“Walling” and the Divine Image

theodosius_i_roman_coinRabbi Arthur Waskow of the Shalom Center in Philadelphia recently posted a Jewish response (Torturing the Image of God) to the Pew Study on  White Evangelical and Catholic Christians justifying torture that I blogged about earlier.

I appreciate his provocative teaching. Here’s an excerpt:

One of the central teachings of Torah is that all human beings are made in the Image of God. That teaching and what flows from it are at the heart of Jewish prohibitions on the use of torture — and perhaps at the heart of Christian opposition to torture as well.

Indeed, the Rabbis – living under the Roman Empire – enriched that teaching about the Image as a direct challenge to the power of Rome, the Imperial fount of torture. One of them asked, “What does this mean, ‘In God’s image?’” And another answered, “When Caesar puts his image on a coin, all the coins come out identical. When that One who is beyond all rulers puts the divine image on a ‘coin,’ all the coins [that is, human beings] come out unique.”

Take into account the Rabbinic teaching that Caesar puts his rigid uniformity upon his coins, whereas the Infinite God puts uniqueness into God’s coins: that is, every human being. Surely Jesus, the radical rabbi from the Galilee, knew this teaching.

So I believe there is a missing line in the Gospel story. Either Jesus didn’t need to say it because his first question would reawaken the knowledge in those who were trying to trouble him, or it was later censored out because it was so radical:

“Whose image is on that coin?” he said, and they answered: “Caesar’s.”

And then I think he said, “And whose Image is on this coin?” as he put his hands on the shoulders of the troublemakers.

Only then did he say, “So give to Caesar what is Caesar’s — and give to God what is God’s!”

And of course, as the Gospels say, the troublemakers themselves went away deeply troubled — not because they had failed to trick him, but because he had forced them to think and feel and act anew as they opened themselves to experience the Image of God in themselves. And to understand that the Divine Image stood in radical contradiction to Caesar’s image, so that the world could not be neatly and comfortably divided into two different realms, one “spiritual” and one “political.”

This teaching needs to be renewed in every generation.

Read Rabbi Waskow’s full text here.

Why We Need to Indict on Torture

botero-woman-for-web-029I’m digging around in the Torture Memos and came across this Senate Armed Services Committee report from last December. Here’s  a quote from the introductory summation:

“The abuse of detainees in U.S. custody cannot simply be attributed to the actions of a ‘few bad apples’ acting on their own. The fact is that senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees. Those efforts damaged our ability to collect accurate intelligence that could save lives, strenthened the hand of our enemies, and compromised our moral authority.”—U.S. Senate Armed Services Inquiry into the Treatment of Detainees in U.S. Custody (released December 11, 2008)

I’ve been going back and forth about whether it’s better to pursue criminal charges against government officials who were involved in the U.S. Torture Scandal.

On the one hand, you want to hold people accountable – especially when the results are so inhuman and heinous. On the other hand, the temptation toward political payback could undermine any legitimate pursuit for justice.

Then I remembered that the population roundups, concentration camps, and killing chambers were all perfectly legal in Germany in 1933-1945 and that one thing that came out of the trial of Secretary of Jewish Affairs Adolf Eichmann was that a psychiatrist examined him and found him perfectly sane (see A Devout Meditation in Memory of Adolf Eichmann by Thomas Merton).

In the end, I think U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder needs to appoint an independent prosecutor to pursue indictments against the following:

1. George W. Bush for requesting in writing legal determinations for evading the Geneva Conventions

2. Department of Defense Counsel William J. Haynes II for requesting in writing that abusive tactics “similar to those used by our enemies” should be considered for us against detainees in US custody.

3. Counsel to the President Alberto Gonzalez and Counsel to the Vice President David Addington for rendering legal interpetations to distort the meaning of existing anti-torture laws.

4. Major General Michael Dunlavey who authorized use of torture techniques at Guantanamo Bay.

5. Judge Advocate Colonel Diane Beaver for providing sub-par legal renderings to justify torture at Guantanamo.

6. Major General Geoffrey Miller, Dunlavey’s successor at Guantanamo, that ignored warnings from the DOD and FBI that the torture techniques he was endorsing were unlawful and counter-productive and who encouraged more aggressive interrogation techniques be used in Iraq.

7. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Richard Myers and his legal counsel Jane Dalton for cutting short the legal and policy review process of interrogation procedures at Guantanamo.

8. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld for the authorization of aggressive interrogation techniques at Guantanamo.

9. Department of Justice legal counsel John Yoo for rendering legal interpretations intentionally crafted to distort the meaning of existing anti-torture laws.

10. Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez for approving torture policies–including the use of dogs, stress positions, and environmental stimuli–at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

11. Department of Justice legal counsel Jay S. Bybee for providing sub-par legal rationale for using torture to extract information from al Qaeda operatives.

12. Acting Assistant Attorney General Steven Bradbury for providing sub-par legal rationale for using torture to extract information from al Qaeda operatives.

13. Number 13 is Vice President Richard Cheney.

When asked last December by Jonathan Karl on ABC news “Did you authorize the tactics that were used against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed?”

Vice President Cheney answered: “I was aware of the program, certainly, and involved in helping get the process cleared, as the agency in effect came in and wanted to know what they could and couldn’t do. And they talked to me, as well as others, to explain what they wanted to do. And I supported it.”

E-mail Attorney General Holder at [email protected] or here.