Mercer professor tapped to investigate torture during Bush presidency

Mercer professor David Gushee speaks at a 2008 conference on human rights. Gushee was recently appointed to a 12-member task force on the U.S. use of torture during the Bush era. PHOTO BY

Mercer professor David Gushee speaks at a 2008 conference on human rights. Gushee was recently appointed to a 12-member task force on U.S.-sanctioned torture. PHOTO BY NHR-NA.ORG.

A Mercer Christianity professor has been elected to serve on a bipartisan national task force dedicated to investigating Bush-era torture of war prisoners.

Dr. David Gushee, profesor of Christian ethics at Mercer University, was chosen as one of 12 experts nationwide to serve on The Constitution Project, a bipartisan task force formed in December to examine questions regarding the use of terror in America’s recent wars.

Ever since information arose in 2004 of detainee maltreatment and torture, the U.S. government has struggled with questions concerning legality and necessity of such measures to “win the war on terror.”

The task force has already begun holding discussions. According to the Constitution Project’s website, other members of the Task Force include Eleanor Hill, former Inspector General of the Department of Defense, and former Congressman Asa Hutchinson.

Gushee, author of several books on morality and religious ethics, stated that the task force would try to “pull together everything that is known to and with detainees and make recommendations to the President [of the United States] about where we should go from here.”

As an ethicist Dr. Gushee provides a unique perspective to the task force. Gushee pointed out that no one on the task has “tackled these issues from an ethical perspective.” All other members either come from a legal or military background.

Gushee believes that torture requires asking “what do we think about what happened” and “what should we do” about it in the future. Gushee feels that course of action “involves making moral judgments.”

Gushee uses this logic from his theological research for his book titled The Future of Faith in American Politics: the Public Witness of the Evangelical Center. He asserts that every person has a “fundamental right to human dignity.”

Gushee said he understands this right originates from the fact that “God has created…and redeemed the human being.  Thus all humans have a sacred worth and must not be violated by torture,” he said.

Not everyone agrees with this assertion. Senator Michelle Bachman stated in 2010 that the blame of this action should lie at the feet of the radical terrorist.

Torture, according to Gushee, never comes justifiable as it violates “the responsibility to treat [detainees] with dignity, regardless of whether their behavior deserves such a response simply because of their status with God as humans.”  Gushee cites both the Jewish and Christian faiths for his view on dignity.

Gushee suggests that the government should not think in absolutes about a specific aspect of what it is “supposed to do.”

“The common good is balanced against…the dignity of the person,” Gushee said.

The larger issue of addressing how to confront and win a “war of necessity” (that President Obama labeled the Afghani war) for Gushee “doesn’t mean you use any means necessary.”  Torture doesn’t conform to Gushee’s parameters due to the “morally dangerous” precedent that it could set for future foreign policy.

Dr. Gushee seems more than happy to sit on the task force.  His appointment doesn’t interfere “just yet” with his professorship at Mercer University’s School of Theology.

Once the pace picks up, Gushee says a reduced teaching load will help him take on the role.  Until then he says he’ll “keep doing what [he’s] doing”.

Gushee earned his PhD in Christian Ethics from Union Theological Seminary in 1993.  He also holds a Masters of Philosophy and a Masters of Divinity.  Gushee completed his undergraduate work from the College of William and Mary.