Moral Simpletons Redux

Previously I commented on the infantile morality of many on the left over the issue of abortion, particularly the ‘double-standard’ argument that says:

“If men get away with x, why can’t women do it? If rich people can get x, why shouldn’t the poor do it?”

I argued that instead of relaxing moral standards so that everyone can freely sin without shame or legal penalty, those who have indeed been guilty of getting away with offenses against people and society should somehow be held to account for it.

Now I face a different, yet equally infantile moral logic from some – I repeat, some – on the right. This time the issue is torture.

Many on the right would like to see some form of torture, called be a different name, to become legally and morally acceptable for the United States to practice on captured individuals who might know something that might save some lives. When faced with criticism – such as the argument that torture is intrinsically evil and cannot be permitted – sometimes the reaction is to point to what the enemy has done as if it holds moral relevance.

Someone recently thought to ask this question, for instance:

Given how much you rightly hate torture, why did you oppose the removal of Saddam Hussein, whose prisons engaged in far more hideous tortures?”

Where to begin?

In the first place, the word ‘hate’ in this context is awkward and out of place. When we form moral judgments about policies and behaviors, we certainly shouldn’t be motivated by emotions as extreme as hate.

More importantly, however, and assuming I did oppose the removal of Saddam Hussein (as if that’s what the Iraq war was all about, end of story), what bearing would it have on what I think the policies of the United States ought to be?

We do not set our own standards of conduct and morality according to what the most evil guy in the room is doing. This is the argument children make when they want to rationalize the naughty thing they did, and it is what left-liberals do when they want to rationalize the naughty things they do.  In my experience thoughtful, intelligent conservatives are usually less prone to it than thoughtful, intelligent liberals, and that is why it is disappointing to see conservatives fall into the same trap.

Moreover, to oppose torture is not to simultaneously insist that all torture, everywhere in the world, must be stopped immediately through preemptive invasions and regime changes costing millions of lives. I am deeply opposed to sweatshop labor and the violation of workers rights in places such as China or Brazil, but it would be irrational to insist that all trade with these countries must stop tomorrow because of it.

My suspicion is that the person who asked this question understands these points well enough, but is attempt to twist the ‘left’ opposition to torture into a hideous and easily ridiculous position. And this is one of the central problems of political discourse in all times and places.

Finally my opposition to torture is based on a Christian perspective of at least fulfilling the minimum of ‘love your enemy’ by not torturing them, as well as the more recent Catholic perspective of always treating people as ends, and not means – even when it is hard to do so. The ends do not and cannot justify the means, and giving up that perspective has been among the hardest mental and moral adjustments I have ever had to make.

44 Responses to Moral Simpletons Redux

  • A quibble: understanding you oppose what you understand to be torture, citing “love your enemy” does not advance the argument. After all, that dictum does not forbid killing him, wounding him, imprisoning him.

    Without entering into the endless torturous debate about torture, I’ve never been impressed with the “love your enemy” part; it assumes that anyone not totally agreeing with your interpretation is not just mistaken, but is motivated by hatred.

  • That’s why I said ‘the minimum’.

    Killing and wounding are often done in battle, in combat. Imprisonment need not be inhumane – the minimum idea is to keep a dangerous person out of society, the maximum idea is to rehabilitate him, and nowhere is there room for purposeful mistreatment. We have the 8th amendment for a reason.

    Likewise the maximum application of ‘love your enemy’ would be to do as the Amish and refuse to go to war or to even retaliate against violence. For good reasons the Church has interpreted this differently and allowed for the possibility of a just war.

    But there must still be a minimum standard. To say that our actions can be dictated wholly by the ends they serve, and not guided by an absolute moral principle, is to give in to moral anarchy and eventually moral tyranny. Circumstances are important but they are only one part of the equation. This is true of both abortion and torture.

    Torture is a prolonged and systematic infliction of pain and suffering on a person’s body or mind. The Catechism forbids it, categorically, in many circumstances. What it does not specifically say is that we may not torture to save the lives of others, and some people think that freedom = the silence of the law.

    I reject that Hobbesian notion and say that we must use our own reason where the law is currently silent, in this case, the moral law Catholics are bound to follow. My reason tells me that the minimum application of ‘love your enemy’ means not torturing them. My moral compass tells me that the ends cannot justify the means.

  • Overall good post

    Of course there are two issues here. That is as you start out holding people accountable. What that means is a part of the discussion and indeed has it own frightening aspects as people are talking about prosecuting people that wrote memos when most of the population can’t decide what torture is and isn’t

    Needless to say I am not about to prosecute Americans because they may or “may not” be in violation of the catechsim view on what torture is.

    I do agree well they do it too is not a good defense

    I am still battling with what is valid enhanced interrogation and what is torture. I see many things in that memo that I would not classify as torture. again there is a line and we are dealing with a certain group of people that have been told that they must bear up under a certain amount of interrogation but at a certain point they are free to talk.

    How we get to that line in a moral way is the debate

    Two good links and articles from opposing points of view you might be interested in at Mirrors of Justice

    http://mirrorofjustice.blogs.com/mirrorofjustice/2009/04/torture-what-it-is-and-why-it-is-wrong.html

  • “Needless to say I am not about to prosecute Americans because they may or “may not” be in violation of the catechsim view on what torture is.”

    I would only say that the issue here is not who will be prosecuted, but who I as a Catholic will lend my moral or political support to.

  • The Amish do not more perfectly obey our Lord’s command to love our enemies by rejecting any use of force, any more than a parent who does not use corporal punishment is more “loving” than a parent who does. This is a false notion of love that implies that freedom from physical constraint is love.

    Sometimes it is more loving to restrain or punish or go to war than to allow an evil to be committed where it can be stopped by force.

    An Amish who allows his wife to be assaulted is not more perfectly following the Lord than the Catholic man who forcibly repels the criminal.

    As for Mr. Shea, he has very little standing to offer authoritative guidance on these matters. You rightly state that the current teaching on “torture” (a term not defined in the documents) does not preclude use of force to compel life-saving information.

    I would disagree that this use of enhanced interrogation methods is not morally permissible. On the contrary, the Church has always evaluated use of force for proportionality: I cannot repel someone who shoves me by stabbing them. I cannot incinerate a Japanese city in carrying out a just war. I cannot cut off someone’s hand for stealing a loaf of bread.

    But I can kill to defend myself from a life-threatening assault; the state can execute to protect its citizens from violent criminals; and measured use of physical compulsion to find life-saving information is permissible.

    This is not the ends justifying the means; this is an example of legitimate self-defense.

  • Joe,

    You talk a good game about “personal attacks” with e. but then you make the subject of your post a personal attack.

    Matt:
    Are you saying that any ‘maltreatment’ is torture or “police brutality”?

    Joe:
    I’m saying that both police brutality and torture are wrong.

    I agree (with qualifications), that’s not the question here.

    I’m not going to comment on ‘maltreatment’ because that can be stretched out to encompass anything, in cheap attempt at moral trickery. Some people think that even being told they are doing something wrong is ‘maltreatment’.

    I am instead going to look at each policy and do my best to decide whether or not it respects, or flagrantly violates, the inherent dignity of human beings, even guilty ones, even bad ones. Torture does that.

    So you agree in principal that some acts of intentional maltreatment against known terrorists in order to secure lifesaving information is morally acceptable?

    respects, or flagrantly violates, the inherent dignity of human beings

    If we accept that being incarcerated against your will for the rest of your natural life, subjected to corporal punishment, being executed by the state or killed in a lawful military action, while still respecting the inherent dignity of human beings, then we agree.

    Can you comment on the distinction between terrorist and criminal suspects, and between seeking to extract lifesaving information and confession.

    For the record I will answer my own questions:

    I believe that the difference between morally acceptable treatment of terrorist prisoners and suspects is the degree and nature of distress which is caused (certain actions while not necessarily distressing would be immoral nonetheless, such as sexual immorality).

    I believe that major distinctions must be made between criminal suspects and known terrorists, as one surrenders to legitimate curtailments of one’s rights when committing grave acts of violence against the innocent.

    At the same time even the innocent must sometimes be subjected to infringements upon their peace and comfort in order for the state to do the legitimate task of protecting society against criminals.

    As the Catechism does, I make distinctions between actions taken to secure a conviction, and actions taken to save the lives of innocent.

    As to particular actions, that’s perhaps not the topic of this thread, but I’ll go out on a limb and state that I don’t believe water boarding as has been described and sanctioned for use on 3 KNOWN terrorists violates moral principles. I do not believe there is ANY Church teaching which I violate in holding this belief.

    Tom,

    I agree when that teaching is used without precision, but I think that’s the reason we do not WANT to kill our enemy but only to STOP him from doing harm, killing him if that’s the only means possible to do so without losing our own life. It is also the reason that revenge can never be a motivation for causing any harm to our enemy, but only justice and or legitimate defense.

  • The Church permits legitimate self defense but not torture. In most cases, it’s probably pretty easy to recognize which is which. When people are getting torturously torqued about torture on the blogs, it’s usually about those “gray area” cases that rarely if ever exist (i.e., the ticking time bomb scenario).

  • If as some claim, that any attempt to coerce the will of a captive is torture (or at least immoral) then some simple techniques used by police and military are torture. If so there is very little we can do to obtain information from captives.

    If torture is more than this then what is it. Is it disproportionate infliction of pain? Is there such a line that we can draw? Or as some claim, drawing such a line is merely an effort to get as close to torture as possible and thus an affront to human dignity?

    Is an effort to obtain lifesaving information the one exemption to the use of torture as some argue?

    These seem to be the questions left to answer to settle this, long and painful debate.

  • Tom,

    I only said that what the Amish do is the maximum application of the idea. Maybe you took that to mean it was the best application, but I did go on to say that the Church has interpreted it differently, and for good reasons. I wish you would have considered that. The Church usually seeks or at least approves of the mean, the most moderate and rational application of a principle.

    “As for Mr. Shea, he has very little standing to offer authoritative guidance on these matters.”

    I never said anything about authoritative guidance. I just said it was a good article. Why all this defensiveness?

    “I would disagree that this use of enhanced interrogation methods is not morally permissible.”

    I disagree that you can sanitize torture by renaming it in such a clinical, academic fashion. This is what everyone who wants to find an excuse to violate human rights does, on the right and the left.

    Inflicting systematic, prolonged physical or psychological pain on an individual is torture. It is intrinsically wrong, and no circumstance can change it.

    Now if you are faced with a situation where the life of someone you love is at stake, and you are pretty sure it can be saved if you torture some guy, what happens to your soul is between you and God. I can’t say for certain I wouldn’t beat a man to get him to tell me where my child was, but I can say for certain that I know it would be wrong in the eyes of God. It would be something I would have to ask forgiveness for, not an intrinsically right thing to do.

    Here we are talking about policy. Not what you or I would do, but what the policy of the country should be, and policies ultimately reflect what we value. As a Catholic I will not support policies or policy makers who seek to legitimize torture – or abortion, or any other serious evil. That is what this is about.

    “and measured use of physical compulsion to find life-saving information is permissible.”

    I’m not talking about physical compulsion – I’m talking about torture, which is, as I understand it, prolonged and systematic infliction of physical or psychological pain on a human being. That is NEVER done in self-defense; the man being tortured is never a direct threat to the torturer.

    It IS the ends justifying the means – the ends of possibly saving lives by the means of intrinsic evil. Our lives are valuable and we must never throw them away or gamble with them. But our immortal souls are infinitely more valuable than our lives. It is extremely hard for me to have absolute faith in God’s justice, but I know that I can hardly consider myself an honest and consistent Christian unless I do.

    For the same reason I ultimately rejected revolutionary ideology from Locke to Lenin as a means to right social wrongs, for the same reason I reject abortion as a means of crime reduction (today’s aborted poor kids don’t become tomorrows violent criminals – empirical evidence is said to support it), I reject the use of torture as a means to save lives.

  • From what I posted on another site about the ticking bomb scenarion:

    There may be emotions but there is also experience. This from an interview with Matthew Alexander who wrote the book “How to Break a Terrorist.” Note he is very much against torture. Even against the fear-up techniques allowed by the Army Field Manual.

    “In Iraq, we lived the “ticking time bomb” scenario every day. Numerous Al Qaeda members that we captured and interrogated were directly involved in coordinating suicide bombing attacks. I remember one distinct case of a Sunni imam who was caught just after having blessed suicide bombers to go on a mission. Had we gotten there just an hour earlier, we could have saved lives. Still, we knew that if we resorted to torture the short term gains would be outweighed by the long term losses. I listened time and time again to foreign fighters, and Sunni Iraqis, state that the number one reason they had decided to pick up arms and join Al Qaeda was the abuses at Abu Ghraib and the authorized torture and abuse at Guantanamo Bay. My team of interrogators knew that we would become Al Qaeda’s best recruiters if we resorted to torture. Torture is counterproductive to keeping America safe and it doesn’t matter if we do it or if we pass it off to another government. The result is the same. And morally, I believe, there is an even stronger argument. Torture is simply incompatible with American principles. George Washington and Abraham Lincoln both forbade their troops from torturing prisoners of war. They realized, as the recent bipartisan Senate report echoes, that this is about who we are. We cannot become our enemy in trying to defeat him.”

    He notes that he was living with the ticking time bomb scenario. I think we can put the argument that there is no such thing to rest. This is not to justify such techniques. But it does no good to argue against them with untruths.

  • Matt,

    This post is not a personal attack on you.

    The question I cited was only posted by you – you didn’t come up with it. To clear up any confusion, I think the man who asked the question about Saddam Hussein is the moral simpleton.

    “So you agree in principal that some acts of intentional maltreatment against known terrorists in order to secure lifesaving information is morally acceptable?”

    With an issue this ill-defined, I would have to know exactly what acts you are talking about.

    “I don’t believe water boarding as has been described and sanctioned…”

    As it has been described and sanctioned, it meets a minimum definition of torture. That makes it intrinsically evil. You can’t sanitize it by calling it something else, or redefining torture to suit your purposes.

  • As for the ‘ticking time bomb’ issue, it isn’t my concern here.

    My main problem, as should be evident, is when people invoke the bad behavior of someone else to rationalize their own. That is moral idiocy, the complaint of a thwarted child.

    There may indeed be better arguments for ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ or whatever clinical name you want to apply to torture. I only wanted to address one.

  • “My main problem, as should be evident, is when people invoke the bad behavior of someone else to rationalize their own. That is moral idiocy…”

    This debate tactic seems to come up a lot in discussions about marriage: “Because you straight people have done such a great job with marriage…” Off topic but relevant.

  • Wasn’t addressed to you. And as I state, I do not justify enhanced interrogation techniques if they are torture or if torture in the circumstance of protecting innocent life from a captive terrorist is illicit.

  • You know, torture really needs a Planned Torturehood to improve its PR image. The shiny, happy face of torture: “Saving lives through advanced behavioral coercion techniques” or something like that. We can make it a women’s issue. ; )

  • hahahahaha

    Don’t give them ideas!

  • “I would only say that the issue here is not who will be prosecuted, but who I as a Catholic will lend my moral or political support to.”

    Joe with all due respect I don’t have an idea what this means. I very much understand the people that are against torture and the disagreement over enchanced intterogation. But as you imply you view all those that are stuggling woth this as trying to justofy torture.

    I am ready for a honest debate and true soul serching on what is allowed and what is not

    Sadly I do not see this happening

  • jh,

    It means that when Catholics take a position on policies, they ought to be guided by what the Church teaches.

    The Church condemns torture. The point of confusion is simply over the regrettable fact that the Catechism does not explicitly declare that we may not use torture to save lives.

    As others have said, clarification from Rome would be helpful. For now, however, we know at least the following:

    1) The Church calls for humane treatment of all prisoners.

    2) The Church condemns torture in many circumstances and, to my knowledge, has never cited a case in which torture is permissible.

    3) The Church has never accepted that the ends justify the means, or that an intrinsically evil thing may be done if good will come of it.

    To be subject to the laws of God is, at the same time, to have faith in the justice of God. I pray that Christ will ‘lead all souls to heaven’, or at least to purgatory, and that each one will receive the justice it is due.

    I want to pursue justice as well – social, moral, economic, etc. But there are clear limits.

  • Joe,

    “The Church condemns torture in many circumstances and, to my knowledge, has never cited a case in which torture is permissible.”

    Do you really want to go there?

    Although this will perhaps tread far beyond the point I was attempting to address (specifically concerning certain interrogation techniques which may very well prove necessary but are not, in actuality, considered torture); nevertheless, I want to confront the seeming disingenuous nature (and you can correct me if this is not the case; if not, I hope you’ll amend accordingly your sentiment here) of this comment here as it becomes difficult for me to imagine that for somebody who takes exceptional pride in his erudition concerning such matters, that you mean to tell me that in all your discussions, you’ve never encountered (or did not ever learn in all your experience, education or personal reading) details as these:

    From the Catholic Encyclopedia:

    David of Augsburg (cf. Preger, “Der Traktat des David von Augshurg uber die Waldenser”, Munich, 1878 pp. 43 sqq.) pointed out to the inquisitor four methods of extracting open acknowledgment:

    – fear of death, i.e. by giving the accused to understand that the stake awaited him if he would not confess;

    – more or less close confinement, possibly emphasized by curtailment of food;
    visits of tried men, who would attempt to induce free confession through friendly persuasion;

    – torture

    Curiously enough torture was not regarded as a mode of punishment, but purely as a means of eliciting the truth. It was not of ecclesiastical origin, and was long prohibited in the ecclesiastical courts. Nor was it originally an important factor in the inquisitional procedure, being unauthorized until twenty years after the Inquisition had begun.

    It was first authorized by Innocent IV in his Bull “Ad exstirpanda” of 15 May, 1252, which was confirmed by Alexander IV on 30 November, 1259, and by Clement IV on 3 November, 1265.

    The limit placed upon torture was citra membri diminutionem et mortis periculum — i.e, it was not to cause the loss of life or limb or imperil life. Torture was to applied only once, and not then unless the accused were uncertain in his statements, and seemed already virtually convicted by manifold and weighty proofs.

    In general, this violent testimony (quaestio) was to be deferred as long as possible, and recourse to it was permitted in only when all other expedients were exhausted.

    But, just as universally, in the days of Clement V, torture was thought a reasonable and legitimate way of obtaining reliable evidence.[7] The pope was so impressed that he took the whole business into his own hands, and set up special courts throughout the church for the investigation: a court in each diocese where there was a house of the order, with the final authority to judge the knights left to the provincial council of the bishops; and a papal commission to consider what to do with the order itself; finally, the whole affair would be brought before a specially summoned General Council, which would meet at Vienne on October 1, 1310– two years and a half hence.

    Urban IV on 2 August, 1262, renewed the permission, and this was soon interpreted as formal licence to continue the examination in the torture chamber itself. The inquisitors manuals faithfully noted and approved this usage. The general rule ran that torture was to be resorted to only once.

    When Clement V formulated his regulations for the employment of torture, he never imagined that eventually even witnesses would be put on the rack, although not their guilt, but that of the accused, was in question. From the popes silence it was concluded that a witness might be put upon the rack at the discretion of the inquisitor.

    Moreover, if the accused was convicted through witnesses, or had pleaded guilty, the torture might still he used to compel him to testify against his friends and fellow-culprits.

    It would be opposed to all Divine and human equity — so one reads in the “SacroArsenale, ovvero Pratica dell Officio della Santa Inquisizione” (Bologna, 1665) — to inflict torture unless the judge were personally persuaded of the guilt of the accused.

    But one of the difficulties of the procedure is why torture was used as a means of learning the truth.

    On the other hand, it is historically true that the popes not only always held that torture must not imperil life or but also tried to abolish particularly grievous abuses, when such became known to them.

    Thus Clement V ordained that inquisitors should not apply the torture without the consent of the diocesan bishop. From the middle of the thirteenth century, they did not disavow the principle itself, and, as their restrictions to its use were not always heeded, its severity, though of tell exaggerated, was in many cases extreme.

  • Joe well we still have the problem of what is torture. I will say that many Catholics of good faith are not just playing word games by saying “enhanced interrogation”

    Putting a prisoner in a box with a caterpillar is not torture. I dont think a slap in the face is torture. I thinl maybe sleep deprivation for ten days is torture but not 3

    I am not so sure “breaking the will” of a person to disclose terrotrist threats is so off the limits in all cases. Your personal dignity is so HOLY and So intrinisic you can use that to withhold a attack against innocent people. That argument needs to be made to me.

    THere are limits. But time we start talking about procedures and what is ok and what is not

  • E,

    Are you seriously invoking the methods of the medieval inquisition as relevant to the debate over torture today?

    Are you totally ignorant of all that JP II said about the inquisition, and about torture?

    By ‘never cited a case’, I meant in authoritative documents that are binding on practicing Catholics TODAY – not in the thirteenth century.

    You always assume those you disagree with are disingenuous, not one single time since I have been here have you offered me the benefit of the doubt. It’s been nothing but accusations, insinuations, veiled insults – you’ve treated me like an enemy from day one and have yet to indicate that you are even capable of the slightest bit of Christian charity, understanding, or civility.

    Forget torture. I seriously want to know: what the hell is your problem?

  • Joe,

    As I tried to express in my preface, my only intention in providing these details was merely to confront your comment and point out the fact that, contrary to what was stated therein, there have been such recorded instances.

    Concerning your further calumny on my person, if you’ll kindly recall what I previously remarked about you previously (see below) and how I essentially deemed you as somebody striving with good intentions:

    Joe: You seem to carry with you only good intentions insofar as advancing the kind of program seeking equality amongst the citizenry and resolving the notorious disparity of wealth that unfortunately plagues society at large. However, I think it falls short in actually carrying out the intended message of the Gospels when you consider the fact that although these programs themselves would seem to perform some good on the part of a certain of its unfortunate citizens (which success I’m highly skeptical about given past attempts in enacting such programs that ultimately resulted in a higher tax burden for the middle & lower classes, but for the sake of argument…) it ceases to become the kind of Charity that Christ had intended for us to practice and engage ourselves in…

    If only you yourself heeded the very Gospel you’ve oftentimes claimed in our discussions to adhere to, you would’ve accorded the very Charity so espoused in the Words of that blessed Saviour you keep invoking time and again in your replies to me rather than engage in ever increasing animosity to even the extent of sheer calumny.

    Perhaps as a result of our past discussions, you’ve simply become so frustrated at the fact that I happen to disagree with you so intensely on several points, such as certain methods employed by law enforcement and even anti-terrorist agents & military personnel (and I’m not talking about ‘waterboarding’ here but some of the other things that even Matt managed to mention in the previous thread) which you’ve mistakenly characterized as ‘torture’ but, on the contrary, are really valid and necessary efforts in the holy cause of preventing even further terrorist attacks on American soil.

  • E,

    You’re right. You did say that one thing that one time

    Excuse me if I overlooked it amidst the sea of actual insinuations and accusations that you actually have thrown at me.

    Beating a guy up, giving him a pat on the back, and then continuing to beat him doesn’t quite count as charity in my book.

  • Joe,

    This post is not a personal attack on you.

    The question I cited was only posted by you – you didn’t come up with it. To clear up any confusion, I think the man who asked the question about Saddam Hussein is the moral simpleton.

    Sorry, I didn’t mean that you were personally attacking ME, but that you were personally attacking SOMEONE, does it really matter who you’re targeting? In any event, I think you should know a little bit more about the author before resorting to such name calling.

    “So you agree in principal that some acts of intentional maltreatment against known terrorists in order to secure lifesaving information is morally acceptable?”

    With an issue this ill-defined, I would have to know exactly what acts you are talking about.

    That’s why I said “in principal”. We’ll never agree on which acts and to what degree it is licit, but I’m trying to understand if ANY maltreatment is morally acceptable or none. Which I believe you have acknowledged.

    “I don’t believe water boarding as has been described and sanctioned…”

    As it has been described and sanctioned, it meets a minimum definition of torture. That makes it intrinsically evil. You can’t sanitize it by calling it something else, or redefining torture to suit your purposes.

    I don’t believe it does, and it can’t be objectively proven to be so, on this we’ll have to disagree until the Church makes some sort of declaration.

    I’d really still like to know if you think there’s a different standard necessary between obtaining confessions from criminal suspects and obtaining lifesaving information from known terrorists? Can we morally go further with the latter?

    ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ or whatever clinical name you want to apply to torture.

    I believe, you have already accepted that IN PRINCIPAL some maltreatment may be used to secure information, as long as it doesn’t meet the criteria of torture. The term ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ describes precisely those acts. Under the Geneva Convention, lawful POW’s of signatory nations (generally extended to all lawful POW’s) may not be maltreated IN ANY WAY in order to secure information, so in military jargon, techniques which are beyond that at all, would be considered ‘enhanced’. Anyway, if you don’t want to use that term, can you propose one for the purpose of discussion?

    2) The Church condemns torture in many circumstances and, to my knowledge, has never cited a case in which torture is permissible.

    By ‘never cited a case’, I meant in authoritative documents that are binding on practicing Catholics TODAY – not in the thirteenth century.

    What was morally acceptable at certain time and place can not be now intrinsically evil, only evil as regards the intent and circumstances (ie. modern civility, and knowledge of psychology, etc.). In any event, the principle discussion here which may be fruitful is what acts go beyond legitimate to the realm of torture.

  • “you were personally attacking SOMEONE”

    Matt,

    First of all, you were cheering me on when I was calling people on the left moral simpletons for their position on abortion.

    Secondly, you still don’t seem to understand what a personal attack is. I did not a) pretend to know anything about the man’s personal life, or b) suggest that some personal flaw of his invalidates his argument.

    But if he really thinks the question he asked is in anyway relevant in a debate over the morality of torture, then he is, at least in part, a moral simpleton.

    For all the complaining people such as yourself do about the left and political correctness, you seem to be quite touchy, very quick to interpret everything as a ‘personal attack’. He may be a fine person, a nice person – it’s got nothing to do with what I think is his busted moral compass.

    “I’m trying to understand if ANY maltreatment is morally acceptable or none”

    If someone is deliberately inflicting systematic and prolonged physical or psychological pain on a person, I call that torture and I say it is wrong.

    If the ‘maltreatment’ is isolated and brief, and not carried out with malice aforethought, then it may be wrong, depending on the context, or it may be acceptable – getting a prisoner back into his cell, breaking up violent fights, etc. That’s what I think.

    But isolated and brief maltreatment isn’t going to get anyone to talk, and that’s what people are after. So it isn’t relevant.

    “I don’t believe it does, and it can’t be objectively proven to be so”

    It’s funny to see when various political types finally crack and finally become philosophical relativists.

    “Can we morally go further with the latter?”

    I will repeat, again, for the 100th time: we may not inflict systematic, prolonged physical or psychological pain on a human being, for any reason, ever.

    That’s how I am going to reasonably interpret MODERN Catholic teaching on the treatment of prisoners, torture, and the dignity of man until Rome issues a clear statement on this specific issue. You may think it arrogant, but I don’t imagine their statement will be that much different than mine.

    I will also repeat that if you really believe that the circumstances warrant it, then it is between you and God. We are all faced with situations where we honestly believe that doing an evil thing will result in a greater good – like the thousands if not millions of women who truly believe that they are sparing their children from a lifetime of suffering and neglect by aborting them in the womb.

    We can only ask God’s mercy and forgiveness when we choose evil over good, as I sometimes do, as we all sometimes do. The Church, however, can never condone it, and as a matter of public policy, I can never condone it.

    “Anyway, if you don’t want to use that term, can you propose one for the purpose of discussion?”

    What I don’t want is for what is really torture, and that includes psychological torture, to be called something else. The psyche and the spirit are as real as the body – am I the last crazy Christian that believes those things are real?

    We’re back to the problem I pointed out before, anyway. Those things that fall short of torture and into the misty realm of ‘maltreatment’, at least by my standards, probably aren’t going to get battle-hardened religious fanatics to talk.

    “What was morally acceptable at certain time and place can not be now intrinsically evil”

    So we can go back to slavery if we want?

  • Joe,
    First of all, you were cheering me on when I was calling people on the left moral simpletons for their position on abortion.

    My bad, I guess didn’t pay attention to the title on that one.

    Secondly, you still don’t seem to understand what a personal attack is. I did not a) pretend to know anything about the man’s personal life, or b) suggest that some personal flaw of his invalidates his argument.

    But if he really thinks the question he asked is in anyway relevant in a debate over the morality of torture, then he is, at least in part, a moral simpleton.

    That’s no justification for a personal attack. In any event I only pointed it out because your continuous attack on e. for real or perceived personal attacks, what’s good for the goose is apparently not good for the gander.

    But isolated and brief maltreatment isn’t going to get anyone to talk, and that’s what people are after. So it isn’t relevant.

    Ok, so no maltreatment whatsoever in order to secure information. Ok, I understand your position, no further discussion is possible.

    “I don’t believe it does, and it can’t be objectively proven to be so”

    It’s funny to see when various political types finally crack and finally become philosophical relativists.

    A baldfaced lie. You repeatedly make absurd false accusations such as this and then you feign offense when they are responded to.


    “What was morally acceptable at certain time and place can not be now intrinsically evil”

    So we can go back to slavery if we want?

    Another lie, by deliberately taking my statement out of context.

    Joe, I’m done with you, you refuse to discuss reasonably, and so it is pointless.

  • Matt,

    “That’s no justification for a personal attack.”

    Unlike you, I’m not going to scream “liar” at you for your repeated misunderstanding of what I did.

    Do you know what constitutes a personal attack in a debate? This definition is as good as any.

    “A personal attack is committed when a person substitutes abusive remarks for evidence when attacking another person’s claim or claims.”

    Did I do that? No. I called the people who make this argument moral simpletons, and I proceeded to explain WHY. There was no substitution, but a clear critique of their logic.

    “Ok, so no maltreatment whatsoever in order to secure information”

    Again, amazing that you scream “lie” at me when you want to reduce everything to one sentence. If you can think of a way to secure information that doesn’t qualify as torture, but still qualifies as ‘maltreatment’, I’ll listen. Unlike some people, I’m willing to look at each case and decide based on a rational criteria.

    As for the relativism, you yourself said it was ‘impossible to define objectively.’ That means, logically, that torture becomes whatever we say it is. I’m sorry if that disturbs you, Matt, maybe you ought to go back and revise your choice of words.

    And as for the slavery thing, how did I ‘take you out of context?’

    “What was morally acceptable at certain time and place can not be now intrinsically evil”, and then you add “only evil as regards the intent and circumstances” as if that matters? What are the intent and circumstances that make slavery or abortion acceptable?

  • Joe Hargrave,

    I called the people who make this argument moral simpletons

    That’s a personal attack, you are not attacking their arguments as erroneous but their person.

    I told you I was done discussing this issue with you so I won’t go into detail, but you should be aware that many acts have objective and subjective elements to them in determining their morality. This is not “relativism”, I can recommend some good books on Catholic moral theology if you’d like.

    What was morally acceptable at certain time and place can not be now intrinsically evil”, and then you add “only evil as regards the intent and circumstances” as if that matters? What are the intent and circumstances that make slavery or abortion acceptable?

    If you are a good and honest person as you claim, why would you insert the word “abortion” into this statement as to imply that I suggested abortion was not intrinsically evil?

  • Matt,

    “you are not attacking their arguments”

    Now, see, that’s the lie here. I did almost nothing but attack their arguments. Did you actually read the blog post?

    Before you dare to suggest that I need to read about ‘truth’, you really ought to do the same. Go back, read my post. The argument is there. I don’t know the person so how could I attack him?

    “many acts have objective and subjective elements to them”

    I am aware, Matt. What does that have to do with what you said? You said it couldn’t be objectively defined. You didn’t say ‘subjective and objective elements.’ Again, all you have to do here is say, “I mis-spoke’, but it seems instead you want to go down with a sinking ship. Deflate that ego and just admit you put it wrongly.

    Before reading Catholic theology, maybe you should try a dictionary.

    “If you are a good and honest person as you claim, why would you insert the word “abortion” into this statement as to imply that I suggested abortion was not intrinsically evil?”

    If you’re a rational person as you like to portray yourself, why would you be so deeply offended that I made the comparison?

    You are now invoking circumstance and intent as possible conditions that might make this act not intrinsically evil. Is that not what you are doing? If that’s inaccurate I’ll take it back and we can start over.

    My point is, SOME actions are evil no matter what the circumstances or intent- hence the word INTRINSIC, meaning, ‘in itself’, without respect to any external condition or subjective motivation, that is, objectively.

    That’s all that was meant. No, I’m not trying to suggest that you think abortion is not intrinsically evil, I’m only saying, torture is in the same league. Stop being so sensitive! I’m not out to get you or make you look bad. Really, truly, that’s not what I want.

    How do we make it right?

  • In the interests of not allowing this blog to degenerate into spectacle and scandal, I deleted some of the personal back and forth.

    I only have this to say, to E, and to Matt: let us try, once again, to hit the reset button and go back to square one.

    I have absolutely no grudge, no desire to inflict harm, no desire to deliberately misinterpret or demonize. Anything I have done that has appeared that way is just the instinct that kicks in during a fight.

    Jesus told his apostles that we should not forgive 7 times, but 70 X 7. By my count we’re no where close to that number yet. So lets try it again.

  • How about my questions then?

  • Well Phillip,

    I think many of them have been answered in what has gone down so far.

    “If torture is more than this then what is it. Is it disproportionate infliction of pain?”

    I’ve called it a systematic and prolonged infliction of physical pain or psychological torment.

    “Is there such a line that we can draw?”

    That’s the line I draw. We don’t have a clear statement from the Vatican on this.

    “Or as some claim, drawing such a line is merely an effort to get as close to torture as possible and thus an affront to human dignity?”

    Some people are eager to do that. Others are more sincere.

    “Is an effort to obtain lifesaving information the one exemption to the use of torture as some argue?”

    No.

  • Fair enough. Though I think some in good conscience here would disagree. And not just e. or Mike.

  • “More than half of people who attend services at least once a week — 54 percent — said the use of torture against suspected terrorists is “often” or “sometimes” justified. Only 42 percent of people who “seldom or never” go to services agreed, according the analysis released Wednesday by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.”

    Something is very wrong here…

  • Mark,

    Tell me about it!

    What I’m really interested in are the opinions of those who attend services every day :)

  • The simple reply to e. is:

    The info you cite describes how torture was regarded and thought among certain clerical circles (mind you, it asserts rather than establishes any universality of mind on the matter). The info to which Joe refers is the Church’s official teaching on the moral status of torture. Of course, one can also point out that you cite the Catholic Encyclopedia rather than any direct teaching where Joe actually points to official teaching. Can you furnish an actual official teaching that torture is ever morally licit?

    On moral questions, what a pope or bishop does or thinks with respect to an action matters little in determining the moral worth of an action (are we to assume that because Pope Alexander VI thought and regarded fornication to be a “legitimate and reasonable way” to secure political legacy and familial power that we need to revisit and re-evaluate what the Church teaches on fornication?).

    So not only have you constructed a false opposition between medieval and contemporary views of torture in the Church, you also have failed to provide any direct teaching to contravene the direct teaching Joe cites (instead, you rely on a non-authoritative, mediating source). I’m afraid Joe easily wins this argument.

  • Though this seems to go again to the question of whether all coercion of the will of a prisoner in interrogation is torture. Joe says yes and I suspect Mark and Poli would also. A sort of interrogation pacifism. Can you point to where the Church definitively teaches this?

  • Though this seems to go again to the question of whether all coercion of the will of a prisoner in interrogation is torture.

    I will answer for myself: no. Coercion of the will can be done without inflicting mental and physical suffering (e.g., providing incentives, threatening punishment). And, no, I do not count the threat of punishment for non-compliance to be mental harm (just as I do not feel mental pain at the threat of incarceration should I not comply with certain laws). That’s why there is need for positive law in the first place (at least, according to Aristotle, Aquinas, and Kant): some people must be coerced externally to refrain from immoral action and to fulfill certain social duties. So external coercion is not immoral or illicit if it aims at the good of the who it is trying to coerce (treating him/her as an end) and it is done in view of producing an end that is good. Torture, by definition, reduces a person to a mere means, a mere instrument. I don’t think there is a great deal of calculus to be done here in determining whether an action treats a person as a mere means or not.

  • Yeah,

    I don’t think I said ‘coercion of the will’. We couldn’t even be parents, let alone have prisons, if that were a sin.

    Torture is about inflicting pain and torment on a person, and doing so in a way designed to ‘break’ them. The Church teaches torture is evil in many scenarios. That isn’t the issue.

    The issue is that it doesn’t specifically mention the case where the torture could result in life saving information.

  • Poli,

    Thanks,

    Joe,

    I think that last point is where many get hung up.

  • Poli,

    One question I’ve had. How is the death penalty not using a person as a means to an end. As the Catechism presents it, a person can be executed for the defense of society. A superficial assessment seems that the death of a person is the means to an end. How do we resolve this?

  • How is the death penalty not using a person as a means to an end. As the Catechism presents it, a person can be executed for the defense of society.

    It seems to me that the death penalty, understood as a last resort, is a unique situation that can only be accounted for by the principle of double effect. The execution of a person is only the very last resort (much like war) when there is no other means for preventing that person from committing the worst violations against human dignity. In this case, it must be judged that i) the wrong-doer is beyond the medicinal effect of punishment, ii) the wrong-doer cannot be confined/incarcerated and thus constrained from violating the life of others, and iii) the wrong-doer will certainty continue to violate human dignity. So it seems to me that an unsavory option would be before us: ending the life of the wrong-doer (an evil) with the explicit intention and end of protecting the lives of others (a good).

    I think this is why Pope John Paul II emphasized that, at least in developed nations, the death penalty is typically not a morally licit option.

    How is this different than torture? The death penalty falls under retributive justice. Torture is not retributive justice. Furthermore, torture that is not purely sadistic is justified solely by its consequences, and those consequences are merely hypothetical ends that are may or may not be produced (extracting good information). With execution, the wrong-doer is prevented from committing further grave evil against human life (this refers back to preventing the wrong-doer from violating his/her own dignity through grave sin) and an intentional and real (not hypothetical) end is brought about through justice: the protection of the value and dignity of human lives.

    In the end, I am not satisfied with this justification of the death penalty, but it seems at least to be clear that the death penalty is not formally similar to torture.

  • Poli,

    I think defense is different from retribution. From Cardinal Dulles on the reasons for capital punishment:

    “Rehabilitation. Capital punishment does not reintegrate the criminal into society; rather, it cuts off any possible rehabilitation. The sentence of death, however, can and sometimes does move the condemned person to repentance and conversion. There is a large body of Christian literature on the value of prayers and pastoral ministry for convicts on death row or on the scaffold. In cases where the criminal seems incapable of being reintegrated into human society, the death penalty may be a way of achieving the criminal’s reconciliation with God.
    Defense against the criminal. Capital punishment is obviously an effective way of preventing the wrongdoer from committing future crimes and protecting society from him. Whether execution is necessary is another question. One could no doubt imagine an extreme case in which the very fact that a criminal is alive constituted a threat that he might be released or escape and do further harm. But, as John Paul II remarks in Evangelium Vitae, modern improvements in the penal system have made it extremely rare for execution to be the only effective means of defending society against the criminal.
    Deterrence. Executions, especially where they are painful, humiliating, and public, may create a sense of horror that would prevent others from being tempted to commit similar crimes. But the Fathers of the Church censured spectacles of violence such as those conducted at the Roman Colosseum. Vatican II’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World explicitly disapproved of mutilation and torture as offensive to human dignity. In our day death is usually administered in private by relatively painless means, such as injections of drugs, and to that extent it may be less effective as a deterrent. Sociological evidence on the deterrent effect of the death penalty as currently practiced is ambiguous, conflicting, and far from probative.
    Retribution. In principle, guilt calls for punishment. The graver the offense, the more severe the punishment ought to be. In Holy Scripture, as we have seen, death is regarded as the appropriate punishment for serious transgressions. Thomas Aquinas held that sin calls for the deprivation of some good, such as, in serious cases, the good of temporal or even eternal life. By consenting to the punishment of death, the wrongdoer is placed in a position to expiate his evil deeds and escape punishment in the next life. After noting this, St. Thomas adds that even if the malefactor is not repentant, he is benefited by being prevented from committing more sins. Retribution by the State has its limits because the State, unlike God, enjoys neither omniscience nor omnipotence. According to Christian faith, God “will render to every man according to his works” at the final judgment (Romans 2:6; cf. Matthew 16:27). Retribution by the State can only be a symbolic anticipation of God’s perfect justice.”

    But I think Joe has a post above that address a couple of issues.

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