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A Creeping Sense that the United States Condones Torture

"Whoever does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him." --Romans 8:9

As we enter Holy Week, Christians recall that the central fact of our faith was the brutal death of Jesus at the hands of torturers who thought they were helping to keep order in the world. News continued emerging this month of the extent to which the Bush Administration encouraged torture as a matter of US policy, and the lengths to which they have gone to avoid holding accountable anyone in a position of authority. Despite reports of torture in Saudi Arabia, Syria and Afghanistan, the Administration has acknowledged that they were contemplating transferring hundreds of prisoners from Guantánamo back to these and other countries. The reason in part appears to be their inability to bring formal criminal charges against most of these men, in the wake of the Supreme Court decision last June ruling that US law applies to the Guantánamo concentration camp and allows prisoners there to challenge their detention in federal court. A further fly in the Bush ointment was the ruling last summer by a federal district judge that the Geneva Conventions apply to Guantánamo prisoners and that Mr. Bush's "special military commissions" to try these men were unconstitutional.

New details also emerged about the extent of abuse, which is now known to involve US facilities in Cuba, Afghanistan, Iraq and possibly others. The NY Times reported that in 2002, two Afghan prisoners were kicked and beaten to death in US custody after being chained to the ceiling. Both of these deaths were originally attributed to "natural causes." A crowd of enlisted men are being held accountable for these and other abuses. Meanwhile, a military investigation has cleared a top American intelligence officer of responsibility for the abuse of detainees under her watch at Abu Ghraib, and she has been promoted to commander of a national Army Intelligence Center in Arizona.

The message of official sanction for torture is perhaps clearest in the drumbeat of nominations, as a parade of torture advocates are steadily placed in the highest government offices. First it was Alberto Gonzales, who provided legal cover for the Bush torture policy, taking over as the nation's highest law enforcement officer. Then Michael Chertoff was advanced as Secretary of Homeland Secretary. As head of the Criminal Division at the Justice Department in 2002 and 2003, Mr. Chertoff advised the CIA on the limits to which they could go in torturing suspects. He apparently indicated that it was acceptable to induce near-drowning as an interrogation technique, and referred the CIA to a memorandum from the Justice Department Office of Legal Council that gruesomely dumbed down the definition of "torture" to only those acts that induced pain at a level tantamount to organ failure or imminent death.

Mr. Bush then nominated John Negroponte, the former UN ambassador, as the first Director of National Intelligence. Mr. Negroponte was a key player in facilitating US support of widespread government-sponsored murder in Central America during the 1980s under the Reagan Administration. New information emerged this week that the killing of an Italian intelligence officer by the US military occurred at a "floating checkpoint" set up to clear the Baghdad airport road so Mr. Negroponte could have dinner with a US military commander there.

Now the Administration has nominated John Bolton to follow in Mr. Negroponte's footsteps at the UN. A leading apologist for the US support of official torture and death in Chile during the 1970s, Mr. Bolton has been a leader in the Administration's efforts to undermine the International Criminal Court that might some day hold the Bush Administration accountable for the unprovoked invasion of Iraq, the killing of scores of thousands of people there, and the economic control US companies have taken of the oil resources there.

How many people have to die in Iraq--500,000, a million, ten million?--before we all come to the realization that war is not the solution to the world's problems? Mr. Bush, and those who support him and his war, have rejected Christ's imperative for love of both friends and enemies. Indeed, they have thrown in their lot with that of the Roman torturers, somehow deaf to the central message of our Christianity that hangs on the fact of Jesus' death at the hands of those who believed violence could solve all their problems. Imagine if it was any one of us being detained without charge for years, or being tortured just shy of a threshold for organ failure, or watching as our child was burned to death by a US offensive "aimed at insurgents."

If you can judge someone by the company they keep, then the elevation of torture advocates like Gonzales, Chertoff, Negroponte and Bolton appears to represent the true contempt that Mr. Bush has for individual human dignity. In the words of St. Paul, Mr. Bush does not belong to Christ, and increasingly neither do we if we continue to support the pro-death policies of this Administration.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

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"Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America: They will be met.

"On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.

"On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics."

First Inaugural Address, President Barack Obama

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