“Will These Hands Never Be Clean?” The CIA Torture Report and Futile Apologies

by Jesse Wheeler

“Here’s the smell of the blood still: all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.” – Lady Macbeth

In response to the release of the Executive Summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Torture Report (click to read in full), all I can say is that I am overwhelmed. Like the leading lady in Shakespeare’s iconic Scottish play, American hands are stained in blood. No amount of whitewashing can expunge this guilt perpetrated in my name and that of my fellow-Americans, both Christians and Muslims, white, black and others. No apology will do. How in God’s Holy name can we possibly atone for this?

The Torture Report

The Senate Torture Report reveals a sick combination of brutality, ineptitude and ineffectiveness in the manner by which it undertook its intelligence gathering practices during the so-called “War on Terror.” In the words of Ron Steif, Execute Director of the National Religious Campaign against Torture:

“The report shows that the CIA’s torture program involved acts of horrific brutality. The CIA water-boarded a detainee to the point of inducing convulsions and vomiting and they left another cold and mostly nude to die of hypothermia while chained to a concrete floor. That this was done in our name should shock the conscience of every American. The report clearly documents that these immoral acts often failed to produce intelligence or produced false information. Even when intelligence was provided, nothing was provided that could not have been obtained by lawful means. Finally, the report shows that the CIA misled both Congress and certain members of the Bush Administration in order to obtain approval for its torture program.”

According to Vox.com, “Listing every horrifying detail in the Senate Intelligence Committee’s summary report on the CIA’s torture program would be impossible. To get a sense of the gravity of the abuses, however, here are 16 of the most egregious behaviors detailed by the report:

  1. The CIA put hummus in a detainee’s rectum
  2. Interrogators forced detainees to stand on broken feet
  3. CIA interrogators threatened to sexually assault the mother of a detainee
  4. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was water-boarded at least 183 times
  5. KSM and Abu Zubaydah nearly drowned to death during some of their torture sessions
  6. Abu Zubaydah lost his left eye in CIA custody
  7. The CIA conducted torture sessions knowing they’d worsen detainees’ injuries
  8. Detainees were kept awake for as long as 180 hours — over a week
  9. CIA interrogators broke down a detainee until they judged him “clearly a broken man”
  10. The interrogations probably killed at least one person
  11. The CIA tortured people before they even tried asking them to cooperate
  12. CIA interrogators objected to the torture but were told to keep going by senior officials
  13. At least 26 out of 119 known detainees were wrongfully held
  14. The CIA lied to the White House about the effectiveness of torture
  15. The CIA refused to vet participants in the torture program who had admitted to sexual assault
  16. They refused to impose disciplinary sanctions on an interrogator involved in a detainee’s death.”

This list includes lies, psychological, emotional and physical violence, wanton acts of sexual assault, and murder. The fact that we allowed this to happen should haunt us all.

A Kingdom Come – A Christ Crucified

The Advent season is a time for expectant waiting. It is a time to reflect upon the sheer magnitude of sin and human suffering as we wait in hopeful anticipation for the return of our savior.

This advent season must be a time to sit with and truly contemplate the gravity of these crimes perpetrated in our name. For today, the crucified messiah hangs in solidarity with the victims of our idolatrous hubris. In a recent article on FaithStreet.com, Patton Dodd refers to a 2009 Pew Report that indicated that 6 out of 10 white Evangelicals supported torture against “suspected terrorists.” He rightly finds this shocking ratio “extraordinary because it is in such obvious conflict with Christianity’s foundational story.”

“The God evangelicals believe in is a God who was tortured. Jesus was arrested unjustly, promptly tried and convicted in a kangaroo court, and then tortured. He was savagely, sadistically beaten, his body ravaged. Jesus was tortured to death. Evangelicals believe their God bore as much suffering as it is possible for a human to bear, and he bore it at the hands of men in military gear who relished the cruelty.”

In this story, the crucified Christ hangs in solidarity not with those who allow for such horrors, even when they claim to belong to him. In this story, many of my American coreligionists represent the corrupt religious establishment proclaiming “We have no King but Caesar” (John 19:15). Even if we proclaim that our true loyalty is not of this world but to Christ alone, what does this do other than absolve us of a responsibility which is rightfully ours? It should be clear from scripture that this world and its inhabitants are our collective responsibility. And we have failed.

This advent season, we must sit with the magnitude of our sin. From all those who have suffered by hands acting in our name, all we can ask for is forgiveness. It is certainly not deserved.

Yet this advent season, we must once again commit ourselves to the active pursuit of justice and peace, to the self-evident truth of universal dignity, and to God’s Kingdom come and His Will done on earth as it is in heaven, regardless the personal cost. I see no other option.

Otherwise, we are mere pretenders.

6 thoughts on ““Will These Hands Never Be Clean?” The CIA Torture Report and Futile Apologies

  1. Thank you Frances. This is a day to mourn and not to compare… We all know the comparison arguments, but let’s get to them another day… For now, let’s weep!

  2. This is stomach-churning and deplorable! Yet it’s actually amazing that the US government has the transparency to admit to such horrific acts. I’m sure there is more we don’t know about, but I’m even more sure that there are numerous countries that do all of this and worse, without documentation or guidelines. The US guidelines certainly need to be tightened, but at least there are guidelines and some degree of transparency!

    Yet this *relative* good is still so evil!

    It makes me long for the day when Christ comes and puts an end to all injustice! Come, Lord Jesus!

  3. With a heavy heart I say thank you for this. This is a moment for truth, the bottom line truth. No more compromising. Are we followers of Christ or not? Are we willing to be Christian in the way we are citizens of our country or do we excuse evil in some situations?

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