11/11/2010 09:21 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Bush's Defense of Torture Incomprehensible, Unchristian

By Michael Kinnamon
Religion News Service

(RNS) "Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me." That is the teaching of Jesus as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew. Likewise, the Golden Rule states, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

These are the underpinnings not only for Christianity, but for many of the world's great religions. And these are the tenets of the faith claimed by former President George W. Bush.

That's why Bush's prideful defense of torture in his new memoir, Decision Points, is utterly incomprehensible to me. It's also unrecognizable to the fundamental values of this country, and of Bush's own professed Christian faith.

In his memoir, Bush writes that he said "damn right" when the CIA asked for permission to use waterboarding on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. He also admitted to authorizing waterboarding for other "senior al-Qaida leaders."

"Had I not authorized waterboarding ... I would have had to accept a greater risk that the country would be attacked," he writes.

His claim that the use of waterboarding "saved lives" is unfounded. Much to the contrary, the use of waterboarding and other torture techniques has cost the lives of both American soldiers and civilians. Torture does not make us safer; it makes us more of a target.

Bush has said in the past that "the United States does not torture," leading one to assume that he actually believes that waterboarding is not torture. But there is no doubt that waterboarding is, in fact, torture.

Waterboarding is torture under the definition in the U.N. Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. After being signed by President Reagan in 1988 and ratified by the Senate in 1994, this treaty became U.S. law.

Current Attorney General Eric Holder testified during his confirmation hearings in 2009 that "waterboarding is torture." He was unequivocal: "We prosecuted our own soldiers for using it in Vietnam," he said.

As the United States reported to the United Nations in 1998 as part of our obligation under the U.N. Convention Against Torture:

"Torture is prohibited by law throughout the United States. It is categorically denounced as a matter of policy and as a tool of state authority. Every act constituting torture under the Convention constitutes a criminal offence under the law of the United States. No official of the government, federal, state or local, civilian or military, is authorized to commit or to instruct anyone else to commit torture. Nor may any official condone or tolerate torture in any form.
No exceptional circumstances may be invoked as a justification of torture."

We are now confronted with the fact that a president of the United States has openly acknowledged ordering torture. It is a sad and shameful moment. And, it is one we cannot let pass without consequence. Under our own laws, we must hold ourselves accountable; former President Bush has left us no choice.

The National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT), a coalition of more than 290 religious organizations representing most of the major faith groups, has called for an independent counsel to investigate possible criminal wrongdoing. In addition, the coalition has asked for a Commission of Inquiry to take testimony about U.S.-sponsored torture, review all the records, and report to the public what it learns. It would also recommend safeguards to ensure that torture by the United States never happens again.

We must demand of ourselves what we demand of others in the international community, and what all major faiths require of us: respect for the dignity and value of every human being, a manifestation of that which is most holy.

The Rev. Michael Kinnamon is an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and was reelected Tuesday (Nov. 9) to a second four-year term as General Secretary of the National Council of Churches.