Thursday, August 28, 2008

Torture is a Moral Issue
Revised August 26, 2008
by Tom Ewell

The well-established, universal ethic of our common humanity, honored by all major religions, is the Golden Rule: "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you," or its negative corollary, "Do not do to others what you would not want done to you." Every child, every person, in every culture, knows and understands at some level the crucial importance of this bedrock, moral principle that honors our capacity for empathy, recognizes our mutual humanity, and establishes the most basic guide for teaching us to treat each other with respect, kindness and civility.

Torture is a violation of this Golden Rule. We know we personally do not ever want to be tortured, and we do not want our soldiers or our family members or our friends ever to be tortured. We know it is wrong whenever and on whomever it is used, and we need to stop our government from trying to convince us otherwise. We need to unequivocally condemn its use and to reclaim an America that respects international law and honors the humane treatment of others as we ourselves want to be treated.

We should not even be discussing the possible use or expediency of torture. It seems so below the America we can truly believe in. Americans are better than being torturers or complicit with torture.

A friend of mine, Charles Arbuthnot, now deceased, was an army chaplain who survived the invasion of Italy in WWII and went on to represent the World Council of Churches in the formulations of the Geneva Conventions that made torture illegal under international law. When the use of torture at Abu Ghraib by American forces was disclosed he was heartsick. He told of having to constantly fend off the temptation facing our soldiers to torture prisoners. He argued that the brutality of torture negated everything we were fighting for. "If we allow our sense of national identity to be lowered to the point that we can justify the use of torture in the name of protecting our sense of freedom and democracy," he said, "we do not have a freedom and democracy worth protecting." When our nation openly condones torture, we are morally bereft criminals who arrogantly violate the Golden Rule and international law.

The disclosure that our government produced an official policy to justify torture is not only a betrayal the values fought for by heroic veterans like Charles Arbuthnot, it is a betrayal of all Americans who fight for and believe in the American democratic ideals of respect for our common humanity.

The use of torture is wrong. It must be condemned, stopped, forbidden, and if used, the offenders must be held accountable and prosecuted. Let us work together to stop this outrageous justification and use of torture as a national policy in our name.

Tom Ewell is a Quaker who lives in Clinton, Washington. He is an active member of the Washington State Religious Campaign Against Torture that is affiliated with the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. For more information see or .

Tom Ewell