Another Straw Man in the Torture Debate

This morning, I read an article with the title “Bryan Fischer: Torture Is A Christian Value.”  The title is certainly a grabber, but its level of deception doesn’t meet even minimal journalistic standards.

This man said no such thing.

If my post below became a sensational headline, it would read, “Lawrence states that Bryan Fischer’s Logic for Torture is Moral and Sound.”

Of course, that’s not at all what I mean in the six paragraphs below. But, in today’s age, we often score points by ignoring a main argument, selecting words with the most incendiary potential, and placing them in an altogether different context to discredit the speaker.

First, I want to say that my opposition to torture is strong and absolute. Torture is cruel, immoral and ineffective. But, I don’t like the title to this headline, because it’s nakedly misleading, setting up a straw man argument, missing the point Fischer is making about international law. In the next paragraph, I’ve amended Fischer’s statement to include an all-caps for the word “right’ (which is the word he stressed) and a bracketed phrase of my own words which helps to describe Fischer’s intended meaning.

BRYAN FISCHER: “They have absolutely no legal rights that they can claim anywhere. So whatever treatment we give them, if there is any mercy involved in it, they have no RIGHT to that [but if anyone does happen to show them mercy]; that is simply because we are a merciful people who are driven by Christian principles.”

After listening to Bryan Fischer’s voice and re-reading his statement, it’s clear that he is not saying torture is a Christian value. HIs logic begins with the fact that terrorists operate outside the boundaries of state and international relations. According to Fischer, as terrorists do not represent a sovereign state that previously participated in the Geneva conventions, they are not technically bound or protected by the rules of engagement -including internationally illegal torture. While those in uniform representing their countries are protected, in Fischer’s view, terrorists are not.

Fischer is also saying that if a terrorist is not an American citizen, s(he) cannot claim any protection under the Constitution, which is an American governmental contract between and among American citizens and their government.

So, in this clip, Fischer is indeed making a logical argument -one, which negates any and all conventional legal protections for terrorists while asserting that any mercy involved in their treatment can only come from the mercy informed by Christian principles. Fischer is clearly stating that mercy is not a “right” under national or international law, but an unofficial privilege. Agree or disagree, but this is what he is saying.

I feel compelled to weigh in here because Fischer’s ACTUAL argument is the right place to engage in real debate. Any argument that uses the Constitution, the Geneva Conventions, or any national/international policy or law to deny human rights or justify immoral acts deserves to be thoroughly vetted. The false claim that Fischer justified torture as “a Christian value” is a distraction, and as long as we remain distracted by something that wasn’t even there, the real (and dangerous) legal argument sneaks by un-noticed.

We need the debate. Are terrorists (those whose combat tactics operate outside the boundaries of state) to be denied the legal protections and human rights afforded to combatants who operate within the confines of an actual state or country? I say no. A government should always act from the highest level of state morality, and this means to treat all with dignity.

No to torture. And no to straw men.

Bryan Fischer argues that terrorists are not afforded human rights and protections enjoyed by conventional combatants.