According to the gospel of Matthew, it came to pass that Pontius Pilate said to Jesus, “Do you not hear all this evidence that is brought against you?” for even in those days of rudimentary justice a man had the right to hear the charges of his accusers. Yet two thousand years later, under a bill urged by President Bush, a compliant Congress may agree to allow a prisoner of war to be tried without hearing all the evidence against him, some being held back in the name of “national security.” For what is more important, the life of one individual or the security of the State? Every totalitarian regime knows the answer to that. And so prisoners may be put to death, perhaps on false charges, without even knowing what wrong they are accused of.
According to the gospel of Matthew, not long before his trial and while journeying to Jerusalem, Jesus took his disciples aside and told them he would be arrested in the city where he would be handed over to a foreign power, to be tried and crucified. And so, too, today, there are more than 400 captives in Guantanamo prison, removed from their homeland by a foreign power in defiance of Geneva, men who have been made to suffer for years in a strange land half a world away from their homes and families, without being charged, without a lawyer, without trial, every one of the uncharged denied due process and thus every one of them innocent. And others, even more unfortunate, have been abducted by the CIA against international law, handed over to a foreign power to be imprisoned, tortured, and, in some cases, crucified, with no trial, and the new bill urged by Mr. Bush allows the CIA to continue its practices.
According to the gospel of Matthew, Jesus extolled those who showed mercy, saying, “when I was naked ye clothed me; when I was ill ye came to my help, and when I was in prison ye visited me.” By some strange reversal of New Testament teaching, in the same way as Jesus was stripped of his clothing, captives in U.S. prisons have been stripped of theirs and confined naked in rooms of extreme temperature or threatened by dogs or stacked naked in human pyramids or mocked and scorned or sexually abused or beaten. Such actions, contradicting the words of Jesus, “That which ye do to the least of my brethren ye do also to me,” violate Common Article 3 of Geneva that forbids “outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment.”
As for being visited in prison, many a captive in U.S. custody, such as those in the CIA compound in Kabul, has been denied visits by the International Red Cross, and some have been held incognito, as the “ghost” prisoners of Guantanamo, whose names are not even carried on the prison rolls, also a violation of Geneva. Nor do their families have the opportunity to visit them, a privilege that was commonly afforded even in the days of primitive justice in the time of Jesus, who saw prison visits as a blessing.
But what is international law to President Bush, who reportedly told aides, “the Constitution is just a damn scrap of paper”? By contrast, Jesus said, “If any man therefore sets aside even the least of the Law’s demands, and teaches others to do the same, he will have the lowest place in the kingdom of Heaven..”
According to the gospel of Matthew, Jesus went up to the hills, and “When he was seated there, crowds flocked to him, bringing with them the lame, blind, dumb, and crippled, and many other sufferers…and he healed them…and they gave praise to the God of Israel.”
Only in Bush’s prisons, the sighted are put in darkness for days at a time, whole men are beaten until they are crippled, and sane men are driven mad and to suicide. Recall the words of Matthew: “They (the chief priests) put him in chains and led him away, to hand him over to Pilate, the Roman Governor.” Today, in America’s prisons, men are being chained in stress positions for days at a time or hung by chains suspended from the ceiling for a week or longer.
According to the gospel of Matthew, Jesus told his disciples, “Do not murder,” an injunction not followed by the Bush White House, as more than 100 prisoners have died in U.S. custody, likely every one of them murdered, and several admittedly murdered by their handlers. As for following the Lord’s injunction, “anyone who commits murder must be brought to judgment,” not one administration official in an executive position responsible for shaping the brutal torture policy has been put on trial.
According to the gospel of Matthew, in his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “How blest are those who show mercy; mercy shall be shown to them.” Yet, the world sees none of it from the White House. Mercy, a gift within the reach of all humanity, is also within the grasp of President Bush and a Congress that appears liable to codify his inhumane bill on the trial and treatment of prisoners. Any member of Congress who votes “aye” will be guilty of condoning torture and subject to prosecution under international law. Equally despicable, any member of Congress who approves the bill will be voting in defiance of the highest moral law ever preached on this planet.
The president’s biographers write he is a regular reader of the Bible. If so, he must be reading the King George version.
--Sherwood Ross writes for newspapers and magazines. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org