Some time back, I alluded to an upcoming post on torture. Other issues took my attention since then, but the recent suicide of three Guantanamo detainees reminded me of my desire to explore the topic.

The topic of torture has arisen in a number of areas over the past several years in this administration’s prosecution of the “War on Terror.” The most egregious example of this, of course, is Abu Ghraib. Had the episode at Abu Ghraib occurred in isolation, we could perhaps disregard the matter. Individuals will make mistakes. There is always the risk of having a few “bad apples” in any particular situation. Those soldiers who participated could be disciplined, and we could move on.

However, Abu Ghraib did not occur in isolation. Rather, it seems to be part of an alarming pattern in the behavior of this administration. There have been a number of allegations about prisoner abuse in Afghanistan. Guantanamo has come under increasing fire for the treatment of the prisoners held there. And we have yet to know the full scope of the treatment of prisoners who have been subject to “extraordinary rendition,” let alone the alleged secret CIA prisons.

President Bush’s recent confession that Abu Ghraib was a mistake and the administration’s general denunciations of torture are laudable at first glance. However, when we view their history their words ring a bit hollow.

Rumsfeld approved of some of the “interrogation” methods used in Abu Ghraib. Alberto Gonzalez, prior to his appointment as Attorney General, wrote to the President dismissing the Geneva Conventions regarding against torture. Jay Bybee, federal judge (and to our shame, a man associated with BYU and by extension, the LDS Church), delivered to President Bush an opinion severely reinterpreting the term “torture” to narrowly restrict the term and rationalize harsh interrogation methods. And the President, after signing the recent bill banning torture, issued a “signing statement” (the legal clout of which is questionable at best) reserving the right to waive the restrictions if he deemed it necessary. Meanwhile, the reaction among the many of the media apologists for the Right to the question of torture has been one of rationalization and mockery.

There is no question that the actions we are talking about here are mild compared to some infamous historical forms of torture. I am not aware of any accusations of anything on par with the rack, the iron maiden, hot irons, scarification, or any other sort of crippling physical pain. Of course, the extent of the interrogation used by other nations under rendition is yet to be revealed.

Such acknowledgments, while important, do not obviate the gravity of these potential crimes. Adultery is still adultery even if the sexual activity did not include intercourse. A person who just imbibes an occasional wine is in violation of the Word of Wisdom and is no more qualified for a temple recommend than the outright alcoholic.

Quibbling about the definition of torture and its relative levels ignores the spirit of the law, the bigger issue of how we treat our brothers and sisters, friend or foe. With this in mind, I think it productive to widen the discussion from a narrow conversation on torture to an exploration of our obligations in human rights. This includes not only the interrogation methods, but the very nature of the imprisonment.

One of the primary justifications for the holding of the detainees in various prison facilities is that these are enemy combatants, dangerous individuals who would a threat to international peace were they to be allowed to roam free. The truth isn’t nearly so dramatic. According to a report of the International Committee of the Red Cross in 2004, between 70-90% of the prisoners held in Iraq were wrongly imprisoned. In other words, a vast majority of the prisoners were held in error, many undergoing interrogation. The administration, including President Bush, Vice-President Cheney, and retired press secretary Scott McClellan have all represented the detainees at Guantanamo as enemy combatants, taken from the battlefield and held at Guantanamo for safekeeping. Those statements were false. According to the research of Mark Denbeaux and Joshua Denbeaux, the former a Seton Hall law professor and both practicing lawyers, a mere 5% of the Guantanamo detainees were captured by American forces on the battlefield. An investigation by Corine Hegland of the National Journal unearthed similar results (read another article by Dahlia Lithwick of Slate). The great majority were delivered to the U.S. by Pakistan or Northern Alliance forces in Afghanistan in return for handsome bounties. The connection between these prisoners and terrorist organizations is tenuous at best.

If those figures are even remotely accurate, a large number of presumably innocent people are being subjected to imprisonment. These are people who we have little—if any—reason to assume pose any threat. They have done nothing of which we are aware deserving of incarceration. When a large majority of the prison population are held in error, that is far beyond any conceivably acceptable margin of error. What are the chances that the suicides were not terrorist collaborators taking the cowards way out, but rather innocent men driven to despair by their abusive and interminable incarceration, willing to go to such desperate lengths to end their nightmare?

I very deliberately chose the phrase “presumably innocent people.” That has always been a highly respected principle in the U.S; A person may indeed be guilty of some crime, but under American legal philosophy, people are presumed Innocent until proven guilty. This, along with such principles as the right to trial by jury, are some of our most cherished legal principles. The Declaration of Independence included among its grievances the denial of such rights and principles (“For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of trial by jury: For transporting us beyond seas to be tried for pretended offenses”). Jefferson and many of the early American political thinkers whom we so revere well recognized the potential for corruption when those principles are not upheld.

Yet this administration has persistently denied the detainees those very rights. They have resisted trials in which the prisoners can see the evidence against them—indeed, even to see of what they have been accused! They have been required to languish in prison at the whim of the U.S. government, subject to interrogation as the camp officials see fit by methods which appear to be highly questionable.

The administration has argued that the detainees are not subject to U.S. law and legal principle because they are not citizens of the U.S, nor are they charged with criminal offences in the strictest sense of the term.

Perhaps this is technically true. I’ll leave it to lawyers and political scientists to wrangle over. I don’t believe that the legal complexities are the issue. Our government has a duty to extend such rights and procedures to the detainees of all stripes for the protection of its citizens. As long as there is even the appearance of evil—let alone the actual evil which has come to pass in our military prisons—we increase antipathy towards our nation. We provide fodder for the recruiters of terrorists. We increase the likelihood that we will again be made targets of hatred and violence.

Even more to the point, the Constitution and our legal system do not include those rights and procedures because the caprice of the founders and various legislators. They were included because those rights and procedures were and are determined to be the most effective means by which we can ensure justice is done. They are the best means by which to keep the government from abusing its power and for protecting the innocent. We consider them universal principles of justice. Therefore, Whatever our legal obligations, we have a superseding moral obligation to promote those noble ideals among all people—not just our citizens.

Conversely, the administration, justified by the aforementioned Gonzalez memo, have also claimed that the detainees have no due under the Geneva Conventions, as those detainees, being ostensibly “terrorists,” are not soldiers or enemy combatants in the strict sense of the word. Again, the legal applicability of the Geneva Conventions on suspected terrorist is ultimately immaterial. Our treatment of POWs should not hinge upon the requirements of international treaty or law. As nation which declares itself to be fighting for a moral cause, we should base our treatment of detainees on what is right.

And what is “right” in war? It is easy to loose sight of moral standards in war. The essential nature of war is inherently destructive and dehumanizing, regardless of the worthiness of the cause itself. The line between good and evil can easily become blurred, and evil is easy to rationalize.

Fortunately, we have much guidance on the matter. The scriptures are replete with war. We can learn much about our moral obligations in war from the examples of the Lord’s people who have gone before.

The Israelites were led by Joshua into the land of Canaan, a land promised to the descendants of Israel by the Lord. Every human inhabitant, be they man, woman, or child, was routinely killed upon the conquest of a city of Canaan—the Lord demanded that even the livestock were slaughtered in Jericho (Joshua 6:21), though Rahab and her family were spared.

The conquest of Canaan was by modern standards a brutal affair. Yet there was no evidence of any use of torture. No mention of the rape, playing games in the murder of babies (such as tossing them in the air to be caught on spears), or any torture. Even in the era of the Mosaic Law, a time in which there were many things we wouldn’t approve of today, there was no evidence that the Lord sanctioned torture. And we all know that the Savior raised the bar on humane behavior when he came to earth and fulfilled the Mosaic Law.

The Savior’s people in the New World were no strangers to war either. Much of the Book of Mormon deals with military conflict. They were threatened by enemies both from within and without. When faced with the prospect of having internal dissidents (the followers of Amalickiah) joining forces with and inciting the Lamanites, the Nephite General Moroni acted decisively. He cut off the majority of the Amalickiahites and prevented them by force of arms from reaching their goal. But the traitors were not subject to torture or any sort of abuse. They were not even subject to indefinite detainment. Some were executed due to the risk they posed to the Nephite nation, yes. But what could they do to avoid such consequences? Merely covenant to support and defend the cause of freedom. Essentially, they had to take the Pledge of Allegiance (Alma 46:30-35). The majority of them did.

Not long afterwards, the Nephites were engaged in a protracted and well documented (in the Book of Mormon) war by the Lamanites. During the course of this war, the Nephites took a substantial number of prisoners. The Nephites frequently required that the prisoners labor to fortify the cities which the Nephites were defending (Alma 53:3-5; 55:25-26). When the Lamanite prisoners revolted, the Nephites took up arms and slew them until such time as the prisoners again surrendered (Alma 57:14 &33). But there is no record of any abuse of the prisoners. No record of unworthy treatment. Despite the value which military intelligence might have provided, we read of no interrogations. Even when provisions were in short supply, the Nephites did not seem to consider withholding rations to their prisoners, nor did they decide to eliminate their prisoners (Alma 57:15). As the war drew to a close, the Lamanites captured in at least one decisive battle were given the same option as the internal dissidents; pledge fealty to the Nephite state and be given leave to live in peace among the Ammonites (Alma 62:15-17).

There is only one reference to abusive behavior in wartime in the Book of Mormon. The last great leader of the Book of Mormon, Mormon himself, wrote to his son Moroni about what he had witnessed during the wars between the Nephites and the Lamanites.

9. And notwithstanding this great abomination of the Lamanites, it doth not exceed that of our people in Moriantum. For behold, many of the daughters of the Lamanites have they taken prisoners; and after depriving them of that which was most dear and precious above all things, which is chastity and virtue&mdash

10. And after they had done this thing, they did murder them in a most cruel manner, torturing their bodies even unto death; and after they have done this, they devour their flesh like unto wild beasts, because of the hardness of their hearts; and they do it for a token of bravery (Moroni 9:9-10).

The only time that the Book of Mormon mentions torture is when the Nephites had fallen into the depths of depravity. And only a few scant years after having still been a moral, righteous people (Moroni 9:12)—perhaps led, as my brother astutely pointed out often happens, by degrees; from small and relatively easily rationalized abuse to such great evil.

I received a bulk e-mail from a good online friend, whom I respect a great deal in many aspects. Her son is a soldier who was serving at the time in Iraq. She was passing along a message which claimed to have been written by a retired general. This general mentioned a number of terrible things which it claimed the insurgents had done to coalition troops. He pondered whether or not harsh interrogations and detention of suspected insurgents might have provided intelligence which could have forestalled these atrocities and have scared potential insurgents from following that path.

When I was a child, I was never let off the hook for wrongdoing because “she started it” or “well, but he did…” Do we think we can resort to such childish protestations now?

Recall the counsel of the Savior in the Sermon on the Mount.

39 But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also (Matthew 5:39).

44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you (Matthew 5:44);

The Savior is clearly calling for a very high standard of behavior, regardless of what the other party has done or would do.

Some have suggested that it would be foolish to end the detention camps such as Guantanamo, the various Iraq prisons, and the suspected CIA run camps in Europe. They say that harsh interrogation and the use of rendition saves lives and protects America. But I believe there are more effective means by which to secure our nation.

While parleying before a battle with the Nephites, Lamanite king Zerahemnah insisted that it was similar temporal means, the technological superiority of the Nephites, which had given the Nephites advantage over the Lamanites (Alma 44:9). Moroni, however, understood the true cause of their success in fighting against the Lamanites.

4 Now ye see that this is the true faith of God; yea, ye see that God will support, and keep, and preserve us, so long as we are faithful unto him, and unto our faith, and our religion; and never will the Lord suffer that we shall be destroyed except we should fall into transgression and deny our faith (Alma 44:4).

Moroni recognized the promise that the Lord has made with his people whom he leads to the Promised Land of the Americas. Our Father has promised to protect this land as long as they serve Him. The Lord made this promise rather explicitly to the brother of Jared.

10 For behold, this is a land which is choice above all other lands; wherefore he that doth possess it shall serve God or shall be swept off; for it is the everlasting decree of God. And it is not until the fulness of iniquity among the children of the land, that they are swept off.

11 And this cometh unto you, O ye Gentiles, that ye may know the decrees of God—that ye may repent, and not continue in your iniquities until the fulness come, that ye may not bring down the fulness of the wrath of God upon you as the inhabitants of the land have hitherto done.

12 Behold, this is a choice land, and whatsoever nation shall possess it shall be free from bondage, and from captivity, and from all other nations under heaven, if they will but serve the God of the land, who is Jesus Christ, who hath been manifested by the things which we have written (Ether 2:10-12).

The true path to security lies not in force of arms or the determination to go to any ends in order to secure peace, but in righteousness.

The scriptures show us that there will be times when we need to take up arms to defend our families and our values. We may be justified in restraining those who seek to do us harm. But there is clearly a standard by which we should treat others, and it cannot be rationalized away simply because of we may be at war. We have a responsibility to treat people with decency, dignity, and civility, just as did the Nephites. No matter how much evil they may wish visit upon us, we must follow the counsel of Christ and take the higher road. We need to ensure that the detainees are treated fairly and humanely. We must open up the process of detainment to scrutiny and use sunlight to prevent corruption and abuse of power. We must put aside leaders who would justify and contemplate unethical behavior in pursuit of his goals, and eliminate any prisons that are unnecessary.

Only in doing those things will we increase our security.

16 Responses to “Torture”

  1. WP Says:

    I guess you have not read the article in Vanity Fair about the two mormons from Spokane who wrote the test book on terror?

  2. WP Says:

    That was the textbook on how to torture the terrorists. Their work was used to direct activities art Abu Ghraib and Gitmo. The CIA has decorated them with medals and currently pays them big bucks. I had a post about it with a link to the article.

  3. Derek Staffanson Says:

    WP, I’m afraid I had previously missed the Vanity Faire article and your blog post on the subject. I cannot even express my outrage to have two “brothers” involved in such villainy! May God have mercy on their twisted souls.

  4. David Sexton Says:

    So tell me, where is the disconnect between US policy with referrence to the “detainees” versus the Nephite policy of excuting prisoners if they wouldn’t make the pledge? It seems the US policy is more generous. I guess you don’t consider being killed as a form of torture, even though the weapon of choice was a sword.

    “But there is clearly a standard by which we should treat others, and it cannot be rationalized away simply because of we may be at war.” You had better read Alma 51 (, it seems that this is exactly what happened.

    “And we all know that the Savior raised the bar on humane behavior when he came to earth and fulfilled the Mosaic Law.” You need to read the Old Testament a little closer, your implication seems to be that the gospel changed between the Old and New Testament. Don’t we believe in a unchangable God? Isn’t the gospel the same now as it was in Adam’s time? Or Moses’s time? Or were there different standards of behavior in the two time periods?

    “The true path to security lies not in force of arms or the determination to go to any ends in order to secure peace, but in righteousness.” Now this I completly agree with, but not it’s not really relevant to the points you are trying to make, only in that if we were a righteous nation, we hopefully wouldn’t have these kind of problems.

    I just want to know if you’d advocate the Nephite policy for the “detainees”? If not, why?

  5. Derek Staffanson Says:

    DS, Thanks for the comment. I would note that the whole discussion of the validity of torture to obtain information is based on the premise that the prisoners in question are co-conspirators with terrorists—a premise which, as I pointed out in the post, is questionable in the first place. Until such time as their villany can be firmly established, it is worthless to seriously defend torture, let alone the “Nephite policy towards detainees.” But for the sake of discussion, I’ll humor you.

    The stand you have chosen to take is on a very slippery slope. Because the Nephites took the lives of prisoners, are we then justified in mutilation? Amputation? One could make the case that rape is likewise not as bad as death; is rape then justified if necessary to obtain information from prisoners? How far do you think we are justified to descend because the Nephites were forced to engage in war?

    Regardless, I’m not interested in quibbling over degrees on the treatment of prisoners. I will instead point back to the scriptures. There are instances in the scriptures, as you pointed out, where killing has been justified by the Lord. You will note that there is no account in any of the scriptures where the Lord has commanded or justified any sort of torture—not even in the ugly scenes to which you referred (Alma 51). Not one. On the other hand, the most prominent discussion of torture in the scriptures is that in Moroni 9:7-10—a scripture in which Mormon is lamenting how far his people have fallen into wickedness. Casts a bit of a pall over the whole business of torture, wouldn’t you say?

    How curious that you would try to claim I had implied the Gospel changed from OT to NT. It is common doctrine of the Gospel that while the Gospel itself had remained the same, the standards to which the people were held did indeed change (Matthew 5).

    Sadly, all too many people see the situation as you do. We are not a righteous nation, and so it is acceptable and justified for our nation to sink to such ignoble actions. I say that we can and must take a more hopeful, optimistic approach; by making this a righteous nation and government, in part by banning such base actions, we can win the favor and protection of the Lord. On the other hand as long as we are willing to undertake immoral strategies such as torture, we can in no way hope for the Lord’s favor, and no amount of military might can ultimately protect us. I say let us choose the better part.

  6. David Sexton Says:

    Thanks for the response. I’m just frankly a little surpised that you don’t consider being killed with a sword torture. The torture episodes you mention in the Book of Mormon are not even close to how we treat the “detainees”.
    I agree that an effort should be made to only have hard core Islamic radicals in Guantanamo. I’ll maintain my postion that the standards of behavior between the Old and New Testament did not change. I think a careful reading of both prove it out. Harsh interogation should rarely be used, but should remain a option for the handful of cases where time is in short supply and the terrorist has relevant information. A thought provoking post for sure.

  7. Derek Staffanson Says:

    DS, most people recognize a difference between torture and execution (unless, perhaps, the method of execution is by a method such as being hanged, drawn, and quartered). My opinion of execution is therefore a separate matter.

    Yes, waterboarding is several degrees different than the torture listed in in the BoM. That’s the slippery slope I mentioned.

    As to the old ticking time bomb canard, I’ve addressed that here.

  8. MarcusDcas Says:

    … from what I understand has Rob Bishop and Chris Cannon voted against the override of the bill that would ban CIA from using waterboarding. As an LDS from the other side of the ocean I find this absolutely unbelievable. How is it possible for any member of our church, or any Christian for that matter, to take a stand for such hideousness. So clearly against the very core of what we believe in.

    I understand the reasons behind their vote; fear, hysteria and the effect that a militarized culture has on you. But still … my goodness. hadn’t it been for people like you Derek I would have plunged into utter despair.

  9. Gnostic Says:

    To David Sexton
    The God of the OT and NT are the same, but not the teachings.

    Starting from Adam until Jacob there was the true Doctrine. It changed to something what would later become Judaism after the children of Jacob did not follow their Father in practicing the Doctrine while in Egypt. Their stiff-necked nature grew into an explicit confrontation with Moses, who had come to bring them back to the forgotten Doctrine of their fathers. After Moses departed from them into the wilderness, they, the children of Jacob invented a convenient religion (OT) for themselves to justify all their actions, until Christ Himself came down to correct them, to bring to them whatever they were lacking, to fulfill the law. But even then the Jews did not listen to Him, and still are not. So the teachings of the OT (Judaism) are not identical with the teachings of NT (Christianity).

  10. davistruth Says:

    We have an excellent website which deals with US Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee’s legal opinion justifying Torture. We stand behind it as being evil and you never lower yourself to the level of your enemy.

  11. Sgt Hamblin Says:

    I really find it frustrating when I see Mormons trying to take the whole Jehovah Witness view on war. God does not fight our battles. This country was not established by turning the other cheek. Ya, you have a lot of scriptures posted there, but if there is anything I’ve learned from reading the scriptures its that nothing is just black in white.
    And the so called “torture” that we are using on our enemies is used on our own soldiers as well to train and condition them for what might happen if they are captured as a POW. Its not classified as torture because it has no long term affects, but it still has the same temporary feelings. This “torture” has worked on our enemies as well. They used it and got knowledge on an attack that would have been similar to 9/11 in LA and stopped it (google it). Now that we have these Liberals running America we can no longer use this “torture” on our enemies. We can, however, still use it on our own soldiers to condition them. Because it works. And it saves our soldiers in the end.

  12. davistruth Says:

    Sgr Hamblin justifies the end through any means of activities which are defined as “torture”. I became a licensed/bonded private investigator back in 1992 to professionally become a witness against the MK-Ultra Mind Control treatment on Americans since Congress passed it in 1953. Idaho Senator Frank Church exposed it and the feds/military brass claimed it was terminated. Far from it. There are tens of thousands Americans who have been brainwashed to deal with blind obedience. Jay Bybee worked very closely with former CIA Agent Neal A. Maxwell (1953) who was specially assigned to cause this terrible Mind Control on Mormons. It was so successful, Mormons because the best CIA Agents. Mormons became the most loyal law enforcement agents because they believe their leaders are “gods”. Mormons believe in ‘many gods’ and this is why they are called a ‘cult’. The website I submitted goes in detail why Mormon lawyers were sought to justify waterboarding and other methods of torture.
    An American is above world because we are a free people and our example will stand. We don’t need to use the same tactics used by others. Respect is earned. We need to be accountable and punished when abusing the laws of the land.

  13. Wind Lane Says:

    davistruth – Your post makes me laugh. Having been a life-long member of the church I find it hilarious that you really think mind control works. There have been countless studies of it, including hypnotism – which is the only form of mind control that can be attempted without leaving any evidence behind if it fails – which it does. The end result of these studies is that you can’t force someone to do something they wouldn’t do. Torture is one thing, mind control only works on those who have already given up control

    Your facts are horrible and need some major league checking. Last I saw, the name of the church is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. And you know what? There’s not one mention of any prophet or apostle in that name. You know why? Because it’s Christ we follow and Christ we put our faith in and it is Christ that can save us.

    Try what I and countless others have tried. Open your heart to God and his truth, and pray for His guidance to continue to grow in that knowledge of that truth. No matter what, only God can answer your prayers. And if you are humble enough to listen and follow, you will receive answers as I have. Don’t let hate guide you, seek after the Shepherd and His loving guidance.

  14. davistruth Says:

    Hi Wind. As a member of the LDS Church you are fully aware that you can become a Son of Perdition because you deny the true identity of the Holy Ghost. Look up your own scriptures at Mosiah 15:1-5, Ether 3:14, Alma 11:22-42 and you will realize that there is only One God, not three. This means you are baptized with the property authority and still deny the truth. Blind Obedience and saving others is the opposite plan of Jesus. I’m a former BYU Bishop, called by President Benson one month before he called the Church and members condemned because they don’t know what’s in the Book of Mormon. I served at the BYU for 5-1/2 years and taught many BYU students and faculty this fact. You, like 99% of Mormons are true candidates of go permentantly to live with Lucifer, the former Ex-wife to Heavenly Father. Lucifer wanted to save all her children and was cast out because only the “boys” wanted to replace Heavenly Father. Mitt Romney got laughed at because he, like you, believe Jesus and Satan are brothers. Look it up: and you will discover, like the Jews believe, there is only One God. The Muslims believe it, too. The LDS Church is cursed. Why does the first prophet, Lehi, state there will be an apostasy after Joseph Smith? Read it: 2 Nephi 3:24
    From a true believer in the Original Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith. I am not a Brighamite (polygamy has never been of God, never).

  15. Says:

    What precisely honestly influenced u to create “Torture A Liberal
    Mormon”? I actuallygenuinely liked the blog post!
    Thanks for your effort -Alecia

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