Message from Anti-Torture Service

The following is the message I delivered for the anti-torture worship service in August 2009.

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” The Golden Rule, stated, with minor variations, in all the world’s major religions, and many not-so-major ones. We learn it, informally, when we are small, when our caregiver looks at us reproachfully after we hit a little playmate, and says, “How would you like it if he hit you like that?” We learn it in school, and in church, if we attend. Gradually, we learn not to hit others, that biting is not a good way to get what we want, and that grabbing a toy only results in getting in trouble. As we get older, we struggle with not gossiping, not backbiting, and speaking to others as we would wish to be spoken to. Finally, as adults, we think we have it down. We lapse occasionally, but as healthy, functioning adults in society, we think, “Ah, yes, I know what I am doing now. I treat others as I would wish to be treated.”

But now, the hard work is really beginning. There are times in our lives that someone or some group has so abused us in either word or deed that our anger flares up and our old natural instincts take control. The Golden Rule we learned as a child is tossed aside and anger and revenge take hold. Our pride has been stolen and we feel that the only way to regain it is by getting even for our being abused. These are the times when emotions take over our intellect. These are the times when we need to take a deep breath and allow a more disciplined approach and carefully think through the repercussions of our actions. We may also need to reflect on the motivations of the abuser – have they been also mistreated? Do they have mental limitations or difficulties? Have they been indoctrinated by a radical group? What is a more reasoned response?

While our personal experiences are more often with other individuals or small groups, these experiences are not uncommon between countries, nations, religious denominations, and political groups. On this level, the questions are about relationships between nations, times of war and fundamentally unequal relationships, such as between prisoner and interrogator. The difficulties of acting with reason rather than emotion becomes even more difficult. However, history has shown that war usually does not resolve the conflict of behaviors between these larger groups and often causes more anger, revenge, and mistrust than before the conflict. Destruction of an individual through torture or civilized society by total destruction of their cities and towns and their way of life is not a solution but rather promotes the anger and desire for revenge to continue for many generations to come.

And so, still I say, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” For me, there is no other moral stance. Any other approach, for me, is immoral.

I am not the only one. Time and time again our military leaders have spoken out against war and against torture as an ineffective solution to tension between countries, nations and individuals. General Colin Powell, and Senator John McCain are just two of many who have spoken out against torture and General Eisenhower spoke out against the control of the military industrial complex over our government for their profit. War is not the answer and torture is not effective. Torture strengthens the resolve of our enemies and will never result in rehabilitation.

Of course, the question then becomes, what is torture? What is not? What are acceptable methods of discovering information from possibly very dangerous individuals?  How does a person, an agency charged with protecting a nation, an army, or a nation itself, stay safe, do its job, and still behave morally? These are very difficult questions, ones that cannot be answered in a moment, or one morning at church. I don’t have all the answers, or even most of them. National and international laws are a good starting place, as is the “12-point Program for the Prevention of Torture by Agents of the State” from the Quakers and the Friends Committee on National Legislation.

    1. Condemn torture. The highest authorities of every country should demonstrate their total opposition to torture. They should condemn torture unreservedly whenever it occurs. They should make clear to all members of the police, military, and other security forces that torture will never be tolerated.

    2. Ensure access to prisoners. Torture often takes place while prisoners are held incommunicado.

    3. No secret detention.

    4. Provide safeguards during detention and interrogation. All prisoners should be immediately informed of their rights. These include the right to lodge complaints about their treatment and to have a judge rule without delay on the lawfulness of their detention. Judges should investigate any evidence of torture and order release if the detention is unlawful. A lawyer should be present during interrogations. Governments should ensure that conditions of detention conform to international standards for treatment of prisoners and take into account the needs of members of particularly vulnerable groups. The authorities responsible for detention should be separate from those in charge of interrogation. There should be regular, independent, unannounced and unrestricted visits of inspection to all places of detention.

    5. Prohibit torture in law. Governments should adopt laws for the prohibition and prevention of torture incorporating the main elements of the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (Convention against Torture) and other relevant international standards. All judicial and administrative corporal punishments should be abolished. The prohibition of torture and the essential safeguards for its prevention must not be suspended under any circumstances, including states of war or other public emergency.

    6. Investigate. All complaints and reports of torture should be promptly, impartially and effectively investigated by a body independent of the alleged perpetrators and the findings of such investigations made public.

    7. Prosecute. Those responsible for torture must be brought to justice. An order from a superior officer must never be accepted as a justification for torture.

    8. No use of statements extracted under torture. Governments should ensure that statements and other evidence obtained through torture may not be invoked in any proceedings, except against a person accused of torture.

    9. Provide effective training. Officials should be instructed that they have the right and duty to refuse to obey any order to torture.

    10. Provide reparation to victims of torture and their dependents.

    11. Ratify international treaties.

    12. Exercise international responsibility. Governments should use all available channels to intercede with the governments of countries where torture is reported. They should ensure that transfers of training and equipment for military, security, or police use do not facilitate torture. Governments must not forcibly return a person to a country where he or she risks being tortured.

But in the end, however you expound upon it, it comes down to, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

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