Waterboarding: Islamic State Goes to the 'Dark Side'

FILE - This undated file image posted on a militant website on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014, which has been verified and is consist
FILE - This undated file image posted on a militant website on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, shows fighters from the al-Qaida linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) marching in Raqqa, Syria. Moderate Syrian rebels are buckling under the onslaught of the radical al-Qaida breakaway group that has swept over large parts of Iraq and Syria. Some rebels are giving up the fight, crippled by lack of weapons and frustrated with the power of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Other, more hard-line Syrian fighters are bending to the winds and joining the radicals. (AP Photo/Militant Website, File)

It is no surprise that Islamic State has adopted some of the CIA torture methods such as waterboarding. This is the very definition of the spiral of violence, where violence used as revenge begets more and greater violence.

The Washington Post is reporting that James Foley, the American journalist who was beheaded by members of the militant Islamic State group, was also tortured by this group with methods used by the CIA such as waterboarding.

In other words, Islamic State has gone over to the "Dark Side." The "Dark Side" is the memorable phrase former Vice President Dick Cheney used to euphemistically describe how the U.S. would torture as part of "intelligence" gathering. As Jane Mayer recounts in her well-known book, The Dark Side: How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals immediately following the 9/11 attacks, Cheney appeared on Meet the Press, and he "gave a memorable description of how the administration viewed the continuing threat and how it planned to respond. 'We'll have to work sort of the dark side, if you will,'" Cheney explained.

What Americans did not know then was that the "dark side" included torture. But torture is never valid "intelligence" gathering, it is clearly a revenge strategy and always has been. Torture does not work to glean useable information, it is itself a terror technique that many, including myself, warned the Bush administration would come back to haunt us, endangering American lives. And it has. There is a tragic moral inevitability to this, a way we are gripped by the history of what we have done.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. explained this best when he said, "The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing fear, it multiplies it. Through violence you murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night devoid of stars."

And if ever any group represented the "downward spiral" of violence begetting violence, it is certainly Islamic State. But I want to be clear that the Bush-Cheney administration's 'going over to the dark side' helped set this spiral in motion. Bush-Cheney may very well have believed they were 'keeping America safe,' but they clearly were not. Their belief was dangerously wrong.

And in case you miss that point, Dr. King goes on to make it even clearer: "Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity."

The "sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity" of mistaken beliefs like revenge-taking are countered by the world's religions. For example, as Muhammad Shafiq writes in our joint chapter in Interfaith Just Peacemaking: Jewish, Christian and Islamic Perspectives on the New Paradigm of Peace and War "The Qur'an is a book of justice, not of revenge. Justice must be established and peace without justice is a dream. These and other examples in the Qur'an clearly demonstrate that justice shall be followed with forgiveness--not revenge--to have a positive impact on society." In the same chapter I argue, "There is no question that Jesus's teaching is the basis of a radical Christian emphasis on forgiveness, and rightly so, as he is emphatic that believers must 'love your enemies and do good...judge not...; forgive and you will be forgiven' (Luke 6:27-37).

Islamic State is a horrible mirror of what happens when human beings do not heed these religious teachings to make justice instead of injustice, to forgive enemies instead of demonizing, torturing and executing them. The downward spiral of retribution and revenge takes hold, and like a hurricane moving over warm water, it gains speed and strength. That is what is happening right now.

The good news is the spiral of violence can be interrupted and turned to repentance and forgiveness.

The first step in interrupting what looks like a death grip of retributive violence on the part of Islamic State and all it deems its enemies is for us have the courage to look at our own past actions as a nation and ask the hard questions about responsibility and change.

If we don't, we'll get more of the same. Inevitably.