Obama, Cheney, Torture, and Waterboarding…At Least Hear the Rest of the Story

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Soapbox warning: If you disagree with me on this…hopefully we can have a loving and considerate conversation after you carefully consider this post. So feel free to disagree and express that disagreement here. It will be respected and hopefully we can all learn something in the process. I try not to do posts like this very often so hopefully you can forgive me if it gets under your skin!

There are a lot of people on Christian blogs talking about the evils of torture and how terrible waterboarding is. I have to agree. Torture is terrible and waterboarding is terrible. If it wasn’t terrible it wouldn’t work. If you decided tea parties could get the information out and save lives, I am sure we would take that route but somehow those don’t seem very motivating for evil and malicious masterminding folks to spill the beans. I get where it comes from. I have a hard time seeing Jesus waterboarding someone and of course we are trying to be Christ-like. At the same time we are talking about the sanctity of human life here and weighing some difficult matters and what is justified in order to promote and save human life. It is important that we at least have things put in perspective.

First a couple of questions:
Have you heard that waterboarding actually helped defuse a plot to attack Los Angeles? Have you heard that Obama says it was wrong under the Bush administration but that it is okay if he deems it okay? If he thinks it is necessary he reserves the right to use the exact same techniques that he is deeming criminal of the Bush administration? And I thought he was claiming moral high ground here and the evils of torture. Have you heard that Pelosi has repeatedly lied about her own understanding of these techniques?

Now some quotes from Dick Cheney from his speech given earlier today:
“Right now there is considerable debate in this city about the measures our administration took to defend the American people. Today I want to set forth the strategic thinking behind our policies…Now and for years to come, a lot rides on our President’s understanding of the security policies that preceded him. And whatever choices he makes concerning the defense of this country, those choices should not be based on slogans and campaign rhetoric, but on a truthful telling of history…

“We’re left to draw one of two conclusions – and here is the great dividing line in our current debate over national security. You can look at the facts and conclude that the comprehensive strategy has worked, and therefore needs to be continued as vigilantly as ever. Or you can look at the same set of facts and conclude that 9/11 was a one-off event – coordinated, devastating, but also unique and not sufficient to justify a sustained wartime effort. Whichever conclusion you arrive at, it will shape your entire view of the last seven years, and of the policies necessary to protect America for years to come.

The key to any strategy is accurate intelligence, and skilled professionals to get that information in time to use it. In seeking to guard this nation against the threat of catastrophic violence, our Administration gave intelligence officers the tools and lawful authority they needed to gain vital information. We didn’t invent that authority. It is drawn from Article Two of the Constitution. And it was given specificity by the Congress after 9/11, in a Joint Resolution authorizing “all necessary and appropriate force” to protect the American people.

Our government prevented attacks and saved lives through the Terrorist Surveillance Program, which let us intercept calls and track contacts between al-Qaeda operatives and persons inside the United States. The program was top secret, and for good reason, until the editors of the New York Times got it and put it on the front page. After 9/11, the Times had spent months publishing the pictures and the stories of everyone killed by al-Qaeda on 9/11. Now here was that same newspaper publishing secrets in a way that could only help al-Qaeda. It impressed the Pulitzer committee, but it damn sure didn’t serve the interests of our country, or the safety of our people.

In the years after 9/11, our government also understood that the safety of the country required collecting information known only to the worst of the terrorists. And in a few cases, that information could be gained only through tough interrogations…The interrogations were used on hardened terrorists after other efforts failed. They were legal, essential, justified, successful, and the right thing to do. The intelligence officers who questioned the terrorists can be proud of their work and proud of the results, because they prevented the violent death of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of innocent people.

Our successors in office have their own views on all of these matters…Yet somehow, when the soul-searching was done and the veil was lifted on the policies of the Bush administration, the public was given less than half the truth. The released memos were carefully redacted to leave out references to what our government learned through the methods in question. Other memos, laying out specific terrorist plots that were averted, apparently were not even considered for release. For reasons the administration has yet to explain, they believe the public has a right to know the method of the questions, but not the content of the answers.

Over on the left wing of the president’s party, there appears to be little curiosity in finding out what was learned from the terrorists. The kind of answers they’re after would be heard before a so-called “Truth Commission.” Some are even demanding that those who recommended and approved the interrogations be prosecuted, in effect treating political disagreements as a punishable offense, and political opponents as criminals. It’s hard to imagine a worse precedent, filled with more possibilities for trouble and abuse, than to have an incoming administration criminalize the policy decisions of its predecessors…”

“Let me draw your attention to some points that are routinely overlooked:

It is a fact that only detainees of the highest intelligence value were ever subjected to enhanced interrogation. You’ve heard endlessly about waterboarding. It happened to three terrorists. One of them was Khalid Sheikh Muhammed – the mastermind of 9/11, who has also boasted about beheading Daniel Pearl.

We had a lot of blind spots after the attacks on our country. We didn’t know about al-Qaeda’s plans, but Khalid Sheikh Muhammed and a few others did know. And with many thousands of innocent lives potentially in the balance, we didn’t think it made sense to let the terrorists answer questions in their own good time, if they answered them at all.

Maybe you’ve heard that when we captured Khalid Sheikh Muhammed, he said he would talk as soon as he got to New York City and saw his lawyer. But like many critics of interrogations, he clearly misunderstood the business at hand. American personnel were not there to commence an elaborate legal proceeding, but to extract information from him before al-Qaeda could strike again and kill more of our people…

Those personnel were carefully chosen from within the CIA, and were specially prepared to apply techniques within the boundaries of their training and the limits of the law. Torture was never permitted, and the methods were given careful legal review before they were approved. Interrogators had authoritative guidance on the line between toughness and torture, and they knew to stay on the right side of it.

Even before the interrogation program began, and throughout its operation, it was closely reviewed to ensure that every method used was in full compliance with the Constitution, statutes, and treaty obligations. On numerous occasions, leading members of Congress, including the current speaker of the House, were briefed on the program and on the methods.

Yet for all these exacting efforts to do a hard and necessary job and to do it right, we hear from some quarters nothing but feigned outrage based on a false narrative. In my long experience in Washington, few matters have inspired so much contrived indignation and phony moralizing as the interrogation methods applied to a few captured terrorists. I might add that people who consistently distort the truth in this way are in no position to lecture anyone about “values.” Intelligence officers of the United States were not trying to rough up some terrorists simply to avenge the dead of 9/11. We know the difference in this country between justice and vengeance. Intelligence officers were not trying to get terrorists to confess to past killings; they were trying to prevent future killings. From the beginning of the program, there was only one focused and all-important purpose. We sought, and we in fact obtained, specific information on terrorist plans.

Those are the basic facts on enhanced interrogations. And to call this a program of torture is to libel the dedicated professionals who have saved American lives, and to cast terrorists and murderers as innocent victims. What’s more, to completely rule out enhanced interrogation methods in the future is unwise in the extreme. It is recklessness cloaked in righteousness, and would make the American people less safe.

The administration seems to pride itself on searching for some kind of middle ground in policies addressing terrorism. They may take comfort in hearing disagreement from opposite ends of the spectrum. If liberals are unhappy about some decisions, and conservatives are unhappy about other decisions, then it may seem to them that the President is on the path of sensible compromise. But in the fight against terrorism, there is no middle ground, and half-measures keep you half exposed…Triangulation is a political strategy, not a national security strategy. When just a single clue that goes unlearned … one lead that goes unpursued … can bring on catastrophe – it’s no time for splitting differences. There is never a good time to compromise when the lives and safety of the American people are in the balance…

And when you hear that there are no more, quote, “enemy combatants,” as there were back in the days of that scary war on terror, at first that sounds like progress. The only problem is that the phrase is gone, but the same assortment of killers and would-be mass murderers are still there. And finding some less judgmental or more pleasant-sounding name for terrorists doesn’t change what they are – or what they would do if we let them loose.

On Guantanamo Bay:

“On his second day in office, President Obama announced that he was closing the detention facility at Guantanamo. This step came with little deliberation and no plan. Their idea now, as stated by Attorney General Holder and others, is apparently to bring some of these hardened terrorists into the United States. On this one, I find myself in complete agreement with many in the President’s own party. Unsure how to explain to their constituents why terrorists might soon be relocating into their states, these Democrats chose instead to strip funding for such a move out of the most recent war supplemental…

“The administration has found that it’s easy to receive applause in Europe for closing Guantanamo. But it’s tricky to come up with an alternative that will serve the interests of justice and America’s national security. Keep in mind that these are hardened terrorists picked up overseas since 9/11.The ones that were considered low-risk were released a long time ago . And among these, it turns out that many were treated too leniently, because they cut a straight path back to their prior line of work andhave conducted murderous attacks in the Middle East . I think the President will find, upon reflection, that to bring the worst of the worst terrorists inside the United States would be cause for great danger and regret in the years to come.

On Political Euphamism:

“Behind the overwrought reaction to enhanced interrogations is a broader misconception about the threats that still face our country. You can sense the problem in the emergence of euphemisms that strive to put an imaginary distance between the American people and the terrorist enemy. Apparently using the term “war” where terrorists are concerned is starting to feel a bit dated. So henceforth we’re advised by the administration to think of the fight against terrorists as, quote, “Overseas contingency operations.” In the event of another terrorist attack on America, the Homeland Security Department assures us it will be ready for this, quote, “man-made disaster” –never mind that the whole Department was created for the purpose of protecting Americans from terrorist attack…

“In the category of euphemism, the prizewinning entry would be a recent editorial in a familiar newspaper that referred to terrorists we’ve captured as, quote, “abducted.” Here we have ruthless enemies of this country, stopped in their tracks by brave operatives in the service of America, and a major editorial page makes them sound like they were kidnap victims, picked up at random on their way to the movies.

It’s one thing to adopt the euphemisms that suggest we’re no longer engaged in a war. These are just words, and in the end it’s the policies that matter most. You don’t want to call them enemy combatants? Fine. Call them what you want – just don’t bring them into the United States. Tired of calling it a war? Use any term you prefer. Just remember it is a serious step to begin unraveling some of the very policies that have kept our people safe since 9/11.

Another term out there that slipped into the discussion is the notion that American interrogation practices were a “recruitment tool” for the enemy. On this theory, by the tough questioning of killers, we have supposedly fallen short of our own values. This recruitment-tool theory has become something of a mantra lately, including from the President himself. And after a familiar fashion, it excuses the violent and blames America for the evil that others do. It’s another version of that same old refrain from the Left, “We brought it on ourselves.”

It is much closer to the truth that terrorists hate this country precisely because of the values we profess and seek to live by, not by some alleged failure to do so. Nor are terrorists or those who see them as victims exactly the best judges of America’s moral standards, one way or the other.

On American Values:

Critics of our policies are given to lecturing on the theme of being consistent with American values. But no moral value held dear by the American people obliges public servants ever to sacrifice innocent lives to spare a captured terrorist from unpleasant things. And when an entire population is targeted by a terror network, nothing is more consistent with American values than to stop them…

The United States of America was a good country before 9/11, just as we are today. List all the things that make us a force for good in the world – for liberty, for human rights, for the rational, peaceful resolution of differences – and what you end up with is a list of the reasons why the terrorists hate America. If fine speech-making, appeals to reason, or pleas for compassion had the power to move them, the terrorists would long ago have abandoned the field. And when they see the American government caught up in arguments about interrogations, or whether foreign terrorists have constitutional rights, they don’t stand back in awe of our legal system and wonder whether they had misjudged us all along. Instead the terrorists see just what they were hoping for – our unity gone, our resolve shaken, our leaders distracted. In short, they see weakness and opportunity.

What is equally certain is this: The broad-based strategy set in motion by President Bush obviously had nothing to do with causing the events of 9/11. But the serious way we dealt with terrorists from then on, and all the intelligence we gathered in that time, had everything to do with preventing another 9/11 on our watch. The enhanced interrogations of high-value detainees and the terrorist surveillance program have without question made our country safer. Every senior official who has been briefed on these classified matters knows of specific attacks that were in the planning stages and were stopped by the programs we put in place.

Obama’s reservation of the right to use waterboarding at his own discretion:

“This might explain why President Obama has reserved unto himself the right to order the use of enhanced interrogation should he deem it appropriate. What value remains to that authority is debatable, given that the enemy now knows exactly what interrogation methods to train against, and which ones not to worry about. Yet having reserved for himself the authority to order enhanced interrogation after an emergency, you would think that President Obama would be less disdainful of what his predecessor authorized after 9/11. It’s almost gone unnoticed that the president has retained the power to order the same methods in the same circumstances. When they talk about interrogations, he and his administration speak as if they have resolved some great moral dilemma in how to extract critical information from terrorists. Instead they have put the decision off, while assigning a presumption of moral superiority to any decision they make in the future.

The Damage Done in Politicizing National Security:

Releasing the interrogation memos was flatly contrary to the national security interest of the United States. The harm done only begins with top secret information now in the hands of the terrorists, who have just received a lengthy insert for their training manual. Across the world, governments that have helped us capture terrorists will fear that sensitive joint operations will be compromised. And at the CIA, operatives are left to wonder if they can depend on the White House or Congress to back them up when the going gets tough. Why should any agency employee take on a difficult assignment when, even though they act lawfully and in good faith, years down the road the press and Congress will treat everything they do with suspicion, outright hostility, and second-guessing? Some members of Congress are notorious for demanding they be briefed into the most sensitive intelligence programs. They support them in private, and then head for the hills at the first sign of controversy.

As far as the interrogations are concerned, all that remains an official secret is the information we gained as a result. Some of his defenders say the unseen memos are inconclusive, which only raises the question why they won’t let the American people decide that for themselves. I saw that information as vice president, and I reviewed some of it again at the National Archives last month. I’ve formally asked that it be declassified so the American people can see the intelligence we obtained, the things we learned, and the consequences for national security. And as you may have heard, last week that request was formally rejected. It’s worth recalling that ultimate power of declassification belongs to the President himself. President Obama has used his declassification power to reveal what happened in the interrogation of terrorists. Now let him use that same power to show Americans what did not happen, thanks to the good work of our intelligence officials.

I believe this information will confirm the value of interrogations – and I am not alone. President Obama’s own Director of National Intelligence, Admiral Blair, has put it this way: “High value information came from interrogations in which those methods were used and provided a deeper understanding of the al-Qaeda organization that was attacking this country.” End quote. Admiral Blair put that conclusion in writing, only to see it mysteriously deleted in a later version released by the administration – the missing 26 words that tell an inconvenient truth. But they couldn’t change the words of George Tenet, the CIA Director under Presidents Clinton and Bush, who bluntly said: “I know that this program has saved lives. I know we’ve disrupted plots. I know this program alone is worth more than the FBI, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the National Security Agency put together have been able to tell us.” End of quote.

If Americans do get the chance to learn what our country was spared, it’ll do more than clarify the urgency and the rightness of enhanced interrogations in the years after 9/11. It may help us to stay focused on dangers that have not gone away. Instead of idly debating which political opponents to prosecute and punish, our attention will return to where it belongs – on the continuing threat of terrorist violence, and on stopping the men who are planning it…

“For all that we’ve lost in this conflict, the United States has never lost its moral bearings. And when the moral reckoning turns to the men known as high-value terrorists, I can assure you they were neither innocent nor victims. As for those who asked them questions and got answers: they did the right thing, they made our country safer, and a lot of Americans are alive today because of them.””

Followup Thoughts:
So who has the moral high ground here and who is merely just politicizing things for their own advantage and promote their own agendas even over their sworn role to defend the constitution and also their responsibility to defend our country from malicious acts of terror? Why call people criminal for doing something you believe is okay if you are the one okaying it? Do we realize just how harmful this is to our country moving forward? There are issues here that are much larger than just what techniques are used to get information from terrorists. We could very easily undermine many of our values just to “make Bush look bad” and apologize for just how evil we are as a country.

For more on this see these links:

Fox news
Huffington Post – Full transcript included here

In the years since, I’ve heard occasional speculation that I’m a different man after 9/11. I wouldn’t say that. But I’ll freely admit that watching a coordinated, devastating attack on our country from an underground bunker at the White House can affect how you view your responsibilities.To make certain our nation country never again faced such a day of horror, we developed a comprehensive strategy, beginning with far greater homeland security to make the United States a harder target. But since wars cannot be won on the defensive, we moved decisively against the terrorists in their hideouts and sanctuaries, and committed to using every asset to take down their networks. We decided, as well, to confront the regimes that sponsored terrorists, and to go after those who provide sanctuary, funding, and weapons to enemies of the United States. We turned special attention to regimes that had the capacity to build weapons of mass destruction, and might transfer such weapons to terrorists.

We did all of these things, and with bipartisan support put all these policies in place. It has resulted in serious blows against enemy operations … the take-down of the A.Q. Khan network … and the dismantling of Libya’s nuclear program. It’s required the commitment of many thousands of troops in two theaters of war, with high points and some low points in both Iraq and Afghanistan – and at every turn, the people of our military carried the heaviest burden. Well over seven years into the effort, one thing we know is that the enemy has spent most of this time on the defensive – and every attempt to strike inside the United States has failed.

0 Responses

  1. Cheney wasn’t trying to defend anyone. He needed a link between Iraq and Al Qaeda to justify an illegal war. Torture offered him a way to get that link. As did the Habbush document. He was just trying to cover his own ass.
    America has been the brutal force for years across the World, funding regimes like Pinochet’s.
    Possibly the most dangerous nation on the planet for the past eight years.

  2. F.D. I hope we can stick to the points Cheney is making here. Read the speech in its entirety and come ready to discuss if you like. Which is more brutal, dumping water on someone’s face or burning people in buildings and forcing them to jump 100 stories to their death?

  3. Everything that you said makes perfect sense for an American to say, speaking purely from a nationalistic viewpoint. Bush, Cheney, Obama, and Joe Torturer did/are doing their job.

    Christians have another job, in my rarely humble opinion. We also are citizens of a different kingdom.

    A few points:

    (1) Pragamatism can never trump spirituality. “What works” can’t be what is most important. How many of the things that Jesus did in his ministry would have been prescribed by what works?

    (2) The continued existence of the United States is not the priority of Christians. Nor is the physical safety of its inhabitants.

    (3) Nations, governments and politicians will do what they need to to survive. That doesn’t mean that Christians should join them in that. We follow the one who served and laid down his life. We follow the one who conquered by dying on a cross.

    The Romans crucified people to keep the peace and to preserve their empire. It worked. It kept down rebellion, brought peace to an entire region. That prevention of war probably saved thousands of lives, especially those of Roman citizens. That’s what the nations of this world do.

    I think we (not the U.S.—we Christians) are called to something else.

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

    1. Reading what I wrote sounds much harsher than I meant to be. One of the problems of online communication. Please forgive if I was over the top and feel free to delete.


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  5. Matt, is *that* the question we as Christian leaders should ask?

    What about this question? Why was waterboarding a court-martialing offense in the 1940s, but is now merely a tough measure? What changed between 1945 and 2009 that allowed the US to go from prosecuting waterboarders to promoting them?

    What about the hospital in Libya that we bombed under Reagan in the 1980s, trying to scare Khadaffi into doing what we wanted?

    The US is not a Christian nation — there’s no such thing — so I don’t expect it to follow Christian standards. But I would like someone to explain what motivated the government’s change of posture with reference to waterboarding, and whether those who were court-martialed for practicing it have been pardoned.

    1. So are we torturing our own soldiers who undergo waterboarding to ready themselves for the battle field as some special ops do? They willingly undergo it. If we are willing to do it to our own soldiers what would prevent us from doing it to those who wish to cut off our heads?

      I agree that there is no such thing as a Christian nation unless you are talking about the actual Kingdom of God. I have not researched the points you are making and will have to look at them in more detail.

      Also, why does Paul write in Romans 13 that rulers are there by God’s authority and bear the sword to do good? If Paul recognizes the sword, which has the capability of taking life, as an instrument that can be used for good…what would he say about waterboarding which does no lasting physical harm or pain?

    2. Matt,

      The same thing that keeps us from doing the *other* things we teach our spec-ops warriors to endure. Decency and humanity. My question is still, “How did waterboarding get moved from ‘morally unacceptable for Americans to practice on our prisoners (but still something we need to be ready for the enemy to practice on us)’ to merely a ‘tough measure’?”

      And about Paul, I think he’d say the same thing about the sword that Jesus did. It is a tool that can do good, but it inevitably damages the one wielding it.

    3. But Paul seems to be saying there are morally acceptable times the sword can and should be used by the state.

      My question remains just as yours does – Why is it okay for Obama to hold the key to okaying this for future use when needed yet those in the Bush admin are under threat of prosecution for the same thing?

      I am looking into the case you are talking about and will get back with you on it. You make a good point.

    4. It isn’t okay. It is the height of hypocrisy — as is the Gitmo fiasco. *I* didn’t vote for him! 🙂 I don’t think he has the first clue about national security. Holding pep rallies in Europe isn’t exactly a brilliant strategy.

      I don’t think Paul is saying that at all. I think he is saying, “This is what empire does, and God uses it for good.” Nebuchadnezzar does what Nebuchadnezzar does, as does Cyrus, and Darius, and Caesar. If their self-serving actions grant a measure of peace, so much the better. But they are God’s servants in a Romans 8:28 sense, not in a willing sense.

    5. Nick,

      Can you give a link on the court-martially of the 40’s? I can’t find it but am interested to read more on that.

    6. https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=15886834

      Further, as you might have read over on Tim’s blog, the most heralded case of waterboarding and results was actually reported backwards. Abu Zubaydah gave up the info on the dirty bomber Jose Padilla at least 2 months before waterboarding was authorized in 2002. He wasn’t submitted to enhanced methods until he had already given up the best info he had — they wanted to make sure he’d given up *all* the information he had.

      And that’s fine for a kingdom of the world.

      But it does make one wonder why the 3000+ disciples in Jerusalem in Acts 3-4 didn’t launch a raid on the jail to break Peter out. Either they didn’t love Peter very much, or they’d learned from Jesus that kingdom prayer is the only safe weapon in the Christian arsenal.

  6. Tim,

    Not a bit. I really struggle with all of this in my thinking. Maybe it is my flesh involved in this that hinders me so I appreciate all you wrote. Maybe you can help me out here.

    I am weighing in my head the reality of what has happened in this debate. On one hand you have professional people under Congressional and constitutional approval and oversight administering non-lethal techniques on 3 individuals who were engaged in atrocious acts of terror. Waterboarding leaves no last physical effects or pain and yet it has saved the lives of thousands. They are not going around just grabbing innocent people and tossing them on the waterboarding plank.

    1- Looking at the facts of what has been done, is it immoral?
    2- If so, what do you say to those who live in L.A. and elsewhere who would have lost their lives? Sorry?
    3- Last, if it is torture and so totally depraved and immoral, why does President Obama reserve the right to give approval to these very same techniques if HE deems it necessary?

    1. Quick reply to your last 3 points:

      (1) We should keep in mind that espionage, counter-intelligence, etc. is by nature amoral. That is, the tools of the trade are not evaluated on the basis of morality. Lying, kidnapping, etc. are considered to be necessary evils. But yeah, those things are immoral.

      (2) It’s hard to answer what ifs, of course. Would those things have actually happened? Maybe. Have thousands been killed to prevent those possibilities? Yes. Have the actions done to prevent that attack created a new desire for vengeance in someone else that will be even worse? … Those are all things we just can’t know. There is a spiraling cycle of violence/revenge/more violence that can only be broken by following the teachings of Jesus rather than those of Sun Tzu.
      What do you say to the parent of a child in Iraq or Afghanistan that gets killed? “At least you can know that somebody in Los Angeles is safer now.” The ways of this world don’t make people’s lives better. Violence begets violence. Those who live by the sword, die by the sword.

      (3) As I said, Obama is doing his job. Just as Bush and Cheney did. Just as the Romans did. I’m not a “condemn Bush, praise Obama” guy. I’m more of a “nations of this world are doing what they’ve done since the beginning of time” guy.

      Grace and peace,
      Tim Archer

  7. Tim,

    Isn’t the point to save as many lives as possible? We should be trying our best in all instances to save as many lives as possible. There will be collateral damage when trying to do so and that is a very sad fact but as Nick says that is the way the world works. I would much rather have a government trying to save lives and prevent terror than one that is out smashing innocent people.

    On the Iraq war, it is easy to look back and say it was not the best idea. It is easy to armchair quarterback. But Bush had widespread support of many, many people at the time…including many who would string him up today if they could even though they believed the same way Bush did at the time.

    That is hypocritical and political rather than trying to uphold the sanctity of life and trying to prevent further loss of life from this point onward.

    1. Is the point about saving as many lives as possible? Or being faithful to God?

      Yes that is the way the WORLD works. It’s just not the way our kingdom works.

      If it helps any, I’m also against that war that Obama will start in ____ and the one that his successor fights in ____. And when _____ attacks _____ because the U.S. attacked ____, I still won’t be in favor of using the weapons of the world.

      And I hope that no followers of Christ choose to fight in any of those coming engagements.

      Grace and peace,
      Tim Archer

    2. Tim,

      I totally respect your position. I think we have to remain consistent in the approach we take. I am not a pacifist and get turned off by those who say they wouldn’t hurt someone but would just as quickly call the police to come and shoot that person for them. This is really a tough issue and I appreciate you making my head spin with questions of my own opinions and motives. The same to Nick…thank you.

    3. The problem, Matt, is that we don’t get to choose. Even the best kingdoms of the world try to save lives and prevent terror BY smashing innocent people (they just call it collateral damage). Our “innocent people” are always *more innocent* than the innocent brown people in other parts of the world.

      NT Wright spoke up from day 1 (okay, maybe day 10, but it was a long time before hindsight became 20/20) on the allied response to 9/11.

      “On the one hand, there are those who have tried to organise the whole world under one roof: the dream of empire and world domination. That’s where we were a century ago; that’s where America is now. But, as we discovered, and as America is now discovering, however much empires declare that they are bringing justice, freedom and peace to the world, the rest of the world for some strange reason doesn’t see it that way. The god of empire is too high-and-dry to solve the problems of the world.

      “On the other hand, there are those who today want to celebrate diversity, to rediscover local and tribal identity, to come out from under the large oppressive regimes that had crushed them and find out again who they, uniquely, really are. But the gods from below quickly discover that they are competing for space: for land, as in the Balkans; for land and water, as in the Middle East; for ethnic purity, as in Rwanda.

      “And the only place I know where the crushing dream of imperial supremacy has met the rising tide of local differentiation with anything other than disastrous results is South Africa; and the reason for that is that the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, were invoked and put into practice, at enormous human cost, in an unheard-of, previously unimaginable struggle for reconciliation, truth and peace.” NT Wright, Sermon on the Eucharist, May 2002


      It hasn’t all been anti-Bush reflexes — it has been a problem where the two most overtly Christian world leaders seemed to decide that the best way to solve their share of the world’s problems was to go bomb some brown people.

      Violence and manipulation are the only two tools in the world-kingdom toolbox. I’m not mad at them — I just think we have more of an OT-prophetic role to fulfill towards our leaders than most of the Christian community has done.

    4. Nick,

      I don’t think there were any white people who hijacked planes on 9/11. They were all brown, right? That doesn’t condone the killing of innocent people. That doesn’t mean all brown people are evil or all black people are evil or all white people are great and innocent. Even Jesus said if you live by the sword you die by it. That is what has happened as we have gone after Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan and against groups in Iraq in a tragically misguided and mishandled way. All this has gone too far. I think we can agree on that and many others have been hurt in the mix.

      I wish America would stop taking on the role as the liberator of the world. We give aid to countries who turn around and slap us in the face and meanwhile we have countless hurting and homeless people right here. I don’t have all the answers but I am not naive enough to say we are the only problem in the world.

  8. Essentially what the author seems to be saying is that if torture helped stop some terrorist act, it was worth it.
    The ends justifies the means
    Slavery was necessary because it provided a much needed economic boost to the southern cotton industry
    Rounding up Japanese Americans and putting them in camps was might have prevented more attacks by the Japanese
    Forcing Indians onto reservation helped pave the way to the settlement of the west

    Some good can always come out of evil

    The problem is that long after the “good” has been forgotten, the “evil’ lives on in our collective history.

    Burning heretics at the stake seemed the right thing to do at the time, but 500 years later it remains a blot on the name of the Catholic church…one that they wish we would all forget….but which we won’t.

    In the same way the Communist Chinese quash all dessent for the “good of an orderly society”

    Yes. You can justify just about any heinous act.

    1. Norris,

      I am sorry but that is just not even close to the mark. Inflicting psychological punishment on someone to save lives because you know they are withholding sensitive information is nothing even similar to what you are suggesting.

      Can any of you say straight faced that if you were the one who had to make the decision between waterboarding someone or having 1,000s of people die as a result of not getting information from them you would just shrug it off and say “oh well.”? I hope you are more compassionate than that.

      Let’s make it more personal. You are in a room with a man who has information that will lead to the rescue of your son. If you don’t get the answer from him within the hour your son will die. What do you do? If you had a non-lethal method of extracting the information what would you do?

      Now multiply that by 1000 other people’s sons and daughters who you would be able to save in a city like L.A. that did have a terrorist attack plotted against it. You mean to tell me you wouldn’t get that information?

      Again, Bush didn’t order the waterboarding of random Iraqi citizens. It was ordered against 3 men who were vicious murderers who we knew had credible information.

      I would save my kid no questions asked.

    2. Can any of you say straight faced that if you were the one who had to make the decision between waterboarding someone or having 1,000s of people die as a result of not getting information from them you would just shrug it off and say “oh well.”? I hope you are more compassionate than that.

      That’s a false dilemma and you know it, brother. Either torture or complacency? Those are the only two options?

      What about kingdom prayer?
      What about evacuation?
      What about funding hospitals and better farming practices and compassionate ministry in the poorest places in the Muslim world?
      What about addressing the rampant crime and sexual idolatry in our country that totally discredits the name of Christ in the world?
      What if Christians stopped cheering on the American government so loudly and blatantly that the unbelieving world can’t help but believe that whatever America does, Christianity supports?

      But finally, repetitively, and most importantly: what about kingdom prayer?

      The death of Christ is our model of the ONLY effective means of defeating evil. India is free now precisely because Gandhi’s followers did NOT torture or attack the British. African-Americans are free now precisely because MLK’s followers did NOT torture Bull Connor’s cops. Apartheid is over precisely because Tutu, et al, finally convinced people to STOP and try a different way.

    3. So you are faced with the decision and you give order to start a farm? Most of the things you listed are great ideas that could go a long way to help prevent things and help our image in the world. The problem is no matter how nice we are to these regions of the world they still hate us. They believe we are the devil incarnate and they believe it is the will of God for them to annihilate us. That is not an easy problem to fix and it certainly cannot be done with a nice Middle East P.R. campaign.

      I agree we need to pray more. We need to address our own ills. We need to call out our government when they do evil things whether they are our party or not. We need to call people on the carpet whether it advanced or hinders our own personal political leanings.

      One of the main points I am making here that seems to get ignored is that much of this is being done as political gesturing and not because something is actually viewed as right or wrong. That is messed up and no matter what you think about it being right or wrong none of us can stand for politicians who put themselves above the interests and safety of the people they represent.

      We all need to be in prayer on this.

    4. Matt, I strongly agree with your thoughts in the paragraph on political gesturing. I just don’t think we should be so naive as to think that doesn’t go on 99% of the time. Look at the just the history of the U.S. How many things can we now see that weren’t what they were presented to be at the time? (The United States is in no way unique in this) Members of the Carter Administration have now admitted they actively provoked Russia into invading Afghanistan. We learned that Reagan was selling arms to Iraq *and* Iran during their conflict. (In the name of peace, of course) Shall we go back and talk about the Spanish-American War? The war with Mexico? The genocide of the indigenous peoples here in North America? The list goes on and on.

      Politicians will be politicians. They will use war as a political tool.

      “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.” “Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.”” (2 Corinthians 6:14-17)

  9. Matt – three, no four thoughts …

    1) I’m proud to be an American. I think that as an “arm chair quarterback” the Bush administration did some things wrong. I also think most other administrations would have done worse including the current one. I’m glad he had the job and not me.
    2) What was done to the few that were “tortured” pales in comparison to what they inflicted and would continue to inflict on others. It was the right thing for a government to do.
    3) I think those that speak against Bush demonstrate tremendous naivety.
    4) I cannot understand how a Christian can participate in government. The role God has given government is to prevent anarchy and to do that seems to require behavior that contradicts our purpose as image-barers. So I get frustrated when I hear Christians confusing the role of government and believers. As a Christian I cannot participate in torture and at the same time I can fully understand the need for a government to practice it. There are many things similar to this dilemma, e.g. capital punishment.

  10. Another point I have been trying to make here is that these techniques are being used with a motive to save lives. They are not being done to be cruel. They are not being done to force confessions. They are being done to get information to protect real people.

    Why are people pro-life in the abortion debate? We are pro-life because we would like to do anything in our power to preserve life and recognize the sanctity of life. I realize this is not a perfect match and you can call this comparison a false dichotomy if you like but I think the principle is the same here. We are using non-lethal means on murderers and terrorists who are responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent people in hopes to spare the lives of innocent people. I am pro-life when it comes to abortion and I am pro-life when it comes to waterboarding. Spare the terrorist and spare those whose information he gives can save. Call me crazy.

    1. The deepest real concern I have, brother, is not with what waterboarding does to the person being waterboarded. For them it is probably a one-time experience, or at least a few times over the course of a life.

      What does the choice to do this to another person, over and over and over again, do to the conscience and the spirituality and the image-of-God-ness of the one *doing* the work? David could not build the temple because he was a “man of blood.” I’m not proof-texting with that; I’m wondering if there is a concept to explore.

      And you are absolutely correct about the political posturing of the people on both sides — which goes right back to the “violence and manipulation” point that Mark Moore taught me about the kingdoms of the world.

      What about the idea, in “Charlie Wilson’s War,” that we *secretly* armed the mujaheddin in Afghanistan during the Reagan years to fight the Russians, and once the Russians abandoned it, we left the country in rubble with most of the population under the age of 15?

      I also agree that the US needs to stop crusading, but I don’t agree that “they will always hate us.” Those that actually hate us, who will never be swayed, are a tiny minority. The majority are people who are only getting one side of the story. Don McLaughlin relates a discussion he had with an Egyptian tour guide, who described the national outrage because there had been something like 10-20 murders in Egypt that year. I can’t remember the precise figure, but I think our murders per capita is like 14 times higher than theirs.

      Most Americans mock Arab lifestyles, but they are horrified by the chaos they see in America. You’re right — we don’t need better PR. As a nation, we need to be better people. Like the rabbi might say, “If a man eats onions and a woman chews garlic, they can’t expect the neighbors to want to kiss them.”

      In the end, we do the best we know how, and we cling to the salvation that is in Jesus Christ.

  11. Matt,

    Thanks for bringing this subject up. Don’t take this the wrong way, but I think you give our government too much credit when you talk about their doing things to save lives or promote justice or liberate, etc. Those are often touted as the reason for some act of aggression, but most of the time a quick glance below the surface will reveal some self-advancing motive. In other words, it’s no coincidence that we are in Iraq and they just happen to have a ton of oil. If our motives were pure, you think we would have taken equally drastic measures in Sudan or the Balkans.

    On a side note, you referenced Romans 13 in the context of one nation using a sword against another nation (at least I think you did?). Doesn’t the text speak more to a particular nation’s dealings with it’s own people, not another’s?

    Thanks Matt,


    1. Zach,

      If we were there for oil then where is all the oil? We went into a competitive bidding process for contracts in Iraq with other companies from other nations (if my memory is correct on that). In the midst of all of that oil was at an all time high. If we had such a massive influx of new found and ill-gotten oil then wouldn’t it make sense that it would have driven prices down rather than up? But I am no economist so I could be dead wrong on that.

      In reference to Romans 13 I was making the point of how Paul views the authority of the government and how it is even expected for them to use the sword for good. I doubt Paul means they would use the sword to cut cheese. It is a reference to severe even capital punishment. So if Paul recognizes the government will use the sword to end life then what would he say about the government using non-life threatening means to get info from someone to save lives? This is an assumption but I believe a safe one that it would only make sense for Paul to say that the government would and should use less stringent means than those he does say can be used (the sword). Make sense?

  12. I fully admit I didn’t read all the comments, so this may already refuted or redundant, but one of the red flags to me in this discourse is the way we seemed to have moved from “what we’re doing is not torture” to “it’s okay if we do under these circumstances.” Cheney’s argument above seems to try to make both points, but I think that while such an approach may seem thorough, it looses a lot of persuasive power, particularly when we’re speaking about moral lines.

    “I didn’t cheat on you, babe, but if I did, it was for a good reason” isn’t going to persuade anybody. However, it seems that Cheney’s argument has certainly persuaded many, so maybe my point is moot. When you make that second argument, you cede the debate about whether or not what you did really was torture.

    Ultimately, this is classical Political realism in the tradition of Niebuhr. The state is not only authorized to do the morally wrong thing, they are charged to do so. That may or may not be true, but it flips Christian morality to approach things that way.

    1. Steven,

      Isn’t he saying that it isn’t torture and it is fine to use under the appropriate circumstances? Couldn’t I say shooting someone who is attacking me is not murder and should only be done under the appropriate circumstances? The second doesn’t negate the first. But I get where you are coming from.

    2. Let me add one thing that might be helpful. Go back and read what he was saying in context. The whole point of saying this is not something they do often and they had to have reasons to justify it was to say they were not being cavalier about it. They were not doing it just to do it or doing it to as many people as possible. It was reserved for the most extreme cases as the most intense thing they have in their arsenal that, in their legal opinion and also agreed on by members of Congress, that still did not cross the line of “torture.”

      Does that hold water? Probably not. Read what they do and how people respond and it is almost certainly torture. I am glad to hear that if it is going to be used that it is done sparingly and only when they feel there are lives on the line. Bear in mind, those who have undergone it are still alive and so are the people who were saved through the information gained. Isn’t that a win-win?

    3. No. If it is torture, then it’s not win-win. Being physically alive isn’t always the bottom line, and isn’t a bright-line test for goodness.

      If it (any extreme act) isn’t torture, but an effective and allowable technique, then logically we should have used it more with a wider array of people. To argue we only used it in the most extreme cases only is to recognize its nature as an act of torture, in my opinion.

      There are a lot of problematic issues here, particularly as we are looking on from the outside. how certain do they have to be before using an act of torture? There is at least some evidence that these kinds of interrogations produce false evidence, that they can become counterproductive as means of information gathering.

      There simply is no way for us to debate the pragmatics of the situation, and frankly my ethics wouldn’t be too satisfied with the pragmatic answer anyways, which may be ultimately our difference. While you argue persuasively above with the hypothetical question about what I, the reader, would do under an intense situation, what I would do may not be the best rationale for what makes something holy.

      What if the hypothetical concerned Jesus though, in either the role of the decision maker, or the victim? Would Jesus knowingly let the innocent die in order to preserve his own sense of integrity? Now that’s been asked before and is perhaps cliche, but consider if we allow the hypothetical situation of Jesus as victim. Would Jesus prefer me to let him be the victim of a heinous act, or act immorally to save his life? Who would Jesus allow me to love more than I would him?

      And yet, it doesn’t taste right. I still want to get the bad guy. I want to foil the evil plan. I know the state is charged with doing so. How could any political power live within christian ethics? To attempt to do so is inherently impossible, because political entities exist to serve their own means (I do not mean that negatively) while Christians do not. Which is why I’m not running for president.

      The flaw in Nick’s argument above is that is assumes the goals of the state while refuting the methods of the state. It says, “there are better ways to solve the problem (threats to our well-being) and preserve our morality”. But when you take on the state’s goals of survival and the pursuit of our own interests and well-being, you really don’t have much moral ground to pick and choose methods to that end. You already are outside of the christian assumption. The fundamental christian ethical question is not “what am I willing to do?”, but “Whom do I call Lord?”

  13. Steven,

    You make some great points and I hope everyone reading this will read what you just wrote. I have a couple of followup questions/scenarios to it – Is it an immoral act if it is done to save someone’s life? Let me offer up two scenarios:

    1 – I walk down the street and see someone I don’t like and decide to kill them. So I pull out my gun and shoot them dead. That is murder and is unquestionable immoral.

    2 – Someone breaks in my home and points a gun at my wife and children. I have committed and am in covenant to protect them through marriage vows and other verbal commitments, etc. In defense of my family I pull out a gun and shoot him dead. Is that immoral? Should I have put down my gun and prayed? I pray for the safety of my family every day and it might just be that God provided me with the means to protect my family if I am willing to step up and take on the responsibility I have committed myself to. So I shoot the guy and he dies. In both these scenarios the result is the same. One is called murder and one is called self-defense.

    Does that apply to torture/waterboarding. Let’s give two similar scenarios.

    1 – You have a random Iraqi citizen walking the streets of Baghdad. The CIA’s curiosity gets the best of them and they wonder if this random innocent Iraq might just know some rumor of an attack. So they grab him and waterboard him until he comes up with something, anything…just to get them to stop.

    2 – CIA captures a high ranking official of Al Qaeda. They helped plan the 9/11 attack as well as several other high profile acts of terror in recent months. We then have reason to believe they probably know of operations in the coming months. This person has willfully engaged in targeting innocent civilian populations in both Iraq and the U.S. They waterboard him and find out about multiple future attacks, which they are then able to prevent and save countless lives.

    The same action was done to both those people. Was it justified in the second instance? I believe so. We are dealing with people who are targeting non-combat targets and innocent people in a way unlike anything we have ever seen. Also, we have killed countless terrorist in Iraq and Afghanistan and have waterboarded 3 of them. Which one gets more press and which one gets more moral outrage thrown at it? Why is it better to blow them away than it is to interrogate them?

    Let me toss this one out there – If it was September 10th and you learned that we had one of the would-be terrorists in custody and believed he knew of an imminent threat to U.S. security but did nothing to get answers out of him would you be outraged? Would you feel bad watching the towers fall if you thought we could have gotten some answers out of that man?

    These are difficult issues and I think the most difficult thing for me is to get my fleshly way of thinking out of the way and really try to see how God sees it.

  14. Matt said, “List all the things that make us a force for good in the world – for liberty, for human rights, for the rational, peaceful resolution of differences – and what you end up with is a list of the reasons why the terrorists hate America.”

    Really? Or perhaps terrorist and other enemies of the US hate the US because the US is the king of the mountain (world) right now and they themselves would like to be king of the mountain. Would it not be nice if the US and all other political powers would realize that there is only one King and his throne will never end?

    Other than that you know where I stand on how Christians should ethically proceed in matters of supporting and/or participating in the state’s use of political power, so we will not agree BUT…
    …we can still share together in loving fellowship with our Lord.

    Grace and peace,


  15. Rex,

    Thanks for your input. I was curious to hear what you would have to say about this. I guess the only reply I would have is that radical Islam doesn’t hate us because we are king of the mountain. They have plenty of other reasons to hate us than that including our views on women, our treatment of Israel, etc. The one thing I agree with them on is that they believe we are pretty depraved morally. If my memory is right (I will have to double check this) what is ironic about that is that several of their terrorists who have come over here indulged in strip clubs and other things just before they killed themselves and many Americans because they hate us for doing those very same things.

  16. Matt,

    I think morality is just an excuse they use to justify their lust for dominance. Likewise, “terorism” is just an excuse the US employs to justify their lust for dominance. After all, the current conflict between radical Islam and the Western world began long before 9/11 (likely before the two of us were even born). However, radical Islam was never seen as a serious threat to Western (and especially American)dominance until about twenty years or so ago.

    But is that not what all war and political exercise is about…who will have the most power? What nation will rule the world economically, educationally, militarily, etc… What political ideology and party will dominate? Who gets to be the top dog?

    I understand why just-war Christians would engage in violence to protect the weak against the injustice of the strong. But what I do not understand is why Christians want to spend all of their enery trying to preserve the US or any other nation or tribe when all of those powers already stand defeated at the cross of Jesus? I think this is one of the main reasons why North America is becoming as secular as Western Europe and why Christianity is becoming an impotent movement in North America…because we Christians are just too occupied with the wrong kingdom. For example, I met a confessing Christian at the barber shop the other day who thinks it is sort of crazy that the church would claim Jesus is “the way” but he gets all hot-n-bothered by those who question the international policies of the US (especially those of the Bush/Cheney presidential administration).

    I am not trying to put Christians down for having a patriotic bone or anything. I am just more and more concerned that honest patriotism has turned into nationalism and idolatry.

    Well…there is my rant:-). Take care and keep up the great work on this blog.

    Grace and peace,


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