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Monday, October 12, 2009

In which I claim torture is not allowable

[This post can be found on the new site, here]

From the Associated Press comes the report that the CIA's harsh interrogation techniques likely damaged the brain of terrorist suspects. Generally, the response by professor of neuroscience Shane O'Mara seems to be only that the techniques used were primitive and relied on older understandings of neurology.

In London, a secret agent apparently reported that torture was being used within Britain, prompting William Hague, the foreign affairs spokesman of the opposition Conservative Party, to speak out: "Torture or complicity in torture is unacceptable, immoral, and counterproductive."

And last, the Iraqi reporter who threw his shoes at then-president George Bush, was finally released after being in jail for nine months. The reporter, al-Zeidi, claims to have been tortured during his stay in prison.

Proponents of waterboarding have argued that the information gathered from it makes it an acceptable thing. In fact, torture in general is arguably an effective tool for gathering information. Despite the arguments contrary, torture does actually produce useable results, especially when done carefully by experts who have advanced understanding of neuroscience.

Of course, we can't just say "It's effective, therefore acceptable." In an extreme case, we might argue that burning down an entire village is an acceptable cost, since a terrorist is hiding inside and no one knows where he is. Of course, in any thing we must view the Bible and attempt to apply it, so let us do so with torture:

There are two times, in general, where torture is used: Before and after a trial. In the case of pre-trial, which is where almost all cases of torture occur, the Bible is quite clear on the issue: Physical torture of any kind is simply not allowed. In Deuteronomy 25, the law is being recited regarding what to do in cases of disputes. In verse 1-3 it says:

If there is a dispute between men, and they come to court ... then it shall be, if the wicked man deserves to be beaten, that the judge will cause him ... to be beaten in his presence, according to his guilt, with a certain number of blows. Forty blows he may give him and no more... lest ... your brother be humiliated in your sight.(Deuteronomy 25:1-3)
From this passage we can understand three principles which should guide our view of torture:
1: Any beating (in this discussion, torture) is to be done after the judge finds the person guilty. In general, torture is carried out on people who are being held under suspicion, but who haven't been convicted of crime. This is not allowed.
2: The beating must occur within the rpesence of the judge. Even if a person were to be condemned by the judge, the beating must be applied on location. Again, general torture is taken place in rooms far seperated from any judge who may have delivered judgement. This also is not allowed.
3: The guilty person can only be beaten according to his guilt, with a maximum set number of blows. The goal of the beatings is punishment, the restriction is that the criminal is not humiliated. This would preclude almost any general form of torture immediately, even if the person was found guilty.

An argument in response might say that this law applied only to Israelites, therefore it isn't applicable to those outside one's nation, however, Leviticus 19:34 says that "The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you", that is, the Jew and Gentile are to be treated the same. Even more direct is Leviticus 24:22 "You shall have the same law for the stranger and for the one from your own country."

Additional arguments can obviously be made by either side, but I think the basic premise of the Law stands: A person cannot be beaten (tortured) unless duly convicted, and even then the beatings cannot be too excessive. This Law stands for citizens or non-citizens both. This alone will remove the legality of most uses of torture.


Anonymous,  October 12, 2009 at 4:36 PM  

I don't necessarily believe that torture is Biblical, but I don't think that the verse used in this article is refering to torture. I think that verse is refering to revenge. Basically it is requiring people to be rightly judged before sentencing. Verses I might look to for wisdom on torture would be more in the new testement, like when Jesus says to turn the other check or to love your enemy.

Tobias Davis October 12, 2009 at 5:20 PM  

Anonymous, thanks for your comment!

I realize that Deuteronomy 25 doesn't refer explicitly to torture, however, it is directly applicable in that it restricts the governments ability to inflict physical punishment/torture on a person, even if they are convicted.

Many times in the New Testament the death penalty is upheld, so when Jesus says "turn the other cheek" He cannot be saying that civil Law is overturned.

That is why I try to discuss legal politics within the framework of the Old Testament: The New Testament does not overturn Old Testament Law, and does not change anything in regards to civil Law.

Stephen Harris October 13, 2009 at 12:49 AM  

I appreciate your specific application of biblical principals toward such a specific, controversial topic.

I find your contentions to be reasonable and fairly detailed, although I would enjoy looking further into the issue as I have the impression that much more can and should be said.

Tobias Davis October 13, 2009 at 1:04 AM  

Thank you, Stephen! There is definitely much more that could be said but obviously there is a limit to writing time for me, and reading time for you.

In particular, there are several points which could be made in regards to treatment of prisoners of war. The difficulty here is separating what Israel was commanded to do as a once-off thing, and what the Law mandates as normal practice.

However, at least in a general sense, torture of war criminals is not allowed either.

William October 15, 2009 at 7:51 PM  

Toby: I am glad to hear your thoughts regarding torture, I think that you did a commendable job of applying the Bible to this issue. The Bible only seems to mention stoning, beating, and execution as methods of corporal punishment for criminals. Would you say that any other methods are Biblically acceptable?

Tobias Davis October 15, 2009 at 8:30 PM  

William, that is an excellent question. It seems that a systematic application of Old Testament Law would restrict the use of available means of physical punishment.

For example, Leviticus 20:2 requires the stoning of those who give their seed unto Molech (human sacrifice). Quite explicitly it states "the people of the land shall stone him [the guilty person] with stones", so in such a case it seems quite clear that one cannot use a rope to hang, or a drug injected, to kill the guilty person.

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