“No Blood On Our Hands”

Good Friday brings Christians once again to the darkest day of the year, the torture and death of Jesus.

For those of us who are both Christians and survivors of torture, Good Friday has an additional meaning. It is but one more reminder that for the tortured, every day is Good Friday—in the sense that during every day of the year, there are those who hang on one government’s cross or another, tortured as was Jesus 2000 years ago.

From that day to this, governments that torture have justified what they do, saying “What we have done is only what we had to do.” Rather than calling it torture, we are assured that what is done—whatever it is—is “for the protection of the state, the protection of you, the people.” If questioned closely, we are assured that, “There is no blood on our hands.” If there is blood—that is, if it cannot be denied that blood has been spilled—then it is not the leaders who spilled it but, only those on the lowest levels from whom such barbaric acts may be expected.

So it has been for a long time, and so it is today. Our leaders attempt to keep secret what they do. When they are caught, they claim that what they do is not what they do—that is, they lie. When they cannot deny what was done, they blame others—those far from them, “hillbillies” and “bad apples”— intentionally using code words to imply, “They are not like us. What can you expect from those with no culture?” It is as if what happened on that Friday so long ago was caused by a few Roman bad apples, low-level soldiers, standing around the cross, acting on their own to produce that death agony taking place there.

In this, the holiest time in the Christian calendar, what might we ask our leaders? What might we ask that—although they will not give it— is within their power to give?

In the spirit of Easter, might we at least hope for a resurrection of truth from President George W. Bush and those who work for him? Instead, what we hear is something like: “Renditions occur, it is true, and indeed to countries that torture. But we make sure to ask them if they intend to torture this particular person and they say, ‘No, of course not.’ And we, of course, believe them.” We are asked to accept this type of statement as truth. Donald Rumsfeld certifies procedures which are plain and simple torture (not abuse), yet he meant them to be used only in Guantánamo— not in Iraq, for heaven’s sake. He is not responsible for what happened there. It’s those bad apples. All agree they must be punished, and they are. No blood on Rumsfeld’s hands.

Apparently, while he was White House counsel, Alberto Gonzales decided nothing, influenced nothing. He just passed on memos from the Justice Department to the president. No blood on his hands. And the president himself? He states to the world that the U.S. position on torture is never : to anyone, anywhere, any time for any reason. Yet he had signed the rendition order long before he made that statement on June 26, 2003. No blood on his hands.

If the Bush administration won’t stop torturing—and apparently they won’t—will they not, at least, stand up and tell the truth? The de facto policy of the Bush administration is to torture. Own up to it. Tell the truth. That indeed would be an Easter miracle.

Sister Dianna Ortiz is executive director of Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition International (TASSC) and a a policy analyst for Foreign Policy In Focus. TASSC International is an organization of torture survivors from countries around the world working for the abolition of torture.