Debating the Morality of Torture
Richard Killmer, a Presbyterian minister, hopes to convince legislators that torture is wrong
Before 9/11, there was national consensus on the illegitimacy of torture. After all, it was
The soft-spoken Killmer, a Presbyterian minister, is the executive director of the four-year-old National Religious Campaign Against Torture, an interfaith organization of more than 270 religious groups opposed to what they see as numerous instances of government-sponsored torture and abuse. Founded in 2006 in the wake of revelations of the mistreatment of Abu Ghraib prisoners and abusive CIA interrogations, the group splits its efforts evenly between lobbying in
Killmer has spent decades at the crossroads of religion and politics, sparked by his early opposition to the Vietnam War and support for the civil rights movement. He now splits his time between a house in
Over the past few years, NRCAT's staff of half a dozen has expanded its efforts to include prison reform, particularly relating to the use of solitary confinement. But the group's raison d'être is halting abuses perpetrated in the U.S. fight against terrorism. It has also pushed for a nonpartisan commission, which won backing from Vermont Democratic Sen.
Exhibit A for NRCAT's pitch remains the CIA's use of waterboarding during the interrogation of three suspected terrorists. More than 70 percent of Americans believe that waterboarding is torture, according to a poll conducted last year. However, most frustrating to Killmer, nearly 40 percent of Americans also say that they approve of its use against terrorist suspects. "For many Americans, religion has become compartmentalized to the weekends, and they don't think that there should be religious restraints for issues like national security," he says.
Americans strongly self-identify in religious terms. More than 90 percent of them believe in God, and 78 percent believe in absolute standards of right and wrong. And yet, according to a recent poll from the Pew Center, more than 6 in 10 white evangelical Protestants agree that "the use of torture against suspected terrorists in order to gain important information can be often or sometimes justified." Furthermore, the survey showed that the more often a person attended church, the more likely that person was to agree that torture could be justified. Support from Americans of all other faiths was significantly lower: Fifty-one percent of Roman Catholics answered in the affirmative, while 46 percent of mainline Protestants agreed.
Whatever the reasons for these views, Killmer is hoping to shift public opinion on the permissibility of abusive treatment, one congregation at a time. As he puts it, "We're one of the only lobbying shops in
Available at Amazon.com:
Read the latest political news.
In retrospect, 9/11 seems to have become an even more iconic day then we thought. Tactically, it was of course the most catastrophic attack ever on US soil. On the surface we have viewed 9/11 as a geopolitical event. But in longer range terms, and with the benefit of hindsight, it may be fair to ask: Has al-Qaeda achieved its strategic aim of bringing down the United States as a world power?
- United States - 5 Ways to Keep America Great
- Guantanamo Detainees Released Amid Debate Over Closing the Prison
- Debating the Morality of Torture
- Restorative Justice: Crime and Healing
- Wanted: Calm Credible Voice to Soothe Americans' Fear of Islam
- If We Europeanize Europe Is in Trouble
- Mass Transit: Move America to Work
- Teens and Spring Break A Sometimes Lethal Combination
- Teen Violence: Senseless Rage Sparks Inexplicable Tragedy
United States - Debating the Morality of Torture | Alex Kingsbury
(c) 2010 U.S. News & World Report