Osama Bin Laden anniversary: Torture apologists try again to justify the unjustifiable

Musadeq Sadeq AP This May 3, 2011 file photo shows Afghan newspapers in Kabul, Afghanistan headlining the killing of al-Qaida … Continued

Musadeq Sadeq


This May 3, 2011 file photo shows Afghan newspapers in Kabul, Afghanistan headlining the killing of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.

Torture apologists are at it again, attempting to justify the unjustifiable. One year ago, former Bush administration officials like Vice President Dick Cheney, said torture (by the euphemism “enhanced interrogation”) produced “some of the results” that led to the death of Osama bin Laden.

The one year anniversary of the death of bin Laden, shot in his compound in a daring raid inside Pakistan, by the “go” order of President Obama, is once again becoming an occasion to attempt to justify torture.

Jose Rodriguez, for example, the retired CIA officer who ordered the destruction of videos showing waterboarding, has a new book, “Hard Measures: How Aggressive CIA Actions After 9/11 Saved American Lives,” which will be published April 30, the day before the anniversary of the bin Laden raid. In the book, Rodriguez makes the claim that torture (“hard measures”) led the U.S. to bin Laden.

This is a claim disputed by both former interrogators and former Republican nominee for president, Senator John McCain. Immediately after the death of bin Laden in 2011, in fact, Senator McCain labeled as “false” the claim that the “intelligence that led to bin Laden” was obtained under “the pressure of harsh interrogation techniques that included waterboarding.”

Equally crucially, Senator McCain refused the euphemistic dodges of “enhanced interrogation” and specifically called interrogation techniques such as waterboarding torture. The senator, in fact, singled out “waterboarding which is a mock execution and thus an exquisite form of torture” for criticism. He went on to say that torture, including waterboarding is “prohibited by American laws and values, and I oppose them.” The senator’s choice of the word “exquisite” in that sentence is especially riveting; one can perhaps hear his personal experience of torture as an echo.

In his book, Rodriguez expresses his repulsion at President Barack Obama’s administration for calling waterboarding torture and criticizing its use. “I cannot tell you how disgusted my former colleagues and I felt to hear ourselves labeled `torturers’ by the president of the United States,” he writes.

From a faith perspective, frankly, the disgust is all on the other side. For years now, I have been both disgusted and amazed that torture, which has been universally condemned by all the world’s major religions, is a subject even for discussion. The euphemisms such as “enhanced interrogation” or “harsh” or “hard” measures are transparently an attempt to use word play as a slight-of-hand to attempt to disguise the use of torture. This word-play as an attempt to justify torture by another name is immoral in itself. It’s a falsehood.

As I have written before, “torture is moral stupidity.” “It is the most corrupt act any one person can inflict on another–it is the most corrupt policy any society can adopt. It is more corrupt and demoralizing even than killing in war.”

The National Religious Campaign Against Torture was created in January 2006 to bring American faith communities together to unambiguously state that “torture is a moral issue” and a “matter of conscience” from a faith perspective.

For as long as the torture apologists continue to try to justify the unjustifiable, we in the faith community will continue to call them on it and insist that that the United States abide by the law. Torture is illegal in the U.S. because Congress ratified the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in 1994 and thus prohibition on torture has the weight of U.S. law. The convention defines torture as: “For the purposes of this Convention, the term ‘torture’ means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information…”

We in the faith community will also continue to insist that a nation that adopts torture as a policy loses its soul.

Former president of Chicago Theological Seminary (1998-2008), Thistlethwaite is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.

  • WmarkW

    Today, torture is performed by governments completely out of touch with their populations. Such as that of Saddam Hussein, which by itself justifies any foreign country overthrowing it.

    The people who claim the US had to right to invade Iraq and that its people were better off before, have obviously forgotten all those reports from Amnesty International during the 80-90s about how Iraq was the world’s worst human rights violator.

  • ccnl1

    Obviously, Susan T has not spent any time in the US military or has she bothered reviewing the training programs of said military.

    Some personal experience with said training:

    Typical Escape and Evasion programs in the US Army:

    Minimum three days of sleep deprivation, threat of water boarding, box cages, capture and humilation, no food or water, and escape into the Alabama wilds with nothing more than a map and compass to get back to friendly lines. Ten percent of the young lieutenants in my group cracked under these conditions.

    So we are to be upset with treating terrorists the same way? Give me a break!!!

  • persiflage

    But unfortunately, all that ‘justification’ came later, after the initial lies leading to preemptive war began to unwind. WMD??

    If we could only ask the 100,000+ Iraqi causalties what they think of Bush’s war today. Imagine what we’d give to have a couple of extra trillion in the bank – approximately the amount that was spent and is still being spent, on unfunded wars in an era of massive tax breaks across the board – and now massive public indebtedness.

    I guess we’ll see pretty quick whether we bougtht anything of lasting value with such a gargantuan investment in someone else’s ‘democratic’ future.

    The fact is, the US can’t find a solitary ally that will commit to long-range support with regard to propping up Afghanistan and it’s corrupt government.

    Torture is never a good idea – people that excel in the practice get to like it a little too much, and it quickly becomes pointless sadism, with obscure end goals.

  • ccnl1

    16) Bombs sent from Yemen by followers of the koran which fortunately were discovered before the bombs were detonated.

    17) The killing of 58 Christians in a Catholic church in one of the latest acts of horror and terror in Iraq.

    18) Moscow airport suicide bombing: 35 dead, 130 injured. January 25, 2011.

    19) A Pakistani minister, who had said he was getting death threats because of his stance against the country’s controversial blasphemy law, was shot and killed Wednesday, 3/2/2011

    20) two American troops killed in Germany by a recently radicalized Muslim, 3/3/2011

    21) the kidnapping and apparent killing of a follower of Zoraster in the dark world of Islamic Pakistan.

    22) Shariatpur, Bangladesh (CNN 3/30/2011) — Hena Akhter’s last words to her mother proclaimed her innocence. But it was too late to save the 14-year-old girl. Her fellow villagers in Bangladesh’s Shariatpur district had already passed harsh judgment on her. Guilty, they said, of having an affair with a married man. The imam from the local mosque ordered the fatwa, or religious ruling, and the punishment: 101 lashes delivered swiftly, deliberately in public. Hena dropped after 70 and died a week later.

    23) “October 4, 2011, 100 die as a truck loaded with drums of fuel exploded Tuesday at the gate of compound housing several government ministries on a busy Mogadishu street. It was the deadliest single bombing carried out by the al Qaeda-linked al-Shabab group in Somalia since their insurgency began. “

  • James210

    My My My
    What a fashionable place it has become , just the finest nobility present.
    Professor Brooks, with a doctorate in the Q and A?
    I asked you to Stay out of this one ?

    This is the Master’s Court and here you will find everyone the same, and Subject to the penalties of truth and ethics.
    See, Below (?)you will only find the best in power and influence.

    One need not throw a lightning bolt to make a point but we should consider the perceived truth vesus, say common sense. Let it burn is seeming becoming easier said and done(?), metaphorically speaking of course.

    The tone is shall we say normal with the exception of the disgust, and a lack of self policing?
    Spending the night in jail only if one(?) has the minimum Queens size bed and amenities.
    One need not come back mainly because-… i don’t care!

    If -the event in this Court considers Forced service or labor, I would like to suggest to the Court, you send one of my Bretheran who shall we say sought my council at teAching their “elite” unit, in shall we say specialties.

    again long ago..,when their was once a praying man but/and i’m guessing! the get out jail free card may not work any longer.

    If not! remind them of tactical-self rescue training and operational train up-s….
    if we must, give credit where credit is do?

    and if that doesn’t work….
    my shoulder still hurts from the weekend at bernies op.

    that being said i see the unstable attitude of a possessed sol )myself(…..! and the seasonal attitude/altitude of mother nature continues to reek havoc on an environment not conditioned to extremes. I don;:like you.
    let us pray…

    Contagion? and the blessing of the fleet (?)may god have mercy on our souls…! me converted? NEVER!

    sorry for a personal use of a private system in the true nature of spiritis.
    I didn’t even read the column, sorry professor Brooks.

  • Loadmaster

    Does anyone still remember Daniel Pearle…Susan can you call his wife and tell her and the kids, he wouldn’t be coming home for dinner. Can you do that Susan. Oh, there is a video out there that has the last expression of Daniel face just before he was murdered..not tortured but MURDERED.

    O is not capturing anyone anymore, he’s dropping bombs on them and blowing them to bites. Why is that not more harm than torture? We need intell not body parts. It’s Ok for O to do the body parts but not the other stuff…right.

    If faced with them, you or me. Susan your on your own. Thank God we have hero’s that are NOT as silly as you are. You’ve never faced what our fighting men and women face every day. You have no moral authority to even speak on this topic.

  • ccnl1

    Typical Escape and Evasion programs in the US Army:

    Minimum three days of sleep deprivation, threat of water boarding, box cages, capture and humilation, no food or water, and escape into the Alabama wilds with nothing more than a map and compass to get back to friendly lines. Ten percent of the young lieutenants in my group cracked under these conditions.

    So we are to be upset with treating terrorists the same way? Give me a break!!!

  • James210

    s.imon j.esus
    not ?
    infiltration tactics

  • James210

    i found the paint peice very unusual never had even scene or looked at the arrows of direction and equated it with table II and the hole thing(?)
    was just
    “what the hell” after i studied it. “am I looking at”

    red light needs to remarry there has got to be better qaulity for her then said sin. release?

  • UiMaine

    Uh, Yes! When something is considered torture, you don’t do it. We didn’t just decide it was torture in the last couple of years. SERE gets you ready for the worst. It is not a standard to use against our adversaries.

  • UiMaine

    I’d pray you help us all understand what just happened in your post.

  • UiMaine

    No moral authority? On whose moral authority do you speak in saying what we as a country should and should not do? You do the armed forces a disservice with your comment, and you have no sense of shame in protecting acts that have long been known to be reprehensible.

  • UiMaine

    Repost. Why?

  • ccnl1

    To get Susan T’s attention she she failed to respond after the first comments.

  • crisppusa

    Reality check for Ms Thistlewaite.
    George Orwell said it best:
    -” People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf-”
    Check out your WWII history book Ms T…
    Question of the Day: How many divisions of Quakers did it take to
    defeatd thedark forces of Nazis and Imperial Nipponese .

  • chickey114

    Could someone explain to which is the truth…the writer claimed the US Congress ratifying the Convention Against Torture, etc. when clearly the link to this says US signed it HOWEVER did not ratify. Thanks!

  • crisppusa

    Unlike Ms T…. Some opionions seem to be more
    of a reality check. For instance…. William T Sherman:quotes
    1} War is Hell
    2] I believe in “hard war” , & a “soft peace”

    Ms T….sometimes we can learn a bit from history. You might try it.

  • webrand

    The US is, in fact, abiding by the law. Susan Brooks Thistlewaite, as charming as she may be, just doesn’t understand the law.

    The Geneva convention requires its signatories to outlaw “torture” but it doesn’t define torture. It leaves it up to its member states as to just what torture is.

    The United States has enacted just such a statute. It specifically requires “specific intent” to cause pain and lasting harm. A “general intent” is insufficient.

    This says that a malevolent prison guard, who does something painful to a prisoner to satisfy his own pleasure, has a specific intent to cause pain.

    But a waterboarder who waterboards a detainee at Gitmo, to get vital intelligence to prevent Americans being killed, has a “general intent”, an anticipation that he will cause pain, but it that is not his goal. His goal is to obtain actionable intelligence.

    I agree with Ms Thistlewaite that the US should obey the law. But she has an obligation to understand the law before she criticizes her government and helps spread the propaganda of our enemies.

  • persiflage

    Clearly, in the world of torture, it’s important that legitimate, government-sanctioned torturers refrain from enjoying their work, much like the old Catholic Church dictum that sex was only for procreative purposes, and not for personal enjoyment. I suppose it’s hard to follow the guidelines to the letter, in either case.

  • persiflage

    What does all this cut and paste have to do with torture exactly?

    I know I’ll regret asking………….

  • Carstonio

    Torture has never been about collecting intelligence. That’s merely a rationalization or a Jack Bauer fantasy, ignoring the reality that someone suffering that type of pain will say anything if he thinks it might make the pain stop. Torture has only two real purposes – extracting false confessions for propaganda purposes, and inculcating fear in not just the tortured person but also in anyone who might support the person’s views. In both cases it’s a tool for repression.

  • haveaheart

    “so eventually the terrorist will start telling the truth”

    And you’ll know the truth when you hear it? Or are you saying that the terrorist will start telling you what you’re waiting to hear?

    You are a cowardly weasel, Scott. “Enhanced interrogation” = torture, and you know it.

  • persiflage

    ‘That’s why we don’t torture, but use enhanced interrogation.’

    I’m relieved – I thought for a minute they might refer to the same thing. Those CIA types really are very clever…………..

  • ThomasBaum

    Torture is torture no matter how we may try to deceive ourself by calling it something more palatable.

  • ThomasBaum


    You wrote, “The Geneva convention requires its signatories to outlaw “torture” but it doesn’t define torture. It leaves it up to its member states as to just what torture is.

    The United States has enacted just such a statute. It specifically requires “specific intent” to cause pain and lasting harm. A “general intent” is insufficient.”

    So, according to what you have written here, it is perfectly fine to use torture as long as you use it for the right reasons, is this what you are trying to say that the United States has done or has tried to do with this double-speak “statute”?

  • ccnl1

    Tis a list of “fear tortures” that allah and his followers have wreaked upon the Earth.

  • Secular1

    It is amazing the so called moral absolutists on this forum advocating torture by putting lipstick on teh pigs, with their euphemisms I wonder they would have also liked to mete out justice to criminals in teh same manner teh crimes were committed. For Instance that case of four rednecks who had dragged a black man behind their pickup truck in Texas, few years ago. I wonder if they would have wanted those rednecks to have been dragged behind a pickup after they were convicted of course? This nonsense that the enemy does it is no justification for us to do the same. Especially coming from teh likes of Scot in VA, et al.

  • youngmindoldbody

    Scott is engaging in semantics. Torture is defined as
    “torture is the act of inflicting severe pain (whether physical or psychological) as a means of punishment, revenge, forcing information or a confession, or simply as an act of cruelty.”

    Physical damage is not a prerequisite for torture.

  • Carstonio

    So our agencies would never torture someone who wasn’t guilty of terrorism, just as our police would never arrest and interrogate someone who was innocent of a crime? No organization should receive that type of blind faith. We can’t ignore the very real possibility that some of the tortured were family members or political activists or simply misidentified people.

  • persiflage

    Historically, torture has been meted out to political and/or religious dissidents and invariably has a sadistic component i.e. an extreme form of punishment that is an end in itself. There is no way for a humane, democratic government to justify it – on any basis.

    Torture is generally viewed as degenerate, patholgoical behavior regardless of whether it’s practiced by individuals or organizations.

    The practice of ‘renditioning’ political prisoners to foreign operatives/agencies known for their lack of restraint with various extreme torture practices does not in any way neutralize a nation’s responsibility for actually ordering the torture – abeit on foreign soil.

  • Trish2

    I think I agree that torture or hard measures is actually more terrible than killing these people when we find them. So in essence we should accept that they don’t know anything we should know to find and stop future terrorist actions and focus on killing them and what made them them –another potentially slippery slope–but what isn’t slippery these days. The drone attacks seem to work really well, and we don.t have to feed and house and guard them for years then have a trial to prove they should die for their actions and nutty belief system. We simply treat them as they would treat us. May the strongest, most violent and powerful among us win. That is the way it has always been, is now and ever shall be. Survival of the fittest. I didn’t make that up.