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Garret Keizer

Black Hoods for Jesus

A modest project for the resistant church.

Religious life and political life have this in common: the chief enemy of both is despair. Poison to church and state alike, despair comes as the conviction that while something ought to be done and probably can be done in the face of some evil, we have neither the strength nor the will to do it. We're overcome, paralyzed.

Much of the work of Christ in the world consists of disavowing that conviction. "Take up your bed and walk." To bear Christian witness, in the most effectual sense and certainly in the best political sense, means demonstrating that a witness is not the same thing as a bystander.

But where to begin? For we are always needing to begin. How about with torture. It has taken place, it continues to take place, both in detention centers run under the auspices of the United States and in other countries to which suspected terrorists are routinely outsourced for interrogation. That the passage of the McCain bill last December will change any of this seems highly unlikely.

For why should this law exercise any greater restraint on current administration policy than the United States' adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 or, for that matter, than the 1978 law that forbids domestic wiretapping without a warrant? Why should McCain's law compel compliance and not the others? The very fact that the McCain ban would be deemed necessary calls into question that it will ever be deemed binding.

In fact, the little-publicized "signing statement" that accompanied President Bush's approval of the McCain bill declares, "The executive branch shall construe [the law] in a matter consistent with the constitutional authority of the President … as Commander-in-Chief." In other words, the president reserves the right to place himself above the law in the interests of "national security."

As David Golove, a New York University law professor, put it, "The signing statement is saying, 'I will comply with this law when I want to, and if something arises in ...

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