Jewish silence in the face of torture

Friday, April 24th, 2009

I know I’m sounding like a broken record on this, but where is the Jewish outrage  over the sanctioned use of torture — “harsh interrogation techniques” is the favored term in the media – by U.S. intelligence and military forces in the war on terror?

It’s not that Jewish groups haven’t spoken up; a handful have.  In 2007 the American Jewish Committee said “waterboarding—an interrogation practice associated with the Spanish Inquisition and prosecuted under U.S. law as torture as much as a century ago—is unquestionably torture.”

But aside from Rabbis for Human Rights and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, which recently applauded the release of memos from the  Department of Justice and the Office of Legal Council sanctioning “severe interrogation techniques on suspects, including methods of torture,”  I haven’t heard a peep as the issue exploded in the media and on Capitol Hill in recent days.

Is it that Jewish agencies don’t believe the use of torture by U.S. forces is a problem, as long as it falls under the rubric of the “war on terrorism?”  If that’s true, where would they draw the line? Is any interrogation technique justifiable, as long as some official says it is producing good results and thereby safeguarding the nation?  If a CIA official said pulling out fingernails or racking detainees was okay, would Jewish groups remain quiet?

Is it that they are afraid of being labeled soft in the anti-terror, so they swallow their misgivings about the implications of allowing torture?  Are they afraid of antagonizing pro-Israel Republicans?

And don’t our religious leaders see a conflict here between Jewish values and simulated drowning, something the Spanish Inquisition used against Jews and others, as the AJC pointed out two years ago? Aside from the RAC and Rabbis for Human Rights, the moral voice of the Jewish community has been stunningly quiet.

If you have any answers, I’d like to hear them (comment box below).

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.