Category: torture

“Why do innocent people confess?”

by Melanie Wilmoth Navarro

For most people, it is difficult to imagine a situation in which you would ever admit to a crime you did not commit. However, psychological research suggests that innocent people do confess. In fact, according to the Innocence Project, in “25% of DNA exoneration cases, innocent defendants made incriminating statements, delivered outright confessions, or pled guilty.”

Anything from abuse or threats from law enforcement to ignorance of the law can make individuals more likely to make a false confession. This video from the Innocence Project gives a brief overview of the issue:


A recent New York Times article by David Shipler examines the role of police interrogation in false confessions. To get a confession, Shipler states, “officers are taught to use all the tricks and lies that courts permit.” Although juveniles, people with mental illnesses or disabilities, and people under the influence of drugs or alcohol are more likely to make false confessions, the average adult can be manipulated into a false confession as well:

In experiments and in interrogation rooms, adults who are told convincing fictions have become susceptible to memories of things that never happened. Rejecting their own recollections through what psychologists call “memory distrust syndrome,” they are tricked by phony evidence into accepting their own fabrications of guilt — an “internalized false confession.” (more…)

Speak Out: Join the Campaign to End Forced Confessions

By Melanie Wilmoth

Take a moment to check out the campaign to end forced confessions and wrongful convictions launched by our friends at

Their campaign centers on the cases of ten Black men (known as the Dixmoor Five and the Englewood Five) in Cook County, Illinois who were convicted of murder in the 1990s based solely on forced confessions. Some of the men, who were merely teenagers at the time of conviction, have been behind bars for almost 20 years.

Despite recent DNA evidence that proves the men were wrongfully convicted, six of the ten men remain in prison and the Cook County State’s Attorney refuses to overturn their convictions.

Unfortunately, this is nothing new for Illinois. The state is plagued with a history of police coercion and forced confessions. From 1972 to 1991, Chicago Police Department Lieutenant Jon Burge and officers under his supervision used torture tactics such as beating, suffocation, and electric shock to force hundreds of suspects to confess to crimes.

Although Burge was fired in 1993 and is currently serving a 4.5-year sentence for lying about witnessing and participating in the torture of suspects, he has never been charged with abuse.

As history tells us, it is all too common for cases involving coercion and forced confessions to go unquestioned. Please consider speaking out about the wrongful convictions of the Dixmoor and Englewood Five by signing’s petition.

To learn more about these cases, click here.

Crucified with Christ: Holy Week through a prisoner’s eyes

Enrique Salazar, Irma and Ramsey Muniz, Alan Bean, Ernesto Fraga

By Alan Bean

Friends of Justice was introduced to Ramiro (Ramsey) Muniz by Ernesto Fraga, a ember of our board who publishes the Tiempo newspaper in Waco, Texas.  Ramsey ran for governor of Texas on two occasions in the early 197os for La Raza Unida party and worked with Mr. Fraga and other members of the Chicano movement.  Ramsey was a standout with the Baylor football team in the late 1960s and graduated from Baylor Law School in 1971.  After his brief sojourn in the world of Texas politics, Muniz returned to south Texas where he worked as an attorney.  You can find more biographical information at

Ramsey Muniz sees himself as a political prisoner.  The Texas Anglo establishment had no problem with the Latino presence in the 1960s and 70s–somebody had to work the fields and mow the lawns.  But the Texas power structure had no place for a charismatic Latino football hero with a law degree who had the gall to run for governor. 

Texas was firmly in the grip of the Democratic Party in the early 1970s. La Raza Unida was formed because Latino activists believed (correctly) that the Democratic establishment had no interest in running Latino candidates or sharing political power with the Hispanic community.  If the Democrats represented the white population, the reasoning went, Latinos needed to create a separate party to represwent the interest of Chicanos.

It is difficult to exaggerate the sense of outrage and resentment the Chicano movement generated among Texas Democrats.  Ramsey Muniz was commonly viewed as a wild-eyed revolutionary, little more than a terrorist.  Shortly after beginning his post-politics legal career, the federal government charged Muniz with engaging in a narcotics conspiracy with some of the accused drug dealers he was defending.  The only evidence was the uncorroborated testimony of an inmate who agreed to testify for the government in exchange for lenient treatment.  Believing he had no chance before an all-white jury, Muniz accepted a plea agreement and served five years in an Alcatraz-like federal prison off the coast of Washington State. (more…)

Rethinking Hell

By Alan Bean

Hell has always been a hot topic in America.  Rob Bell’s Love Wins created such a pre-publication stir that the book debuted at number 2 on the New York Times best-seller list and remains on Amazon’s top 10. 

Bell’s take on heaven and hell rests on the recent scholarship of folks like NT Wright (on the evangelical side) and Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan (writing from a more liberal perspective).  (Brian McLaren offers a slightly more cerebral, and original, popularization of this new scholarship.)  The big idea is that salvation isn’t about going to heaven (or hell) when you die; eternal life (for better or worse) begins now. 

In a recent chat with Welton Gaddy, Rob Bell offered this typically folksy summary of his perspective.

I start with the first century world of Jesus. Jesus spoke very clearly and forthrightly about this world: that the scriptural story and the Jewish story that he was living in was about the reclaiming of this world, the restoration and the renewal of this world. So, Jesus comes, He teaches his disciples to pray “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” The action for Jesus was here on earth, about renewing this earth, about standing in solidarity with those who are suffering in this world. And he spoke of a kingdom of God, which is here and now: upon you, among you, around you, within you.

So in the book, I talk about this urgent, immediate invitation of Jesus to trust him, that God is good, that God is generous, that God is loving, that God is forgiving… And to enter into a new kind of quality of life with God right here, right now. So let’s bring some heaven to earth, let’s work to get rid of the hells on earth right now, let’s become the kind of people who love our neighbor… And that, for Him, it was immediate and urgent about this world. What happens when you die? He talks a little bit about that, but He’s mostly talking about this world. I think, for a lot of people, the Christian faith doesn’t have, for them, much to say about this world; that it seems to be all about what happens when you die. And so, the book, in some ways, flips it around and says: “I think this is actually what Jesus was doing.” (My emphasis, along with a few quick edits) (more…)

Can we end mass incarceration without mentioning race?

By Alan Bean

The criminal justice reform movement has two distinct branches that may have trouble sharing a common message or strategy.

The first branch of reformers is best represented by Michelle Alexander’s “New Jim Crow” thesis.  Alexander sees the war on drugs as primarily an assault on poor people of color.  Reformers, she argues, have either avoided racial arguments altogether, or have focused on Rosa Parks-type defendants who transcend racial stereotypes.  Consider this quote from her book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness:

Challenging mass incarceration requires something civil rights advocates have long been reluctant to do: advocacy on behalf of criminals. Even at the height of Jim Crow segregation—when black men were more likely to be lynched than to receive a fair trial in the South—NAACP lawyers were reluctant to advocate on behalf of blacks accused of crimes unless the lawyers were convinced of the men’s innocence . . . outside of the death penalty arena, civil rights advocates have long been reluctant to leap to the defense of accused criminals. Advocates have found they are most successful when they draw attention to certain types of black people (those who are easily understood by mainstream whites as ‘good’ and ‘respectable’) and tell certain types of stories about them. Since the days when abolitionists struggled to eradicate slavery, racial justice advocates have gone to great lengths to identify black people who defy racial stereotypes, and they have exercised considerable message discipline, telling only those stories of racial injustice that will evoke sympathy among whites. (more…)

“The Confessions”: Frontline highlights the case of the Norfolk Four

I was out-of-town on a speaking engagement when “The Confessions” originally aired on Frontline.  I strongly urge you to watch the entire program online.  It won’t be a pleasant experience.  Listening to this twisted saga kept taking me back to the recent trial of Curtis Flowers–the stories are very different in some respects, but wrongful convictions follow a familiar pattern.

Two of the attorneys representing the defendents in this case, by the way, are Des Hogan and George Kendall, key members of the legal “Dream Team”  involved in the fight for justice in Tulia, Texas.

The story of the Norfolk Four revolves around aggressive interrogation, false confession, and prosecutorial tunnel vision.  Once the detectives responsible for the investigation latched onto a theory of the crime, they clung to it tenaciously–facts be damned. (more…)

Brian McLaren’s “New Kind of Christianity”


Brian McLaren

By Alan Bean

Brian McLaren knows how it feels to grow up “born again”.  Raised within the legalistic and apocalyptic tenets of the Plymouth Brethren, McLaren grew up worshipping an omnipotent Christ who would soon return to wreak vengeance on the enemies of God.  Gradually, over a period of decades, McLaren’s theology fell apart.  Then, just as gradually, it was replaced by what he calls “a new kind of Christianity.”  In fact, that’s the title of his latest book. (more…)

Torture and Religion


A new Pew Survey suggests that support for the use of torture is positively correlated with religious devotion.  Not surprisingly, white mainline Christians (Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Methodists, etc.) are less inclined to support the use of torture than white evangelicals with white Catholics hovering somewhere in between.

But the non-religious are less likely to support the use of torture than the folks in any religious category.

As a person of faith, I find this disturbing.

Question: what about the Hispanic catholics and black evangelicals?  Why did the Pew study leave them out, or did they simply drop them from the published summary?  Either way, the ommission is disturbing.

This is a subject we have dealt with in this space before.  In “Who would Jesus torture?”  Lydia Bean interacted with the views of a conservative Christian blogger.  But the torture issue also relates to my “The religious roots of Southern punitiveness”.  

Why are conservative Christians so enamored of torture, mass incarceration and capital punishment?  Why are incarceration rates in the cluster of southern states to the east of Texas twice the national average?  And why have over 80% of the executions perpetrated since the re-introduction of the death penalty in 1979 occurred in the South? 

Conversely, why are incarceration rates relatively low in Yankee New England, a region that hardly ever resorts to the ultimate penalty?

The same torture divide is apparent between democrats and republicans, of course, but as the GOP lurches rightward, religious and political conservatives are becoming indistinguishable.

Jesus of Nazareth taught non-violence and provided no escape clause.  The philosophical distance between the canonical Gospels and traditional “Just War” theory is astonishing.  When learned evangelicals seek to justify their support for torture they eschew the words of their Master and cleave to the dictates of St. Augustine. 

For better or worse, religious traditions take on a life of their own.  Southern Baptists, like every other other religious group, have their own distinctive ethos.  Established norms, not sacred scripture, shape beliefs and attitudes.  Religious texts can be found in support of almost any position and are tacked on as an afterthought.  This explains why Christians who love the Bible can trample on its core affirmations without a twinge of conscience.

CNN covers the story here; and Brian McLaren has some excellent thoughts here.

Who Would Jesus Torture?

Lydia here.

Conservative Christian blogger, Rod Dreher, alerted me to this Christian conversation about torture.  In her RNC speech, Sarah Palin attacked Obama for worrying about such niceties.  I’m glad more Christians are challenging Palin’s comments–shouldn’t Christians be the first ones to oppose torture?  That’s not the message of the cross.  Or maybe I’m misreading the New Testament–I’m forgetting that part when Jesus rises from the grave and says, “Ha–now it’s my turn to torture Y’ALL!”

Then again, there’s my favorite Bible verse: “Greater love hath no man, than he that tortures the living daylights out of his enemies to make Americans feel safer.”

Or that chapter when Jesus tells his disciples, “Torture your enemies, and hunt down those that persecute you.  Lo, I send you out like wolves among sheep.  Truly truly, I say unto you, bomb their village into the stone age, so that all the nations may know that the kingdom of God is at hand.”

Yes, that’s right, those godless liberals can’t pick and choose the parts of the Bible that they want to follow.  Clearly, Jesus wants us to torture our enemies.  That’s why I’m wearing a band around my wrist that says “Who Would Jesus Torture?”  When someone asks me what it means, it gives me a chance to share the gospel with them…and then subject them to a good waterboarding!

Alright, enough of my sarcasm.  Seriously, parodying the gospel takes me to a very, very bad place…because it’s so close to what some politicians are actually saying.  Here’s Rod Dreher:

If you’re not reading Culture 11 daily, you’re really missing out. One of today’s best offerings there is Joe Carter’s “Open Letter to the Religious Right.” The whole thing is great, but this passage really caught my eye:

We religious conservatives must take a firm stand against the practice of torture. Yes, there is a legitimate debate to be had about what exactly is meant by that term. Let’s have that debate. Let’s define the term in a way that consistent with our belief in human dignity. And then let’s hold every politician in the country to that standard. As John Mark Reynolds notes, “Like slavery, it debases two people and one culture: the tortured loses his soul liberty, the torturer claims to be a god, and the culture condones an ugly and wicked act.” Our silence on this issue has become embarrassing; our apologies for such practices has become disgraceful.

Palin really should be pressed hard on this. In her convention speech, she had this line:

Al Qaeda terrorists still plot to inflict catastrophic harm on America … [Obama’s] worried that someone won’t read them their rights?

What did she mean by that? Does this indicate that she cares nothing for legal principles designed to protect individuals from the state? Does this mean that she supports waterboarding? What is her thinking on this matter? More importantly, what’s John McCain’s thinking these days? I thought he was against torture once. This is an issue that Christian voters can’t afford to be unconcerned about.

Anyway, please do read all of the letter from Joe, a religious conservative of the Evangelical persuasion, and a Marine Corps veteran. There’s lots of wisdom there. If you’re a religious conservative, tell me in the comboxes which parts of Joe’s letter you found resonates most.