Glenn Melancon: Who would Jesus torture?

Roundup: Historians' Take

[Glenn Melancon, Ph.D. is a Professor of History at Southeastern Oklahoma State University.]

My oldest son will enter the US Army in June. In all likelihood he will go overseas with thousands of our brave men and women. If captured by the enemy, do I want him water boarded? Do I want his captors to strip him naked, to throw freezing water on him, to slap his face or to slam him repeatedly against a wall?

When I think about torture, I’m reminded of the story told in almost every Roman Catholic Church. Hanging on the walls are the Stations of the Cross. They tell how the Romans tortured and then murdered Jesus.

Who would Jesus torture? No one. Torture is wrong. It clearly violates the Golden Rule: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12).

Torture is also un-American. President Barack Obama was right to let the American people see the torture memos. Now it’s time for him to appoint a Special Prosecutor to conduct a nonpartisan investigation. Here’s why.

Our founding fathers rejected torture, and so should we. They specifically wrote two amendments to our Constitution to prevent it—the Fifth and Eighth Amendments. These Amendments outlawed torture.

The Fifth Amendments says, “No person . . . shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.” In the Eighteenth Century European monarchies routinely “compelled,” or tortured, suspected criminals. The founders of our Republic wanted America to be different. They recognized the fact that government officials are not infallible. They make mistakes. Torturing an individual to gain information is wrong.

The Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution says, no “cruel and unusual punishments [shall be] inflicted.” Torture is both cruel and unusual. It is cruel and unusual to strip a person and put them in a box. It is cruel and unusual to strap a person to a board, invert the board, place a rag in the person’s mouth and then pour water down his throat. Our founders rejected this barbaric conduct.

In 1882 the United States signed the Geneva Conventions and committed itself to the humane treatment of prisoners captured in war. As a treaty, the Geneva Conventions are the “supreme law of the land,” and the President must obey it (US Constitution, article VI, paragraph 2). Article Three of the Conventions clearly states that parties to the treaty may not torture detainees and must treat detainees humanely. Can anyone say with a straight face that the CIA treated detainees “humanely?”

Torturing Al Qaida members also threatens our national security. The torture sessions produced unreliable information. Tortured prisons simply made up information to end the physical pain and sent our intelligence officials on wild goose chases. The most useful information came by treating the captives humanely. They had been told that Americans were barbaric. When they discovered the truth, they opened up and betrayed their cause.

We can’t move forward without accountability. The Bush Administration tried to sweep this information under the rug. President Bush himself repeatedly lied to the American people, saying his administration did not torture. Thanks to President Obama we know the truth.

The only way to prevent future offenses against our values and our laws is to hold the architects of torture accountable. We must do to ourselves what we would do to others. After World War Two the United States prosecuted Japanese leaders for water boarding Americans. President Obama must appoint a Special Prosecutor to investigate and charge those responsible for this potential crime. To ignore his duty as President would be wrong.

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More Comments:

John Connally - 4/28/2009

...Jesus torture? I don't know. Ask him yourself - http://news.yahoo.com/nphotos/President-Obama/photo//090424/480/d945ae02a71641db91b150590a2be036/

Frank Cousins - 4/27/2009

Logic that no sane human can possibly argue against. These actions are clearly illegal, inhumane, and un American. I say prosecute to the max and GOP feelings be damned. Remember they are supposedly the "loyal" opposition.

Misha Mazzini Griffith - 4/27/2009

As heinous a crime as torture is, to exploit the investigation for banal political reasons is just as bad. President Obama must find a way to make these investigations non-partisan. The right is already likening the administration's release of the documents to a "banana republic." This pre-emptive strike against potential investigations begs a separate question: Do the supporters of the Bush policy consider torture to be American, but the revelation of torture is the hallmark of a "banana republic?" There are land mines present for both parties in this issue. The Left runs the risk of creating a permanent state of persecution of the past administrations, the Right runs the risk of looking like the pro-torture party. Is there a historical precedence for this problem? We can look to the Redress movement by the Japanese Americans for one model. However, the time span between the internment process (the crime) and the redress was almost 40 years, and most of those responsible were conveniently dead. Our problems will not be a dish served quite this cold, but we must find a way of cooling the passions before we can think clearly about it.