How Should a Christian React to the CIA Torture Report?


Unless you have been living in a cave with no wi-fi internet, you have probably heard about the recent release of a CIA torture report. There has been a lot of discussion about the motivation of the report, the truthfulness of the claims made by the report, and whether torture is justified in wartime.

Unfortunately, the primary discussion surrounding the report has been political rather than moral. If one is a Democrat, than one is supposed to condemn these acts of torture and call for George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and the entire Bush administration to be rounded up and tried for war crimes. If one is a Republican, then one dismisses the report as a smear campaign, and either argues that the interrogation techniques used by the CIA were justified, or that the report is simply false.

Certainly we cannot entirely separate the report from politics. After all, whatever the CIA did, it was acting on behalf of the US government and its elected officials. However, this is primarily a moral rather than a political issue. Rather than taking our cues from political talking points, Christians should start with the transcendent moral law of God, which is written in the Scriptures and upon our hearts (Romans 2 : 6-16). A Christian’s political convictions should be drawn from what the Bible says, not the other way around.

Christians Believe in Objective Morality

Christians believe in and teach that morality is objective and transcendent, handed down to humanity from God. In fact, all human beings are incurably moral creatures. Although we do not know or practice moral duties perfectly, reasonable people agree that theft, dishonesty, unprovoked violence, murder, etc. are immoral. Recent scientific studies suggest that moral intuitions start at a very young age.

Christians believe that this is by divine design. Christian apologists even argue that our sense of morality points beyond itself to God. A transcendent moral law requires a transcendent moral Law Giver. This moral law entails real moral values and duties. If morality were merely a human invention or the result of an unguided evolutionary process, than it would not be real, but only a figment of our imagination. A real moral law would be true whether we believed it or not. For such a law to exist, it would need to come from beyond humanity. The best explanation for the origin of such a law is God, and this law is grounded in His perfect nature.

A moral argument for God’s existence is not my point here. My point is that Christians believe that there is a real right and a real wrong. It is at the heart of Christian doctrine, which teaches that we are all violators of God’s law, and justly subject to God’s wrath. We are saved only by grace received through faith in Jesus Christ. If morality is just a matter of opinion, or the concensus of society, or an evolutionary survival mechanism, then Christ’s death was unnecessary to atone for anyone’s sins, and Christianity is meaningless. Moral relativism is not an option for Christians.

Imago Dei

In addition to objective morality, Christians believe that all human beings have inherent worth because God created them in His own image and likeness.

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” – Genesis 1:26, ESV

This Christian idea of human dignity has led Believers to oppose abortion, infanticide, euthanasia, slavery, suicide, and unjust war.

What About Violence and War?

The Scriptures are clear that Christians are to love their neighbors, even their enemies. Since all people are created in God’s image, all people should be treated with respect as intelligent and moral being who reflect the divine (even if they are not redeemed, in a distorted way). They have certain rights as human beings created in the image of God, we have certain responsibilities to treat them humanely, and vice versa.

Some Christians would argue that on this basis Christians should renounce all violent action, especially war. I do not believe this is necessary, and is actually problematic in the face of real evil. If someone breaks into my house to steal my property or attack my family, it is my right to defend my family and property, possibly with lethal force. It is not only my right, but my moral duty. The Bible supports this:

If a thief is found breaking in and is struck so that he dies, there shall be no bloodguilt for him. – Exodus 22:2, ESV

It may appear to be an exception, but I am not certain it is an exception. Here it honors the value of human life by affirming that it is worth defending.

The same kind of thinking could be extended to wars of defense. Dr. Albert Mohler provides a good summary of Christian just war theory in The Briefing 12-17-14.

The conclusion of Christians throughout the ages, the Christian consensus, is that war in the first place must always be the last resort possible. The only conceivable justification for the use of deadly force is that it would stop an even greater injustice or evil. That’s a recognition that in a fallen world sometimes the use of violent force is necessary, even what is rightly described as war.

One of the principles of Just War Theory is that war must always be defensive, never offensive. That is to say, it must be started as the last resort in order to defend oneself or one’s nation against an impending threat or an actual invasion. It must never be about the conquest of territory or the gaining of some kind of political or military advantage. Furthermore (and this is very important), Just War Theory is divided into the grounds by which war will be justified and then the acceptable grounds on which a war can be conducted. And one the most important principles of the Christian biblical thinking in terms of just war theory is the principle of what is called discrimination; which is to say that Christians, based upon the biblical worldview, must specifically discriminate against fellow combatants and civilians and must take every reasonable precaution in order to protect civilians and to direct deadly force only against those who are trying to initiate deadly force. – Dr. Albert Mohler

There were even guidelines for war in the Mosaic Law. In Deuteronomy chapter 20, the children of Israel were commanded to offer their enemies terms of peace before attacking a city. They were commanded to kill male combatants only, sparing the women, children, and livestock. They were even commanded to refrain from destroying any trees unless they could not be used as a food source.

Are the trees in the field human, that they should be besieged by you? – Deuteronomy 20:19, ESV

It is true that the passage sets the land and people of Canaan apart, advising

But in the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes, but you shall devote them to complete destruction, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as the Lord your God has commanded, that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices that they have done for their gods, and so you sin against the Lord your God. – Deuteronomy 20:16-18, ESV

However, there is a solid biblical case that this was hyperbolic language. For example, Joshua 10:40 records that Joshua “…left none remaining, but devoted to destruction all that breathed…” in the hill country and the Negeb and the lowland and the slopes.
Later on after Joshua died, “…the men of Judah went down to fight against the Canaanites who lived in the hill country, in the Negeb, and in the lowland” (Judges 1:9, ESV). There are several other examples of this in the Bible. In addition to the Biblical evidence, language such as “utterly destroy” and “you shall save alive nothing that breathes” was common in other Ancient Near Eastern texts about warfare. Just as in the Bible, there is utter destruction language used in cases we now know did not involve complete annihilation. Lastly, there is no archeological evidence of civilian populations in the fortified cities such as Jericho and Ai which were overthrown by Israel. The biblical language suggesting nations, including women and children, were completely wiped out is not much different than present day folks saying one sports team “creamed” or “slaughtered” their opponents.

The Torture Report

Now that we have established a consistent Christian moral standard, emphasizing human worth and dignity, we can judge these enhanced interrogation techniques according to Christian standards. Unfortunately, nowadays many Christians make judgements according political party lines before considering what God has revealed on a matter.

What does the CIA report tell us?

Here is a list of some torture techniques employed per the report:

1. The CIA force fed/hydrated subjects through their anus in order to establish total control over the detainee. At least five CIA detainees were subjected to ‘rectal rehydration’ or rectal feeding without documented medical necessity. This technique resulted in symptoms typically associated with violent anal rape.

2. Interrogators threatened to murder or rape family members of prisoners, including children.

3. At least one prisoner died of hypothermia while being interrogated in 2002.

4. Prisoners with injuries such as a broken foot, sprained ankle, or amputated leg were forced to stand on their injuries for extended periods of time.

5. Prisoners received death threats during interrogation, and several prisoners were subjected to mock executions. In at least one instance, a prisoner was threatened with a power drill and a gun. The interrogator played Russian roulette with the prisoner. This agent was subsequently sent home early.

6. During waterboarding, several prisoners became completely unresponsive and nearly died of drowning.

7. Prisoners were forced to remain awake for over one week (180 hours).

8. Prisoners were forced to use buckets for toilets, and were punished at times by having the buckets taken away.

9. One prisoner was placed in a coffin sized box over 11 days and was also placed in a box 21 inches (53 cm) wide, 2.5 feet (76 cm) deep and 2.5 feet (76 cm) high for 29 hours.

10. A report by the Federal Bureau of Prisons noted

The had never been in a facility where individuals were so sensory deprived i.e., constant white noise, no talking, everyone in the dark, with the guards wearing a light on their head when they collected and escorted a detainee to an interrogation cell, detainees constantly being shackled to the wall or floor, and the starkness of each cell (concrete and bars). There is nothing like this in the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

11. Enhanced techniques included unauthorized forms of torture such as forcing a prisoner to stand with his hand over his head for 2 1/2 days, putting a pistol next to his head and bathing him with a stiff brush.

12. One prisoner who was later released because the CIA had mistaken his identity was forced to take ice water baths and endured 66 hours of standing sleep deprivation prior to being released.

13. The CIA used torture on suspects prior to evaluating whether they would be willing to cooperate in at least six instances.

14. The torture techniques utilized by the CIA during interrogation resulted in
hallucinations, dementia, paranoia, insomnia, and attempts at self-harm including suicide. In one instance, the prisoner was psychologically traumatized to the point of being “a broken man” but CIA operatives stopped short of completely breaking him.

I found a New York Times article entitled “7 Key Points From the C.I.A. Torture Report” helpful.

Some claim that the enhanced interrogation techniques do not fit the legal definition of torture. For the purposes of this writing, I am much less interested in technical legal definitions than what you or would consider torture if these sort of techniques, such as rectal feeding/hydration, were applied to us or our loved ones.
The report indicated that interrogation techniques have downplayed by defenders of torture as relatively slight. In fact, it revealed that interrogation techniques were actually more severe than previously portrayed. For example, medical officer described waterboarding as a “series of near drownings.” CIA officials Scott Miller and James Pavitt were told that rectal exams of at least two prisoners had been conducted with “excessive force.”

The report also revealed high levels of deceipt surrounding the program. Not only did the CIA downplay the harshness of the techniques, but exaggerated the effectiveness of the techniques in order to gain support. The CIA also lied repeatedly about the number of detainees held.

The report states that the C.I.A. resisted congressional oversight, restricted access to information, declined to answer questions about the program and “impeded oversight” by the agency’s inspector general by providing false information. – from “7 Key Points From the C.I.A. Torture Report”

Thou Shalt not Bear False Witness

Perhaps most damning to the case of torture defenders are instances in which intelligence was obtained without enhanced interrogation techniques, which were later used anyway. Defenders of the CIA’s methods excuse the savage nature of the techniques as necessary to obtain intelligence that could not have been obtained otherwise. Per page 462 of the report CIA records show that Abu Zubaydah was taken into CIA custody in March 2002. He cooperated with the CIA interrogators by providing information on al Qaeda’s activities, tactics, leadership, etc. without being tortured. However, they considered him “uncooperative” because he did not provide any information on the next attack planned on the US, or al Qaeda’s agents in the US. The isolated him for 47 days, followed by waterboarding. They were unable to obtain additional information via torture. As a result of the torture, Zubaydah’s eye was so badly damaged that it was surgically removed. The justification for Zubaydah’s torture was so weak that then CIA Director Michael Hayden felt the need to lie about it in his testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in 2007.

The CIA also colluded with American media in a propaganda campaign to sell the effectiveness of torture to the American people. Judging from what I have seen on social media, it was fairly effective. With a wink and a nod from the CIA Director, agents shared classified information with reporters. However, the report notes that the subsequent news reported and books written included inaccurate claims about the effectiveness of CIA interrogations.

If torture really served a practical purpose of obtaining vital security information, it might be argued that the enhanced techniques were justified to save lives. However, as we have seen this is simply not the case. To be frank, I am not convinced that forced rectal hydration or threats to rape or murder the prisoners’ loved ones are morally justifiable, even if such techniques resulted in useful intelligence. Torture was apparently so ineffective that the CIA felt the need to lie to the Senate and create a deceptive media campaign in order to justify it.

Another Horrible Pro-Torture Argument

There is a popular meme circulating on social media of a picture of the man who leaped from the World Trade Center on 9/11 with the caption “This is why I don’t give a #&*! about how we obtained information from terrorists!” We have already thoroughly debunked the myth of “torture saves lives.” The other fallacy of this meme is that the barbaric actions of Islamic extremists justify barbaric torture techniques of the CIA. I might add here that the terror attack on 9/11 does not justify drone attacks on wedding parties and children. The awful truth of the war on terror is that the US government does not occupy the moral high ground. We cannot consistently condemn Islamic acts of terror while promoting democratic acts of terror. It is time for Christians to take a conscientious stand against all terror acts–those committed by Islamic extremists and those committed by our own government.


Christians should make moral decisions based on a biblical standard of morality, confirmed by conscience and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. To many believers make moral judgements of government actions along party lines before considering what the Bible says. The Bible presents a strong, objective sense of morality with an emphasis on the value of human life and the inherent worth of every human being.

It has recently been reported by the Senate Intelligence Committee that the inherent dignity of prisoners was violated by the CIA, when they tortured them under the pretense of gaining useful intelligence. The report may have been politically motivated, but the acts reported were still immoral. Any political backlash against Republicans is bound to backfire anyway, since torture almost certainly continued under the Obama administration. For the most part, President Obama has followed Bush plans and policies regarding the war on terror.

Defenders of torture have argued that torture critics have blown the severity of enhanced torture techniques out of proportion. According to the report, the techniques were actually more brutal than previously reported. The torture resulted in significant psychological damage, and in some cases substantial bodily damage, and even death. Whatever the technical legal definition of torture may be, the average person would recognize the techniques used by CIA interrogators as torture. They would be outraged to discover government agents had done such things to their loved ones. On the basis of a biblical moral standard, Christians should condemn these acts of torture.

Defenders of torture have argued that torture resulted in obtaining information that saved lives, but the evidence does not support this. In fact, the case that life saving information was obtained via torture was so flimsy that the CIA Director felt it was necessary to lie to the Senate Intelligence Committee about its efficacy, and the CIA conducted a propaganda campaign in cooperation with the media to convince the public that torture was necessary.

Defenders of torture have argued that torture is justified because Islamic terrorists are guilty of horrible atrocities, including the attack on 9/11. Acts of torture conducted by the US government are no better than acts of terror by religious zealots. The latter in no way whatsoever justifies the former. In order to be morally consistent, Christians should condemn all immoral actions, whether committed by Islamic extremists or the US government.


How Should I Earnestly Contend for the Faith? Part 2

The first method of apologetics presented in Five Views on Apologetics is the classical method, which is presented by Dr. William Lane Craig. Currently, Dr. Craig is Research Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology and Professor of Philosophy at Houston Baptist University. In addition to his academic career, Dr. Craig has a popular apologetics ministry, Reasonable Faith. The Reasonable Faith website has numerous apologetics resources, including articles, videos, and podcasts. Reasonable Faith chapters meet across the country and around the world to discuss Christian apologetics. As part of his ministry, Dr. Craig is well known for debating scholarly skeptics of the traditional Christian worldview. Dr. Craig has also written several books on apologetics. For more detailed explanations of Dr. Craig’s apologetic method, read Reasonable Faith or On Guard.

The classical method, promoted by Dr. Craig, is often referred to as a two step method of apologetics. The first step is to persuade the skeptic that God exists based upon widely agreed on observations of the world around us, and then the second step is to argue that Christianity is true based upon uniquely Christian arguments.

This approach is comprised of natural theology and Christian evidences. Among its practitioners are such great figures as Thomas Aquinas with his famous Five Ways of demonstrating God’s existence and his appeal to the signs of credibility (miracles and prophecy) to validate Christian doctrines not demonstrable by reason alone; Hugo Grotius, the father of modern apologetics, whose De Veritate Religionis Christianae drew upon the traditional arguments of natural theology and inaugurated the historical approach to the truth of the Gospels; and one of my heroes, William Paley, whose Natural Theology is one of the most brilliant defenses of the teleological argument ever written and whose A View of the Evidences of Christianity was so impressive that it remained compulsory reading for every applicant to Cambridge University right up to the twentieth century.
– Dr. William Lane Craig, from Chapter One: Classical Apologetics, Five Views on Apologetics

According to classical apologists, Christian evidences will not be persuasive unless it is proven that it is reasonable to believe in God first. The skeptic will probably not be convinced that the Bible (special revelation) is true, unless she is convinced by evidence for God’s existence outside the Bible (natural revelation).

Paul wrote to the church in Rome that the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse (Romans 1:18-20, ESV). Since human beings can perceive God’s existence and even know His nature through His creation, the classical apologist might begin with an argument for a Creator who made the universe, or a Designer who fashioned the universe with precision and wisdom. He might argue that a theistic god is the best explanation of morality, logic, or beauty. Some argue that a Perfect Being exists by necessity. There are a host of possible arguments and many classical apologists use more than one, forming a cumulative case for God’s existence.

After establishing that a theistic god exists through natural theology, the classical apologist moves on to arguing that this god is the Christian God of the Bible. He will move from arguing to the existence of a god based on observations of the world as we know it to arguing that the Christian worldview best explains the world as we know it. At this point the apologist might appeal to the historical reliability of the Bible, or to fulfilled prophecy. The central truth claim of Christianity is that Jesus of Nazareth rose bodily from the dead, validating not only the truth of His religious teachings, but His claim to be God incarnate. If it can be shown that He was crucified, buried, and on the third day arose from the grave, then He is God in the flesh, who bore the penalty of sin so that all who put their trust in Him can be reconciled to a pure and holy God.

Dr. Craig differs from the typical classical apologist in that he places great emphasis on the difference between knowing and showing that Christianity is true. He argues that it is rational to believe in God apart from arguments and evidence on the basis of the inner witness of the Holy Spirit. This view is influenced by Reformed epistemology, which holds that belief in God is properly basic. I will explain more thoroughly what properly basic means when I get to Reformed epistemology in this series. All the reader needs to know for now is that because belief in God is rational on the basis of the inner witness of the Holy Spirit, Christians who have no knowledge of apologetics can still be justified in their belief in God. It also means that Christians can rationally maintain faith in God when evidence seems to contradict their belief. This is not to say that Christians maintain their beliefs irrationally in spite of the evidence. In fact, Dr. Craig would argue persuasively that the evidence is on the side of Christianity. Rather, it means that the Christian can know God exists, even if she cannot show God exists based on the evidence available.

Professing Themselves to be Wise, They Became Fools Part 5

The subject of today’s post is the genetic fallacy.

The genetic fallacy can be very similar to the ad hominem fallacy. The difference is that an ad hominem attack is directed at an individual person, but a genetic fallacy occurs when an attack is made on a group the critic’s opponent belongs to. It is also a genetic fallacy when is an attack is made on the origin, or the genesis, of an argument.

A very interesting example of the genetic fallacy is exposed and refuted by Dr. William Lane Craig on his website in Q & A #36: Our Grasp of Objective Moral Values. “Q & A #_” is a weekly feature on in which Dr. Craig’s answers questions made by his online audience. In Q & A #36, an inquirer named Carmen made the following statement within her question:

… [O]ur moral values (proximate factors) could be linked to our or to our group’s reproductive fitness (ultimate factors) as our recognition of moral values evolves. We respond to morality but it is the underlying reproductive fitness that directs evolution. I cannot see how one can ever recognize morality as objective if our perceptions have been colored by the inevitable link between proximate and ultimate evolutionary factors.

To put it another way, Carmen was arguing that the origin of morality is (at least possibly) evolution. Our ancestors found that certain behaviors gave them a survival advantage, and that is where our notion of morality comes from. If this is the case, she argued, then morality is not objective–independent of how we think or feel about it–as Dr. Craig claims in his version of the moral argument.

Dr. Craig revealed and explained the fallacy with crystalline clarity of thought:

… [T]o infer that because evolution has programmed us to believe in certain values, therefore those values are not objective is a logical fallacy. This was the point I made in the article against Michael Ruse, when I said,

The reasoning of Ruse is at worst a text-book example of the genetic fallacy and at best only proves that our subjective perception of objective moral values has evolved. But if moral values are gradually discovered, not invented, then such a gradual and fallible apprehension of the moral realm no more undermines the objective reality of that realm than our gradual, fallible perception of the physical world undermines the objectivity of that realm.

The genetic fallacy is committed whenever someone tries to invalidate a view by explaining how that view originated or came to be held. People commit this fallacy, for example, when they dismiss your belief in democracy by saying, “You believe in it only because you were born in a democratic society.” That may, indeed, be the explanation of why you believe in democratic government, but that in itself does absolutely nothing to show that your belief is false. (Compare “You believe that the earth is round only because you were born in a scientific age!” Does that make your belief false?)

Now you might say, “All right; I see that objective moral values can exist even if we’re programmed by evolution to believe in them. But, still, why should I think that they are objective, given the evolutionary story?” The answer is, “Because you clearly apprehend them and the evolutionary story gives you reason to doubt your moral sense ONLY IF naturalism (atheism) is true.” The objection begs the question because it presupposes that naturalism is true.

It may not even be the case that the origin of morality is evolution. It could be that we just happened to evolve a sense that can detect an objective moral law, in much the same way our other senses apprehend other features of the real world around us. Even if it were demonstrated conclusively that we evolved into moral creatures, this could not disprove the existence of objective moral values and duties. This confuses ontology–where something comes from–with epistemology-how we know something to be true. After all, it might be argued that a Transcendent Lawgiver (best explained by God), may also be the All-Wise Creator and Designer of the universe and everything in it, including humans and moral laws and duties. Such a Being might have may have intentionally introduced an evolutionary mechanism so that the ancestors of humans would progress into beings capable of knowing His transcendent, objective moral law. He might even have encoded an apprehension of objective moral laws into the very structure of human DNA, causing this moral law to be written on our hearts, so to speak.

I do not say in this post whether such an argument would be valid. This post is about the genetic fallacy. I only offer it as a possible example of how the way we know things (epistemology) differs from the origin of those things (ontology).

In closing, it should be noted that I have only used small snippets of the Q & A that were relevant to the genetic fallacy. I strongly encourage readers to click on the link above to read the entire Q & A. Indeed, I encourage all of you to follow the articles, podcasts, videos, and other resources on the website.

And as always, stay tuned to Think on These Things blog. In the next post, I will describe the non sequitur fallacy.

Ecclesiastes 7:19 ESV

Wisdom gives strength to the wise man more than ten rulers who are in a city.