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Reparations for Al-Qaeda? By: Mark D. Tooley
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, March 16, 2009

In the fervid imaginations of the Religious Left, America has been delivered from Darth Vader and the Emperor (Bush & Cheney). But there still needs to be a reckoning for the crimes and horrors of those dark eight years. So Evangelicals for Human Rights and the National Religious Campaign against Torture [by the U.S] are supporting a “truth commission” that will expose all the “torture” and criminality at the “secret” prisons where countless souls languished.

The Religious Left’s mythology precludes, at least at this time, admitting that the Obama administration may also treat terror suspects with less than the fine delicacy the Religious Left demands. So to keep the issue alive, groups like Evangelicals for Human Rights (EHR) and the National Religious Campaign against Torture (NRCAT) need a prolonged “truth commission” that would ideally ingrain in the American consciousness the impression that America, at least for eight years, succumbed to virtual police-state fascism.    

Post-apartheid South Africa’s “truth commission,” in which religious officials like Archbishop Desmond Tutu were heavily involved, publicized the police and military misdeeds of 40 years of white minority rule. The goal in South Africa was exposure and, in some cases, repentance and reconciliation. The Religious Left in America, which views the Bush years as morally akin to Afrikaner authoritarianism, similarly hopes that a roving “truth commission” will elicit tearful confessions from CIA interrogators, and perhaps Oprah-like hugs with former al-Qaeda operatives. An America that is prostrate and apologetic is the best kind of reality television for the Religious Left.  

“Biblically, reconciliation generally involves truth telling, repentance, and forgiveness,” explained HER chief David Gushee about the urgent need for a “truth commission.” Gushee helped persuade the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) to denounce the Bush Administration’s “torture.” Deploying evangelical language is key to winning some Christians to the Religious Left banner. Thus, Gushee likened the “truth commission” to the Christian path of redemption. “Unpacked a bit further, reconciliation includes the wrongdoer’s acknowledgment of responsibility, confession of the act as sin, expression of grief for any harm done, serious commitment to a new course of action, and request for forgiveness. It sometimes also involves some concrete form of recompense offered to the one harmed by the one who did the harm.”

Gushee pointed out that “forgiveness then needs to be extended by the aggrieved party for full reconciliation to be experienced.” And when “wrong has been done by both sides, both parties need to walk through this process and extend forgiveness to each other at the end of it.” So imagine the beauty of former Guantanamo guards tearfully exchanging whispers of “I’m sorry” with Osama bin Laden’s former groupies. The Gitmo guard can apologize for the lap dance. And the al-Qaeda captive can maybe express regret for incinerating 3,000 people. Then there can be closure.     

“Is it too much to dream that the United States of America could walk through a process like this in relation to our detainee policies?” Gushee wondered. “I dream that we would demonstrate the moral courage to acknowledge responsibility for wrong acts, confess them as sin, express real grief for the harms done, commit ourselves to a new course of action (and solidify that commitment in concrete legislation and executive policies), offer recompense to those whom we have harmed where that is appropriate, and ask our victims for forgiveness.”

For the benefit of his target constituency, Gushee speaks in the semi-therapeutic language of the modern evangelical mega-church.  NRCAT, which includes liberal Protestants, left-wing Catholic orders, and Muslim groups always eager to condemn U.S. policies, speaks in more generic religious language. “As people of faith, we know that brokenness can be healed – both in individual lives and in the life of the nation,” reads its call for a “Commission of Inquiry” to investigate American “torture” and detainee abuse. “All religions believe that redemption is possible. Learning the truth can set us on a path toward national healing and renewal.”

NRCAT denounces torture as “immoral, illegal and counterproductive.” But, as always, it declines to define “torture,” which is actually a blanket term for the Religious Left to describe all authorized or unauthorized aggressive interrogation of detainees and much of the detainment itself. NRCAT wants to know “who was tortured, why they were tortured, and who ordered the torture.”   While Gushee more redemptively seems to prefer immunity for the guards and interrogators so as to foster his evangelical version of repentance and reconciliation, NRCAT is more Old Testament, or even Koranic, in wanting punishment. “U.S. law will determine the extent of any criminal culpability,” it promises. The Commission on Inquiry will collect facts, while the Justice Department should conduct “criminal investigations.” Last year, NRCAT urged the Justice Department to appoint a Special Prosecutor to investigate torture, and, according to NRCAT, “We still believe that is a good idea.”   

In fact, neither the Obama administration nor most in Congress are much interested in a “truth commission” or “criminal investigations.” The Religious Left, which is largely pacifist, views the whole War on Terror as illegitimate, and prefers to invest terror suspects with all the constitutional rights of U.S. citizens in the criminal justice system. No government charged with protecting its citizens from jihadist terrorism would ever accede to the Religious Left’s utopian and even nihilist vision of U.S. armed forces offering apologies and reparations to al Qaeda. But groups like EHR and NRCAT will still push for their proposals of public therapy and show trials, if only to further demonize the last administration, before the Religious Left has to admit that the new administration is not necessarily the Kingdom of God.

Mark D. Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy. He is the author of Taking Back the United Methodist Church.

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