Monday, September 28, 2009

To Everything There Is A Season?

I’ve been considering the phrase from Ecclesiastes 3 for a while, and wonder what exactly was meant by the term “everything.” Does it mean that there is a time and place for certain things to happen, or does it literally mean that everything has its time and place? I can understand the seasons of peace and the horrible reality of war, but what about the details? Does peace include complete abandonment of politics, religion, culture and the punishment of crimes? Does war include rape, pillage, torture, murder and the wanton destruction of cities?
A first thought would be that, in some cases, there are extenuating circumstances that define each situation. Worldwide peace likely consists of different components than national peace. Likewise, war likely consists of different mechanisms for religious conflicts and political battles. But does “everything” find a time and place to appear along the spectrum?
Admittedly, I have never been to war. I have never been a soldier. I do not understand the details of warfare from firsthand knowledge. Nevertheless, there is no part of me that can accept certain aspects of modern day warfare; namely rape, murder, and torture. I don’t care what information is gleamed from certain “tactics.” I don’t care how many lives were saved by information obtained by interrogation. I don't believe that the clause in Ecclesiastes is all inclusive.
On April 16, 2009 the Justice Department released memos that detailed the "interrogation techniques" used by the CIA, with the promise from President Obama that those involved would not be prosecuted. You can read the heinous documents for yourself. If you read nothing else, I encourage you to read the first 4-5 pages of the documents and come to your own conclusions. Some of the practices detailed and approved in the memos include: attention grasp, walling, facial hold, facial slap, cramped confinement, wall standing, stress positions, sleep deprivation, insects in a box, and water-boarding, mock executions, and sexual exploitation. Granted there is no Jack Bauer-like burning or electrocution, but they are truly inhuman and degrading and therefore in violation of international treaty. Also, there is a nice catch all that allows interrogators to "use these techniques in some combination" in an "escalating fashion." Luckily for the interrogators, one is not limited to one technique at a time, and isn't even limited to stopping at these methods.
Shortly after release of this information, two dissimilar ideologies began to emerge. From former Vice President Dick Cheney in an interview on Fox:
CHENEY: Chris, my sort of overwhelming view is that the enhanced interrogation techniques were absolutely essential in saving thousands of American lives and preventing further attacks against the United States, and giving us the intelligence we needed to go find Al Qaeda, to find their camps, to find out how they were being financed. Those interrogations were involved in the arrest of nearly all the Al Qaeda members that we were able to bring to justice. I think they were directly responsible for the fact that for eight years, we had no further mass casualty attacks against the United States.
It was good policy. It was properly carried out. It worked very, very well.
WALLACE: So even these cases where they went beyond the specific legal authorization, you’re OK with it?
Cheney admitted to being aware of waterboarding, and other extreme measures, but instead of backing down he "stuck to his guns." Instead of concerning himself with humanity or dignity, he defends the policies of that Administration as essential and effective when there is in fact no scientific evidence to support it. In contrast, President Obama reflected:
This is a time for reflection, not retribution. I respect the strong views and emotions that these issues evoke. We have been through a dark and painful chapter in our history. But at a time of great challenges and disturbing disunity, nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past. Our national greatness is embedded in America's ability to right its course in concert with our core values, and to move forward with confidence. That is why we must resist the forces that divide us, and instead come together on behalf of our common future.
The United States is a nation of laws. My administration will always act in accordance with those laws, and with an unshakeable commitment to our ideals. That is why we have released these memos, and that is why we have taken steps to ensure that the actions described within them never take place again.
At this point, we must answer the real question - is torture acceptable under any circumstance? If the answer is yes, then one would agree with Cheney's assertion that it gave valuable information and there will be a time in the future that requires us to repeat the techniques. If the answer is no, then one would agree with Obama, and this dark page should be turned and only reviewed in order to prevent the action from being repeated.
Turning again to the scriptures gives insight into approach that we, as humans, and as Mormons, should take. There is not one instance of torture mentioned anywhere in the current set of scriptures that was used by godly people to obtain anything. Captain Moroni did not interrogate detainees for tactical information, he did require that they repent and change, but did so humanely. David didn't waterboard Goliath. Nephi didn't throw his brothers in a box and toss in a couple of spiders. In contrast, every mention of torture is related to "evil" people and their actions. From Alma and Amulek being beaten, starved, and forced to watch women and children burned alive; to Jeremiah being beaten and placed in stocks; to the abhorrent torture and crucifixion of our Savior.
I'm not claiming that the scriptures are short in violence. There are countless stories of warfare and bloodshed, but I would argue that these are the "seasons" of war that are necessary, and that none of these include documentation of torture. The scriptures show that the godly are always the victims, not the enforcers. As such, we must do everything we can to realign the actions of ourselves and the actions of our government to eliminate torture of any form as a "tactical" choice.


Jacob S. said...

I still find it fascinating and terrifying that there are Americans and members of the church that support torture. We hear stories about repressive regimes torturing prisoners, like Cuba and Iran, and we shutter and immediately get a sick feeling in our stomachs. But when we did it there are some that just shrug their shoulders and chalk it up to the price of doing business. Torture is just reprehensible and there is a big part of me that wishes that we would prosecute those Americans that authorized it instead of just putting it behind us.

Anonymous said...

while I'm not a fan of extreme torture. I whole heartedly support different measures of interrogation and yes even measures of water boarding and other acts that you mentioned in war times or for the purpose of threats and protection. Maybe that's because I come from a military family as well as law enforcement and have stories told first hand about information received from things like sleep deprivation techniques and other such things that finally get someone to give valuable information.

And as far as deriving your conclusion about how these things didn't happen back in Book of Mormon times, I would remind you it's an abridge version of many books and none of the war tactics would really have seemed necessary to put into a book that would later serve a purpose of teaching the gospel. It's not a complete history by any means and therefore I think your conclusion would be way off base

Jacob S. said...

Except that studies have shown generally that information gleaned from tortured victims is inaccurate and unreliable, and reports released from our specific torture have shown that it is at best inconclusive whether we got any good information from the people we tortured. If we are torturing people and the best case scenario for whether we got any actionable information is "inconslusive" I'd say we've got a big problem on our hands.

But all that is working from the assumption that torture is morally acceptable in some situations, which I reject. I think the only way you can torture in good conscience is if you divorce the victim from his or her humanity. If you don't think of them as children of God, then it is much easier to torture their bodies.

As for the Book of Mormon, are you willing to believe that the righteous were capable of just about anything solely based on the fact that not every act they did is recorded? Do you really believe God would command them to torture, or condone torture? I don't believe in a God that would. That's just too heinous and inhumane.

Anonymous said...

kind of like the thought of Nephi killing Laban, some would argue that God would never command someone to go against the first commandment but yet he did. I'm not saying that I believe that God commanded people to torture others but I'm saying that the conclusion that was drawn that people of the Book of Mormon didn't torture lacks enough information and therefore cannot come to an accurate conclusion.

And while you say that information comes back "inconclusive" at best, I would disagree. You use the word "torture" more as a scare tactic trying to make someone feel like they have lost their humanity if they think that making someone sleep deprived is causing the other person to lose a sense of who they are? please. Let's take it closer to home for you. Someone kidnaps your kid, you know who they are and you have them in an interrogation room. Tell me that you would let them just lull off to sleep knowing your baby was out there somewhere scared. How about that someone has a plot out to kill everyone in the city that your parents live in and you have been able to find someone that you know has information that can lead you to the people responsible for planning it but they aren't talking, tell me you would just lock them in a jail cell and hope their friends change their mind about killing people. I don't think we should go around cutting people's fingers off and shocking them until they give us information but some things that don't actually damage them or cause extreme pain, you bet. I would be willing to do a lot more than that to someone if I knew they held information to help me save one of my loved ones. So why would you think that anyone else's loved one is less valuable just because you don't have a face or feelings to put with them.

Josh said...

Like many other subjects, this one is so far down on my give a crap list that I find it hard to even discuss. I don't support torture, and I'll agree that it is heinous.

However, with much more important stupidities out there (like fighting to have the Olympics in one of our most violent, scroungy cities) to discuss, why are we spending time with this?

Because it's time to take some attention away from the Health Care joke? Especially when news hit this week that a handful of Democrats are, as was believed by us Conspiracy Theorists all along, demanding that health care reform include health care for ILLEGAL immigrants. So, do I care about anti-american punks having water poured over their faces right now? No, I don't.

Jacob S. said...

The point Shawn originally made was that the scriptures contain no hint of righteous people committing torture, and that was the point you, anon, were refuting. If your point is actually that somewhere among all the Nephites and Lamanites during the time of the Book of Mormon someone tortured someone else, then we agree that that probably happened. But not by the righteous.

The ticking time bomb scenario is a fun mental exercise, but has no foundation in reality. This just never happens. But sure, if the only way to save my children was to torture someone of course I would want to. But it is such an absurd and unlikely event that its not worth spending much time on. Torture is wrong.

Now, Josh, we are spending time on this because we think it's important. I think it's important to not simply sweep it under the rug because I really never want it to happen in America again. But it's not like the Mormon Left doing a post on torture is stopping the nation from solving other important problems. I wish we were that important, but alas . . .

Shawn O. said...

Actually, the event of Nephi killing Laban came to mind specifically when I mentioned at the end of the post about seasons of war. I do find it interesting that God commanded Nephi to kill Laban (which he did with extreme hesitation) and didn't command him to deprive him of sleep until he gave up the records. The other point I see different is you asked what we would do if we had somebody that we "knew" had information. Has torture been limited to use on people that we "knew" had information. What about those that were tortured, and later released? Did the torture not work, or did the not have the information we "knew" they had. The whole point of this post was to ask the question how much is too much. I find everything surrounding these policies completely despicable, and can't understand how there aren't alternative methods to obtain information.

As for the bringing up the same ideas up again, I think this is the only way that we are ever going to address the problem. It's not just the soup-of-the-day, it's a real problem. The world still looks at us for moral guidance, and the example we've set of late is not one that I hope others will follow.

Josh said...

What part of the world looks to us for "moral guidance?" What an idiotic thing to say, and complete BS. The world looks to us, currently, to ask "are you going to kick Iran's ass over this nuke thing, or do we just take them at their word?" America has NEVER been a "moral" leader in the world - although that may have been what we were trying to say we were doing in attacking Communist Korea and Vietnam. We have always been a powerhouse, both financially and militarily.

As far as torture goes, I could care less what the CIA does to get information. However, I agree with Jake (is that twice in a week? yikes), the current "torture" methods haven't yet been shown to be effective. However, no matter what form of interogation is used, someone will always call it torture, and say it is inhumane. I think we all agree that the intelligence agencies are necessary, to a point, in supplying information to our governmental leaders. So, how do we expect them to get the information...sit down to tea with indignant Iranians and ask them to please be honest?

Perhaps if I was the one being water-boarded, I'd feel like the situation was more important. Of course, I'm just a dumb redneck, that doesn't know anything, so what do I have to fear?

winkieburger said...

This whole question of "how much is too much" is ridiculous. Torture is wrong therefore no one should engage in it ever. How do you accept that in certain situations it is okay? Is that not a slippery slope? Even if someone has one of my family members it's not okay to torture someone because they are treating you (or a loved one) harshly.

I agree with Jacob S. that torture is only possible because you divorce the victim from his or her humanity.