The Common Good

Torture: A Crime that Requires a Verdict

Dear President Obama,

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Thank you for making the four memos approving of and describing the torture done to children of God in our name public even though many pleaded for you not to. Thank you for letting me know that my tax dollars were used to torture those carrying God's image. I have known we made helpless people think they were drowning for a while now, but now I know we kept some awake for almost two weeks straight. Now I know we put collars around the necks of defenseless people and slammed their heads into walls. And now I know we put people in boxes so small they couldn't move and put insects in those boxes the prisoners thought could seriously injure them with no way of escape.

We cannot know what we need to repent of without knowing what sins we have committed. Thank you for letting me know. Now I pray that we as a nation ask for God's forgiveness for what we, because of our fear and complacency, allowed to happen in our name and work to ensure it never happens again.

Thank you also for vowing that we will never do this again. As a Christian I know God declares these actions completely sinful. There is no theological or ethical justification for torturing another human being. In doing so we demonstrated that we place our faith not in God, or some abstract notion of justice or liberty, but in violence and power. These foundations will not sustain us. Those who live by the sword die by it, and I am now afraid that we have lived by torture so long that we will also die by torture. We must never torture again, and we must work to make amends for the sins we have already committed.

I am not in complete agreement with what you have said, however. You have said no one will be held accountable for the acts of torture because they were approved by the justice department. While I understand the premise of your reasoning, I think it is wrong.

Perhaps those interrogators who physically administered the acts of torture were following orders, but those who gave them were not. They made a decision to pervert justice. Those in the know have not apologized for their conduct or admitted it was wrong; in fact they have vehemently defended it. What they did was illegal according to multiple international treaties and laws. We have prosecuted people from other nations for doing the exact same things we did. We cannot sweep this under the rug. While it may be deemed unnecessary, or impractical, to prosecute all involved from the top down, someone must be held responsible. Those officials that perverted our previously agreed upon notions of justice must be held responsible.

There must be an independent commission of inquiry into the actions of the Bush administration. Everyone, from former President Bush and former Vice-president Dick Cheney down to the justice department, who made the decisions to approve of torture must be brought before the American public and be held responsible. It is the only way the rest of the world will believe we have discarded these evil methods and know we are no longer a nation that tortures. Not to do so is to be complicit in the cover-up of the ways we have sinned and the perpetuation of that reputation of us throughout the world.

It is a sad day in American history. May God have mercy on us.

Jimmy McCartyJimmy McCarty is a student at Claremont School of Theology studying Christian ethics, a minister serving cross-racially at a church in inner-city Los Angeles, and a servant at a homeless shelter five days a week. He blogs at jimmymccarty.wordpress.com.

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