'Torture Awareness Month' Sweeps Washington

While real torture and mayhem flourish around the world, the Religious Left puts America in the crosshairs.

In case you missed it, this month is “Torture Awareness Month,” organized by the Religious Left, chiefly by the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT).  For more targeted emphasis, this Sunday will start a “National Week of Action Against Torture, Guantanamo and the NDAA (National Defense Authorization Act),” with help from the American Civil Liberties Union, Council on American-Islamic Relations and CodePink.

NRCAT is a coalition of Mainline Protestant denominations, left-leaning evangelicals and Catholic caucuses, and Muslim groups like the Islamic Society of North America.

Opposing torture should be laudable except that the Religious Left, since 9-11, has developed a very peculiar, narrow interest in “torture” that is almost exclusively confined to the U.S. War on Terror.  And “torture” seems to include by their definition not just horrific acts of physical pain traditionally defined as torture but also the sustained detention of terrorists and any even implied coercive acts against them beyond the reading of Miranda Rights.

The latest additions to the anti-torture campaign include activism against any long-term solitary confinement in U.S. prisons and against all “anti-Muslim bigotry,” with a presumably wide definition of what qualifies as “bigotry.” The Religious Left and its allies additionally want a "commission on inquiry" to further spotlight and ultimately prosecute the special villainies of the Bush administration.  To be fair, the Religious Left is also critical of the Obama administration for failing to cancel the U.S. War on Terror, essentially confirming the Religious Left’s pacifist assumptions.

Needless to say, the Religious Left largely has no deep interest in more indisputable acts of torture by scores of reprehensible regimes around the world.  Their understanding of political correctness precludes ongoing, serious criticism of Islamist, Marxist, or Third World liberationist regimes.  The anti-torture week will feature a march from the U.S. Capitol on June 24, with demonstrators clad in orange jumpsuits in solidarity with Guatanamo captives, whom NRCAT sees only as victims.

Anti-torture activists this month are armed with anti-torture prayer, courtesy of NRCAT.  “We confess, gracious God, that we, as a nation, have permitted the practice of torture,” it intones. “Give us the courage to investigate our nation’s use of torture, to understand our own complicity and to seek healing for both the tortured and the torturer.” An NRCAT teaching resource for religious groups calls for the appointment of a Special Prosecutor to investigate U.S. torture.  A sample sermon cites an official of the far-left Center for Constitutional Rights, who declares:  “Our nation tortured because of the American people, we allowed it to happen, I allowed it to happen, you allowed it to happen…We all knew what was going on in Guantanamo… We saw photos.”  He cites the Abu Ghraib photos as the exemplar of U.S. detention policies without noting that Abu Ghraib violated those policies and perpetrators were prosecuted.  “We did not do enough eight years ago, we did not do enough six years ago, or four years ago, or even two years ago, and the men are still imprisoned there,” he laments.

It’s not really clear what Religious Left groups want beyond prosecuting and presumably imprisoning Bush-era officials tied to “torture,” while compelling the Obama administration to abandon its own continuation of Bush policies. Do the anti-torture activists want to release all detainees? Or should they be tried in civil courts and possibly detained in civilian prisons?  May the U.S. continue to kill terrorists, as in the Osama bin Laden raid, or through Obama’s increased reliance on drone attacks?  Killing terrorists obviously avoids the moral questions surrounding their treatment during detention.

But since so many religious groups that belong to NRCAT are led by functional pacifists who reject not just the U.S. War on Terror but all war, presumably they reject the drone attacks et al. Presumably they envision terrorists apprehended through international law enforcement, Mirandized, tried with proper legal counsel, and PERHAPS detained in commodious facilities.

Is even courteous detention of terrorists, preceded by U.S. and international legal niceties, acceptable to the NRCAT and wider Religious Left?  If so, they do not say.  They do not strongly condemn terrorism or the underlying radical Islam behind it. They do not particularly express great concern for the victims of terrorism.  Nor do they express any significant concern about defending the lawful civilization whose legal niceties they demand for terrorists seeking to destroy it.  The underlying assumption of much of the NRCAT coalition is that U.S. resistance to terror is itself somewhat morally suspect.

Some officials within NRCAT member groups have since 9-11 vaguely cited morally understandable “blowback” against the U.S. from its ostensibly unjust overseas adventurism.  And it seems not unfair to imagine that many within NRCAT and the Religious Left see the conflict between the U.S. and radical Islamists as a maybe morally ambiguous disagreement between two offending parties. And the morally neutral Religious Left is the appropriate party to adjudicate the dispute.

There are real moral issues involved in detention policies that merit serious ethical and theological reflection.  But NRCAT and the Religious Left, as they fixate on U.S. “torture” during their anti-torture week and month, show no evidence of ethical or theological seriousness.  Instead, they offer mostly moral vacuity.  Perhaps other more ethically reflective religious leaders will rise to fill the void.

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