which tries to map out how Christians should interact with the state. It doesn't mention condemning torture, and to be fair, that paper was drafted before the torture issue became a big deal, but don't you think it might be time for an addendum? Does a healthy nation torture people?

A Lexis/Nexis search of individual Evangelical "leaders" comes up empty, too. Searches using "torture" and "Charles Colson" or "Rick Warren" or "Ted Haggard" (President of the NAE) or "Richard Land", (President of the Southern Baptists) return no hits. A search for "torture" and "James Dobson" returns 13 hits. Most have to do with his horrible comment from last summer that stem cell researchers were like Nazi doctors. Curiously, while Dobson chose to use the word "torture" to condemn stem cell research, he has not used the word "torture" to condemn "torture" by the Administration he so ardently supports.

So I'm calling out the evangelical leaders. Speak up. Now. Put your phone banks, email systems and radio shows to use in favor of the McCain amendment, which will prohibit U.S. forces and agents from torturing people. Prove to Americans and the world that Evangelicals care about something more than abortion, sex, and whatever the Republicans want us to care about. Prove to them that the hearts of American Christians are big enough that we think torturing people in our name should be illegal. Can we at least do that? Speak up. Now.

1 comment:

Aaron C said...

Right on!
I have nothing more to add.