This past week, the Washington Post released the full text of a fifty-page Department of Justice memorandum, prepared for the White House at the request of the Central Intelligence Agency, discussing the legal justification of torture. Academic commentators analyzing this memo have characterized it as “a legalistic, logic-chopping brief for the torturer.” The memo attempts to set out possible legal justifications and defenses that might be asserted by the government after they have physically and psychologically abused detainees (and, presumably, been found out). The legal theories presented might be charitably described as dubious, including a fairly implausible theory that Congress cannot restrict the activities of the executive branch in wartime.
The analysis of this memo was picked up in a subsequent Department of Defense memorandum on the justification for torture, which in turn appears to have set the stage for the atrocities committed at Abu Ghraib, and for the matters complained about by the International Committee of the Red Cross, concerning the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.
But perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the memo is that it appears over the signature of a former government official, an LDS Brigham Young University graduate who has since taken a positon as a federal appellate judge.
Whatever one’s political affiliation, I cannot believe that the practice of torture is acceptable to anyone who claims to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. There seems to me something seriously awry in a government that is stockpiling legal justifications in preparation for such activity. But the support and leadership of at least one, and possibly more Latter-Day Saints in such preparations is deeply troubling. There is an oft-quoted prophecy, attributed to Joseph Smith, that when the Constitution of the United States hangs by a thread, the Elders of Israel will step forward to rescue it – not sharpen the scissors of those endangering it.
Which leaves me to wonder: at what point does a Latter-Day Saint governmental official have, like Mormon of old, the moral obligation to resign his position rather than participate in the conduct of his superiors?