Apropos of Last Weeks Torture Post …

Appropos of last week’s torture post, some additional discussions on the web:

  • EWTN and torture Mollie Wilson O’Reilly picks up the story (Commonweal February 19, 2010).
  • Torture, Conscience, and the Tortured Conscience Mike Potemra (NRO‘s “The Corner” February 18, 2010) – with responses by Andrew McCarthy and Mark Thiessen himself (“The Bush administration met its responsibility to protect society. And it did so without resorting to torture, by using methods that were lawful, moral, and just”).
  • Taking note of a recent article by Thiessen on the notorious “underwear bomber”, Vox Nova‘s M.Z. Forrest points out how the second wave of “torture apologists” have practically abandoned the “ticking time bomb” scenario.
  • Michael Sean Winters (America magazine) has a modest proposal.
  • Austin Ruse clarifies his position in “Torture” and the Pro-Life Cause (The Catholic Thing February 19, 2010):

    For some in the pro-life world there is a fear that this debate will be successful in the effort to draw people away from the imperfect but still pro-life Republican Party. They also wonder how the fact that three terrorists were waterboarded more than six years ago in the aftermath of the horror of 9/11 can eclipse the regular, ongoing killing of unborn children in the tens of millions. In the six years of the waterboarding debate, there have been something like 7.2-million abortions and exactly zero cases of waterboarding. To their credit, most, if not all, of the conservative critics of waterboarding do not say waterboarding is more important than abortion, and if forced to make a choice of issues to work on would easily and quickly choose the fight for the unborn child.

    On the one hand are the good-hearted who are advancing serious moral arguments. On the other side are those who use torture as a political agenda item. In the end, no matter what the motives, the prolife community must protect the momentum we have generated since 1973.

  • ZippyCatholic on “Why I believe waterboarding prisoners is torture, and you should too”.
  • Showdown at High Noon – ZippyCatholic and Austin Ruse meet in person, in a civil and friendly exchange of views:

    When you are deeply committed to protecting the unborn, the holocaust of whom is possibly a worse stain on humanity than even the large-scale atrocities of the last century, and one of your personal passions is organizing people into formal institutions to engage in political action; and when you further see nothing but unprincipled political hatchet jobs coming from people who literally hate anything resembling an existing actual formally organized anti-abortion group; and when a principal weapon employed in these hatchet jobs is this particular issue — when all of that is true, you can’t help but have a particular impression of this whole debate.

    Until, that is, you encounter orthodox Catholics who are also deeply passionate about protecting the unborn on that same side, the side forming the edge of the hatchet, under the “stopped clock” theory, of this particular issue.

    In fact, being the sort who does the organization think-tank policy dance every day, [Austin] was enthusiastic about orthodox activist-anti-torture Catholics getting involved at that level and in that manner.

  • In an addendum on Against The Grain, I offer my own wrap-up of sorts.

Lastly, one particular party, who had read over the recent exchanges on this blog, contacted me with the suggestion that, given my unfortunate reliance on “unreliable axe-grinding sources,” it would do well to elicit the assistance of some conservative organizations “with credibility” to review the various charges (of prisoner abuse, deaths of detainees in U.S. custody, etc.) and publish a report.

This struck me as a grand idea. Particularly, were a credible conservative (and preferably Catholic?) organization to actually take up this proposal, I’d welcome an analysis of any or all of the following:

  1. waterboarding and the various other “enhanced interrogation” techniques employed by the Bush Administration which people like Mark Thiessen are now publicly lamenting have been repealed, and are actively campaigning or their restoration:
  2. the merits of the legal process that took place to institute such tactics as part of our interrogation process
  3. reports by living detainees of abuses which occurred in U.S. custody (chiefly those which occurred during the interrogation process — for instance as depicted in ICRC Report on the Treatment of Fourteen “High Value Detainees” in CIA Custody
  4. charges of actual deaths which occurred of detainees in U.S. custody (I concur that only a percentage of these are deemed reasonably suspicious)
  5. evaluations — from a Catholic perspective — of the ‘just war’ defenses of such offered by Mark Thiessen and others supporting the above addressing the question: whether it is morally permissible (and legally permissable) to employ interrogation techniques on unlawful enemy combatants that otherwise would not be permissible to employ on lawful enemy combatants, or honorable captured soldiers held in POW status(After all, I expect that we would rightly register a protest if any of our own in the armed forces, or any U.S. citizen, were treated in this manner in captivity by another foreign government).

Such would be much appreciated — although I’m not exactly holding my breath in anticipation.

29 Responses to Apropos of Last Weeks Torture Post …

  • Austin did not clarify his position. He keeps repeating the same mistakes.

    or some in the pro-life world there is a fear that this debate will be successful in the effort to draw people away from the imperfect but still pro-life Republican Party. They also wonder how the fact that three terrorists were waterboarded more than six years ago in the aftermath of the horror of 9/11 can eclipse the regular, ongoing killing of unborn children in the tens of millions. In the six years of the waterboarding debate, there have been something like 7.2-million abortions and exactly zero cases of waterboarding. To their credit, most, if not all, of the conservative critics of waterboarding do not say waterboarding is more important than abortion, and if forced to make a choice of issues to work on would easily and quickly choose the fight for the unborn child.

    Mistake 1 — play it by the numbers. Mistake 2 — making it appear it is not the Catholic and but an “either/or.” Yes, someone can focus on one or the other. If one focuses on either for their work, it is not bad as long as in that focus one does not repudiate the work of the other. (How many people will say, yes, mechanics are good, but sorry, abortion is more important, so no one should be mechanics as long as abortions happen?)

    On the one hand are the good-hearted who are advancing serious moral arguments. On the other side are those who use torture as a political agenda item. In the end, no matter what the motives, the prolife community must protect the momentum we have generated since 1973.

    Mistake 3: that this is merely a political debate, not a moral debate. Mistake 4: questioning the motive of those who are concerned with torture.

    Finally, I would like to ask, what “momentum”? He doesn’t have a sufficient understanding of the cause of life, if he did, he would say the momentum has to include all moral concerns about the dignity of life.

  • Donald R. McClarey says:

    “the merits of the legal process that took place to institute such tactics as part of our interrogation process”

    The Obama Department of Justice has decided to give up its attempt to discipline John Yoo and Jay Bybee. As the post on Hot Air linked below notes, considering that Pakistani intelligence is now conducting the interrogations of the Taliban chiefs arrested in Pakistan over the last week in joint US-Pakistani operations, I can imagine that the Obama DOJ no doubt contemplated the questions that the attorneys of Yoo and Bybee would have asked of current DOJ officials during such disciplinary proceedings, including the ties of current DOJ lawyers to terrorist detainees from prior representation of said detainees and the conflicts of interest that such prior representation raises. As Allahpundit indicates, no doubt the entire matter itself will be investigated after Obama is no longer in office.

    http://hotair.com/archives/2010/02/19/friday-night-news-dump-no-doj-discipline-for-authors-of-bush-torture-memos/

  • Donald R. McClarey says:

    In regard to the International Committee of the Red Cross I believe this editorial from National Review in 2004 indicates why perhaps the ICRC might be considered an “axe-grinding source”:

    http://www.nationalreview.com/editorial/editors200412020949.asp

    In regard to the substance of the report consisting of allegations by the detainees, I would suggest that advocates for the detainees approach the Obama Department of Justice and formally request that an investigation of the allegations be conducted and criminal charges brought if warranted. The only place such allegations can really be adequately determined to be true or false is in a court of law, where everyone is subject to cross-examination and the rules of evidence.

    In the course of my criminal defense work I have encountered defendants who complain of abuse by the police. I encourage them to file civil suits against the individuals and agencies involved. I then tell them that I do not file such suits myself, because I have found that proving such allegations in court is far more difficult than making such allegations.

  • Donald R. McClarey says:

    “evaluations — from a Catholic perspective — of the ‘just war’ defenses of such offered by Mark Thiessen and others supporting the above addressing the question: whether it is morally permissible (and legally permissable) to employ interrogation techniques on unlawful enemy combatants that otherwise would not be permissible to employ on lawful enemy combatants, or honorable captured soldiers held in POW status”

    Traditionally under the rules of war, terrorists, or any non-uniformed combatants not part of a military unit or spies, were subject to execution after trial by a military or civil court. I find nothing immoral in this traditional usage. Uniformed prisoners were subject to rules which accorded them not only freedom from execution but the status of prisoners of war and, at least in theory, freedom from all but verbal interrogation. The protections accorded by the Geneva conventions preserved this distinction between uniformed and non-uniformed combatants.

    The US Supreme Court noted this distinction in the 1942 case ex parte Qurin:

    “By universal agreement and practice, the law of war draws a distinction between the armed forces and the peaceful populations of belligerent nations and also between those who are lawful and unlawful combatants. Lawful combatants are subject to capture and detention as prisoners of war by opposing military forces. Unlawful combatants are likewise subject to capture and detention, but in addition they are subject to trial and punishment by military tribunals for acts which render their belligerency unlawful. The spy who secretly and without uniform passes the military lines of a belligerent in time of war, seeking to gather military information and communicate it to the enemy, or an enemy combatant who without uniform comes secretly through the lines for the purpose of waging war by destruction of life or property, are familiar examples of belligerents who are generally deemed not to be entitled to the status of prisoners of war, but to be offenders against the law of war subject to trial and punishment by military tribunals.”

    http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?court=us&vol=317&invol=1

    Non-uniformed combatants enjoyed no such protection and were subject to interrogations that went beyond verbal requests for information. I find nothing inherently immoral in this depending upon the means used to elicit information. I draw the line at physical means used to extract information.

  • Traditionally under the rules of war, terrorists, or any non-uniformed combatants not part of a military unit or spies, were subject to execution after trial by a military or civil court. I find nothing immoral in this traditional usage.

    Try thinking about this through Catholicism rather than through “traditional rules of war.”

  • R.C. says:

    Has anyone yet successfully rebutted Brian W. Harrison’s argument in his “TORTURE AND CORPORAL PUNISHMENT AS A PROBLEM IN CATHOLIC THEOLOGY?”

    If not, it seems to me that his conclusion at the end of Part II is entirely defensible: That the Catholic Church has not in fact yet offered Magisterial guidance stating that violence against a prisoner for the purposes used in the CIA interrogation program is intrinsically evil:

    “If, as I have argued, the infliction of severe pain is not intrinsically evil, its use in that
    type of scenario would not seem to be excluded by the arguments and authorities we have considered
    so far. (John Paul II’s statement about the “intrinsic evil” of a list of ugly things including torture in VS #80 does not seem to me decisive, even at the level of authentic, non-infallible, magisterium, for the reasons I have already given in commenting above on that text.) My understanding would be that, given the present status questionis, the moral legitimacy of torture under the aforesaid desperate
    circumstances, while certainly not affirmed by the magisterium, remains open at present to legitimate discussion by Catholic theologians.”

    It seems to me, then, that all the talk of denying communion to persons taking this view is premature. If and when the specific practice being promoted is as clearly condemned as, say, obtaining an abortion is, that would be the time for such censure.

    But there is so much back-and-forth on Catholic blogs about this, that I may have missed a good rebuttal of Harrison’s analysis.

    Was there one? If so, can anyone point me to it?

  • Tom K. says:

    A good rebuttal of Fr. Harrison can be found in the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

    “477. What practices are contrary to respect for the bodily integrity of the human person?
    “They are: kidnapping and hostage taking, terrorism, torture, violence, and direct sterilization. Amputations and mutilations of a person are morally permissible only for strictly therapeutic medical reasons.”

    “Torture.” Not “torture for these intentions but not those intentions.” Just “torture.”

    Fr. Harrison’s argument implies that putting a prisoner on the rack for the purposes used in the CIA interrogation program is not torture. But this is absurd. Therefore, Fr. Harrison’s argument is unsound.

  • Blackadder says:

    Has anyone yet successfully rebutted Brian W. Harrison’s argument in his “TORTURE AND CORPORAL PUNISHMENT AS A PROBLEM IN CATHOLIC THEOLOGY?”

    If you read Father Harrison’s article, after painstakingly establishing that torture is condemned for the purpose of extracting confessions, he adds that the Church hasn’t said anything about torture used for the purpose of intelligence gathering. There’s not any argument or evidence brought to bear on his point, nor is there any attempt to justify the distinction between torture to produce confessions and torture to produce intelligence. He just throws it out there, almost as an afterthought.

    Since Father Harrison’s article doesn’t contain any arguments or evidence in favor of this conclusion, there’s really nothing to rebut.

  • R.C. says:

    In replying to Tom K and Blackadder, I suppose I should say up front that I do not favor the use of waterboarding against captured terrorists. I am pursuing the topic only to be able to determine the truth or falsehood of particular arguments for and against. So do not put me in the position of slavering for the pantybomber to be put in the rack!

    Tom K:

    Fr. Harrison specifically addresses that point; violence against an unlawful combatant prisoner whose silence is actively abetting an ongoing attack plan — who in some sense, while confined, is not actually helpless — is not contemplated in the usage of the word “torture” in the Catechism.

    And, there is a risk in trying argue that the Catechism is there referring to all possible uses of “torture” is by broadly construing the word to apply to all uses of violence against a confined person: That may put prior Popes in the position of having approved torture (and thus, the Holy Spirit speaking through Church’s Magisterium in the position of having changed His mind about a matter of faith or morals). More importantly, it puts God in the Old Testament in the position of having ordered evil as a normative matter of punishment.

    So, while it would be easy and convenient to be able to use the Catechism in this way and merely say, “Case closed, how about lunch?” I fear I cannot. An argument which undermines the basic premises of Catholicism and/or all forms of Judeo-Christian monotheism is not one I’m willing to adopt!

    Blackadder:

    You are correct that Fr. Harrison actually presents no direct argument that these things are approved or explicitly permitted. So you’re correct in saying there’s no argument of that type to rebut.

    But I thought his point was not to offer his own argument for such things, but rather to ask whether the Church had ever clearly pronounced against such things. As such, his paper is more a survey and analysis of prior Church teaching from the Fathers onward, than a presentation of any argument saying something new.

    If he is correct in saying that the Church has not clearly pronounced on this then this bears directly on the question of whether folk like Thiessen should be denied communion.

    You can deny communion to those who have no excuse (as in the case of legalized abortion) because of the Church’s repeated re-articulation that the act is intrinsically evil; that no legal right to do it can plausibly exist; and that failure to outlaw constitutes a failure to fulfill the first moral duty of government (to defend the human rights of people).

    But you can’t deny it to those who can show that the Church has not taught that the act is intrinsically evil, and who merely disagree with you about whether a given set of circumstances were sufficient to justify a hard-to-justify act.

    So it seems to me that Fr. Harrison’s analysis is on-point with respect to how we address the Thiessens of the world. To rebut Fr. Harrison one must either:

    (a.) Find a Church teaching he missed in his survey which is on-point; or,

    (b.) Show that a Church teaching he addressed should be construed to include the waterboarding of KSM, without (in the process of showing this) accidentally making God in the Old Testament command an intrinsic evil, or anything else which would similarly undermine the whole faith.

    That was what I meant when I asked, “Has anyone yet successfully rebutted…?”

  • Blackadder says:

    R.C.,

    Father Harrison’s claim here is similar to the claim folks used to make that while the Church condemned contraception it had never condemned the pill, so it was an open question whether Catholics could use the pill. The purpose of torture as intelligence gathering is straightforwardly to produce confessions. If Father Harrison (or anyone else) wants to argue that torture for intelligence doesn’t fall under the ban on torture for confessions, then he has to argue the point, which Father Harrison does not.

  • Tom K. says:

    Fr. Harrison specifically addresses that point; violence against an unlawful combatant prisoner whose silence is actively abetting an ongoing attack plan — who in some sense, while confined, is not actually helpless — is not contemplated in the usage of the word “torture” in the Catechism.

    Exactly.

    From this, it follows that flaying the skin off a captured soldier in order to find out what his unit’s orders are is not contemplated in the usage of the word “torture” in the Catechism.

    But this is absurd. Therefore, Fr. Harrison’s argument is unsound.

    That may put prior Popes in the position of having approved torture (and thus, the Holy Spirit speaking through Church’s Magisterium in the position of having changed His mind about a matter of faith or morals).

    No one denies that prior Popes have approved torture, specifically torture to obtain confessions, which is explicitly condemned in the Catechism.

    Pointing out the absurdity of making one convenient intention change the object of the act of torture does not avoid the Pope vs. Pope fight.

    Also, from your parenthetical, it sounds like we don’t exactly agree about how the Holy Spirit speaks through the Church’s Magisterium. I have no particular expertise to offer, but you might want to double-check on that with someone you trust.

    More importantly, it puts God in the Old Testament in the position of having ordered evil as a normative matter of punishment.

    The Catechism explicitly condemns torture as a normative matter of punishment, so God in the Old Testament is already in that position.

  • Tom K. says:

    …flaying the skin off a captured soldier…

    Sorry, you did say “unlawful combatant prisoner.” So, although the legal status of the combatant is manifestly irrelevant to whether what is done to him is, objectively, torture, I should have said “flaying the skin off a captured partisan fighter.”

  • Art Deco says:

    From this, it follows that flaying the skin off a captured soldier in order to find out what his unit’s orders are is not contemplated in the usage of the word “torture” in the Catechism.

    Does it follow from your remarks that we cannot in any way coerce irregular troops who violate customs of war?

  • Art Deco says:

    A dear friend of mine, who saw action in the Philippines during the Second World War, was quite perplexed by the controversies over the disposition of troops at Guantanamo. He said that in his experience, and according to his understanding of Conventions then in effect, irregular troops who violate the laws of war could be executed at the discretion of field commanders. We could, he said, stick them on rafts and point them in the general direction of Central Asia and it would be a better deal than they might have gotten until very recently.

    Thomas Sowell offers this:

    There was a time when everybody understood this. German soldiers who put on American military uniforms, in order to infiltrate American lines during the Battle of the Bulge were simply lined up against a wall and shot– and nobody wrung their hands over it. Nor did the U.S. Army try to conceal what they had done. The executions were filmed and the film has been shown on the History Channel.

    I am wondering how both latter-day conventions and Church documents treat this specific question. Does anyone know?

  • Donald R. McClarey says:

    Torture debates tend to be a bit abstract. Here is an actual case:

    “Between August 16 and 20, 2003, intelligence identified an Iraqi policeman who was allegedly involved in the assassination plot, and the man was arrested on Aug. 20.

    Lt. Col. Allen B. West was told the policeman was uncooperative, so he took a few of his men to the interrogation area to see for himself, where he found the prisoner being questioned by two female officers. They told him the man was belligerent, and wasn’t giving them any information. (Surprise, surprise. The idiocy of having women question male Arab prisoners is apparent to everyone except the army commanders.) West entered the room, sat across from the man, drew his pistol, and placed it in his lap. West told him he had come to either get information, or to kill him. The prisoner responded by smiling and saying, “I love you.” The interrogation continued, and one of West’s troops lost his temper and started slapping the man. West then had his men take the prisoner outside, where he again threatened the man, telling him that he would kill him on the count of five if he didn’t tell what he knew. The prisoner refused, and West fired his pistol into the air.

    The interrogation continued, but not the beating. After about 20 more minutes of useless questioning, West grabbed the man, held him down near a box full of sand used to discharge jammed weapons, and said something like, “This is it. I’m going to count to five again, and if you don’t give me what I want, I’m going to kill you.” West held the man down, counted to five, and then fired his pistol into the discharging box about a foot from the Iraqi’s head. He began talking. Over the next few minutes, the prisoner gave very specific information about the plot. He named the conspirators, gave times and dates of the assassination plan, and even described how attacks would be made.”

    West immediately informed his superior officers of what he had done.

    “West, who at the time was just short of having 20 years of service, was charged with violating articles 128 (assault) and 134 (general article) of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and was in danger of receiving an 11 year prison sentence, dismissal, and losing his retirement benefits. West was processed through an Article 32 hearing in November 2003, where he admitted wrongdoing, was fined $5,000 over two months for misconduct and assault. He then submitted his resignation, and was allowed to retire with full benefits in the summer of 2004.

    At a hearing, West was asked by his defense attorney if he would do it again. “If it’s about the lives of my men and their safety, I’d go through hell with a gasoline can,” he said.”

    Questions: Did West engage in an immoral act? Was his action intrinsically evil?

  • R.C. says:

    Blackadder:

    “Father Harrison’s claim here is similar to the claim folks used to make that while the Church condemned contraception it had never condemned the pill, so it was an open question whether Catholics could use the pill.”

    Possibly. If your view is correct, then that analogy is also the correct one to use.

    But that’s begging the question. One must first know what the truth about a matter is, before selecting the correct analogy to describe it to another.

    Here, for example, is another possible analogy:

    “Fr. Harrison’s claim here is similar to the claim folks used to make that while the Church condemned elective abortion, it had never condemned elective abortion to save the life of the mother in the case of an ectopic pregnancy (objectively the same procedure, with the same effect on the unborn); so, it was an open question whether a Catholic could make use of that procedure.”

    Which analogy shall we use?

    These are, you see, two specific scenarios on which the Catholic church had not, at some point in history, spoken (but where the general teachings against contraception and abortion had been known since the time of the Apostolic Fathers, as in Didache and the Letter of Barnabas). The question before us is, which of these two scenarios will, in the end, turn out to be most comparable to the scenario of waterboarding KSM & Co.?

    To know, we’ll have to first determine whether coercion by waterboarding (in order to obtain intel, in order to save lives) is ever justifiable, by some extreme set of circumstances. If it is, then the second analogy applies; if not, the first (yours) applies.

    So we are back to square one. After we answer the question of moral theology relating to violent coercion of a prisoner to obtain intel to save lives, then we will know which analogy fits best. But we are not permitted to choose the analogy first, and thus short-circuit the investigation of the truth.

    I understand that you think it’s the first analogy, which you offered, which matches. I think you might be right.

    But in the interests of being thorough, I’m willing to consider that it might be the second; that the correct analogy is to those procedures used save a woman’s life in the event of an ectopic pregnancy (removal of the fetus, tubal ligation, and so on).

    Let’s look at that example in greater detail for a moment: We’re talking about something (two things, really: abortion and, in many cases, sterilization) which the Church teaches is evil, and about which she even uses the term intrinsically evil, but which in a certain kind of case, she says is justifiable!

    How to explain this?

    An anti-Catholic would say that it’s a case of the Church contradicting herself: That what we have here is the ends justifying the means; that when it came down to it, the supposedly anti-consequentialist Catholic Church adopted consequentialism to avoid the obvious nonsense of forbidding the procedure and letting both mother and child die.

    But a faithful Catholic would not say that.

    It seems to me that this position can only make sense if we avoid the reductionist view which holds that the words intrinsically evil apply to the procedure solely as a set of physical actions, and not to the whole act, including its circumstances and intent. The Church teaches one cannot have a tubal ligation for the purposes of sterilization alone or surgically remove the fetus from the mother for the purposes of abortion alone but that one can do both to save the life of the mother which otherwise would be lost. Clearly then it is not the physical act which is intrinsically evil, and even the damage done to the unborn child is not sufficient consequence to make it evil. The intended result, the motive, are also part of the act.

    This is, according to the Church’s reasoning, not a case of doing evil that good might result from it…otherwise she would not permit it! But she does. Therefore we must conclude that this killing of a fetus, often also resulting in sterilization of the mother, is not intrinsically evil in the physical procedures alone. Only when the mother’s life is not in jeopardy, does the act become evil (and then, intrinsically evil) because under those circumstances the only reason to do it is to slay offspring and to maim fertility. It is abortion or tubal ligation for such reasons which is intrinsically evil. (And sadly that’s the vast majority of all abortions.) Slaying offspring and maiming fertility are contrary to natural law, which shows us that the sexual organs exist with the purpose of being fertile and producing offspring. And they are contrary to God’s commands to subdue nature with the intent of healing and perfecting it, and to be fruitful and multiply (which are obviously incompatible with offspring-slaying and the maiming of natural procreative faculties of a woman).

    But abortion and tubal ligation for the purposes of saving the mother’s life are undertaken to heal and to save life. This is not incompatible with natural law and God’s commands. Thus the act, taken as a whole, is not evil.

    Could the same be true of violently coercing a prisoner, when it is to save life?

    The answer is “No,” if the Church has already said “no,” but it is “Possibly,” if the Church has not already said “no.”

    If there is a hole left open in Catholic teaching for the use of waterboarding (or similar things) to compel information from a person in order to save lives, then we know that one of two things is true:

    (1.) The use of violence against a prisoner to compel information from him in order to save lives is, taken as a whole act, with its motives included, intrinsically evil, no matter what other details are involved; or,

    (2.) The use of violence against a prisoner to compel information from him in order to save lives is, itself, an incomplete description of the act. More information is needed to know whether the act is justified, or not, on a case-by-case basis. If in a particular case the act is not justified, then of course it becomes merely “an unjustified use of violence,” which is always intrinsically evil and all the other details are moot. If in a particular case the act is justified, then it is not evil at all, however much one may have wished that “it had not come to this.”

    In the case of possibility (1.) we must hope that the Church will eventually fill in that last gap in her moral teaching on the subject, lest anyone else wonder why the gap is there and assume that justification may someday arise.

    Possibility (2.) is more complex, in that it does not necessarily vindicate Bush & Co. for waterboarding KSM & Co.

    The Church might say, for example, that sufficient justification for waterboarding is possible, but that it requires circumstances more extreme than those involved in the waterboarding of KSM. Thus Bush & Co. would have been wrong to waterboard KSM; and indeed that act would have been intrinsically evil as all unjustified acts of violence are intrinsically evil. But it would leave open the possibility that under even worse circumstances (the unjustly-derided “ticking bomb” scenarios) the threshold of justification might be reached.

    But all that musing is moot if Possibility (1.) is in fact true.

    So that’s the question we must answer. The Church is our source. Fr. Harrison’s piece argues that she has as of yet been silent on the relevant combination of details. And, the details might be important for the same reason that the details of a tubal ligation are important…or they might not be. I frankly don’t think I’m wise enough to know.

    In the meantime I can think of myriad reasons why I don’t want waterboarding permitted by U.S. policy, reasons which are unrelated to the basic question of the Church’s teaching about it.

    But on the topic of Fr. Harrison’s article, I have yet to see anyone argue either that he overlooked an important relevant teaching, or that he mis-stated the meaning of the ones he listed. He says the Church has not yet spoken on the relevant type of act, and on the whole, I’m inclined to agree.

    So, while I myself oppose waterboarding as policy, my reasons are not the kind of reasons which would lead me to advocate excluding those who disagree from communion.

  • R.C. says:

    Tom K:

    Thanks for your reply. I do appreciate it.

    All the same, I have some quibbles:

    First Quibble
    You mention the “flaying the skin” thing. Well, I do not think anyone, even Thiessen, contemplated the position that, “If the Church hasn’t yet said no, then anything goes.” That’s a straw man.

    The real position is more like this: We all know that waterboarding (let alone flaying) a person to obtain from them information to save the life of your pet terrier is evil.

    But that could be so for two possible reasons:

    (1.) Because waterboarding a person to obtain true intel from a prisoner in order to save lives is never justifiable under any circumstances; or,

    (2.) Because waterboarding a person to obtain true intel from a prisoner in order to save lives is sometimes justifiable, but only under circumstances far greater than the ones given above. For example, it’s ridiculous to waterboard (or flay) someone in order to save your dog…but it might not be ridiculous to waterboard (I don’t even want to think about flaying) someone in order to save all human life.

    I know, I know: No terrorist is yet capable of a bomb that’ll kill all human life. It’s the ultimate silly ticking-bomb scenario.

    On the other hand, in 1910 no nation-state could yet build a single bomb capable of killing millions. In 1960 several nation-states had exactly that, and in 2010 we’re worried about terrorists getting said bombs from a nation-state within our lifetimes. Who knows what wonders the advance of technology has in store for us in 2060, in 2110, in 2160….

    Regardless of what technological terrors our future holds, the fact is that the silly, extreme, sci-fi “ticking bomb” scenarios are useful in one way. They allow us to distinguish between the things which are never justifiable because they are by definition evil, and the things which are usually evil but under extreme circumstances are permitted.

    Anyhow, Thiessen holds that the Church teaches against violence against prisoners, and everywhere lists examples of violence against prisoners done for all kinds of reasons that can’t plausibly justify it. (You know: Political oppression, obtaining false confessions, that sort of thing.) Thiessen also holds that there exist reasons that can justify it (saving lives in a war), and that those conditions were matched in the KSM waterboarding, thus making it justified and not evil.

    He also holds that waterboarding is justified because it was the minimum violence that would do the job. One does not respond to a Mexican army border incursion involving small-arms fire by nuking Mexico City: Even when a violent response can be justified, a disproportionate response never is. So Thiessen assumes that, whenever we are discussing waterboarding terrorists, we’re trying to keep it to a minimum.

    And that is why your “flaying the skin” example is off-base: It is extreme, in the opposite direction! It goes to the other end of the spectrum, amping up the violence against the prisoner (causing permanent harm and/or death), thereby producing an act which no-one, Thiessen included, ever contemplated. That is not where the contested points are. The scrimmage is taking place on the north end of the field; you’re down at the southern end where there’s no action.

    Anyhow, you can see that your argument about the Catechism’s use of the word “torture” does not “follow” as you said it did. It is plausible that the Church would take a different view of something which caused death or maiming or permanent harm, and something which only involves temporary suffering, however extreme. And in any case even Thiessen does not dispute that one must do the least possible violence: He has no intention of jumping to flaying since waterboarding apparently works.

    Now if waterboarding isn’t justifiable even if it’s the whole human race at stake, then our use of the crazy ticking-bomb scenario has clarified the whole issue for us: If that can’t justify it, nothing can, and of course the plots KSM was hiding certainly can’t.

    But if there exists any kind of threshold which can justify waterboarding, why then the remaining question is whether the circumstances around the KSM capture meet that threshold. I say no; Thiessen says yes; which of us is right? Until the Church rules, we don’t know: But I can’t see excluding Thiessen from communion until then.

    Second Quibble

    You state, “The Catechism explicitly condemns torture as a normative matter of punishment, so God in the Old Testament is already in that position [of having ordered evil as a normative matter of punishment].”

    I’m not sure quite how to phrase this quibble. I guess I can start by asking: Are you okay with that? Are you okay saying that the Catechism teaches us that God orders evil acts?

    You see my problem. Fr. Harrison tries to address this, but it is troubling: Is the Catechism teaching us error, here? (Yikes, for the Catholic understanding of Magisterial authority.) Or is God doing something evil? (Yikes, for the hope of the human race.)

    My own approach in such cases is to assume that there’s some nuance I have missed about how I should interpret what the Catechism is saying, which allows the reconciling of what the Church is saying with what God has done.

    So I don’t want to outlaw quibbling over nuances as such.

    But quibbling over nuances is what Fr. Harrison was doing. So I make allowances for what he says.

  • Tom K. says:

    Well, I do not think anyone, even Thiessen, contemplated the position that, “If the Church hasn’t yet said no, then anything goes.” That’s a straw man.

    On the contrary, Fr. Harrison’s third conclusion — which is what we’ve been discussing — is that “the moral legitimacy of torture under ['the now-famous "ticking bomb" scenario']… remains open at present to legitimate discussion by Catholic theologians.”

    Unlike Thiessen, who asserts that waterboarding isn’t torture, Fr. Harrison asserts that torture isn’t intrinsically evil. If you don’t like flayed skin, substitute the rack.

    Are you okay with that?

    Before I answer, let me point out that torture is hardly the first time such questions have been raised. The Church’s teaching that all torture is always evil creates no new category of problems reconciling Church teaching with past Christian practice and with Scripture.

    To answer: Yes, I’m okay with the appearance of conflict between what the Church teaches and what the Church practiced, and between what the Church teaches and what is recorded as God’s commandments in the Bible. It seems to me to be the same problem as the appearance of conflict between the New Testament and the Old Testament. While I haven’t personally worked out the resolutions in full detail, I can see their broad outlines and have satisfies myself, as a good mathematician should, that a solution exists.

  • Phillip says:

    I’m not sure Fr. Harrison is saying torture is not intrinsically evil (though maybe he is. Its just been a very long time since I’ve read his articles.) I think he would be saying that use of pain to obtain intelligence would be a different species of thing than torture and thus (perhaps) not intrinsically evil.

  • Tom says:

    Phillip:

    Both R.C. and I have quoted Fr. Harrison saying that the moral legitimacy of torture is an open question.

    Not “a different specied of thing than torture.”

    Torture.

  • Phillip says:

    That being said, I think the Church does says that all forms of torture are intinsically evil. If there is any argument that can be made that a particular form of force/coercion is licit, it will be that it is a species of act that is not torture. Just as capital punishment is a different species of act from murder.

  • Blackadder says:

    Here, for example, is another possible analogy:

    “Fr. Harrison’s claim here is similar to the claim folks used to make that while the Church condemned elective abortion, it had never condemned elective abortion to save the life of the mother in the case of an ectopic pregnancy (objectively the same procedure, with the same effect on the unborn); so, it was an open question whether a Catholic could make use of that procedure.”

    Suppose that Father Harrison had written a long article spelling out in detail the Church’s history of condemnation of abortion, and then at the end had said “of course this doesn’t settle the question of whether abortion could be allowed in the case of an ectopic pregnancy, that remains an open question). It seems to me that if the article simply left things there then the article would be deficient as an attempt to justify abortion in the case of ectopic pregnancy. If someone wants to say that the ectopic pregnancy case doesn’t fall under the abortion ban then one has to provide positive evidence and arguments to that effect. You can’t just say, “well, this is a different case.”

    Now as it happens, in the case of the ectopic pregnancy such a case can be made; there are various Church documents and arguments you can point to in favor of the position. But if there are parallel arguments in favor of torture for intelligence I’m not aware of them and Father Harrison doesn’t mention them.

  • At the risk of sidelining things into a wholly unrelated contentious topic, I spent a fair amount of time reading through a Fr. Harrison piece on the Church and evolution. My impression there was that his admirable love for the history of the Church and from preserving her from the appearance of changing her teaching led him to assign excessive and unnecessary weight to the Church’s commitment to a pre-Darwinian (and pre-modern geology) understanding of the world, and having thus over-emphasized the Church’s supposed teachings in the area of natural history, to in turn insist that the Church would contradict itself fatally if it changed now.

    I get the impression he may be following a similar process here.

  • Phillip says:

    I think the argument in ectopic pregnancy involves double effect. Double effect doesn’t work with torture. So again it seems that we would have to say that certain degrees of infliction of pain are not torture to begin to justify any form of coercion in interrogation.

  • R.C. says:

    One of our big problems here is in defining the word “torture.”

    Wait, don’t react reflexively. Take a moment and hear what I’m saying.

    I think part of the problem is that the Church uses the word torture in varying ways in her writings listed by Fr. Harrison. Also, I think some of our posts given above use it in different ways.

    I am not saying, “What is torture?” in a Pontius Pilate kind of way (“What is truth?”).

    I am saying that we are in danger of drawing false conclusions by applying Definition X to a sentence in which the word “torture” was used, when the author of that sentence was using Definition Y.

    For example, consider the following proposed definitions:

    Definition 1: Violence against a person is defined as “torture” if:

    (a.) It involves inflicting pain sufficient to cause even a self-controlled person accustomed to pain to cry out;

    (b.) The person who is subjected to the violence is unable either to shield himself against the violence, to attack directly the person inflicting it, or to escape from it;

    Definition 2: Violence against a person is defined as “torture” if:

    (a.) It involves inflicting pain sufficient to cause even a self-controlled person accustomed to pain to cry out;

    (b.) The person who is subjected to the violence is unable either to shield himself against the violence, to attack directly the person inflicting it, or to escape from it;

    (c.) There is no adequate moral justification for the violence.

    The difference between the two definitions, of course, is (c.).

    But item (c.) takes us back to the central question of this topic: Is there such a thing as sufficient justification for this particular kind of violence? Or does it fall into a category which is by definition unjustifiable?

    Now I am not confident that the kind of violence against persons involved in what a casual observer would call “torture” is definitionally, categorically, unjustifiable. (By “a casual observer” I have in mind the man-in-the-street who has never tried to think through an argument of moral philosophy in his life and is thus unconcerned with using words precisely.)

    Let me say it again: I am not confident that the kind of violence against persons involved in what a casual observer would call “torture” is definitionally, categorically, unjustifiable.

    If I allow for the possibility that it may sometimes be justified, then instances of such violence are broken into two categories: Those which were justified, and those which weren’t.

    Now think about that for a moment, and consider my two definitions of “torture” given above.

    All acts involving what the casual observer would call “torture” would be properly labeled as torture according to Definition 1.

    But Definition 2 prohibits a morally justified act from being labeled as “torture.” This means that certain acts which the casual observer would call torture, and which are correctly called torture if Definition 1 is the definition we adopt, would not be called torture if we use Definition 2.

    This bears upon Tom’s last post, which stated:

    “Phillip:

    Both R.C. and I have quoted Fr. Harrison saying that the moral legitimacy of torture is an open question.

    Not “a different species of thing than torture.”

    Torture.”

    You have to be careful making such distinctions, because the meaning of it differs according to which definition you adopt. And, as I have said, I think both the Church and the folks posting in this thread have switched back and forth between definitions. I include myself in that criticism.

    If torture means “violence of Species XYZ,” then it is correct to say that Fr. Harrison says the Church is open to the possibility of justifiable torture.

    But if torture means “violence of Species XYZ which is not justified” then it is wrong, indeed nonsensical, to say that Fr. Harrison says the Church is open to the possibility of justifiable torture. That would be saying that the Church is open to the possibility of a justified unjustified thing.

    Now we are unfortunately not Vulcans. (Yes, I have pointy-eared Mr. Spock in mind, here.) When we make intellectual arguments, no matter how careful we are, emotion can slip in. Sometimes it slips in at the right times. (Emotion has its proper justifications: Outrages merit outrage, and sad stories merit sadness.) But sometimes it slips in at moments which only add to confusion.

    Consider Tom’s post, especially how the paragraphs are spaced out:

    “Phillip:

    Both R.C. and I have quoted Fr. Harrison saying that the moral legitimacy of torture is an open question.

    Not “a different species of thing than torture.”

    Torture.”

    See how dramatic that sounds? Not “a different species of thing than torture.” TORTURE.

    Cue the dramatic music. Put a little digital echo on the word “torture” so it goes “torture -ure -ure…”

    I’m not making fun of Tom, here: He wrote well. But the word “torture” as used by the casual observer has horrified emotions and dark connotations and evil associations. (And well it should, whenever it involves a species of violence which is unjustified.)

    So Tom’s wordcraft here, through its use of whitespace, conjures up all those emotional associations, and thereby tells us exactly which kind of violence he’s talking about: He’s talking about unjustified violence, violence which is evil. That’s the kind of violence which merits the dramatic formatting and the digital echo treatment.

    The only problem is that that isn’t the kind of “torture” that Fr. Harrison was talking about. Fr. Harrison was postulating a type of violence which is justifiable by double effect or whatever other argument of moral philosophy. He is talking about a violent act which, because of its circumstances and intent, is morally neutral or perhaps even obligatory.

    Now obviously such an act is not the kind of act which merits the dark tone-of-voice of Tom’s post. We have been conned; we have been duped by a bait-and-switch routine — not by Tom, who I expect is innocent of any intent of switching the definition on us even though the switcheroo happened in his post — but by our own accustomed carelessness about how we use the word “torture” and the kind of tone-of-voice we’re accustomed to using with it.

    It bothered me, from the very beginning, when the Orwellian phrase “enhanced interrogation techniques” began to be used. So I don’t like the idea of proposing yet another Orwellian term!

    Yet it seems to me that if we’re to remain clear about our meanings in this discussion, we need separate terms to distinguish between the many things which might confusingly be called “torture”:

    Thing 1: The actual species of violence itself, without regard to its motives, the helplessness of the prisoner, our surety that the prisoner knows something we could use to save lives, et cetera: Anything that might bear on justification. I will call this a Relevant Violent Act (or RVA). (Relevant means we’re talking about something relevant to the discussion, not about spanking a child or zapping your sibling with static electricity.)

    Thing 2: A Relevant Violent Act which is actually (in the eyes of God) morally unjustified. I will call this an Unjustified Relevant Violent Act (or Unjustified RVA).

    Thing 3: A Relevant Violent Act which is actually (in the eyes of God) morally justified. I will call this an Justified Relevant Violent Act (or Justified RVA).

    I suppose I should apologize, first for failing to think up a less-clumsy acronym, and secondly to Dr. Seuss for trespassing on his use of “Things” 1 & 2. But bear with me.

    The questions at hand are these:

    Question 1: It is agreed that the Church has never affirmed that Justified RVAs can exist. But Fr. Harrison states that the Church has also never said it was impossible, either. Is Fr. Harrison correct in saying that the Church has never ruled out the existence of Justified RVAs?

    Question 2: Assuming that Fr. Harrison is correct, then either Justified RVAs can exist, or they can’t. We won’t know for sure until the Church eventually rules on the topic, but in the meantime we can argue one side or another. Are there good arguments to say that Justified RVA’s cannot exist?

    Question 3: Are there good arguments to say that Justified RVA’s can and do exist? Examples, perhaps?

    Question 4: Thiessen and Co. say that waterboarding KSM was a Justified RVA. Are there good reasons to say that, even if Justified RVAs can exist, waterboarding KSM was not a Justified RVA? Assuming Justified RVAs can exist at all, what criteria are required to justify them?

    Question 5: Since, as far as we’ve been able to determine, Justified RVAs might be possible, we cannot probably bar Thiessen and Co. from communion for saying that Justified RVAs do in fact exist. That leaves open only the specific examples they cite. Keeping our answer to Question 4 in mind, does Thiessen and Co.’s support for the waterboarding of KSM and similar RVA instances give us good reason to exclude them from communion?

    It is only fair that I offer my own answers to these questions.

    They are:

    1. I think Fr. Harrison is correct. That’s “think,” not, “am certain beyond all possibility of being convinced otherwise.”

    2. I think the only way to show that Justified RVA’s can never exist is to show that RVAs are by definition immune to the application of the Double Effect principle. But we’d have to show that the Double Effect principle cannot be applied here, using an argument which is narrow enough that it doesn’t obligate us to say nonsense things about God or the Church.

    I myself haven’t yet seen an argument denying the possible use of Double Effect here, that doesn’t also deny the possible use of Double Effect in war or to justify actions and commands of God in Scripture. For Double Effect requires the act not be intrinsically evil…but then killing someone, whether a fetus in an ectopic pregnancy or an enemy in war, is not intrinsically evil; nor is maiming someone if it happens as a foreseeable consequence of prosecuting a war. Thus both permit the Double Effect. It is hard to see how foreseeable pain without death or maiming is worse, or is categorically different in such a way that Double Effect is ruled out — except to say that it just intrinsically is which leads us back to the problem of God doing evil.

    Since I regard anything which makes God do evil or which totally invalidates the notion of Just War to be a reductio ad absurdum, I am unwilling to accept such arguments.

    Consequently, at the present time, I think Justified RVAs can exist in principle, even if their threshold of justification is so high that they may never occur in practice.

    3. The only argument I have to say that RVAs can and do exist is the silly, extreme, sci-fi, ticking-bomb, death-of-the-human-race example. If, in the year 2100 a doomsday cult has obtained an antimatter weapon able to wipe out all life on earth (and there isn’t yet any human life elsewhere), and we have captured a terrorist who, like KSM did, has bragged about knowing where the bomb is, would I have him waterboarded until I found out where the bomb was and how to disarm it? I suppose I would…but I say that through clenched teeth and a pained expression.

    On the other hand, I don’t know how good an argument that is. I have always believed that “the fate of His creation is not subject to a man / The final consummation is according to His plan / And He’s still got the whole world in His hands.”

    So if I were convinced (like, say, by a totally-clear, no-room-for-misunderstanding Church pronouncement) that there were no such things as Justified RVAs, then I would not do it. Because in that case, I would say, “I leave it in your hands, Lord; and if we all die, we all die.”

    4. Even assuming that there is such a thing as a Justified RVA, I think Thiessen and Co. are wrong to list KSM as an example. But I confess that I have no substantive argument for where the Justified/Unjustified threshold would be (and neither does anyone else, I suspect). I merely observe that there is substantial debate among decent persons whether the KSM example qualifies or not, which suggests to me that whatever side of the line the KSM example is on, it must be close to the line. I prefer to be safe rather than sorry; that is, I prefer not to get too close to the line. So for lack of certainty, I prefer to assume that the line is farther away than Thiessen and Co. suppose.

    5. I do not think the Church has taught that Justified RVAs cannot exist; if they have, I do not think they have taught it with the kind of clarity and obviousness which would be needed to allow us to bar Thiessen and Co. from communion as if they were defying a baldly obvious teaching.

    I think in fact that it looks baldly obvious at first, but that dispassionately sifting through the issues as we have done shows the matter to be not so simple. There are therefore two possibilities: (a.) Thiessen and Co. gave the Church teaching a cursory look, got the impression that Church teaching prohibited waterboarding, said, “To hell with Church teaching,” and decided to disobey without digging any deeper; or, (b.) Thiessen and Co. did dig deeper, saw that things were not obvious, and concluded they could waterboard KSM and Co. without violating Church teaching. If Thiessen had certainly taken path (a.) I would have supported barring him and his fellows from communion, but I think (b.) is far more likely. So I do not support barring him/them.

  • Tom K. says:

    So Tom’s wordcraft here, through its use of whitespace, conjures up all those emotional associations, and thereby tells us exactly which kind of violence he’s talking about: He’s talking about unjustified violence, violence which is evil.

    Evidently, my wordcraft once again failed me utterly, as I had no interest in conjuring up any emotional associations. The purpose was to clear up any confusion about what, precisely, Fr. Harrison had written.

    We have been conned….

    With all due respect, what do you mean “we”?

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