Christian "Moral Values" and Bush's Choice for Attorney General

Now, I know that a lot of us evangelicals voted for George W. Bush on the grounds of "moral values." That story has made all the news. Okay.

That’s why I am troubled. I wonder why I have not heard more evangelical Christians upset about the way the Bush Administration reinterpreted the rules for the use of torture. The Bush team departed radically from convention when it loosened long-standing rules governing the interrogation of prisoners. This change is something that’s been known since last June when the Justice Department memo from Attorney General designate Alberto Gonzales was sent to Bush describing aspects of the Geneva protocols against torture as "quaint" and "obsolete." The man that Bush has nominated as the top prosecutor of American law played a large role in orchestrating, if not actually drafting, a change in our country’s stand on torture!

But we Christians are not saying a thing during Gonzales’ confirmation hearings about this. And the Democrats are being creampuffs on Gonzales as well; in the words of Time Magazine, “Gonzales is certain to be confirmed as John Ashcroft's replacement, especially because Democrats are wary of opposing a Hispanic when their hold on that constituency was weakened in the last election.”

You’ve got to be kidding! You won’t call a guy out for putting the American stamp “OKAY” on torture because he’s Hispanic? You’ll let politics get in the way of truth? (Why am I surprised?)

The hearings did offer a few interesting tid-bits, however:

Senator Patrick Leahy got Gonzales to admit that he had consulted with the Justice Department's office of legal counsel about the torture memo. There were meetings in his White House office. Techniques like waterboarding—when they strap down a prisoner and make him believe he's going to drown—“may” have been discussed. Gonzales admitted that he did “generally support” the thrust of the Justice Department's decision to severely constrict the definition of torture. (In other words, since they wanted to torture people, they simply redefined 'torture' more narrowly, so that they could say, “We didn’t 'torture' anybody.”)

Senator Herbert Kohl got Gonzales to admit that the Bush Administration policy on torture had "migrated" to the CIA and Pentagon and from there to Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib. (In other words, the atrocities at Gitmo and Abu Ghraib were at least an indirect result of the Bush Administration’s tinkering with the definition of torture).

Senator Richard Durbin asked a question that should have Christians who hold to “moral values” infuriated with the Bush Administration. Durbin asked whether or not, even after all the pressure to change our stand on torture back toward the Geneva conventions, United States personnel today could legally engage in torture under “any circumstances.” Gonzales answered, "I don't believe so, but I'd want to get back to you on that and make sure I don't provide a misleading answer."

What?! You’ve got to be kidding me! Why is the nominee for Attorney General waffling on this? Is it because he is still trying to redefine our nation’s definition of torture?

Don’t get me wrong; I think that in the war against terrorism, the use of aggressive, nonviolent interrogation techniques is often appropriate to get the information we desperately need to battle the evil of terrorism. But that is a far cry from what the Bush Justice Department has been advocating. Time reports, “In the summer of 2002, the CIA and Gonzales asked the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel for an opinion on the definition of illegal interrogation methods. On Aug. 1, 2002, Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee sent Gonzales the following guidance: the President is within his legal limits to permit his surrogates to inflict ‘cruel, inhuman or degrading’ treatment on prisoners without violating strictures against torture. For an act of abuse to be torture, the interrogator must be inflicting pain ‘equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function or even death.’ The definition of illegal torture had been significantly narrowed, which meant that anything short of that was O.K.”

Where’s the moral outrage from Christians over that?


Byron said...

Well, Bob, I expect you to go ballistic on my response, but I need more specifics, not these vagaries, when it comes to exactly WHAT these detainees are being subjected to. "Waterboarding" doesn't kill anybody--it may make them terrified, but frankly, I'm just not going to get too worked up about it. Provide other examples, instead of vagaries, and let's deal with them one at a time. You spoke of "atrocities at Gitmo", but didn't name a one. Inflict some non-lethal pain? It's not pretty, but these are terrorists, not Presbyterians.

Further, the Geneva Convention doesn't apply, from what I understand; the circumstances, in several ways, are different. The terrorists do not represent nations; al Qaeda is not a signatory to the Geneva Convention. That does not, of course, argue for inhumanity, but this is a different context than a normal war.

Abu Ghraib was wrong; shouldn't have happened, of course. At the same time, this whole situation screams for perspective. Screams for it. We are fighting a war unlike any we have ever fought. This doesn't argue for inhumanity, but there are appropriate measures of interrogation of suspects, and "asking them nicely" isn't likely to produce the desired effect. These people cheer in the streets when innocent citizens die en masse--this isn't the random nutcase doing the cheering, but the bulk of the citizenry in some of these Muslim countries. These people behead innocent citizens. In order for us to get information to help us prevent the filmed beheading of innocent citizens, we submerge a guy in water--not drowning him, mind you, but scaring the daylights out of him. And to whatever degree our interrogation can be called "torture", it certainly isn't done gratuitously--well, Abu Ghraib was, but look at what we do about the perps at Abu Ghraib. I know, the end does not justify the means, and if we are employing means that are barbaric, then we need to stop. To date, I haven't heard of any, but if I do, maybe I'll change my tune. I just make the point to say that our interrogation tactics are not random acts of torture, but specifically designed to elicit information. People who humiliated prisoners at Abu Ghraib are going to do time in the slammer, and they should. That said, there is no equivalence that can possibly be made between a pile of naked terrorist prisoners, and a pile of innocent citizens lying amid twisted rubble.

I don't see the big deal, and won't until I hear of specific torturous, over the top means that are being employed. Waterboarding just doesn't qualify, frankly. I don't think I'm a moral pigmy for saying that. I think that's why you haven't heard outrage.

Bob Robinson said...

va•ga•ry, noun (plural: "-ries"): Etymology: probably from Latin vagari to wander, from vagus wandering
: an erratic, unpredictable, or extravagant manifestation, action, or notion
I guess my very detailed blog above is filled with erratic and extravagant notions--especially the quote from Time at the end, and all the quotes from Alberto Gonzales (vagaries...NOT!) :-)

Waterboarding was not the extent of the allowed torture--again that quote from TIME: "Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee sent Gonzales the following guidance: the President is within his legal limits to permit his surrogates to inflict ‘cruel, inhuman or degrading’ treatment on prisoners without violating strictures against torture. For an act of abuse to be torture, the interrogator must be inflicting pain ‘equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function or even death."Is that extravagant, or is it accurate? It’s being reported by Time that “almost 20 inmate deaths are being investigated.”

A friend of mine told me not to write too much on a blog—we are not required to create a dissertation covering all our bases on a web log. People who are interested in learning more about what happened can read the major news magazines on it:

Time The Torture Files: The Gonzales hearings reopened painful questions: How did abuses at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere happen? And what standards are we now following?

Newsweek Torture's Path: The paper trail is long, and it isn't pretty. But it's sure to produce some tough Senate questions for Alberto GonzalesThe only reason that the conservatives are saying “the Geneva Convention doesn't apply” is because of the Gonzales-led reinterpretation of the law on torture. That’s the very point! This cannot be shrugged off, but must be investigated. Gonzales is right that al-Qaeda terrorists without a recognized state should be detained in a manner different from and stricter than the standard Geneva Convention procedures, but no matter what “kind of war” we are fighting, it does not excuse inhumane treatment of inmates (the Christian worldview speaks directly against this kind of thing). Many of us who are not fully on-baord with Bush do not buy the ‘vagary’ from Bush that the war on terrorism gives the President all kinds of lee-way to generate new ways for our noble state to conduct itself in time of war.

Byron, please fight fair. I never said that I advocated “asking them nicely.” In fact, I said, “the use of aggressive, nonviolent interrogation techniques is often appropriate.”

Why haven’t you heard the news of these atrocities?

Oh yea, you listen to Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannitty.

[ That’s probably not playing fair, is it? Sorry, couldn't help myself! :-) ]

Byron said...

Roberto, I wasn't "fighting unfairly"; I was just making a point. Maybe, in the words of Inigo Montoya, I "do not know what (vagary) means". What I meant by using vagary--maybe incorrectly--wasn't that your whole post was vague, but that the only concrete method I heard about was waterboarding, but I heard the word "torture" used several times. WHAT tortures? If "waterboarding" is the extent of it (not saying it is), then I'm just not very troubled...well, not at all.

I'm going to go to the two links you suggested and see if anybody there will go beyond vaga...unclearness about the exact nature of these "tortures". If so, maybe we've got something to talk about. I just find that, forgive me if I see one side more than the other on this, it seems like the liberal media throws words around like "torture" without doing much of a job of defining them.

And if you were the avid reader of my blog, you'd know that I have semi-forsaken Rush for Mike Gallagher, who seems to have a pretty reasonable take on things--still, from a good, solid, conservative perspective. And it might interest you to know that I'm getting a little tired of Hannity as well...who knows, maybe there's hope for me after all. Off to read MSNBC and Time's articles. I'll try to have my baloney sensers on full throttle...

Byron said...

OK, here's the specs on what I found, three cut/pastes from the Time article (the MSNBC article wasn't terribly helpful):

In December 2002, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld signed off on 16 additional measures for use at Gitmo, including stress positions, such as standing for long periods; isolation for up to a month; hooding during transportation and questioning; removal of clothing; and "exploiting individual phobias, e.g., dogs." A study led by former Pentagon chief James Schlesinger reported last August that Rumsfeld's more aggressive methods were used on only two detainees, "gaining important and time-urgent information in the process."

In January 2003, owing to concerns from the Navy's top lawyer, Rumsfeld abruptly rescinded his December order, pending a study, and ordered that the tougher measures could only be applied with his approval. Three months later, the study group recommended the use of some of the new interrogation techniques at Guantanamo. Dropped from the list were hooding, nudity and use of phobias. Left in place or added were isolation, giving detainees rations instead of hot meals, sleep deprivation and the use of rapid-fire questions.

According to a July 2004 memo signed by a top FBI official, FBI agents reported that they had seen prisoners subjected to physical mistreatment, loud music, extreme temperatures and a lack of food, water and furniture. An FBI agent there observed that one detainee who had been left in a cell where the temperature had climbed above 100 "was almost unconscious on the floor, with a pile of hair next to him. He had apparently been literally pulling his own hair out throughout the night."

OK, one instance of a guy who is in a cell that is allowed to get too hot. The vague "physical mistreatment" is mentioned, but...vague, unless "loud music, extreme temperatures", etc. are the definition. The 20 deaths mentioned elsewhere in the article should of course be investigated. Some of this strikes me as a little silly, though--loud music? By that definition, a drive through inner-city Detroit would be torture (actually, it probably is). Denial of FURNITURE? What, no credenza? The shame!

Look, I'm making a little fun here, and I can go along with having a full investigation of the 20 deaths, for sure, and no, a guy shouldn't be pulling his hair out because his room is unbearably hot. Investigate. Ask questions. Do all of that. But I'm not seeing the kind of stuff that would lead me AT THIS POINT to work up anywhere NEAR the "moral outrage" that Bob calls for. We are all living in a time unlike we've ever lived in before, and we're facing situations we've never faced, and the potential for second-guessing is very high. If Gonzales is found to have acted in a clearly irresponsible way that actually led to REAL torture going on, then I'm with you, Bob. Until that is proven, in this highly-charged and unfamiliar territory, I'm willing to give some leeway and the benefit of the doubt in this messy business. To me, that is the Christian approach.

Bob Robinson said...


Thanks for taking my “cheap shots” about definitions and conservative radio in fun. You’re a good guy.

I think we can agree that "We are all living in a time unlike we've ever lived in before, and we're facing situations we've never faced."

But I think that second-guessing is an important part of a time like this. When we act out of fear (and a time like this has many acting out of fear), we make bad decisions all the time. We must go back, re-evaluate our actions (second-guess), so that those mistakes are not repeated.

Also, my point on this thread is more germane to the first quote from Time you cut and pasted: “Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld signed off on 16 additional measures for use at Gitmo, including stress positions, such as standing for long periods; isolation for up to a month; hooding during transportation and questioning; removal of clothing; and "exploiting individual phobias, e.g., dogs." And also the last statement from Time in my original blog entry, which said that at the request of Alberto Gonzales (then the Counsel to the President) for guidance, the Bush Justice Department said that “the President is within his legal limits to permit his surrogates to inflict ‘cruel, inhuman or degrading’ treatment on prisoners without violating strictures against torture…equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function or even death.”

You are looking for some clear evidence of condoning torture, by redefining "torture," THERE YOU HAVE IT! The Bush Administration was purposely seeking to redefine things that are CLEARLY torture as not torture. This calls into question the morality of Rumsfeld, Bybee, and Gonzales. It seems so apparent to me. I just don’t get why it isn’t to you.

This is the heart of my call for Christian moral outrage—Christians are good on the moral outrage about the liberal Democrats’ stands on abortion and gay marriage and stem cell research (as we should be), but when it comes to being consistent when it deals with the lack of moral integrity among the conservative Republicans, well, that’s another story.

Byron said...

Well, then I guess I'm in favor of "torture" in order to get information! Seems to me that the problem comes in using that loaded word, in part. My point is, take the individual item--not merely the word "torture", as you keep wanting to do, and ask, "is this an appropriate means to use in order to extract information which might prevent another 9-11 or filmed beheadings?" Take the whole loaded word out of the equation and substitute the individual action in question, because when you talk about "redefining torture", perhaps...and I'll only say "perhaps"...it NEEDED redefining. So...

For the sake of obtaining information from a terrorist (not a soldier from a signatory to the Geneva Convention, but a terrorist for whom the ultimate joy in life would be to blow up every innocent person in America), would it be appropriate to:

Scare him with a barking dog?
Waterboard him?
Subject him to standing up for a long time?
Play loud music? 15 minutes of Snoop Dogg would have
me singing like a bird...
Mess up his sense of day and night?
Apply even a moderate amount of pain (granting limits)?
Remove his FURNITURE? Sorry, that one makes me laugh.

Go ahead and give me your answers to those SPECIFIC questions, not just this nebulous "torture" word.

If you had Osama bin Laden in your custody, and you had strong reason to believe that "9-11 the Sequel" was imminent, what would YOU do to find out how to stop it?

Bob Robinson said...

What should we allow?Scare him with a barking dog? NODog Torture 1Dog Torture 2Waterboard him? I DON’T KNOW

Subject him to standing up for a long time? YES
Exhausted hooded inmatePlay loud music? YES

Mess up his sense of day and night? YES

Apply even a moderate amount of pain (granting limits)? YES


Let’s add the Bush Justice Department list:Inflicting “cruel, inhuman or degrading’ treatment?” NOinhuman degrading treatmentInfliciting pain inequivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function or even death”? NOphysical serious injury

Byron said...

OK, now we're getting somewhere. I'm not averse to the dog thing, as you are; as long as the dog doesn't bite, I don't see a big deal. Unfortunately, with the things you said "NO" to, we are back to the more vague. I'd like to know again exactly what those refer to, the infliction of pain things (since you agreed that inflicting some pain was okay). It's just easier to talk specifics.

Sounds, though, like when we get to the specifics, we aren't very far apart at all. To me, this illustrates the deal: the reason why I'm not morally outraged is that so far, until I get more detail on what some of these specifics are, I'm not going to jump to conclusions and harangue Bush's choice. I'll get outraged over specifics, not vagar...stuff that is unspecific.

Paul Oyler - aka SteelerDirtFreak said...

I'm curious as to how any of the things Byron declares acceptable lineup with the sermon he delivered on loving all enemies, even Bin Laden? Which position is your truthful take on it and which is untrue.

How can the mistreatment of any human being be in line with a thourghly Christ centered world view?

I'm sincerely curious on these questions.

Byron said...

Lines up just fine, I think. Governments have a responsibility to seek justice and to protect citizens. There is a difference between a personal attitude ("hate the sin, love the sinner") and an appropriate response of government to prevent and punish evil. Confusing the two realms is what raises your question. I can "love al Qaeda", since Jesus commands me to love my enemies(personally), and at the very same time believe that justice ought to be done--another very Biblical theme that does not contradict "love my enemies". Taken to its logical extreme, your question would point in the direction of pacifism, which I do not see lining up with Scripture/the teaching of Christ.

I grant that, as this conversation demonstrates, there is room for legitimate questions about what is appropriate in the interrogation of criminals.

lyricano said...

Byron, you would be correct if we lived in an Augustinian "city of God" type of government. But even Aquinas rejects your notion that governments are tools for exacting revenge/justice and enforcing a particular moral code. (Remember, Augustine thought governments should promote slavery because it was good for slaves to learn the moral lessons that come from submitting oneself selflessly.) But all of that is moot in terms of the proper exercise of American government. Whether one likes it or not, we live in Constitutional democratic republic--a very different animal than Caesar's Empire of Augustine's dream. In our system, our representatives act on the citizens behalf and are responsible to the people. By Locke's design, the people retain the power, authority and moral responsibility for our government. The hand-washing notion that the government can do evil and we the citizens are innocent, is a misunderstanding of our system. This is precisely why that our government must have the people's explicit conscent on the most serious matters (i.e., Congress must declare war). But do not worry Byron, the current republican Congress (with many democrats helping) is also abdicating so many of its moral responsibilities. Like the torture thing.

Bob Robinson said...

Lyricano brings up a point that's been battering around in my head for a few months...

When the current war in Iraq was first started, I preached a message about what a "Just War" is, and I ended with the question, "Can 'Just War Theory' work in the 21st Century?"My answer then was, basically, that even though Just War is only an "ideal," it is still the best criteria for judging whether or not to go to war.

I'm not so sure anymore. I'm wondering how a theory developed by Augustine in a time very different from our own, with weaponry and military tactics very different from our own, can be applied in a day of mass-murdering terrorists and pre-emptive wars.

I'm going to re-visit this in a few days with a new blog entry. Any ideas?

Byron said...

Lyrciano, thanks for posting, but I am extremely unread when it comes to Augustine, Aquinas, and Locke. I have to confess that I didn't really get much of what you were saying, to tell you the truth. I'd be helped by your defining exactly where you see my points as being wrong and why. I do believe, in general, that both Republicans and Democrats ignore the Constitution at will and with regularity. But in general, my points are that using terms like "torture" are meaningless until we define those terms concretely (and thus no "moral outrage"); that government has a role in seeing to it that evildoers are brought to justice so that men can live in freedom; and that as individuals, we are to love our enemies. Define your disagreement with those things, and I'll be happy to talk further, my friend!

lyricano said...

The idea that "government has a role in seeing to it that evildoers are brought to justice so that men can live in freedom; and that as individuals, we are to love our enemies" is an Augustinian idea. It is not an American idea and is inconsistent with our Constitution. Our government is a representation of the people and is responsible to the people. That is, our government is of, for & by the people.

Second, the reason that the founders put so many checks & balances into the system is precisely because they knew that we could not trust government officials to act in moral ways without a lot of accountability. The founders thought it profoundly naive to put our trust in the morality of elected officials. Our history is replete with examples (even before the current administration) of the amazing immorality of the government.

Byron said...

Second paragraph I agree with wholeheartedly. You're telling me, though, that it is unconstitutional for our government to go to war (I do understand that the present Iraqi conflict is probably unconstitutional in the sense that a resolution of war was never brought before Congress, right?)? I'm just speaking of the basic idea that our government reasonably (and I would submit, constitutionally) has the power to punish evildoers. Am I missing something somewhere? I mean, obviously you're not disagreeing with me on the part about "loving our enemies" as individuals, so the rub has to be in the power of government. Help me out by giving me the specifics of what actually is unconstitutional (besides the one I mentioned). Since the post is on "torture", is it unconstitutional to hold prisoners, or to interrogate prisoners, or what? I know that some have raised questions about how we are doing things in Gitmo--but again, I'm not sure we're on ground we've ever traveled before.

At any rate, in one sense, my response to Paul wasn't really about our constitution, per se, but about the general question of the legitimate role of government, and squaring that with our responsibilities as Christians. I'm curious as well how you might, in concrete terms, see my response as off-base. Thanks!

lyricano said...

The short answer to the present "war" in Iraq is that Congress abdicated its responsibility by giving the president the permission to use whatever force was necessary to fight terrorism. They dodged the issue of declaring war (as they did with Vietnam, Persian Gulf, Panama, etc.). The constitutional requirement that Congress declare war is a protection against Presidents who might rashly pursue violent causes without fully considering the consequences. A full and honest debate about a declaration of war by Congress might have led to better decisions re Vietnam and/or WMDs.

The second reason is that our government acts on our behalf. That is, whatever our government does, we the people are morally responsible for those actions. Therefore, serious decisions, like going to war, must be made with sober and honest reflection. Not with deception or recklessness. The blood is literally on our hands. Congress has obvious reasons (reelection) for shirking their responsibility and the President obviously wants as much power as Congress will give him. Again, this is the reason behind the Constitutional requirement that only Congress can raise an Army or declare war.

(This, I think, was my original point. That because we live in a representative democracy--however flawed--we cannot separate ourselves from our government. We cannot wash our hands of the torture our representatives/administrators do. If you have moral qualms about sexually assaulting your neighbor, you must be opposed to these same tactics when employed by the CIA at Gitmo.)

Byron said...

Got your point, L, and agree with it to a point, of course, particularly about the "undeclared war" and the likely rationale behind the Congress abdicating its authority. I also can agree about your case of sexual assault at Gitmo--sexual assault is wrong under any circumstances.

At the same time, trying to look at this from a biblical viewpoint, a couple of things seem clear to me. One, the Bible does assign to government the role of "bearing the sword" (Romans 13). That sword ain't for spreading butter; the terminology implies the use of force, and Paul has no quarrel with government fulfilling that role; he urges "submission" (of course, the Roman government was different than our representative democracy, I grant, but this is not my main point here). Jesus tells me to "turn the other cheek" and to "love my enemy"; these are addressed to the individual. Paul says that government "bears the sword". It seems to me that there are two possible positions that could come from this conundrum: one, no Christian should ever have a role in government--not even vote, then, I suppose--because then a Christian would be party to "bearing the sword". OR, the position I take (as do most Christians, I'd imagine), is to understand there to be a difference between the Christian acting on his own ("love your enemies") and acting as an agent of the state ("bear the sword").

The sticky wicket then would become a matter of what the Christian ought to do when the state is not acting as "God's agent" (Paul's wording in Romans 13). Then, "we must obey God rather than men." Then, of course, the question is, "how do we do that?" This is where discussions of this nature are very appropriate. If/when I am convinced that the administration has crossed an ethical boundary in its sanctioned treatment of prisoners (Abu Ghraib, it has yet to be proven, was sanctioned by the govt., it seems to me), then I will be "morally outraged". I guess my summary response to Bob's original post, in a nutshell, is, "I'm not jumping to conclusions, Bobster". Such as I think he is...