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Rallying the Faithful

The religious left campaigns against U.S. interrogation policies.

12:00 AM, Sep 26, 2008 • By MARK TOOLEY
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Emphasizing the Golden Rule as a guide to interrogation of terrorists was a central theme for Gushee, who kicked off the anti-torture summit by releasing a poll that, disturbingly for Gushee, showed most southern white evangelicals approving of torture, until reminded of Christ's command to "do unto others as you would have them do unto you." The poll of 600 southern white evangelicals showed 57 percent supporting torture with terror suspects. But when reminded of the Golden Rule, more than half agreed that torture was wrong. target=_blank>According to Associated Baptist Press, Gushee chided John McCain, who opposes affording terror suspects the same rights as U.S. citizens and lawful combatants, as "grievously disappointing to all who follow this battle for our national soul." And he encouraged Barack Obama to "make torture a moral and, in fact a religious issue--a values issue" that will help him "communicate to religious Americans--and especially to evangelicals."

During the anti-torture summit, attorney Gita Gutierrez of the far-left, New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights told of her client, Guantanamo detainee Mohammed al-Qatani, who allegedly was one of the originally planned 9-11 hijackers. "Everyone is someone's child," Gutierrez said, according to a United Methodist report. "Mohammed's elderly, sick father went to meet with lawyers from the Center for Constitutional Rights and filled out papers so his son could get legal representation."

Gutierrez described al-Qatani as initially so terrified by torture at Guantanamo that he had to be "tricked" into meeting her. "He was curled up in a corner and he was so terrified that the interpreter in the room kept having to ask him to pull his arms away from his mouth so they could understand what he was saying," she recounted. "We have learned to dehumanize people based on race, religion or beliefs," she complained. "We have developed the capacity to see other human beings as less than human."

It is not clear whether Gutierrez described the details of al-Qatani's treatment at Guantanamo to the Atlanta anti-torture summit. But Time magazine described him as having been restrained to a swivel chair for long periods, deprived of sleep, subjected to loud music and lowered temperatures, being told to act like a dog, forced to wear a bra, and massaged by a female interrogator who straddled him like a lap dancer.

Gushee complained to the anti-torture activists in Atlanta about evangelical support for "torture" and the Bush Administration. "This is related to a broader evangelical authoritarianism, especially in our most conservative quarters, that elevates the role of the man over his family, the male pastor over his church, the president over his nation and our nation over the rest of the world," Gushee fretted. "The kinds of checks and balances provided by democratic constitutionalism, the wisdom of other nations, and international law are devalued." Evangelicals are "not very good" in their vigilance against government power, he alleged.

Most of the southern, white evangelicals queried by Gushee's poll agreed that the United States is practicing torture. But like Gushee and his anti-torture activists, they seem to lack a clear definition of what exactly constitutes torture. Does loud shouting or being forced to wear a bra count? When does physical discomfort or emotional intimidation rise to the level of torture? Gushee's summit seemed unwilling to provide clear answers, instead only contributing its own sweeping assumptions to an already confused debate.

Mark D. Tooley directs the United Methodist committee at the Institute on Religion and Democracy.