Ligon Duncan on the Non-Negotiables of the Gospel

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  • Thursday, November 13, 2008

    Distinguishing between Torture and Interrogation

    "We are all opposed to torture, but there's some careful thinking that has to go on, ... Aggressive interrogation of enemy combatants, he said, is different than torture, and governed by international conventions.
    Alan Wisdom, vice president for research and programs at the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD)


    Quote found here.

    The reason I post this is for the promotion of truth. Alan Wisdom, as his name suggests, is one of the first I've seen to make this differentiation. I'm thankful for it as I believe this distinction to be both needed and useful in the debate, in crafting policy, and in providing protection for people in the future.

    The Scripture makes it clear:
    1. Rulers have the role and responsibility of protection.
    2. If one wants to be free from fear of the one in authority, then they should do what is right.
    3. Withholding information which can lead to or result in the unnecessary or unrighteous loss of life is wrong (/sinful) ... and should not only not be tolerated but the righteous have responsibility (when applicable) to do what is righteous and necessary to prevent such loss of life.


    Even experience shows that motivations and purposes must be distinguished when judging a particular action. For example, one may cut the skin of a human either for the purpose of good or for the purpose of evil (for example - for a medical procedure or an assault). Likewise, when it comes to government practices, one must distinguish between the purpose and motivations behind the practice.

    This being said, whether water-boarding should be an acceptable practice for interrogation is a good question for debate; however, to fail to distinguish between the same techniques as a practice of torture and as a tool for interrogation is to show lack of understanding.

    25 comments:

    skeptimal said...

    Sword,

    I'm surprised and disappointed by your position here. I thought at least we might agree on something as fundamental as torture.

    "If one wants to be free from fear of the one in authority, then they should do what is right."

    Your faith in "authority" is shocking. Especially since your messiah was the victim of unjust torture by military authority.

    jazzycat said...

    skeptimal,
    Do you consider it torture and murder to partially deliver a human baby and ram scissors into his brain? Since we are going for the fundamentals, you need to declare your position on this issue.

    Point of clarification: Jesus Christ willingly suffered the unjust torture on behalf of all that come to faith in him and his atonement as propitiation for their sins. Jesus innocent just like unborn babies are innocent. To remotely compare this with terrorists is beyond the pale.....

    swordbearer said...

    skeptimal,

    It's not my faith in authority, but your familiarity with Scripture that I draw into question. Anyone familiar with Romans 13 would recognize the statement I used (and that you quote) is taken from there ... and the context and focus of that passage deals NOT with the integrity/righteousness of those in authority but with submission and behavior before those in authority.

    Addtitionally, let it be stated that my post in no way suggests we should torture anyone, rather it deals with the other side of the equation to say that the purpose behind interrogation is different than that of punishment.

    Puritan Lad said...

    Those who oppose waterboarding terrorists don't know what torture is.

    skeptimal said...

    Jazzycat,

    You said: "Do you consider it torture and murder to partially deliver a human baby and ram scissors into his brain? Since we are going for the fundamentals, you need to declare your position on this issue."

    We are talking about two different issues here, and I don't think it is necessary to declare one's position on abortion to abhor torture. The goal of a partial-birth abortion is not to cause suffering to the fetus, but that *is* the goal of torture. That having been said: yes, I oppose late-term abortion except when the mother's health is threatened. Beyond that, we're not going to agree on the subject of abortion.


    You said: "Point of clarification: Jesus Christ willingly suffered...To remotely compare this with terrorists is beyond the pale....."

    I don't see how you can say the parallel is inappropriate. You and I don't know that all the people our government tortured were innocent. To the Romans, Jesus was a threat to the security of Rome.

    I have to think that a guy who was tortured to death would be more sympathetic with the prisoners than the torturers.

    And please don't suggest I have a soft spot for terrorists. They make me wish there *was* a hell. What I hate the most about torture is that it makes us more like them.

    jazzycat said...

    skeptimal,
    As I stated on another thread, those who take pro-choice stances have no moral authority to be critical of anyone on any human rights issue.

    When the health of the mother argument is used to include mental health and minor health issues in partial birth abortions, then you essentially have no ban whatsoever on the act.

    Therefore, unless you are prepared to state that you are in favor of banning abortions other than those necessary to save the life of the mother, you have no right to complain about any human rights violation with me.

    skeptimal said...

    "unless you are prepared to state that you are in favor of banning abortions other than those necessary to save the life of the mother, you have no right to complain about any human rights violation with me."

    Have it your way. I'll leave you with this: the rest of the world is not going on "pause" while the abortion issue is settled. The fact that you believe abortion is torture doesn't make it less of a crime to torture those who have been born.

    skeptimal said...

    "the context and focus of that passage deals NOT with the integrity/righteousness of those in authority but with submission and behavior before those in authority."

    Setting aside the irrelevance of whether the phrase is scriptural, are you suggesting that this phrase should be of comfort to innocent people being tortured? Or are you suggesting that if you don't do anything wrong, authority won't torture you?

    "my post in no way suggests we should torture anyone, rather it deals with the other side of the equation to say that the purpose behind interrogation is different than that of punishment."

    Sword, I never thought you favored inflicting suffering for its own sake. Having a goal is not the same as having a justification. The fact that it is interrogation and not punishment alone does not make it less than torture. When our troops were captured in Viet Nam, Korea, Japan, and Europe, they were tortured to get information or compliance. It was still torture. The Romans also crucified people for a reason: it was a message to those who would oppose their authority.

    And it doesn't work any way. You can't rely on the information someone gives under torture; they'll say anything to stop the suffering.

    Puritan Lad said...

    Skeptimal: "We are talking about two different issues here, and I don't think it is necessary to declare one's position on abortion to abhor torture. The goal of a partial-birth abortion is not to cause suffering to the fetus, but that *is* the goal of torture."

    Response: 1.) That leads to the illogical conclusion that inflicting pain on someone is OK if the motive is convenience as opposed to national defense.

    2.) Assuming that waterboarding evil terrorists can be considered torture, the goal of such is to make them talk in order to prevent future torture of innocent people, like sawing off their heads in front of TV cameras. A much more honorable goal, in my opinion, than removing the responsibility of motherhood from someone who wants to cover their adultery.

    jazzycat said...

    skeptimal,
    Purtian Lad has given a good response explaining the motives. I would just like to add further that you have missed my point in the relationship of torture with abortion.

    Here is my point: I find it absurd, illogical, and contradictory for anyone who is pro-choice to come to a discussion and object to using torture in interrogation of terrorists to prevent the further killing of innocent people. Until such people become consistent and oppose murder of the innocent, their opposition to this kind of interrogation is totally ridiculous. They have no moral high ground to object to torture, the death penalty, or anything else.

    For some one to object to the water boarding of terrorists while giving approval to ramming scissors through the brain of partially born human being is the most absurd, inconsistent, and dishonest position a person can take. Yet that is the position of Obama and most of the current officials of the democratic party. I have no respect for that position and have no need to debate water boarding or any other technique with them.

    However, people who are pro-life and against interrogation with torture have the right to object and engage in debate with those of us who believe in enhanced interrogation techniques. I am prepared to debate and in fact have debated the issue with such people.

    swordbearer said...

    Skeptimal: "Setting aside the irrelevance of whether the phrase is scriptural, are you suggesting that this phrase should be of comfort to innocent people being tortured? Or are you suggesting that if you don't do anything wrong, authority won't torture you?

    Response: Neither. However, those whose associate with and especially those who train, practice and are caught either in the midst or in the act of terrorism with evidence linking them or showing them to be potential, probable or sure possessors of greater knowledge either being used or likely to be used for opposing righteousness or taking human life are in no position to be free from fear of legitimate authority, especially if they continue to actively withhold information or are perceived to be actively withholding information that will result in the unlawful and unrighteous death of others or of many others.

    Skeptimal: I never thought you favored inflicting suffering for its own sake.

    Response: Never said I did.

    Skeptimal: "Having a goal is not the same as having a justification. The fact that it is interrogation and not punishment alone does not make it less than torture..."

    Response:
    1. Does this apply to your statement concerning abortion? Just because the "goal" may not be the suffering of the baby, does the death of the child make it any less abhorent?
    2. The point of my post dealt with the need to acknowledge there's a difference between looking to specific methods as punishment or as means of interrogation. That does not deny that methods of interrogation could involve practices that could result in "torture". That's why I stated that even the issue of water boarding as a means of interrogation is a good issue for debate.

    Skeptimal: "When our troops were captured in Viet Nam, Korea, Japan, and Europe, they were tortured to get information or compliance. It was still torture.

    Response: I do not deny that torture took place; however in this debate, the context and details are important to consider. Rather than lumping everything together without considering motive, method, frequency, repetition, distinguishing between actions within a particular session, etc.; one must deal with details to distinguish and make better judgments.

    Skeptimal: "The Romans also crucified people for a reason: it was a message to those who would oppose their authority."

    Response: Seems like you're talking about a different issue here.

    Skeptimal: And it doesn't work any way. You can't rely on the information someone gives under torture; they'll say anything to stop the suffering."

    Response: Can you trust (or investigate) some of the information that leads up to the methods?

    I suppose you've never been seated in a line waiting to be water boarded have you? Let me speak from experience, this along with a combination of other methods can be useful to gain credible (or at least information to be be investigated to see if it is credible) from some.

    Finally, I set before you a scenario I once saw Jazzycat make to others... Suppose you're in charge and you have captured fifteen terrorists who you know (or at least are led to think) possess information that if gained could stop several nuclear weapons going off in major cities in America, and simply using regular questioning is not leading any of them to talk. Suppose intelligence says the nuclear weapons are probably set to detonate in the very near future. With the citizens in these cities and all their relatives counting on you, If short of techniques like water boarding are not working.... ) WHAT DO YOU DO? What's YOUR answer? ... Clocks Ticking.... Ticking.... Ticking....?



    (By the way, think of the advantage given to the terrorists in the cell near you ... to whom you have broadcast to the world, your policy is to do little more than to separate them in a secure comfortable cell, feed them a nutritional meal three times a day, and guarantee their exercise regimen and worship schedules)

    ... Oh, yeah, ... clock's still ticking..... ticking.... Do you have an answer?

    swordbearer said...

    Skeptimal: "Setting aside the irrelevance of whether the phrase is scriptural,..."

    Response: The "relevance" of the phrase's context was seen in the spurious conclusion you drew. :)

    skeptimal said...

    Sword,

    "Skeptimal: I never thought you favored inflicting suffering for its own sake.

    Response: Never said I did."

    Just to be clear here, my point was that I recognize that you are not someone who takes pleasure in cruelty for cruelty's sake. It was not an attack.

    "I suppose you've never been seated in a line waiting to be water boarded have you? Let me speak from experience, this along with a combination of other methods can be useful to gain credible (or at least information to be be investigated to see if it is credible) from some."

    This is kind of a conversation-stopping statement. When you speak of experience, were you the one waiting to be waterboarded or the one doing the waterboarding? Either way, it sounds like horrible experience.

    skeptimal said...

    JC said: "Here is my point: I find it absurd, illogical, and contradictory for anyone who is pro-choice to come to a discussion and object to using torture in interrogation of terrorists to prevent the further killing of innocent people."

    I understand that, and I understand why you see it that way. Sincerely.

    Trust me when I tell you that the evangelical position looks equally absurd to me. After all, you protect the rights of unformed humans but are willing to unnecessarily kill (death penalty, preemptive war) and torture those who have been born. I *try* not to write off Christian opinions in other areas, though. I recognize that people are complicated. My point is that we are all tempted to write off as irrelevant the points of view of those who disagree with the fundamentals of our world view. If we give in to that temptation, we are only taking ourselves down the road toward becoming what we hate.

    skeptimal said...

    Puritan Lad said: "Assuming that waterboarding evil terrorists can be considered torture, the goal of such is to make them talk in order to prevent future torture of innocent people, like sawing off their heads in front of TV cameras."

    Do we really have to become so much like these evil SOB's just to stop them? Unless our government is omniscient (he says, stopping to laugh hysterically), then we have almost certainly tortured innocent people. This country has too much greatness left to excuse that kind of weakness and cowardice. Don't get me wrong: I wouldn't shed a tear if you flayed alive a proven terrorist right in front of me, but that would only make us both more like him.

    swordbearer said...

    "This is kind of a conversation-stopping statement. When you speak of experience, were you the one waiting to be waterboarded or the one doing the waterboarding? Either way, it sounds like horrible experience."

    I've been in line, and while other countries could use it for torture depending on the purpose and how it was administered, it was clear there was a "different" purpose for it as it was being applied by our own personnel. Even then, it was set forth as a means others might use for interrogation (even if a scary and unpleasant one, perhaps even dangerous and deadly depending on how it is applied), not as a means of torture, as typically other countries have used other means for this.

    swordbearer said...

    Skeptimal: "Just to be clear here, my point was that I recognize that you are not someone who takes pleasure in cruelty for cruelty's sake. It was not an attack."

    Response: Thanks for clearing this up. I too, assume this is true of you.

    jazzycat said...

    You said….. Trust me when I tell you that the evangelical position looks equally absurd to me. After all, you protect the rights of unformed humans but are willing to unnecessarily kill (death penalty, preemptive war) and torture those who have been born.

    Unformed humans! How about fully formed humans with a heartbeat, pulse, and brain function. I thought you watched the video I linked you to. Where do you get the idea that I or other Christians are willingly to unnecessarily kill and torture anyone! The death penalty is a Biblical concept. Preemptive war is Biblical and constitutional. Torture in interrogation for the purpose of preventing Americans from having to jump out of tall buildings, to avoid being burned alive because deluded sub-humans ram airplanes into our buildings, has my total approval. It is absurd to compare the murder of unborn babies with the death penalty, and war! You will not get away with that lunacy with me! Perhaps a person who is pro-life can logically argue against the death penalty. YOU CAN’T

    Puritan Lad said...

    "Unless our government is omniscient (he says, stopping to laugh hysterically), then we have almost certainly tortured innocent people"

    Name one. Give me the name of an innocent person at Gitmo.

    skeptimal said...

    "Name one. Give me the name of an innocent person at Gitmo."

    Come on. You know that we're not given any information about who is at Gitmo. What we do know is that the Bush admin released dozens of them without trying them. We have also had numerous reports that people at Gitmo were arrested because of tribal score-settling in which people were pointed out to our troops as "enemy combatants," as Afghans and Iraqis used the U.S. military as a means of tribal revenge.

    jazzycat said...

    skeptimal,
    Could it be that your real objection is to who our current president happens to be rather than the actual policy? IOW, if his name were Clinton, Gore, or Obama, you would be much more comfortable with the exact same policy?

    skeptimal said...

    "IOW, if his name were Clinton, Gore, or Obama, you would be much more comfortable with the exact same policy?"

    I've never particularly liked the Clintons, but it's true that it's easier to forgive people you like. To answer your question, though, I will be very angry if Obama doesn't reverse the rules on torture, undo the constitutional erosion, and stop the practice of the party in control bullying the minority party. He will otherwise be another failed president.

    jazzycat said...

    skeptimal,
    Constitutional erosion? Have you ever noticed that one man's social justice is another man's pocket picked through government theft, or one woman's right to choose is another person's death sentence, or one person's affirmative action is another person's being a discrimination victim, or one person's fairness doctrine is another person's loss of free speech, or one person's government mandated universal health care is another person's loss of freedom to conduct their own business and so forth and so on?

    skeptimal said...

    JC,

    I appreciate the differences you're talking about, but I was thinking more of legalized torture, suspension of habeas corpus, legalized spying on American citizens, unlawful search and seizure, and hundreds of signing statements that say the head of the executive branch is not going to enforce the law.

    Consider for instance that the current administration has created the circumstances that would allow an unscrupulous Obama administration to spy on Republicans without their knowledge and use their political secrets against them.

    Imagine if a future government decided that evangelical churches were terrorist organizations. After all, there are churches that have endorsed bombing abortion clinics, and Pat Robertson said on the air that someone should bomb the CIA. I am *NOT* saying that evangelicals are terrorists, but I am saying that Bush has claimed such broad powers to define people as terrorists or enemy combatants that it could easily be used against evangelicals.

    Would you want Obama to have the broad powers Bush has claimed, to arrest and hold people indefinitely without access to lawyers? To spy on churches and break into them without warrants? Would you want the next president to have the power to kidnap Lebanese or Israeli Christians and export them to Saudi Arabia or Uzbekistan for torture? With no oversight from Congress or the courts?

    jazzycat said...

    skeptimal,
    I guess we have come full circle and are back to torture/interrogation. Suffice to say I am not impressed with the thinking that is more worried about the rights of terrorists than they are the victims of Islamic Jihadists and the murder victims of abortion.