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Torturing God Out of Jihadis

Michael Peppard pulls something particularly horrifying out of the Senate torture report:

The Senate committee was supposed to believe that a cruelly tortured man had thanked his torturer for breaking his religious faith. It goes without saying that the Senate committee found, after scrutinizing over 6 million pages of documents, “no CIA records to support this testimony” (487 n. 2646).

During the same hearing, Sen. Nelson asked about Hayden’s plans, if he suspected al-Qa’ida was training people to resist such techniques. His answer is chilling.

DIRECTOR HAYDEN: “You recall the policy on which this is based, that we’re going to give him a burden that Allah says is too great for you to bear, so they can put the burden down.” (487)

The new report does not describe the many techniques of religiously-themed abuse that I compiled from ex-detainee memoirs and interviews in 2007-08, nor does it extend our knowledge from the 2009 report, which admitted techniques such as forced prostration before an idol shrine to generate “religious disgrace.”

But what Hayden’s comments do show is that using religion as a weapon in prolonged psychological warfare was an actual “policy” – not a result of agents gone rogue.

The goal was to create a burden so great that a person’s religious faith would be destroyed. Nothing could be further from our country’s founding principle.

Peppard, who teaches at Fordham, has been studying how the US used religious abuse as a weapon against Muslim detainees. See here, and see here.

This is truly unspeakable. I do not believe that the Islamic religion is true, and I have no problem with sending people who wish to make war on us in the name of Allah straight to Hell on the battlefield. They want to be martyrs in battle, fine, let’s give them what they want.

But to take a captured prisoner, even one we can reasonably be certain has done evil things from religious motivation, and compel him to desecrate his religion, is to my Christian mind one of the most evil things that one human being can do to another. That the history of the Church shows Muslims have done this to Christians again and again and again does not make it right. It is always and everywhere a manifestation of utter barbarism. Again, consider the experience of Fr. George Calciu, a prisoner in the communist Pitesti prison camp in Romania:

They took very distinct steps. The first step was to destroy the personality of the youth. For example, the guards would come, together with a group of young prisoners who had converted to Communism, into a cell where there were perhaps twenty young students, and would try to intimidate them. They would beat them without mercy. They could even kill somebody. Generally, they would kill one of them – the one who opposed them the most; the most important one. Generally, he was a leader. They would beat him and even kill him. Thus, the terror began.

After that, they began to “unmask”

– What does that mean?

They wanted to force you to say, “I lied when I said, “I believe in God”. I lied when I said, “I love my mother and my father”. I lied when I said “I love my contry”. So everyone was to deny every principle, every feeling he had. That is what it means to be “unmasked”. It was done in order to prove that we were the products of the bourgeois, and the bourgeois are liars. We lie when we say we are virgin, we are Christian, and when we try to preserve our bodies pure for marriage.

– They were against that?

Sure. They tried to say that I was a prostitute, a young man who had connections with all the girls. We would be tortured until we denied everything we believed before. So, that is what it means to be “unmasked”. It was done in order to prove that Christian principles were not principles, that we lied when we said we loved Jesus Christ, we loved God, mother, father, and so on. It was to show that I lied when I said that I was a chaste man, when I held an ideal of nation and family. Everything had to be destroyed in our souls! This is the second step.

After this came a declaration against everybody who was in touch with us, everybody who believed as we believed. I was to make a declaration against everybody who knew about my organization or my actions, to denounce everybody – even father, mother, sister. We were to sever completely any Christian connection and moral principle.

The final step was to affirm that we had given up all the principles of our Faith and any connection we had with it. With this we began to be “the new man”, “the Communist man”, ready to torture, to embrace Communism, to denounce everybody, ready to give information, and ready to blaspheme against God. This is the most difficult part, for under terror and torture one can say, “yes, yes, yes” But now, to have to act? It was very difficult.

It was during this third part that the majority of us tried to kill ourselves.

Of course what the Romanian communists were after and what the CIA interrogators were after differs considerably. I’m not making a complete equivalence. But in both cases, they tried to compel a prisoner through torture to defile his faith in order to produce desired results. I’m a religious believer, and trust me, I would rather be raped a thousand times than tortured to the point of denying God or desecrating holy images or Scripture. Even though I do not share the faith of these Muslim detainees, what our government did to them is possibly most inhumane thing any man can do to another: to defile the image of God within their souls.

May God bring justice to those responsible for this abomination.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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