Torture: Wrong Regardless of Effectiveness

Jay Anderson of Pro Ecclesia has a post up whose title says its all: Torture … Excuse Me … the Use of “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques” Works! And We Should STILL Oppose It.

In light of the CIA Inspector General report which indicates that, at least in the case of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, torture worked pretty well in extracting information, Jay says:

I’ve said before that Catholics (and others) opposed to torture should not resort to arguments against its effectiveness since: (a) when something is intrinsically evil, whether it works or not is completely irrelevant; and (b) those making the argument that torture is ineffective may turn out to be wrong, and then our ethical and moral arguments against torture are thereby undermined. See my comments here, here (agreeing with my friend Paul Zummo), and here for more details.

And, yet, the meme that “torture doesn’t work” has nevertheless been widely adopted by a number of Catholics in St. Blog’s – including the blogger who has achieved the highest profile in the torture debates on the Catholic blogosphere – as a means of bolstering their argument against the practice.

The question I have always had is: “Why go there?”, when, again, whether torture is effective or not is completely irrelevant from a Catholic and Natural Law standpoint, given the intrinsically evil nature of the practice. The argument that Catholics should be honing in on and never departing from is this: “Torture is immoral because it violates the dignity of the human person, EVEN IF it is useful for obtaining information from the detainee, and EVEN IF such information is potentially life saving.”

Read the whole thing.

To Jay’s point I’d like to add one other: it would also be a good idea to drop the claim that most victims of “enhanced interrogation” by the CIA were innocent. A few may have been picked up entirely by mistake, but let’s be honest: in many of these cases “innocent” means “only guilty of trying to shoot and blow up Afghan/Iraqi civilians and US soldiers, but not actually plotting major terrorist acts on US soil”. And while this may indeed mean that it would be pointless to try to get intelligence information from them, trying to convince the general public that they’re sweet, cuddly people whom we wouldn’t want anything bad to happen to simply isn’t going to get things very far. Further, anti-torture advocates do themselves great harm when they insist that virtually all torture victims were innocent in clear contravention to the facts. The correct argument is always the one to go for: Torture is wrong and as such we should not want our country to be one that uses it. Whatever practical benefits might be gained in the short term will be outweighed by turning our country into something less worth protecting.

74 Responses to Torture: Wrong Regardless of Effectiveness

  • That torture is immoral is true, often times, as was the case for a number of experiences in the past year, the way we are expected to endure certain aspects of emotional and psychological treatment feel torturous but, because they’re compared with physical torture are often overlooked.
    Some Catholics are raised that enduring pain, no matter what lengths, are a sign of taking up a cross, a symbol we celebrate in our tradition.

  • Knowing that we also did torture.One arguement on some of the torture that was performed for us by other countries has been that “Well it wasn’t our country that did this we just asked the Pakistanis to get information from them.” This is of course an obvious rationalization of there support for the use of torture. I completely agree it has nothing to do with effectiveness or what country does it for us. It is an evil that should not be done. But then rationalization seems to be the norm when it comes to evils in this country. Like the torture of innocent life. Abortion

  • Yeah Rick, I don’t think anyone is fooled by the nature of and inherent culpability that still exists when turning a prisoner over to a foreign country so that they may torture him. Many of our leftist leaning friends will rightfully point that out. Good for them. If only they would cease to exonerate pro-abort pols by saying they’re not culpable because it’s the mother and her doctor doing the evil deed.

  • Hear hear.

    This is a disturbingly common rhetorical mistake among people who are arguing about many other moral or doctrinal truths. Whether a belief is *practical* or *beneficial* in a given environment has no bearing on its general truth, and undermines the argument by implying a relativistic stance on the part of the arguer.

    See also:

    – arguing that contraception is morally wrong by pointing out its harmful physical side effects (as if contraceptive makers might not come up with medically safer methods)

    – arguing that God must exist, in part because of the existence of some specific aspect of creation that we haven’t yet been able to adequately understand through science (as if we might not ever discover new information)

  • I agree that torture is wrong regardless of its effectiveness and it is a good idea to not put all of your eggs in the “it is ineffective” basket, but I doubt many people are seriously trying to claim that everyone who is tortured was innocent. That is creating a straw-man argument.

    The problem is that the CIA report itself said that most of the information they obtained came BEFORE the prisoners were tortured and that torture made several stop cooperating. That is the underlying lesson.

    And finally the problem with effectiveness is that you don’t know which information from torture is good and which is bad. Torture is not effective 90% of the time and it takes years to figure out which is the useful 10%.

    Again I understand not diluting an argument with the effectiveness argument, but it still isn’t / wasn’t / won’t be effective most of the time.

  • Hmm what is torture. To be honest I am not sure all these enhanced interogations techinques are torture. In some conversation I have been told that even if sleep deprivation for one day caused someone to spill the beans then that was torture. I am not buying that.

  • Hmmm, jh, maybe read up on the Army Field Manual and the Geneva Conventions and maybe practice waterboarding your neighbor, or maybe read a newspaper, then get back to us when you’ve got something to say.

    No one says sleep deprivation for one day is torture … in case you didn’t know.

  • Though the Army Field Manual does all “Fear Up” which according to many would constitute torture.

  • “Hmmm, jh, maybe read up on the Army Field Manual and the Geneva Conventions and maybe practice waterboarding your neighbor, or maybe read a newspaper, then get back to us when you’ve got something to say.

    No one says sleep deprivation for one day is torture … in case you didn’t know.”

    No in fact they are. I have kept up with this issue some bit because one of my former Prof’s wrote the so called “torture memos” or likely in his view anti torture memos as they were trying to bring order to chaos.

    That being said I have seen numerous times on boards that things that Coerce the will so much that you give up information is in fact illicit. If one day of sleep deprivation torture what about three? I don’t think so but others disagree

    Again whe asking about the particulars one gets blasted for even bringing it up. Not a a good way to discuss this.

    Not everything is waterboarding and the questions go way beyond that.

    We need some clarity to this. I also think that committing an intrinisc evil is wrong even if it saves lives. Of course it was wrong to even mention that perhaps these techniques work because if you did you were pro-torture.

    That is a short sighted view point of torture opponents. One must prepare the American people that if we get hit that the lack of using methods that are “torture” was worth it. Treat them like adults and make the case. If not when we have another 9/11 then I suspect people will not care.

  • Actually, I think JH highlights another sense in which anti-torture advocates often do their cause significant harm: acting as if all forms of interrogation are equally bad and unacceptable.

    There are a very small number of things (waterboarding definitely among them) which were done with government authorization to a fairly small number of people which I think were indeed torture and caused us significant harm as a country due to the moral lapse. But that doesn’t mean that I’m prepared to get indignant every time anything a detainee doesn’t like happens to him.

  • The Church has not made clear whether it considers “torture” to be intrinsically evil, so it’s unwise for us to work from that assumption.

    In any event, I agree that it’s wrong for the US to torture under any circumstances.

    It is quite reasonable to permit enhanced interrogation techniques to secure intelligence from terrorists, that is entirely different from using such techniques to secure convictions in criminal cases. What techniques are permitted and what are torture is a difficult question, that’s really the issue. Under what operating definition of torture do you suggest that water boarding (as officially permitted by the US government to be performed on 3 individuals) is torture? If water boarding is torture then why isn’t solitary confinement, or even long periods of incarceration? Frankly, I’d far prefer some short course of water boarding to spending even a year in prison…that’s just me though.

  • ps. I agree with the key premise that effectiveness is a red herring with regard to the morality of “torture”, though it may be argued that any techniques which are known to be ineffective and yet cause distress are immoral under the principle of dual effect.

    As to securing “intelligence” there is little doubt that torture is effective. Even if most of the information that is secured is false, the work of intelligence always involves sifting through falsehoods in the search for truth.

  • The Church has not made clear whether it considers “torture” to be intrinsically evil…

    This is untruth.

  • a. It is not necessarily an “untruth”, especially if it happens to spring from an misunderstanding or even ignorance.

    b. The question concerning torture itself principally depends if something itself actually is “torture”.

  • Michael I,

    your statement is demonstrably false. The Church has not in any definitive way declared “torture” to be intrinsically evil.

    TORTURE AND CORPORAL PUNISHMENT AS A PROBLEM IN CATHOLIC THEOLOGY

    The Catechism condemns torture under specific circumstances:
    B11. Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992), on “Respect for bodily integrity”.

    #2297. Torture, which uses physical or moral violence to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred, is contrary to respect for the human person and for human dignity.

  • Matt,

    The statement you cite is saying that the “which uses moral violence…” is actually contained in the concept of the subject, torture.

    It is not saying that one certain type of torture, among others, is wrong.

  • Here’s a list of what was approved. What is or is not torture:

    In late 2002 and early 2003, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld approved specific interrogation techniques for extracting information from Taliban and al-Qaeda detainees at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The Bush administration made the previously classified lists public Tuesday. The final April 2003 list of 24 techniques approved by Rumsfeld, plus three he rejected out of hand and seven that were initially approved but apparently later rejected:
    Approved techniques

    • “Direct”: Asking straightforward questions.

    • “Incentive/removal of incentive”: Providing a reward or removing a privilege, beyond those that are required by the Geneva Conventions.

    • “Emotional love”: Playing on the love a detainee has for an individual or a group.

    • “Emotional hate”: Playing on the hatred a detainee has for an individual or a group.

    • “Fear up harsh”: Significantly increasing the fear level in a detainee. (This is generally interpreted as yelling or throwing things but not touching the detainee.)

    • “Fear up mild”: Moderately increasing the fear level in a detainee.

    • “Reduced fear”: Reducing the fear level in a detainee.

    • “Pride and ego up”: Boosting the ego of a detainee.

    • “Pride and ego down”: Attacking and insulting the ego of a detainee, not beyond the limits that would apply to a prisoner of war. (Guidance notes that while the Geneva Conventions prohibit threatening or insulting subjects who refuse to answer, the detainees are not formally considered prisoners of war. Guidance says “consideration should be given” to the views of “other nations” that POWs should be afforded such protections.)

    • “Futility”: Invoking the feeling of futility in a detainee.

    • “We know all”: Convincing a detainee that the interrogator already knows the answer to the question he is asking.

    • “Establish your identity”: Convincing a detainee that the interrogator has mistaken him for someone else.

    • “Repetition approach”: Continuously repeating the same question to a detainee within interrogation periods of normal duration.

    • “File and dossier”: Convincing a detainee that the interrogator has a damning and inaccurate file that must be fixed.

    • “Mutt and Jeff”: Pairing a friendly interrogator with a harsh one.

    • “Rapid fire”: Questioning in rapid succession without allowing detainee to answer.

    • “Silence”: Staring at a detainee to encourage discomfort.

    • “Change of scenery up”: Removing a detainee from the standard interrogation setting — generally to a more pleasant location, but not to a worse one.

    • “Change of scenery down”: Moving a detainee from the standard interrogation setting to one less comfortable, but not one that would constitute a substantial change in environmental quality.

    • “Dietary manipulation”: Changing the diet of a detainee, but with no intended deprivation of food or water and without an adverse cultural or medical effect. Example: substituting MREs (U.S. military “meals ready to eat”) for hot rations.

    • “Environmental manipulation”: Altering the environment to create moderate discomfort, such as by adjusting the temperature or introducing an unpleasant smell. Conditions would not be such that they would injure a detainee, and the detainee would be accompanied by an interrogator at all times. (Guidance cautions that some nations view this as “inhumane” and says that “consideration of these views should be given before application of this technique.”)

    • “Sleep adjustment”: Adjusting the sleeping times of a detainee, such as by reversing sleep cycles from night to day. Guidance notes that “this technique is not sleep deprivation.”

    • “False flag”: Convincing detainees that individuals from a country other than the United States are interrogating them. (Some other countries condone torture.)

    • “Isolation”: Isolating a detainee from other detainees while still complying with the basic standards of treatment. (A lengthy guidance notes that this technique requires detailed instructions and guidelines, has not generally been used for more than 30 days, and requires approval for extensions of the length of the isolation.)

    Techniques approved in December 2002 but apparently dropped in April 2003:

    • Forced shaving of the beard or the head.

    • Hooding during transport and interrogation.

    • Interrogations for up to 20 hours.

    • Use of mild, non-injurious contact.

    • Stress positions, such as standing, for a maximum of four hours.

    • Removing a detainee’s clothing.

    • Use of dogs to frighten a detainee.

    Techniques proposed by Guantanamo interrogators but rejected by Rumsfeld in December 2002:

    • The use of scenarios designed to convince a detainee that death or severely painful consequences are imminent for him or his family.

    • Exposure to cold weather or cold water, with appropriate medical monitoring.

    • Use of a wet towel and dripping water to induce the misperception of suffocation.

    Contributing: Source: Defense Department memos declassified Tuesday.

  • Mark,

    it really doesn’t matter, the key is that it condemns the use of torture under specific circumstances:

    extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred

    it says nothing about extracting intelligence to prevent killing of innocent victims. I’m not saying that it would be moral under these or any circumstances, just that the Church has not condemned it as intrinsically evil (read my first post).

  • Matt,

    The Church does not always explicitly do something. But that does not mean the Catholic “position” is arbirtrary. I’m sure you don’t think this, however — I’m just clarifying.

    What do you think is the substantial difference what you consider to be the message of the Catechism and those objecting to torture as intrinsically evil? What changes? The underlying activity seems to me to remain the same.

    I know there are security issues, but I think the question — a difficult one — is where do you draw the line? And I’d like to think that’s the wrong question. It’s like asking “how far is too far?” as it relates to chastity. The idea is to immediately push the bar and likely go beyond it.

    Just my two cents.

  • Matt:

    Since the Cathechism says nothing about using torture to increase excitement during consentual sexual activity is that OK? Please advise ASAP. Big date tonight.

  • awakaman,

    It does say something about sexual activity outside of marriage. Take a cold shower. Oh wait, is that torture? :)

  • Eric,

    What do you think is the substantial difference what you consider to be the message of the Catechism and those objecting to torture as intrinsically evil? What changes? The underlying activity seems to me to remain the same.

    I don’t know whether it does or not, I just know that the Church has not taught it so we should not ASSUME it to be the case. I suspect that the reason the Church doesn’t define torture as intrinsically evil is that the definition of torture is so difficult to provide with specificity.

    I know there are security issues, but I think the question — a difficult one — is where do you draw the line? And I’d like to think that’s the wrong question. It’s like asking “how far is too far?” as it relates to chastity. The idea is to immediately push the bar and likely go beyond it.

    The Church DOES provide a definitive solution for these circumstances and we ought to stick with it unless she provides further clarity. The principle of double effect addresses the situation where there we might do harm in order to accomplish a good.

  • awakaman,

    Since the Cathechism says nothing about using torture to increase excitement during consentual sexual activity is that OK? Please advise ASAP. Big date tonight.

    you’re profoundly disturbed.

  • Matt,

    The commas around the clause indicate that the latter is saying something about the very nature of torture. Take away that clause and you still have “Torture is contrary to respect for the human person and for human dignity.

  • The cited clause encased in commas actually qualifies the type of torture that is forbidden.

  • We need a grammarian…

  • Mark,

    Good to see your perrito pic again.

    The little dog is a darling!

  • That would be torture. Though on a serious note, this is part of the problem of determining what exactly the Church is saying on the matter. Not even addressing the daunting task of defining torture.

  • Mark,

    How about “Inquisitions, which employs either physical or psychological violence in order to force certain confessions, is wickedly immoral and, therefore, must be condemned.”

  • Phillip:

    I agree. One need only consult with Aquinas on the matter or even Ad Extirpanda; things can definitely become all the more confused.

  • Philip,

    That seems basically like the list I recall seeing through the years, and frankly I’m fairly comfortable with it morally (though I think the stuff that was pulled back on in ’03 is stuff it was a good idea to stop.)

    My concerns about “actual torture” would center around:

    – Waterboarding, which I gather was used on KSM and a couple of other high value suspects a few times — though I don’t know if this was with Rumsfeld’s approval or not.

    – Use of sensory deprivation for long periods of time.

    – Keeping people awake significantly longer than 24 hours — sometimes by use of constant, loud, repeated noise such a playing one song over and over again at maximum volume.

    – Use of shackling to keep people standing for long periods of time.

    – Use of small confinement areas to keep people from standing for long periods of time.

    – Sexual humiliation (forced nakedness, dressing in women’s underwear, simulated seduction, forced use of sexual positions, etc)

    – Excessive beating. (My understanding is that a CIA guy is under prosecution for accidentally killing a suspect while beating him with a metal flashlight — though given that he’s being prosecuted I take it this was in total breach of regulation.)

    Except for the last of these, which is pretty clearly abuse, the above seem to be the sort of “torture lite” which some people thought would get results, but which I think we shouldn’t have got into. I’m not clear how often they were used, and I am certainly open to believing that anti-terror advocates have massively exaggerated their use (since most of them are simply out to hang the Bush administration, and opposing torture is merely a tool to that end) but it seems that they were used and I think it’s a problem that they were.

  • DarwinCatholic,
    My concerns about “actual torture” would center around

    Except for the last of these, which is pretty clearly abuse, the above seem to be the sort of “torture lite” which some people thought would get results, but which I think we shouldn’t have got into.

    What is it about these techniques which you consider to “go beyond a line”? And how long is too long with regard to the techniques such as stress positions and sleep deprivation?

    To my mind the line has to do with actual injury and/or permanent physical damage. As to psychological damage, on that basis one could define any confinement as torture since it often results in permanent damage.

  • I was purposely vague on those, in that I think there is (like pornography) an “I know it when I see it” element to defining torture.

    As for why those: I think that using those sorts of techniques frequently will end up dehumanizing both the interrogators and the detainee.

  • Oh, and while not a grammarian, I was a classicist, which is close: I’d say that’s a descriptive rather than a restrictive clause in the catechism. A restrictive clause would not be set off my a comma after “Torture”. In that sense, the clause is meant as a brief description of what torture is, but is probably not meant to be a restrictive clause setting torture by that definition out from other kinds of torture.

  • I would agree with that. Though it begs the question whether the Church would say that torture to extract information to defend others is necessarily included. But grant that it is, it still leaves us with the definition.

  • DarwinCatholic:

    Thanks for the info!

    Although, in certain works I have encountered relatively recently, I have seen folks employ the use of commas even in the case of a restrictive clause in order simply to indicate pause.

    Regardless, though, as I said earlier, the principal question concerning torture itself depends heavily on whether or not something actually is “torture”.

  • I find this parsing of the Catechism to determine if torture is ever justfied more “disturbed” then engaging in S&M. However, the term “frighten opponents” as used in the Cathechism cite above would seem to be an all inclusive catch phrase that would ban torture for any and all practical reasons. If you are not doing it to punish or out of sheer hatred of the person then you are trying to frighten them into confessing to some crime or providing some other type of information.

  • So who’s your date with?

  • awakaman:

    Would you be so bold as to include police interrogations as “torture” since it seeks to “frighten opponents” in order to draw out a confession?

  • DC,

    you’re proposing then that the catechism does not define interrogation to secure lifesaving intelligence at all. I’m comfortable with that conclusion.

    It seems that based on your response that you don’t have any objective standard for what techniques and to what degree they me be applied.

  • you’re proposing then that the catechism does not define interrogation to secure lifesaving intelligence at all. I’m comfortable with that conclusion.

    I don’t think that what the catechism says excludes use of torture techniques to secure lifesaving intelligence from the definition of torture, no. I think it effectively says “Torture [descriptive clause] is contrary to respoect for the human person and for human dignity.” I don’t think the descriptive clause is meant to be restrictive.

    It seems that based on your response that you don’t have any objective standard for what techniques and to what degree they me be applied.

    Yes. But the fact that there aren’t objective, precise standards doesn’t suggest to me that it’s particularly hard to make a decision in a given circumstance. I also don’t think it’s possible to define what pornography is in a totally objective fashion, but I bet that if I were asked to block publication of pornography I could do a pretty good job of executing that mandate.

  • Darwin, I think the lifesaving intelligence thing is a good point.

    The word “dehumanization” used above, seems to describe pretty well the sort of behavior that the Church as we know her would condemn.

    But I don’t think the Catechism adequately defines it for us to settle the question.

    It’s pretty clearly laid out that “use of physical or moral violence” is not allowed for extracting confessions, punishing the guilty, frightening opponents, or satisfying hatred.

    But we already know that “the use of physical or moral violence” is licit for self-defense or in the defense of an innocent, helpless third party. We know, at least, that it is NOT (yet) explicitly declared inherently illicit to execute dangerous criminals, at least when there are few other options, and killing someone by whatever method is arguably a kind of physical violence.

    So with the existence of these three other demonstrably or at least arguably licit reasons for “the use of physical or moral violence” (defense of self, defense of others, execution of dangerous criminals), I don’t think we can say that the securing of lifesaving intelligence is not a reason.

    The Catechism’s wording in that section, and consistency with other sections, appears to logically exclude self-defense, defense of others, and execution from falling under its definition of torture — not because of WHAT type of physical or moral violence is used in defense or in execution, but because of the intent behind the violence. Doesn’t it seem that way to you?

    I find the Catechism’s treatment unsatisfying and incomplete. My two cents.

  • It is not necessarily an “untruth”, especially if it happens to spring from an misunderstanding or even ignorance.

    If a statement is untrue, then it is an untruth regardless of whether the person knows what he or she is talking about.

    Matt obviously does’t know what he’s talking about. That characteristic often leads to saying things that are not true. And that’s clearly the case here.

    your statement is demonstrably false. The Church has not in any definitive way declared “torture” to be intrinsically evil.

    You presume that the Catechism is the only source for such authoritative teaching. That’s a bad move. The U.S. bishops have taught that torture is intrinsically evil. The only way this teaching would not be authoritative is if it could be shown to somehow be in conflict with the “universal” teaching of the Church.

    I agree that merely parsing the Catechism in this case represents a “what-can-I-get-away-with” Catholicism and a grave departure from any serious attempt to think with the Church.

  • Michael J. I. says,

    “The U.S. bishops have taught that torture is intrinsically evil. The only way this teaching would not be authoritative is if it could be shown to somehow be in conflict with the “universal” teaching of the Church.”

    If the U. S. bishops have taught this, I am ready to assent to their teaching. But I think the issue is muddy enough that I would like to read the exact wording of the relevant parts of the relevant authoritative documents, in order to try to understand what sort of lines the bishops may have drawn. So… do you know off the top of your head where I should look?

  • bearing:

    Their latest version of the Faithful Citizenship document reads:

    22. There are some things we must never do, as individuals or as a society, because they are always incompatible with love of God and neighbor. Such actions are so deeply flawed that they are always opposed to the authentic good of persons. These are called “intrinsically evil” actions. They must always be rejected and opposed and must never be supported or condoned. A prime example is the intentional taking of innocent human life, as in abortion and euthanasia. In our nation, “abortion and euthanasia have become preeminent threats to human dignity because they directly attack life itself, the most fundamental human good and the condition for all others” (Living the Gospel of Life, no. 5). It is a mistake with grave moral consequences to treat the destruction of innocent human life merely as a matter of individual choice. A legal system that violates the basic right to life on the grounds of choice is fundamentally flawed.

    23. Similarly, direct threats to the sanctity and dignity of human life, such as human cloning and destructive research on human embryos, are also intrinsically evil. These must always be opposed. Other direct assaults on innocent human life and violations of human dignity, such as genocide, torture, racism, and the targeting of noncombatants in acts of terror or war, can never be justified.

    http://www.usccb.org/faithfulcitizenship/FCStatement.pdf

    The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church also states that torture can never be justified, which is precisely the definition of the term “intrinsically evil”:

    404. The activity of offices charged with establishing criminal responsibility, which is always personal in character, must strive to be a meticulous search for truth and must be conducted in full respect for the dignity and rights of the human person; this means guaranteeing the rights of the guilty as well as those of the innocent. The juridical principle by which punishment cannot be inflicted if a crime has not first been proven must be borne in mind.

    In carrying out investigations, the regulation against the use of torture, even in the case of serious crimes, must be strictly observed: “Christ’s disciple refuses every recourse to such methods, which nothing could justify and in which the dignity of man is as much debased in his torturer as in the torturer’s victim”. International juridical instruments concerning human rights correctly indicate a prohibition against torture as a principle which cannot be contravened under any circumstances.

    Likewise ruled out is “the use of detention for the sole purpose of trying to obtain significant information for the trial”. Moreover, it must be ensured that “trials are conducted swiftly: their excessive length is becoming intolerable for citizens and results in a real injustice”.

    http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/justpeace/documents/rc_pc_justpeace_doc_20060526_compendio-dott-soc_en.html

    Matt may well have been mistaken, not knowing that the Church HAS taught definitely that torture is intrinsically evil. It is clear from these texts that what he said is untrue. He has no excuse now for parroting that untruth.

  • Matt McDonald, the Church has said something about torture. From Gaudium et spes: “. . . whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; . . . all these things and others of their like are infamies indeed.”

    Not particularly light language. Also, read this article on the subject of the definition of torture and the Church. http://www.centerforajustsociety.org/press/forum.asp?cjsForumID=1069

  • Uhhh…Sternhauser?
    To enforce law is to coerce the will.
    To educate a child is to coerce its will.
    To use authority or influence to persuade is to coerce the will.

    A little context, please?

  • To enforce law is to coerce the will.

    True.

    To educate a child is to coerce its will.

    Not true.

    To use authority or influence to persuade is to coerce the will.

    Also not true.

  • Michael, thank you for posting that. Unfortunately, I cannot see any way that these passages resolve the question, because they appear to be circular.

    So far we have: “torture is inherently wrong.” Fine.

    But “torture” appears to be effectively defined in these documents as “methods of dealing with prisoners which are inherently wrong.” We are back to trying to figure out what is inherently wrong. Apparently, whatever turns out to be inherently wrong will be classified as “torture” and not allowed. But first we must know what that is.

    The bit from Gaudium and Spes, posted by Sternhauser, contains some guidance. “Whatever violates the integrity of the human person” is, apparently, inherently wrong (and strikes me as correct and consistent with the rest of Church teaching). However, when we look at the rest of Church teaching, we find that many actions which reasonably may be seen to “violate the integrity of the human person” are NOT called inherently wrong, e.g., execution of a criminal. Furthermore, as CMinor points out, Gaudium et Spes provides at least one example in the list of “infamies” alike to torture which appears to be inartfully worded or translated to say the least — “to coerce the will itself” — nobody here is suggesting that law enforcement is inherently “infamous.”

    It seems pretty obvious to me that the Church’s doctrine here is still in development.

    I think the best guide we have on how to deal with interrogations that hope to produce lifesaving intelligence is indirect, and that it is contained in “just war” theory. At least that has stood the test of time, although the rise of extranational terrorism seems to have provided the change in environment that will require “just war” doctrine itself to continue to develop under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

  • While I do agree that effectiveness is irrelevant when you are dealing with an intrinsic evil such as torture, like some have pointed out, the effectiveness argument isn’t so much that torture never works, but that it is an unreliable method. You don’t really know whether the information you obtain is any good without other corroborating evidence, and then you might as well just use the other evidence anyway. The torture process itself compromises the information you get.

  • Bearing,

    But I don’t think the Catechism adequately defines it for us to settle the question.

    It’s pretty clearly laid out that “use of physical or moral violence” is not allowed for extracting confessions, punishing the guilty, frightening opponents, or satisfying hatred.

    The Catechism’s wording in that section, and consistency with other sections, appears to logically exclude self-defense, defense of others, and execution from falling under its definition of torture — not because of WHAT type of physical or moral violence is used in defense or in execution, but because of the intent behind the violence. Doesn’t it seem that way to you?

    I find the Catechism’s treatment unsatisfying and incomplete. My two cents.

    I’d agree that the definition in the catechism is pretty cursory, but at the same time I’m not sure that it really has to be much more in depth. I think most instances are going to be dealt with pretty easily on the basis of “everyone knows what torture is” and instances which are more marginal, an exact enough definition simply couldn’t be written anyway.

    I’d take what’s there to mean, “Torture (which might be very roughly defined as the use of physical or moral violence to extract confessions, satisfy revenge, inspire fear, or punish the guilty) is contrary to respect for the human person and human dignity.” And in general, that’s probably enough.

    On the lifesaving intelligence issue, I guess my take is roughly that if you’re sitting around with a bureaucracy drawing up guidelines of approved techniques, the problem is probably not that urgent. And that if the problem is truly urgent. So I’m pretty comfortable with saying ‘Don’t torture ever’ and figuring that if something is truly immanent, people will be willing to put themselves on the line and risk breaking the rules. And unless they get way, way off the reservation in that situation, I’d be inclined to overlook that kind of thing from a justice point of view.

    But I think planning for the eventuality is probably more temptation than most people or institutions can withstand.

  • [I’m going to be offline the rest of the day, so I’m hereby authorizing any other American Catholic editors to take responsibility for this thread if things get out of hand while I’m out.]

  • it really doesn’t matter, the key is that it condemns the use of torture under specific circumstances:

    extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred

    it says nothing about extracting intelligence to prevent killing of innocent victims.

    I think you are confusing the immediate object of the action with the ultimate goal – the immediate object of the action (torture) is to frighten the opponent (which is listed in the CCC). By using torture to frighten the opponent, you ultimately hope to extract information (the ultimate goal).

  • I think the repeated statements of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict make it pretty clear that the Church is opposed to torture in pretty much all circumstances. JP II endorsed a world day against torture that was directly and specifically aimed at US interrogation practices in Abu Gharib and other detention facilities. He expressed his support for those who would see the evil of torture banished from the earth. Specifically:

    “Yesterday, the World Day against torture was celebrated. May the common commitment of the institutions and citizens totally ban this intolerable violation of human rights which is radically opposed to human dignity.”

    http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/angelus/2004/documents/hf_jp-ii_ang_20040627_en.html

    Totally ban! That would seem to leave little room, even to save innocent lives.

    But even if the pope had never said this…

    I think it is a big, big mistake to take the textual, literal “silence of the law” as a license to do as we please. Rather, we must err on the side of good, right, and life. The Church has condemned torture in every context that has been mentioned, and condoned it in not a single one.

    So while Matt is technically right – in that it hasn’t appeared in the Catechism – it doesn’t mean we can’t form a judgment about the morality of torture on the basis of what the last two Popes have said.

  • So while Matt is technically right – in that it hasn’t appeared in the Catechism – it doesn’t mean we can’t form a judgment about the morality of torture on the basis of what the last two Popes have said.

    No, in NO WAY is Matt “technically right.” Just because something isn’t in the Catechism does not mean that the Church has not taught something definitively. This is Protestant-inspired fundamentalist Catholicism at its finest!

  • Bearing nailed my understanding of the Church’s teaching very well, so I won’t deal with the questions from Iafrate et al regarding this.

    c matt,

    While I do agree that effectiveness is irrelevant when you are dealing with an intrinsic evil such as torture, like some have pointed out, the effectiveness argument isn’t so much that torture never works, but that it is an unreliable method. You don’t really know whether the information you obtain is any good without other corroborating evidence, and then you might as well just use the other evidence anyway. The torture process itself compromises the information you get.

    I think you’re trying to apply this discussion to conventional criminal situations, under which you would be mostly correct. We’re not talking about that, we’re talking about using coercive techniques to gather lifesaving intelligence. The information doesn’t require independant corroboration, they simply lead to a path of investigation which is abandoned if found fruitless, or it leads to hard evidence that can be actioned to secure other terrorists or prevent a particular attack. The principle objective is not to secure a conviction which has evidentiary rules, but to prevent current or future attacks from occurring.

    DC,

    I think most instances are going to be dealt with pretty easily on the basis of “everyone knows what torture is” and instances which are more marginal, an exact enough definition simply couldn’t be written anyway.

    I tend to agree. In my opinion, anything that causes real physical injury is torture, anything that doesn’t is marginal and needs the prudential judgement of the community to delineate. Psychological damage must be considered, but it cannot be held to the same standard because any form of confinement can cause psychological damage, we would need to apply standards as to the certainty and severity of the resulting incapacity.

    On the lifesaving intelligence issue, I guess my take is roughly that if you’re sitting around with a bureaucracy drawing up guidelines of approved techniques, the problem is probably not that urgent. And that if the problem is truly urgent. So I’m pretty comfortable with saying ‘Don’t torture ever’ and figuring that if something is truly immanent, people will be willing to put themselves on the line and risk breaking the rules. And unless they get way, way off the reservation in that situation, I’d be inclined to overlook that kind of thing from a justice point of view.

    But I think planning for the eventuality is probably more temptation than most people or institutions can withstand.

    I also tend to agree with this position. Though I think guidelines which fall quite short of what most people consider to be torture should be in place for the more routine circumstances of seeking out collaborators and planned attacks. In the case of a known imminent attack, I think those who participate in successfully extracting the information to save many lives should mostly be answering to the Lord for their actions.

    The caveat to this whole discussion is that we are dealing with KNOWN TERRORISTS, not suspected ones, and not common criminals.

    Joe,

    the Church is opposed to torture in pretty much all circumstances.

    The Church opposes war and capital punishment in pretty much all circumstances, except in the cases where it endorses them.

    JP II endorsed a world day against torture that was directly and specifically aimed at US interrogation practices in Abu Gharib and other detention facilities.

    This is a patent falsehood Joe, and you ought to know better. The individuals found responsible for the abuses at Abu Ghraib were punished, the actions where never approved by the administration. It’s also absurd to suggest that of all the torture which takes place in the world, that the sexual humiliation of a small number of men in Abu Ghraib is the gravest instance. Let’s talk about the violent mutilations which take place everywhere islamic-fascism exists? You keep saying you’re no longer liberal… but your post speaks for itself on the veracity of that claim.

  • Michael I,

    by the way, the bureaucratic leviathan of the USCCB carries absolutely NO DOCTRINAL AUTHORITY on this issue, so spare us that.

  • Matt,

    In a world where “liberal” means a person who takes positions different than your own, than I suppose I am one.

    Now, what exactly is false?

    That there was a World Day against torture?

    That it was specifically aimed at US detention facilities?

    That John Paul II endorsed its message?

    None of these are falsehoods. The world day against torture DID take place; it WAS specifically aimed at US detention facilities; JP II DID say what he said in the quote above. So I ask again:

    Where is the falsehood?

    Moreover, you’re behind the times; the Senate Armed Services Committee released a report earlier this year that traced those abuses – as well as those at Gitmo and other facilities – all the way up to the DOD and Rumsfeld.

    I am a Catholic first, foremost, and always – even if it means I have to suffer the likes of you calling me a “liberal” (do you even know what that word means?)

  • by the way, the bureaucratic leviathan of the USCCB carries absolutely NO DOCTRINAL AUTHORITY on this issue, so spare us that.

    Matt – Repeating this falsehood will not make it true.

  • Joe Hargrave,

    In a world where “liberal” means a person who takes positions different than your own, than I suppose I am one.

    “there you go again”
    — Ronald Reagan


    Now, what exactly is false?

    That there was a World Day against torture?

    No, it’s true there is.

    That it was specifically aimed at US detention facilities?

    it actually started in 1988, so unless Clinton had already secretly imprisoned terrorists in Abu Ghraib or Gitmo, then no it was not specifically aimed at US detention facilities. I can’t find a reference saying that the theme of that particular year was US detention facilities, can you provide a citation?

    That John Paul II endorsed its message?

    JP II said:
    Yesterday, the World Day against torture was celebrated. May the common commitment of the institutions and citizens totally ban this intolerable violation of human rights which is radically opposed to human dignity.

    A very general endorsement. George Bush endorsed it too…http://www.america.gov/st/washfile-english/2004/June/20040628140800LShsaN0.3632013.html

    Moreover, you’re behind the times; the Senate Armed Services Committee released a report earlier this year that traced those abuses – as well as those at Gitmo and other facilities – all the way up to the DOD and Rumsfeld.

    The DEMOCRAT controlled Senate Armed Services Committee? A truly non-partisan organisation.

    I am a Catholic first, foremost, and always – even if it means I have to suffer the likes of you calling me a “liberal” (do you even know what that word means?)

    If you think I’m calling you a liberal in the historic sense you are in error. I’m using the COMMON conventional understanding…. akin to “progressive”. Does that make it easier to wrap you’re mind around? It is decidedly not a Catholic world-view.

  • Well, thank you for clarifying your misconception of my beliefs. Instead of falsely accusing me of classical liberalism, you falsely accuse me of modern progressivism. What you’re trying to do easy enough to understand. Why you are trying to do it is beyond me. I probably agree with you on 90% of non-economic issues, and with “progressives” on almost nothing, but yet you constantly go out of your way to make me an enemy.

    As for the 2004 International Day Against Torture:

    “FIACAT has expressed its indignation following the revelation of acts of torture and inhuman and degrading treatment inflicted on detainees under the supervision of US and UK Coalition forces in Iraq (as well as in Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay and secret detention centres where prisoners are deliberately being held away from all legal safeguards). It has condemned these acts and demanded that they be fully investigated and that justice be done.”

    http://www.fiacat.org/en/spip.php?article131

    That is what JP II endorsed.

    This is also what you called a falsehood without actually knowing it to be so. Apology anytime soon? I won’t hold my breath.

    As for the “generalness” of the endorsement, so what? It was general precisely because the pope did not see the need to point out the specifics – torture is wrong, period the end. If he wanted to make exceptions, he would have done so.

    And fine, don’t accept the several hundred page SASC report, which is based on countless documents, interviews, etc. Its really besides the point; the point is that the International Day Against Torture condemned what went on at US prisons (including the sexual humiliation, which is wrong no matter what other crimes you want to put next to it), and that the pope expressed his support. This, in the context of clearly condemning torture on several other occasions.

    So to recap:

    There was no falsehood. There was just your ignorance.

    You brought up a bunch of irrelevant points, evading in the manner typical of the leftists you despise.

    You’ve shifted your inaccurate label of me from “liberal” to “progressive”.

  • Joe Hargrave
    Well, thank you for clarifying your misconception of my beliefs. Instead of falsely accusing me of classical liberalism, you falsely accuse me of modern progressivism. What you’re trying to do easy enough to understand.

    Why Joe do you refuse to acknowledge that in MODERN usage the word “liberal” does not mean “classical liberalism”??? I’m not saying I endorse the shift in language, but any rational person recognizes it.

    Why you are trying to do it is beyond me. I probably agree with you on 90% of non-economic issues, and with “progressives” on almost nothing, but yet you constantly go out of your way to make me an enemy.

    Joe, the poor put upon misunderstood guy… woe is he.

    As for the 2004 International Day Against Torture:

    “FIACAT has expressed its indignation following the revelation of acts of torture and inhuman and degrading treatment inflicted on detainees under the supervision of US and UK Coalition forces in Iraq (as well as in Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay and secret detention centres where prisoners are deliberately being held away from all legal safeguards). It has condemned these acts and demanded that they be fully investigated and that justice be done.”

    http://www.fiacat.org/en/spip.php?article131

    That is what JP II endorsed.

    If only that were true. JP II does not link to FIACAT, he speaks generally about the International Day Against Torture. Any reasonable observor would assume he is referring to the United Nations message, not one from the specific entity which you cite.

    This is also what you called a falsehood without actually knowing it to be so. Apology anytime soon? I won’t hold my breath.

    now will YOU apologize for your error?

    As for the “generalness” of the endorsement, so what? It was general precisely because the pope did not see the need to point out the specifics – torture is wrong, period the end. If he wanted to make exceptions, he would have done so.

    I accept that he was saying torture is wrong, that’s not the falsehood I caught you on, it’s that this day was specifically addressing a subset of torture, which is rather mild and may or may not be torture at all. Particularly that the Holy Father in his general endorsement of it was specifically targetting this subset. The Holy Father speaks favorably of the UN, would you claim he is endorsing ALL of their agenda’s???

  • ps. Joe, the conversation really has moved beyond this point so I’ll leave you to your last word and end it there.

  • For the benefit of the Moderns that inhabit this blog, the liberalism of the 20th Century (or, in this case, the 21st) is not actually the liberalism (i.e., “Classical Liberalism”) of Adam Smith of Thomas Jefferson.

    In the case of the former, in means BIG GOVERNMENT; in the case of the latter, it most assuredly did not!

    Just thought Joe & Matt might appreciate a little nugget of historical fact.

  • e.,
    I strongly suspect that both Joe and Matt knew this rather commonly understood fact already.

  • Mike,

    Did you read the preceding dialogue between the two?

    The previous question raised would invite doubt:

    “Why Joe do you refuse to acknowledge that in MODERN usage the word “liberal” does not mean “classical liberalism”???”

  • Joe is well aware of the modern usage of “liberal” his refusal to acknowledge it is what I’m responding to.

  • Matt,

    I hope you’re aware of the fact that Joe’s brand of liberalism happens to be that of the social welfare state.

  • Michael,
    Ever try to get an unruly youth to behave or a subordinate at work to do a job he’s trying to avoid?
    Those are occasions of coercion even if they do not always result in coercion.

    It’s statements like the one I quibbled about that result in all this back and forth about what’s acceptable and what’s not–because they are so broad and vague that anything is open to interpretation.

  • E,

    I’m going to say this one time, and one time only.

    I am not a liberal. I do not have a brand of liberalism. I am not a supporter (or a rabid hater) of the ‘social welfare state’.

    I am a distributist. I believe that the solution to social problems in the long run is for more people to own more property and to use it in the context of service and charity in their communities.

    Insofar as I am also a pragmatist, I may not oppose, and may occasionally support, a ‘welfare state’ policy, but it is NOT my ideology.

    If you mislabel me again, your comment will be deleted and I will ban you from this site. I absolutely WILL NOT tolerate you or anyone else telling me what I am.

  • CMinor wrote:

    “Uhhh…Sternhauser?
    To enforce law is to coerce the will.”

    No. To enforce law is to physically prevent someone from harming others. This is not done through coercing the will.

    “To educate a child is to coerce its will.”

    No. To educate a child is to inform the intellect of the child. Punishment, in itself, is not in itself a coercion of the will, either. If you spank or slap a child until he eats his vegetables, that is coercion of the will. It is torture.

    “To use authority or influence to persuade is to coerce the will.”

    You ought to look up the definition of “coerce” before you continue.

    “A little context, please?”

    Did you read the linked article? Did you read Gaudium et Spes?

  • A reader over at Vox Nova reminded me that Veritatis Splendor also cites torture as intrinsically evil:

    80. Reason attests that there are objects of the human act which are by their nature “incapable of being ordered” to God, because they radically contradict the good of the person made in his image. These are the acts which, in the Church’s moral tradition, have been termed “intrinsically evil” (intrinsece malum): they are such always and per se, in other words, on account of their very object, and quite apart from the ulterior intentions of the one acting and the circumstances. Consequently, without in the least denying the influence on morality exercised by circumstances and especially by intentions, the Church teaches that “there exist acts which per se and in themselves, independently of circumstances, are always seriously wrong by reason of their object”. The Second Vatican Council itself, in discussing the respect due to the human person, gives a number of examples of such acts: “Whatever is hostile to life itself, such as any kind of homicide, genocide, abortion, euthanasia and voluntary suicide; whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, physical and mental torture and attempts to coerce the spirit; whatever is offensive to human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution and trafficking in women and children; degrading conditions of work which treat labourers as mere instruments of profit, and not as free responsible persons: all these and the like are a disgrace, and so long as they infect human civilization they contaminate those who inflict them more than those who suffer injustice, and they are a negation of the honour due to the Creator”.

    Matt is plain wrong in his claims about church teaching on torture. And he persists in his error.

  • Pardon me: it wasn’t just some reader but my fellow contributor Matt Talbot who pointed that out.

  • Folks, we’ve gotten really far afield from the topic of this post (which was mainly to point to Jay’s excellent post on the topic), and in my experience torture discussions never stop unless they’re stopped.

    So since I don’t have the availability to police this thread this weekend anyway, I’m going to close it. Thank you all for your input and discussion.

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