Baptist Ethicists Comment on CIA Torture Report


Southern Baptist ethics commentators greeted a new report on interrogation of detainees by the Central Intelligence Agency with mixed reviews, some criticizing the report’s approach while others either condemned or supported the government entity’s practices.

The U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released Dec. 9 a 525-page report sharply criticizing the detention and interrogation program the CIA operated for more than seven years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C.

Among its findings, the committee said the intelligence agency’s interrogations of suspected terrorists were “brutal and far worse” than it had disclosed and conditions for the detainees were “harsher” than it had revealed. The report also said the interrogation methods — that included waterboarding and sleep deprivation — proved ineffective in obtaining intelligence from detainees.

Not only did Republicans and former CIA directors disapprove of the Democratic-controlled committee’s approach to the report, but one Southern Baptist ethicist said the study fell short of what is needed.

Daniel Heimbach, senior Christian ethics professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, lamented that he had seen “little fair-minded analysis” in the debate swirling around interrogation practices that “aimed at truly understanding the nexus of duties and limitations affecting decisions political leaders must make regarding ‘enhanced’ methods of interrogation.”

“Public discussion treating the ethics of torture — such as the recently released Senate report on CIA interrogation techniques — is framed by political” posturing that is “more eager to blacken opponents, however unfairly, than with understanding ethical truth,” Heimbach said in a written statement for Baptist Press. “And for this reason, public discussion surrounding the ethics of torture has become a highly charged morass.”

Evangelical Christians, Heimbach said, “must chart a vastly different course.” We must “treat all parties fairly by focusing instead on what [Christian apologist] Francis Schaeffer called ‘true truth.’ In other words, we must be fair and truthful, whatever the stakes may be, and regardless of who is made to look good or bad. This is a time when followers of Jesus Christ must pursue ethical politics without falling prey to political posturing.”

Joe Carter of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) said in a Dec. 9 blog post the report shows the CIA’s detention and interrogation program fell short of the ethical criteria he believes Christians should endorse.

The program “was not justifiable, did not include an adequate system of accountability to prevent abuses, and did not extract information with the least coercion necessary,” said Carter, the ERLC’s communications specialist and a former Marine. “For these reasons, the CIA’s actions were both immoral and violated the standards and laws recognized by the U.S. regarding the treatment of prisoners.”

Some of the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation techniques” fit the definition of torture, he wrote. This doesn’t mean Christians should refuse to defend their country and their lives, he said.

“We must never hesitate to defend our culture, our future, and our lives against those who seek to destroy us,” Carter said. “The pacifist’s solution of laying down our arms in the face of such an enemy is suicidal. The conservative position, which is willing to face up to and address the evil of terrorism, provides a more adequate approach.

“Evil” comes “from the heart of a fallen, sacred, yet degraded human being,” he wrote, noting, “If we are to preserve our own humanity we must not forget that our enemy differs from us in degree, not in kind.”

Heimbach said the “just war” principles taught through centuries of Christian theological and moral reflection guide his view of interrogation methods. The just war approach includes having a just cause to remedy injustice and using only the force necessary.

He favors “using morally justified coercion within Just War limitations” but does not support “any sort of immoral conduct under any circumstance,” said Heimbach, a former deputy assistant secretary of the Navy. “I only favor morally justified actions under morally justified circumstances, and do not favor any action under immoral circumstances and never favor immoral actions under any circumstance.”

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SOURCE: Baptist Press
Tom Strode

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