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

Faith Groups Must Step Up Opposition to Torture

While I have been ill (and, thus, not blogging), the Bush administration has again defended “harsh interrogation techniques” that all previous American administrations condemned as torture.  Further, despite the U.S. Constitution’s clear ban (in the 8th Amendment) on “cruel and unusual punishment,” and our obligation to uphold signed and ratified treaties (and the Constitution places ratified treaties as equal to the Constitution itself as “supreme law of the land”) banning torture and all “cruel, inhumane, and degrading punishment,” Associate Justice Antonin Scalia of the U.S. Supreme Court (THE legal hero of the U.S. Right, including the Christian Right) defended “so-called torture” before a British audience. (This has led the National Lawyers’ Guild to call for Scalia to recuse himself in all interrogation-related cases. I wonder if it is grounds for his impeachment. We have never impeached a sitting Supreme Court Justice, but this seems a clear violation of his oath to defend the Constitution.) 

Most disturbing, because most unexpected, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who was tortured (including by waterboarding) as a P.O.W. in Vietnam, recently reversed his longstanding opposition to U.S. torture and torture-lite, by voting against a new law which would classify waterboarding explicitly as torture and require the CIA and others to abide by the U.S. Army Field Manual interrogation standards (which rule out waterboarding). McCain has tried to explain away his vote and claim that he has not flip-flopped on this issue, but it is a clear departure from his previously strong opposition. I disagree with McCain on MANY things, but have given him credit for being the only GOP presidential candidate to oppose torture. Apparently, he wants to be president more than he wants to hold to his principles. This vote seems like a naked appeal to the Right. Apparently, after 9/11, one cannot be a Republican nominee for U.S. president without supporting torture.


Religious leaders and faith groups have to step up our opposition to torture. We cannot count on political leaders to do it for us.  There will be an important interfaith mini-conference on U.S. supported torture on 07 March! It will be held at the Church of the Reformation in Washington, D.C. (see the link) and co-sponsored by the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, Pax Christi, USA (the major Catholic peace movement), Rabbis for Human Rights, Washingtion Region Religious Campaign Against Torture, and the Office of University Chaplain of Washington University.  Many people will be in D.C. that weekend for the campaign of the Interfaith Peace Witness Against the War in Iraq and the annual Ecumenical Advocacy Days.

Pass this information on.  We need to press all political candidates to make abolition of torture a primary concern.  We cannot end terrorism by adopting terrorist methods.  If you have not joined the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, its evangelical offshoot, Evangelicals for Human Rights, or No2Torture, I urge you to do so, now. Get your local faith leaders to speak out more. Write letters to the editorial pages of newspapers. Email presidential and other candidates and let them know that ending torture is a priority for you and that you want them to be louder in their opposition (and especially express your disappointment and displeasure with Sen. McCain).  Refuse to vote for anyone who will not end all “harsh interrogation” and other torture and “torture lite” programs.

When your children ask you if you were silent during this crisis, what will you tell them?

Update: Human Rights First has created a petition to all the presidential candidates demanding that the next president reject torture and all euphemisms for torture and prosecute all who use such cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment.  Sign it here.


February 20, 2008 - Posted by | human rights., torture


  1. you are bearing false witness against john mccain. he opposes waterboarding. he opposes torture.

    Comment by anon | February 20, 2008

  2. Anonymous (and I have little regard for people too cowardly to sign their comments), McCain has flip-flopped. Until RECENTLY, he was very opposed to torture. Recently, however, he voted against a bill that would specifically outlaw waterboarding by the CIA and, when the Senate passed it anyway, he urged Bush to veto it. McCain’s attempts to woo the support of the Rightwing of his party have led him to compromise his principles. Shame on him.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | February 23, 2008

  3. I’ve read that the bill would establish a single interrogation standard for the US Army and the CIA. There is a LOT more to that than simply outlawing waterboarding. I wonder what legitimate methods for “intelligence extraction” Sen. McCain might be trying to protect?

    Comment by Keith | February 23, 2008

  4. I confess to being a complete coward, so you are absolutely correct in your assessment about me. But the fact remains that McCain has stated very clearly that he opposes waterboarding. He opposed the bill because he does not agree that other entirely legitimate interrogation techniques should not ALSO be outlawed. Hence, you are bearing false witness against McCain and you should repent.

    Check this out:


    which says:

    Randy Scheunemann, McCain’s top national security adviser, said McCain was concerned about the Senate legislation’s requirement that the CIA abide by Army rules. “It’s not a vote for torture,” Scheunemann said. “This wasn’t a vote on waterboarding. This was a vote on applying the standards of the field manual to CIA personnel.”

    The Army manual specifically bars waterboarding and seven other tactics: forcing a detainee to be naked, perform sexual acts or pose sexually; placing hoods or sacks over the head of a detainee; beatings, electric shock, burns or other forms of physical pain; threatening detainees with dogs; the use of temperature extremes to cause physical trauma; mock executions; and depriving detainees of necessary food, water or medical care.

    A McCain Senate aide said that his vote does not mean the senator endorses any of these tactics. ***Instead, the aide said, there are noncoercive interrogation techniques not used by the Army that could be useful to the CIA.*** The aide declined to provide an example, but said it made sense for the CIA to use tactics that are not widely known through the field manual, which is a public document.

    Comment by anon | February 27, 2008

  5. Michael, on a mostly unrelated (but in the ballpark) note: What can you tell me about the legalities of bomb strikes like the one against Somalia on Monday? Can we legally bomb another nation because we think a bad guy might be there???

    Surely this can’t be legal? Is this sort of strike done with Somali gov’t permission or is it just a plain assault? And doesn’t Congress have to declare war in order to start bombing other nations??

    And how cost efficient is it to drop a $multimillion dollar bomb in hopes of assassinating one possible bad guy?

    This just seems nuts but I can’t find any commentary on it!

    Comment by Dan Trabue | March 4, 2008

  6. “Michael, on a mostly unrelated (but in the ballpark) note: What can you tell me about the legalities of bomb strikes like the one against Somalia on Monday? Can we legally bomb another nation because we think a bad guy might be there???”

    It has to be legal if the messiah–Barak Obama–is in favor of it. And he is in favor of these sorts of things. he has said that he would unilaterally and preemtively strike against Al Qaeda in Pakistan even without permission of the Pakistan government. And since he is truly the Messiah, and IS the choice for Commander In Chief of all clear-thinking progressives, it must be the right thing to do. he would NEVER violate international law!


    Comment by TeddyB | March 5, 2008

  7. I wholeheartedly agree we need to fight the practice of torture within America “the land of the free”.

    Alongside this current issue, I would encourage you to check out what No Sweat apparel is doing with their social-justice initiative Give Back to Bethlehem. Read more at my blog:



    Comment by extenseli | March 5, 2008

  8. Dan, the so-called “Global War on Terror” (GWOT) gives the president carte blance to bomb any suspected terror target without declaring war on the country it is in. They basically weigh the risk of repercussion against benefits. Somalia is so small it doesn’t really matter, but we’re not going to bomb someone in Spain without Spain being involved.

    It’s an undefined war with undefined goals and an undefined end. It’s basically a never-ending war because terrorism will always exist. We’ve basically just given the President (any President) much more power.

    Comment by Steven Kippel | March 11, 2008

  9. Does anybody know if Michael is ok?

    Comment by Jonathan Marlowe | March 18, 2008

  10. I believe he’s relaxing for a few.

    He’s at church and alive, if that’s what you’re wondering…

    Comment by Dan Trabue | March 19, 2008

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