Torture

Jon Stewart's 'Rosewater' a Needed Depiction of Torture

 Image via Rosewater Facebook page.

Jon Stewart, first-time screenwriter and director. Image via Rosewater Facebook page.

When Jon Stewart took a hiatus from The Daily Show a little over a year ago to film Rosewater, I’ll admit, I, along with other loyal viewers, was intrigued but skeptical. I was already aware of the story of Maziar Bahari, an Iranian-born journalist for Newsweek who’d been imprisoned and tortured by Iranian officials for nearly four months, detained in part because he’d sat for an interview with The Daily Show’s Jason Jones. But the rumors circulating that the film (based on Bahari’s memoir) would be partly comedic seemed … risky. Far be it from me to question Stewart’s satirical prowess, but films about political prisoners rarely leave room for laughter.

But of course, nobody needed to worry. Stewart’s penchant for pointing out the absurd is what makes Rosewater unique among films of its kind. Where movies like Hunger focus on the brutality of imprisonment (and rightly so), Rosewater’s goal is different. It sets out to explore the personality of people like Bahari’s jailers, the Kafkaesque nature of life in Iran under Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and the creativity it takes to survive in such a setting.

In the film, Bahari (Gael Garcia Bernal) leaves London, and his pregnant wife, to cover Iran’s controversial 2009 presidential election. He meets and interviews Iranians working for Ahmadinejad’s campaign, as well as those subverting the system and working for change — one scene has Bahari led up to an apartment roof covered with contraband satellite dishes. When there are accusations of fraud after the elections, followed by widespread protests, Bahari is arrested as a foreign spy. He’s held in solitary confinement, and interrogated and tortured by a man known only as Rosewater (so named for the smell of his perfume).

While there are scenes of physical torture onscreen, the film doesn’t show them in graphic detail — to the point where it almost feels that Stewart isn’t going as deep with the subject matter as he could have. But it does something instead that feels far more important.

Pope Francis Blasts Supermax Prisons as ‘Torture’

Alcatraz cells on March 1, 2014. Photo via RNS.

Pope Francis said Oct. 23 that keeping inmates isolated in maximum security prisons is “a form of torture,” and called life sentences “a hidden death penalty” that should be abolished along with capital punishment.

“All Christians and people of good will are called today to struggle not only for abolition of the death penalty, whether legal or illegal, and in all its forms, but also to improve prison conditions, out of respect for the human dignity of persons deprived of their liberty,” the pope told delegates from the International Association of Penal Law.

“And this I connect with life imprisonment,” he continued. “Life imprisonment is a hidden death penalty.”

The pope noted that the Vatican recently eliminated life imprisonment from its own penal code, though that move was largely symbolic.

In the wide-ranging address, Francis denounced practices that are widespread in many regions of the world, such as extrajudicial executions and detentions without trial, which he said account for more than half of all detentions in some countries.

Francis also denounced corruption in penal systems, calling it “an evil greater than sin.”

Vatican Defends Record on Sexual Abuse to UN Panel

Archbishop Silvano Tomasi at WIPO Treaty for the Blind conference in June 2013. Photo courtesy JRandomF, via Wikimedia Commons

The Vatican has effectively addressed the “worldwide scourge” of clerical sexual abuse over the past decade and promoted the reporting of allegations to both church and legal authorities, a United Nations panel heard on Tuesday.

The Vatican’s ambassador to U.N. agencies in Geneva, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, said the Catholic Church had “crossed the threshold” in its approach to the issue of abuse, saying the church’s internal culture had changed.

Tomasi faced intense questioning from members of the U.N. committee investigating whether the church upholds the U.N. convention against torture beyond the walls of the world’s smallest country, the Vatican City state.

Sarah Palin’s Dying Breed of Christianity

Sarah Palin in Plano, Texas in 2009, Jennifer A. Walz / Shutterstock.com

Sarah Palin in Plano, Texas in 2009, Jennifer A. Walz / Shutterstock.com

Most people in their right minds consider Sarah Palin’s statement about using waterboarding to “baptize” terrorists as insensitive at the very least. It further reinforces the notion that she will say or do nearly anything to grab a headline, even if it is at the expense of her own integrity, and perhaps that of her political cohorts or even her faith.

She’d be doing all of us a favor if she’d simply stop talking publically. But in as much as she continues to be afforded a microphone and speaking pulpit, we get to bear witness to her attempts to improvise a caricature of herself on the fly.

Perhaps the most disturbing part of the statement to me is not the brazenness of it, or even the apparent lack of self-awareness or personal filter. It’s that she’s actually speaking on behalf of a significant – albeit shrinking – subset of Christian culture in the United States. It’s the strain that believes that the Prayer of Jabez (a prayer about expanding one’s spiritual territory) is a Manifest Destiny of sorts from Jesus to his followers. We’re to reach to all corners of the earth, emboldened with a “be assimilated or be eliminated” mentality at our backs.

Sarah Palin and the Beauty of Baptism

Foot-washing ceremony. Photo courtesy Jarrod McKenna

Foot-washing ceremony. Photo courtesy Jarrod McKenna

Oh, Sarah Palin.

So you’ve most likely heard Sarah Palin used baptism as a metaphor for waterboarding terrorists. (I mean I heard and I’m in Australia!) I found out when fellow neo-Anabaptist Tyler Tully sent me his reflections. Many are blogging thoughtful responses. But more and more this is my conviction: the best critique of the bad is the practice of the beautiful. So I want to testify to the beauty of the baptisms I was a part of on Sunday.

I do so knowing that the despondence and darkness I feel when baptism is equated with the diabolical is driven out in the joy of the mystery of what happen when we say yes to the Holy Spirit by wading in the water. Our new sister Natha, brother Ky, and I met separately in the End Poverty movement. Both of them, in quiet different ways, found themselves being found by God while looking for a better world. And in Jesus they found the world they were looking for has started! Without a dry eye in the community that surrounded them on Sunday, they shared their wanderings in the wilderness before following Jesus through the waters.

CIA Torture Report Ought to Disturb All Our Consciences

Rev. Ron Stief, is executive director of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. Photo courtesy of the Rev. Ron Stief.

At Easter, Christians celebrate Jesus’ rising from the dead. But in light of new revelations of the CIA’s abhorrent acts of torture, it’s the United States that needs resurrection, too.

Details of the CIA’s post-Sept. 11 torture campaign — made worse, if that is possible, by evidence of official deception — are described in key portions of the report on CIA-sponsored torture that the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee voted last week to release.

Though the public has not yet seen the report, current and former U.S. officials who have read it have disclosed information to The Washington Post, Human Rights Watch, and other sources that ought to disturb all of our consciences.

In the Name of Security

THE SAD RECORD of human history shows that torture has more often been the rule rather than the exception—in criminal justice systems as well as in interethnic, intercommunal, and international conflicts.

The use of torture in such situations—and brutalities that might fall short of torture but are nonetheless brutalities—can have many motivations. Torture demonstrates absolute power. Torture wreaks vengeance. Torture intimidates. Torture punishes. Torture coerces behavior change. Torture harms, and sometimes the sheer (perverted) pleasure of doing harm is enough motivation. And yes, torture is sometimes deployed to elicit information, confession, or “actionable intelligence.” (This was the main ostensible reason why the U.S. tortured after 9/11. But other factors on this list should not be overlooked.)

Torture appears to come all too naturally to fallen humanity. That is a still quite useful theological term that conveys the belief that humanity was created good by a good God but has fallen into sin and thus has suffered disastrous individual and collective damage to its character. Fallen human beings and human communities resort easily to torture.

So one way to talk about the ethics of torture and brutality is to start exactly here—with the historically and theologically grounded claim that torture has more often been the rule rather than the exception in human history, a dark but pervasive aspect of the behavior of fallen humanity. But what if we turn the discussion of torture upside down in what might be a constructive way?

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WATCH: 'There's Nothing Faithful About Torture'

Alongside members of NRCAT, Lisa Sharon Harper discusses Christian opposition to

Alongside members of NRCAT, Lisa Sharon Harper discusses Christian opposition to torture.

Sojourners supports the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT). NRCAT recently released five Youtube videos to counter the claims found in pop-culture that torture is acceptable. Check out this video of people of faith speaking to core faith values that underlie their anti-torture work,, which features Sojourners' Lisa Sharon Harper.

Who Will Save the Guantanamo 92?

by JTF Guantanamo / Flickr.com

A detainee stands in an outdoor recreation yard at Joint Task Force Guantanamo’s Camp IV in 2010. by JTF Guantanamo / Flickr.com

In today’s White House press conference, CBS News' Bill Plante raised the questions with President Barack Obama about the growing hunger strike among prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. “Is it any surprise, really,” asked Plante, “that they would prefer death rather than have no end in sight to their confinement?"

"Well, it is not a surprise to me, “ President Obama responded, “that we've got problems in Guantanamo.”

Last week, a military spokesperson confirmed that the total number of irregularly held prisoners at the U.S. Naval prison at Guantanamo Bay has risen to 92 out of the 166 still in detention.

The Guantanamo prisoners began hunger striking on Feb. 6 after guards confiscated their Korans to examine them for contraband.  The prisoners reported that their Korans had been desecrated by the guards, which a military spokesperson denies. Fueling the strike is the men’s loss of hope of ever leaving Guantanamo alive, most having been held more than 11 years without charge and Obama refusing to free even the 86 cleared for release.

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