Joe Carter, over at the evangelical outpost, writes that waterboarding is torture, and that the Christian response has been “shameful.” What he writes, in a nutshell, is this:
As Christians we must never condone the use of methods that threaten to undermine the inherent dignity of the person created in the image of God.
He is not wrong. But he is also not completely right. Waterboarding is a form of duress applied during an interrogation. It is not fatal, but it is extreme duress, if the waterboardee doesn’t know if he will live or die.
There are two questions: first, is this an effective means for getting a suspected terrorist to reveal information that might save innocent lives. Second, does the means by which we would obtain this potentially life-saving information undermine our claim to be Christian?
First answer: the effectiveness of the technique is conditional. Those who serve in the military combat arms are waterboarded as part of their training. But virtually all pass through this, knowing that it isn’t for real. Knowing that the service doesn’t want to drown them, only to toughen us up. So it isn’t “torture” when used as a training tool.
For a captured terror suspect, different matter. He doesn’t know he isn’t going to die heinously. It is torture. To which I would add, “so what?” — if, and only if, this is a last resort to protect innocent lives. And, pace Joe Carter, terror suspects don’t tend to be innocent. As for whether the technique works, sometimes it does; sometimes it doesn’t.
Second answer is no. The Bible may be silent on this particular matter, but it does reserve the right for lawfully constituted governments to use the sword (Romans 13). To claim that waterboarding that does not lead to death (or even to permanent injury) is worse than killing is to lose sight of the big picture.
More importantly, we have a duty as Christians to protect those unable to protect themselves. This goes as much for unborn children and the sick and elderly as it does for innocent civilians who are the usual target of cowardly terrorists. Are terrorists made in the image of God? They were, but forfeited that claim when they changed sides: they are in the image of Satan, not God.
Terrorists may, of course, repent, and be forgiven. God will take them in. But we’re not speaking here of repentance. We’re speaking of cold-blooded killers who have forsaken God.
Under the right, and we hope, extraordinarily rare circumstances, waterboarding of a suspected terrorist is both necessary and the Christian thing to do — if there is some potential to protect innocent life.