Catholic Statements on Torture
Somehow, I picked up the idea from a long exchange over torture on one of the Catholic websites I frequent that the Vatican has not issued a clear statement on torture. I repeated that ‘meme’ as if it were true, and it was a mistake on my part, at least partially.
Why? Because there is a pretty definitive collection of statements on torture, even modern torture in the context of information gathering in the ‘War on Terror’, from Catholic clergy going up to Pope Benedict, Catholic authors and thinkers, etc.
It is called “Torture Is a Moral Issue: A Catholic Study Guide”, put out by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops or the USCCB.
Here is the highlight of the entire document, as far as I am concerned. The document quotes Pope Benedict in a talk he gave in 2007:
“Means of punishment or correction that either undermine or debase the human dignity of prisoners” must be eschewed by public authorities, he said. Immediately he added the following statement, which incorporates a quote taken from the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church: “The prohibition against torture ‘cannot be contravened under any circumstances’” (No. 404).
Additionally, the USCCB states:
“The use of torture must be rejected as fundamentally incompatible with the dignity of the human person and ultimately counterproductive in the effort to combat terrorism”.
Is this unclear, somehow? Under any circumstances. Fundamentally incompatible. In the context of combating terrorism.
Torture is out, end of story. It would be absurd to think that any future definitive statement on torture is going to differ from what has already been said here.
Now what we’re left with is whether or not ‘water boarding’ is torture.
My question is, why would it be used the way it is being used if it isn’t torture? Maybe one waterboarding doesn’t count as torture. How about 180? If you make me listen to one terrible pop music number, I won’t call it torture, but if you made me listen to it 180 times in a row? Think that’s a joke? The use of loud, obnoxious, violent rock music is another part of these ‘enhanced interrogation’ procedures.
We may now be faced with a quantitative, rather than a qualitative problem. The truth is this: I think there are many ‘interrogation techniques’ that, used only a few times, may not add up to torture. But used as often as they would probably need to be to get a man to talk, and I think we ARE looking at torture. The USCCB document says the following about the whole language and terminology debate:
But any terminology that waters down the reality of torture, or that masks its reality, may be a euphemism. Thus, “sleep management” might replace “sleep deprivation,” forcing prisoners to sit or stand in “stress positions” might mean forcing them to assume cruelly punishing postures for long periods.
Sometimes severe forms of interrogation are labeled “abuse,” rather than “torture”—apparently out of a sense that “abuse” somehow sounds less cruel. Some might say that a certain interrogation technique is “tantamount” to torture, as if to suggest that it is almost, but not quite, torture. And some commentators consider even the term “waterboarding” euphemistic—a term that they say does not fully call to mind the reality of a simulated drowning.
Sounds to me like they think waterboarding is torture. At the least I think they would agree that multiple, repeated waterboardings adds up to torture.
That means its out. For Catholics, anyway. What this means as far as practical politics goes, we all know from our long struggles with the abortion issue. It is almost impossible to take a 100% principled pro-life position given our culture and political system. The same will probably end up being true with respect to torture. But as we have done on the abortion issue, we must try to speak with one voice, and inform the conscience of our nation and its lawmakers: torture, under any circumstances, is intrinsically evil.
I have yet to see this passage from the Catechism referenced in a torture debate. It is what appears to me to be yet another clear prohibition of torture, and it also clears up debates about the Church’s approval of torture in earlier centuries:
2298 In times past, cruel practices were commonly used by legitimate governments to maintain law and order, often without protest from the Pastors of the Church, who themselves adopted in their own tribunals the prescriptions of Roman law concerning torture. Regrettable as these facts are, the Church always taught the duty of clemency and mercy. She forbade clerics to shed blood. In recent times it has become evident that these cruel practices were neither necessary for public order, nor in conformity with the legitimate rights of the human person. On the contrary, these practices led to ones even more degrading. It is necessary to work for their abolition. We must pray for the victims and their tormentors.