The Common Good

History Won't Wash Away Torture's Shame

According to a recent article in The Washington Post, the Bush administration has known and approved of "enhanced interrogation techniques," i.e., torture of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, since 2002, and provided written approval of such techniques to the CIA in 2003 and 2004. For many this is not new information. What is new information is that it seems everyone involved wanted someone else to be held responsible if these techniques ever became public knowledge.

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The CIA requested the memos approving of the methods from the administration because they were using them without any written approval and wanted to be sure the administration was not leaving them out to hang if there was ever a public outcry like there was against Abu Ghraib. The Bush administration apparently postponed providing such a memo for more than a year, and still issued only a couple of internal memos total that we know of thus far, to avoid any direct link to the torture at Guantanamo Bay.

Everyone seems to have known that what they were involved in at Guantanamo was wrong, illegal, and immoral, and that if what was happening there ever became public knowledge, there would be a public outcry. That is why the CIA wanted the administration to officially be in bed with them. That is why the administration tried to avoid any official link that demonstrated its knowledge of the torture occurring at Guantanamo. It is why Condoleeza Rice demonstrated hesitancy and reservation about the use of such methods, and why John Ashcroft declared, "History will not judge us kindly." (Even though President Bush has repeatedly reminded us that history will vindicate him and his handling of the Iraq war.)

I am reminded of the story of Pilate. Pilate assumed that because he washed his hands he could remove himself from any guilt of the torture and murder of an innocent man -- even though he knowingly allowed it to happen, and in many ways was directly involved in it. We all know, even as young children in Sunday school, that he was unsuccessful. Pilate is responsible for the torture and murder of Jesus of Nazareth, no matter how hard he tried to avoid public identification with his crucifixion.

When we knowingly allow evil to occur and have the power to stop it, we are guilty of that evil. Martin Luther King Jr. repeatedly reminded us that it is not the evil acts of bad people that perpetuate violence and evil, but the silence of good people to stop it that does so. Many good people remained silent when they had the power to prevent the United States from sinking to a low it had not sunk to in the past, instead of speaking out against it. Let us not be those people today.

Jimmy McCartyJimmy McCarty is a student at Claremont School of Theology studying Christian ethics, a minister serving cross-racially at a church in inner-city Los Angeles, and a servant at a homeless shelter five days a week. He blogs at

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