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Torture, Terrorists and Just War
Order Warrior Monk at Amazon

Warrior Monk: A Pastor Stephen Grant Novel is Ray Keating's first novel and a tale about a former CIA agent who became a Lutheran pastor. A shooting at his church and an assignment to help protect the Pope mean that Grant’s former and current lives collide. The following excerpt – a discussion about terrorists, torture and “just war” – occurs during a dinner party.

The entrée came. It was grilled tuna – caught off Montauk Point, according to the servers – resting on a bed of endive and topped with herb butter. Grant took the first bite, closed his eyes, and chewed slowly. It was easy to overdo tuna, allowing it to become dry, but this tuna was grilled to perfection.
It had been quite some time since his palate was treated this well. It would be easy to get used to this again.
But after a few more bites, Stephen was pulled away from his gastronomic splendor.
Joan Kraus was the guilty party. She said, “Pastor actually held a fascinating Bible study on this topic a couple of years ago.”
Congressman Ted Brees said, “Really? I assume the Bible doesn’t look kindly on torture.”
Joan responded, “Of course not. Well, not exactly.”
“Not exactly! What do you mean by that?” asked Meri.
Joan looked to Grant for help. “Pastor can explain better than me.”
Brees shifted his eyes to Stephen. “OK. Pastor Grant, you certainly are a man of surprises. Are you now going to become the first member of the clergy that I have ever heard of who defends government torturing prisoners?”
“That would be newsworthy,” added Meri.
This could be fun … or maybe not.
“Well, before diving further into this heated topic, I just want to say thank you to Jennifer and Ted for this wonderful meal. It’s exquisite.”
Jennifer responded, “You’re quite welcome. I’m just so pleased all of you could come.”
Grant noted Jennifer’s genuineness, and how much of a contrast that was to her husband. Strange how some people wind up together.
“Yes, you’re welcome,” added Ted. “But you’re not going to divert us from hearing about torture and the Bible.”
“To some, perhaps the Bible itself is a bit torturous,” said Shane with an expectant smile that quickly faded when no one laughed.
“Yes, well, where to begin so that this dinner party does not turn into a sermon that bores everyone to tears?” reflected Stephen.
“I can’t imagine that, but we’ll interrupt if it gets deadly dull,” volunteered Ted.
“The entire issue actually goes back to St. Augustine in the early fifth century. He gets credit for the Just War Theory,” Stephen began.
“Can any war really be just?” asked Kerri Bratton.
Grant was a bit surprised by Bratton’s question, as he did not expect her to even be listening. “That was the question many early Christians had. Could they in good conscience serve in the military?
After all, Christians are supposed to turn the other cheek, and even pray for our enemies.”
“That’s tough. But I remember hearing that in church. What about that?” said Jimmy Gianelli.
Grant chewed and swallowed another piece of tuna, and then took a sip of wine. Ironic. I’m getting more questions here than during Bible study at church. He continued, “Augustine wanted to make clear that Christians did not have to be pacifists, that as citizens they could serve in the military. Over the centuries, Christians have used the Just War criteria, rooted in Holy Scripture, to gauge the moral legitimacy – or illegitimacy, as the case may be – of war.”
“Like a checklist to determine if a war is right or wrong?” asked George Kraus.
“Well, it’s not exactly that simple. There’s plenty of room for debate. Some have interpreted the Bible and Augustine narrowly, and others more broadly. Just look at the deep disagreements among Christians over the Iraq War. But in a sense, you could look at it that way, as a checklist.”
George persisted, “So, what’s on this checklist?”
Stephen answered, “First, the Bible affirms the state’s right to wage war when necessary. St. Paul, for example, warns in Romans 13 that if you do wrong, the state bears the sword. The Just War Theory dictates that war should be in self-defense, to secure peace, to establish justice, to protect the innocent, etc. And it should be a last resort, with a formal declaration.”
“All that is based on the Bible?” asked Arnie Hackling in a skeptical tone.
“Actually, yes. I can e-mail you the exact verses, and a couple of articles that explain matters in detail, if you like?”
“No, that’s OK. Thanks anyway.”
Congressman Brees said, “Based on what you’ve laid out, Pastor Grant, all of us here can probably agree that the war on terror fits as a just war.”
Grant noticed that Meri looked like she wanted to disagree, but restrained the impulse to speak out.
Brees continued, “But that doesn’t mean it’s okay to torture terrorists.”
“Ted, you bring us to part two. The Just War Theory also governs how war is waged. There are two principles at work here. First is proportionality.”
Brittney chipped in: “Proportiona-what?” Her face was contorted in over-the-top fashion, as a child might when completely confused by what an adult just said.
“Proportionality,” Stephen responded gently. “War should be the lesser of two evils. It also means that the force being used should be appropriate to deal with the evil at hand. It should be what’s needed to establish peace and hopefully improve things, but not more than that.”
“And the second principle?” asked Ted.
“That would be discrimination.”
Brittney again emerged ever so briefly from what clearly had become a stupor. She said, “Oh, discrimination. That’s not good.”
“In this case,” Stephen said, “discrimination is good. Here it means that war should only be waged against enemy combatants and military targets. Civilians are supposed to be protected.”
Grant paused. He could tell that other than the Krauses and Jennifer, this was completely new ground for the rest of the dinner party. Stephen reflected that this was particularly disappointing, but not surprising, when it came to a member of Congress. Since he had been doing most of the talking, Grant was the last to finish his tuna.
As plates were cleared and the servers asked whether each diner wanted coffee or tea with dessert – and offered various flavors of each to pick from – the conversation continued.
Shane asked, “Now, Pastor, how could torture possibly fit into this theory?”
“Obviously, it generally doesn’t.”
“But Joan indicated that it could based on one of your Bible studies,” Ted pointed out.
“You asked earlier, Congressman …”
Ted held up a finger and shook his head at Stephen.
“Right, I’m sorry,” said Grant. “You wondered before, Ted, if I was the only member of the clergy who could justify torturing a terrorist. I don’t know if I’m the only one. But I’d go farther and assert that in the rarest of circumstances, it actually could be a moral imperative to, for lack of a better word, torture a terrorist.”
This generated a bit of buzz around the table just as fresh berry Napoleons were being served. Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries were layered with crème anglaise, and sprinkled with dark chocolate.
Grant knew that the banter among the others wouldn’t last. He soon would be thrust back into the middle of the fray to explain his seemingly outrageous declaration. Therefore, he took the first opportunity to grab a forkful of the Napoleon. Again, it was delightful.
He managed two more mouthfuls before Meri demanded, “Reverend Grant, please explain yourself.”
Well, “Reverend.”
Stephen said, “Let’s delve into a little Ethics 101. Consider the very rare cases of extracting information from the ticking time bomb or a terrorist leader who has information about various campaigns. The case can be made that in limited, grave circumstances where mass murder looms, aggressive interrogation tactics – yes, some kind of torture – is proportional in terms of being the lesser of two evils, in terms of the evil at hand, and as the way of furthering peace. Also, it is specifically directed against an enemy combatant. And since it’s the job of terrorists to murder noncombatants, the purpose is to protect civilians.”
“That’s a little too neat and tidy. It’s rarely that simple,” said Meri.
“Indeed, I should say not,” added Shane.
“I would agree,” said Stephen. “And that’s why I’m talking about very unique circumstances. But there are such circumstances. What do you do when a nuclear, chemical or biological weapon attack is imminent, and the authorities have captured a terrorist who quite likely has information regarding the attack, but he isn’t talking? Is some kind of coercion, even torture, justified to get that information and save dozens, hundreds, or perhaps hundreds of thousands of innocent lives? Wouldn’t such action be morally justified? Some say no. In fact, many, perhaps most, Christian clergy would say no. I disagree. In fact, I would argue that the clergy, in this specific case, offer an answer that is reprehensible under any moral calculus, including the Just War Theory.”
It was Jennifer’s turn to ask a question. “I don’t necessarily disagree with you, Pastor, but how would you respond to those who say that human life is sacred, and that by sanctioning torture, we would be telling the world something quite different?”
Stephen replied, “Good thought. No doubt, this is dicey stuff. And in most instances, I would agree with that assessment. But it also is not a moral absolute. Again, I believe there are very grim instances when torture actually can become a moral imperative for a government. Remember, we are still talking about the state here. And with innocent lives on the line and the opportunity existing to extract information to stop some kind of WMD attack, then refraining from the use of torture in that unique circumstance would tell the world and one’s own people that human lives are not sacred.”
Other than Brittney, who was concentrating very hard on trying to get berries from her Napoleon onto a fork and then into her mouth, everyone else around the table was silent.
Finally, Joan Kraus said, “See, I told you he would do a better job explaining it than I ever could.”

Order Warrior Monk at Amazon

Warrior Monk: A Pastor Stephen Grant Novel is Ray Keating’s first novel. Keating is a weekly columnist for Dolan Media Company (with his column appearing in newspapers such as Long Island Business News and Colorado Springs Business Journal), and an economist. Warrior Monk can be purchased at Amazon.com.

Published: April 19, 2011

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