The Religious Left will not abandon its cherished image of the U.S, at least under the previous administration, as a "torture" regime that virtually alone among the world's despotisms deserves robust condemnation. Now, the National Religious Campaign against Torture (NRCAT) is demanding a "Commission of Inquiry to investigate torture practices since 9/11."
NRCAT prelates and activists rallied against U.S. "torture" and performed colorful street theater across from the White House after a press conference on June 11. Some demonstrators dressed in orange jumpsuits and, wearing hoods, knelt in the grass of Lafayette Park, representing the countless supposed incarcerated victims of the U.S. torture regime. A folk singer sang, "Lay down our torture, down by the riverside…" And the crowd was led in a "liturgical expression" of grief over U.S. cruelty, with an Armenian archbishop providing the holy water, evidently to cleanse the penitents of their "complicity" in America's misdeeds.
The Religious Left prelates, organized by NRCAT, were urging President Obama to change his mind and form a commission to "uncover the whole truth about U.S. torture policies and practices." Alas, they warned, the "reality is that our nation is now shackled to a shameful history of torture." Only the "truth can set us free." And, the prelates insisted, America must be "mature and honest enough to examine fully and disclose completely the wrong doing that has been committed." With heavy hearts, the Religious Left prelates noted in their letter to Obama their distress that recent polls show "many people of faith have been persuaded that the use of torture can be justified in some situations."
Maybe the "people of faith" cited in polls as supposedly supporting torture actually have a more nuanced understanding than NRCAT Religious Left absolutists who insist that any interrogation technique beyond hot tea and offers of legal counsel qualifies as "torture." Nearly all of the Religious Left critics of U.S. "torture" do not want to define it. Many are themselves pacifists who shun any forceful reaction to terrorism. And most are fixated on interrogations of 6 and 7 years ago in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, focusing on unauthorized misconduct, such as the abuses at Abu Ghraib, or obsessively spotlighting water boarding, which involved only several detainees. Intelligent debate from a theological perspective about interrogation and detention policies is possible. But NRCAT is not interested in thoughtful discourse, just bumper sticker chants of "STOP THE TORTURE!"
After NRCAT's anti-"torture" news conference and rally in Lafayette Park, NRCAT boasted that its delegation was received warmly by "senior" White House officials. But even the Obama Administration inevitably will disappoint the Religious Left, because no government anywhere can defend its nation while abiding by the Religious Left's demands for an almost suicidal pacifism and accommodation of its most nihilistic and murderous enemies.
Religious Left prelates present for the D.C. rally included United Church of Christ chief. John Thomas, Unitarian Universalist President Williaim Sinkford, Pax Christi Co-President Marie Dennis, National Council of Churches chief Michael Kinnamon, United Methodist lobbyist Jim Winkler and Islamic Society America President Ingrid Mattson. NRCAT chief Richard Kilmer regretted that Obama has not been persuaded to endorse NRCAT's demand for Commission of Inquiry because he "does not want to look in the past, he wants to look in the future." But Kilmer intoned that the future must ensure that torture "will never happen again.
According to this report by my assistant Rebekah Sharpe, UCC President John Thomas lamented at the NRCAT anti-torture rally in D.C. that supposed U.S. torture had made "an idol of our national security" and that NRCAT's proposed Commission of Inquiry would restore "this country to be a sign not of sorrow, not of demonic idolatry, but a sign of hope." Thomas was "disappointed" in Obama's rejecting their commission, which is "necessary for the health and the healing of our nation's very soul." Left-wing religionists only talk about "sin" in political, not personal terms, and Thomas abided by this tradition, insisting about U.S. supposed torture policies: "In religious terms, sin must not just be ended, it must be confessed and acknowledged."
Unitarian Universalist chief William Sinkford chimed in with his own wisdom, warning with perhaps inward satisfaction that a Commission on Inquiry's findings "will probably be upsetting" because of "stories of violence, degradation, and pain." But wise religious chieftains like NRCAT's coalition must still push ahead because the "American government has deprived people of the most basic human rights" and virtuous consciences cannot remain "complicit in the perpetration of torture by perpetrating silence."
Socially liberal Unitarian Universalists do not have much in common with the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), except for common solidarity against U.S. national security policies. In her remarks to the Lafayette park rally, ISNA President Ingrid Mattson claimed that the U.S. torture regime had "set the moral trajectory of humanity backward" and torture ostensibly increased globally thanks to the ugly U.S. example. Of course, ISNA, like the Religious Left, never complains about more unequivocal torture policies by Islamist regimes. So Mattson's reference to increased torture in unspecified other countries was only a convenient rhetorical reference for further condemnation of the U.S.
Mattson recounted to the NRCAT crowd that her adolescent daughter had wept for 3 days after seeing photos of the Abu Ghraib abuses. Disturbing no doubt, but did Mattson bother explaining to her daughter that the perpetrators of those abuses were punished? And did she tell at least a little about the far more gross crimes committed by the Abu Ghraib inmates, or the far more horrendous horrors committed at Abu Ghraib Prison under Saddam's tyranny? "We were hurt by 9/11," Mattson briefly acknowledged in her NRCAT speech. Naturally, she did not elaborate as to how or by whom. Remembering 9/11 with any detail would only distract from the far more important task of denouncing U.S. "torture."
Mark D. Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy. Tooley authored the book Taking Back the United Methodist Church.