Shuck and Jive

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Waterboarding as a Religious Value

Jim Dahlman, professor at Milligan College, writes a column every Saturday in the Johnson City Press. Today's column is entitled Politics and Faith.

Prof. Dahlman began his article regarding how political candidates need to be religious in order to get votes. Somehow, the populace believes that if one is religious one has values. Then he concludes:

But while we’re thinking about values, we should think about another event this week that may say more about the collective American soul than how often a candidate mentions God in stump speeches. It is a disturbing message.

On Thursday, the U.S. Senate confirmed Michael Mukasey as the new U.S. attorney general, after one word almost derailed his nomination: waterboarding.

Waterboarding is a so-called extreme interrogation technique with a long history. A prisoner is tied up, his feet elevated, and gallons of water are poured over his mouth and nose. Within seconds he feels like he is drowning, because he is. As one military expert put it, this is not simulated drowning. This is drowning that is halted before the person dies.

The practice has been outlawed by international treaties signed by the U.S., including the Geneva Convention. American military and civilian courts have consistently prosecuted it as a crime for 60 years. Late last week, four retired judge adjutant generals, once the military’s highest judicial officials, sent a letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, calling the practice “torture” in no uncertain terms.

“The law ... has long been clear: Waterboarding detainees amounts to illegal torture in all circumstances,” they wrote. “To suggest otherwise — or even to give credence to such a suggestion — represents both an affront to the law and to the core values of our nation.”

Yet, when the committee asked Mukasey about the prac-
tice, he hedged. By all accounts a fine judge and legal scholar, the nominee called the practice “repugnant,” but he would not label it “torture.”

That response threatened his nomination until Democratic Sens. Charles Schumer and Dianne Feinstein swallowed hard and supported him. Finally the full Senate approved Mukasey as the nation’s chief law-enforcement officer. CIA interrogators apparently can keep their options open a little longer as they combat terrorism.

With what we know, an outside observer could be forgiven for thinking that the U.S., for the first time in its history, has just ratified the use of torture, as long as we call it something else.

No one wants to suffer more terror attacks. No one should underestimate the threats. But it seems like fear and vengeance are driving our decisions and determining our policies, including our willingness to use torture.

If that isn’t a spiritual matter or a question of values, I don’t know what is.

Thank you, Jim. That needs to be said again and again.


  1. I was delighted to see this article in the paper, today.

    By the way, did you see the Community Voices column by Larry french in last Sunday's paper? He wrote about the area anti-war protests, and made some great, supportive comments.

  2. Hey Snad,

    No, I didn't see that. I will check it out, thanks! I used Jim's column in my sermon today.