Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Bush: “Torture is Banned. No, we won’t define ‘Torture.'”

President Bush has issued an executive order banning the Central Intelligence Agency from using torture in interrogating terrorism suspects.  So, human rights activists ought to be thrilled, right? Wrong.  The order doesn’t define “torture” or specify what techniques may or may not be used in interrogation. (Bush says that this is to prevent al-Qaeda from training to resist such techniques.) The order does not specify whether or not detainees in Guantanemo Bay are covered or whether the order just applies to new suspects captured by the C.I.A.  It apparently still allows for “extraordinary rendition” (kidnapping suspects and transporting them to third countries) to secret prisons in countries where torture is allowed. 

The new order forbids all “cruel and inhumane treatment,” which is similar to language used in UN Treaties to which the U.S. has long been a signatory, but it remains unclear as to whether the Geneva Conventions (which Attorney General Gonzalez, back when he was White House Chief Counsel, once described as “quaint and outmoded”) will be followed.  Will “waterboarding” be forbidden?  In the past, the U.S. has prosecuted foreign nationals (Japanese soldiers after WWII) and our soldiers (during Vietnam) for waterboarding, but this administration has defended the practice–while refusing to admit whether or not it uses it.  What about sleep deprivation? Stressed positions? Mock executions? Cold rooms (which have enduced hypothermia)?

The new executive order DOES rule out “religious humiliation” (e.g., forcing Muslims prisoners to handle copies of the Qu’ran that one claims have been urinated upon or rolled in pork, etc.) and sexual humiliation (stripping prisoners nude, sexual tauntings, having female interrogators pretend to wipe menses on them, etc.) and so most people see it as a step in the right direction.  But it is clearly not enough.  To work for more comprehensive bans on torture and all cruel, inhumane, and degrading forms of punishment, one can join campaigns by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights First, or other groups.  Persons of faith are especially urged to join the campaigns of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture and/or Evangelicals for Human Rights.


July 21, 2007 - Posted by | economic justice, human rights., torture


  1. I was wondering what you would say about this news. Thank you for clearing up the hoopla for me and making it apparent what’s really going on. Sounds like a PR job in the face of an increasingly unpopular war and an unsettled public.

    Thanks again, Michael. Have a blessed Lord’s day,


    Comment by Emily Hunter McGowin | July 21, 2007

  2. I worry that the new Executive Order makes the situation even worse than it was. Torture still isn’t defined (or, more accurately, its defined by the foxes guarding the hens), outsourcing torture isn’t mentioned, and conceding that sexual humiliation and religious denigration will be discontinued is a sop to the public that’s likely to detract worry about enhanced techniques still being used. Mike McConnel, new Director of National Intelligence, said this morning (Sunday, July 22) on Meet the Press that even though the techniques now officially approved aren’t torture (yeah, right), he wouldn’t want to see them used on US citizens.

    Comment by Maiden | July 22, 2007

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