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A Defense of Appropriate Torture
by vaughn ohlman
10/29/08
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The opponents of torture fall into two categories:

1) Those who have invented their own moral scheme (or adopted it from the current thinking in vogue among their peers) and included a ‘thou shalt not torture’ among the tenets and

2) Those who have this vague notion that the Christian religion is one of ‘peace’ and that torture is somehow a violation of that.

To the first category one has nothing to say. If you invent your own rules then you can’t with any justice ask the rest of us to play by them, or even discuss them. The second category, however, at least makes a pretense of Biblical reasoning, and can, therefore, be addressed.

Often these people, in their rejection of torture, beg the very question that they set out to prove. They say something like, “We have a right to ‘immunity from assault.”. This is analogous to an opponent of capital punishment saying that he is opposed because we have, 'A right not to be executed'. Surely that is what needs to be proved, not one of the arguments to be used in the proof.

In Scripture we find, far from support of this supposed 'right' the exact opposite responsibility: a responsibility to treat human beings as human beings and punish them physically for their crimes (ie capital and corporal punishment) or to have them give financial restitution to the victim, rather than treat them like unstable animals and chain or pen them up.

Thus it is our current system of punishment (imprisonment) which is specifically and dramatically un-Biblical; and the proposed solution (capital, corporal and financial punishment) which is specifically Biblical.

When examining the application of these principles to torture we must examine the so-called ‘quandary’ cases because it is there, and only there, that can one find the answer to the question of whether something is *ever* justified. In determining whether it is ever appropriate to spank children, for example, one does not start with, or even bother considering, whether to do so for 'sneezing'. One looks instead at behavior that is disobedient, destructive, violent, or other such 'quandary' cases.

So looking at torture, let us look at someone who is currently committing murder. Someone who has, for example, locked a young girl in an airtight container, where she is currently slowly asphyxiating. The confessed murderer, then, grinning, asks us (society, or the child’s parents) to pay him a million dollars and give him a jet ride out of the country and in return he *might* tell us where she is.

In this case, the murderer, according to Scripture, has no 'right to immunity from assault'. Indeed 'assault' is the only Biblically justifiable response that the magistrate and the populace have open to them (see for example Gen 9:4-6). If, in an effort to save life (and, indeed, prevent the murderer from compounding his sin from an attempted/intellectual to an actual/physical murder) the magistrate duly authorizes the civil society to make that assault in a deliberate manner with the goal of producing information, and that information is produced and the life saved... then that is an infinitely more just, not less just, result... for both the murderer and his victim.

If Christians wish to promulgate actual responsibilities instead of imaginary rights; we must look at our responsibility to treat the criminal as a human being according to Gods definition. And in that definition a human being is someone who has moral responsibility for his actions. He has these actions judged and punished by the appropriate authorities when he violates the various boundaries. A ‘victim’ of (appropriate) torture is not a ‘victim’ at all. He is someone whom the state has held humanly morally responsible for the actions he is committing.

Perhaps it is our fifth amendment which has helped in part create this moral confusion. Nowhere in Scripture do we find a ‘right’ not to confess a crime! Indeed, confession is everywhere lauded as the appropriate response. But we have somehow made it out that criminals have the ‘right’ to do everything possible to deny culpability for their crimes, and their lawyers have the ‘responsibility’ to do everything possible to help them! As if it could be Biblical for anyone to attempt to pervert justice in that way.

And for those who promote the present alternative, they should look at the rights of wives and children to NOT have their husbands and fathers separated from them unnaturally by the immoral system of prisons that we have now. For the state to imprison a prisoner (like a dangerous dog) deprives his wife of the chance to remarry (since he is not dead) and from her right to marital intercourse (since he is not present), deprives his children of the right to a new father (since their old one is not dead, but is locked away from them by the state), the right of the victim to restitution (since the criminal imprisoned cannot be working to pay back the debt he owes to the victim, but is instead sitting in unproductive idleness paying a nonsensical 'debt to society'); and the prisoner imprisoned is thrust into an atmosphere of utter degradation: of sodomy, of gang culture, of drugs, and of the utter lack of the ability to do productive work.

Not all torture is appropriate, by any means. But some torture fits the Biblical mandate much more then the current alternatives. It is the responsibility of every human being to obey the Law of God. It is the duty of the state to carry out justice. When we fail in our responsibility, it becomes time for their duty. We have no rights… least of all a right to continue inviolate in our person while we destroy the lives of others.


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