Tuesday, October 03, 2006

usa's new policy on torture and prisoners

Have others been keeping track of the new legislation, the Military Commissions Act of 2006, that passed last week on torture and prisoners of war? Basically it seems that the defined "enemy combatants" as any "person who has engaged in hostilities or who has purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States or its co-belligerents who is not a lawful enemy combatant (including a person who is part of the Taliban, al Qaeda, or associated forces)." This includes anyone "who, before, on, or after the date of the enactment of the Military Commissions Act of 2006, has been determined to be an unlawful enemy combatant by a Combatant Status Review Tribunal or another competent tribunal established under the authority of the President or the Secretary of Defense." These quotes are from the bill that passed, and I got them from an article on this blog:


It also has many other excellent articles on this and other topic(s). So basically, anyone is an unlawful enemy combatant if the American President or Secretary of Defense says so. And they can hold you indefinitely, without any kind of trial or giving a reason, and they can do pretty much what they want with you, because although they haven't completely said they're not going to follow Geneva Conventions laws on prisoners' treatment, that's just so they could get the bill passed and so the world wouldn't erupt in protest. But it's pretty obvious that's what they're doing anyway. Unlawful enemy combatants, according to the Military Commissions Act of 2006 section 948b(g), cannot invoke the Geneva Conventions laws about prisoners of war because they're "unlawful." The only people who are lawful combatants seem to be those in the actual army of a country we are at war against, or that is at war against us, or that is part of a well-organized militia that wears a recognizable uniform (but who does that anymore?).

So, since most war-type prisoners the US currently holds are not covered by the Geneva Conventions according to this definition, we can torture them all we want.

Umm...can I move to Canada? (Because I've just said that does that make me an unlawful enemy combatant? Next time I try to fly on an airplane will I get arrested and taken to Guantanamo for the rest of my life?)

So I've been thinking about torture and prisoners of war and what to do about all this, and haven't come up with any solutions yet, except to get the word out about what our government is doing. But in the meantime, my professor for theology of nonviolence wrote an excellent short piece on torture, and I asked if I could share it. His name is George Hunsinger. He is one of the organizers of a group called the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, and I highly recommend visiting their website:


Without further ado, here's what Hunsinger says about torture.

On torture.

It has been known at least since Aristotle (4th C. BCE) that torture doesn't produce reliable information. You don't have to be a genius to figure this out.

Colin Powell learned this to his lasting regret and shame by using information gained by torture (not that he knew it at the time) in his widely influential but spurious and now renounced UN speech in February 2003. The speech that took us into war.

So if torture doesn't work as a tool of interrogation, and if it should never be used even if it did, what's the point?

Not easy to figure out. Here's a hypothesis. Cheney calls it "working the dark side." Very apt perhaps as a clue.

Suppose torture is really about terror, domination and control. Both in the torture chamber and then in the wider world beyond, it inspires terror in the victims and potential victims. It is an attempt at social control, though demonic to the core. No doubt it works -- for a while. But then there's always that divine cunning in history that never seems to want to let the dark side have the last word. Call it Resurrection from the dead.

At the same time, torture comes about as close to absolute power as one can get in this life. It therefore corrupts, and corrupts absolutely, just as Lord Acton warned.

Interrogators, officials, institutions, and whole societies get hooked by working the dark side, as if it were a kind of irresistible addiction. It is rooted in the fears, the frustrations, the blind anger, and, not least, the libido dominandi of the strong over against the weak.

It is a dark and irrational force that eventually devours those who yield themselves to its practice.

That's what was legalized in this country last week.

It can't happen here, but it's happening, and who knows where the mayhem will end.


GoobyNelly said...

Hey Cherice,
So glad to see you're in Hunsinger's nonviolent theology class. I envy you! I also wanted to take Deborah's class in nonviolent communication. Neither ended up working for me.

I'm a princeton seminary junior living in CRW. Perhaps I'll see you around.
TIll then, keeping blogging!

Alivia said...

Thanks for this post. So many questions! And something needs to be done, but WHAT? I guess we keep looking for, creating, and taking opportunities to change the tide. Meanwhile, I'm with you.

Chris M. said...


Do you know about the Quaker Initiative to End Torture? Their website is http://www.quit-torture-now.org/. Their second conference will be June 1-3 2007 at Guilford College, Greensboro, North Carolina.

Also, FCNL had this to say (www.fcnl.org): "Congress Says Yes to Torture: We at FCNL are profoundly disappointed with congressional approval of legislation that authorizes the president to order torture, allows indefinite detention, and expands presidential power. See how your representative and senators voted."

-- Chris M.