February 20, 2005

An Accountability Moment on Torture

Before Alberto Gonzales was confirmed, many people warned that his confirmation would tell the world that Americans endorsed torture. In the week before the Senate vote, this concern was shown to be valid as John Yoo, a former Justice Department lawyer who helped draft the torture memos and Gonzales' old friend said, confirmation of Gonzales would show that Americans were satisfied that the Bush policy on interrogation was okay. Yoo defended the torture memos that he had authored in a number of interviews while the Gonzales confirmation hearings were being held. And now, as Yoo said, he believed these interrogation methods have been okayed.

"People who wanted a public discussion of this issue of interrogation methods have had it, for almost a year now," said John Yoo, a UC Berkeley law professor who played a key role in helping craft the administration's policies on torture when he was a Justice Department official from 2001 to 2003.

"There has been debate, press leaks, hearings. Sen. (John) Kerry could have attacked President Bush on torture during the election campaign, but in fact, he tried to outflank the president on the right on terrorism. Congress could have expanded the statute on terrorism to tighten interrogation rules, but it hasn't. The election and the confirmation of Gonzales are a sign of general support of the administration's anti-terrorism policies, which include interrogation and the Patriot Act."

Saturday the NY Times opined that, nevertheless, it was important for the citizens of this country and their elected representatives to put the kabosh to that assertion.

Of all the claims of an electoral mandate made by President Bush's supporters, none were as bizarre as the one offered by John Yoo, a former Justice Department lawyer who helped draft the cynical justifications for the illegal detention and torture of "unlawful combatants." "The debate is over," Mr. Yoo told The New Yorker, adding: "The issue is dying out. The public has had its referendum."

This intransigence is not surprising. Remember that President Bush declared an "accountability moment" about his Iraq policy when he was elected. And we know that when Bush gets a pass, he believes he has a mandate. Therefore, it is more than likely he does believe that Americans are just fine with torture.

Fortunately, the status quo assertion that Americans have "validated" torture is wrong and Americans continue to recognize the ethical problems defined by Yoo's memo. Church Folk for a Better America is one of the clearer voices speaking out on this issue. As George Hunsinger, the founder of this organization, told The Nation's editor:

Torture is not a divisive issue for religious people. No religious person, and no person of conscience, can possibly justify it morally. An example of this is an emerging new network of religious progressives which recently published an "Open Letter to Alberto Gonzales."

My fledgling organization, Church Folks for a Better America, took the lead. In a short time we garnered over 225 signatures from a wide variety of religious leaders: Not only Catholics, Protestants and Jews, but also Muslims and Sikhs. We also made inroads among leading evangelicals.

The Open Letter got some good coverage. We were often mentioned alongside the ex-military lawyers who came out against Gonzales in press accounts. In the final Gonzales debate, our letter was quoted on the Senate floor.

They are a powerful anecdote to the cynicism and moral bankruptcy of this administration. And as conscientious citizens of these United States of America, we should join our voices with theirs to make it clear torture is not an American value. Tell our elected officials: It is time to hold someone accountable for these despicable policies.

Posted by Mary at February 20, 2005 12:45 PM | US Politics | Technorati links |

The situation that clergy find themselves in is similar to the situation that many journalists find themselves in. There are rewards for betraying your conscience and going along with this Administration (and ignoring the dishonesty), and risks for opposing it (see: Dan Rather). Morality is only one part of organized religion though. Power is the other. The most powerful evangelicals are the ones who are playing the game. This administration will continue to marginalize any religious voices who aren't singing in tune.

It seems weird that we can convince millions of Americans that opposing torture is un-Christian, but it's happening, and it's not likely to go away soon.

Posted by: thehim at February 20, 2005 03:57 PM

We had our accountability moment - a moment for potential action, but that's passed and now look what we're left with.

Also take a look at this post on Donald Rumsfeld


one of the least accountable BushCo members - but basically representative of the whole administration's attitude.

Posted by: Count Accountability at February 21, 2005 03:29 PM