Here are two more indicators of depraved political leadership in the United States.
President George W. Bush now says he authorized the “waterboarding” interrogation technique on suspected terrorism detainees. And the Justice Department’s special prosecutor investigating the destruction of videotapes of “enhanced interrogation” of suspected al-Qaida detainees announced that CIA personnel involved in destroying the tapes will not face criminal charges, nor will any of the CIA’s top lawyers.
Most people with a semblance of sanity and human decency understand that trying to drown people is torture, inhumane and wicked. Most people who know the difference between speaking the truth and lying remember how Bush denied for years that any suspected terrorism detainees were tortured.
Most people who understand the meaning of the word “cover-up” know that something very wrong happened when CIA officials conducted “enhanced interrogation” of detainees, videotaped the interrogations, stored the videotapes in a safe, refused to disclose their existence despite inquiries from federal judges and the Sept. 11 Commission, and then destroyed the videotapes. That usually earns people a visit to a federal court after being charged with obstruction of justice.
But the special prosecutor isn’t going to charge anyone. Bush probably won’t be investigated – let alone charged – with a war crime for ordering intelligence personnel to torture people through simulated drowning. CIA lawyers, officials and operatives won’t be charged with obstructing justice. And the Justice Department probably won’t be sanctioned for dragging out the investigation into the videotape matter until the five-year statute of limitations for obstruction of justice expired on Nov. 9.
Instead, Bush will promote his memoir by admitting that he approved the torture he denied. The CIA will continue doing whatever it does without concern for the principles of due process guaranteed by our Constitution. The Justice Department will close the special prosecutor’s office.
By contrast, the Nixon presidency ended, at least in part, because Archibald Cox and Leon Jaworski refused to go along merely to get along with a president or an entire administration. Almost 40 years later, things seem to have changed so much.
Lord Acton is famously attributed for the remark that “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” When the power to enforce the law that the U.S. Constitution assigns to the executive branch is used to torture, lie, conceal truth and then sanitize torture, lying and fraudulent concealment, the issue is not whether our government has been corrupted. Rather, the question is whether the American people care enough to do anything about it.
Religious leaders in the United States have been strangely quiet about all this. We should find their reticence disquieting. After all, religious leaders are supposedly custodians of sacred truth and agents of divine grace. Their reticence speaks volumes about where their true loyalties lie.
The prophecy attributed to Isaiah offers a powerful explanation for this sordid situation. At Isaiah 59, we read:
See, the LORD’s hand is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. Rather, your iniquities have been barriers between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so he does not hear. For your hands are defiled with blood, your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies, your tongue mutters wickedness. … Therefore justice is far from us, and righteousness does not reach us; we wait for light, and lo! There is darkness; and for brightness, but we walk in gloom. We grope like the blind along a wall, groping like those who have no eyes; we stumble at noon as in the twilight, among the vigorous as though we were dead … Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands at a distance; for truth stumbles in the public square, and uprightness cannot enter.
Things were bad when we learned that our nation was torturing people. Now we know the torture was ordered at the highest levels and have reason to suspect that the cover-up was as well. When will the spirit of justice that animated Isaiah prompt religious leaders to challenge it? Why do we think God is honored by our refusal to do so?
How will our people and leaders repent if religious leaders remain so strangely silent?
Wendell L. Griffen is pastor of New Millennium Church in Little Rock, Ark.
Pastor at New Millennium Church in Little Rock, Arkansas, and a circuit court judge in Arkansas.