Rendition. What have we come to?
Ours is a nation long proud of its freedoms, its democratic values, its rule of law, its human rights. And now, in the post 9-11 era, we are being accused around the world of the very opposite.
Many say we have been imprisoning citizens without trial — arresting people for conversations they may have had — exporting such suspects to prisons run by foreign totalitarian regimes for interrogation (hence the euphemism, “rendition”) — of using torture to force confessions — all being done in ways that diminish our most fundamental values.
Are they crazy? This is America. We would never countenance such actions. Or would we? Might we? Are we?
Dare we even discuss this? Or, shall we shrug it off, leaving it shrouded under the veil of don’t ask, don’t tell?
American theatergoers now get to watch in full color Hollywood’s version of these human rights accusations in the action drama, Rendition. Actors Reese Witherspoon, Jake Gyllenhaal, Meryl Streep, Alan Arkin, and their fellow cast members have pulled open the curtain on a subject that has been held closed by Washington’s stagehands. They are questioning openly what a Senate select committee has been willing to discuss only behind closed doors.
That committee has heard from at least one speaker whose witness we all need to consider. George Hunsinger, McCord Professor of Systematic Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary, has dared to think through the ethical implications of our theology and, in the process, has launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, which now includes 17,000-plus Christians, Jews, Muslims, and others. On September 25, Hunsinger was allowed to present written testimony to a Senate Select Committee investigating allegations of government-sanctioned illegal imprisonment, torture, and rendition. Note: It was written testimony, not oral, and it was presented in a closed-door session.
Dare we, in the open, consider what Hunsinger testified? Hear this:
… the CIA has engaged in an interrogation program that uses techniques involving torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. Although the Executive Order [issued July 20 by President George W. Bush] now says it prohibits such treatment of detainees, it allows the CIA to continue to use undefined and undisclosed “alternative interrogation techniques,” creating serious doubt as to whether the prohibition is real. And, as you know, the Executive Order does not close or prohibit the use of secret prisons — the only purpose of which is perceived to be to engage in torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment — nor does it prohibit sending detainees to countries which have been known to torture for interrogation. With the President’s Executive Order and the accompanying statements of the President and the Director of the CIA, the United States Government has reaffirmed its policy of treating some human beings as outside the protections of any law and of using — in the name of national security — techniques that amount to torture.
Hunsinger does not argue whether or not such techniques work.
He does not cite evidence once cited by Senator John McCain that information derived through torture seldom is accurate.
He does not quote the accusations of overseas politicians and pundits, which deride our country.
He simply speaks “from a moral and religious perspective”:
The urge to humiliate, torment, and degrade lurks deep within the human breast. … That is why torture, once chosen, cannot readily be contained, and is soon preferred. Torture, once chosen, both proliferates and corrupts. Proliferation is its dimension of breadth, and corruption its dimension of depth. Torture undermines victim and torturer alike. It corrodes the society that permits it. It overthrows the rule of law, and then destroys the tyrannies that it spawns. Corrupting the soul, it eventually corrupts everything in its path. Torture is itself the ticking bomb.
He’s right about that, isn’t he? Even if the torture of a guilty prisoner could save some lives from a ticking bomb, the very use of torture would be setting off a slow-acting poison that would destroy the soul of the nation allowing its use. Indeed, the fact that this subject has fallen out of our national magazines and news reporting — the fact that we just shrug along without even questioning openly the claims that our government is doing these things — suggests that the poison is seeping into the cells of our national soul.
As believers in Christ, as ones who believe that God’s principles should challenge and oppose the corruptions of worldly systems, can we not ask the tough questions? Can we not seize on Hollywood’s initiative to wrestle further with these matters? Can we not also pull open the curtains to see what others would rather hide? Can we not press our national leaders, senators included, to investigate these issues and redress any wrongs being perpetrated?
If not, then what have we come to?