On my drive to work today, as I do most days, I was listening to various podcasts. Today’s was a Slate interview with the author of the Rolling Stone piece, “An Open Letter to Gina Haspel From Someone Who Was Physically Tortured.” The author was held for two years by Al Qaeda in Syria. He writes, “I began to wonder: What had happened to the young men who bore the weapons in the torture room to make them willing to induce such suffering in a helpless person?”
I wonder this now in our national culture. What has happened to make us so willing to induce suffering in the helpless? What has happened that we are, again, debating the merits of strapping people who are in our custody to boards and simulate drowning them. This is not a simple matter of getting information. This is a matter of triggering primal fear in a soul in our custody – it is a matter of subjecting human beings to emotional, spiritual, and physical horror.
These details are from the Intelligence Committee’s report on what happened at Gina Haspel’s black site in Thailand:
“…walling, attention grasps, slapping, facial hold, stress positions, cramped confinement, white noise and sleep deprivation—continued ‘in varying combinations, 24 hours a day, for 17 straight days,’ through August 20, 2002. When Abu Zubaydah was left alone during this period, he was placed in a stress position, left on the waterboard with a cloth over his face, or locked in one of two confinement boxes. According to the cables, Abu Zubaydah was also subjected to the waterboard ‘2-4 times a day … with multiple iterations of the watering cycle during each application.’
The ‘aggressive phase of interrogation’ continued until August 23,
2002. Over the course of the entire 20-day ‘aggressive phase of interrogation,’ Abu Zubaydah spent a total of 266 hours (11 days, 2 hours) in the large (coffin size) confinement box and 29 hours in a small confinement box, which had a width of 21 inches, at depth of 2.5 feet, and a height of 2.5 feet…”
When a people reach the point of sanctioning the degrading and violent abuse of prisoners then we have reached the point where we can see them thrown to the lions. We have reached the point where we can force them to fight for our amusement. We have reached the point where we shout Crucify. We have reached the revolting apex of civilization in the pursuit of smashing the uncivilizable enemy and, thereby, become utterly and disgustingly tamed by evil.
Evil is a taming force. It is a force that domesticates the passions because it numbs our ability to stand in the experience of others. It numbs us to their fear – so we build a wall against those fleeing violence and oppression. It numbs us to their heartaches – so we gut social service programs. It numbs us to their loss, their misery, their depression, their hunger, their thirst, their very humanity.
The embrace of the horrors of torture is an embrace of the demonic. Full stop. No amount of practicality (and there is no demonstrable practical value) with regard to getting information can make this morally right. It is immoral. It is ineffective. It is an abasement of all that makes us whole, human, or especially Christian.
No person who wants this country to engage in “enhanced interrogation” should ever, ever again call this a Christian nation. Call it pagan. Call in an empire. Call it whatever you want but to call it Christian if it is to torture captive bodies is a vile slander of the name of Christ. If we call it Christian while it tortures then it becomes the vilest of masquerades hiding our shame, violence, and fearful need for so-called security beneath a mask of self-deceit.
To call us Christian Torturers is to put us at the foot of the Cross hurling one more insult as we shout, “Hail, King of the Jews” while wielding the spear against the captive God.
When our compassion (our sharing in the passion, the death-dealing pain) with the world is psychically, emotionally, and spiritually ablated we are not safe but utterly and completely obliterated as functioning human beings. That evangelical Christians are supporting this kind of revolting return to Dark Age tactics of soul-shattering abuse of captives by supporting this President and his nominees is a stain from which Christianity as we know it should not recover.
The world should know that we are the most grotesque of hypocrites and demand that we return to the example of Christ. We follow a tortured God. We follow a broken Savior. We follow a God who cried out “I thirst” who thought himself forsaken by his Father at an Empire’s spear-tip. This is the God who demanding, pleading, and praying that we repent and return to the Lord.
If we do not recoil in horror and cry out at the senseless cruelties that are being condoned and embraced in our name then we are lost – and worse than lost. We will be worse than lost for we will have condemned a generation to reject Christ because we Christians have blasphemed and held as worthless the very thing which Christ held so dear – the souls and bodies of our enemies.
Father, forgive us, for we know not what we do.