02 May 2009

Saturday PS: Please ask for a torture commission

Friends Committee on National Legislation is asking us to write or call to urge President Obama to appoint a bipartisan commission of inquiry on allegations of torture. (Writing instructions; calling instructions.) Please prayerfully consider whether you might join this important campaign.

I can think of a couple of thoughtful observers of the USA in Russia who really expect a higher standard of behavior from the USA than from other countries. In Russia, I never get into comparisons, and certainly I'm NOT a mouthpiece for the USA. But at the same time, it grieves me when we Americans as a nation betray those who had expected better. What do I say to my friends?

Here's a chance to move things in the right direction. "Repent and believe the good news," says Jesus. We know that the Good News is VERY good, but who can doubt that this is also a season for repentance? Here's what I wrote, through the FCNL facility, to President Obama:
Thank you for releasing the torture memos and for stating unequivocally that the United States will not torture.

Please create a nonpartisan, nonvindictive commission of inquiry to investigate how and when deliberately cruel interrogations, including repeated waterboarding, were actually carried out, and by what authority. Is it true, as some charge, that at least one person was tortured simply to get information confirming a link between Al-Qaeda and Iraq, because evidence for that link was politically needed?

I absolutely agree that our main thrust in this difficult period should be the future, not the past. At the same time, the USA should never join the ranks of those countries where public officials can commit criminal acts with impunity. Furthermore, those who tortured "innocently," with motives of pure patriotism, should by virtue of that same patriotism be willing to have their actions examined by fair-minded commissioners of inquiry. We cannot go "into the future" with the essential doctrine of due process under a cloud.
Johan Maurer
Thank you!


Marshall Massey (Iowa YM [C]) said...

Perhaps what you might say to your friends is that the United States is one more nation of this world, peopled by folks whose minds and lives are conformed to this world.

It’s not the kingdom of the One who said his kingdom is not of this world, and only a minority of its inhabitants have genuinely been transformed by the renewing of their minds.

I suppose you could also say, if you feel so moved, that it is important that Christians be clear on these points, so that they do not put the sort of trust in Egypt that ought to be given only to God.

The U.S. has a long history of atrocities, including torture, committed against those whom its people did not like or were afraid of. So does Russia. And so it will always be, so long as people turn to force for their security.

Johan Maurer said...

Marshall, I think your points are consistent with the kind of biblical realism that's a crucial inoculation against any chauvinistic infection, whether of nationalism or of ideology.

At the same time, I continue to believe that the values ESPOUSED in the founding documents of the USA are worth defending. And those values have their admirers elsewhere. (And, contrary to some super-patriots' suppositions, those humane values are reflected in many other nations!)

I have many mixed feelings about American exceptionalism, but I have unmixed negative feelings about American hypocrisy, and how it complicates my life as an expatriate.

Marshall Massey said...

Hmm. The values ESPOUSED in the founding documents of the USA do include many good things. But virtually all of them were either lifted from the various previous governments elsewhere that James Madison had studied, from the colonials’ own long experience of maneuvering for their rights against royal governors, or simply from Anglo-Saxon tradition.

As far as I can tell, the only genuinely new, laudable idea those founding documents included was the idea of a deliberately-crafted balance of powers. The credit for all the other good ideas really ought to go to the earlier sources.

And the values enshrined in those founding documents also included the three-fifths compromise, by which slaveholders received an extra measure of power in the national government while slaves were denied the vote. They included the denial of the franchise to women and native tribes, and a total obliviousness to the ongoing destruction of native America and the natural world.

Those founding documents institutionalized state sponsorship of pirates on the high seas, putting the U.S. in the same category as Elizabethan England and only a small notch up from modern Somalia. And of course, they upheld the practice of warfare as a “solution” to international disputes.

It seems to me that if we are going to pick and choose which values ESPOUSED in the founding documents of the USA we are going to call representative of this country, this is rather like picking and choosing which verses of the New Testament we are going to admit are part of Christianity. I think we both know where such picking-and-choosing leads!