Religiously Shaming Dick Cheney?

Does the initial incarceration of three al-Qaeda operatives after 9/11 really qualify as one of modernity’s worst atrocities?

Richard Cizik, former vice president for governmental affairs of the National Association of Evangelicals

If the Evangelical Left had its way, former Vice President Dick Cheney would be forced to wear a scarlet “T” on his  chest.  The “T” stands for “torture,” of course.

In the wake of Cheney’s unapologetic new memoir, former National Association of Evangelicals' chief lobbyist Richard Cizik has issued an angry public letter to Cheney declaring: “Shame on you!”

Cizik is mostly upset that Cheney “authorized” the waterboarding of three al-Qaeda operatives involved in 9-11’s mass murder and other global terror.   The waterboarding occurred in 2002 and 2003.   Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah, and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri remain in prison, seemingly alive and healthy, awaiting trials.

Whether or not waterboarding or other enhanced interrogation techniques such as sleep deprivation qualify as “torture” is debated of course.   But even accepting the Religious Left’s worst case definition, does the waterboarding of three al Qaeda killers 8 and 9 years ago merit ongoing obsession?

To hear Richard Cizik is to think that the unpleasant initial incarceration of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah, and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri qualifies among modernity’s worst atrocities.   Perhaps more temperate religious minds would understand that there has been other, greater suffering in the world over the last decade that may merit at least as much agitation and grief, much less “shame.”

Cizik lost his long-time job representing National Association of Evangelicals several years ago. He afterwards was rescued by the Open Society Institute of George Soros, whom Cizik hailed as his own “King Cyrus,” the biblical Persian monarch who rescued the Hebrews from captivity.  Now Cizik heads the Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, apparently funded by left-wing philanthropy to help shift traditionally conservative evangelicals leftwards. “Torture” by the U.S., but not by any other government, has been a chief Evangelical Left focus since 9-11.

“You sullied the good name of the United States of America around the globe when you authorized the use of torture,” Cizik told Cheney in his recent public letter. “During trips to North Africa and the Middle East, I’ve witnessed firsthand the loss of respect that Americans now confront,” the former evangelical lobbyist recalled.  “Ordinary citizens have asked me, ‘Do you know that your government, allegedly a `Christian country,’ is conducting torture? You should be ashamed.’”

Of course, Cizik is very ashamed of America and of Cheney particularly, who “broke the law.”  As he explained:  “In order to believe that you didn’t break the law, you must also believe that waterboarding isn’t torture.”  Cizik fears that “without some cleansing of our national conscience…future leaders will attempt to subvert the laws of the land in a similar way.”  After all, “waterboarding is unquestionably torture.”  And any information it elicits is “known to be unreliable.”  Cizik insists there is “no wiggle room for torture” and fretted that Cheney and former President George W. Bush, in his own memoir, evince no “shame.”    Figuratively wagging his disapproving finger at Cheney, Cizik intoned:  “With all due respect, sir, this position is wholly inadequate and unjustifiable.”

Cizik rehashed the Religious Left’s demand for a “Commission of Inquiry to fully investigate all aspects of the use of torture by the United States.”  After all, “we must cleanse our national conscience…redeem this dark period and prevent such a serious sin from ever happening again.”  Cizik is ready to put on his tall black hat and white linen collar, to demand that Cheney show public shame, recant, or serve a sentence in the stocks, followed by a public branding.  Let the cleansing begin!

Often Cizik has boasted of his own purported role in ending the Cold War by having invited Ronald Reagan to address the National Association of Evangelicals, to whom he gave his famous “evil empire” speech.  But of course, Reagan did not end the Cold War with only a speech. He launched a massive military build-up when the U.S. had ten percent unemployment. He ignited global demonstrations by enraged millions when he installed new intermediate range nuclear weapons in Europe.  He enlarged CIA covert operations for subverting the Soviet economy and technology.  He resorted to direct military force in Grenada, Libya, the Persian Gulf and Lebanon. He funded and armed military insurrections against Soviet proxies in Afghanistan, Angola, Cambodia and Nicaragua.   Did these Reagan backed rebels, especially the Afghans and Angolans, when they captured Soviets or Cubans, ever employ more unequivocal forms of torture than water boarding?  Perhaps Cizik’s proposed commission can investigate.

In our always troubled and tumultuous world, great evils are always afoot.  Suppressing al Qaeda after it murdered 3000 in New York and Washington, D.C., among other crimes, was a laudable goal for which the available instruments were, as ever, flawed.  Obsessive preoccupation with the waterboarding of 3 al Qaeda terrorists nearly a decade ago would be somewhat akin to obsessing over FDR’s swiftly executing several Nazi saboteurs, even as Allied tanks were uncovering the scope of Nazi genocide.

Purported spiritual minds need a sense of proportion.  Cizik’s campaign to “shame” Cheney more resembles Captain Ahab’s myopically manic hunt for Moby Dick than a display of Christian moral discernment.   Rather than persist in demanding a scarlet letter for the former Vice President, maybe Cizik and the Evangelical Left should scan today’s real world for loftier and more constructive crusades.