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

History Will Not Absolve Us

On Friday, George Hunsinger, one of the finest theologians at Princeton Theological Seminary and the founder of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, wrote an article for the Common Dreams website called “History Will Not Absolve Us.”  It is a reflection on the continued leaks of more and more information about high level involvement in the planning and execution of torture by the Bush admin.  (I was glad that my friend, Dave Gushee, now teaching at McAfee School of Theology (Mercer University) in Atlanta, and founder of Evangelicals for Human Rights asked an excellent question about this to Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) at the “Faith and Compassion” dialogue hosted by Messiah College in Grantham, PA last Sunday night and broadcast on CNN. Obama’s answer was excellent, too and got some of the largest applause of the evening.)

Hunsinger claims that history will not absolve this nation of these acts of torture, no matter our claims of ignorance, or fear of terrorism as justification. I agree. More, I think that GOD will also hold us accountable. The churches have not been entirely silent on this issue, but they have been far too quiet.

We are a pluralistic nation, but over 80% of us in this country claim to be Christian. Well over 50% attend church regularly.  Evangelical Protestants, who elevate the authority of Scripture above all else, make up between 40 and 50% of the nation, according to surveys.  But far too many evangelical leaders have tried justifying the torture or covering it up.  White evangelicals are practically the only group left in the country who still support Pres. Bush and hold him up as a “Christian leader.”  Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), the presumptive GOP nominee for president, stood out among the GOP candidates as the only one willing to oppose torture–but after winning the nomination, he spoke out and voted against a bill that would have forbidden the CIA to use such “harsh interrogation” techniques as waterboarding (called in all other times and places “water torture,” used in the Inquisition and prosecuted by the U.S. in previous wars!), and then applauded Bush for vetoing it when it passed despite McCain’s efforts to shipwreck it.  Yet, although he can’t decide whether he’s a Baptist or Episcopalian, McCain claims a deep Christian faith and courts the endorsements of conservative evangelical and fundamentalist preachers (including pro-torturers like Rod Parsely and John Hagee!).

How can any follower of the Crucified One countenance torture?

How can any nation dedicated to democracy, human rights, and the rule of law countenance torture?

U.S. Americans, especially U.S. Christians, have clearly lost their/our way–their/our moral bearings.  History will not absolve us–nor will the Lord of History.

June is Torture Awareness and Abolition Month. The National Religious Coalition Against Torture is urging congregations (parishes, synagogues, temples, meetings, etc.) to highlight the moral issue of torture in sermons and worship throughout June and, specifically, to hang a banner against torture outside their congregation as public witness.  We also need letter campaigns to Congress, the White House, presidential candidates, and the editorial section of newspapers.  We need to join with other congregations in our region in responding to this grave moral concern.  See the NRCAT website for actions, to order “Torture is Wrong” banners, etc.

The guilty (ALL the guilty, no matter what office they occupy!) must face criminal prosecution. But while only some are guilty, all of us are responsible for stopping this and preventing recurrences.

UPDATE: In a related story, the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights First (formerly known as the Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights) took the rare step of asking the U.S. District Court of Appeals in D.C. to reconsider its dismissal of a lawsuit against former Sec. of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on behalf of those tortured, saying that the dismissal ignored key previous rulings.  See:

April 25, 2008
3:35 PM

CONTACT: ACLU & Human Rights First
Rachel Myers, ACLU, (212) 549-2689 or 2666; media@aclu.org
ACLU And HRF Ask Circuit Court To Reconsider Rumsfeld Torture Case
Precedent Used To Dismiss Case Wrongly Ignores Constitution, Groups Say
WASHINGTON, DC – April 25 – The American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights First (HRF) today filed an unusual motion in federal court in an effort to overturn the dismissal of a lawsuit against former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The March 2005 lawsuit was filed on behalf of nine Iraqi and Afghan former civilian detainees who were tortured while in U.S. military custody and eventually released without being charged with a crime. The lawsuit charged that then-Secretary Rumsfeld was legally responsible for policies and practices leading to the torture and abuse of detainees.


“It is increasingly obvious that responsibility for widespread and systemic abuse of detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan lies at the top of the chain of command, but no one has been held accountable,” said Lucas Guttentag, ACLU lead counsel for the plaintiffs. “The rule of law and the protections of the Constitution cannot stop at the water’s edge when United States officials adopt policies that violate fundamental rights and core American values.” 

Today’s motion asks the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to hear the case in the first instance as an “en banc” matter, meaning the entire court would hear the request rather than the standard procedure of assigning the case to a panel of three judges. The motion asks the court to sit “en banc” in order to reconsider its existing decisions that suggest that foreign nationals outside the United States can never bring a claim against government officials for violations of the Constitution. 

In March 2007, Chief Judge Thomas A. Hogan of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia dismissed the ACLU’s lawsuit even though he described the case as “lamentable” and “appalling” and noted that “the facts alleged in the complaint stand as indictment of the humanity with which the United States treats its detainees.” Still, he concluded that under the governing precedent the case must be dismissed. 

Today’s motion argues that the appellate court decisions on which the district court relied are inconsistent with key U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia decisions and should be reconsidered by the court of appeals. 

“We are asking the court to reconsider its decision. We seek accountability for senior American officials who ordered and allowed torture and cruelty overseas,” said Deborah Colson of Human Rights First. “Especially in light of recent revelations about the involvement of high-level officials, reliance on the judicial process is a critical safeguard against abuse of power.” 

The original lawsuit charges that the Constitution and international law clearly prohibit torture and require commanders to prevent such actions when they know or should have known of abuses. In addition to direct orders and authorizations, then-Secretary Rumsfeld and other high ranking officials who were named as defendants in the lawsuit knew of the torture and abuse at detention facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan and failed to act. Recently, President Bush admitted to ABC News that he knew his top national security advisers, including Rumsfeld, had discussed and approved specific details of the CIA’s use of torture. 

Rear Admiral John Hutson, former Judge Advocate General of the Navy, and Brigadier General James Cullen, former Chief Judge of the U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeal, are of counsel to HRF. In addition to Guttentag, Colson, Hutson, and Cullen, attorneys on the case are Steven Shapiro, Cecillia Wang, Jennifer Chang, Mónica Ramírez, Omar Jadwat, Amrit Singh, Steven Watt, and Hina Shamsi of the ACLU; Arthur Spitzer of the ACLU of the National Capital Area; Michael Posner and Sahr Muhammed Ally of Human Rights First; Bill Lann Lee of Lewis, Feinberg, Lee, Renaker & Jackson P.C.; Paul Hoffman of Schonbrun DeSimone Seplow Harris & Hoffman LLP; David Rudovksy of Kairys, Rudovsky, Epstein & Messing LLP; and Erwin Chemerinsky of Duke University School of Law. 

Today’s motion is available online at: www.aclu.org/safefree/detention/35034lgl20080425.html  

Judge Hogan’s decision is online at: www.aclu.org/pdfs/safefree/ali_v_rumsfeld_memoorder_granting_motiontodismiss.pdf 

More information about the case against former Defense Secretary Rumsfeld is available online at: www.aclu.org/safefree/torture/detention.html and www.humanrightsfirst.org/us_law/etn/lawsuit/index.asp

April 26, 2008 - Posted by | human rights., torture

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

%d bloggers like this: