On Tuesday, December 9th, the United States Senate Intelligence Committee released a report detailing the interrogations and torture, also called "enhanced interrogation," that were carried out by the CIA in the early days of the "War on Terror." I will admit that I have not read the report and do not need any report by any government panel to help me to decide that torture is always intrinsically wrong. I do understand why these things happen but a civilized nation, and I believe that the United States is a civilized nation, should never participate in acts such as this.
The report was rejected as a "partisan witch hunt" by Senate Republicans but Senator John McCain, a survivor of torture during the Vietnam War, rose in defense of this report on the floor of the Senate shortly after its release. Senator McCain said that these actions "stained our national honor" and led to "much harm and little practical good." It has been argued that torture reveals very little useful intelligence as the person being tortured says whatever the torturer wants to hear to stop the pain.
Regardless of the information gained one has to ask is the moral injury to the country worth what little information that is gained from this type of activity? In the final moments of his speech on the Senate floor McCain said, "I have often said, and will always maintain, that this question isn't about our enemies; it's about us. It's about who we were, who we are and who we aspire to be. It's about how we represent ourselves to the world."
"It's about who we were, who we are and who we aspire to be." That should be the sound bite from this entire discussion.
America has often been the champion of human rights around the world and yet this report does nothing but hamper our ability on the world stage to advocate for such injustices. How can we, as a nation, stand up and decry the actions of Iran, China, North Korea and other places with horrible human rights, when we have joined the same club? The answer simply is we cannot. Our moral standing in the world has been destroyed.
As a Christian I believe that every human life is sacred whether that life is my friend or my enemy and therefore has a dignity that needs to be respected. Each person has been created in the image and likeness of God and contains the Divine Spark of God in them and that must be respected. In order for these acts to be carried out one must look at the other as not human - otherwise, how could someone carry out these atrocities? Some believe that America was founded as a Christian nation; well, you cannot hold to this opinion and also think that these actions are justified!
In the 2013 message to the faithful following their annual meeting, the bishops of the Canonical Orthodox Church in North and Central America spoke of the horror of what was taking place around the world and included this statement: "We repudiate any and all attacks on human beings, irrespective of race and religion, by means of violence, kidnapping, torture and killing." Although specifically stated in a paragraph concerning the Middle East, it is my belief that it was not limited to that region of the world. The Orthodox theology of personhood does not allow for these crimes against humanity, and make no mistake about it, that is exactly what we are talking about here.
In 2008, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops commissioned a pastoral guide on the issue of torture that in part said this: human dignity can never -- even in an enemy -- be violated by torture. The report warns against allowing the "end to justify the means or resorting to desperate measures in desperate times." The bishops urge the faithful to listen to the voices of survivors of torture. They counsel against allowing euphemisms such as "enhanced interrogation methods" to paper over the resort to torture.
In the end my mind returns to the words of Senator McCain, "It's about who we were, who we are and who we aspire to be." If we resort to the same tactics and techniques that our enemies use then we become the same people and that should not be accepted. America is better than this - we have to be!