An blog by a member of the Catholic peace movement, Pax Christi, to explore the nexus between contemplation and resistance. "The Christian must discover in contemplation, and in the giving of his life, those symbolic actions which will ignite the people's faith to resist injustice with their whole lives, lives coming together as a united force of truth and thus releasing the liberating power of the God within them." - James Douglass, Contemplation and Resistance.
Wednesday, October 05, 2005
The God of Life
Why don't the current leaders of the Christian denominations speak out? Some do, but many are still chained to the distinction between the personal and the political. Much of the power of religion comes from its personal nature. It is a personal commitment that requires constant cultivation and grows ever deeper with that cultivation. The political is an external reality that impinges on us in ways that we cannot control. It may be an area of interest or even passion, but it is not part of our interior in the same way as our relationship to God.
Contrast this with the personal nature of the relationship between soldiers and their "Persons Under Control" or PUCs: "The torture of detainees was so widespread and accepted that it became a means of stress relief for soldiers. Soldiers said they felt welcome to come to the PUC [Person Under Control] tent on their off hours to 'Fuck a PUC' or 'Smoke a PUC.' 'Fucking a PUC' referred to beating a detainee, while 'Smoking a PUC' referred to forced physical exertion sometimes to the point of unconsciousness." Human Rights Watch, September, 2005.
Is this a personal or a political relationship? It seems to me that this is actually both simultaneously. Detainees are tortured and humiliated as a means of social control in a way similar to the organized torture carried out in Chile in the 1970s and 80s. The evidence for this is the meticulous documentation from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International which demonstrates that in most cases torture is not being carried out for information. Most detainees have no worthwhile intelligence about the insurgency since their incarceration is the result of random roundups by clueless officers. The torture documented by HRW serves two primary purposes - relief of stress and social control, goals which are mutually reinforcing. It also exemplifies how questionable is the distinction between the personal and the political. Many of the soldiers are committed Christians, yet they participate in torture as reported by Capt. Ian Fishback, not merely breaking a man's legs with a metal Louisville slugger as a means of stress relief, but obeying orders to torture fellow children of God.
In the words of Capt. Fishback, "Despite my efforts, I have been unable to get clear, consistent answers from my leadership about what constitutes lawful and humane treatment of detainees. I am certain that this confusion contributed to a wide range of abuses including death threats, beatings, broken bones, murder, exposure to elements, extreme forced physical exertion, hostage-taking, stripping, sleep deprivation and degrading treatment. I and troops under my command witnessed some of these abuses in both Afghanistan and Iraq." And later: "Others argue that clear standards will limit the President's ability to wage the War on Terror. Since clear standards only limit interrogation techniques, it is reasonable for me to assume that supporters of this argument desire to use coercion to acquire information from detainees. This is morally inconsistent with the Constitution and justice in war. It is unacceptable." "A Matter of Honor", Washington Post, Sept. 28, 2005.
In response to Capt. Fishback, as well as the many other cases of torture and abuse, Sen. McCain has repeatedly tried to enforce the rules of the Army Field Manual regarding torture with this result: "Ninety senators, backed by an array of former admirals and generals, voting in favor of an amendment to a military appropriations bill. Their bill provides clear guidance to American troops, banning the "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment" of anyone in U.S. custody. It establishes the Army Field Manual as the uniform standard for interrogation of detainees." "Torture: An American Story", Alternet, Oct. 12, 2005.
Yet once again, a vast silence grips the Christian leaders of America, whose voice now could be decisive in ending the torture. Please urge your bishop or pastor to speak out about this issue. To be silent now is to participate in the torture and abuse of innocents.