Saturday, November 24, 2007

"Interpreting Old Testament Prophetic Literature in Matthew"

"Interpreting Old Testament Prophetic Literature in Matthew: Double Fulfilment" by Craig Blomberg.

"Royal Expectations in Genesis to Kings"

"Royal Expectations in Genesis to Kings: Their importance for Biblical Theology" by T.Desmond Alexander.


WARNING: The following story contains graphic depictions of waterboarding and other equivalent acts. It is not intended for children.


It was another hot day. Sergeant Mitchell London moved down the alley with the other men in the squad. Unlike the others, London carried no weapon but for his sidearm which he could only use defensively according to the rules of war.

Not that the terrorists cared about the rules of war. They’d just as soon take a shot at London for the sole reason that he had the red cross patch on his arm. Rather than protecting him, it made him a target.

Ahead of London walked Lieutenant Arthur Hawkins. Hawkins was on his third tour in Iraq, and as a result had more combat experience than any two men on his team. This was especially true of the man flanking him to the left, Private First Class Richard Overby. Overby wasn’t even nineteen years old yet, and thus far hadn’t seen any action for the month he’d been deployed.

Overby glanced at Private Jesse Stalder who had taken up position on the opposite side of the alley near a T intersection, said: “You sure he came down this way?”

Stalder nodded. Overby gripped his M-16 in his sweaty palms, looked back over his shoulder at Hawkins. From where they stood, pressed up against the mud-brick walls of the various homes, they were relatively safe. The awning over the west side of the alley provided a bit of shade for Stalder too.

But in Iraq safety was always temporary. A few minutes earlier, they had been relatively safe inside their Stryker vehicle. Then, Stalder had seen a man glance up at them in surprise before he turned, picked up his AK-47, and darted into the alley.

Hawkins left Bravo team back at the Stryker and quickly assembled Alpha to do a quick check of the alley. Combat medic London had tagged along just in case his services were needed posthaste.

The alley was quiet, however. They hadn’t seen any movement at all since they entered, and even the traffic on the nearby road was quieter now. It was almost as if the alley simply swallowed up all evidence of life.

Hawkins felt a bead of sweat on his forehead. He ignored it. Something in the alley felt wrong and he had learned to trust his instincts over his three tours. He motioned to Stalder: check the corner.

Stalder moved forward. He carried the Squad Automatic Weapon, which could be used solo to suppress an enemy position if need be. Stalder reached the corner of the building and glanced around it. There was nothing there. He turned, shrugged toward Hawkins.

And the shot rang out. Stalder fell to the ground like a marionette with its strings cut. It happened so quickly that for an instant no one moved. Then Hawkins broke the silence, yelled: “Sniper! Find cover! London, stay put.”

“Sir, he needs medical help.”

“And that sniper’s waiting for you to go out so he can take you too.” Hawkins picked up his radio and calmly said, “Bravo, this is Alpha. We’re taking fire. Take the Stryker and flank the alley to the North. Copy?”

“Roger, Alpha.”

At that, Hawkins knelt and moved toward the intersection of the houses. He glanced around the corner but couldn’t see the sniper. “My guess, he’s in that building there,” he muttered to himself. Then he moved back around the corner.

Stalder hadn’t moved. Hawkins grabbed a smoke grenade. “Smoke out!” he yelled, tossing it around the corner of the building. He turned back to London. “When the smoke’s built up enough, go get him.”

“Yes sir,” London said. The seconds seemed to stretch on for hours, but he knew that was a figment of his imagination. He also knew that figment or not, Stalder didn’t have much time for London to wait.

“Go now,” Hawkins said. He turned, moving his M-4 to cover the alley for London.

London rushed across the alley and knelt by Stalder’s side. The soldier had fallen onto his face, and London gently rolled him over. The young man had been struck in the neck. The bullet had made its way through his spine. Stalder was already dead.

London turned to call for a stretcher. As he did, he saw an object sail through the smoke screen in the alley. “Grenade!” he yelled, instinctively covering Stalder’s body.

Hawkins jumped back from the corner of the alley less than a second before the grenade exploded, sending shrapnel in a lethal radius. Hawkins was hit in the leg and he stumbled backwards.

Almost concurrently, a barrage of AK-47 fire erupted and the patter of bullets striking brick filled the alley. London had nowhere to move, he was stuck with Stalder’s body on the opposite side of the alley just around the T corner. Across and back from him, Hawkins bit his tongue at the fire in his leg. He grabbed his radio: “Bravo, where are you?”

There was no response. Hawkins tried again before he realized his radio was dead. It had been struck by shrapnel and was now useless. “Give me your radio,” he shouted at Overby. But Overby had run down the alley toward where the Stryker had originally been parked.

There was another explosion as a second grenade went off. Hawkins rolled backward until he saw the entryway into the house. He pushed the door open and slipped inside. The house was empty.

His leg was bleeding profusely now. He quickly pulled off his belt and wrapped it around his leg. He pulled one of his shooting gloves off and rolled it into a ball, placed it against his femoral artery, and tightened the belt around it as tight as he could make it. Then he fell back with his head against the floor of the house.

Outside, it had grown quiet. London and Stalder are still out there, he thought suddenly. But he found he had no more strength to get up and check on them. The world was becoming very hazy for some odd reason. Before he could stave it off, he lapsed into unconsciousness.

* * *

London felt chunks of brick strike his helmet as bullets danced against the wall behind him, but amazingly he remained unharmed. After what must have been less than a minute, the shooting ceased. London raised his head from the ground and realized that he was alone in the alley with a dead man.

Only that wasn’t quite true. Two men materialized through the smoke just over thirty yards away, AK-47s at their shoulders. London pulled his sidearm, but it wasn’t very accurate over any great distances. Their AK-47s had the advantage here. The first man spotted him, and called out in Arabic. Then, both of them had their weapons trained on him.

“I’m a noncombatant!” London shouted, tossing the pistol aside. “A medic. Doctor.”

The men moved forward. He kept his arms raised, let them see the red cross patch. They ignored it and instead, the larger of the men circled around behind him as the first kept his AK-47 pointed at London’s chest. The man behind him grabbed his right hand and pulled it back, followed by his left. The man wrapped plastic cord around both his wrists binding them tight.

The man who had tied him stepped to one side and then jerked London to his feet. He looked at Stalder’s body and his SAW and quickly picked up the weapon, putting the sling over his shoulder. Then, he picked up the body.

Gunfire erupted behind them. The first man gestured with his AK-47: move. It was toward the gunfire.

London suddenly realized that it must have been Bravo team shooting. He might be able to make a break for it.

The man beside him had other plans. He kicked the door to a house open and pushed London in. The second man followed, still carrying Stalder’s body. They made their way through the empty house, and got to the front. London could see three other men with AK-47s there in the front yard. They were taking pot shots down the alley. One of them had an RPG too, but apparently had used all his rounds.

The first man pushed London away toward a van that was parked in the back. He then yelled something in Arabic, and two of the three men rushed back. They looked at London in a surprise that quickly melted into something akin to a wolf staring at prey.

The first man pushed London into the back of the van. Stalder’s corpse was thrown on top of him. Then, the remaining terrorist who must have been providing cover fire made his break for the van. Seconds later, they were speeding out of the alley and onto the main streets.

Once the van was moving, one of the men pulled off his turban. He wrapped it around London’s face as a makeshift blindfold. The cloth was hot and sweaty, but London held his repulsion in check. Never a religious man, he found the sudden need to pray.

* * *

Lieutenant Jamison Orion, leader of Bravo team, eased down the alley toward where Alpha had been ambushed. He was flanked by his men, and all of them were nervous. The attack had apparently been a quick hit and run. The terrorists knew they had no advantage in a prolonged firefight, so they used lightning fast tactics instead. Still, the situation was always volatile. It wasn’t over until it was over.

Orion reached the T intersection. He could see evidence of the fight all around him: impact craters from the bullets on the bricks, small blast craters from the grenades, brass casings. At one part of the alley there was even blood that stained the ground crimson.

“Alpha, this is Bravo.”

Still no response. Orion was worried now. The shooting had stopped a few minutes ago as the terrorists had fled. The city streets offered too many avenues for them to seal all of them off. But Orion’s bigger concern wasn’t that they’d escape but that they’d come back, this time with a vehicle bomb.

Orion crouched by the bloodstain, his M-4 shouldered. There was a sudden thump at the entrance to one of the houses. Orion shouldered his carbine and aimed it at the house. The door opened and an Iraqi woman appeared, her hands upraised. She looked terrified, but she waved for the soldiers anyway.

Orion hesitated. The woman said something in Arabic. None of the soldiers with Orion could speak the language, however, and she apparently didn’t know English either. She motioned again in a universal sign: come here.

“Cover me,” Orion whispered to the man on his right. Then he started forward, his weapon still at the ready. The woman pushed the door open a little further and Orion saw the camouflaged leg on the floor. It was US camouflage, and it had been stained red with blood.

He remained cautious, lest it be a trap. He moved another step to examine the house rather than focusing on what he assumed was a dead body. He couldn’t see anyone in the shadows. Still, he knew it was a risk going further into the open.

Finally he glanced down at the body and realized it was Lieutenant Hawkins. The man’s chest rose and fell; he was still alive. Orion moved into the entryway. The woman backed into the corner, still scared. “Thank you, ma’am,” he said, his voice flat and emotionless. Then, he radioed for a medic.

* * *

The van pulled into the warehouse twenty minutes later. Abdul-Khaliq al Kateb could hardly believe his luck. They had meant to prepare a trap for the Americans, but Safwan had almost ruined everything by running down the alley before they were ready. But in the end, it hadn’t mattered because they had killed at least one of the American pigs, and they had captured a second man.

Abdul hadn’t counted on capturing one live. He hadn’t planned for Allah’s bounty, but that hardly mattered at this point. They had everything set up and ready to go. They had used most of the equipment just a month ago on Boulos, the traitorous dog who had tried to pass off information to the Iraqi police. Boulos had learned his lesson. They had videotaped the entire thing and forced his wife and three children to watch what they had done to him before they slaughtered all his seed too.

They had practiced. And now they had one of the greatest demons of all, an American soldier.

Abdul stepped out of the van and opened the back doors. He pulled the living soldier out, and forced him over to the corner where Boulos had been chained. Abdul used the same restraints and he wished Boulos’s blood was still on the metal to frighten the American more.

Oh well. Allah never promised you everything.

Abdul walked back toward the van. One of the men had already dumped the body of the dead soldier onto the floor. They were taking turns kicking the corpse. Abdul let them for a while, then realized the turban blindfold was still on the living soldier. He moved back to the prisoner and read the nameplate on the man’s jacket.

“London.” Abdul knelt and pulled the turban off. “I lived in London for two summers.”

The American showed surprise. That was good, Abdul thought. It gave him an advantage.

“Yes, I know English quite good. Not good as you, but better than them.” He gestured toward the others who had taken off their sandals and were slapping the corpse with them. Then Abdul pulled out a knife from the sheath on his belt. “I think you should see this.”

Abdul turned and said something in Arabic to the others. They stepped back from the body and Abdul smiled. “Take off his shirt,” he ordered in Arabic. Firas, the youngest of them at seventeen, immediately did so. Abdul moved over to the body, turned back and made sure London was watching. Then, he plunged the knife into the dead man’s abdomen.

London looked away. “No!” Abdul shouted. “You look!”

London refused. Abdul gestured to Hatim, and the strong man who had hauled the corpse in all by himself moved over to the American. Hatim smiled grimly, grabbed London’s chin, and pulled until he was looking toward Abdul again.

“If you close your eyes I’ll have him squeeze them out,” Abdul said. He gave London a second to let it sink in before he moved back to the knife. He cut upward through the abdomen until there was a fourteen inch incision. The intestines of the pig—Abdul couldn’t think of this thing as a man—slid out onto the concrete floor of the warehouse. He helped pull out as much as he could until the pig had become an empty vessel. Then, Abdul motioned for Firas to bring him the box from the corner.

Firas did so, a smile on his face. He was eager, the young man was. Abdul smiled back and then opened the box. He pulled out the plastic explosives and packed them into the dead container beneath him. When it was full, he pulled the skin back together and used a heavy thread to sew it shut.

Abdul stepped back from the body. Firas redressed it as Abdul waited. When Firas was finished, Abdul glanced back over to make sure London was still watching. The prisoner was.

Good. Abdul knelt and put the knife at the dead body’s throat, slicing deep into the neck. His arms jerked up and down with intense passion until finally the head was severed. Abdul kicked it over into the corner of the warehouse. Then he lifted the headless corpse and, with the help of Firas, moved it into the van.

Abdul stepped back. He was sweating now. That was good. Allah didn’t like a lazy man. He liked diligent workers, and Abdul fit the bill perfectly. He motioned to Safwan and then stopped, a new idea formed.

Abdul walked back to London. In Arabic he told Hatim, “You can release his head now.” The man did so, and London rotated his head on his neck, probably popping a vertebrae or two.

“You have identification?”

“Yes. In my wallet.”

“Good.” He motioned for Hatim to lift London to his feet. Abdul took London’s wallet from his pocket and opened it. Some pictures fell out, family no doubt. Abdul ignored them. Instead, he picked up the military ID card and tossed it toward Safwan. The card landed in the intestines that he been left on the floor, and everyone broke out into laughter at that.

Except for London, of course. Abdul turned back to the American. “There is just one problem,” he said, his hand resting on London’s right arm. “They may think we found your wallet instead of capturing you. How can we prove we really have you?”

It was a rhetorical question of course, but Abdul enjoyed the way the prisoner’s eyes filled with fear as he wondered what Abdul would do next. Abdul decided not to let him wait.

He grabbed London’s right wrist and simultaneously drew his knife against the base of London’s thumb. London screamed and jerked his arm, but Hatim helped hold it still as Abdul cut into his hand. The knife found the joint and slipped through it. Then the thumb was off.

Abdul released London and held the bloody thumb up at the prisoner. “This ought to prove we have you,” he said cheerfully. Putting the thumb together with London’s ID, he gave both to Safwan and gave the man instructions. Safwan nodded and jumped into the van.

Abdul turned back toward London. It was amazing, he thought. After a while you didn’t even notice the screams the pigs made as they were slaughtered.

* * *

The pain was worse than anything London had experienced before. Even as it racked his hand, his mind was contemplating. No sir, couldn’t turn off that brain of his. He mentally calculated the odds that he could get the thumb successfully reattached. Given his current position, chained to a wall and in enemy custody, the odds were roughly equivalent to the odds that he would spontaneously combust. Even if soldiers marched in right there, and even if they had stopped the van and had his thumb in hand (so to speak), the odds that it could be reattached were still low.

How could he do his job without a thumb? He had wanted to be a surgeon after his stint in the Army was up. But that wouldn’t happen now. Not unless he got really skilled with his left hand.

The man who had cut his thumb off was busy setting up a video camera. London felt a shudder travel down his spine. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We have to survive before we can learn to use a scalpel with our left hand.

* * *

Abdul turned on the light above the camera. Everything appeared to be in working order. He smiled at London as it whirred next to him. “You threw away your gun in the alley very fast,” Abdul said, his tone slightly above mockery. “They have such cowards in a professional army?”

London bit his tongue against the pain of his missing thumb. “I’m a…noncombatant,” he managed. “A medic.”

“Ah.” Abdul waved his hand dismissively. “You are a coward. Just like a woman.”

“I’m a medic. I’m wearing a red cross on my arm. You are committing war crimes here.”

Abdul laughed. “War crimes? There is no crime in war. There is only survival and death.”

“You will be prosecuted.”

Abdul laughed again. “Arrogant American. You always think your cavalry will show up and rescue you.” Abdul stood. “Enough talking.”

“The world—”

I said silence!” Abdul screamed. The sudden shift in his voice startled London. “If you speak again, I shall have your tongue.” He waved his knife at London’s face for confirmation. After a second, Abdul turned toward Hatim and nodded.

Hatim pushed a table over next to London. Its legs squealed against the concrete floor, a sound not unlike running a fork over a chalkboard. The table was bare except for a vice clamped to the side. Hatim calmly turned the screw, opening the vice’s gaping maw. When he judged that it was open wide enough, he stepped back and let Abdul return to the camera frame.

* * *

London swallowed hard as he looked at the table. The vice was an angry mouth, and he feared what the terrorists planned to do with it. The main terrorist—London began to call him Knife-man—was making a speech to the camera, gesturing with the knife and shouting Arabic slogans. The only thing London recognized was the occasional Allahu akbar. Each utterance of it filled him with terror.

Knife-man finished his speech and motioned toward the Big Bruiser. Bruiser grabbed London by the shoulders and pushed him toward the table.

My head! The thought shot through his mind as Bruiser forced his head toward the vice. “No!” he shouted. “Not my head!”

Knife-man kicked him in the ribs. It drove the air from his lungs, but Bruiser was too strong for him in any case. He fought for as long as he could, but in less than a minute his head was in the vice and Knife-man was tightening it.

The pressure was immense. It felt as if his sinuses were about to collapse. London lay across the table, face down, his head in the vice. The two metal plates were positioned just over his ears, and they burned as they were crushed into the side of his head.

Knife-man knelt by him, patted him on the back of the neck. Then, he jammed something cold and metallic against London’s teeth. He tasted blood from his mashed lips, heard the terrorist command: “Open.”

The metal smashed into his lips again, and he opened his mouth. It was a pair of tongs, and Knife-man pried his jaw open as wide as he could. London jerked on the table, but Bruiser sat on his back to let him know if he jerked too hard he could snap his own neck.

Knife-man switched the tongs to his other hand and pulled out a pair of pliers. He pushed them into London’s mouth, caught the man’s tongue.

“I told you to remain silent,” Knife-man said. He jerked London’s tongue down at that, then he released the tongs. London was forced to keep his mouth open now to keep from biting his tongue. It was pulled out further than it ever had been before and he had to suppress the urge to gag. Knife-man turned toward the young terrorist and said, “Firas!” He followed it with a command in Arabic.

London couldn’t tell what was going on anymore. His eyes watered from the sting of the pliers on his tongue. Knife-man spoke softly: “Did I ever tell you Firas was a first rate football player? He could kick a ball a kilometer.”

To prove it, Firas turned and kicked London’s jaw as hard as he could. The blow struck London’s chin and knocked him out cold, but not before his teeth clamped down on his outstretched tongue, severing it.

* * *

Abdul watched the prisoner go slack. Blood poured out of his mouth, pooling on the concrete floor. Even so, Abdul knew he could get more of the tongue with his knife. With the prisoner unconscious, he’d be most cooperative now.

Abdul pulled London’s mouth open again and then pushed his knife into the man’s mouth. He cut with sharp, jerky motions, not caring if he jabbed a section of London’s uvula out too. He only finished when he was satisfied he had as much of the tongue as he could get.

Only then did he go back to the camera and turn it off. He would let the prisoner regain consciousness on his own. In the meantime, they stripped him down naked and tied him face-down on the table. When he woke up, they’d roll him over. But they didn’t want him to drown on his blood while he was unconscious. That would be uncivilized.

* * *

Safwan drove the van through the streets careful to bring as little attention to himself as possible. As he drove, he picked up the cell phone and dialed a number. A few seconds later, the connection went through:

“Hello Rafiq,” Safwan said. “I have another story for you.”

On the other end of the line Rafiq took down the information. When he hung up the phone he scratched his chin for a moment. In his hand he held a news bulletin he had received just before the phone call.

The United States Army was missing two soldiers. They offered $20,000 for information leading to the return of their soldiers. Rafiq ignored the number on the bottom of the bulletin and called a separate number. If he played this right, he would be very rich soon.

* * *

London slowly came to. His mouth was on fire, yet it felt strangely…empty. He ran his tongue over his teeth, but couldn’t feel any of his teeth at all. The fire burned stronger and he realized that they must have jerked his teeth out.

Even as he thought that, his chin flared in pain and he remembered the kick. He had bitten through his tongue on impact. It wasn’t his teeth he was missing at all.

He jerked his head up, realized he was strapped down. Pain erupted from his wrists and he tried to curse, but all that came out was an “Uuungh.”

“Look who’s awake,” Knife-man said. He stepped over to the camera and turned it back on. “I was beginning to wonder if we needed to get some smelling salts for you.”

London said: “Uungh.”

The man laughed. London dropped his head again; the effort of lifting it hurt his neck too much. He was hanging off the end of a table, and he could see his hands chained to the table legs too. There were manacles, but they didn’t look right. In fact, he could see blood dripping from them, and he realized suddenly what it was.

With his thumb cut off, his right hand would have slid right out of the manacle. They had fixed that problem by bolting the manacle through his wrist. He looked at his left wrist and saw they had done the same there too, although they hadn’t cut any fingers off that hand yet.


London screamed again, his voice reduced monosyllables punctuated with gutturals from the back of his throat.

The Knife-man had stopped moving now. London felt the man’s hand grab his thigh then, and he realized his legs had been bound so he was spread-eagle across the table.

“You said you do not fight, just like a woman,” Knife-man said. As he did, London heard the sound of a metal blade sliding past another metal blade. “I guess a woman won’t need these then.”

London screamed again, but there was nothing he could do. Fiery pain erupted, and the world seemed to spin white for a second. He couldn’t say anything, couldn’t even think. All he could do was scream.

It felt like an hour had passed, but it was only seconds. Knife-man returned and dropped his testicles on the floor in front of London’s face before he stomped on them.

London’s tears streamed down his face. Knife-man grabbed his chin and pulled his head up, looked into his eyes. “Now you have a reason not to fight.”

He dropped London’s head and motioned for the Big Bruiser. The Big Bruiser held something in his hand and as he stepped toward London, he let the end of it drop.

It was a whip. London tried to plead—he couldn’t get used to not having a tongue. Bruiser didn’t even laugh, he just looked methodically down at London, drew his arm back, and let the whip go.

* * *

Abdul watched Hatim whip the American and counted the blows in his head. When Hatim reached twenty, he raised a hand. The American’s back was raw now. Blood ran down the sides of his ribs, pooled on the table.

“Turn him over,” he ordered in Arabic.

Hatim bent and released London’s left manacle from the table. He fastened it to the loop the right arm was in, then released the right arm. He pulled it back across until it was in the left loop. London lay there, his arms crossed.

Hatim went to the other end of the table and released London’s right foot. “Hold this,” he snapped at Firas. The teen obeyed, and Hatim released London’s left foot from the table. He picked it up and said, “Turn him now,” to Firas.

They did so, pulling London over to his side and then onto his back. London screamed in agony as the open cuts raked across the table. He arched his back and Hatim slammed his fist into the American’s solar plexus.

“No, Hatim,” Abdul ordered. “See to the irons.”

Hatim frowned but obeyed.

Abdul looked at the American. He had no head support, but he was trying to keep his head up. Abdul could wait until the American gave up. With his back in pain, it didn’t take long.

* * *

Now the world was upside down. London could feel his body going into shock. He felt cold, tried not to shiver. Each shiver sent a spasm of pain through his body. He knew he was losing a lot of blood too. If this continued much longer, he could simply die from that.

Knife-man had a glass vial in his hand. It looked like a test-tube of some kind. London wondered if Knife-man had gotten a biological agent of some kind. Maybe anthrax or something. Whatever it might be, it couldn’t hurt more than this.

There was a sudden snap. Knife-man had broken the vial. London watched as the man knelt by Stalder’s intestines, which were still unceremoniously dumped on the floor. Knife-man poked and prodded them with the broken end of the glass tube. Then he stood back up and looked over at London once more.

“You must be thirsty.”

And he was. It was the loss of blood: his body needed to replace the fluids. It was also getting very hot in the room. They had built a large fire in the corner where Big Bruiser was currently working. Even so, London felt another shiver course down his body.

Knife-man stepped next to London and put the vial down on the table top. London couldn’t see it now, it hurt too much to raise his head. He could hear Knife-man at work though. Seconds later, Knife-man returned with a jug of water. He grabbed London’s head and pulled it up, then tipped the jug toward his mouth: “Drink.”

London felt the water rush into his mouth. It sloshed around and he gagged as he tried to swallow. Without a tongue his mouth felt completely different, but at least he couldn’t taste the horrible Iraqi water. It would have been worse this time because it was tinged with his blood too.

He managed three swallows before he started to choke. He coughed, shook his head. Knife-man pulled the jug up and gently lowered London’s head once more. Then he moved back to the other side of the table and picked up the vial once more.

“Tell me, my American friend, did you ever learn about a man named Tycho Brahe?”

London couldn’t answer. If he could have said something, he would have said that the name was familiar but he couldn’t place it. Knife-man seemed to tell that already.

“He was a scientist from Denmark, a true infidel. He drank beer constantly. He was a decadent swine, an American before America was founded, you see?”

Knife-man walked back to the front of the table where London could see him once more. “Do you know how he died?”

London shook his head. Knife-man continued his trek out of view once more, moving toward the end of the table where London’s feet were.

“He was at a banquet, and he drank too much beer again. After a time, his bladder was quite full. Yet he felt that it would be…impolite to leave too soon. He held his bladder so long it burst. It was a very painful way to die, don’t you think?”

Knife-man didn’t give London a chance to respond. He had moved back up to the side of the table once more. “There are many ways to make it so someone cannot urinate. An infection, for instance, could cause swelling which will block the urethra. And there are several ways to get an infection too. This is just one of those ways.”

Knife-man grabbed London’s penis in his left hand and pushed the glass vial into it with his right hand. London screamed and tried to jerk away. Knife-man gave the vial a quick twist, then snapped it off, leaving the glass inside the glans.

He returned to the head of the table. “Are you still thirsty?” he asked jovially.

* * *

Safwan stopped the van in the lot. He picked up the package that contained London’s thumb and ID. He glanced back at the corpse in the van: it was starting to stink. He’d be glad when the body dump was finished.

Safwan saw Rafiq’s car in the designated place. He would give Rafiq the information to air on Al-Haqq news, and then be on his way. When dark fell, he’d drop the body of the dead soldier and wait for it to be discovered. When the Americans showed up, or if they were unlucky and it was just the Iraqi police, he’d detonate the C-4 in the corpse, hopefully killing several of the infidels. But that wouldn’t be for a while.

Safwan exited his van and quickly trotted over to Rafiq’s car. Rafiq rolled his window down as Safwan approached. “You have it?”

“Yes,” Safwan said, glancing around. He passed the package to Rafiq.

“What are your demands for the Americans?”

“Free all our brothers and sisters from prison and give us eight million dollars, or the second soldier dies.”

Rafiq laughed. “You know they’ll never agree to it.”

Safwan smiled. “Just as we’ll never let the American live.”

They both laughed at that. “Here, let me get you your money.” Rafiq reached under the driver’s seat. As he did, Safwan turned to glance back up the road…and saw his van was gone.

“What?” he started. “My van!”

“Do not move,” Rafiq said. Safwan felt a stab of fear in his heart. He turned and saw the pistol in Rafiq’s hand.

He had left his weapons in the van.

“How could you do this?” Safwan shouted. He heard the footfalls behind him. He slowly raised his hands. “Allah will cut you down for this, infidel dog!”

Safwan spat at Rafiq. Rafiq simply smiled and watched Safwan was pulled to the ground and tied up. Only then did Rafiq grab his cell phone and dial the number he had memorized from the bottom of the bulletin.

* * *

“Lieutenant Orion? There’s a Rafiq from Al-Haqq on the phone for you.”

Jamison Orion nodded and picked up the phone. “Salaam, Rafiq. How are you?”

“Salaam, Yeshua. I am doing quite well.”

“Why do you keep calling me Yeshua? I told you my name is Jamison.”

“Yes, but you are a Christian, are you not?”

“Yes, Rafiq.”

“Then why are you ashamed to take Yeshua’s name?”

“I’m not ashamed, it’s just not my name,” Orion said. To keep this from continuing, he quickly interjected: “But that’s not why you called.”

“Of course not. I hear you lost two men and are providing a reward for them.”

“And you have information, I presume.”

“You might say that.”

“Look, it has to be actionable information in order for you to get any of the money. Unless you have someone who saw the whole thing, you’re not getting anything.”

Rafiq laughed. “I have better than that, Yeshua. I have one of your missing men. He is dead, unfortunately. But I also have the man who delivered the body. He, my good friend, is not dead.”

This is too good to be true, Orion thought, but he couldn’t squelch the sudden hope in his heart. “Where do you have this man, Rafiq?”

* * *

Abdul stood next to Hatim and looked at the glowing metal. It was ready. He nodded at the big man, then said, “How would you feel about a little target practice?”

Hatim laughed. He looked at London, still screaming and writhing on the table. “His fingers?”

“Yes, Hatim. Let us use the .22.”

Hatim smiled. When they had tortured Boulos, this had been the best part.

* * *

Knife-man returned to the table. He held a metal device in his hand. London tried to pull away as Knife-man knelt in front of him, but it was difficult to move when you were bound flat on your back to a table, your arms stretched over your head. Knife-man grabbed his left wrist and unhooked the manacle from the table. Then, he pushed London’s fingers into the metal device. There were two rings with a metal shaft on one side. One ring rested at the base of the finger and one at the finger tips. They were splayed out at the top, so as London’s fingers travelled into the next ring his fingers spread out.

Knife-man did the same to London’s right hand, which hurt more because of the missing thumb. Then, Knife-man went to his feet and unhooked both of them from the table. As he did so, Big Bruiser grabbed both of London’s wrists. When Knife-man gave the word, the Bruiser dragged London off the table. The edge cut into London’s back, riding over the area that had been whipped. London felt his voice-box crack and he almost passed out. Then he was on the concrete floor.

Big Bruiser pulled him to his feet. London could hardly walk from the pain in his groin, but Bruiser had ways to convince him to move. In short time, he stood against the wall at the far end of the warehouse. Bruiser quickly ran a chain through the metal attachments Knife-man had put on London’s fingers. The chain ran through a pulley system. Bruiser used it to pull London’s arms up over his head until London was forced to stand on his toes. He felt like each of his fingers were going to pop out of the socket at any minute.

Knife-man had returned, along with Soccer Boy who had kicked him in the chin earlier. Soccer Boy held a contraption that looked like a piece of wood with small roofing nails in it, which was exactly what it was. He placed the board under the arches of London’s feet. Now the only thing keeping him from impaling himself on the nails were his fingers, held up above his head by the chain.

As he stood there, he realized that Knife-man had turned the camera around to film this spectacle too. London clenched his eyes shut for a minute. He wasn’t sure what the terrorists were planning, but he knew it couldn’t be good.

The terrorists had lined up behind a table about ten yards away from London. There was a .22 hunting rifle on the table, as well as a box of ammunition. Soccer Boy picked up the rifle first and put in a single round. He turned, aiming toward London.

Oh no, they’re gonna shoot me.

There was a pop and a chunk of concrete next to his left hand exploded, raining dust down on London. He looked up at the wall stupidly, and only then did he see the flecks of red blood and other crater impacts there.

They were going to shoot his fingers off, one by one.

To confirm this, Big Bruiser picked up the rifle next. He fired and London felt the shot tear through his left middle finger. He screamed again, that monosyllabic “Uuungh!”

The terrorists just laughed.

* * *

Abdul let the others shoot at the American. He watched disinterestedly as they slowly made their way through the American’s left hand, and then his right. When he only had two fingers left, they had both been pulled from their sockets, and his feet had been impaled on the nails. Still, the fingers held his arms above his head until the final shot by Firas tore half of his ring finger off and gravity helped rip through the flap of skin that kept him up.

When the American hit the ground, Abdul motioned for him to be brought back to the table where he had been earlier. Abdul had already reattached the vise to the table: it would be important that the American not be able to move his head, else he could kill himself too quickly.

Hatim tossed the American on the table. Blood poured freely from both hands, staining the concrete floor. Abdul held London down as Hatim tightened his head in the vise once more. This time, he was lying on his back, staring upwards.

“Look at all that blood,” Abdul said. “We don’t want you to bleed to death, do we?”

London sobbed. It was an unusual sound with no tongue, but Abdul was getting used to it now. “Don’t worry,” he said. “We’ll make sure that won’t happen.”

He held up the red-hot iron. Hatim had already secured the prisoner’s wrists. Abdul set the burning iron onto the skin, cauterizing the wounds. Each time the scent of burning flesh rose into the air, reminding Abdul of cooking meat. It made him slightly hungry.

When all the finger stubs were cauterized, Abdul took the remaining poker from the fire. He climbed up onto the table, stood above London. “Have you heard of the expression, ‘In the world of the blind the one-eyed man is king’?”

London cried out something, tried to jerk his head but couldn’t move it because of the vice.

“Allow me to crown you the king of the blind.”

Abdul slowly lowered the poker toward London’s left eye. London screamed and tried to roll, but he was weak from his injuries and the vice grip was strong. “Shhh,” Abdul said. “We must be careful not to go into your brain with this.”

The poker got closer. The heat of it brought tears to London’s eyes. He screamed again and again, but Abdul didn’t flinch. He kept the poker steady and methodically lowered it centimeter by centimeter.

He heard the hiss as the water in London’s eye boiled away. Then, the poker was into his eye socket, smoke rising into the air. London screamed again, and Abdul carefully pulled the poker back out. Then, he climbed off the table and grabbed the jug of water. He sloshed it over London’s face, let it pool in the burned out eye socket. He poured the remainder of it down London’s throat.

* * *

Safwan sat in the cold, dark room. He had been handcuffed, but that was it. The interrogator had talked to him for several minutes, but Safwan refused to talk to the Iraqi pig. Safwan was Jordanian, but even so he knew that the Iraqis who helped the Great Satan were worse than demons themselves, the traitors.

The interrogator had conferred with someone and had left. Safwan could hear the footfalls as the soldiers returned. This time, they brought a stretcher with them.

“Get on there,” one of the soldiers ordered. The translator repeated the order in Arabic. Safwan didn’t really need the translator, he understood English fairly well. But he supposed it was better to obey only after he heard the translator to keep up the pretense.

Safwan lay on the stretcher. The soldiers strapped his arms and legs down. Then, they raised his feet up until they were higher than his head. He felt the blood rushing down; it gave him a slight headache.

“You are going to tell us where our other man is,” one of the soldiers said, and it was dutifully repeated by the translator.

“Go to Hell,” Safwan responded.

The soldier pulled out some cellophane. “You brought this on yourself,” he said, although the translator didn’t repeat that one. The soldier wrapped the cellophane around Safwan’s mouth and nose, then poked a hole it so Safwan could breathe through his mouth.

“Last chance,” the solider said. Safwan cursed in Arabic. The soldier simply reached down and picked up a jug of water. He poured it over Safwan’s face, into the hole in his mouth. Safwan jumped in surprise, felt the water rush into his mouth. He gagged.

They’re going to drown me! He tried to spit the water out, but couldn’t. It was pouring in too quickly. He thrashed, and after a lifetime the soldier stopped. He spat the water out and gasped for air, tears streaming down his face.

“You ready to talk now?”

“Yes!” Safwan shouted before the translator could say anything. “I talk!”

The soldier put the water down and tore the cellophane off Safwan’s face. He raised the stretcher so his head was higher than his feet again. “Good. Where is Sergeant London?”

Safwan gave an address.

* * *

Abdul-Khaliq al Kateb set the camera up one last time. The American lay moaning on the table. He had turned yellow, his penis swollen. While Abdul wished he could take the time to wait for London’s bladder to burst, he knew he couldn’t do that.

Safwan had disappeared. And that meant he might have been captured. He should have arrived earlier that morning, but there had been nothing. Nor had there been any word on the news about the recovery of the dead American soldier. There had been absolutely nothing.

And that had Abdul worried. So, while he would have preferred to take his time, he knew he had gotten as much out of this soldier as he could get. It was time to slaughter him.

Abdul pulled his knife out and stood in front of the camera to give his final speech.

* * *

Orion moved into position on the perimeter. He only wished he’d be able to take part in the actual rescue itself, but that had been given to the Delta boys. He watched as the inconspicuous van plodded its way down the street toward the warehouse.

* * *

Inside the warehouse, Hatim saw the van too. “Abdul, it’s Safwan!” he shouted back toward Abdul. Abdul cursed, knowing he’d have to delete that section from the video.

“No names!” he shouted at Hatim. Still, it was good news that Safwan had returned. That meant maybe they could wait for London’s bladder to burst after all.

* * *

The van stopped outside. Faris had already pressed the button to raise the garage door. The sun reflected off the windshield, and he couldn’t see the driver through the glare. He waved anyway.
Then the door was up and the van started forward. As it crossed by him, he realized that it wasn’t Safwan at the exact instant the soldier in the back of the van shot him.

* * *

Abdul jumped in surprise at the report. Hatim had turned for his weapon but the van door was already opening. Soldiers rushed out, guns firing. Hatim jerked as a bullet tore through his lower abdomen. He collapsed to the ground, screaming in pain.

Abdul rushed toward the prisoner, knife ready. He grabbed London’s head, raised his chin and pressed the blade toward London’s throat.

The bullet tore through his elbow and his hand went numb. The knife fell uselessly to the ground an instant before one of the Delta team struck him in the side of the head with the butt of his rifle. Abdul fell to the ground in a heap. He gazed up at London’s surprised eyes before the world faded to black.

* * *

Orion heard the radio: “We have package. Repeat, we have package. Veronica. I repeat, Veronica.”

Orion’s heart leapt at the news. Veronica was the code word meaning London was still alive. The radio continued: “We’re going to need a chopper for an immediate cas-evac.”

“Roger that. We have an LZ a block west of the warehouse. Whiskey Charlie Niner, secure LZ Alpha.”

“Roger,” Orion said into his radio. He motioned to his men. “Let’s go!”

LZ Alpha was nothing but an empty field. It was used by the children to play soccer, but they quickly scattered as the troops appeared. Orion crouched down and scanned the houses, looking for any shooters.

There were none.

He heard the chopper blades overhead. The wind kicked up from overhead as he saw the Hummer pull onto the field. The chopper dropped down quickly and the Delta troops moved the stretcher into the helicopter. It took off again quickly.

Orion fell back with his men, and they returned to their Stryker vehicle. There had been no shooting for this mission, and for that he was grateful. They had gotten London too, and that meant that Rafiq would be getting the full $20,000.

“Everyone give yourselves a hand,” he said. “Mission was a success.”

* * *

It was winter. Sergeant Mitchell London (Ret.) sat on the couch in the living room as the talking heads shouted at each other. Normally, he wouldn’t have watched any of it, but they were talking about Colonel Davis.

One of the Iraqi translators that the Army used had alleged that Davis had supervised the torture of inmates. He even had proof: a grainy, cell-phone video of waterboarding.

Davis had been court-martialed for it. London watched from his remaining eye as the media played a clip:

“We need intelligence to save lives. I did only what was necessary to save the lives of my men.”

The video of Davis stopped, replaced by the face of an analyst. “Chuck, I know the rationalization is that this saves lives. But the reality is that torturing prisoners of any kind, it’s just makes us like them.”

“That’s not fair!” Chuck shouted back. “We’re talking about waterboarding here. It doesn’t even cause physical damage.”

“It’s equivalent. If we accept this there is no difference between us and them.”

“There is obviously a difference. There’s a difference between something that causes no physical harm and the torture Al Qaeda does: eye extractions, limb removal—”

“I’m afraid that’s all the time we have for now,” the main talking head broke in. “A controversial subject to say the least. Is waterboarding equivalent to torture or not? Call in and give us your opinion.”

London would have done just that. But he had no fingers to dial with.

Richard Roberts bows out

Of course, I'd be the first to say "good riddance”—although I'd have to stand in line for the privilege, but what has been lost sight of in this scandal is that folks are treating the symptom rather than the disease.

Richard Roberts is not a hypocrite. He's a prosperity preacher. So he is merely practicing what he preaches.

Why did they expect? That he'd live in a mobile home, drive a used Hyundai, and buy his suits from the local thrift shop?

Why it comes as such a shock to so many students, faculty, and donors that a health-n-wealth preacher and his trophy wife would indulge a worldly, materialistic, ostentatious lifestyle is simply one of the standing ironies of Pentecostalism—the irony being that no segment of Christendom has less spiritual discernment than the charismatic movement.

Me, Myself, and I, part 2

{Part one here}

Take this statement by Ayn Rand as paradigmatic of strong ethical egoism:

“the actor must always be the beneficiary of his action and that man must act for his own rational self-interest.” SOURCE

How does ethical egoism account for concern for future generations, then? For long-term concern for the environment?

How does securing the happiness and survival for our posterity make us the beneficiary of this action?

Given that earth will only be around for a blink of the eye, and given that we couldn't destroy the earth due to our environmental bad habits in our life time, why not rape Mommy Nature for all she's worth? Slash and burn, baby.

To reply, "Because it makes me feel good about myself to work for a habitable and safe planet for people generations removed from myself," requires us to ask, "Why?" Why does it make you feel good to do something that allows others to be the beneficiary of your actions? That seems immoral on egoism’s terms. "Because it makes me happy." "Because it allows me to sleep at night." Why?

Ethical egoism seems to imply that we have no obligation to our posterity and our long-term environment. This seems false. Ethical egoism seems false, then.

Lutheran psychobabble

A Lutheran pastor recently preached a sermon against Calvinism:

Let’s size up his objections.

“I’m glad I’m not a Calvinist. If I approached the teaching of divine election in the way that Calvinists do, I wouldn’t be able to comfort you.”

So, in Lehmann’s theology, the only truths are comforting truths.

“I would have no choice but to point you to yourself, to your own deeds and your own so-called faith.”

So there’s no such thing as saving faith? You can be faithless and still be saved?

“You would have to look to the holiness of your life for evidences that God had elected you.”

So sanctification is irrelevant to salvation?

“But the Word of God is clear. He has died for you. He has forgiven all of your sin.”

Is that a fact? The funny thing about this statement is that Lehmann’s sermon text is Mt 25:31-46.

Doesn’t this text talk about the role of good works in salvation? And where does v41 or v46 say that Christ has died for you, therefore he has forgiven all your sin?

“Who is being justified? All, the very same all who have sinned. You, me, and every person who has been born or ever will be born.”

So here we have a Lutheran pastor who denies sola fide. Every single human being is justified. But, of course, every single human being is not a Christian. So Lehmann denies justification by faith. Rather, for him, justification is an automatic consequence of unlimited atonement.

“They have forced themselves to live in a world of uncertainty and despair.”

I’m a Calvinist. I don’t live in a world of despair.

“There’s only one way they could mimic Paul’s words. Grace and peace to some of you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. The rest of you are going to hell.”

But isn’t it a fact that a certain percentage of the human race is, indeed, hellbound?

“So where are you headed? In Calvinism, the Gospel is only for those elected to salvation. You can’t proclaim it to anyone else, because it doesn’t apply to them.”

We can proclaim it to everyone because it’s a conditional offer: if you repent of your sin and believe in Christ, you will be saved.

To preach any other “gospel” would offer the listener false assurance.

“In Calvin’s Strasbourg Catechism, a child was able to say that he was a Christian in fact as well as in name because he could say, ‘I am baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.’ Unfortunately, modern Calvinists have lost the ability to make their stand on God’s promises. Calvin’s views on predestination have displaced the Gospel entirely. Today’s Calvinists cannot point you to your baptism, because it is entirely useless to you if Jesus didn’t die for you and you have been elected to hell. A Calvinist cannot point you to Christ’s promises, because if you are a vessel of destruction, Jesus didn’t make those promises to you. A Calvinist cannot point you to the Lord’s Supper and the forgiveness that the Lord gives out there because in his thinking an unbeliever receives only bread and wine.”

So, according to Lehmann, everyone who ever received baptism or communion is heaven-bound? There’s no such thing as a nominal Christian or apostate? A faithless communicant is saved? An impenitent atheist is saved as long as he was dunked in the font as a baby?

“The Calvinist cannot give true, unconditional comfort because they do not confess a true, unconditional Savior.”

That’s correct. We draw a distinction between true and false assurance. The gospel has certain conditions: faith, repentance, discipleship. To be a Christian is to be a *follower* of Christ. To keep his commandments.

Of course, in Calvinism, we believe that God, by his grace, will ensure the fulfillment of these conditions in the lives of the elect.

“They don’t have the Lord’s promises, because they deny that the Lord’s promises are for all sinners.”

The Lord’s promises are conditional promises, not unconditional promises. They are promises to penitent sinners who exercise faith in Christ.

“You have earned hell and all of the torment that it implies…You deserve nothing but eternal punishment in the place prepared for the devil and his angels.”

The parable of the sheep and the goats doesn’t merely say that all sinners *deserve* hell, or that all sinners have *earned* eternal punishment. It goes well beyond that. It says that some (many?) sinners will actually spend eternity in hell. This isn’t hypothetical.

“But wait a minute… If hell is prepared for the devil and his angels, then how can you be eternally elected to suffer there? Jesus has an outstanding opportunity to confess the eternal election of sinners to hell in Matthew 25 and He passes it up. Clearly Jesus needs to read Calvin’s Institutes again. Clearly when He went to Calvinist Seminary He failed systematics.”

So Lehmann’s canon is limited to the words of Christ. He has excised the rest of the Bible from his canon of Scripture?

“Every person in hell is a forgiven sinner for whom Jesus died.”

If God has forgiven their sins, then why are they being punished for their sins?

“They are there only because they rejected the gift He won for them by His death on the cross.”

Okay, so salvation is conditional after all? If salvation is predicated on faith, then why wouldn’t that contingency interject a note of “uncertainty” or “despair” into Lutheran theology?

And why would anyone be damned for rejecting the gift? Didn’t Lehmann just tell us that all human beings have been forgiven. Apparently, rejecting the gift is an unforgivable sin.

Doesn’t sound like a very *comforting* doctrine to me! Indeed, if you want to force folks into a “world of uncertainty and despair,” just tell them that even though Christ died for them, even though God forgave them, even though they have been justified in the sight of God, they may still spend eternity in hell.

What kind of promise is that? It’s Lehmann who empties these promises of any assurance.

In Calvinism, by contrast, promises like justification and forgiveness actually mean something. They mean what they say. And they do what they say.

Incidentally, I’d add that, according to the Fearsome Pirate, it isn’t *God* who forgives us, by the *pastor*. It is the pastor who pronounces absolution. So, to be forgiven, you must find the right pastor.

So which is it? Is everyone automatically forgiven and justified as a result of unlimited atonement? Or must you receive absolution and the sacraments to be forgiven and justified?

“Calvinists will argue that if you teach an election to heaven that you must also teach an election to hell. It’s logical. It’s reasonable.”

Even if that were the sole basis for double predestination, so what? Jesus often reprimands the religious establishment for failing to heed the *implicit* teaching of Scripture.

“By teaching an election to hell the Calvinists speak where the Scriptures are silent. They say a word of God that He has not given them to say.”

As a matter of fact, double predestination is taught in passages like Mt 11:25-26, Lk 2:34, Jn 9:39, Rom 9-11, & 1 Pet 2:6-8.

The Greatest!

(Posted on behalf of Steve Hays.)

Once upon a time, Ben Witherington was a serious NT scholar. That's before he became a celebrity and TV personality. You can't maintain the all the speaking engagements he undertakes and still crack the books. As a result, the quality of his scholarship has suffered a precipitous decline. Here's one example:
Unfortunately, one has also come to expect, particularly in the last few years, manuscripts from Witherington that are really not yet quite ready to turn into the publishers. This is, however, the first one where apparently no one at the publishing house was able to turn the rough draft into a publicly presentable form. Sentences are poorly worded and concepts are unnecessarily repeated, sometimes verbatim within just a few sentences of text. Just about any kind of typographic error that spellcheckers alone do not catch appears somewhere in the book, even in large print subheadings. Chapter and verse references have not been carefully checked. Transliterated foreign words, especially from Greek, are misspelled so often as to call into question even the author's competence, especially with the determination of lexical forms of words. Endnotes have not been rendered via any consistent form, especially short second references. Dates, places of publication, and publishers, in both endnotes and bibliography, at times are just plain wrong. Endnote superscripts are wrong by one digit for pages on end on two different occasions. Wrong fonts or colors of fonts now and then appear. In the text itself, it appears that Witherington read and cited less and less secondary literature, particularly from recent scholarship, as his work on the commentary progressed. While it is perfectly understandable that he should often refer to his own previously published works (because he has written so many), where Matthew runs parallel to Mark not only did he frequently appeal just to what he had written earlier in his commentary on Mark but also his endnotes too frequently referred solely to Markan rather than Matthean studies.
He's suffered the same fate as Margaret Mead. After she became famous, she was sought out as a moral oracle on all of the hot button social and political issues of the day. Witherington has also become enamored with his own celebrity, presuming to be an instant expert on a wide variety of subjects without bothering to inform himself before he pronounces judgment. This accounts for his inane, clueless, limousine liberal comments about the war effort. Unfortunately, this radical chic dilettantism is all-too-typical of what passes for intellectual discourse in the public square these days.1

You have so many academics whose prejudice is never exposed to serious challenge because they generally sequester themselves in within the echo-chamber of their like-minded, self-affirming communities. It would be beneath them to talk to the people they talk about.

The most recent example is a post he did on Calvinism, which starts out in the following manner:
I was recently reading through the proofs of a new book on New Testament Theology, and it was stated that the most basic theme or thesis of NT theology is --'God magnifying himself through Jesus Christ by means of the Holy Spirit'…The more one read, the more it appeared clear that God was being presented as a self-centered, self-referential being, whose basic motivation for what he does, including his motivation for saving people, is so that he might receive more glory. Even the sending of the Son and the work of the Spirit is said to be but a means to an end of God's self-adulation and praise. What's wrong with this picture? How about the basic understanding of God's essential and moral character?2
Witherington is clearly taking aim at the great bugbear of Calvinism. Unfortunately for him, he doesn't know what the target looks like. Here, for example, is what a 17-18C Dutch-Reformed theologian had to say on the subject:
The creature can neither add glory nor felicity to [God]; however, it has pleased the Lord to create creatures in order to communicate his goodness to them and consequently render them happy.3

The objective which God had in view with predestination is the magnification of himself in his grace, mercy, and justice. This should not be understood to mean that anything can be added to the glory of God, but rather that angels and men, in perceiving and acknowledging this glory, would enjoy felicity.4

The purpose of election is the glorification of God. This is not to add glory to him, for he is perfect, but to reveal all his glorious perfections which manifest themselves in the work of redemption to angels and men, in order that in reflecting upon them felicity many be experienced.5
So Calvinism doesn't deny, but rather affirms, that God is acting in the best interests of the redeemed. They are the beneficiaries of redemption.

God does not augment his own glory in the salvation of sinners. Rather, his glory is manifested in election and reprobation. And it is manifested for the benefit of the elect.

If Witherington could shake off his intellectual sloth for long enough to do a bit of research, he might have spared himself the embarrassment of such a pig-ignorant misstatement of Calvinism.

But the initial incompetence only worsens in statements like:
Let me be clear that of course the Bible says it is our obligation to love, praise, and worship God, but this is a very different matter from the suggestion that God worships himself, is deeply worried about whether he has enough glory or not, and his deepest motivation for doing anything on earth is so that he can up his own glory quotient, or magnify and praise himself.
Since Calvinism traditionally affirms divine impassibility, there's no sense in which Calvinism ever imagined that God is "deeply worried" about anything at all, or depends on the created order to supplement his existence.

Once again, it wouldn't take much study on Witherington's part to know this.6 But the facts would get in the way of his hatchet-job.

Or take this little gem:
I like the remark of Victor Furnish that God's love is not like a heat-seeking missile attracted to something inherently attractive in this or that person.
He thinks Calvinism is predicated on the idea that God saved the elect because he finds something inherently attractive in the elect? Either he really believes that—in which case he's an utter ignoramus—or else he's indulging in rhetorical caricature—in which case he's a demagogue.

And not only is he out to lunch on Calvinism, but his grasp of Scripture is no better. For example:
If we go back to the Garden of Eden story, one immediately notices that it is the Fall and sin which turned Adam and Eve into self-aware, self-centered, self-protecting beings. This is not how God had created them. Rather, he had created them in the divine image, and that divine image involves other directed, other centered love and relating.
Two problems:

i) Self-awareness and self-centeredness are hardly synonymous. Self-awareness is one of the things that distinguishes man from the lower animals. We have a capacity to objectify our environment, and this is a precondition of moral deliberation. God's prohibition regarding the tree of knowledge would have been meaningless to Adam and Eve unless they could draw a subject/object distinction between themselves, their environment, and their Creator.

ii) How does Witherington propose to exegete the concept of "other centered love," from the imago Dei in Gen 1:26-27? Where does he pull that out of the actual wording of the text? Are love and dominion synonymous concepts?

To the contrary, he's guilty of the very thing he falsely criticizes in the combox: "The problem here is the anachronistic importation of western notions about glory and self-glorification by latter day Reformers into an ancient text"—only he's substituting the touchy-feely, psychobabble of the Sociology Dept. down the quad.

I suppose we should not be surprised that in a culture and age of narcissism, we would recreate God in our own self-centered image, but it is surprising when we find orthodox Christians, and even careful scholars doing this.
And did Calvin or Beza live in an age of narcissism? Were there a lot of Valley Girls zipping around 16C Geneva?

Finally, let's say a little more about the glory of God as the chief end of man. Human beings are fascinated with greatness. We make lists of the all-time greatest this or that. We compete to establish who is the greatest among us in some field or another. Who is the greatest mathematician or physicist or tenor or soprano or surfer or movie star or chess player or poker player or pool player or tennis player or figure skater or marital artist or pianist or violinist or painter or composer or preacher or philosopher or theologian or poet or novelist or actor or general, and so on and so forth.

Yet the greatest human being in any particular field is only greater by degree rather than kind. The world's smartest man is, at best, only twice or three times as smart as the average man. And the most brilliant men alive in math or chess or physics are often among some of the dumbest men alive when it comes to anything the least bit practical.

Suppose you were interviewing a mathematician. Suppose you asked him if he were the world's greatest mathematician. If he said "yes," would he be a narcissist? But suppose he really is the world's greatest mathematician? And if you were a young, gifted mathematician, wouldn't you want to study with the best there is?

All finite goods are good because they are shadowy images of God's infinite goodness. We love them because they remind us of God. And that is where the apparent extremes of theocentricity and human self-fulfillment coincide.

1 R. Posner, Public Intellectuals: A Study of Decline (Harvard University Press, 2002).
3 Wilhelm a Brakel, The Christian's Reasonable Service (Soli Deo Gloria 1992), 1:193-94.
4 Ibid. 214.
5 Ibid. 219.

Liberal philanthropy

"Meet the women who won't have babies - because they're not eco friendly."

Friday, November 23, 2007

The Mouse That Roared

“The fact that waterboarding seems to contravene international law (unless you get a international judge who's willing to legislate from the bench and allow it) suggests a strong presumption against using it.”

I’ve responded to this “presumption” on several occasions now. Reppert is merely repeating himself without advancing the original argument in the face of my counterargument.

“But then you have to worry about the Potato Chip Effect (you can't eat just one). A waterboarding program that hits only the right people would be better than one that waterboards people who don't fit the category.”

Does he have any hard evidence to back up that conjecture?

“It doens't look as if our program has done that.”

Once again, does he have any hard evidence to back up that contention?

“You then have to look at the collateral damage caused by the harm to our reputation. Does anyone seriously deny that Abu Ghirab photographs weren't put on al Qaeda recruitment posters?”

Speaking for myself, I regard that as a failure, not of counterintelligence, but the coed military:

And I daresay that that’s what Muslims found especially offensive about Abu Ghraib. Not the “torture,” but the nudity and sexual depravity—especially in the presence of female soldiers.

So, if Reppert is so concerned about our reputation in the Muslim world, will he lobby to disband the coed military?

“You have the fact we could be brought to trial for war crimes for doing this.”

How, exactly, is that going to happen? Will the Duchy of Grand Fenwick indict Bush for crimes against humanity and then send its squadron of crop-dusters to escort Air Force One to the Haag?

“The fact that it would be hypocritical of them to do so is beside the point.”

Why is that beside the point? Why should Muslims be held to a lower moral standard? Indeed, isn’t that the source of the problem?

“You have the fact that this requires brutalizing and desensitizing the people who do the waterboarding.”

Being a soldier can be a brutalizing and desensitizing experience. Being a policeman can be a brutalizing and desensitizing experience. Being a prison guard can be a brutalizing and desensitizing experience. Being a surgeon in the ER on Saturday night can be a brutalizing and desensitizing experience.

If Reppert were trying to be philosophically serious rather than philosophically frivolous, he would consider some obvious counterexamples to his argument.

“What happens to our character when preventing an admittedly horrible attack like a repeat 9/11 is so important to us that we treat anybody, even a terror suspect, as a subhuman”

i) To the contrary, we’re treating the terrorist as a moral agent who is responsible for his actions.

ii) By contrast, Reppert is treating Muslims as subhuman by having one standard for Americans and another standard for Muslims.

“The Gonzales memo suggesting that the ‘post 9/11 paradigm’ ‘renders quaint’ some of the provisions of the Geneva conventions is a scary statement.”

Of course, Gonazales is a political hack, so the case for or against coercive interrogation hardly rises or false on the quality of his argumentation.

“It says that because "those people" are the way that are, we shouldn't have to follow the rules we agreed to FOR GOOD REASON (and yes, I am shouting!)”

i) A treaty involves more than one party. Terrorists aren’t party to international conventions since they aren’t even signatories to international conventions. Terrorism is inherently extra-legal. Only nation-states can be signatories to international conventions. Only a legal entity can enter into a legal contract.

ii) The Geneva Accords have a historical context—conventional warfare with conventional POWs. Yes, the passage of time can render that assumption out-of-date.

“When we were attacked, the world sympathized with us.”

Sympathy? You mean, like greeting cards, a box of chocolates, or a bouquet of flowers? How touching!

It’s not as if “the world” is doing us a special favor by cooperating with us in the “war on terror.” The rest of the world has a personal stake in the outcome, too. The rest of the world is more threatened that we are.

“There have been brutal and ruthless enemies before. 9/11 is nowhere near the top of the list of great crimes of the world's history. It's only American conceit that suggests otherwise.”

That’s completely irrelevant to *our* national self-defense. Moreover, the point of the current counteroffensive is to prevent an escalation from 9/11 to a nuclear or biochem attack.

Is It Acceptable For Christians To Celebrate Christmas?

Here's an article I wrote two years ago on the subject. There are two links in the article that no longer work. The article by William Tighe can be found here. The Richard Ostling article is here.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Why the Arminian God Is Not Just a Pansy but Is Also Just Plain Stupid

While most non-atheists do think I’m a fairly intelligent person, I am the first to point out that I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer, nor the brightest bulb in the socket. Even if I were the smartest person in the world, as I was recently given permission to be, most Christians would fully agree that God must be much, much smarter than I. Or me. (God would know which word to use there, for instance.)

But if the Arminian God happens to be the real God, it turns out that God isn’t really all that intelligent after all. Our recent discussions with EgoMarkarios have highlighted the importance of freedom in the Arminian universe, and I won’t go over those details again. Instead, I will now point out a few simple things, starting with an analogy.

Suppose there is a young college student, Bill, who is studying in the library one day when he spots a young female college student likewise studying. Bill is immediately attracted to this woman, and he goes over to introduce himself. Since he’s never seen the inside of a Gap and is instead wearing a John Loftus cowboy hat, she naturally tells him to get lost.

This obviously disappoints our poor college student, but he’s a clever individual. He sees that the young woman’s friends are with her and he recognizes one of them as someone from his 20th Century Postmodern Feminist Shakespearean Hermeneutics class. He meets with the friend of his crush the very next day and asks her for details on the woman, who’s name turns out to be Sue (only fitting as she is a lawyer). It turns out that Sue prefers men who bring her flowers, who dress in Armani, and who believe Dennis Kucinich really saw a UFO.

Bill really wants to go out with Sue. As a result, he ditches his Loftusian cowboy hat and buys an Armani suit. He purchases a dozen roses, and he tries as hard as he can to believe Kucinich saw a UFO. He gives up and decides that he can at least lie about that. Bill returns to the woman.

Sue rejects him yet again, but this time she says, “Nice try” without the sneer.

“What more can I do to get you to like me?” Bill asks.

“You can help me with my Abacus class.”

Bill doesn’t know anything about abacuses, but he decides right there that by the next day he will be the world’s expert on abacuses. And sure enough, he succeeds. Sue gets an A on her test, and slowly she begins to realize that Bill is a nice individual after all.

Eventually they marry, have 2.3 kids, and live happily ever after in a house with 1.7 bathrooms.

Class Discussion: In what way were homosexuals discriminated against in this example?

Now as ought to be plain to see, Bill really wanted Sue to fall in love with him. But Sue initially rejected Bill. If Bill were the Arminian God, he would have given up at this point as Sue’s free will could not be overcome. Instead, Bill reasoned that he could present himself attractively to Sue until she finally saw that he was exactly what she wanted in a man. So he did just that.

Bill learned things about Sue from Sue’s friend, and he used what he learned to slowly change Sue’s mind. Sue’s will was originally to shun Bill forever, but eventually she became persuaded to marry him. Bill could do that…why can’t God?

In fact, doesn’t God know who we are even better than we do ourselves? Isn’t it true that the Creator who formed us in the womb and knows us intimately would know exactly what was needed to convince us that He is real? Ask atheists and most of them will say, “If God rearranged the stars in the sky to spell Jesus Is Lord, I’d believe.” Yet God doesn’t do so.

Why not? God has the power, and simply acquiescing to such a request would not be a violation of the atheist’s free will. He would, in fact, be doing what the atheist requested of his own free will, wouldn’t He?

Now surely if I am smart enough to see this is true, God must know it too, for He is wiser than I am. He knows what everyone needs, and He is able to present Himself to everyone exactly as they are needed. Why, then, doesn’t He do so?

Apparently the Arminian God is either too stupid to understand this…or He doesn’t actually care about saving all (means all!) the world after all (still means all!). Surely God isn’t an omnipotent Forest Gump, so what’s the explanation?

Perhaps men are simply so evil that God knows rearranging the stars wouldn’t convince atheists He existed…but no, that’s too much like total depravity, and we can’t have that if we want to preserve freedom.

So we must conclude that the Arminian God really is just plain ol’ stupid is as stupid does.

A Modest Proposal

WHEREAS Libertarian Freewill (LF) followers maintain that the ability to make a free choice is the most important moral attribute that God has given man, such that it is more important that man be free than that God’s will be done upon Earth;

WHEREAS God refrains from interfering with man’s LF because it would be sinful for God to put restrictions upon man;

WHEREAS God furthermore calls us to be like Him, to be Holy as He is Holy, and to derive our moral precepts from Him;

AND WHEREAS Egomakarios claims LF

I HEREBY DO PROPOSE that sanctions be set forth against Egomakarios for violating LF concepts, as demonstrated:

1. When comment moderation is in effect, man’s free will to post whatsoever he chooses to post is infringed.

2. If it is a sin for God to restrict freedom, it is likewise a sin for man to restrict freedom.

3. Egomakarios is therefore sinning by placing comment moderation on his blog ( for he restricts man’s ability to post in freedom on his blog.

FURTHERMORE, WHEREAS Compatiblist Freewill (CF) is consistent with the idea that man can be free to do some things so long as he is not in conflict with a will that trumps his own;

WHEREAS Egomakarios imposes his will in a manner that trumps LF;

I HEREBY DO PROPOSE that Egomakarios no longer be considered a LF at all, but instead publicly admit he is CF like every other rational person.

FINALLY, I HEREBY DO PROPOSE that if Egomakarios does not submit to this proposal the Committee to Form Proposals prefix his name with “the liar” such that all references to Egomakarios from this point on would be “the liar Egomakarios.”

The ASY Giving Thanks Campaign

Readers might like to support our troops.

Monday, November 19, 2007

How Not To Argue Against Waterboarding

I've stayed out of the current debates on this blog recently, because, frankly, I'm tired of the discussion. There are more important things to discuss, in my opinion. Well that, and as the holidays approach, I had planned to take some time "off." Before I do that, however, I'd like to point out this little jewel in my local newspaper, published today. It's rare I'd actually ask anybody to do this, but I'd encourage Paul (our resident SEAL) or Steve (our resident philosopher) to take the time to email the monkeys who wrote this with an op ed piece of their own. The details, contact info, and word limit (yes, I know, word limit and Triablogue aren't works many folks would put together in the same sentence) can all be found at their website. As for myself, I'm taking a few days off. I may resume posting next week or wait until the New Year.

So, without further adieu:

The Right Message

Winston-Salem Journal

The U.S. Army has made clear what the new attorney general has not: There will be no waterboarding of enemy prisoners.

The Army sent a message to its leaders last week saying that waterboarding will not be tolerated. When he was before the Senate Judiciary Committee for his confirmation hearings, Attorney General Michael Mukasey repeatedly refused to say whether he considered the practice to be a form of torture.

With its message, the Army makes it clear that it stands with international law, doctors and human-rights activists.

The Associated Press recently defined waterboarding as “a harsh interrogation technique that involves strapping down a prisoner, covering his mouth with plastic or cloth and pouring water over his face. The prisoner quickly begins to inhale water, causing the sensation of drowning.” That’s no way for a civilized nation, and a signatory of the Geneva Conventions, to treat prisoners. Nor is it the way that American military commanders want their troops treated if they should be captured.

The current administration has done much over the past seven years to lose America’s traditional moral high ground across the globe. The photos of torture at Abu Ghraib and the internment, without trial, of prisoners at Guantanamo shocked a world that expected better of us.

Military commanders understand what a loss that has been. We have no standing to complain when an enemy tortures American POWs if we are doing the same to adversaries we capture.

The AP reports that the CIA is suspected of having used waterboarding on three prisoners during 2003. The CIA says it banned the practice in 2006.

Mukasey was a big disappointment in his failure to categorically state that waterboarding is torture and therefore illegal. He hid behind legal technicalities.

Americans can only hope that Mukasey, now that he is on the job, will take the necessary steps to ensure that our intelligence services do not use this technique or any other that is considered torture. If he would designate waterboarding as a method of torture, it would mean that any Americans, be they intelligence or military personnel, who used the practice would be liable to prosecution. Their superiors might face the same music.

Mukasey has a reputation for being tough, but also a stickler for the law. The laws of this country, and of the world community, are clear. Torture is illegal. The laws cannot list every method of torture that man has created, but they provide a set of guidelines defining torture under which waterboarding obviously falls.

Waterboarding is torture. This nation’s military has outlawed it. Now it is time for our attorney general to face that fact.

I'll let Steve and Paul comment in the combox, but I will make a few observations:

1. For this newspaper, the logic is schizophrenic. As good liberals, they usually have the civilian government dictating policy to the military. Now, they've reversed that position. Where is the supporting argument?

2. They speak of the laws of the world community, but they neglect to mention that part of the territory of international law is the right of each nation to interpret the law for itself. I believe that was recently discussed on this very blog.

3. I love how the AP gets to make the definitions up for us. Thanks AP!

4. The Army banning waterboarding and "outlawing" it are not convertible ideas, except in populist vernacular. Also, as I recall, was a Navy specialist who defined it as "torture." Judges define "torture" in the legal realm, not the Army. There are folks in the military who loved Rumsfeld. I don't recall the WSJ extolling the virtues of Rumsfeld - quite the opposite in fact.

Holy Guacamole, Batman!

I see the point of Manata’s original post has been derailed by another raving, ranting Ron Paul supporter—is there any other kind?—who's imputing all sorts of imaginary positions to me. I want to thank Jason and Manata for stepping into the breach.

Since this anonymous critic doesn’t bother to document his allegations or interact with my detailed argumentation, his complaints don’t merit much of a response. He’s simply using Manata’s post as a pretext to vent about the usual roster of villains in the paleocon/paleolibertarian morality play.

It’s like a Batman comic book. Ron Paul is Bruce Wayne to the Zionist Penguin, Riddler, Joker, Two-Face, or Mr. Freeze. Wham! Bam! Ka-pow!

Why is it that Ron Paul so many supporters seem to be a bunch of clones? They use the same arguments, same illustrations, same huffy-puffy attitude, same conspiratorial rhetoric. Pity so many of them can’t think for themselves.

For the record:

1. I've never said the Iraq war was the right thing to do, just that it was a reasonable thing to do giving the intelligence briefings that Bush was receiving at the time. Even if Bush made the wrong call on Iraq, at least he was prepared to make a tough call—unlike Clinton.

In hindsight, the Iraq war may well have been a miscalculation. Of course, I see my anonymous critic ignores the recent post in which a suggestive connection is drawn between Iraq, Al-Qaida, and the anthrax attack.

2. I've never said I thought the sanctions were a good idea. I merely pointed out that those who oppose the present war previously opposed the sanctions. So they didn't like the alternative of the status quo ante either.

Personally, I'm not a big fan of sanctions. I think they're generally ineffectual and target the wrong segment of society. We need to hit the policy-makers, not the grunts.

I also pointed out that the sanctions were UN sanctions, not US sanctions.

3. Again, I've never said that we should subsidize dictators. I generally oppose foreign aid.

I do think the Cold War containment policy was necessary. To say I favor the general principle of an “interventionist” foreign policy does not commit me to any specific action our foreign policymakers took in the past. But since my anonymous critic is incapable of exercising rational discrimination, he naturally projects his own intellectual failings onto his opponents as well.

And, as I've explained before, there's nothing at all inconsistent about supporting those who support you, and then opposing them when they turn against. That's the nature of shifting military alliances.

4. I'm not a neocon. I'm a theocon. I think the neoncon vision is overly optimistic. Of course, the critic is obviously a paleocon or paleolibertarian (e.g., Buchanan, Ron Paul). One doesn't need to be a neocon to oppose the bunker mentality of Buchanan or Ron Paul. And I disapprove of the anti-Semitic sentiment that emanates from paleocon or paleolibertarian quarters.

5. Yes, I'd support an air strike on Iran's WMD program. So what?

6. "My point in posting is that I think it's hypocritical for Christians to promote life at home and not abroad."

Of course, this is just as simple-minded as those who claim that it's inconsistent to oppose abortion and also support capital punishment.

7. "I recommend you read Imperial Hubris by Michael Scheurer, the head of the Bin Laden unit in the CIA for years (just one book among many). "

Given that Scheurer served under Clinton, which queued us up for 9/11, you could hardly have a finer example of a failed foreign policy.


"The ticking time bomb scenario - as has been pointed out repeatedly - also allows for the torture of innocents, since it's a utilitarian argument."

Since I'm not a utilitarian, I wouldn't torture innocents in a ticking timebomb scenario. The reason I asked Patrick to post the Frame material a while back is to show that ethical decision-making requires more than one criterion.

I'm beginning to wonder what Ron Paul supporters will do when their candidate loses his bid for the GOP nomination—move to Canada?

It’s starting to resemble a personality cult or Doomsday cult. They remind me of fans who followed Harold Camping (1994?) over the cliff, as well as fans who followed Gary North (Y2K) over the cliff. They also remind me of the LaRouchies. Same combination of nail-biting paranoia wedded to adolescent hero worship.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The liberal dilemma


Where in this definition is the pain defined as physical pain? My point in using the dictionary definition was to point out that I think human beings have a clear idea of what torture is. We don't need a technical definition.


My main point has always been that waterboarding falls nicely within the standard of what we have agreed not to do when we agreed with other nations not to torture prisoners. In other words, we would be doing what we promised not to do.


i) Unfortunately for him, Reppert continues to advertise his intellectual confusions on the issue at hand. In the first quote, he says we don’t need a “technical” definition. A common sense, man-on-the-street definition will do.

But in the second quote, he indicates that his real concern is with our treaty obligations. Yet, in that event, you would need a technical definition, since you would need a legal definition. In this respect, MERKUR has a somewhat clearer understanding of Reppert’s position than Reppert has of his own position.

ii) Yet both of them are bumping up against the same dilemma. On the one hand, if you go along with mainstream jurisprudence, then no legal definition is definitive. Rather, mainstream jurisprudence operates with the same sort of hermeneutic as deconstruction and reader-response criticism. The text has no invariant meaning. Rather, meaning is supplied by the linguistic community—in this case, the judicial community.

Judges define what a definition means. They define the words and concepts. Judicial interpretation is a Rorschach test in which the judges project their ideological concerns and commitments onto the inkblot of the legal text. The text means whatever the last appellate court says it means.

So, on this view, quoting the Bill of Rights or the Geneva Conventions doesn’t establish a thing. Meaning is in the mind of the judge, not the body of the text.

iii) The only alternative is to take the position of Bork and Scalia on the primacy of original intent. But if you go that route, then you rule out anachronistic reinterpretations of the Geneva Conventions or Bill of Rights that extend their protections beyond the purview of the framers and first-generation signatories.

iv) In addition, there’s a further consideration which Reppert’s simplistic appeal overlooks: the interpretation and application of international law is relative in yet another respect, for there is no supranational Supreme Court. Rather, the national courts of the national signatories individually construe their international legal obligations. As two international lawyers point out:

There is no global power or authority with the ultimate right to establish the meaning of international law for all. Every independent state has the legal right—and the obligation—to consider and interpret international law for itself.

As states are the ultimate authors of international law, they also are the arbiters of its meaning. As suggested above, each nation, as an independent sovereign, has an equal right to interpret international law in general and its own international legal obligations in particular. The interpretation of one state—or group of states—is no better or worse than the interpretation of others. This does not, of course, mean that states can interpret international norms to a point where any actual obligation is illusory. They must act, especially in construing their treaty obligations, in good faith.[32] Moreover, all states must understand and accept that their interpretation of international legal requirements may carry consequences. As a legal matter, however, there is no state, group of states, international organization, or judicial authority with the paramount right—paraphrasing Chief Justice John Marshall’s description of the federal judiciary’s power in Marbury v. Madison—to say what the law is. There is no international Supreme Court.

As an independent and sovereign state, the United States is bound by international law, and it must especially respect its treaty obligations.

International law, however, is fundamentally different, both in its conception and in its application, from domestic law. It is not made by legislation, nor is there any inherent legislative authority in the “international community,” however that term may be defined.

States alone can make international law by their own actions.

Every independent state has an equal right and obligation to interpret and apply international law for itself. This is a fundamental and inherent attribute of sovereignty.

There is no state, group of states, or international institution with the right to determine or adjudicate the legal obligations of states, save to the extent that the relevant state or states consent to be bound.

In determining what a state’s international legal obligations and rights may be, the critical factor is the actual practice of states. This is true both with respect to customary international law (where the practice of states prevails) and in discerning the proper interpretation and application of treaties (where practice can elucidate the treaty’s proper scope and meaning).

In assessing state practice, the key inquiry is whether states have observed a particular rule or norm, in relevant circumstances, out of a feeling of being legally bound to do so. Actions taken based on political or practical expedience, or from considerations of good will or courtesy, are not reliable indicia of what international law requires.

At this time, the most confrontational international law differences between the United States and Europe involve the war on terrorism. By and large, Europe (at least the states of the EU) does not accept that there is a legally cognizable, ongoing armed conflict between the United States and al-Qaeda and its allies. The vast bulk of European opinion, both official and unofficial, views al-Qaeda as a law enforcement issue and (sub silencio) the American reaction to the September 11, 2001, attacks to have been disproportionate. As a result, many of the measures taken by the United States since September 11 are considered illegitimate, if not outright illegal, by much of Europe.

GuantanamoBay. This is especially true of the U.S. detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, which have become a symbol in Europe for alleged U.S. overreaching. These facilities were established to detain the most dangerous individuals captured by U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan. The United States has classified these prisoners as “unlawful” or “unprivileged” enemy combatants who are not entitled to the rights and privileges of prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions but who may be held without criminal trial until hostilities are concluded. This classification has a long history in the laws and customs of war (describing individuals who fail to meet certain basic requirements, including a proper command structure, wearing uniforms, bearing arms openly, and eschewing direct attacks on civilians) and is fully recognized by the United States Supreme Court.[56] Nothing in the Court’s 2006 Hamdan v. Rumsfeld decision, which invalidated the rules established for military commission trials, changed this.

Most European states, however, have signed and ratified Protocol I Additional, an addendum to the 1949 Geneva Conventions. This treaty was particularly promoted by the International Committee of the Red Cross, and its provisions attempt to regularize the status of unlawful combatants, especially the guerrilla and irregular fighters who comprised so many of the “national liberation movements” in the post–World War II period. It was, in fact, for this very reason that the United States rejected Protocol I. It is not a party to that instrument and is not bound by Protocol I’s requirements—except to the extent that they represent binding customary norms.

Opponents of American policy in the war on terrorism commonly claim that, in fact, Protocol I does constitute a binding statement of customary law and argue incorrectly that the United States has recognized as much. To support this point, proponents of this claim generally cite the 1987 remarks of Michael Matheson, then serving as Deputy Legal Adviser, Department of State. A careful examination of Mr. Matheson’s remarks, however, reveals that he did not suggest that Protocol I constituted a restatement of customary international law, but merely that a number of its provisions might have that status.[57] In this connection, he noted that, because of the difficulty in determining which rules enjoy sufficient “acceptance and observation” to be considered customary norms, “we have not attempted to reach an agreement on which rules are presently customary law, but instead have focused on which principles are in our common interests and therefore should be observed and in due course recognized as customary law.” This is, of course, a critical distinction between principles and rules in assessing what are the actual legal obligations of the United States. The U.S. has not accepted either that the category of “unlawful enemy combatant” has been abolished or that such individuals must be treated as Geneva POWs or civilian criminal defendants.

The Use of Stressful Interrogation Methods. The EU governments, along with a large portion of European public opinion, reject the use of stressful interrogation methods by the United States, claim_ing that these “amount to torture.” Whether stress_ful interrogation methods are appropriate as a means of obtaining intelligence from captured enemy combatants is a complex question of morality and expedience. As a legal matter, however, stressful interrogation methods are not inherently torture. In the relevant treaties (and U.S. federal statutes), torture is narrowly defined to encompass only the infliction of severe pain and suffering. Thus, the stress methods, such as isolation, sleep interruption, and standing, authorized by the United States for use on captured al-Qaeda and Taliban members are not “torture” unless taken to a degree extreme enough to constitute severe pain and suffering. Signifi_cantly, the European Court of Human Rights itself reached this conclusion in Ireland v. United Kingdom (1978), a decision construing very similar standards under EU human rights conventions.[58]

In fact, Ireland v. United Kingdom involved Britain’s use of five stressful interrogation techniques—hooding, wall standing, subjection to noise, sleep deprivation, and reduced diet—in tandem against Irish Republican Army (IRA) members. The court ruled that these methods, even when used together, did not amount to torture. It did conclude, however, that when used together, these methods constituted cruel and inhuman treatment. This decision is, of course, not binding on the United States, but it does suggest that European claims that the United States has engaged in torture are ill-founded and that the U.S. could meet international standards simply by ensuring that the stressful interrogation methods employed at Guantanamo and elsewhere are not utilized together as done by Britain against the IRA. In any case, generic claims that “coercive” interrogation methods inherently amount to torture and that they are banned by international law are incorrect.

Other Controversial Policies. There are, of course, a number of other American policies in the war on terrorism that have been criticized or openly denounced in Europe. These include the claimed existence of “secret” U.S. detention facilities in Central and/or Eastern European countries, as well as the practice of “rendition”—transferring captured terrorists to other (usually their home) countries. There have obviously been abuses committed by Americans during the war on terrorism—although the U.S. record in this regard compares very favorably with previous conflicts and, especially, with that of other countries. In defending the American legal position, however, the first question must always be: Is the United States actually subject to the norm it has allegedly violated? The second question is whether the U.S. interpretation of applicable norms is simply different from the prevailing view in Europe and/or elsewhere. As explained above, the United States is an independent sovereign with the right and obligation to interpret international law for itself. It does not have to accept the views of any other state or group of states, save in those circumstances where it has consented to do so. That is the essence of sovereignty.