A survey by Pew research polled over 2000 Americans about their attitude to torture. The question asked was:
Do you think the use of torture against suspected terrorists in order to gain important information can often be justified, sometimes be justified, rarely be justified, or never be justified?
The first surprise is that 63% of Americans - 63% - think that torture has some form of justification. This is abhorrent. It not only shows a level of ignorance about torture (the fact being that it is a most unreliable source of information gathering) but also a willingness to embrace the idea that when a person is a "suspected terrorist", then any belief in the adage "innocent until proven guilty" can be dispensed with.
The second surprise is that, of those Americans who were polled who identified themselves as "secular" or having "no religion", 51% thought that torture had some justification. Again, this is unacceptable, but notice that there is a much stronger anti-torture belief (41%) among such people. The irony here is that torture is actually more morally repugnant among the irreligious and the secularists than the norm.
The third, and perhaps worst, surprise, is that 65% of "White Evangelicals" think that torture has some form of justification - that is, slightly more than the average American.
I have a number of things to say about this.
1. While torture is not mentioned much in the Bible, it can be inferred quite easily that its practice is abhorrent to God. Hebrews 11.35 speaks of torture as a device inflicted upon God's faithful people by those who persecute them (gk. tumpanizo). A couple of verses later, in Hebrews 11.37, these saints were "mistreated" (gk. kakoucheo). Jesus himself, of course, was tortured and humilated in the lead up to his crucifixion (Matthew 27.24-31). During this time, he was whipped (gk. phragelloo, from the Latin flagellate), he was struck in the face (gk . tupto) and he was spat upon (gk. emptuo). The soldiers also mocked and humiliated him, giving him a crown of thorns and a purple robe and making fun of him. There is no corresponding passage in the Bible that I am aware of which condones this sort of behaviour. Moreover, the Apostle Paul points out in 1 Timothy 3.2 that elders in the church should not be "violent" (gk. plektes) which is, in effect, a personal quality that all Christians should have.
2. Torture is completely unreliable as a means of gaining vital information. Even if the subject was a guilty terrorist, the chances of actually getting information out of him via torture is very low. A person who is undergoing torture will become willing to say or sign anything if it means that the pain would stop. Christians who somehow think that torture is a "lesser evil" that might prevent many from dying in a planned terrorist attack have absolutely no idea how ineffectual torture is in gaining this sort of information.
3. Torturing a person if they are suspected to be a terrorist goes against the whole system of law that we live under. Torture is an assumption of guilt, and no person can be considered guilty unless they have gone through a legal process to establish their guilt. The idea that a person is innocent until proven guilty is one of the bedrocks of our civilisation and is backed up clearly by biblical evidence. All throughout the Old Testament we see God's rules for the nation of Israel, dictating the importance of having multiple witnesses and decrying legal corruption. Even if the subject is guilty, punishment can't be meted out without some form of trial beforehand. For Christians this is a very important issue because many Americans would maintain that these sorts of laws don't apply once they are outside America - which is hogwash, since Christians believe that the Bible is to be held as God's word everywhere in all creation.
I'll leave you with a quote from one of my least favourite evangelical leaders in America. There are many reasons why I don't like him, but this quote will give you some idea:
Under certain circumstances, most morally sensitive persons would surely allow interrogators to yell at prisoners and to use psychological intimidation, sleep deprivation, and the removal of creature comforts for purposes of obtaining vital information. In increasingly serious cases, most would likely allow some use of pharmaceuticals and more intensive and manipulative psychological techniques. In the most extreme of conceivable cases, most would also allow the use of far more serious mechanisms of coercion – even what we would all agree should be labeled as torture.
I would argue that we cannot condone torture by codifying a list of exceptional situations in which techniques of torture might be legitimately used. At the same time, I would also argue that we cannot deny that there could exist circumstances in which such uses of torture might be made necessary.
- Al Mohler, president, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville Kentucky
© 2006 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/
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