Torture

Jesus: We Interrupt This Execution to Bring You a Message of Grace

Last night, death was interrupted when the U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay of execution for a Texas man convicted of a double murder in Houston in 1995.

Duane Buck was set for execution by lethal injection sometime after 6 p.m., Thursday September 15 in Huntsville, Texas. His execution would have been the second this week and the 11th so far this year in Texas alone. Two more executions are scheduled for next week.

The Body in Pain

When Mel Gibson premiered The Passion of the Christ in 2004, pundits wondered if Hollywood seriously believed that movie-goers would pay millions to see yet another sandals-and-robes epic about the Holy Land, especially since the actors spoke in Latin, Hebrew, and reconstructed Aramaic. There were no big-name stars, special effects, or even a parallel 3-D version.

But the public loved the film, to the tune of more than $600 million in earnings. Many were deeply moved by the story, which centers on Jesus’ suffering in the hours before he is crucified.

Previewing it, critic Roger Ebert remarked on the excruciating torture Jesus undergoes. He is whipped, flayed, beaten, pierced, and denied water. "The movie is 126 minutes long, and I would guess that at least 100 of those minutes, maybe more, are concerned specifically and graphically with the details of the torture and death of Jesus. This is the most violent film I have ever seen."

What is the contemporary definition of torture? The legal language is in Article 1 of the U.N. Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, ratified by the U. S. Senate in 1994. In plain English, torture is the intentional infliction of severe mental or physical pain or suffering by or with the consent of state authorities for a specific purpose. That purpose could be to punish, elicit information, take revenge, or simply instill fear.

According to the Denmark-based International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims, common methods of torture include "beating, electric shocks, stretching, submersion, suffocation, burns, rape, and sexual assault." Another category is psychological torture --"isolation, threats, humiliation, mock executions, mock amputations, and witnessing the torture of others" -- all of which have potentially devastating consequences.

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July 2011 Sojourners
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From the Editors

Using online and wireless communication to organize large, diverse groups of people has been a key component of the nonviolent Arab Spring uprisings. But these tools aren’t just for deposing dictators -- organizers are finding new ways to use them here in the U.S., from defending individuals under threat of deportation to spurring nationwide public rallies around key political issues. As Jeannie Choi writes in our cover feature, "A Web of Power," the best tech-savvy organizers are rooted in the same priorities that have shaped successful movements for decades -- listening to, learning from, and communicating with people to mobilize them to create change.

We’re finalizing this issue soon after the killing of Osama bin Laden. Some former Bush administration officials have claimed that without so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques," bin Laden never would have been found. But CIA chief Leon Panetta explained that such techniques actually provided false leads in the search for bin Laden. Writing in The Washington Post, torture survivor Sen. John McCain countered the Bush officials’ claims and asserted the need for moral clarity when it comes to torture: "Ultimately, this is more than a utilitarian debate. This is a moral debate. It is about who we are."

The church ought to be a source for such moral clarity -- but in fact many American Christians are in favor of the use of torture. In "The Body in Pain," Robin Kirk, executive director of the Duke Human Rights Center, writes about efforts by church activists, ethicists, and leaders to educate Christians on why torture is anathema to our faith and to spur more of us to lift up a voice of conscience in the public debate.

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July 2011 Sojourners
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What Do People of Faith Have To Say About Torture?

In 1998, when former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan announced June 26 as the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, he stated, "This is a day on which we pay our respects to those who have endured the unimaginable. This is an occasion for the world to speak up against the unspeakable."

Earlier this month, The National Religious Campaign Against Torture, one of the founders of Torture Awareness Month, as discussed in Robin Kirk's July 2011 Sojourners article, released a video of interreligious leaders speaking against torture, as well as faith-based study guides that frame opposition to torture. Sojourners also asked Robin Kirk, executive director of the Duke Human Rights Center, to write "The Body in Pain: What do people of faith have to say about torture?" for our July issue.

'Judge, Appeal To Your Inner Self!'

I spent all day Saturday at a middle-school debate tournament. My seventh-grade son Luke loves being on his middle school baseball team, but also on the debate team, and this weekend his school competed with ten others. It was fascinating to watch and fun to be there. The topics of debate included statements such as, "All private citizens should be prohibited from owning a hand gun," and "Social media networks should have a minimum age of 18 or older to be a member." They have previously taken up subjects like "Should the U. S. leave Afghanistan?" "Is torture ever justified?" and "Should the Redskins (our local NFL football team) change their name?" Joy and I thought it was pretty cool that a public middle school would even have a debate team, with 6th, 7th, and 8th graders taking up subjects like that, and it helped draw us to Alice Deal Middle School.

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