Torture

Oscars and the Big Picture

WE SHOULDN'T really expect the Oscars to grasp the point of history, though this year the films nominated for Best Picture are a fascinating snapshot of what ails—and could heal—us.

Zero Dark Thirty takes a clinical view of the search for Bin Laden and has been criticized for its portrayal of torture as effective. To my mind this debate may miss the wider question: Torture is bad enough, but a central assumption about the efficacy and validity of killing for peace—that shooting an old man in his bedroom would solve anything—is worthy of enhanced interrogation.

The point is missed also in the brouhaha about Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino's thrilling satirical Western. People are up in arms about the comic book violence and use of the N-word—but this is perhaps the most powerful, even indelible, portrayal of the violence of slavery ever made for a mainstream audience. Two wrongs don't make a right, and the revenge arc in this film should be questioned, but Tarantino has done a moral service in not sanitizing his fictionalization of historical memory. Lincoln is the perfect companion piece—I highly recommend you see both. Django Unchained uses B-movie tropes to vastly entertain while confronting the real horrors Abraham Lincoln was fighting to end. Lincoln is a theatrical history lesson that delicately handles the moral authority competitions, language games, and political complexity behind the 13th Amendment.

Read the Full Article

​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

‘Zero Dark Thirty’ Tortures the Truth About Interrogations

RNS photo courtesy Columbia Pictures
Jessica Chastain plays a member of the team of spies devoted to finding Osama Bin Laden. RNS photo courtesy Columbia Pictures

Nothing was tortured more in the making of Kathryn Bigelow’s film Zero Dark Thirty than the truth about torture.

While it’s just a movie, it runs the risk of becoming the basis for a false view of reality for millions of moviegoers who have largely ignored a decade of debate about the efficacy of the United States sanctioning torture.

To dismiss the movie as simple entertainment ignores the impact seeing it has on our perception of reality, even when we understand we are watching actors in a — mostly — pretend setting.

The fact that Zero Dark Thirty was nominated this week for an Academy Award for Best Picture only underscores the importance of understanding what it gets wrong about torture.

Values of a Public Faith (Part 3)

Paper Boat Creative / Getty Images
Paper Boat Creative / Getty Images

Editor's Note: This is part three of a three-part series from Dr. Miroslav Volf an a voice instructing us how to involve our values into our present politcal debates. To read part one go HERE and part two HERE.. From part one:

In this year of presidential elections, I have decided to summarize key values that guide me as I decide for whom to cast my vote. ... 

14. Equality of Nations

Value: No nation represents an exception to the requirements of justice that should govern relations between nations. America should exert its unique international power by doing what is just and should pursue its own interests in concert with other nations of the world. 

Rationale: “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets” (Matt. 7:12).

Debate: The debate should not be whether America is somehow exceptional (and therefore permitted to do what other nations are not—for instance, carrying out raids on foreign soil in search of terrorists). The debate should, rather, be about what it means for the one remaining superpower to act responsibly in the community of nations.

Question to Ask: At the international level, would the candidate renounce a double moral standard: one for the U.S. and its allies and another for the rest of the world? Even when the candidate considers an American perspective morally superior, will he seek to persuade other nations of the moral rightness of these values rather than imposing them on other nations?

The Lamb and the Beast

WHEN A GROUP of refugees from Burma who attend my church in Melbourne, Australia, asked me to co-lead a study of the book of Revelation last year, at first I was apprehensive. After all, the book is strange and confusing. Many, including Martin Luther, have asked whether it’s even necessary to include it in the New Testament. But, as our group plunged into Revelation’s mysterious depths, I was to learn that, unlike Western Christians, praying refugees readily see its lessons about the powers of evil—social, political, spiritual, and personal—and the decisive struggle that the Son of God mounts against them.

The 18 young women and men in the study, who ranged from 16-to- 24-years old, were members of the Karen ethnic group. The civil war in their home region of Burma has, over decades, resulted in massive displacement and suffering. In recent years thousands of Karen people have resettled in the U.S. and other countries, including Australia. (Although current political developments in Burma raise cautious hope of eventual peace, at present fighting continues in Karen State and other areas inhabited by ethnic minorities.)

Leading the study of Revelation with me was Thara Nonoe, a Karen man in his mid-50s highly esteemed in the community for his skills in imparting knowledge and writing poetry. (“Thara,” which means “teacher,” is a Karen title of respect.) The young always listen to him keenly. Our six-part study was a segment of a two-year series of lay religious education. As I prepared, I was haunted by Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost: “In the last days, God declares, I will pour out my Spirit” (Acts 2:17). Pentecost signifies that the last days have arrived, in fulfillment of the words of the prophet Joel. In my mind, these words have particular reference to oppressed believers such as Christian refugees.

Read the Full Article

​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

Jimmy Carter Tries to Pull the Log from America’s Eye

Photo by MAHMUD HAMS/AFP/GettyImages
President Jimmy Carter in Egypt last month. Photo by MAHMUD HAMS/AFP/GettyImages

Earlier this week, former President Jimmy Carter critiqued the United States for its (read: our) deteriorating record on human rights and rule of law in the last decade.

But those responding to Carter's New York Times Op-Ed (“A Cruel and Unusual Record”) have largely missed his main point. In the spirit of the Sermon on the Mount, Carter wants to lead America in removing the log from our own eye in hopes of honoring God and regaining our position as champions of human rights and rule of law.

During his visit to Cairo for the Egyptian elections, Carter met with the Grand Imam of Al Azhar — the most authoritative voice in Sunni Islam. Discussing human rights, religion, and the historic election that was taking place outside, Carter exhibited a rare humility in articulating his convictions. I feel that a whole range of human interactions might be improved if we would each remove the log from our own eye before trying to remove the speck from our neighbor’s.

Sitting with women’s rights activists and top Christian leadership; in private briefings and press conferences, this self-critique proved central to Carter’s efforts to build trust and advance human rights in Egypt and around the world.

After decades of lectures from the White House and U.S. State Department, much of the world has grown tired of the West’s wagging finger and “holier than thou” attitude. There may have been an era when this posture had a greater effect, but the U.S. has lost too much of its moral credibility in the wake of Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and drone strikes carried out against the President Obama's “Hit List”.

War and Peace and the President

Yale Professor David Bromwich analyses President Obama's foreign policy for The Huffington Post:

President Obama, it has been said, is a master of having it both ways. Nowhere is this truer than in foreign policy. He ended the torture regime at Guantanamo, in line with rulings handed down by the Supreme Court. At the same time he assured impunity to the lawyers who justified torture and the agents who executed it. He publicized his intention of closing the prison itself as a matter of principle; but when resistance sprang up, he scuttled the plan. To facilitate the extension of the war in Afghanistan, he allowed American diplomats and military officers not to inquire too closely into the treatment of enemy combatants at Bagram and elsewhere.
 
Read the full analysis here

On Anniversary of Bin Laden's Death, Heated Debate about Torture Use

Guantamo Bay prison image by John Moore/Getty Images.
Detainees stand during an early morning Islamic prayer at the prison for 'enemy combatants', in Guantanamo Bay. Getty Images.

The anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s death at the hand of U.S. troops has reawakened the political controversy over the use of torture. 

In an opinion piece today, Jose Rodriguez, Jr., former director of the CIA’s National Clandestine Service, says it wouldn’t have happened without torture. He writes of an al-Qaeda operative captured in 2004, who was “taken to a secret CIA prison – or ‘black site’ – where he was subjected to some ‘enhanced interrogation techniques.’”

Destroying Our Rights to Save Them

IT IS WELL to remember, during this season of Lent, that the enemies of Jesus were utterly convinced that he had to be silenced. Was he not a threat to a belief system, a religion, a state? Whatever it was, it was an issue of security—therefore, Jesus had to die. His freedom was a danger. He had to be silenced.

Today, in the name of national security, we in the United States are dismantling what we have been taught are our fundamental rights under the Constitution. We are left to wonder: Where is the outrage? Why are so many silent? Can it be that torture, warrantless searches, indefinite detentions—those practices that tear at the very soul of what it means to be a humane and just society—are acceptable to the American people?

Actions taken by both the Bush and Obama administrations suggest that basic guarantees made to citizens are in the process of being undermined. From torture to warrantless searches to assassinations of Americans on the president’s order, the very pillars of the republic would seem to be shattering.

Those who consider this contention extreme should consider George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley’s article, “Ten reasons we’re no longer the land of the free,” in The Washington Post this January. Turley points out the government’s continuing “ability to transfer both citizens and noncitizens to another country under a system known as extraordinary rendition, which has been denounced as using other countries, such as Syria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Pakistan, to torture suspects. The Obama administration says it is not continuing the abuses of this practice under Bush, but it insists on the unfettered right to order such transfers.”

Read the Full Article

​You've reached the end of our free magazine preview. For full digital access to Sojourners articles for as little as $2.95, please subscribe now. Your subscription allows us to pay authors fairly for their terrific work!
Subscribe Now!

The Afternoon News: Monday Nov. 14, 2011

U.S. Bishops Should Focus On Economy, On Deficit Reduction; The Public Has Spoken: Tax Hikes On Rich, No Cuts To Medicare; My Foreign Aid Budget Starts At Zero; John McCain 'Very Disappointed' By GOP Candidates' Endorsement Of Waterboarding; Keystone XL: Despite Delay, Oil's Grip Remains Strong; Latino Evangelicals Challenge Alabama Brethren On Immigration; Mariann Budde, Diocese Of Washington’s Next Top Bishop, Has Plans For Reviving The Episcopal Church.  

Pages

Subscribe