Your Ballots at Work: 'Waterboarding is Torture'

By Ryan Rodrick Beiler 1-16-2009

This kind of feels close to an exercise in I-told-you-so, but for all the folks who assert that voting is a hopelessly corrupted exercise in irredeemable empire, consider as an indicator the testimony of Obama's attorney general nominee Eric Holder:

"Waterboarding is torture."

Contrast this with the policies of Alberto "The-Geneva-Conventions-Are-Quaint" Gonzoles or current Bush AG Michael "I-don't-know-what's-involved-in-the-technique-If-waterboarding-is-torture-then-torture-is-not-constitutional" Mukasey.

By the way, there are actual terrorists who attempted to participate in the 9-11 attacks who cannot be prosecuted because the evidence against them was tainted with torture. These definitions matter, and the deliberate ambiguity of the Bush administration, besides being immoral, has also made us less safe by tainting the investigations of real terrorists and radicalizing many more through resulting scandals like Gitmo and Abu Ghraib.

Now, I will have many disagreements with the Obama administration, such as raising troop levels in Afghanistan. I am deeply concerned about the approach he, with a Clinton Secretary of State, will have toward Israel and Palestine given their one-sided campaign rhetoric. (Though I am at least confident they will actually have an active and engaged approach toward the conflict from day one.)

I am also suspicious enough of our government and intelligence services to know that no matter what the official policy is, there will be elements who play by their own rules and enjoy the ignorance--willful or otherwise--of those in charge. Maybe I've just watched too many Tom Clancey and Jason Bourne movies. Maybe I've read too much history. I am not naive. But can the nonvoters with clean consciences unsullied by empire's stains look in the eyes of real people who are prisoners in U.S. custody who will, as a result of these changed policies, now not be tortured and still say you're not willing to have a say in who gets elected? That the difference voting can make is not worth challenging your ideological purity?

Barack Obama is not the Messiah, but he is going to close Guantanamo Bay prison. I completely respect all of the protests and symbolic witnesses against torture and Gitmo. But I would assert that none of them would ever--ever--have any affect, except on the conscience of those participating. That's why I got arrested in front of the White House in 2003 (with a court date on Good Friday, no less). I knew it wouldn't stop the war, but I couldn't live with myself if I didn't do something extreme to protest it. But you had better believe that I cast a vote the following year--and it wasn't to write-in "Jesus" because he's the real Prince of Peace.

I seek to follow Jesus every day and worship him as my only true Lord, but I know what a voting booth is for. (Similarly, I would not reject the options at the bakery because Jesus is the only true Bread of Life, nor do I reject going to the doctor on the rationale that Jesus is the only true Healer.)

Some critics will likely mention abortion. But I truly believe that this administration has a better chance of creating the common ground to actually reduce the number of abortions than any previous administration, Republican or Democrat. But that's one to keep praying about--lots of forces have an interest in keeping that hot button nice and hot so they can press it during campaign and fundraising time.

So yes, in many ways, our political system is hopelessly corrupt. Yes, I believe that Jesus Christ is the only true answer to violence, injustice, and poverty. And yes, we as individuals and as a church need to actively live into the kingdom of God that Jesus preached. But if we truly care about the least of these, the most vulnerable and marginalized, the most violated and oppressed, we are obligated to engage the civic tools at our disposal on their behalf. Anything less is privileged piety, and cold comfort to those in Gitmo, Gaza, or the Gulf Coast.

Also, we're going to get more SCHIP. More children will now have access to health care who didn't before. Happy inauguration weekend, everyone.

Ryan Rodrick Beiler is the Web Editor for Sojourners.

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