If you look hard for it in the Washington Post this morning you'll find the end of the story on HR 2082, the the bill passed by both the House and the Senate which would have banned the use of torture by the CIA. President Bush vetoed that bill on Saturday, and spoke about it in his weekly radio address. Yesterday, the House voted to override the veto, but they failed to get the needed two-thirds majority (the vote was 225-188).
Bush explained his veto as necessary for our national security. There is by no means consensus on this point, even within the intelligence community. Many have argued that torture does not produce useful intelligence, and furthermore, that it increases the risk to captured U.S. citizens. My disagreement with the use of torture, however, isn't based on its effectiveness. I believe that torture is a moral bottom line, and we accept it only at the cost of the erosion of our sense of ourselves as being different from the terrorists who we oppose.
This past Saturday, I spent the day at a conference led by Brian McLaren based on his book, "Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises and a Revolution of Hope." One of the most effective parts of the conference was McLaren's morning presentation entitled, "Which Jesus?" He carefully laid out an argument that I first encountered in Ched Meyer's magisterial work on the Gospel of Mark, Binding the Strong Man. He showed how the gospel writers, and probably Jesus himself, used language and symbolism to intentionally oppose the Roman Empire's claims to power and dominion. McLaren made a clear and convincing case that the word like "Lord" and "Son of God" weren't first understood by Jesus' followers as religious terms. Rather, these were the titles that Caesar had taken for himself. Therefore, when Peter confesses to Jesus, "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God," he is making an explicitly anti-imperial statement.
McLaren then went on to list all the ways in which Jesus' teaching and ministry countered the reign of Caesar. He put two columns of words up on a screen, one column describing Caesar and one describing Jesus. I should have written them all down, but the pair that caught my eye was "torturer" and "tortured".
I know that there is great complexity to many of the moral questions which face our country today. But when I looked at that list on Saturday, I knew what side I wanted to be on. I will continue to urge my representatives to refuse to pass any bill for intelligence funding that does not explicitly ban torture.