What evangelicals really think about torture at Abu Ghraib (where you can at least pretend the Muslims suffering are guilty of something) is shown in their reaction to the Indonesian tsunami (where you can't, despite the best efforts of Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals). The tsunami, to them, showed God's power against Muslims, and innocent Muslim
suffering was good in that it oppened them up to Jesus and was useful in the War on Terror.
We begin our examination of Abu Ghraib with one of the actual interrogators:
WASHINGTON - Previously secret sworn statements by detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq describe in raw detail abuse that goes well beyond what has been made public, adding allegations of prisoners being ridden like animals, sexually fondled by female soldiers and forced to retrieve their food from toilets....
...He said a bag was put over his head and he was made to strip. He said American soldiers started to taunt him.
"Do you pray to Allah?" one asked. "I said yes. They said, '[Expletive] you. And [expletive] him.' One of them said, 'You are not getting out of here health[y], you are getting out of here handicapped. And he said to me, 'Are you married?' I said, 'Yes.' They said, 'If your wife saw you like this, she will be disappointed.' One of them said, 'But if I saw her now she would not be disappointed now because I would rape her.' "
He said the soldiers told him that if he cooperated with interrogators they would release him in time for Ramadan. He said he did, but still was not released. He said one soldier continued to abuse him by striking his broken leg and ordered him to curse Islam. "Because they started to hit my broken leg, I cursed my religion," he said. "They ordered me to thank Jesus that I'm alive."
According to Knight-Ridder, Sgt. Javal S. Davis, 26, of Maryland, faces five charges: Conspiracy to maltreat subordinates, maltreatment of detainees, dereliction of duty, assault and rendering "false official statements." Married with children, he sells power tools as a civilian, is a devout Baptist and a former high school athlete. And this example, from Christianity Today:
Now it's become clear that at least one of these infamous "bad apples" was apparently a Christian. Spec. John Darby, the soldier who reportedly confronted Spec. Charles A. Graner, the ringleader of Abu Ghraib, claims that Graner told him, "The Christian in me says it's wrong, but the correction officer in me says, 'I love to make a grown man piss himself.' " Other accounts suggest that guards abused prisoners out of hostility toward Islam—one soldier reportedly asked a prisoner if he believed in anything, and when the man responded that he believed in Allah, the guard replied, "I believe in torture, and I will torture you."...
According to Human Rights First, one interrogator told prisoners “a holy war was occurring, between the Cross and the Star of David on the one hand, and the Crescent on the other.” Body and Soul goes on to summarize the reports:
...show a clear pattern of interrogators using people's faith as a weapon against them, in addition to physical abuse. Guards interfered with prayers, cursed Mohammed, placed shoes on top of the Koran, or threw it on the floor. They told detainees that there was a "holy war" against them. One guard told a prisoner that he beat him "because I'm Christian."Here's another, via Billmon:
The prisoners are Jum'ah Mohammed AbdulLatif Al Dossari (or Jumah al Dousari), Isa Ali Abdulla Al Murbati, Abdullah Al Noaimi and Adel Kamel Abdulla Haji. Lately it seems important to me not just to record the crimes, but to name the victims....
...These are prisoners' claims, of course, not verified facts. But the prisoners' descriptions of their treatment often match, and the physical signs of abuse have been observed and reported by others....
PINELLAS PARK, Fla., March 28 - The legal battle over the life of Terri Schiavo may have ended, but a thick, fervent crowd remains in the makeshift encampment outside the Woodside Hospice House here....
..."No, we're not going to go home," said Bill Tierney, a young daughter at his side. "Terri is not dead until she's dead."...
...Mr. Tierney, a former military intelligence officer in Iraq who works as a translator and investigator for private companies, cried as he talked about watching the Schiavo spectacle on television and feeling the utter need to be at the hospice.
Like many of the protesters, Mr. Tierney said he had experienced proof in his own life that God is real. He held out his left hand showing the traces of scars from injuries he suffered in a gas explosion in 1987....
...After explaining his various psychological tactics to the audience, interrogator Bill Tierney (a private contractor working with the Army) said, ''I tried to be nuanced and culturally aware. But the suspects didn't break.''
Suddenly Tierney's temper rose. ''They did not break!'' he shouted. ''I'm here to win. I'm here so our civilization beats theirs! Now what are you willing to do to win?'' he asked, pointing to a woman in the front row. ''You are the interrogators, you are the ones who have to get the information from the Iraqis. What do you do? That word 'torture'. You immediately think, 'That's not me.' But are we litigating this war or fighting it?''
Some listeners murmured in assent; others sat in rapt attention. In all the recent debates about the Bush administration's stance on torture, this voice, the voice of the interrogators themselves, has been almost entirely absent.
Asked about Abu Ghraib, Tierney said that for an interrogator, ''sadism is always right over the hill. You have to admit it. Don't fool yourself - there is a part of you that will say, 'This is fun.'''...
According to Christianity Today (hardly a biased member of the liberal media), evangelical responsibility travels up from there:
...The most tangible foreign policy problems for the administration have been the scandal at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison and abusive treatment of suspected Al Qaeda terrorists in detention at Cuba's Guantanamo Bay naval base. After the pictures of Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse and torture were released, CT spoke with evangelical professionals in intelligence agencies, the State and Defense departments, and Congress.
What emerged was troubling. Beyond setting Bush administration priorities, evangelicals were significantly involved in drafting policy memos that created the permissive climate in which the abuse of prisoners occurred. Asking not to be named, Christians who serve in federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies told CT that aggressive interrogation of suspected terrorists was no-holds-barred. Bob Woodward, the author of a definitive book on Bush's war effort, told CT, "It was very clear from my interviews that [Bush] felt the gloves were off for the CIA."
In a February 7, 2002, executive order, the President wrote that he wanted prisoners in the war on terror treated "humanely" but also "consistent with military necessity." He also explicitly argued that the Geneva Convention's guidelines for treatment of prisoners of war did not apply to terrorists. Evangelical legal scholar John Yoo contributed to several of the legal memos for Attorney General John Ashcroft justifying much harsher interrogation techniques in the war against terrorism. Yoo declared, "Terrorists have no Geneva rights." (The Geneva Conventions do not address how nations in wartime should handle persons who are agents of hostile, clandestine organizations rather than members of the military arm of a recognized government.)
A well-known evangelical, Army Lt. Gen. William G. "Jerry" Boykin, deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence, heads what some label a worldwide find-and-hit squad against terrorists. And one top Pentagon-related expert who taught officers how to interrogate Muslims is an evangelical....
John Yoo isn't the only evangelical writing pro-torture memos:
Evidently the team of Pentagon lawyers which crafted the document explaining how the president could avoid war crimes prosecution for himself and his subordinates even while authorizing widespread torture was led by a woman, U.S. Air Force General Counsel Mary L. Walker. She's also a devout evangelical Christian - she co-founded a San Diego group called Professional Women's Fellowship, an offshoot of Campus Crusade for Christ.
Billmon had some choice quotes from Walker, and from the pro-torture report she helped write:
Walker: "When God is the center of your life and everything you do revolves around His plans for you and the world, then that is when life really gets exciting."
Walker: It's a travesty to be in a place of strategic importance to the world as a business or political leader and not allow God to accomplish the truly significant through you.
The report: The executive branch [has] "sweeping" powers to act as it sees fit because "national security decisions require the unity in purpose and energy in action that characterize the presidency rather than Congress."
The report: To protect subordinates should they be charged with torture, the memo advised that Mr. Bush issue a "presidential directive or other writing" that could serve as evidence, since authority to set aside the laws is "inherent in the president."
The report: Officials could escape torture convictions by arguing that they were following superior orders, since such orders "may be inferred to be lawful" and are "disobeyed at the peril of the subordinate."
And who is the previously mentioned Lt. Gen. William G. "Jerry" Boykin?
It has the potential to be a public relations nightmare buried within a public relations nightmare: one of the major players in the Iraqi prison abuse scandal, it now appears, was the same general almost fired last year for describing the war on terror as a clash between Judeo-Christian values and Satan.
According to testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee last week, and new reporting from the New Yorker's Seymour Hersh, the prison abuse scandal grew out of a decision to give greater influence to the Defense Intelligence unit, led by Stephen Cambone, the Under-Secretary of Defense for Intelligence--and his deputy, Lt. General William G. "Jerry" Boykin.
Boykin made headlines last fall when it was revealed he had made numerous statements suggesting that America, as a Christian nation, is engaged in a battle against idolatrous Muslims. Enemies like Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein "will only be defeated if we come against them in the name of Jesus," Boykin said during an Oregon church gathering last year.
Appearing in uniform during a speech at the Oregon church, Boykin said: "Why do they [radical Muslims] hate us? Why do they hate us so much? Ladies and gentlemen, the answer to that is because we're a Christian nation." In another speech he recounted the time he chased down a Muslim Somali warlord who was bragging that the Americans would not capture him because Allah would protect him. "My God is bigger than his God. I knew my God was a real God, and his was an idol," Boykin said....
...There is still much to be learned about Boykin's role in the current scandal, including the pivotal question of whether his anti-Muslim views may have made him more prone to dehumanizing Muslim prisoners. What is already clear, however, is that Boykin's evangelical supporters now find themselves in an awkward position. They have supported Boykin steadfastly but are wary about defending prisoner torture.
Here is what is known so far about Boykin's role in the prison abuse scandal: He is a main strategist for Cambone, who oversees a secret program with the goal of capturing and interrogating terrorism targets. According to an article by Seymour Hersh in the current New Yorker, the unit brought "unconventional methods" to Abu Ghraib as a way of getting better information about Iraqi insurgents....
...So far, Christian leaders are standing by Boykin.
"A lot of our people are just so tired of hearing about that whole situation, especially now that we've seen [the beheading of Nicholas Berg]," Michele Ammons, spokeswoman for the Christian Coalition, said last week. "I think it's time to get over it. And that's what I'm hearing."
Ammons, who said evangelical leaders have been consumed primarily with the gay marriage debate, added that the Christian Coalition would keep an online petition in support of Boykin on its homepage....
...[Bobby Welch, President of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC)], in a column for Baptist Press, described Boykin's critics as "back-stabbers," writing: "I despise the unthinkable and asinine fact that some take cheap backstabbing shots at a real God-fearing American hero who continually risks his life to protect all of us."
In a 2002 Conservative columnist Tony Blankley described Boykin as a "victim" in the terrorism struggle. "For a quarter century, he has been fighting terror with his bare hands, his fine mind and his faith-shaped soul," Blankley wrote. "It is that last matter--his faith, and his willingness to give politically incorrect witness to that faith in Christian churches--that has drawn furious media and political fire."
Even if the evidence accumulates that Boykin was a key figure in the scandal, evangelicals may hold the line. "They've invested so much in Boykin," says John Green, an expert on the religious right and director of the Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron....
More on Boykin:
The general leading the hunt for Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein has publicly declared that the Christian God is "bigger" than Allah, who is a false "idol", and believes the war on terrorism is a fight with Satan, it emerged yesterday.
Investigative reporters from the Los Angeles Times and NBC television have dug up two years' worth of seemingly incendiary comments from Lt Gen William "Jerry" Boykin, the newly promoted deputy undersecretary of state of defence for intelligence.
Gen Boykin has repeatedly told Christian groups and prayer meetings that President George W Bush was chosen by God to lead the global fight against Satan.
He told one gathering: "Why is this man in the White House? The majority of Americans did not vote for him. He's in the White House because God put him there for a time such as this."
In January, he told Baptists in Florida about a victory over a Muslim warlord in Somalia, who had boasted that Allah would protect him from American capture. "I knew my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real god and his was an idol," Gen Boykin said.
He also emerged from the conflict with a photograph of the Somalian capital Mogadishu bearing a strange dark mark. He has said this showed "the principalities of darkness. . . a demonic presence in that city that God revealed to me as the enemy".
On the Middle East, Gen Boykin told an Oregon church in June that America could not ignore its Judaeo-Christian roots. "Our religion came from Judaism and therefore [Islamic] radicals will hate us forever."
In the same month, Gen Boykin told an Oklahoma congregation that Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein were not the enemy.
"Our enemy is a spiritual enemy because we are a nation of believers. . . His name is Satan." ...
The belief that Bush was chosen by God does not lead to accountability for his administration from evangelicals. Neither does the belief that the war is a crusade. Evangelical support for torture isn't limited to the military and executive branch. Our Evangelical Christian Speaker of the House also supports torture:
The Bush administration is supporting a provision in the House leadership's intelligence reform bill that would allow U.S. authorities to deport certain foreigners to countries where they are likely to be tortured or abused, an action prohibited by the international laws against torture the United States signed 20 years ago.
The provision, part of the massive bill introduced Friday by House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), would apply to non-U.S. citizens who are suspected of having links to terrorist organizations but have not been tried on or convicted of any charges....
Now step away from individual evangelicals, put on your hazmat suits, take your anti-nausea drugs, and crawl into the evangelical mindset. Decontamination showers will be provided at the end of this posting.
The Walker report above highlights an important belief of evangelicals - the belief in Authority, which dovetails into their belief in Submission and Obedience. Authority is given by God (at least until you bang an intern), and so obedience to authority is obedience to God. Note how following orders absolves individuals from responsibility from their acts. If you fear, as evangelicals do, that wrong belief leads to Hell, then you can see the temptation to try to absolve themselves by finding 'leadership'. If you prove your willingness to submit and obey, you can shift responsibility for any wrong beliefs of yours onto your leader, who did your thinking for you, and sneak into Heaven on a technicality. Faith in your leader, who you can see, demonstrates your faith in Jesus, who you cannot. If you aren't responsible for your sins because your leader is, then you won't be punished for them. That, and since doubt can lead to Hell, you need a charismatic Leader to remove your doubts by the force of his personality and manly will. Bush is an evangelical Authority and Leader. Now that we've established the importance of evangelical Leadership, which evangelical leader has come out in explicit support of torture? According to the evangelicals, Jesus did:
Matthew 13: 40) "As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41) The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42) They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43) Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.
God doesn't need anyone to tell him where the hypothetical nuke is hidden; the above is torture as punishment, which as an act of God all evangelicals must praise (or find something God does unpraiseworthy). Once you consider someone else deserving eternal torment, it doesn't take much to get you to the next step of attaching the electrodes to their tender parts here on Earth (yes, evangelicals say they deserve Hell, too, but also believe they are "new creations" and "washed clean" by the blood of Jesus, so while they believe they deserve Hell too, in theory, in practice, they really don't believe that). I could quote all of the Left Behind and The Late Great Planet Earth verses of Revelation, but this one should suffice:
Revelation 9:1) The fifth angel sounded his trumpet, and I saw a star that had fallen from the sky to the earth. The star was given the key to the shaft of the Abyss. 2) When he opened the Abyss, smoke rose from it like the smoke from a gigantic furnace. The sun and sky were darkened by the smoke from the Abyss. 3) And out of the smoke locusts came down upon the earth and were given power like that of scorpions of the earth. 4) They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any plant or tree, but only those people who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads. 5) They were not given power to kill them, but only to torture them for five months. And the agony they suffered was like that of the sting of a scorpion when it strikes a man. 6) During those days men will seek death, but will not find it; they will long to die, but death will elude them.
Please don't misunderstand my use of those quotes. I own multiple Bibles and those verses are in every one I have, too. I've even been known to set foot in a church now and then (it's OK, I'm a Presbyterian). My point isn't that Mother Theresa and Desmond Tutu supported torture merely by being Christian - I'm talking about the hardcore people who read those verses, take them literally as prophesy, respond with "praise God!!", and then feel absolutely justified in forcing those beliefs onto others. These are the people who want you broken and contrite for your own good, of course.
Psalm 51:17 "The sacrifices of God are [a] a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise".
Use and abuse of verses like that one lead evangelicals to think of the suffering of others in terms of how it aids evangelicalism, and to think of those suffering as merely means to an end. Torture is essentially making people suffer to break them and make them obedient and submissive, which fits neatly into that belief system. To demonstrate this, look at how evangelicals reacted to the tsunami that hit Indonesia. You can pretend that only the guilty are being punished in Abu Ghraib if you really want to, but almost nobody, not even the vast majority of the Religious Right, really believes that a natural disaster discriminates between the innocent and anti-American terrorists. Did evangelicals respond out of concern for the well being of those hit (answer: no), or was the disaster a good thing in that it left people broken and 'open' to conversion? The mindset revealed in their response to the tsunami is the same mindset controlling the decision on whether or not to torture a Muslim Iraqi. This is what they really think of Muslim suffering. To see their compassion toward the dead, destitute, and injured, check out this NY Times article that was posted in full at another website:
...A Jan. 18 posting from the team in Indonesia says the country's devastated Aceh Province is "ripe for Jesus!!"
"What an opportunity," it adds. "It has been closed for five years, and the missionaries in Indonesia consider it the most militant and difficult place for ministry. The door is wide open and the people are hungry."...
Religious opportunism and the War on Terror as a religious war come together in this quote from the May issue of Harper's:
...When I walked in an hour late, [members of Colorado Springs's Evangelical population] were talking about . . . the tsunami and wondered with concern whether any of the city's preachers would try to score points off it. When I mentioned that Pastor Ted [America's most powerful Evangelical leader, and who speaks with President Bush every Monday] already had, they cringed. I told them that at the previous Sunday's full-immersion baptism service, pastor Ted had noted that the waves hit the "number-one exporter of radical Islam," Indonesia. "That's not a judgment," he'd announced. "It's an opportunity." I told them of similar analyses from Pastor Ted's congregation: one man said that he wished he could "get in there" among the survivors, since their souls were "ripe," and another told me he was "psyched" about what God was "doing with His ocean."...
This opportunism isn't limited to a handful of religious nutjobs. OK, it's not limited to a handful of religious nutjobs lacking political office, as the Bush administration shares it:
WASHINGTON - Asia's tsunami disaster provided a "wonderful opportunity" for the United States to show compassion with relief efforts that reaped "great dividends" on the diplomatic front, Secretary of State-designate Condoleezza Rice said....
...US officials have trumpeted the massive military relief effort mounted by the Pentagon as a humanitarian gesture that could score points in a part of the world where anger still lingers from the Iraq war. In response to a question, Rice agreed readily.
"I do agree that the tsunami was a wonderful opportunity to show not just the US government, but the heart of the American people, and I think it has paid great dividends for us," she said. ...
Should I be surprised that these people wind up trying to emotionally and psychologically break Muslims, regardless of whether those individual Muslims are guilty of anything in particular? It is for their own good, and good for the cause of evangelicalism, after all.
Another glimpse into the evangelical psyche and how it relates to torture, and thus to Abu Ghraib, is the popularity "The Passion of the Christ" had with evangelicals:
...In the same weeks the Abu Ghraib photos broke and debate escalated, Mel Gibson's hyper-sentimental film The Passion of the Christ opened in theaters nationwide, sparking a controversy of its own. Critics found it another example of Gibson's flair for violent spectacle, the brave and bloody endurance of its superhero conforming to the Hollywood action flick genre. As John Dominic Crossan pointed out, it also portrayed a sadomasochistic theology of atonement. Others countered that the grotesque suffering of a bloodied Jesus was the sublime point, and found the movie all the more devotionally powerful.
What I find more troubling than the enthusiastic response to Gibson's film is the tremendous distance in the American psyche between the figures of Gibson's Bleeding Jesus and Abu Ghraib's Hooded Man.
Christ, in Gibson's film, suffers beyond the limits of ordinary human endurance: certainly beyond the pedestrian tortures of the tens of thousands of other Judeans crucified by the Roman imperial project in the first century. The anonymous Iraqi, on the other hand, does not merit our sympathy, at least in the precise terms of the legal memo White House counsel (now Attorney General) Alberto Gonzales solicited regarding what qualifies as torture. Not having suffered "major organ damage" or injury leading directly to death, he was subjected only to "cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment," which (however regrettable) doesn't qualify as action from which agents of the United States need refrain.
There is a perverse symmetry between these two representations -- or rather, evasions -- of torture. In Gibson's film, the soldiers who apply whips and iron-tipped flails to Jesus' back are depicted as rogue sadists -- "Animal House on the night shift," as former Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger described the abuse at Abu Ghraib in his report. Higher up the chain of command, however, Pontius Pilate is a decent married man, horrified by the violence he discovers has been inflicted on Jesus. Surely, we are meant to imagine, he would have stopped it if he'd known. The film lingers over Pilate's anguish; after all, he bears the awful burden of carrying out the empire's noble project, bringing justice and civilization to a bunch of violence-prone, tribal thugs (the Jews of Jerusalem, as Gibson has portrayed them). Such great and rough work inevitably involves "accidents," what a general investigating Abu Ghraib nervously termed "misinterpretation/ confusion incidents."
For his part, Gibson's Jesus seemed to have held up pretty well through earlier stages of "softening up." How could his assailants have known he was close to "major organ failure," let alone death? At one point they provided a mild anesthetic (hyssop, on a lance): surely that qualifies as evidence of their "good faith" (to quote again from the memo provided to the White House legal counsel).
The symmetry of qualification and denial leads to a disturbing rhetorical question: would the legal minds shaping policy for our current administration have regarded the crucifixion of Jesus as "torture"?
There are two systems of rationalization at work here to distance us from recognizing actual victims of torture. One is theological: the centuries-long encrustation of Jesus' death with the dogmatic overlay of vicarious atonement and "divine necessity," represented in Gibson's film, for example, by a cinematic conceit that allows us to look down upon the dying figure of Jesus through the watery distortion of a great teardrop forming in God's eye....
Speaking of evangelicals beating people into submission:
...It is not necessary to beat the child into submission; a little bit of pain goes a long way for a young child. However, the spanking should be of sufficient magnitude to cause the child to cry genuinely ... Two or three stinging strokes on the legs or buttocks with a switch are usually sufficient to emphasize the point, 'You must obey me.'...
-- James Dobson, from Dare to Discipline and The Strong-Willed Child.
And the beatings will continue until the child's morale improves:
...As long as the tears represent a genuine release of emotion, they should be permitted to fall. But crying quickly changes from inner sobbing to an expression of protest... Real crying usually lasts two minutes or less but may continue for five. After that point, the child is merely complaining, and the change can be recognized in the tone and intensity of his voice. I would require him to stop the protest crying, usually by offering him a little more of whatever caused the original tears....
Another factor leading to evangelical responsibility for abuses in Abu Ghraib is the militarization of Christianity that evangelicals are major contributors toward. This creates an inability (for emotional reasons or purely cynical ones) on their part to recognize when the military does wrong, both creating an atmosphere that lacks accountability and making evangelicals accessories to torture after the fact. A lack of accountability leads to abuses. The people who really have a low opinion of our troops are the neocons and evangelicals who attribute torture to the individual evil of the scapegoats who have been caught instead of recognizing that our government, in its infinite wisdom, has created an environment where you can get abusive behavior out of just about anyone. And who best to demonstrate this militarization of American Christianity than our old friend General Boykin? From the BeliefNet article I linked to above:
...Last year, in collaboration with Welch, Boykin planned to host a gathering of Southern Baptist pastors at Fort Bragg, where he was running the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School. "You will go with General Boykin and Green Beret instructors to places where no civilians and few soldiers ever go," Welch told pastors in a letter inviting them to attend the two-day Super FAITH Force Multiplier session. "We must find a group of men who are warriors of FAITH, pastors who have the guts to lead this nation to Christ and revival!" Welch said they would see Boykin's headquarters, a demonstration of "today's war-fighting weapons" and how "Special Forces attack the enemy inside buildings (live fire/real bullets)" as well as hear a speech and get "informal time" with Boykin....
These are the people with organizations like FORCE Ministries, which is described as:
...an organization of former and current Navy SEALs with the stated purpose of "equipping military personnel for Christ-centered duty.” They cite Matthew 11:12:"From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it."
You can see this in evangelical attempts to take over military institutions:
DENVER -- An Air Force chaplain who complained that evangelical Christians were trying to "subvert the system" by winning converts among cadets at the Air Force Academy was removed from administrative duties last week, just as the Pentagon began an in-depth study of alleged religious intolerance among cadets and commanders at the school.
"They fired me," said Capt. MeLinda Morton, a Lutheran minister who was removed as executive officer of the chaplain unit on May 4. "They said I should be angry about these outside groups who reported on the strident evangelicalism at the academy. The problem is, I agreed with those reports."...
...Amid a rising chorus of complaints about preferential treatment for evangelical Christians -- and command pressure on non-evangelicals -- among the 4,000 cadets, a Pentagon task force is visiting the Colorado Springs campus this week to study the religious atmosphere and propose possible remedial steps. ...
...One staff chaplain reportedly told newly arrived freshmen last summer that anyone not born again "will burn in the fires of hell."
Such slurs have been heard for decades on the campus, according to Mikey Weinstein of Albuquerque, a 1977 academy graduate who said he has repeatedly complained to the Air Force brass about the "religious pressure" on cadets. "This is not Christian versus Jew," Weinstein said. "This is the evangelical Christians against everybody else."
The Air Force's new attention to the issue stems from an earlier scandal at the school in which female cadets said commanding officers ignored or played down numerous cases of sexual assault by male students. ...
..."The evangelicals want to subvert the system," Morton said. "They have a very clear social and political agenda. The evangelical tone is pervasive at the academy, and it's aimed at converting these young people who are under intense pressure anyway."...
I highlighted the sexual assault paragraph, because our old evangelical friend Mary Walker is involved in this, too:
It seems that inventing absurd legal justifications for torture isn't the only item listed on Air Force General Counsel Mary Walker's resume under "current job accomplishments." It looks like it also includes covering the exposed heinies of senior Pentagon officials who might otherwise have been blamed for failing to control an epidemic of sexual assaults at the Air Force Academy.The more the military is 'redeemed' by evangelicals, the more responsibility evangelicals have for military wrongdoing. Particularly when the military is worshipped in church:
This, at least, was the conclusion of a independent investigating panel commissioned by Congress to look into the scandal last year. The panel, headed by former Republican congresswoman Tillie Fowler, claimed a working group headed by Walker attempted to "shield Air Force headquarters from public criticism" by either downplaying or omitting evidence gathered by two previous probes of sexual misconduct at the academy, in 1996 and 2000....
First off, this is absolutely true and only happened about an hour ago. I am a Christian, a republican and support the war in Iraq, but this pisses me off in ways I cannot explain even to myself. This is not a debate thread, after you read this and look at the pictures, if you post anything it will be reactions, advice, or simple opinion. I know there are a lot of military personal in this forum and I would love to here what you have to say about this but if this turns into a flame war I will be extremely upset with whoever's involved. Now on to the story...
...There's a humvey and black hawk helicopter sitting outside with corresponding units, half the people that are walking in with us are wearing service shirts. Whether air force, army, marines, coastguard, ambulance driver or fireman, all these guys get a check from Uncle Sam. Ok, I don't have any problems with men in uniform, unless I'm drunk outside and they're cops. A door opens and we're headed into the basement for pork barbeque sandwiches, chicken quarters, refried beans and slaw. On the way I glance guardsmen setting things up with that military motion you don't lose in civilian life until about a year out of boot camp. We tell old war stories full of gore and glory and times we almost bought the farm, as we eat. Without any of that kind of story of my own I told him about a PI named John Landrith killing three armed kidnappers with a rusty old meat cleaver to save a seven year old. It's well received in the basement of a church while we eat our Oreo minis. When our meal is done the mass is herded to the sanctuary were we watch the history channel's documentary on the events of black hawk down. When the lights come up my earlier discomfort is redoubled. I realize something is very ********ed up, and start taking pictures. What I see reminds me of footage from the third right the way patriotic imagery is thrown around bugger all. What you’re looking at is government mesh thrown over the steps to the balcony, and a huge flag covering up all but the tip of a huge cross in the first picture, and the huge amount of people sitting below various armed forces banners in the second. There was a nice POW one behind me. ...
Jeff Sharlet is the author of "Soldiers of Christ", in the May issue of Harper's Magazine. In an interview, Sharlet gives the background, where the belief in spiritual warfare merges into physical warfare, and thus to the Boykin travesty above:
...if you go to the religious press, even the sort of the moderate evangelical press like Christianity Today, which is sort of the flagship magazine of the movement, Christianity Today has begun using the language of spiritual war much more so than it has, and you can almost chart the growth of spiritual war as a metaphor in the religious right. Now, as an idea, it goes back to the beginning of Christianity, but at certain times, the metaphor kind of grows concrete, and people start talking in very literal terms of spiritual war - spiritual war is being fought in Iraq, and if you look at the religious publishing houses, they're churning out books talking about the war in Iraq definitely as a crusade. And there's also language that is sort of out ahead of James Dobson and Bill Frist. If you go to churches and you talk to regular people, a lot of people on the religious right are talking about civil war, and they're talking about civil war in not a metaphorical sense, in a literal sense. They hope it won't
happen, but they are afraid that it might. And I think that has come through this growing metaphor of spiritual war....
Andrew Bacevich is a College of Arts and Sciences professor of international relations and director of the Center for International Relations and author of The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War. He describes how the view of the soldier as uber-Christian came about as follows:
...The argument I make in my book is that what I describe as the new American militarism arises as an unintended consequence of the reaction to the Vietnam War and more broadly, to the sixties. We all appreciate the extent to which that period was one of enormous upheaval, political change, cultural change, social change. That change did not go down well with some quarters of American society, and it evoked a powerful response. If some people think that the sixties constituted a revolution, that revolution produced a counterrevolution, launched by a variety of groups that had one thing in common: they saw revival of American military power, institutions, and values as the antidote to everything that in their minds had gone wrong.
None of these groups -- the neoconservatives, large numbers of Protestant evangelicals, politicians like Ronald Reagan, the so-called defense intellectuals, and the officer corps -- set out saying, "Militarism is a good idea." But I argue that this is what we've ended up with: a sense of what military power can do, a sort of deference to the military, and an attribution of virtue to the men and women who serve in uniform. Together this constitutes such a pernicious and distorted attitude toward military affairs that it qualifies as militarism....
Bacevich further explains:
...Since the end of the Cold War, opinion polls surveying public attitudes toward national institutions have regularly ranked the armed services first. While confidence in the executive branch, the Congress, the media, and even organized religion is diminishing, confidence in the military continues to climb. Otherwise acutely wary of having their pockets picked, Americans count on men and women in uniform to do the right thing in the right way for the right reasons. Americans fearful that the rest of society may be teetering on the brink of moral collapse console themselves with the thought that the armed services remain a repository of traditional values and old fashioned virtue.
Confidence in the military has found further expression in a tendency to elevate the soldier to the status of national icon, the apotheosis of all that is great and good about contemporary America. The men and women of the armed services, gushed Newsweek in the aftermath of Operation Desert Storm, "looked like a Norman Rockwell painting come to life. They were young, confident, and hardworking, and they went about their business with poise and élan." A writer for Rolling Stone reported after a more recent and extended immersion in military life that "the Army was not the awful thing that my [anti-military] father had imagined"; it was instead "the sort of America he always pictured when he explained... his best hopes for the country."
According to the old post-Vietnam-era political correctness, the armed services had been a refuge for louts and mediocrities who probably couldn't make it in the real world. By the turn of the twenty-first century a different view had taken hold. Now the United States military was "a place where everyone tried their hardest. A place where everybody... looked out for each other. A place where people -- intelligent, talented people -- said honestly that money wasn't what drove them. A place where people spoke openly about their feelings." Soldiers, it turned out, were not only more virtuous than the rest of us, but also more sensitive and even happier. Contemplating the GIs advancing on Baghdad in March 2003, the classicist and military historian Victor Davis Hanson saw something more than soldiers in battle. He ascertained "transcendence at work." According to Hanson, the armed services had "somehow distilled from the rest of us an elite cohort" in which virtues cherished by earlier generations of Americans continued to flourish.
Soldiers have tended to concur with this evaluation of their own moral superiority. In a 2003 survey of military personnel, "two-thirds [of those polled] said they think military members have higher moral standards than the nation they serve... Once in the military, many said, members are wrapped in a culture that values honor and morality." Such attitudes leave even some senior officers more than a little uncomfortable. Noting with regret that "the armed forces are no longer representative of the people they serve," retired admiral Stanley Arthur has expressed concern that "more and more, enlisted as well as officers are beginning to feel that they are special, better than the society they serve." Such tendencies, concluded Arthur, are "not healthy in an armed force serving a democracy."...
Does anyone think that the belief that one is part of a moral elite leads to accepting accountability (for, say, torture) from the unwashed masses? Paul Craig Roberts, former assistant secretary of the U.S. Treasury in the Reagan Administration, quotes Bacevich:
...The new American militarism would be inconceivable, Bacevich writes, "were it not for the support offered by several tens of millions of evangelicals." Books written about "militant Islam" could equally describe militant evangelical Christianity. How did a Christian doctrine of love and peace become an apology for war?
Bacevich explains that evangelicals, aghast at Vietnam era protests of America's war against "godless communism," turned to the military as the repository of traditional American virtues. For evangelicals, endtimes doctrines converged eschatology with national security. Prophecies merged America's fate with Israel's. Islam inherited the role of godless communism and became the target of the war against evil. America emerged with the "same immensely elastic permission to use force previously accorded to Israel."...
That "permission to use force previously accorded to Israel" includes a level of genocide that would (dare I say it?) do Saddam proud. Once you take the position that "God said it, I believe it, that settles it" concerning genocide against the "enemies of God" being acceptable, how difficult is it to rationalize torturing some? The belief that the United States is uniquely the instrument of God also plays a role in evangelical misbehavior. It is the basis for their claim to a divine right to political power in this country, no matter what the consequences, and thus to a total lack of accountability. As Fredrick Clarkson puts it:
...One of the key ingredients in the ideology of the Christian Right is the idea that America was founded as a Christian nation. And somehow this intention of the Founding Fathers has been thwarted by (pick one) -- liberals, judicial tyrants, the ACLU, secular humanists, all of the above.This is the same David Barton who was hired by the Republican Party:
This idea is tremendously powerful. It asserts that "the Christians," (however one may define Christians), are the intended rulers of the nation, because that's what The Founding Fathers, and by extension, by implication, the Constitution sought to accomplish. In some versions, God intended that America be a Christian nation. Its a powerful piece of political and religious mythology that feeds into another powerful myth -- that Christians are persecuted in the U.S. The effect is to make people feel that something has been unustly, unrighteously taken from them and that that something must be "restored" or "reclaimed." Its a powerful narrative and it flows quite naturally from the mouths of D. James Kennedy, David Barton, Roy Moore, Pat Robertson, and many more. There is a large industry of text books, seminars, speech and power point presenters that inform and popularize the movement. Christian nationalism is integral to the political events sponsored by the Christian Coalition and it is a recurrent theme on Christian television and radio....
The Republican National Committee is employing the services of a Texas-based activist who believes the United States is a “Christian nation” and the separation of church and state is “a myth.”
David Barton, the founder of an organization called Wallbuilders, was hired by the RNC as a political consultant and has been traveling the country for a year--speaking at about 300 RNC-sponsored lunches for local evangelical pastors. During the lunches, he presents a slide show of American monuments, discusses his view of America’s Christian heritage -- and tells pastors that they are allowed to endorse political candidates from the pulpit.
Barton, who is also the vice-chairman of the Texas GOP, told Beliefnet this week that the pastors' meetings have been kept “below the radar.... We work our tails off to stay out of the news.” But at this point, he says, with voter registration ended in most states and early voting already under way, staying quiet about the activity “doesn’t matter.”
Barton’s main contention is that the separation of church and state was never intended by the nation’s founders; he says it was created by the Supreme Court in the 20th Century. The back cover of his 1989 book, “The Myth of Separation,” proclaims: “This book proves that separation of church and state is a myth.” Barton is also on the board of advisers of the Providence Foundation, a Christian Reconstructionist group that advocates America as a Christian nation....
The Providence Foundation describes itself as follows:
The Providence Foundation is a nonprofit Christian educational organization whose mission is to spread liberty, justice, and prosperity among the nations by instructing individuals in a Biblical worldview. Emphasis is upon educating in principles, rather than issues, drawing upon examples in history for illustration.
The founding era of America's history is especially emphasized since ideas of Divine Providence and similar terminology expressed a basic link in the Founder's thinking between God and history....
The fact is, a belief that your country is unique in the eyes of God leads to the total contempt for the opininion of everyone else on Earth shown by the total lack of accountability for Abu Ghraib. America is either a "Christian nation" or it isn't - if we are (which evangelicals believe), then we are also a "Christian nation" when practicing torture. They can't have it both ways, where we're a "Christian nation" when they get what they want, but not when the nation's government does something wrong. More about the belief that evangelicals are being persecuted below.
Would evangelicals really support a full accounting of what happened at Abu Ghraib, even if it cost them political power, or would they want to become accessories after the fact and bury the truth along with the bodies of those prisoners killed? Let's ask Ted Haggard, quoted above about Indonesia, what he thinks about speaking the truth and letting the political chips fall where they may:
...Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, has met with the president and advised the Bush White House. "I sat down with [Bush]," he told me. "What I do know is that ... [the president] is an honest guy who really believes what he says."...
...For Bible-believing Christians, nothing in the entire world is more important than "walking" with Jesus; that is, engaging in a personal relationship with their savior and living according to his word. With this in mind, I recently asked Haggard, himself the pastor of a large church in Colorado, why the president, as a man of supposedly strong faith, did not publicly apologize for continually misleading Americans in the run-up to the Iraq War. Instead, Bush clung zealously to misinformation and half-truths. I asked Haggard why, as a man of Christian principle, Bush did not fully disavow Karl Rove's despicable smear tactics and apologize for the ugly lies the Bush campaign spread over the years about Ann Richards, John McCain, and John Kerry, among others. After all, isn't getting right with God -- whatever the political price --the most important thing for the sort of Christian Bush has proclaimed himself to be?
Haggard laughed as though my questions were the most naive he'd ever heard. "I think if you asked the president these questions once he's out of office," Haggard said, "he'd say, `You're right. We shouldn't have done it.' But right now if he said something like that, well, the world would spin out of control!
"That's why when Jimmy Carter ran, he [turned out to be] such a terrible president. Because when he [governed], he really tried to maintain [his integrity] and those types of values -- and that is virtually impossible."
The pastor returned to my charges of Bush's deceitfulness. "Listen," he said testily, "I think [we Christian believers] are responsible not to lie [sic], but I don't think we're responsible to say everything we know." ...
This is what the evangelical belief in "True Truth" leads to. You may ask, is there a "false truth"? Yes, to the evangelical, false truth is mere factual consistency when it leads people away from what the evangelical believes. For example, what you say about Iraqi WMD isn't nearly as important as being 'right' that we should have invaded. Iraq having no WMD is false truth, that we 'needed' to invade is True Truth. This also reinforces the point about authority and doubt above. Doubt leads to loss of faith and thus to Hell. If people doubt their leaders, all Hell (literally) breaks loose. Submission is more important than accountability or accuracy. Evangelicals don't want to know if "their side" was involved in torture - the answer could bring disorder.
The lack of accountability has been bad enough that even some conservatives are complaining:
...And that is what is most disturbing about the short-sighted and indefensible position of the 'uber-patriots.' Put aside the demagoguery, the denial, and the smears. Put aside the wishful thinking, the demonization of the media, and the claims that anyone who is outraged by this abuse is un-American, anti-military, hyperventilating over nothing, or out to get the President (which I am decidedly not). Instead, spend 1/10th of the energy you spend defending the status quo and urge the Republicans to use our majority status and the trappings of power we now enjoy with the control of Congress and the Presidency, and stop the torture and abuse. Do that, and your critics won't have anything to complain about.
Why is it that few, if any, members of the Republican party have called for congressional investigations? I wonder if that would be the same response for Hugh and the Republicans in Congress if Clinton were President?...
...If some have their way, a full accounting of the nefarious misdeeds of a few won't happen, because that would require that we accept blame for what has been done in our name, and that might require a level of candor and responsibility that many do not seem to possess. That would require an honest and open debate, a full documentation of events, and accountability. As it is, I will leave it to Hugh and the rest of his supporters to figure out how the status quo is the 'Christian' response to torture and murder. Maybe he is just taking a page from the Catholic church's response to child abuse.
Much like it was for Cardinal Law, for Hugh and those who view this issue as he does, the problem is not the abuse. The real problem is the press frenzy surrounding the abuse. "The media coveage is over the top," we were told then. "These are just a few isolated incidents," we were assured. "We don't tolerate abuse or those who abuse," it was said. We all know how that turned out, and I would prefer to spare the military and our soldiers the taint the Catholic Church is still trying to shed....
My final example of an evangelical belief leading to abuse is their persecution complex. Two books illustrating this are Persecution: How Liberals Are Waging War Against Christianity by David Limbaugh and The Criminalization of Christianity : Read This Book Before It Becomes Illegal!. The titles and book descriptions on Amazon are enough - I'll spare you quotes.
First of all, if you're persecuted, you obviously have no (or limited) political power and can thus dodge responsibility for a government where your party currently controls all three branches of government (and thus become an accessory to torture after the fact). Also, desperate times can be said to call for (and excuse) desperate measures. The Slacktivist promoted a quote that explains it better than I can from his comment section (in another context) that I'd like to reproduce here:
...The glamorization of "persecution" is a component -- and a vital one--of the culture "wars". It allows a participant to view himself (or herself) as a "soldier" carrying out God's work -- and losing.
This is the important part.
If you're losing your struggle, you get to break the rules, cheat, lie, do anything to win. Winners have to play fair, but if you can somehow twist things so you become oppressed, you are granted moral license to do, well, anything.
It's the glow of martyrship without the ickiness of actually being martyred....
Evangelical leaders push the persecution complex to keep the sheep frightened and obedient. The sheep need persecution to feed their black and white worldview - they must be opposed by Satan himself as they are so right. They want their opponents to hate them. The opposite of love isn't hate; the opposite of love is apathy. Iraq could either totally prostrate itself to them, or fight them to the death. Anything in between would have been too 'nuanced' for evangelicals to accept, and so Iraq needed to be pushed into the total war they needed. This is shown by a Daily Telegraph article posted by Steve Gilliard:
...According to senior British officers, US military operations are typified by "force protection" - the protection of troops at all costs - that allows American troops to open fire, using whatever means available, if they believe that their lives are under threat....
..."I explained that their tactics were alienating the civil population and could lengthen the insurgency by a decade. Unfortunately, when we explained our rules of engagement which are based around the principle of minimum force, the US troops just laughed."
Haj Ali is a former prisoner who says he was the man under the black hood in the infamous photo from Abu Ghraib. He explains how Abu Ghraib fits into this:
Abu Ghraib is a breeding ground for insurgents, 99% of the people brought in are innocent, but with all the insults and torture, it makes them ready to do just about anything....
...We were surprised that that an American [television] station broadcasted these photos. But we have two reasons to explain why the photos were released; the first is not that they admired the human rights, but because of the polarity of the American elections. And the second explanation for doing that is to instill fear in the Iraqi resistance, but it backfired on them to the nth degree.
Before that, a person was able to negotiate with them, but then these photos were published and the facts became clear about what the American Army is doing in Iraq and what the real occupation is....
The final issue tying evangelicalism to Abu Ghraib is simple racism:
... In 1989 George Gallup Jr. and James Castelli published the results of a survey to determine which groups in the U.S. were least and most likely to object to having black neighbors—surely a good measure of racism. Catholics and nonevangelical Christians ranked least likely to object to black neighbors; 11 percent objected. Mainline Protestants came next at 16 percent. At 17 percent, Baptists and evangelicals were among the most likely groups to object to black neighbors, and 20 percent of Southern Baptists objected to black neighbors.
It is common knowledge that during the Civil Rights movement, when mainline Protestants and Jews joined African Americans in their historic struggle for freedom and equality, evangelical leaders were almost entirely absent. Some opposed the movement; others said nothing. When Frank Gaebelein, then a coeditor of Christianity Today, not only covered Martin Luther King's March on Selma but also endorsed and joined the movement, he experienced opposition and hostility from other evangelical leaders. My own school, Eastern Baptist Theological Semina