If we are viewed as a country that engages in torture … any possible information we might be able to gain is far counterbalanced by the effect of public opinion,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., on “Face the Nation,” November 13, 2005.
He ought to know. He was tortured by his captors in a North Vietnamese POW camp. They didn’t break his spirit, just his arm. His spirit is one of integrity—which is why John McCain wants us to renounce torture, even if we have a potential terrorist mastermind in captivity.
Yet, the latest polls show that 58 percent of his countrymen do not share his views. That’s right: a clear majority of Americans believe that, if we think we can prevent a terrorist attack, it is acceptable to torture those who know something about it. What has happened to America’s moral values?
The conservative Christian movement talks about “the death of outrage,” “slouching towards Gomorrah” (and Sodom, as well), “the culture of death,” and “the end of decency.” What these aphorisms mean to conservatives is that liberal attitudes towards sexual mores, abortion and end of life decisions have become mainstream American values. But I will grant that they are only half-right. Americans are self-centered, materialistic, sex-obsessed, to be sure. And somewhere along the way, the bedrock values of American society have gone out the window.
We now imprison suspected terrorists without charging them, sometimes whisking them away to countries that have no respect for human rights, where they can be tortured into confessions. We now reserve the right to pre-emptive attacks against countries that we suspect may be planning attacks against us. We no longer believe that world leaders should be held accountable in world courts for crimes against humanity, lest someone charge us. We no longer believe that the world should give us its tired, its poor, its teeming masses yearning to be free. We believe that they would steal our jobs or sleep with our daughters.
While we strain out the gnat of who marries whom in Boston, we greedily gobble down the camel that will choke what it means to be the beacon of freedom. When the majority of Americans say that torturing people is an acceptable price to pay for waging the eternal war against terrorism, we are in the time when Dante’s description of the sign over the entrance of Hell—Lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch’entrate!—Abandon hope, all you who enter here!—seems a fitting epigram.
President Bush, responding to Senator McCain’s challenge said, “Our country is at war, and our government has the obligation to protect the American people.” Then, he added, hollowly, “We are finding terrorists and bringing them to justice. We are gathering information about where the terrorists may be hiding. We are trying to disrupt their plots and plans. Anything we do … to that end in this effort, any activity we conduct, is within the law. We do not torture.”
The end of decency indeed. We know that “we” have tortured people. American soldiers have been convicted on that charge, though who gave the orders remains a state secret. Somebody leaked information to The Washington Post that we are still doing so, in secret prisons on foreign soil.
The U.S House of Representatives, full of moral outrage, has launched an investigation. Only it’s not into whether the leaked report is true, it’s into who spilled the beans to the press. Senator Bill Frist, who rarely misses a chance to decry the loss of American values, reacted to the report by saying, “My concern is with leaks of information that jeopardize your safety and security – period. That is a legitimate concern… I am not concerned about what goes on [in those non-existent prisons] and I’m not going to comment about the nature of that.” He knows that soon the whole thing will be forgotten, and no one need be held accountable.
If only conservative Christians could muster the kind of outrage they have toward the estate tax or homosexual marriage in this case. But the camel is between their teeth.
If you’d like to tell your Congressional Representative that, as a Christian, you find our country’s stand unconscionable, click here.