Of Sarah Palin, Waterboarding and Baptism

Tuesday, April 29, AD 2014

Sarah Palin and the torture debate?  Red Meat for bloggers for sure!  Sarah Palin at the NRA convention said about captured terrorists and interrogation:

“Oh, but you can’t offend them, can’t make them feel uncomfortable, not even a smidgen. Well, if I were in charge, they would know that waterboarding is how we baptize terrorists.”

The remark has received predictable criticism from the Left.  Mark Shea, who is not a Leftist whatever else he is,  chimes in with the usual quiet reason that has ever reflected his comments during the torture debate:

Well done also to Joe Carter for giving this vile filth no quarter.  There is nothing left to discuss or negotiate.  “Prolife” Christians who cheer for torture and, worse, cheer for sacrilegiously likening it to baptize have only one option: repent and seek forgiveness.  Those who make excuses for it or refuse to repent ought to be as radioactive as Catholics for a Free Choice.

Here is a link to the Joe Carter post mentioned by Mark.

Father Z believes that the remark requires an apology.

Ed Peters who Father Z quotes is very condemnatory:

Open contempt for faith and things of religion is broadly associated with the left in America. I well recall pro-aborts smirking under a placard that claimed “If men could become pregnant abortion would be a sacrament.” Now Palin has given sociology professors an incontestable example of contempt for religion on the American right.

May my readers join me in offering a short Pater in reparation for both.

In the face of all this, Sarah Palin is unrepentant:

Actions to stop terrorists who’d utterly annihilate America and delight in massacring our innocent children? Darn right I’d do whatever it takes to foil their murderous jihadist plots – including waterboarding. Whatever one thinks of my one…-liner at the NRA rally about treating evil terrorists the way they deserve to be treated to prevent the death of innocent people, it’s utterly absurd for MSNBC to suggest that I could put our beloved troops in harm’s way, but we’ve come to expect the absurd from that failing network. If you want to talk about what really harms our troops, let’s talk about politicians who gut our military’s budgets, or a president whose skewed budgetary priorities slash military benefits, or an administration that puts our vets on endless waiting lists for care that comes too late to help those who’ve paid the price for our freedom, or those who break bread with those who think it makes no difference how our military heroes died in Benghazi or anywhere else trying to protect America. Those actions are a heck of a lot more harmful than declaring an appropriate message our enemies should receive. If some overly sensitive wusses took offense, remember the First Amendment doesn’t give you a right not to be offended. Perhaps hypocritical folks who only want Freedom of Speech to apply to those who agree with their liberal agenda might want to consider that the evil terrorists who were the brunt of my one-liner would be the first to strip away ALL our rights if given the chance. That’s why we do whatever we can to prevent them from killing innocent people. And for that, we should NEVER apologize. Good Lord, critics… buck up or stay in the truck. And if you love freedom, thank our troops! Thank our vets! And thank those who have the brains to support them and the guts to defend what they have earned!
– Sarah Palin
My own thoughts?
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35 Responses to Of Sarah Palin, Waterboarding and Baptism

  • Didn’t some prominent blogger actually pooh pooh the desecration of the Holy Mass by saying it doesn’t happen often. Actually, my understanding is that sacrilegious celebrations of the Mass have occurred far more frequently than waterboarding by Sarah Palin.

  • Mark Shea is a democratic ideologue. He showed his true apparatchik colors through his many comments to his bloggers in the 2012 election cycle. He would vote for hitler or stalin if they ran as democrats. His caustic and bombastic remarks to his followers are legend. Took him off my daily reading years ago.

  • “2. Since waterboarding is physical torture I am against it as a matter of policy. I also would be eternally grateful to someone who did it and prevented Chicago, for example, going up in a nuclear blast.”

    .
    Torture for the sake of inflicting pain and ultimate power over another human being is sick. Torture to extract information to save innocent human life may not be a sacrament, but it is close to it. Question: Can the word “baptism” be used outside the context of the Sacrament of Baptism?

  • Wait, THAT’S what she said? I was skimming around and didn’t see the quote but… really? It’s an action movie one-liner. The equivalent of “the one finger salute” (and nobody thinks the person saying that is denigrating saluting) or saying “baptismal by fire”. OMG! Setting people on fire is totally torture! And you’re equating it with baptism! They must be stopped who used that phrase!

    I dunno, maybe I’ve been too desensitized by things from the internet and public nowadays (seriously, going around town I’ve seen the graffiti “God is Gay”) this just doesn’t even register (and I’m of a Protestant branch that takes baptism VERY seriously – like, we don’t accept sprinkling seriously). Part of me wonders how long we can last when we as a nation can’t even “talk tough” any more. How long until even the act of fighting back for our survival is seen as “torturing” the other side and a big no no?

    Mark Shea, who is not a Leftist whatever else he is,

    How do you mean? If you mean “leftist” as “the particular species of idealogue who behaves in such and such way” I’ll agree that he’s only 78% leftist, not 100%. If you mean it by “one who resides on the left side of the spectrum” then I’ll quite disagree.

    And note: I’m using the spectrum of totalitarianism on the left, anarchy on the right. (none of that communist/fascist loop crap)

  • “How do you mean? If you mean “leftist” as “the particular species of idealogue who behaves in such and such way” I’ll agree that he’s only 78% leftist, not 100%.”

    Shea’s views on abortion and gays would make him permanent persona non grata on the Left. He used to be a paleocon and I think he has been trending Left on many issues, especially economic, but there are clear differences between him and the Left on major issues. He is also not a conservative, despite his occasional claims to be a true conservative.

  • It is astonishing that Palin can raise such emotion six years after a failed campaign for Veep! Most politicians are eminently forgettable characters,

    Less astonishing if you consider that political discussion has for many decayed into a self-aggrandizing exercise of ‘I’m better than you”; palaeoconservative and post-1998 liberals are alike in that these sentiments seem to dominant strain in what they have to say. It’s a reasonable wager that Gov. Palin is a fixation for people harboring a mess of free-floating aggression (Shea) or social anxiety (Dreher). Something about her. She’s very adept at revealing the asses in our midst (Prof. Charles Fried being the most prominent example).

  • It’s a repellent comment for which she should apologize. Beyond that, there’s no point in hyperventilating. I don’t–and can’t–go to maximum outrage for every affront to Christianity. It would be a soul-killing exercise.

    I already know things are bad enough for Christians with respect to the decay of the right, and the slow morphing of the business world into an anti-Christian force. The Chamber of Commerce and the business wing of the GOP do more damage to the faith than flip comments from Mrs. Palin.

  • “It’s a repellent comment for which she should apologize.” “terrorists” is what, or more correctly, “who” is repellent. “waterboarding is how we baptize terrorists”
    Didn’t Pope Urban II “baptize” that infidel drink arabic bean coffee?

  • Shea’s views on abortion and gays would make him permanent persona non grata on the Left.

    Yeah but that’s why I try to look at the total view of someone and not just 1 or 2 things. You may as well say someone like Ron Paul isn’t conservative because he believes in drug legalization or reducing overseas operations. On the whole weight of things… well it’s funny how much of this Shea ends up matching (as well as other measures of leftism).

    He used to be a paleocon and I think he has been trending Left on many issues, especially economic, but there are clear differences between him and the Left on major issues. He is also not a conservative, despite his occasional claims to be a true conservative.

    Well just to nitpick whenever you take a a large group of people united and come up with an average or mean statement of their views, I think every individual of said group is going to have clear differences between them and the group. (well if they’re honest)

    There’s a saying (or if it isn’t, maybe it should be): “Just because there’s someone more evil than you, doesn’t mean you’re not evil yourself.” To amend it: Just because you can point to someone yet further left, doesn’t mean that makes you (or any person in particular) center. knowwhatimean?

  • I still like Sarah Palin. I applaud her public acceptance of baptism by pouring as well as by immersion. The more time passes, the closer to the Catholic heart of Christian truth the evangelicals come. The dear Governor Palin is even adopting the Pope’s habit of the faux pas (though she’s no way as frequent in its performance as he).

  • I have no problems with Sarah Palin’s comments. The Left can….well, I won’t say it here.

    Our pinhead of a president has shown himself to be a shrinking violet in the face of radical Islam and of Putin. Bumbling Barry sacked the missile program destined for Poland and the Czech Re[public. Bumbling Barry wants to destroy the Air Marshal program. Putin starts a land grab from Ukraine.

    Good for Palin to slap MSNBC upside the head. It is a failing network.

    I waste none of my precious time on Mark Shea. Shea wouldn’t know what a conservative is if one drove over him with a truck.

  • I wish I had been there.

    You and I sleep at night because rough men do rough things to allow us to sleep safely.

  • Shea is sometimes more offensive to me than Sarah Palin has ever been. As a matter of fact, I don’t think she has offended me yet.
    Her turn of phrase is tough, and in an oblique way it refers to the fact that this is about a religious war.
    We are Christians, people who are baptised and who evangelize and baptize, which brings people together in faith in the family of God.
    We are under attack by terrorists who see us as without faith.. They do not evangelize us, they sneak and surprise and terrorize and murder innocent people, not concerned about sharing faith or bringing us together, but just killing us. Waterboarding is not maim or murder, and waterboarding may save innocent lives.

    It is unlikely that a terrorist in fear of losing his life by waterboarding, will experience a ‘come to Jesus” moment. but he is not killed by the experience. Unlike the victims of the surprise attacks and random bombings, he will survive and still have the time re-consider his religion.

  • I love Sarah Palin. If I had heard her statement in person, I would have applauded because terrorists deserve to be treated as what they are and she being a Pentecostal had no intent to denigrate baptism. As for Mark Shea, I give him all the attention he deserves – none. I cannot be bothered hyperventilating over bombastic sanctimonious blogging.

  • I found her original comment to be offensive, but that follow-up Facebook comment enrages me. Does she really think that the only person who could be offended by her comment must also hate the troops and our freedoms? I get it, she was treated unfairly by the press. I remember. That doesn’t mean that every criticism she gets is unfair. Conservatives don’t get a free pass. When Reagan messed up, the movement called him on it. And Reagan did a lot more for the conservative movement than Palin has.

    If we want to declare that someone is hands-off just because of the enemies they’ve made, how are we better than the cult-of-personality left?

    I read something recently, that I haven’t had a chance to follow up on yet, about the Obama White House. It was a discussion of a strategy that they consciously use, that whichever advisor it was admitted to, that when they put an issue before the press, they deliberately overstate it, because they know that’ll get a rise out of the Republicans, and the whole back-and-forth rebuttal will keep the issue alive in the press even longer. There’s a lot to chew on there. For one thing, it’s a tacit recognition that the press and the Democrats’ supporters won’t make them pay for lies. But what I keep thinking about is: they’re trolls. They’re just common, run of the mill trolls. The concerns of governance mean nothing to these people, as long as they’re eliciting the responses from their opponents that keep them in the driver’s seat. When I look at statements like this from Palin, I’m telling you, I don’t see anything better.

    The shortage of adults is costing us a lot, and it’s only going to get more expensive from here.

  • “If we want to declare that someone is hands-off just because of the enemies they’ve made, how are we better than the cult-of-personality left?”

    Who said that Palin was above criticism?

    “When I look at statements like this from Palin, I’m telling you, I don’t see anything better.”

    Palin is not in government now. She was appealing to a partisan audience with a throw away line. The amusing thing to me is how someone who hasn’t been in government for almost half a decade can be still be such a lightning rod for controversy.

  • Torture for the purpose of degrading another person is obviously sinful. Whether it licit in the service of justice is an entirely different matter. According to St. Thomas Aquinas, it is licit for lawful authority to maim another in the service of justice. He then indicates that the infliction of pain to correct someone under one’s authority is also licit if done in the service of good. Therefore, it seems probable that waterboarding is not necessarily wrong if done to serve justice by extracting information to prevent an attack. If done to simply break someone’s will, which is done by dictators, then it is sinful. It is nothing more than the use of physical force to compel or restrain an action.

    The CCC on the other hand, says that torture is wrong even by legitimate authority is wrong, stating “In recent times it has become evident that these cruel practices were neither necessary for public order, nor in conformity with the legitimate rights of the human person. On the contrary, these practices led to ones even more degrading. It is necessary to work for their abolition. We must pray for the victims and their tormentors.”

    http://www.newadvent.org/summa/3065.htm

    http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p3s2c2a5.htm

    Whether the use of the term ‘baptism’ to describe is sacrilegious, I would argue that it is only venially so.

  • What would you expect from an ex-Catholic.

  • “Who said that Palin was above criticism?”

    It seems like she set up a false dilemma between her freedom and liberal hypocrisy. I mean, I was aware that the Constitution doesn’t give me the right to not be offended.

    “The amusing thing to me is how someone who hasn’t been in government for almost half a decade can be still be such a lightning rod for controversy.”

    Agreed. Even so, I guess I’m burnt out on trolling, even when it’s surprisingly effective.

  • I agree with Pinky.

    I have been a big Sarah Palin fan since 2008. That said, her original comment I found to be repugnant and blasphemous. But I still liked her afterward. Her follow-up comment caused me to stop being a fan altogether.

  • I know that Shea has a tendency to overstate his case on many issues, but one of his latest posts raises a good point: how is comparing waterboarding to baptism any less offensive than a far left Catholic for Choice using an image of the Last Supper or the Eucharist and the phrase “This is MY BODY” to promote abortion on demand?

  • Because abortion and torture are two different issues. The Popes used torture in judicial proceedings until the dissolution of the papal states in 1871. The Church has opposed abortion since the Crucifixion. As far as Shea is concerned the Church prior to 1965 might as well not exist.

    In regard to Palin she simply did not have an intent to blaspheme, which to my mind is the important fact in this attempt by some to transform this molehill into a mountain.

  • “…how is comparing waterboarding to baptism any less offensive than a far left Catholic for Choice using an image of the Last Supper or the Eucharist and the phrase “This is MY BODY” to promote abortion on demand?”

    “And that 99.99999998536% of all Masses celebrated were not clown Masses. Call me a heretic but If Pope Benedict could manage to live with the knowledge that a “clown Mass” of some form has taken place somewhere in the world – without despairing of God or the Church, I can live with that…Yep”

    Distinction? I might say for Shea it is hypocrisy.

  • Tito, I’ll have to disagree with you on the “ex-Catholic” label. I read several biographies of Mrs. Palin during and after the ’08 campaign. Yes, she was baptized Catholic and yes, her parents (basically her mom — Mr. Heath just went along with Mrs. Heath’s wishes) sent her to CCD classes, and she probably made her First Communion while her parents were still (more or less) practicing Catholics. However, apparently Mrs. Heath’s faith was shaken by a Protestant Bible study or some such she’d been invited to by her friends, and the local priest (who doubtless had a large, far-flung flock to tend to up there in Alaska) wasn’t able to answer her concerns to her satisfaction — so she took herself, Mr. Heath, and the kids out of the Church, and they all became fundamentalist Protestants. Quite likely Mr. & Mrs. Heath were poorly-catechized, weak Catholics, whose faith wasn’t able to withstand the doubts raised by their Protestant neighbors. So Sarah Palin’s parents certainly qualify as ex-Catholics — but Sarah Palin herself should not be blamed for a change of religion made when she was a child and unable to easily defy her parents by choosing to remain Catholic.

  • Here we go Don… 😉

    Let’s see, today Mark posted…
    the US is an oligarchy
    AND
    get rid of the death penalty

    Ok… and who would be major ideological allies in rectifying these two burrs under Shea’s saddle?

    LIBERTARIANS! Those he… throws under the bus at least once a week. Hm. And what’s Shea’s proposed solutions? “Think differently” and “think like the church”. Huh, empty platitudes that tell us nothing about a real, workable solution. “Yes we can” anyone?

    As the saying goes: “The left designs government assuming they are in charge of it. The right designs government assuming their enemies are in charge of it.” That and other instances of rank hypocrisy (notice how he likes to bring up “those in need of insensitivity training” while being fast on the ban button himself? or being sensitive to things like… Sarah Palin’s words?) shove him pretty far left. That and given his cultish attitude towards the pope, as the latter drifts left, watch Shea keep going that way as well.

  • “watch Shea keep going that way as well.”

    Most assuredly. I have observed before that if a pope ordered that each Catholic paint their bottom yellow, Mark’s only question would be “What shade?”.

  • You’d go nuts if you heard some of the talk (now that’s blasphemy!) I heard.

    Shea got his bloomers in a bunch, again! He waxes hysterical over a sound-bite. Why the histrionics? Why do Imam Shayz gots out the fatwa on Sarah?

    He’s a liberal. Scratch a liberal and you find a fascist, every time.

    Liberals’ hatred is based on their abject fear of her mere existence. They over-react at every opportunity because she has the potential to do them in. The Left controls the mainstream media. The Left hates Sarah Palin. The mainstream media constructed a caricature in the minds of many ignorant, liberal (I repeat myself) people. They wanted her to go away. But she is still standing, still smiling, still speaking, unbowed and “undefeated.” Not only have they failed to destroy her, by attempting and failing to do so, they have raised her stock. She is my hero because by breathing she seriously annoys lib nitwits.

  • oh my gosh
    how is comparing waterboarding to baptism any less offensive than a far left Catholic for Choice using an image of the Last Supper or the Eucharist and the phrase “This is MY BODY” to promote abortion on demand?
    .
    oh wow that whole thing is so obtuse it makes my stomach hurt! NOT remotely apt!
    .
    Baptism is given to us to do, to administer in the Name of God.
    The sacrament of Jesus’ body is given to us to receive from Him — “given for you”.
    Christ gave his own real personal body in total generosity.
    .
    If the pregnant woman were to try to imitate Christ, she might say to her unborn child: ” This is my body and I give it to you for your good.”
    Instead the pro aborts say in effect: This is my body and I am NOT giving it to you.
    Christ’s phrase “This Is My Body” predicates a generous gift… the Choice people’s use of the phrase “This is My Body” indicates selfish denial of love to a most innocent dependent, taking life from one who is of the mother’s own flesh and blood

  • It is surprising to me that this evoked so much comment. I am also surprised the assumed acceptance of waterboarding as torture. I am certainly not qualified to define torture, but I think Alphatron made some good points. Also, waterboarding does not do physical harm or lasting damage, although it does induce temporary fear and anguish. But since we waterboard some soldiers for training, I can’t see how it is necessarily torture. Just as in killing intent and circumstance distinguish it from murder, so too, I think waterboarding. So in my limited understanding I do not accede to waterboarding as torture. In a real sense, the person who refuses to divulge something and endures even torture is making that choice, which may or may not be heroic. Tell me this or I am going to scare the heck out of you….not physically harm you or emotionally damage you forever, but scare you badly if you choose not to cooperate in saving lives… does not seem morally wrong to me. If it is, then we would have to let Chicago blow up as someone else mentioned.

  • Catherine,

    Almost Ex-Catholic just doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.

    😉

  • SPOT ON Ray!!! Cudo’s – and thanks for the sanity check on this- it was a red meat throw away line with no thought re; blasphemy blah blah – i too am impressed that Sarah can evoke such reaction so many years later- she is a lighting rod cause the darkness hates the light …. mark shea is a pile ……… and just slightly off……

  • Kevin – Me too. As I remember it, there was a lot of debate over whether waterboarding was torture. This may be one of the finer points of the debate that’s gotten lost over time, but I don’t think the “science is settled”.

  • Anzlyne: “Christ’s phrase “This Is My Body” predicates a generous gift… the Choice people’s use of the phrase “This is My Body” indicates selfish denial of love to a most innocent dependent, taking life from one who is of the mother’s own flesh and blood”
    .
    And the father’s own flesh and blood. Science has learned that some of the unborn child’s cells enter the bloodstream of his mother making the mother one with the father. (Married) No link, sorry. Had to say.
    .
    I love Sarah Palin. It is the duty of the citizen to keep his /her mouth open. Sarah Palin fulfills the definition of Citizen.

  • I don’t know if anyone will notice a comment on this ol’ thread, but I just read this article at First Things and had to link to it.

Sesame Street Torture For Terrorists

Friday, June 1, AD 2012

The longer I live, the more I am convinced that reality is so much more strange, and frequently hilarious, than any fiction:

According to Al Jazeera, prisoners at Guantanamo Bay were “tortured” with Sesame Street. Really. Prisoners reported to Al Jazeera that they had been forced to wear headphones playing music from Sesame Street on a continuous loop for days on end. Christopher Cerf, who composes for the show, was outraged. “My first reaction was this just can’t possibly be true,” he said. “Of course, I didn’t really like the idea that I was helping break down prisoners, but it was much worse when I heard later that they were actually using the music in Guantanamo to actually do deep, long-term interrogations and obviously to inflict enough pain on prisoners so they would talk.”

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Waterboarding is for pansies.

Sunday, May 22, AD 2011

‘You asked me once,’ said O’Brien, ‘what was in Room 101. I told you that you knew the answer already. Everyone knows it. The thing that is in Room 101 is the worst thing in the world.’

The door opened again. A guard came in, carrying something made of wire, a box or basket of some kind. He set it down on the further table. Because of the position in which O’Brien was standing. Winston could not see what the thing was.

‘The worst thing in the world,’ said O’Brien, ‘varies from individual to individual. It may be burial alive, or death by fire, or by drowning, or by impalement, or fifty other deaths. There are cases where it is some quite trivial thing, not even fatal.’

He had moved a little to one side, so that Winston had a better view of the thing on the table. It was an oblong wire cage with a handle on top for carrying it by. Fixed to the front of it was something that looked like a fencing mask, with the concave side outwards. Although it was three or four metres away from him, he could see that the cage was divided lengthways into two compartments, and that there was some kind of creature in each. They were rats.

‘In your case,’ said O’Brien, ‘the worst thing in the world happens to be rats.’ [George Orwell’s 1984 Part III, Chapter 5.]

Those familiar with Orwell’s 1984 know what happens next. And if you haven’t, here’s the final scene of the movie adaptation (embedding disabled).

* * *

A scene which struck me, appropos of the following remarks from a recent exchange here at @ American Catholic:

“What John McCain suffered actually was torture. His bones were broken, for example. Induced panic isn’t torture.”

“I don’t base the definition of torture on subjective determinations. Clearly it’s an issue of prudential judgment and it is certainly clear to me, someone who has severe panic attacks, that panic is not torture.”

“If we cannot induce panic in our enemies with the intention of saving millions of lives, we can’t go to war at all. It’s as simple as that.”

Waterboarding is for pansies. If Ab? Zubaydah could withstand being waterboarded 83 times during August 2002, we’re clearly not doing it right. Let’s turn up the panic a few notches. Let’s take it one step further. Let’s put the fear of God almighty in these pathetic excuses for humanity.

Let’s go Orwellian — “Room 101” style.

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11 Responses to Waterboarding is for pansies.

  • Uh-oh Chris, you just made Mark Shea very, very, angry! When Shea get mad, Shea smash! However, unlike the Hulk, Mark turns purple instead of green!

  • Stephen, I think you failed to detect some major sarcasm in Chris’s post.

  • I think Jesus did take it up a few notches with Jezebel at the Church in Thyatira in Revelation 2:20-23, for verse 22 states quite clearly:

    “So I will cast her on a sickbed and plunge those who commit adultery with her into intense suffering unless they repent of her works.”

    All those now condemning our defense forces and CIA for using water boarding will be the very first to wail and whine and moan and cry about why more water boarding and similar coercive techniques were not used once Al Qaeda succeeds in detonating a fission or fusion weapon in a major metropolitan area.

    The Prophet Elijah was no pansie. When he was confronted with men as evil as these Islamic fanatics, he took them down to the Kishon Brook – all 450 of them – and didn’t bother with the small talk or the water boarding. He slit their throats where theyu stood. True, he got scared of another Jezebel after that. But the dogs made short work of her a little later on.

    Oh for men of God willing to stand up. Where are the Christian fighting men who stood at Tours of France and pushed back the Moors? Where are the Christian fighting men who with the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary defeated the Islamic fleet of the Ottoman Turks. The Muslim infidels are back at the door of Vienna again. The day grows short and night approaches while we hear arm-chair theologians waxing eloquently from the safety of their living room about why water boarding is prohibited torture. Meanwhile, half a world away these demonic men of iniquity train little girls to be suicide bombers on Israeli school buses. Pulllleeeeaaasssseeeeee, Lord Jesus, deliver me from such insanity!

  • Da pacem, Domine, in diebus nostris
    Quia non est alius
    Qui pugnet pro nobis
    Nisi tu Deus noster.

    Give peace, o Lord, in our time
    Because there is no one else
    Who will fight for us
    If not You, our God.

    http://www.gloria.tv/media/45526/

  • John McCain is a wonderful patriot and an American hero. It is completely understandable why he has an exceptional opposition to torture…but understanding his point of view does not require complete agreement with it. Remember what the enemy was trying to get out of him – not the truth, but a lie. At no time in Gitmo have we ever attempted to get one of them to deny their religion – to deny what is most precious to them. No, all we ever wanted out of them was the truth of what they knew. There is a world of difference between a man trying to elicit a lie and a man trying to find the truth. A man trying to get another to lie is much worse than the man trying to get at the truth – even if the former never touches so much as a hair on a head, while the other uses waterboarding.

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  • I’m with you, Chris, but the danger of this kind of dark parody is that some people actually think that way! (And others can’t tell the difference.)

  • I’m with you, Chris, but the danger of this kind of dark parody is that some people actually think that way! (And others can’t tell the difference.)

    It’s kind of a sad commentary on the state of things that this is true, but it is.

  • But Mark, you are only looking at half the equation – the end sought. You completely ignore the means.

    So as long as you are looking for the truth, rather than trying to get someone to lie, anything goes?

  • Christopher, thank you for this.

  • You cannot have a moral good when the either the object, the intension or the circumstance is evil. I know this slaps into the face of the idea that to torture one could save hundreds of lives later, but in this case the intension is an evil in order to produce a good. Regardless of the outcome, it is an immoral act. Actually there is a word for this called Proportionalism. What makes this more interesting is that we have free-choice to make this act and this is where being human is key and what God wants us to understand. God will not prevent us from committing an evil act, we make this choice on our own, what we need to better understand is that when you commit evil you must therefore accept the circumstances of that immoral act. This is something we rarely do. We act immorally, refuse to accept the act as immoral and therefore refuse to accept responsibility when the circumstances start to reveal themselves.

Social Contract and Morality

Friday, June 11, AD 2010

Kyle Cupp has a brief post describing the dehumanizing moral effects of seeing human dignity and rights as springing entirely from a social contract (implied or explicit):

This reduction occurs when we understand and act upon our moral obligations to one another only within the framework of a social contract–when we limit our obligations to those who have entered into such contracts and consider ourselves obligated only to those who share our citizenship, have signed a treaty we have signed, or participate with us in some other contractual arrangement. I make this reduction when I don’t care about torturing terrorists because they’re not signers of the Geneva Conventions, when I wish to alienate the immigrant who enters my country against my country’s laws, when I ignore my obligations to those not yet born because the laws of the land do not recognize their personhood, or when I insist that others shouldn’t be given Constitutional rights when the rights I wish to withhold from them are basic human rights.

I think that he’s right as far as he goes, but I don’t think that his point that basic human rights and duties are inherent to humanity (rather than assumed via some sort of contract/relationship) is actually the point usually at dispute in our society. Rather, what seems often to be disputed is what the extent of basic human rights are — and which “rights” are merely agreed civic rights which we grant explicitly via the social contract.

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15 Responses to Social Contract and Morality

  • Of course what are called “human rights” today are almost entirely the product of Western societies since the Sixteenth Century, much of it from Great Britain and America in origin. Much of what we call “human rights” today would have been denounced as pernicious and/or dangerous throughout most of human history by most cultures. To say that “human rights” arise simply due to inherent moral obligations that exist between people, we are confronted with the difficulty that most cultures for most of human history would vigorously disagree.

  • Thank you for the thoughtful response, Darwin. I’m pretty sure that I agree with the points you make, particularly in your last paragraph. To clarify my post, let me say that when the reduction is made, it isn’t usually (if ever) made flat out in a way that covers a person’s entire morality; it’s rather applied here and there inconsistently.

  • Donald,

    You raise a good point about the history of rights language. It is a recent invention. I tend to call rights a useful fiction, myself.

  • I do agree with what Kyle said. But, from other discussions I know that I don’t agree with how Kyle applies his generic or all inclusive definition of basic human rights to all persons of all types of backgrounds, since his definition doesn’t seem to take into consideration ( or very little consideration) certain circumstances and/or the consequences that one must face when committing a crime or an act of war. This is applicable with regards to both illegal immigrants and terrorists.

    While I do believe that enhanced interrogation techniques are justified in very extreme, life saving circumstances, I do think that the Bush administration allowed the use of them too frequently. But, then again, one needs to realize the atmosphere after 9/11, and no person wanted anything like this to ever happen again. I don’t support the three items on your list. They are in violation of basic human rights. With regards to immigration, I am all for legal immigration but am against illegal immigration. One would think that having secure borders would be a good thing, especially for our safety, but certain people deride people who advocate for secure borders and call us other vile names just because we want immigrants to follow our laws and immigrate here via the proper channels.

  • My only issue is that I don’t ever recall Morning’s Minion, whom Kyle is supposedly defending with his post, demonstrating an accurate understanding of classical social contract theory, nor providing and concrete examples of this bad sort of “contract thinking” in our society.

    There is nothing wrong with the social contract. It defines clearly the parameters of government. The alternative is arbitrary authority. We as Catholics can be proud that the resistance to absolute, arbitrary authority probably began in the Salamanca school.

  • Yes, clearly those who support enhanced interrogation do so on the basis that:

    (a.) It is not a violation of basic human rights;

    (b.) Strictures against using such techniques in the civilian criminal and civil code apply only in the civilian criminal and civil code, because they arise from the social contract;

    (c.) Strictures against using such techniques against prisoners of war also arise, not from a fundamental right, but from a contractual obligation; namely, treaty obligations regarding lawful combatants. These do not apply to persons whose status is “unlawful combatant.”

    Of course, (b.) and (c.) depend on first establishing (a.). If in fact everyone does have a basic human right, intrinsic to their dignity as a human person, not to be waterboarded, why then the presence or absence of a contract doesn’t matter a whit. Only if (a.) is true, does anyone even bother with (b.) and (c.).

    So, what about (a.)?

    To repeat, (a.) asserts that enhanced interrogation is not a violation of the basic human rights intrinsic to the dignity of human persons.

    Now it sounds absurd on the face of it to say this. Obviously we know we shouldn’t go grabbing random persons and waterboarding them, so, in obedience to this moral intuition, we conclude that it must be “a violation of their basic human rights” to do so, right? And if it’s a violation of the basic human rights of any random person, it must likewise be a violation of the basic human rights of a war criminal like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, right?

    Well, not so fast. One mustn’t go around waterboarding random persons. One mustn’t go around locking up random persons, either. Does it follow that locking up Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is a violation of his basic human rights?

    Why, no. It would only be a violation if he were innocent of wrongdoing. As he is a particularly nasty terrorist and about as far from innocent as it is possible to be, it’s perfectly okay to violate his basic human right of liberty, which is intrinsic to his dignity as a human being, by locking him up.

    Actually, I said that incorrectly. It’s not okay to violate his basic human right…but locking him up is no violation, because getting locked up is a freely-chosen consequence on his part. He chose, even asked, to be treated that way just by doing what he did. If he wasn’t willing to do the time, he shouldn’t have done the war-crime.

    But that raises a problem. Why can we not likewise argue that, while of course persons in general have a right to not be waterboarded, KSM voluntarily renounced that right by choosing to orchestrate terror plots to kill thousands of innocent people. Why can we not argue that, by doing this, he “chose, even asked,” to be waterboarded?

    Is there some qualitative or categorical difference between the right to freedom from imprisonment and the right to freedom from waterboarding, such that the former right can be voluntarily renounced by evil deeds, but the latter cannot?

    So the question is this:

    Given that people voluntarily renounce certain of their rights (at minimum, their liberty and/or property) when they commit heinous crimes by committing those crimes, it is reasonable, and not a violation of their rights, to forcibly deprive them of the benefits of the rights they have renounced.

    Yet, even before we read Church teachings on the matter, we recognize that the Moral Law forbids us to treat these persons as if they had, by committing whatever evil deed, renounced all of the rights intrinsic to the human dignity. We may lock them up; so, crimes are clearly capable of constituting a rejection of one’s right to liberty. We may not hang them from a mechanized hook and lower them an inch at a time, screaming, into an industrial shredding machine; so, crimes are clearly incapable of constituting a rejection of one’s right to not be shredded alive.

    How then, can one distinguish between the two categories of rights? Which ones may be renounced by crimes of sufficient magnitude, and which may not, no matter how horrific the crime?

    The Right to Not Be Waterboarded seems, according to Church teaching and most thinking Catholic opinion, to fall in the category of rights which are never, ever renounced. Even if one were, say, to personally rape and slowly murder fifty thousand innocent children while enjoying the whole process, one would have, by doing so, renounced one’s rights to both life and liberty, but not one’s right to avoid waterboarding.

    Why so?

    I am perfectly content agreeing that there is a line to be drawn; I am perfectly content saying that that is where the line is drawn; but I am confused about whether it was drawn there arbitrarily and could have been placed elsewhere, or if it was drawn there according to some unalterable moral principle which, when understood, allows us to see that the line could only ever be drawn in that way.

    Does anyone want to propose a principle which explains the positioning of the line? Or is it arbitrary, after all?

  • Joe,

    I agree that there is nothing wrong with the social contract per se. My concern is with the social contract used as a metaphorical framework for moral thought and action. I’m critical of thinking of moral obligations too much in terms of a social contract, moral thought that relies too heavily on the metaphor, that at times fails to account for obligations that exist beyond its boundaries. When someone denies another a basic human right because that other is not a “signer” of the social contract, he has treated a personal moral obligation as if it were an obligation under a social contract.

  • And as others have pointed out, we have to distinguish between civil and “basic human rights.” Who decides what a basic human right is?

    For instance, I believe an illegal immigrant has a basic human right to have their immediate needs met – if they are hungry, feed them, if they are naked, clothe them, if they are sick, care for them, contract or no contract. That is the basic Christian obligation.

    But when it comes to say, access to social services such as medical care beyond the emergency level, or education, or food stamps, etc. – then the public authorities, whose charge is to maintain the common good, have every right to regulate and restrict who has access to these services on the basis of what is fiscally and socially sustainable.

    This used to be understood in Catholic social thought. Now I’m not so sure it is. Now “common good” has come to mean services and spending without limit, in the name of satisfying “basic human rights.” That is to say, more and more things are falling under the umbrella of “basic human rights”, all of which the state is obliged to tax and pay for.

    But unsustainable policies cannot benefit the common good. If society collapses under the weight of entitlements, benefits, and a greatly expanded understanding of “basic human rights”, then I would say a much greater moral harm is done a great many more people. Some may call that “consequentialism”, but I don’t think it is an intrinsic evil for states to set boundaries and limits in order to ensure basic functionality.

  • Who decides what a basic human right is?

    Spoken like a good anti-Christian nihilist!

  • I wasn’t going to allow or respond to this childish nonsense, but for the sake of clarity I will indulge:

    My intention was not to say that it is impossible to decide what a basic human right is, but that in politics, there are many competing claims that demand recognition.

    I am neither anti-Christian nor a “nihilist” (another one of the pet words). I will rephrase the question: who decides which claims to basic human rights are endorsed by the state? Why is it that many more things are considered “basic human rights” than were 100 years ago? I don’t say that there are no basic human rights, but that in the current political climate, the concept continues to expand without limit, without regard for realistic limitations, and in doing so, putting ALL human rights in jeopardy.

  • Joe, don’t let Karlson get under your skin. That’s just how he reacts when he can’t control the discussion and drop the comments that he doesn’t see as advancing his pet agenda. He becomes unhinged and resorts to desperate ad hominems. It’s his tell – like when someone who doesn’t have any good cards tries to bluff his way through a poker hand but doesn’t realize that when he does his unconscious “rub-his-nose-with-his-index-finger-and smile” routine he is telegraphing the fact that he’s got nothing to every skilled player at the table. Pity him.

  • Yeah, sorry, Joe. I didn’t see Henry’s comment while it was still sitting in moderation, or I probably would have just deleted it as the non-comment it is.

    Pity is probably the right move here.

  • Eh. Maybe I should have let you, but it’s good to clear the air. People should see what we’re dealing with too.

  • My understanding, with regard to whether a terrorist or criminal forfeits the right not to be tortured, lies in the distinction between torture and other types of violence. War is inherently violent, and if it is unjust it is a travesty, but if it is just it is permitted (notice I don’t say noble, however, though personal acts of courage that are genuinely noble certainly occur even in unjust wars). Torture is not merely violence, but violence ordered toward a particular end: getting information out of the subject. So, where punishment or defense merits “violation” of the right an aggressor forfeits, the same may not be true of merely getting information from them by force that damages the body or the mind. (That’s my definition of torture in concrete terms, also.) I would suggest that while punishment is oriented directly toward dealing with the action it punishes and defense likewise, torture is on the other hand oriented directly toward information and therefore not, in the moral order, an immediate necessity and justified response to forfeiture of rights (which is a very limited forfeiture even where it does occur, by the way; it’s almost as if the criminal forces his rights out of the picture, although I do not mean by that a necessity argument which is a nicer way of saying a utilitarian argument). I would further argue that we have historically viewed torture as wrong regardless of any contract — things such as the Geneva Convention were put together largely after and in response to the great war crimes of the twentieth century that we prosecuted anyway (waterboarding by the Axis forces in WW2, for example). Finally, I would note that the Church appears (I say appears because the Catechism has been unclear in the past, inasmuch as stating as if it were required what is still technically only pious opinion is technically unclear) to teach that torture, that violence ordered toward extraction of information rather than either punishment or direct defense, is intrinsically evil.

    Thus, while I’m not totally closed to being corrected if I’m mistaken as to any of those moral standpoints, those are the well developed points that would need to be addressed to even begin suggesting torture is permissible on those who forfeit the bulk of their rights.

    Also, if one does argue that torture is permissible on war criminals because they’ve forfeited rights, one has to demonstrate the forfeiture of rights before one can act on it — and in terms of law, that generally means convict the war criminal first and interrogate after — which entirely robs the “necessity” argument of any urgency factor, the way it takes time to convict. One could argue also that an active combatant proves his status by that action, as these are whom one may shoot in a war without any trial or other formal process; however, one may not generally shoot an enemy who is captured and deprived of ability to combat because you’ve removed them from the very situation of immediate combat that both allows and necessitates said immediate judgement, so it’d be questionable whether such a parallel would even make torture of captured foes legitimate or rather prove it illegitimate.

  • I should also note regarding my definition of torture that damage need not be permanent. Also, I’m not sure I shouldn’t include direct infliction of pain in there, but one could argue pain as passing mental damage (since it impairs one’s immediate ability to think clearly)… but it’s the direct infliction, not the result of damage, that makes the difference — not that the classical notion of the direct object of an act means anything to the vast majority even of Catholics today, who would probably fail to realize that that _is_ drawing the line between mere discomfort (which is different from pain in kind, not just degree) or poor living conditions or anything like that and actual inflicting of pain. Let’s see, anything else… Risk. I’d probably count anything that risks such things just as sure as anything that obviously does it, simply because morality doesn’t play loose with possibilities and doubts (even where it acknowledges the _subjective_ effects of doubt, which, mind, can worsen the moral content if one is guilty of allowing the doubt to stay and especially to stay in a thing one knows one will act in).

    There’s a lot of temptation these days to call definitions unclear because we can equivocate around them, as if a clear definition would be immune to equivocation — and yet actually, that’s in the definition of equivocation: when something’s not clear in the first place, there isn’t a good meaning #1 for which to misconstrue with meaning #2, now is there? So anyway… yeah, I felt the need to try to add further qualification. Not sure I succeeded.

    And of course, one can also say all this is my “armchair theologian” pontification, but then, I don’t have to be stolen from to tell you we should criminalize theft either.

One Response to A Clarification from Father Brian Harrison on the Matter of Torture

Apropos of Last Weeks Torture Post …

Friday, February 19, AD 2010

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.

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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.

  • “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/

  • 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.

  • “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.”

  • 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?

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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…?”

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • …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.”

  • 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?

  • 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?

  • 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?

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Went back and read it. Agree with you.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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”?

  • I think we could say the death penalty is a JRVA.

  • If you’re still here Christopher, a link to where three prominent Catholics talk about torture and interrogation.

    http://article.nationalreview.com/392838/tough-questions/nro-symposium?page=1

Catholic Advocacy of Torture: A Teaching Moment for the Catholic Bishops?

Thursday, February 11, AD 2010

Writing at Vox Nova, the author known as “Morning’s Minion” has published a post calling for consistency in the application of canon 915 — the denial of Holy Communion to those who “obstinately persevere in manifest grave sin” — in this particular case, the public advocacy of abortion and torture. The post was occasioned by the recent appearance of Mark Thiessien on Raymond Arroyo’s “The World Over”, in which the duo lobbied vigorously in defense of waterboarding:

I think the analogy is clear. Arroyo and Thiessen are both Catholic public figures, and Arroyo in particular is a TV personality on a Catholic TV channel, making the scandal all the more grave. They are clearly “obstinately persevering” in support for an intrinsically evil act. Worse, they actually try to justify it on Catholic grounds. Thiessen has made it his life’s work to claim that some forms of torture are virtuous. Arroyo, again and again, invites defenders of torture onto his show, and instead of confronting them with clear Church teaching, voices his agreement. As [Archbishop Raymond] Burke says, this is “public conduct” that is gravely sinful. I would go further and argue that it is even more scandalous than support for legalized abortion. Most public supporters of abortion do not go on television extolling the great virtues of abortion for women and society. Their argument is more with how it should be treated under the law. But the Arroyo-Thiessen-Sirico cabal are (i) claiming to the faithful Catholics while (ii) making public pronouncements on the positive value of torture.

Catholic debate over torture (and/or what the Bush administration has termed “extreme interrogation”) has been going strong for several years now. It’s online manifestation initiated — to my recollection — with the publication of Mark Shea’s article in Crisis, “Toying with Evil: May a Catholic Advocate Torture?” and subsequent discussion at Amy Welborn’s, in March 2005. From time to time I’ve personally blogged on the various vollies and controversies between various camps as the debate has asserted itself, time and again, over half a decade (has it really been that long?)

That EWTN (“Eternal Word Television Network”) has hosted two explicit defenses of waterboarding — most recently by Thiessien, as well as Fr. Joseph Sirico of the Acton Institute, not to mention Q&A from Judy Brown of the American Life League questioning whether torture should be considered “intrinsically evil” — does not surprise me in the least. As I noted recently, there has been open dispute as to whether waterboarding constitutes torture from many prominent Catholics, including editor Deal Hudson, Catholic apologist Jimmy Akin, and Fr. Brian Harrison (in the pages of This Rock — the flagship publication of Catholic Answers, the largest largest lay-run apostolates of Catholic apologetics and evangelization in the United States). [Note: Austin Ruse of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute, a newcomer to the debate, has likewise made it known in the comments of this post where he stands on the matter].

Little wonder that a Pew Forum survey examining “the religious dimensions of the torture debate” found many white Roman Catholics, along with most frequent churchgoers, affirming that the use of torture against terrorists is “sometimes” or “often” justifiable.

With respect to abortion, readers may recall a number of opportune moments during the 2008 presidential elections when Catholic bishops were obliged to speak out, publicly, forcefully and collectively, in correction of blatantly false presentations of Catholic teaching on abortion by Nancy Pelosi and (then) Senator Joseph Biden.

There have been numerous missed “teaching moments” for our bishops and the Catholic Church on the matter of torture.

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294 Responses to Catholic Advocacy of Torture: A Teaching Moment for the Catholic Bishops?

  • I’ve been participating in the comments over on that thread, even though I strongly disagree w/ most of the commentary that appears on Vox Nova. In this case, Morning’s Minion is right, and I’ve told him as much. However, I’m not sure if he means what he says in terms of supporting the denial of communion to all who publicly dissent from key Catholic teachings on intrinsic evils, so perhaps I’m seen there as simply calling his bluff.

    I’m a tremendous supporter of EWTN, Mother Angelica, and the apostolates of the Franciscan friars, the Sisters, etc. there in Birmingham, and as such, it saddens me deeply to see Raymond Arroyo and some of his guests making excuses for torture. I’ve heard Thiessen on several different conservative radio and TV programs, and I know he’s hawking his new book, so I put zero confidence in his interpretation of Catholic teaching on the matter of torture. However, Fr. Sirico and Arroyo need to be far less cavalier about the torture issue in their presentation of it, even if they genuinely have doubts about whether waterboarding constitutes torture, which I believe they do. They need to recognize and state publicly that this is not an area where Catholic moral theology has stated in black-and-white terms that waterboarding is NOT torture, because it simply hasn’t been considered with such specificity yet.

    Christopher, I agree wholeheartedly with you that the Holy Father and others within the Magisterium must weigh in on this issue with clarity and efficiency (much like others have said on that Vox Nova thread), and it will put the matter to rest for a large majority of Catholics. As for MM’s suggestion that priests invoke current Canon law to withhold communion from dissenters on this issue, I support it, as long as it is also used in ALL areas where influential public Catholics dissent from clear Catholic teaching.

  • I have to wonder how the Battle of Tours in 732 or the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, both of which were fought against Islamic fascists, were ever won with this kind of attitude in the Church.

  • Denying communion to those who support the use of torture in certain circumstances would mean denying it to most of the popes who lived between circa 750 AD to 1871 AD. It is not politic perhaps to bring this up, but the attitude of the Church to the use of torture by lawful authority, either Church or State, did a 180 in the last century from previous praxis and teaching of the Church for a millennium.

  • Doesn’t anybody realize that there is a difference between the dismemberment and torturous murder of an innocent unborn baby, and the interrogation of a fanatical Jihaddist determined to maime and murder?

    There is no equivalency between the infanticide of the innocent unborn and the interrogation of the guilty Islamic fascist. None. Zero.

    But liberals just don’t get that.

  • I know MM is perfectly capable of speaking for himself, but I suspect his post is more about calling the bluff of denial-of-Communion Catholics. It will be interesting if he gets the moral consistency he’s seeking. If not, it’s a loss for the hard line bishops.

  • Paul

    It has nothing to do with “liberal” or “conservative.” It has to do with the fact that the Church has been guided to see torture as an intrinsic evil and a “non-negotiable.” And the killing and torture of innocents, which happens in war, is as evil as the killing and torture of innocents in the womb. Which is something many people like you forget — innocents destroyed are innocents destroyed.

  • Thank you, Henry. I’m as conservative as anyone and I’m disgusted that “conservativism” is being co-opted by the armchair Jack Bauers of the world. Since when is torture something the “good guys” do?

    Since when did “love thy neighbor” change to “except if they MIGHT have some useful information.. in that case, waterboard the shit out of them!”

    This is just more ammunition for the pro-choice Catholic excuse makers on the left.

  • I am not sure at all that we are at a point in the debate that it would lawful or right to deny communion to people that support waterboarding.

    Though people like to say it’s settled in fact there are some huge questions left and more questions on what torture is and what it is not. I am afraid a vote of the internet population is not going to do it. By design and as a general manner those Canon that punish are to be read narrowly.

    A denial of communion is a severe sanction and in a important debate that is in it infancy seems to be for the purpose of shutting up debate.

    TO the above parties that are mentioned I am pretty confident that they will heed the decree of their local Bishop on this matter unlike sadly many pro-abortion poltiticians

  • “There have been numerous missed “teaching moments” for our bishops and the Catholic Church on the matter of torture.”

    This could be perhaps that there are issues as to torture and enchanced interrogation that has not been dealt with and perhaps the Church recognizes has to be debated

  • Paul,

    Perhaps you were confused by the fact that both Christians and Muslims were involved, but Tours and Lepanto were battles, not interrogations. No one has attempted to argue that battles, when necessary, cannot be fought. And I think one would have to be rather deceived to claim that Tours and Lepanto were unnecessary.

  • On the topic in question: it seems fairly clear to me that MM is not actually calling for people to defend waterboarding to be denied communion, he’s calling for pro-abortion Catholics _not_ to be denied communion. For some time now he’s been accusing pro-lifers of seeking to politicize the Eucharist by supporting the denial of communion to pro-abortion politicians. It’s an argument from absurdity combined with some tu toque.

    In this regard, it seems to me that the argument lacks some crucial context. When bishops have, in rare circumstances, denied abortion to notorious abortion supporters, it has been after long years of the Church clearly denying that one may, as a Catholic, support legal abortion. It has also been after the individual politician is warned by the bishop that he/she must change his views lest he be denied communion. The denial of communion is, at that point, a response to repeated and stubborn refusal to accept correction.

    So in this case, an obvious first step (assuming that the Church does in fact consider the positions being taken by these people to be totally unacceptable) would be for some bishops to step forward, make it clear that these positions are morally unacceptable, and advise people that they must cease making these arguments lest they find themselves divided from the Church.

    As Chris says, this is clearly a potential teaching moment. I don’t myself agree with the arguments that folks like Thiessien are making — though I’m not ready to say with confidence that it’s impossible for Catholics to make such arguments in good conscience. (After all, there are arguments which I disagree with, such as that a majority Catholic state should not allow the open practice of dissenting religions, which Catholics are indeed allowed to make. Not all conclusions on important matters are handed to us on a silver platter in Catholicism, despite some of the accusations of our separated brethren.)

    What MM does not seem fully cognizant of, unless I’m much misreading his intention with his post, is that there is a difference in Church discipline on these two issues in that the Church has already made it clear that it considers dissent on the question of legal abortion to be something which, in notorious cases, can and should be disciplined through denial of communion. He may not like that, but there it is. It is not yet, however, clear whether the topic of waterboarding is something over which the Church considers it appropriate to ban people from communion for dissent. Certainly, the bishops could decide to make not advocating this a matter of obedience, as a few Southern bishops made complying with their orders to desegregate Catholic schools a matter of obedience, but this has not actually happened up until this point, and so I’m not clear how one gets to demand that they do so as a matter of consistency unless one imagines that one is in a better position to set Church teaching and discipline than the bishops themselves.

  • “he’s calling for pro-abortion Catholics _not_ to be denied communion.”

    No he is not.

  • Really? He’s certainly accused pro-lifers of using communion as a cudgel and those bishops who have denied communion to pro-abortion politicians as being political hacks.

    Wouldn’t that seem to imply that he doesn’t think people should be denied communion for supporting legal abortion?

    (My apologies, though, I appear to have mistakenly thought a comment was made by Henry that was my by someone else. I’ll make the correction.)

  • As far as I can see, we already have perfectly consistent application of Canon 915. It is virtually never applied.

    The bishops have consistently condemned both torture and abortion, and have done precious little against Catholic public figures who advocate either.

    There is, of course, the little matter that torture is illegal and abortion is a right, and the attendant fact that 1.5 million abortions are performed in the U.S. each year, while comparatively very few (if any) prisoners are tortured (depending on your definition of what exactly constitutes torture, a question which MM settled long ago, but which much of the rest of the country is still debating).

    The simple fact remains that, over at VN, not only torture but SUVs, poverty, and _every other issue_ trumps abortion when it comes time to take action, with the result that no positive action can ever be taken. And that’s why life is too short to read Vox Nova.

  • DC

    You are confusing so many issues, which is the problem. For example, the desire to say “anyone who voted for Obama is pro-abortion and therefore should be denied communion” is wrong, and yet that is the kind of cudgel many who call themselves pro-life have tried to use. There is a big difference between denying communion to people who really are pro-abortion than denying people who cooperate with the American political system and vote for someone despite their abortion stand. But he is also pointing out that the canon law being used can be applied to all kinds of moral outrages, and yet the same people are not interested in applying it universally. That is not the same as your claim.

  • How about this question. Is any use of force licit in interrogation?

  • Henry,

    I think you may be equivocating. One may directly kill an innocent in war. But this may also be an example of double effect where one can anticipate that innocents may be killed while justly stopping an aggressor. Thus the first would be immoral but the second would be licit given proportionate reasons. Abortion never is licit.

  • “How about this question. Is any use of force licit in interrogation?”

    Those are questions that must be asked as well as other components of enhanced interrogation.

    That is one reason why I think there is not a lot of basis in denying communion to people where the issues are in such flux. There is going to have be a serious moral debate on many issues.

    When does discomfort become torture? I have seen torture defined as to the extreme of burning hot coals to the other extreme that 24 hours of sleep deprivation could be torture

  • Right or wrong, I don’t expect the defense of torture to be widely held as cause for the denial of communion because, as Darwin and Christopher note, there hasn’t been a clear history of bishops loudly proclaiming that Catholics cannot in good conscience support torture. The current torture debate is fairly new. Perhaps a few decades down the road, when and if we have a long train of teaching moments to reference, we’ll see the canon law in question applied to advocates of torture. Nevertheless, Morning’s Minion has a valid point about its inconsistent application, even if his point has as of now heavier theoretical weight than practical weight.

  • When does discomfort become torture?

    I wouldn’t distinguish discomfort from torture by reference to the degree of pain, which doesn’t get us very far, but by the intended effect of the pain/discomfort. Torture is the use of physical or mental pain to coerce the will to the point where the will itself is undermined and rendered powerless. This use of pain is different than the use of pain to motivate the will or persuade a prisoner to will what the interrogators want him to will.

  • “For example, the desire to say “anyone who voted for Obama is pro-abortion and therefore should be denied communion” is wrong, and yet that is the kind of cudgel many who call themselves pro-life have tried to use.”

    I think that is a rather extreme postione and I ma not sure at all that many people who wish the Bishops to tough up on abortion for example would advocate that. I should be noted that when Kmiec was denied communion by one Priest there was quite a reaction from many Catholic pro-lifers on many fronts that said that was wrong.

    “But he is also pointing out that the canon law being used can be applied to all kinds of moral outrages, and yet the same people are not interested in applying it universally. That is not the same as your claim.”

    While this is a fine debating tactic but I am not sure it gets it very far. Painting a nightmare picture of the Canon Law Provison in dispute as running possibily amuck is quite different in wanting the Law to applied correctly.

  • “How about this question. Is any use of force licit in interrogation?”

    My own view is absolutely not. Any physical coercion of a prisoner beyond what is necessary to restrain, confine, or move said prisoner should be off limits. Interrogation should involve asking questions, not exerting physical pressure.

    I mean, that seems like the sort of basic and obvious definition of torture (at least obvious to me): you can’t coerce answers from a prisoner by physically violating that person’s bodily integrity.

    Now, I am less certain about what psychological means may be brought to bear in getting answers from a prisoner. To the extent there is going to be any debate over appropriate interrogation techniques, in my view it should fall into the realm of which psychological techniques are appropriate. As a baseline, though, I think that any physical coercion is morally problematic.

  • Karlson,

    You have advocated ignoring the abortion funding in the healthcare bill and have gone into full pro-life assualt since the bill now appears to be dead. Your protestations about pro-torture Catholics, regardless of their merits, are self serving.

    The real problem with the Vox Nova folks (MM, HK, MI) is that they have continued to ignore the pro-abortion zealotry that killed the healthcare bill. They are now lashing out in all directions. This pro-torture bashing is little more than fuming (regardless of the merits).

  • In my answer above, I don’t mean to imply that torture is only physical and not psychological. Clearly, as Kyle points out, there is also psychological torture that can cause mental pain and anquish.

  • Kyle,

    One question I have with that is there does not seem to be an absolute freedom of will to do whatever it wants. There are limits the state can place upon the will.

    That then leads back to my first question.

  • “One question I have with that is there does not seem to be an absolute freedom of will to do whatever it wants. There are limits the state can place upon the will.

    That then leads back to my first question.”

    There is also a question of the difference between BREAKING THE WILL and Reforming the Will which I suppose are two differnt things

  • Pingback: Catholic Advocacy of Torture: A Teaching Moment for the Catholic Bishops? » First Thoughts | A First Things Blog
  • One other thing should be noted here. A lot of people are not just engaging this with a poltical viewpoint which seems to a subtone of many of these debates as we are looking into motives

    For many of us there is a obligation to have a coherent view on this issue that takes in all scripture all Church tradition and all Church teaching. Not just what has been said in the last 100 years.

    It all has to fit together and it is a important task as we engage other Christians from other other faith communities and non Christians.

    The Church and scripture have never endorsed abortion. Scripture, tradition, and Church teaching is not so clear cut on all the aspects of the torture. enhanced interrogation debate where one could say it is so OBVIOUS.

    That has been one of the frustrating things about this debate is much of it is seen through a purely political lens.

    Why that might be great as we compare the various faults of the Bush and Obama administrations it is not very helpful when a Non Catholic confronts me with verses from Sirach or other teachings.

    It must fit all together some how.

  • Jay read my mind!

  • If it were up to MM, cap-and-trade opponents would incur latae sententiae excommunication.

    I agree that this is a teaching moment but I don’t think the bishops know what to teach.

    Bishop: Torture is evil.
    Congregant: What’s torture?
    Bishop: Sticking a baton up the ass would be torture.
    Congregant: Obviously but what about waterboarding?
    Bishop: [crickets chirp]

    Personally, I’d rule out all physical and psychological harm, beyond what is necessary to restrain, for a purpose extrinsic to the individual.

  • I suspect the bishops will say that waterboarding is torture. They will of course need to have a strong, reasoned response to do so.

  • I agree that anything causing psychological harm should be ruled out. But, in my view, there is more room for debating what causes psychological “harm” than there is when we’re talking about physical coercion.

    Here’s what I mean by psychological means of extracting information are less clear cut:

    * Is good-cop/bad-cop torture?
    * Is lying – for example, telling Prisoner B that Prisoner A has spilled the beans and fingered Prisoner B as the mastermind when Prisoner A has done nothing of the sort – torture? (Such a tactic may be morally problematic apart from the question of torture.)
    * What about other mind games that play on the emotions of the person being interrogated but that arguably don’t cause psychological harm?

    It could be that, in context, any or all of those may constitute torture. But that’s the point. In contrast to physical coercion, which, in my opinion, is ALWAYS torture, the examples above may or may not be torture depending on the circumstances.

  • Phillip,

    The state can legitimately limit what one is able to will, but it may not licitly rob him of his core capacity to will. It may imprison a man, thereby preventing him from acting as free people do, but it may not render a man a mere puppet incapable of making moral decisions. The man tortured into action is a man made less than a man, a man rendered incapable of free choices, and therefore incapable of virtue. The sin of torture has much to do with pain, of course, but it has, in my opinion, more to do with what it does to the core personal selfhood of the one tortured. Torture uses pain to make a person act precisely not as a person, but as an instrument of the torturer.

  • I suspect imprisoning does rob him of his will but not of his conscience. He may continue to believe what he wants but cannot act (will) it. For example an imprisoned murderer may continue to wish to kill another but cannot act on his conscience which tells him its okay.

    Thoughts?

  • I think the way I’m using the word “will” is somewhat close to how you’re using the word “conscience.” I’m using “will” in reference to the power of the person to make free, moral decisions. An imprisoned man still has that power, even if he cannot exercise it toward the ends he wishes. He may not be able to will what he wants, but he can still will. The coerced person, however, can neither will what he wants to really will at all. He acts involuntarily.

  • It seems the state does have the right to stop some consciences from acting as they will. From Dignitatis Humanae:

    “7. The right to religious freedom is exercised in human society: hence its exercise is subject to certain regulatory norms. In the use of all freedoms the moral principle of personal and social responsibility is to be observed. In the exercise of their rights, individual men and social groups are bound by the moral law to have respect both for the rights of others and for their own duties toward others and for the common welfare of all. Men are to deal with their fellows in justice and civility.

    Furthermore, society has the right to defend itself against possible abuses committed on the pretext of freedom of religion. It is the special duty of government to provide this protection. However, government is not to act in an arbitrary fashion or in an unfair spirit of partisanship. Its action is to be controlled by juridical norms which are in conformity with the objective moral order. These norms arise out of the need for the effective safeguard of the rights of all citizens and for the peaceful settlement of conflicts of rights, also out of the need for an adequate care of genuine public peace, which comes about when men live together in good order and in true justice, and finally out of the need for a proper guardianship of public morality.

    These matters constitute the basic component of the common welfare: they are what is meant by public order. For the rest, the usages of society are to be the usages of freedom in their full range: that is, the freedom of man is to be respected as far as possible and is not to be curtailed except when and insofar as necessary.”

    It seems there can be restraint on conscience at some level.

  • Equivalency bewteen abortion and torture?

    I don’t think there is necessarily an equivalence, nor that anyone is making such an equivalence. Both are evil, and intrinsically so. I do agree abortion is more evil in many respects, but that really doesn’t seem to be the point. Rape and adultery are both evil, and a strong argument can be made that rape is worse. That doesn’t lessen the evil of adultery one iota.

  • Phillip,

    I read the passage you cite as saying the state can curtail freedom in the sense that it can prevent or prohibit a person from willing certain actions, but I don’t see that it anywhere says the state may render a person fundamentally incapable of willing or attack the power to will. The limits allowed to be placed by the state are limits on what can be willed, not on the power to will itself. I don’t see how the Church could ever advocate limits on the latter, for it would be advocating putting people into conditions that violate their core personhood by making them incapable not only of evil, but of real goodness as well.

  • True, but what can the state do if some, in good conscience continue to act against the common good.

  • Again, limits on not so much as willed, but one in conscience can be held. We already acknowledge we can stop the will from acting.

  • Philip

    Double-effect does not take place the way you think it does. There are many more rules to war than “it’s war” to justify double effect. And even then the evil is the same, the issue is not the evil, but the guilt.

    And this goes into Colin’s claim.

    Colin: many people have shown you that the claims are outright wrong about abortion in the health care bill. But let’s say more abortions will happen because people are given better health care. That IS double effect going on right there. Increase of health care is itself a good, and to intend that without intending more abortion, but having more abortion happen as a result, is exactly double effect.

  • I’m not sure I understand the last question.

  • Henry,

    Perhaps. This is the way I understand it. Let’s say there is a tank that is a threat. There is also a civilian nearby. One can drop a bomb on the tank, anticipating that the civilian will be killed by the blast. What is directly intended is the destruction of a threat. What is not directly intended is the killing of a civilian. Nor does the destruction of the tank come as a result of the killing of the civilian Not direct killing so not morally illicit. That’s my understanding of double effect in war.

    This to contrast with dropping a bomb on civilians because they’re the damn enemy. Direct killing of innocents and thus immoral. In the same category as abortion.

  • Kyle,

    Perhaps because I have worded poorly. It seems to me (and I could be incorrect) that what one reasons is a good is distinct from what one wills to do. It seems to be that the state may do a great many things to stop the will from acting. It seems the state may even drop a bomb on a tank that is unjustly invading one’s land. This with the implicit reality that one will kill the occupants of the tank who are willing it to invade. This in contrast to the assertion that the state may never force the conscience of a person.

    It seems the state can do a great many things to limit the will. The question is can the state do anything to limit the conscience and if so to what degree.

  • A number of responses to the post and comments:

    (1) I actuallly agree that the Pelosi comparison was apt – in each case, a person self-identifying as a faithful Catholic, attempted to defend a position which simply cannot be defended.

    (2) Despite Christopher’s assertion to the contrary, there is no real debate about whether waterboarding constitutes torture. I would note that the arguments of the defenders – Hudson, Akin, Harrison – have little to do with specific techniques and more to do with consequentialist arguments about circumstances under which it might be licit. As for the technique itself, until Bush-Cheney, there was no doubt that this was torture, especially when done by the Khmer Rouge and the imperial Japanese. That tells me that the real defense is an exercise in pure consequentialism – it’s OK when America does it to “keep itself safe from terrorists”.

    (3) For Paul Primavera – “fascism” is a 20th century term that cannot be applied to the 8th or the 16th century. Even worse, “islamic fascism” is an offensive term much loved by American neocons who use it as pretext for war and torture.

    (4) Yes, the Church sinned in the past by supporting torture, largely because they embraced Roman law, and torture was part of the Roman law. But the catechism itself says very explicitly that this was wrong, and that torture (just like slavery) can never be defended.

    (5) I disagree with Darwin’s canonical distinction between abortion and torture. The issue pertains to those “obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin.” There is a lot of consensus that publicly saying something opposed to Church teaching in scandalous manner could be grounds for denying communion. This would encompass defending something that is both extremely grave and intrinsically evil. Both torture and abortion would qualify – after all, they are both listed as among the grave sins in Gaudium Et Spes, and they both evil regardless of circumstance.

    (6) Following up on the last point, let me state for the record that I do not agree with Burke’s take on canon 915. And I am not saying this as an arrogant amateur – I’ve consulted some canonists I know who assure me that Burke’s interpretation is a distinct minority opinion. That makes sense to me. I think somebody who publicly states he is a faithful Catholic and says that abortion is a great social good, or that more women should be encouraged to abort might fall foul of this canon. Likewise, somebody who claims that torturing a prisoner is a great thing to do (Thiessen) might be implicated.

    (7) Prohibitions on receiving the Eucharist are as old as the Church. But I would have you call that some of the oldest debate centers on whether soldiers who participate in war should be permitted to partake – see St. Basil. Not that I am defending this today, but we need to be aware of the history. I’m not particularly interested in targeting individuals at the communion rails – I’m just dismayed by the silence of the episcopacy on this issue.

  • Thank you for the dialogue, particularly Kyle. I am off to the mountains for the weekend. Hope to come back to continued genteel conversation.

  • Henry,

    Is Pelosi wrong then when she reassures her abortion constituents that abortion funding IS part of the bill? Or is she lying to them?

    Your application of double effect is incorrect. Abortion funding does NOT have to be part of the bill. You are advocating the bill despite the funding of such. That isn’t double effect. That is material cooperation.

  • Colin

    I believe she is lying — and I am no fan of Pelosi. She is a liar, and misrepresents things constantly for her own political gain. Or do you think she is telling the truth when she talks about Catholic understandings of abortion?

    And as has been shown on Vox Nova — there is no such funding in the bill itself.

    BTW, do you know double effect IS about cooperation? That is a part of the whole point. That one can promote something which is good despite unintended consequences from one’s support, even if the consequences are foreknown.

  • Colin

    And this goes along with Cardinal Dulles who has even said similarly — you can support a good (X) despite abortion (of course within specific guidelines — but that’s been discussed on VN).

  • Henry,

    Which is more likely:

    1. Pelosi is trying to smuggle in unpopular abortion funding (76% against last I checked) using an obtuse accounting scheme (Casey admendment). Upholding her commitment to abortion.

    2. Pelosi is lying to her constituents and betraying the “right to choose” push healthcare through.

    My money is one the first, esp since she didn’t support Stupak and the Dem leadership has been trying to get hiim to roll on the issue (rather than the other way around).

    Also, you application of double effect only applies if there is NO ALTERNATIVE. Abortion funding is not a necessary result of health care reform. Stupak proved that. If other Democrats would uphold life we might have a bill signed already.

  • Apologies to the author. I didn’t mean to sidetrack this thread.

  • Colin, I’d love to see the evidence. Though many have compared the Nelson Amendment to the Capps accounting trick, as far as I can tell, there’s a very important difference. The Nelson Amendment requires enrollees to write two checks. That virtually ensures that nobody will choose to pay for abortion coverage. This is why pro-choice groups opposed it. But, I’d love to see evidence to the contrary (from a source other than Pelosi’s mouth).

  • The one thing that remains missing in this discussion of theoreticals is a usable definition of “torture”. The good old, “I know it when I see it” that applied to pornography is not workable here.

    Why, would you ask?

    Well, thanks for asking!

    The problem from which most of this discussion suffers is actually two-fold: a lack of practical experience in even *imagining* the situational ethics (bad term, I know, but give me a minute) of a particular instance, combined with that very “I-know-it-when-I-see-it” mentality I dismissed above.

    Some things are easy to define as torture: cutting off fingers/toes; pushing bamboo shards under fingernails; cutting; testicular electrification; castration; murder of a comrade with a threat of one’s own murder; confinement to a space smaller than one’s own frame; burning; acid in the eyes; other disfiguring injuries inflicted for the purpose of coercion. All definitely torture; all specifically outside the provisions of the Geneva Conventions and the Laws of Land Warfare.

    But…is loud music? ( I would argue that it would depend on the genre.) Is sleep deprivation within reasonable limits? Is environmental manipulation? Withholding food (this one is a probable yes)? threatening? Intimating that someone has ratted the prisoner out? Not correcting a misimpression on the part of a prisoner that something bad has happened to a comrade, or is about to happen to them?

    Then…what about dripping water across the face of a person in a controlled manner, with medical assistance present, in order to evoke a visceral panic reaction on the part of the subject that is so unpleasant as to encourage the subject to avoid its repetition?

    I don’t know the answer.

    But I will say this: Unless you have had to manage the use of deadly force in some way, your ability to make a valid judgment may be impaired. Not that you’re a bad person, or you lack intelligence, or anything negative; you just may not have a frame of reference that allows you to validly evaluate the morality of a particular situation. Killing is objectively evil; murder is intrinsically evil..BUT: Some people just need killin’, as people in the South might say. And as unpleasant as it is to hear, it is unequivocally true. And it is up to the moral actor, IN THE HEAT OF THE MOMENT, to make the best judgment he or she can based on his or her training and experience, and then to pull the trigger (or not). And that moral actor must bear the consequences of that decision before God.

    So I guess I’m saying: If you haven’t had to think about killing another human being, you may not have enough information to really validly evaluate the morality of things that go on in war (past a certain point, and with obvious exceptions, like My Lai).

  • Why is this such a tedious and ultimately meaningless argument? Because only 3 people were waterboarded. This is an issue that is being ginned up mostly by folks who hate Republicans and want desperately to change the debate from abortion.

  • Austin Ruse,

    The argument is neither tedious nor meaningless and it pertains to more than just three individuals who were water-boarded. We have witnessed the systematization and legalization of coercive interrogation techniques, including torture, into official government policy. That fact alone should concern us. Perhaps even more disheartening, this policy has found justification among Catholics and others that bases its use on a materialistic and morally relativistic gospel of salvific violence. I’ve seen even otherwise pro-life Catholics argue that we must keep ourselves safe by any means necessary and that the end of keeping us safe justifies any means. To be sure, we’re not simply witnessing a debate among Catholics about what techniques qualify as torture. We’re seeing Catholics who typically decry moral relativism embrace morally relativistic arguments in the name of national security. That’s a problem.

  • Except of course Kyle that the use of what is currently described as torture was routinely used by virtually all Western governments until the day before yesterday in historical terms. In the US the third degree was quite common in police work until the Sixties. The papal states had official torturers until the papal states were abolished in 1870. In a society which tolerates the destruction of human life to the tune of tens of millions a year in regard to abortion, I am curious about this new found sensitivity to torture in both the Church and Western countries at large. One may be against physical torture on prudential grounds as I am, and yet wonder if it is truly immoral for a cop for example to pummel a kidnapper in order to get a child back safe to her parents. A whole host of prudential reasons can be mustered as to why the cop should not do this, but I truly find it hard to understand why such an action would be immoral. Substitute a parent for the cop, and I think it would be immoral for the parent not to attempt to coerce the will of the kidnapper in order to rescue a son or daughter.

  • Why is this such a tedious and ultimately meaningless argument? Because only 3 people were waterboarded.

    I quote from the above post:

    “Little wonder that a Pew Forum survey examining ‘the religious dimensions of the torture debate’ found many white Roman Catholics, along with most frequent churchgoers, affirming that the use of torture against terrorists is ‘sometimes’ or ‘often’ justifiable.”

    This is an issue that is being ginned up mostly by folks who hate Republicans and want desperately to change the debate from abortion.

    What a contemptible claim!

  • Three men waterboarded vs 50 million murders of unborn children. This is a waste of time and i reiterate, an attempt by a small group who want to divert attention from a truly horrific situation. These guys also want us to believe that its ok to vote for someone like Obama, who opposes waterboarding 3 guys but supports the killing of unborn children, rather than one of those despicable conservatives who may favor waterboarding but opposes the deliberate killing of millions of unborn children. This is not a serious debate.

  • There you go again, Austin. While you may have some success tarring me as one of those “folks who hate Republicans”, you most certainly cannot say the same for most of the commentors above who oppose torture. What I see is disgust with the conduct of evil by our political masters, no matter which secular ideology most appeals.

    You’ll get no argument that abortion is graver than torture. But you must also admit that the moral proximity, the formal cooperation in evil, of political leaders to each act of torture is much closer than the moral proximity of these same leaders to each incidence of abortion. Doesn’t that concern you?

    And what kind of argument are you making anyway? Rape is probably not as bad as murder. Does this mean we should turn a blind eye to rape? Is rape tedious?

    You would be more convincing if you argued that you supported your precious Republicans in spite of, not because of, or indifference to, their embrace of torturing people for consequentialist reasons.

    And this goes far beyond waterboarding, by the way. You take the Bush-Cheney techniques minus waterboarding and you have a very close approximiation to the approved techniques of the gestapo. But the gestapo didn’t really torture, did they? Or did they? Maybe they did, if you bring intent and circumstance into it. Oh wait, you can’t do that with intrinsically evil acts…

  • Colin,

    You have been at this game for too long. It’s time to end it. Look at the Vox Nova threads on healthcare reform. Even better, read the bill.

    Here’s the deal. This reform does not support or push forward the abortion agenda. The reform relates to the expansion of private insurance. Many private insurance companies pay for abortion. Should they? Not if I had my way, but I don’t remember a pro-life organization making a priority of this one.

    The issue then, is now to minimize taxpayer funds from going to these private insurance companies that cover abortion. Stupak was ironclad – did the pro-life movement support the House bill with Stupak? No, they instead supported a pro-abortion pro-torture Senate candidate who opposed both the House and Senate bills.

    And yes, Stupak is better than Nelson, but not that much better. After all, Nelson would allow states to forbid abortion coverage, give people the option of an abortion-free plan, and shine attention on abortion coverage by separating payments (if you can’t see the value in forcing such attention, just ask the RNC). The pro-choicers hate it for a reason. Is it ideal? No. But it is the first ever federal attempt to address abortion coverage by private insurance companies. And I think people would most definitely start choosing plans without abortion, which will force insurance companies to drop coverage.

    I’ll leave you with an insightful point made by a commentor on Vox Nova. When Republicans implemented the Medicare Advantage program, involving direct subsidies from taxpayers to insurance companies, was abortion an issue? No, it was not. And yet, what is the difference? And don’t respond by saying Medicare does not cover abortion – the money is going to insurance companies that do fund abortion, and this money is fungible. And since the reform bill proposes to save money by eliminating Medicare Advantage, shouldn’t you be lauding them for distancing taxpayer funds from abortion?

    Oh, and by the way, the more recent Republican ideas on healthcare are not exactly unborn-friendly either. Granting tax credits makes it cheaper for people to purchase private plans with abortion. And allowing insurance plans to be sold across state lines without appropriate minimum standards would gut the Nelson provision allowing states to ban abortion coverage.

    What do I conclude? I conclude that many of those who scream about healthcare and abortion do not support this healthcare reform in the first place. They use the unborn on their behalf, but it is really their liberal principles that are offended. They object to forcing people to purchase health insurance, and especially to forcing the healthy to subsidize the sick, either directly through community rating, or indirectly through budgetary subsidies. This was really why they opposed reform, not abortion. Let’s end this charade here and now.

  • Three men waterboarded vs 50 million murders of unborn children.

    No. Evil is not opposed to evil. All evil comes from the same source, and all evil will be sent back to that source, carrying along whoever clings to any part of it.

    Formal cooperation with evil is one way of clinging to evil, and there’s reason to believe that tens of millions of Catholics in the United States formally cooperate with the grave evil of torture.

  • As Tom has aptly pointed out (I think, anyway) this is a both/and scenario. We must oppose both torture and abortion per Church teaching on each. This is hardly a mutually exclusive predicament.

    That being said, in a discussion on abortion and torture in the US, abortion is demonstrably the greater historical scandal. The blood on our hands from millions of children lost since Roe v Wade is in no small part the result of an enabling, ideologically-driven, morally pernicious, left-wing brand of Catholicism.

    No amount of moral calculus can be used to justify torture as if abortion is so heinous that everything the political-right does pales in comparison. Yet given the track record of the left it is understandable that such claims of the moral high ground are more about advancing the political football than about embracing Church teaching on this particular matter.

  • Nice to see, once again, Austin reveals his true colors. Push for Republicans and use abortion as a diversion.

  • If torture was actually an issue, then yes, we should oppose it. But to use it as a wedge to keep people from voting for the pro-life party, it is no more than Democratic trickery. The proposition is that there is some kind of equivalence between the murder of 50 million children and three men being waterboarded and therefore one may in good conscience vote for party that supports baby-killing (and by the way, the Party of Death also knew about waterboarding and did nothing).

  • “The pro-life party” — what party is this?

  • That would be the party that had this in its platform in 2008:

    “Maintaining The Sanctity and Dignity of Human Life

    Faithful to the first guarantee of the Declaration of Independence, we assert the inherent dignity and sanctity of all human life and affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed. We support a human life amendment to the Constitution, and we endorse legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections apply to unborn children. We oppose using public revenues to promote or perform abortion and will not fund organizations which advocate it. We support the appointment of judges who respect traditional family values and the sanctity and dignity of innocent human life.

    We have made progress. The Supreme Court has upheld prohibitions against the barbaric practice of partial-birth abortion. States are now permitted to extend health-care coverage to children before birth. And the Born Alive Infants Protection Act has become law; this law ensures that infants who are born alive during an abortion receive all treatment and care that is provided to all newborn infants and are not neglected and left to die. We must protect girls from exploitation and statutory rape through a parental notification requirement. We all have a moral obligation to assist, not to penalize, women struggling with the challenges of an unplanned pregnancy. At its core, abortion is a fundamental assault on the sanctity of innocent human life. Women deserve better than abortion. Every effort should be made to work with women considering abortion to enable and empower them to choose life. We salute those who provide them alternatives, including pregnancy care centers, and we take pride in the tremendous increase in adoptions that has followed Republican legislative initiatives.

    Respect for life requires efforts to include persons with disabilities in education, employment, the justice system, and civic participation. In keeping with that commitment, we oppose the non-consensual withholding of care or treatment from people with disabilities, as well as the elderly and infirm, just as we oppose euthanasia and assisted suicide, which endanger especially those on the margins of society. Because government should set a positive standard in hiring and contracting for the services of persons with disabilities, we need to update the statutory authority for the AbilityOne program, the main avenue by which those productive members of our society can offer high quality services at the best possible value.”

    The pro-death party had this in its platform in 2008:

    “The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman’s right to choose a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay, and we oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right.The Democratic Party also strongly supports access to affordable family planning services and comprehensive age-appropriate sex education which empower people to make informed choices and live healthy lives. We also recognize that such health care and education help reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and thereby also reduce the need for abortions.”

  • So, the Constitution of the Soviet Union made Stalin good? The platform didn’t deal with the whole issue of life, and ignores the Gospel of Life. To be pro-life, as the Church speaks, is more than to be against abortion. And Austin shows what happens when people think that is all it is about — even being against abortion doesn’t have to be (Brown) as long as one is GOP! The shell game doesn’t work. The fact of the matter is that the actual policies of the Republicans have been anti-life, and have promoted the culture of death. The fact of the matter is that when people think “torture doesn’t matter” they have accepted the culture of death (if it doesn’t matter, than abortion, as torture, doesn’t matter). But it does matter. And any attempt to ignore it when it is an issue is an attempt to hide real anti-life policies.

    And here is a note for the sophists:

    Just because book X might be the most expensive book ever does not mean books A-W, when combined with Y and Z are less valuable than X.

  • Karlson your never ending efforts to run interference for Obama and the party of abortion lend support to the argument that Mr. Ruse is making. This is on par with your ludicrous attempt last weekend to argue that Nixon was more pro-abortion than the patron saint of Vox Nova Obama. Stop beclowning yourself in your attempt to be a useful tool for people who are completely pro-abortion.

  • Karlson your never ending efforts to run interference for Obama and the party of abortion lend support to the argument that Mr. Ruse is making.

    Yes, and it’s deucedly annoying, because the argument that Mr. Ruse is making is a “30% less evil than the other leading brand” whitewash of the Republican Party.

    As long as Catholics treat moral issues as though they were fundamentally political issues — as Austin does by claiming, in the teeth of the empirical evidence, that torture is not an issue — politicians will treat moral issues as Catholic vote-bait, and souls will be lost.

  • One very big difference between the issue of banning Communion to pro-abortion politicians vs. banning Communion to “pro-torture” politicians is simply the fact that what constitutes torture may not be as clearly defined as what constitutes abortion.

    It’s pretty obvious what constitutes abortion (although, granted, some people have tried to redefine “conception” in a way that excludes certain forms of abortafacient contraception). And some practices are obviously torture (branding, whipping, racking, mutilation, sexual abuse, threatening to kill, rape or torture a loved one in one’s prescence. And I would, personally, include waterboarding in this definition). However, the danger is that certain persons of more liberal persuasion may attempt to expand the definition of torture to include just about anything that causes distress or places pressure on the person being interrogated. Next thing you know, they will be claiming that parents who spank their young children are guilty of child abuse… oh wait… but I digress.

    I do think the issue of whether the government should ever officially endorse certain “enhanced interrogation” practices as a matter of policy is a very serious issue that needs to be addressed. It does have the potential for greater abuses. Remember, hard cases make bad law.

    However, in this particular case, it seems obvious to me that liberal Catholics who support pro-abortion politicians are just looking for a “gotcha” to use against those who advocate denial of Communion to such politicians.

  • The Democrat party favors the deliberate killing of unborn children up to 50 million at this point. The Democrat Party has funded abortions overseas and is now attempting to coerce foreign countries to kill their own children. Besides working to protect the unborn child from abortion in this coutnry and around the world, the Republican party has supported billions of dollars in federal and local spending to alleviate poverty, hunger, disease in this country and around the world. The Republicans embrace the whole social justice agenda.

  • Austin,

    If you want others to take the issue of abortion seriously, it helps not to belittle the significance of the issues they believe are important. You make opponents when you should be making allies.

    Moreover, your depiction of the reasons behind the opposition to torture doesn’t correspond to reality. Sure, you can find people opposed to torture who don’t think abortion is a big deal, but you can also find conservative Republicans who oppose both torture and abortion and are loudly outraged about both.

  • Donald

    When will you stop lying about what the other person is doing? I am not pro-Obama. I didn’t vote for him. I said I could not support him in post after post. I’ve criticized him and continue to do so. But the problem is the criticism has to be valid ones. The fact that the issue over health care reform was not abortion but “socialism” shows the concern is not about life but sophistry and political rhetoric. The fact that I agree with the Church that health care reform is necessary allows me to see beyond the “socialism” card. But that it was “socialism” and not abortion which was the issue is obvious to anyone who can see the Republicans rejecting legislation which would have had greater limits on abortion funding than ever before — because of “socialism.” So defense of capitalism is more important to the “party of Life” than life. Sick. And this ruse is up. People see through it.

  • Karlson I didn’t say you voted for Obama, unlike Matt Talbot, the Catholic Anarchist, MZ, and various other denizens of Vox Nova. What I do say is that you ceaselessly attempt to minimize the importance of the struggle against abortion in order to provide cover for the pro-abortion Democrat Party and to attack the Republican party, and you do so in a completely transparent manner.

  • Donald,

    I would credit the influence of philosophical personalism on the development of Catholic moral thought for why the Church today opposes torture and coercion that destroys the will. For example, Catholic moral thought now includes the principle that the human person is an end in himself and shouldn’t be used as a mere means, a formula that originated with Kant and was developed by Catholic moral philosophers such as Pope John Paul II. This principle alone would prohibit torture and will-undermining coercion, for these actions reduce the person to a mere instrument.

  • Kyle,

    I never did that. In fact, I claim the GOP is more social justice in orientation than the Dems because the GOP takes on the whole social justice agenda including protecting the unborn child from abortion. I also understand the Church teaches that abortion is the primary issue today. Not that the issues of poverty, hunger and disease and not important but that abortion is the preeminent human rights issue of our time. If you get that (abortion) wrong, as Bernardine himself said, then you undermine the whole social justice agenda.

  • Kyle, the Catholic Church is both a divine and a human institution as we both know. As it proceeds through history it is both the guardian of the eternal truths of Christ and is buffeted by the intellectual currents popular at different points in history. Looking at the Church over 2000 years there have been many accretions on the Faith that at one time were confused with the gospels and have fallen away as time passes. One subject I have always found fascinating is how one discerns what is a mere accretion from a development of doctrine a la Cardinal Newman. In regard to the subject of torture was the prior praxis and teaching of the Church that torture was licit when used by lawful authority a mere accretion due to Roman law, etc, or is the accretion in modern times due to the personalism you mention and other secular developments? This is the aspect of the never ending debate in Saint Blog’s on torture that I find personally interesting, and one that is rarely addressed.

  • Austin,

    In the comments above, you call concern about torture a waste of time, an unserious debate, and not really an issue. I’d call that belittling.

  • Yes, it is a waste of time because it has only happened three times if you define waterboarding as torture. It is not an issue. It is a distraction by partisans who want to score points on the GOP.

    Kyle, you work on a vicious website that attacks anyone who disagrees with the VN party line. You cannot lecture me about working toward common ground. VN is not in the least concerned with common ground or reaching out or anything like it.

  • Having said that, Kyle, i want to say this. You are one of the more fair contributors to that vicious awful site. You have always given me a fair shake.

  • Donald,

    At least in regards to personalism, we can ask the simple question: Is it true? Can we show with arguments of reason that a person should not be used as a mere means? If we can, then we have a firm basis on which to reject torture, regardless of whether or not the Church has made any official declarations.

  • Like most philosophical doctrines Kyle I think the answer to that question would include such phrases as “it depends”, “true here, not true there”, “now how would we interpret it in this situation”, etc. In regard to torture, I think perhaps even a more important cause of the shift in the teaching and praxis of the Church was that the popes ceased to be secular rulers of anything other than a postage stamp realm.

  • Donald,

    I’ll grant that examining the veracity of personalism as a whole isn’t such a simple endeavor. However, the personalist principle about the human person being an end in himself is a pretty absolute principle. It’s either true in all cases or not true at all. If we can licitly use a person as a mere means even in one circumstance, then the whole principle falls apart. Therefore, I think we can assess the truth of that principle and, following that assessment, either have or not have grounds on which to reject torture in all cases.

  • 8:17: The Democrat party…. The Democrat Party … the Republican party …. The Republicans….

    8:33: … the GOP … the Dems … the GOP….

    8:48: It is a distraction by partisans who want to score points on the GOP.

    Who’s the partisan wanting to score points?

  • Tom,

    The purpose of this distraction is to give aid and comfort to the party of death.

  • And by the way, the party of death supported waterboarding until it became politically expedient not to.

  • …it is better to bring it out in the open, to flush them out as it were….

  • The “party of death” is bipartisan.

    Whoever can’t see that has blinded himself.

  • Kyle, let us say that you are a platoon commander in the Army. You are guarding a group of refugees. A bridge must be held against an advancing enemy force in order for the refugees and the remainder of the platoon to escape. You assign a squad to hold the bridge and to delay the enemy long enough so that the refugees and the rest of the platoon can get to safety. You look into the eyes of the squad members. They realize you have just sentenced them to death in order to save others. Under the doctrine of personalism as you understand it, is it morally licit for you to give this order?

  • VN is not in the least concerned with common ground or reaching out or anything like it.

    It depends on the contributor. I think most people tend to define ‘common ground’, at least implicitly, as ‘moving away from your misconceived ideas about public life and adopting or accommodating mine.’ Witness Obama’s transparently silly calls for bipartisan solutions (so long as ‘bipartisan’ means 90% of what he wants and 10% of what the other party wants). This doesn’t mean that anyone is necessarily arguing in bad faith; just that people come to political discussions from very different places, so it actually is hard to find agreement on how to put into practice shared larger commitments to the common good.

    I don’t think we have a good reason to trust either party to oppose torture when they’re in power. Pelosi was fine with waterboarding until she had the opportunity to use it as a cudgel. I wouldn’t say that torture is a ‘distraction,’ though. It’s important to oppose it clearly and consistently, particularly from the point of view of a commitment to pro-life activity.

  • Donald,

    Yes, as long as the squad isn’t being reduced to a mere means. Clearly they are being used as a means – a means to halt the enemy force and save the refugees – but the question is whether they are being used as a mere means. I would say they are not, as they are freely cooperating in that order. They understand their service may mean following such orders. And, of course, were they to follow the order, we would rightly recognize their actions as self-sacrifice. The fact that we would see their sacrifice as more than involuntarily following orders, but as a heroic act on their parts, shows us that, while they are following orders, they do so as whole persons. They are not mere instruments of the commander’s will.

  • From your response Kyle I perhaps make the rash assumption that you have never been in the Army. The men in the squad could have any number of motivations and reactions but at that moment none of that matters. They have been ordered to hold that bridge whether they think it is a great order or a grave imposition on their personal freedom. At that moment they do not have a choice under military discipline not to obey. This is the type of gut wrenching decision that military leaders often have to make and with soldiers not at all eager, understandably, to give up their lives.

  • “At that moment they do not have a choice under military discipline not to obey.” Unless they are Hitler’s soldiers, then they are told they have a conscience and should have known not to obey.

  • Karlson, I will make the non-rash assumption that you know as much about the military as a pig knows about penance. Soldiers in the US military have an obligation under the Uniform Code of Military Justice not to to obey unlawful orders such as one to massacre prisoners for example. That does not allow them to refuse obedience to a lawful order because the lawful order might very well get them killed.

  • Donald is correct as to his assessment of the realities surrounding his hypothetical.

    Also, I’ll just go ahead and weigh in on a few things.

    First, while waterboarding may have been confined to just a small handful of individuals, it happened a lot more than 3 times. The individuals in question were by all accounts repeatedly waterboarded.

    Second, the weight of Church teaching pretty plainly falls in favor of the position that torture is intrinsically evil. I have not found the arguments to the contrary made by various Catholic thinkers to be especially persuasive.

    Third, just because two things (i.e., torture and abortion) can both be intrinsically immoral does not mean they carry the same moral gravity.

    Fourth, while I accept Church teaching on torture, I admit I don’t fully understand it. While admittedly the hypothetical ticking bomb scenario may be implausible (I’m not sure), it does crystalize one’s thinking on the matter. For the record, if I thought the most efficacious way to save innocent lives was by torturing a person who I knew to a moral certainty was culpable in arranging their deaths and had information that could avoid those deaths I’d torture him — you bet. If God’s Church teaches otherwise I’ll take the consequences. I don’t believe God will damn me for such actions, and if a few centuries in Purgatory are the cost, so be it.

  • Donald,

    My response wasn’t meant to explore the specific motivations and reactions of soldiers in that situation, as these would undoubtedly vary from soldier to soldier. Instead, I aimed in my response to illustrate a general situation of cooperation with that gut-wrenching order that doesn’t reduce the soldiers to mere instruments of their commander. Now, I could also imagine situations in which a commander uses those under his command as mere means to an end. In any case, my answer to your question remains the same. The personalist principle does not necessarily prohibit such orders.

  • Donald

    When Hitler ordered his military to do things, it was “lawful.” Therefore, they had to obey? I thought the rule was that one is not to obey a positive law when it broke natural law, right? I guess that changes in the military. Of course, only for the victors.

    It used to be as you said, that all one did was “obey.” But then they were not considered guilty for obeying bad orders, only those who made the orders could be tried for war crimes.

    Things changed. Our understanding of morality became more sophisticated. We grew to understand the role of the conscience and its place in a person’s free will. We grew to understand the role of the person in decision making, and the place of subjective and objective guilt in the equation. Thus, the earlier “just obey” kind of response is no longer acceptable. It is rejected by the Church. It is rejected by the international community (hence war crimes trials like after WWII which said that obeying orders was not a good enough defense).

    Of course, while we have grown to appreciate this more in recent times, it really is not new. The first few centuries of the Church saw this as well. Soldiers who were Christian were given the lawful order to offer various sacrifices. They disobeyed. They were killed. Would you say they were in the wrong? Oh, I know. They didn’t have US laws. But they did have Roman ones, and they broke it.

    Of course I know the US situation. I also know that the rules as you proclaim, as if by saying that’s the rules that ends all discussion, are the rules the Church has spoken out against several times. It continues to speak out against them. It wants the soldiers not to be abused for disobeying orders which they view are immoral, whether or not the order is legal.

    Yes, I know the US wants to have its cake and eat it too. It will constantly say “obeying orders is not good enough an excuse” when dealing with the enemy. But I also know as you said they tell their soldiers that they don’t have such an option. “It’s only illegal orders you don’t have to obey.” Of course, what does that mean when the law is immoral? Again, when the positive law is immoral, it is no law.

    Thus, as with the Church I will say the soldier’s conscience is important and is not limited to “is it legal or not.” You can say otherwise and side with the nation-state as you want.

  • Henry,
    You are missing the point. In Donald’s hypothetical the order to defend the bridge would not be a violation of natural law. I’m confident that if the order was instead to target innocents Donald would agree that the order could and should be disobeyed as unlawful even if lawful under positive law.

  • Mike

    It is possible a soldier could think the order is to block aid to innocents, and so oppose it. There are many reasons why the orders could be made. Donald said it doesn’t matter, they have to obey. The point is — the orders to matter, the reason why they are asked to do it, still does not matter. The soldier still has a conscience. His own words said that “lawful orders” must be obeyed without question. The issue is that “lawful orders” can be immoral orders. And if a soldier has a good reason to believe it is, they must follow their conscience. Even things which appear innocent could end up not.

  • “The point is — the orders to matter, the reason why they are asked to do it, still does not matter.”

    Should read — “The point is, the orders do matter, and the reason why they are asked to do it still matters.”

  • Henry, I agree that one’s conscience is always paramount, and that a soldier does have a moral obligation to disobey an immoral order that is lawful under positive law. And I bet Don agrees with that as well, and he would likely add that the UCMJ makes a positive law versus natural law incongruity pretty unlikely, but to the extent it occurs I’m pretty certain he’d agree that natural law trumps. But Don’s hypo pretty clearly postulates an order that is lawful under both natural law and positive law, especially from the point of view of the soldiers receiving the order. His hypo was intended to test Kyle’s earlier proposition that related to the point of view of the one giving the order, which is not germane to the point you are trying to make.

  • Karlson, this obtuse act of yours is tiresome. The soldiers had absolutely no right under military regulations to disobey the order given to them in my scenario even though they would probably all suspect that the order would cost them their lives. That is the military. Orders are obeyed even though the death of the ones carrying out the orders may be the result.

  • Tom,

    I do not make a claim for common ground or bipartisanship. I also tend to disdain calls for dialogue since the left usually does not mean it. To them it usually means the left speaking to the further left, or the left hassling the bishop. Dialogue is one of the hypocrisies of the left.

    What I am is a little weary of the rather vicious holier-than-thou crowd trying to make folks guilty for voting for Bush and the GOP which is the subtext of any “debate” about torture, something the US does not do. It is a ruse, if you will, not a very clever ruse but a ruse nonetheless.

    By the way, the downstairs sitting room at the Papal Nunciature in Washington DC has ten pictures of George Bush — even now — and not a single one of that moral paragon Obama. Go figure that, Bush haters.

  • Oh, and i did not say waterboarding happened only 3 times. It happened to only three people.

  • You are correct, Austin. I apologize if it looked like I was misquoting you.

  • Thanks for that, Mike.

  • Three men waterboarded vs 50 million murders of unborn children. This is a waste of time and I reiterate, an attempt by a small group who want to divert attention from a truly horrific situation.

    If you really believe that, I have a simple solution.

    (You might want to browse my archives a bit before accusing me of being an Obama supporter, by the way, or of being soft on abortion. And since my infamous nickname for the blog Vox Nova is “Debate Club at Auschwitz” — my reasons are also in the archive, and I continue to stand by them — you might want to do the stoppy-ready-thinky thing a bit before jumping to any conclusions).

  • “The purpose of this distraction is to give aid and comfort to the party of death.”

    Ok, Austin — you’ve repeated this point ad nauseum, to the point where I’d suspect you were attempting to engage in distraction yourself.

    1) liberals may have any number of motivations for pressing the torture issue — I concur, that for many, it’s a convenient distraction from abortion and/or other policies of the Obama administration. That said, many conservative (and pro-life) voices are raised in response to the techniques employed by the Bush (and present) administrations.

    So, let’s bracket and forget about the ongoing AC+VN feud as best we can, and address the subject of this post.

    2) I would say that, while waterboarding is probably the most prominent example of what has been termed ‘extreme interrogation’, the subject of ‘torture’ is not confined to such, nor are incidents of detainee abuse confined to those which occurred at Abu Ghraib. Incidents continue to occur in both Iraq and Afghanistan See for example Command’s Responsibility: Detainee Deaths in U.S. Custody in Iraq and Afghanistan – “comprehensive accounting of the U.S. government’s handling of the nearly 100 cases of detainees who have died in U.S. custody since 2002.”

    Practices which we might think of as fairly innocuous when presented on paper — sleep deprivation, raising/lowering the temperature, “stress positions”, and other techniques of “softening up” detainees for interrogation — have contributed to such deaths. Not all of these incidents can be dismissed as violations of the system in place, either — rather, the impression I get is that the system currently in place cultivates, and encourages, the abuse.

  • I would take any report prepared by Human Rights First with a boulder of salt based upon its funding by George Soros and its hard Left orientation. Its founder Michael Posner now serves as head of the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, and Human Rights First is tightly wired in with the Obama administration.

    http://www.americanthinker.com/blog/2010/02/soros_influence_on_obama_polit.html

    http://www.humanrightsfirst.org/media/hr/2009/alert/479/index.htm

    Anyone involved in the murder of a detainee should be prosecuted. However, an axe-grinding report from an axe-grinding group leaves me unimpressed.

  • Anyone involved in the murder of a detainee should be prosecuted.

    I think one consistent point that keeps arising is that prosecutions are few and far between.

    However, an axe-grinding report from an axe-grinding group leaves me unimpressed.

    Much like you and I would likely take offense if a liberal pre-emptively dismissed an investigative report because it came from a conservative think tank, the best course of action would be to read it, then embark on a factual analysis and rebuttal.

  • If they had any real evidence Chris they could petition for prosecutions themselves by bringing the evidence they have compiled to the attention of the Department of Defense and the Department of Justice.

    I have been involved in hundreds of felony cases as a defense attorney, and two cases as a special prosecutor, over the years. People shooting their mouths off about alleged crimes is one thing; actually proving the guilt of a defendant in court is another. I have seen plenty of cases that looked good for the prosecution fall apart when actual evidence had to be presented and witnesses were subject to cross-examination. I would think the Obama administration would be eager to prosecute these cases if they think they can prove them in court. Perhaps Mr. Posner can discuss this with his boss.

  • I would also suggest that when a detainee dies in custody a convening authority should conduct an immediate investigation to see if courtmartial proceedings should be initiated. If civilians are involved, then a DOJ criminal investigation should be immediately implemented.

  • I would also suggest that when a detainee dies in custody a convening authority should conduct an immediate investigation to see if courtmartial proceedings should be initiated. If civilians are involved, then a DOJ criminal investigation should be immediately implemented.

    Well, yes. I think it goes without saying that would be the wish of the authors of the report as well. Unfortunately, if their analysis is correct, that’s not happening — in fact, what the report alleges:

    Commanders have failed to report deaths of detainees in the custody of their command, reported the deaths only after a period of days and sometimes weeks, or actively interfered in efforts to pursue investigations;

    • Investigators have failed to interview key witnesses, collect useable evidence, or maintain evidence that could be used for any subsequent prosecution;

    • Record keeping has been inadequate, further undermining chances for effective investigation or appropriate prosecution;

    • Overlapping criminal and administrative investigations have compromised chances for accountability;

    • Overbroad classification of information and other investigation restrictions have left CIA and Special Forces essentially immune from accountability;

    • Agencies have failed to disclose critical information, including the cause or circumstance of death, in close to half the cases examined;

    • Effective punishment has been too little and too late.

  • Criminal investigations are often incompently done Chris? Well that is certainly no news to me after my involvement with the end product of criminal investigations over the past 28 years. That actually is fairly par for the course in my experience. Conducting investigations in foreign nations, usually involving some witnesses who cannot speak English, is challenging and compounds the difficulty. That is why investigative teams that specialize in this area should be developed.

  • … That is why investigative teams that specialize in this area should be developed.

    I’m heartened by the news that you and the authors of said report share the same concerns. =)

  • Not quite the same concerns Chris. I want the guilty punished but I also want an adequate record so that politically motivated advocacy groups can’t make hay out of such deaths years after the fact. Perhaps also if we have good investigators maybe we would have them develop the sense not to prosecute troops for minor infractions. Case in point, the three Navy Seals who are being courtmartialed because one of them allegedly immediately after the capture of a terrorist gave him a fat lip. Maybe I’ll burn in Hell for saying this, but I think the Navy is over-reacting a wee bit. 🙂

    http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/2426067/posts

  • Zippy?

    I don’t even know who you are so you have me confused with someone else who accused you of something.

    About torture, i don’t know any Catholic who supports torture.

  • About torture, i don’t know any Catholic who supports torture.

    I do. You, for example. Oh, your support hides behind euphemism and denial (the whole “waterboarding isn’t torture” canard); but as a substantive matter you defend actual acts of torture perpetrated by and admitted to by the Bush administration. Your euphemisms aren’t any more valid than “blob of tissue” euphemisms used by pro-aborts.

    Did you read the post I linked to? Given that you mean what you say — that you see this as a low priority issue which is a distraction from the far more important issue of legal abortion — I proposed a solution that would allow the issue to be defused, so we can get back to the higher priority.

  • Like I said, I don’t know anybody who supports torture. I don’t know of anyone in the Bush administration who has said they tortured. And even if waterboarding were torture, it happened to three guys. This is a meaningless argument when compared to the other things we are facing.

  • Like I said, I don’t know anybody who supports torture.

    And like I said, I do: you (among many others).

    This is a meaningless argument when compared to the other things we are facing.

    And again, if you really believe that I have a suggested solution.

  • Like I said, I don’t know anybody who supports torture.

    According to the Pew Research Center’s survey, which Christopher linked to in the post and which I referred to twice in response to your own comments, 71% of Americans, 73% of weekly churchgoers, and 78% of white non-Hispanic American Catholics think that torture can be justified.

    If you don’t know this, then you probably shouldn’t be making categorical statements about whether torture is an issue.

  • Tom

    Of course, there is another issue, confusing quantity with quality. We can see the error of this argument by bringing up another intrinsic evil, one which is done far more than abortion in a year. Lying. Lying is rooted to the fall of humanity (the deception of Satan), lying leads to the death of multitudes, and lying of course, is done far more often than abortion in a year. So does that now make abortion no longer significant? Not at all. But if one follows the logic Austin is trying to give us, one would have to say abortion needs to move over until we stop lying.

  • Well, of course, there are Catholics who support abortion, contraception, torture, etc. Lots of fake Catholics around. In fact, I personally know Catholics who support abortion and contraception. I have met Frances Kissling! But, except in the abstract (polls etc), I do not know any Catholic who supports torture. And if torture was a widespread problem I suspect there would be a reason to get all het up about it. As it is, it is a distraction of Dems to get drive a wedge through the pro-life movements.

  • But, except in the abstract (polls etc), I do not know any Catholic who supports torture. And if torture was a widespread problem I suspect there would be a reason to get all het up about it. As it is, it is a distraction of Dems to get drive a wedge through the pro-life movements.

    I am embarrassed for you.

  • Doing anything to a person against his/her will (with the exceptions of saving his/her life, and their having broken a law punishable by jail) is not in line with the Gospels and therefore is a sin. Torture. Seriously? Torture? It is wrong. Time to move on…

  • Tom K,

    I suspect you are not embarrassed for me. Likely you are annoyed, angry, crossing your little arms and stomping your little foot on the floor. Who cares? Now, lets get back to the conversation.

  • I suspect you are not embarrassed for me.

    And I suspect that you live in a bubble, and Tom really is genuinely embarrassed for you.

  • Gosh, no. I don’t live in a bubble. I live in a house in Arlington, VA and drive to work every day in Washington DC and work in public policy.

    The frustration of you fellas is noted by me, by all. Now, let’s get back to the conversation.

  • … and drive to work every day in Washington DC and work in public policy.

    I guess that explains the bubble. Have a nice day!

  • Austin:

    Your “no Catholic I know supports torture,” in the face of evidence that 78% of white Catholics support torture, is so glaringly irrelevant, and glaringly improbable (in fact, I am morally certain it is false), that it really admits of no response other than silence.

    Your repeated insistence that it’s all a Democratic plot is uncomfortable in the way Captain Queeg’s muttering about strawberries.

    And it’s made all the worse because your inability to actually engage the issue you’ve been commenting on all weekend reflects on you professionally, in a way it wouldn’t for those of us who don’t work in public policy.

    So yes, I am genuinely embarrassed for you.

  • Why would not knowing any Catholics who support torture be embarrassing? I wish I could say the same.

    P.S. Welcome back to blogging, Zippy.

  • Looks like Tom has answered my question before I even asked it. Impressive.

  • If the charge against torture is “a distraction of the Dems,” why are there so many non-Dems leading the charge?

  • I guess, Tomkay and Zippy (!), that these are supposed to be conversation ending bon mot of the kind that passes for wit or something on blogs but I must confess, fellers, I am just not moved.

    The only Catholics who i know support torture are those in the abstract from this poll. I have not read the poll. I hvae not read the poll question. And, honestly, polling is notoriously unreliable in determining questions like this.

    I come back to my previous point, even if waterboarding was torture, lets say that it is, it does not amount to a hill of beans given that it happened to three terrorists, especially when compared to 50 million abortions. While this “conversation” has been going on there have been thousands more abortiohs and not a single waterboarding. This is a waste of time and a distraction being used by those who hate Republicans and are carrying water for the party of death.

  • Austin,

    Do you watch EWTN?

  • I don’t, no.

  • The reason I ask is they recently had Marc Thiessen on to promote his pro-waterboarding book. That suggests, to me at least, that the problem is bigger than you are making out.

  • I guess, Tomkay and Zippy (!), that these are supposed to be conversation ending bon mot of the kind that passes for wit or something on blogs but I must confess, fellers, I am just not moved.

    Zippy can answer for himself, if he chooses. If I were attempting to be witty at your expense, it would come out as sarcasm.

    Even so, I suspect my attempts at sarcasm would do less damage to a conversation than your remaining in voluntary ignorance while dogmatically and repeatedly asserting claims that are empirically false.

  • Did Thiessen say he supported torture on Raymond’s show? I know Marc. He is a faithful Catholic. He brought a Catholic priest into the White House every week for prayer and bible study. He said he supported torture?

  • Tomkay,

    What am I claiming that is empirically false?

  • Did Thiessen say he supported torture on Raymond’s show?

    No. He said he supported waterboarding, which is torture.

  • Ahhh….but he disagrees that it is torture, right?

  • Let me ask anyone this.

    Torture is intrinsically evil. Right?
    Waterboarding is torture. Also right?
    Then waterboarding is intrinsically evil. Right?

  • Ahhh….but he disagrees that it is torture, right?

    That’s what he says, anyway. So what?

  • Let me also add that I’m a Republican. I voted for Bush (three times, actually), and I plan on voting for whoever the Republican nominee is in the next election. This isn’t about hating Republicans or wanting people to vote for Obama. It’s about organizations and people that I admire and respect hitching their wagon to something noxious and evil.

  • “So what” is that there is no debate over torture but a debate over what is torture. Personally, i do not believe that loud music, extemes of heat and cold, etc are torture. Waterboarding? I am not sure. I knwo i will be mocked for this. Even so, i do not care. I am not so sure and my conscience is clear.

    To my question. Torture=intrinsic evil, waterboarding=torture, waterboarding=intrinsic evil. True or false?

  • Austin,

    Okay, so you think waterboarding might be torture, and might not be. So, from your perspective, Thiessen might be supporting torture. So you can’t really say that you don’t know anyone who supports torture, just that you aren’t sure whether you do or not.

  • OK. i know someone who may or may not support torture. Answer my question. Is waterboarding intrinsically evil.

  • Waterboarding is one of many U.S. used torture techniques to which we non-Democrat Catholics are opposed, so our concern with the practice and policy of torture extends beyond a concern with the technique of waterboarding. Furthermore, we are troubled by the poor moral reasoning and misrepresentation of moral principles such as double effect by Catholics like Marc Thiessen and Raymond Arroyo. The problem we see isn’t just that Catholics disagree on what techniques qualify as torture; the problem is deeper than that. What troubles us more than disagreement over techniques is that Catholics claiming the mantle of orthodoxy have embraced moral relativism in the name of national security. These Catholics may continue to oppose abortion, but their moral thinking, the very moral thinking they use to argue against abortion, has been perverted. If these Catholics are not think right morally, then their moral positions on paramount issues (such as abortion) are at grave risk of collapse.

  • To my question. Torture=intrinsic evil, waterboarding=torture, waterboarding=intrinsic evil. True or false?

    Depends on what you want to include as waterboarding. If you want to count the simulated waterboarding that goes on at the SERE, then not all waterboarding is torture. If you want to restrict the term to actual waterboarding, then I would say waterboarding does equal torture.

  • Is waterboarding intrinsically evil?,/em>

    As a technique used to coerce the will, yes.

  • I don’t see how they are being moral relativists. They do not believe that waterboarding or loud music or sleep deprivation are intrinsically evil. How is this moral relativism?

    Is waterboarding intrinsically evil?

  • So, waterboarding is not intrinsically evil?

  • So, waterboarding is not intrinsically evil?

    If the term is restricted to actual waterboarding, then it is intrinsically evil. If the term is used in a broader sense so it includes simulated waterboarding (e.g. what goes on at the SERE), then it is not.

  • Whatever else Marc Thiessen may be, he is now the self-appointed Francis Kissling of torture.

  • Btw, I would hope, Austin, that you would concede that ” loud music, extemes of heat and cold, etc.” could be torture, you just don’t thing they would constitute torture in all cases. If so, then we are agreed, and the question becomes whether the actual use of loud music, hot and cold, etc. were torture.

  • In SERE training they only simulate waterboarding? Are you sure?

  • Loud music etc as used by the US military or intelligence officials would not be torture, that is correct. If someone is put in a deepfreeze and allowed to die, yes that woudl be torture. Waht we are talking about here is what the US military does.

  • In SERE training they only simulate waterboarding? Are you sure?

    Sure. The whole program is designed to teach solders how to respond if they are tortured by the enemy.

  • In what way is this waterboarding different than waterboarding of enemy combatants? Be specific.

  • In SERE training they only simulate waterboarding?

    Yes, a prisoner is different from a trainee. Treating “waterboarding” as a physical act alone is like treating sex as a physical act alone, making no distinction between a wife and a hooker. This is moral theology 101.

    Mind you, I’m not fully convinced that waterboarding in SERE training is definitely morally licit. But that it is fundamentally different from waterboarding a prisoner is obvious to everyone who doesn’t desperately want it not to be obvious. The trainee knows that it is a finite training exercise done by people with his own best interests in mind. He has an out, he knows it won’t go on forever if he doesn’t betray his principles, etc.

    So yes, they are manifestly, obviously, radically different things, even though those fundamental and clear differences don’t mean that SERE training is morally licit.

  • So, waterboarding is not intrinsically evil. This is what I suspected since i know at least one person, a woman, who was waterboarded and she does not believe she was tortured by her own government.

    Abortion is a little different than this. Procured abortion is always and for any reason and in any way done, an intrinsic evil.

  • Gents,

    I am stepping out to take my little family to see the Mr. Fox movie. i will check in in a few hours…

    Best to all,

  • Perhaps an analogy would make my point clear. Suppose the SERE training includes a unit on how to respond to interrogation, and as a part of this training solders are locked in a room and a guy comes in and starts asking them questions. The question then arises: are these solders being interrogated? I can see people taking both sides of this question. Someone might say that this isn’t really interrogation but only a simulation, while someone else might claim that it doesn’t matter whether the interrogator was really trying to get information out of the solder or not, it still counts as interrogation. What you can’t do, however, is say that what happens to the solder wasn’t interrogation, therefore what goes on in police departments isn’t interrogation. To make that argument you have to equivocated on the meaning of the word “interrogation.”

    Similarly, you seem to want to argue that because waterboarding in the broad sense (which includes simulated waterboarding like at the SERE) isn’t torture, therefore waterboarding in the narrow sense (which does not include simulated waterboarding) isn’t torture either. But that’s a faulty inference, as it requires one to equivocate on the term “waterboarding.”

  • Procured abortion is always and for any reason and in any way done, an intrinsic evil.

    But just what is produred abortion, anyway? Salpingectomy, anyone? With a little salpingosomy on the side?

    Really, Austin, you have years of Internet discussions to catch up on before you can even begin to discuss this intelligently.

  • SERE trainees are really waterboarded. They are strapped down, cloth over their faces, adn water poured over their mouths and noses. This is wateboarding that is done to enemy combatants. It is not simulated. It is real. But, its not torture.

    Now let me go to the movies!

  • Procured abortion is always and for any reason and in any way done, an intrinsic evi.

    Yes, and adultery is always and for any reason and in any way done, an intrinsic evil. And torture is always and for any reason and in any way done, an intrinsic evil. And [insert all manner of different things] …

    And…

    Look, we all get it that the Thiessen argument hinges on the notion that strapping a prisoner to a board and repeatedly making him feel all the sensations of drowning until he coughs up information is “not torture”. What many of us don’t get is why anyone would think that that is a sane, let alone plausible, argument.

  • Abortion is a little different than this. Procured abortion is always and for any reason and in any way done, an intrinsic evil.

    If one wanted, one could play the same sort of game with abortion that you wish to play with torture. For example, spontaneous abortions aren’t intrinsically evil. Are spontaneous abortions abortions? Says so right on the label. Therefore, abortion isn’t intrinsically evil.

    I don’t say this is a good argument. In fact it is a very bad one. But it is the same sort of argument as the one people make with regard to torture and the SERE.

  • We can do it another way, and see how his view leads to the acceptance of abortion, BA.

    Since killing is allowed in various situations, killing itself can be said not to be an intrinsic evil. Abortion is killing. Therefore abortion is not intrinsically evil. That is the kind of argument he is making. He is jumping around in categories like that when pressed to deal with the issue.

    And we could change it into an issue of just war, and two people just having different points of view as to what a war is and when it is just. Thus, some women who abort their babies think the babies are an invader into their body. They believe they have a right to protect themselves from the foreign invader, one who poses a health risk to them and might kill them if not taken out. This leads them to think it is a just war to remove the invader they didn’t welcome into their body, and to do so in a preemptive strike before it can harm her and her body.

    In saying this, I am not saying I think such women are right. In fact, I think they are wrong. Just as I think many people who are flippant on the issue of just war and think because people can have differing opinions it means any opinion is fine.

    Austin has, in many places, already pointed out how war is not an intrinsic evil, and so one can’t use that to morally judge someone if they engage a war you don’t think is just. He says the mere fact we can have a disagreement means one can just treat is as an insignificant issue. This is exactly the same view the woman who aborts her child in a “defensive posture” thinks with her abortion. She is the one who has the authority to determine her own body and what takes place in it, no one else. She has the moral right to defend herself the same way a president has in determining when to proclaim war in defense of the state. So following this kind of reasoning, the woman can even say “yes, abortion is an intrinsic evil, but killing an invader isn’t. I’m not having an abortion, I am destroying an invader. The two acts are similar, but because I proclaim my body as a body at war, it changes everything” Of course, again, she would be wrong. But this is the kind of argument being seen here in regards to torture. Sophistry.

    Torture is an intrinsic evil. The Catholic Church has defined torture. The use of waterboarding for interrogation falls under the mantle of torture. That is intrinsically evil. But other ways of such torture being done is also intrinsically evil. Even if, in other circumstances, the actions done outside of the torture might be similar and not torture.

    This sophistry has been mentioned to him before, and I’ve told him he needed to respond to it. He never did. He avoided it. I expect he knew his equivocation and sophistry was revealed, and it is why he ignored it and tried to deal with other things, hoping ignoring it would lead to people forgetting he had been called. But he had been called, and he folded.

  • Austin

    You forget many details. The soldiers have a way out to have it stopped. The prisoners do not know if the person do it will stop. The soldiers know they are being trained to do something and there will be limits. The prisoner does not. The soldier knows it is with his will. The prisoner knows it is against his will.

    Kidnapping and hostage taking bring on a reign of terror; by means of threats they subject their victims to intolerable pressures. They are morally wrong. Terrorism threatens, wounds, and kills indiscriminately; it is gravely against justice and charity. Torture which uses physical or moral violence to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred is contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity. Except when performed for strictly therapeutic medical reasons, directly intended amputations, mutilations, and sterilizations performed on innocent persons are against the moral law.

  • The relativism, Austin, is found in the justifications for torture and coercion built on the premise that the government should keep us safe by any means necessary or that whatever the government does to keep us safe is rendered good. Such justifications treat the realm of national security as a place in which the moral law doesn’t apply or in which the ends of safety and security establish moral legitimacy. If there are realms in which the moral law does not apply, then there is no absolute moral law that applies in all times, places, and circumstances, and morality, then, is relative.

  • The intent of waterboarding as a training exercise isn’t to coerce and undermine the will of the one waterboarded, but to train him to withstand such coercion. It doesn’t reduce the trainee to a mere puppet of the one who waterboards. As Zippy points out, this difference from waterboarding as a coercive and torturous interrogation technique doesn’t necessarily mean that it is morally licit, but it is clearly a different act, morally speaking. We can therefore say that the interrogation technique of waterboarding is intrinsically evil without necessarily signifying that waterboarding as a training exercise is also intrinsically evil.

  • First, Henry, don’t waste your breath. After getting so abused by you at Vox Nausea, i wont even read your posts let alone respond to them.

    Kyle, Thiessen et al dont make the argument that it is alright to torture to make us safe. He/they say waterboarding and other enhanced techniques are not torture.
    Blackadder, spontaneous abortions are not acts of man. Procured abortions are. Waterboarding is.

  • Austin

    Yes, I didn’t bow before you; you deemed it an abuse I didn’t just fawn over the fact a “professional pro-lifer” was on Vox Nova telling me I was a coward and not a man.

  • Now let me ask you this, gents. If the US military in its training pulled out the fingernails of its soldiers or hooked their testicles up to car batteries, would this be torture, even if its training?

  • When I was a child we used to do Chinese Water Torture on each other. One of would lay down and the other would drop a single drop of water on the other’s forehead repeatedly. It was voluntary, harmless, and not terribly uncomfortable. But it didn’t really take very long before you got up because somehow that little drop of water did begin to make you rather uncomfortable. It didn’t take much imagination even then to realize that if someone who was hostile to you, manhandled you and tied you down to the floor and started a water drip over you for hours or even days that it would no doubt be torturous. Waterboarding is far more uncomfortable and dangerous than the above example, but the similarity still exists about the nature of voluntarily submitting to it for whatever motive vs. having it forced on you.

  • “When Bush, an evangelical Methodist, left the stage, one of the event’s organizers, Austin Ruse, referred to him as ‘the second Catholic president.'”

    http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Bush+touts+political+agenda+at+Catholic+prayer+breakfast.-a0145981252

    We now know what Ruse thinks of Catholicism. It’s just a tool for GOP politics.

  • Thiessen et al dont make the argument that it is alright to torture to make us safe. He/they say waterboarding and other enhanced techniques are not torture.

    Thiessen says waterboarding and other enhanced techniques are not torture because they make us safe. He’s a consequentialist.

    I don’t think anyone is looking to condemn him as a wicked man who knowingly advocates wicked means. He simply doesn’t know what he’s talking about, beginning with what it means for something to be “wrong” morally (and the less said about the hash he makes out of the principle of double effect, the better).

  • Tomkay,
    Marc does not say what you say he says. He says waterboarding is acceptable becuase it is NOT torture.

  • Anybody want to take up my car batteries to the testicles question?

  • The United States knows quite a bit about waterboarding. The U.S. government — whether acting alone before domestic courts, commissions and courts-martial or as part of the world community — has not only condemned the use of water torture but has severely punished those who applied it.

    After World War II, we convicted several Japanese soldiers for waterboarding American and Allied prisoners of war. At the trial of his captors, then-Lt. Chase J. Nielsen, one of the 1942 Army Air Forces officers who flew in the Doolittle Raid and was captured by the Japanese, testified: “I was given several types of torture. . . . I was given what they call the water cure.” He was asked what he felt when the Japanese soldiers poured the water. “Well, I felt more or less like I was drowning,” he replied, “just gasping between life and death.”

    Nielsen’s experience was not unique. Nor was the prosecution of his captors. After Japan surrendered, the United States organized and participated in the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, generally called the Tokyo War Crimes Trials. Leading members of Japan’s military and government elite were charged, among their many other crimes, with torturing Allied military personnel and civilians. The principal proof upon which their torture convictions were based was conduct that we would now call waterboarding.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/11/02/AR2007110201170.html

    Even John McCain, whom Austin fawned over looking for good relations with a guy he thought would be president, after fawning over Bush, said the same:

    “There should be little doubt from American history that we consider that as torture otherwise we wouldn’t have tried and convicted Japanese for doing that same thing to Americans,” McCain said during a news conference.

    http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/11/29/politics/main3554687.shtml

  • RL,

    I would be very concerned if children were actually playing waterboard.

  • Austin

    You ignore the definition of torture. If you look to the definition, you will get an answer. People have already answered it by dealing with what is necessary for torture. They have also said, even if something is not torture, it doesn’t make the non-torture actions right.

  • Tomkay

    You punk.

    Marc does not say what you say he says. He says waterboarding is acceptable becuase it is NOT torture.

    And he says it’s not torture because it keeps us safe.

  • No, Tomkay, he says it is not torture. He also says it keeps us safe but he says its morally licit in and of itself.

  • Thiessen may not be among those Catholics who say we should defend ourselves by “any means necessary,” but such Catholics are not few in number. Among Thiessen’s specific moral errors is his fundamental misunderstanding of the principle of double effect and his use of his erroneous idea of it to justify coercion. Even if he were correct about the morality of coercive techniques – he isn’t – he is still, with the help of EWTN, propagating poor moral reasoning and a false presentation of Christian moral principles.

  • Kyle,

    Having a “misunderstanding” about double effect is hardly a “moral error.” Is it?

  • In what way is this waterboarding different than waterboarding of enemy combatants? Be specific.

    From the Department of Justice ’Certain Techniques’ memo of May 10, 2005 at page 41, footnote 51:

    The difference was in the manner in which the detainee’s breathing was obstructed. At the SERE school and in the DoJ opinion, the subject’s airflow is disrupted by the firm application of a damp cloth over the air passages; the interrogator applies a small amount of water to the cloth in a controlled manner. By contrast, the Agency interrogator…applies large volumes of water to a cloth that covered the detainee’s mouth and nose. One of the psychologists/interrogators acknowledged that the Agency’s use of the technique is different from the used in SERE training because it is ‘for real’ and is more poignant and convincing.

    [The CIA’s Office of Medical Services] contends that the expertise of the SERE psychologists/interrogators on the waterboard was probably misrepresented at the time, as the SERE waterboard experience is so different from the subsequent Agency usage as to make it almost irrelevant.

  • It is an error of moral thinking that leads to an error in moral judgment. Furthermore, Thiessen’s faulty use of double effect can be used to justify a number of grave evils, a consequence I wrote about at Vox Nova. Its danger spreads beyond the torture debate.

  • Where did that memo come from?

    About it. The memo says that waterboarding is not torture. It does say that someone at CIA said SERE waterboarding was different than interrogation waterboarding. The memo quotes someone saying the differences were so vast as to be completely different but then goes on to say the differences were chiefly in the amount of water used and that the later was more “poignant”.

    It is an interesting memo and i wonder where it came from. But it does not really change the underlying assertion that we waterboarded our own troops, leaving open the question of whether we torture our own troops.

  • The other thing that strikes me about this memo is how very careful was the Bush administration on this and other questions related to the War on Terror. They wanted to get things exactly right. A friend of mine who was high up in CIA and DOD, and a faithful Catholic and a Democrat to boot, said there will be books written about the intense and precise moral calculations the Bush administration undertook on all aspects of the Iraq war and the War on Terror.

  • Precise moral calculations — just wrong calculations. From the get go, the war was unjust. And the war was waged unjustly. And continues to this day to bring America into shame with all kinds of evil being employed for that war. What you call moral calculations others call “excuses.”

  • …there will be books written about the intense and precise moral calculations the Bush administration undertook on all aspects of the Iraq war and the War on Terror.

    And there will be no shortage of faithful Catholics to write forewords to all of them, explaining why the Pope, though a dear old fellow, just doesn’t quite understand how morality works during wartime.

  • Tomkay,

    I am certain there will be faithful Catholics who will write these books. The truth of how the administration came to its conclusions and prosecuted the war are far more interesting than mere cartoons. One of the bottom lines is that these were profoundly morally serious people.

  • Two days (and nearing 200 comments) later and we’re still going strong!

    Morning Minion replies:

    Despite Christopher’s assertion to the contrary, there is no real debate about whether waterboarding constitutes torture.

    Like it or not, I do think there is a ‘debate’. Various Catholic apologists and pundits believe waterboarding may very well not be torture, and not intrinsically evil. Austin Ruse in the comments marshals the same tactics and arguments employed by others over the course of nearly half a decade of Catholics exchanges on this topic.

    – waterboarding as visited by SERE upon our own troops, or upon the Al Qaeda prisoners during interrogation, was, well, qualitatively different from the ‘waterboarding’ used by the Japanese and the Gestapo during World War II; by French during the Algerian war; by the Khmer Rouge in the 1970’s, or, for that matter, by U.S. troops during the Vietnam war and a Texas sheriff upon a prisoner in 1983 (the latter two cases resulting in a court martial and dishonerable discharge from the Army, and a 10 year prison sentence, respectively).

    – waterboarding was used with a different motive in mind than that which is condemned, say, in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (“Torture which uses physical or moral violence to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred is contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity.”) The United States, to quote the protest of one Catholic apologist, was done “to extract vital information from, say, a captured and self-confessed Al Qaeda operative whose secret plans may be the required key for saving hundreds or even thousands of innocent lives from his next projected terrorist attack.” Consequently, the Catechism‘s “failure to condemn torture for obtaining “information” look like a deliberate decision on the part of church authorities, rather than a mere oversight or coincidence.”

    – waterboarding is defensible under “Just War” criteria — This position is taken by several Catholic pundits (Deal Hudson, Fr. Robert Sirico and most recently Mark Thiessen on EWTN). Last year, a prominent advisor in the Reagan administration and popular evangelical Christian Gary Bauer employed the ‘just war’ criteria in defense of waterboarding as well.

    I’m not necessarily stating the above arguments are persuasive and hold water — but they are used just the same.

    Perhaps in much the same manner as a good number of ‘pro-choice Catholics’ have received a public response and authoritative correction by the Catholic bishops (locally and/or collectively), these kind of instances constitute opportune “teaching moments” where our Bishops might render the same service and clarity to the issue of torture.

  • For those who just can’t get enough of torture threads, and I confess to a certain “car crash” sort of joy in reading them, here is a good one I stumbled upon from last year by Ed Fesser at What’s Wrong With the World.

    http://www.whatswrongwiththeworld.net/2009/05/its_just_so_obvious_the_case_o.html

    My congratulations to my friend and colleague Christopher in posting on this topic. As always, he is one of the most fair minded bloggers on Saint Blog’s on this and all other issues.

  • Perhaps in much the same manner as a good number of ‘pro-choice Catholics’ have received a public response and authoritative correction by the Catholic bishops (locally and/or collectively), these kind of instances constitute opportune “teaching moments” where our Bishops might render the same service and clarity to the issue of torture.

    You may be asking too much. For example, I’m not aware of the bishops ever speaking out at the level of granularity to say “suction aspiration of alive fetus is abortion, and abortion is intrinsically immoral, therefore suction aspiration of a live fetus is intrinsically immoral”. Expecting a similiar syllogism: “waterboarding a prisoner is torture, torture is intrinsically immoral, therefore waterboarding a prisoner is intrinsically immoral” — is I think unrealistic, and would be, as far as I know, unprecedented.

    The only people who would claim not to know that suction aspiration of a live fetus is abortion – and there have been people who have made the “blob of tissue” gambit many times, indeed there is at least one regular commenter at Vox Nova who still makes that gambit — are people who don’t want it to be the case that abortion is intrinsically immoral.

    Same with waterboarding prisoners. If the Bishops spoke on that level of granularity, these people would find ways to poke holes in the more-granular description — despite, as Mark Shea has tirelessly pointed out, the additional positive command to treat prisoners humanely, and six years worth of other reasons which have been given again, and again, and again.

    I mean, people who think the Bishops haven’t spoken are just flat wrong.

  • You may be asking too much.

    Zippy — I was hoping for something along the same lines of when over two dozen bishops analyzed and corrected the very specific, ‘granular’ arguments of Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden on abortion in 2008, when they claimed on ‘Meet The Press’ to embrace ‘the Catholic position’ on the matter.

    The case of Mark Thiessen on EWTN, in my mind, constitutes just such an opportune case.

  • Much as I would like to see Marc Thiessen censured directly in public by his bishop, he just isn’t as important as the Speaker of the House and the Vice President, so I doubt we’ll see it. Though I hope I’m wrong.

    Who is Thiessen’s bishop? Loverde in Arlington?

  • And finally, it happened to only three guys and yet it has taken up so much time and commentboxes (oh the humanity).

    I would say there are too many people with too little to do with their Ph.D.s or who should be spending blogging time on their dissertations.

  • “It happened to only three guys,” and therefore it’s not important. Seriously, the issue of quantity in an issue of morality indicates Austin’s lack of moral integrity. Which is why my point on lying is straight on the point — and why he will not deal with it or many other challenges offered to his position.

    Secondly, has it only happened to three guys? Doubtful. Don’t confuse “we admit to it happening to three guys” (which of course was denied originally and so Austin could have said, for a time, happened to no one) to “that’s all there is.” And do not believe it is merely the CIA who engages such practice.

  • Austin:

    Just so you know, I’m a forty-something self-made multimillionaire and a staunch pro-lifer. I donate not insignificant amounts of money every year to Catholic causes. And you’ve accommplished something that that joke Vox Nova could never have accomplished: you’ve put C-FAM on the list of charities which will never get a red cent from me unless there are some serious public sackcloth and ashes from you on this issue.

    I mean, what are you thinking? Whatever private opinions you might have, dying in a ditch defending torture – torture! – is, as the kids say, nucking futs.

    But thanks for the advice on how to spend my time.

  • I’m seriously tempted to the belief that the “Austin Ruse” in these threads is a sock puppet who set out with the purpose of “proving” Vox Nova right. Hopefully someone who knows the real Austin Ruse can alert him to the sock puppet and have his organizations publicly repudiate this amazing little thread.

  • Zippy needs a hug….

  • Zippy,

    We have 15,000 individual small check donors and don’t have to rely upon the whims of self important “self-made millionaires.” In fact, i do my best to stay away from self important “self made millionaires.” I have found their money is very expensive.

  • Christopher:

    For what it’s worth, a while ago (a year? two years?), I sent an email to my Archbishop Wuerl’s press secretary asking whether he might have something to say about torture (his own email is not public, and I didn’t take the trouble to send him a letter (though I might yet)). She replied to the effect that, unless and until he had something in particular to add, he would let the Bishop’s Committee on International Justice and Peace take the lead, and she included a link to the “Torture is a Moral Issue” study guide. This, along with the various statements made by the chairman of the IJ&P committee, clearly consider waterboarding to be torture.

    When this was pointed out on Coalition for Clarity, an anonymous commenter said the (former) chairman was a known leftist, and he, the commenter, wouldn’t believe it until Archbishop Chaput weighed in.

    Abp. Chaput, as you may know, does have a public email. When I emailed him, explained the circumstances, and asked if he had any comment to make, he replied that people outside his diocese shouldn’t look to him, but should ask their own bishops for guidance on this (which is consistent with my own understanding of the office of bishop).

    From my perspective, then, I would say I have been given sufficient guidance from my own bishop. Moreover, while I by no means have my finger on the pulse of the American bench of bishops, I don’t expect them to say anything further about torture any time soon, barring something a lot more significant than anything Marc Thiessen could say to Raymond Arroyo.

  • Glad to see this was genteel. I think waterboarding has been dropped from all but Navy training. This because the argument was that troops were being taught to resist a given technique. However, most military branches discovered that no one was able to resist waterboarding even in the allegedly mild SERE form.

    The Navy still likes it. Who said Marines were tough?

  • “Who said Marines were tough?”

    As an ex-Army guy, I can attest that all Marines I encountered in service were quite eloquent as to how tough they were.

  • My research director, a woman (White House Fellow, Commander in the Navy-retired, former professor of strategic planning at the Naval War College, volunteer in India with Mother Theresa), was waterboarded for SERE training and has concluded waterboarding is not torture. FWIW.

    Donald, thanks for the humor…

  • Only three guys were subjected to coercion/torture? Last I checked, we knew of at least 100 people who had died as a result of our government’s use of coercion/torture.

  • What is your source of that claim, Kyle?

  • Only 3 guys were waterboarded.

  • FWIW

    “I went through X in training, therefore anything like X used repeatedly in a open-ended fashion on prisoners to break their will and get them to cough up information is not torture” has to go down as one of the dumbest arguments ever. And given the dumb arguments one sees every day, that is saying something.

  • As mentioned, waterboarding isn’t the only interrogation technique used by our government to which we are opposed on moral grounds.

  • Art Deco,

    Glenn Greenwald has reported, with documentation, on the numbers I reference.

  • My brother had pepper spray sprayed in his eyes as a police trainee. Does that mean that repeatedly spraying pepper spray into the eyes of prisoners until their wills break and they sing like canaries is “not torture”?

  • Kyle,

    This is an easy one. If interrogators went beyond the law into torture, that should be condemned and even prosecuted.

  • I know many folks have suggested that the definition of torture is an unimportant inquiry, and I disagree. But I do agree with Zippy that the waterboarding conducted by US authorities under the Bush Administration constituted torture under any reasonable definition. While these acts were apparently quite limited and perhaps even understandable, they were nonetheless immoral. As I’ve suggested before, there may be some hypothetical situation where torture is morally defensible (if so, Catholic teaching would seem to need further development), but in my view such a hypothetical would need at minimum to involve (i) specific imminant harm (urgent action is necessary), (ii) harm that is directed toward innocents (i.e., civilians rather than combatants), (iii) harm that is more serious than that caused by the torture, (iv) belief to a moral certainty that the subject is both complicit in the harm to be avoided and has the requisite knowledge to stop it, and (v) a good faith belief that no other options are as likely to be effective. By all accounts some of these criteria were not satisfied. While I do not view deliberately harming the guilty to save innocent lives to be morally equivalent to killing the innocent in order to preserve quality of life, the fact remains that what the Bush Administration did was objectively evil, and Catholics should admit it.
    I realize that Zippy will almost certainly assert that my hypothetical is malignant in that it ignores Catholic teaching, and he may be right. I’m not a student of moral theology, and will accept Church teaching even if I don’t fully understand it. That said, I’m pretty sure that if confronted with a real world circumstance with an innocent life at stake, I would beat the living hell out of pyschopath if necessary to secure the information necessary to save the innocent. I fully admit that this does not make it right.

  • Kyle,

    I would even say it is possible to torture using waterboarding and if someone did so, they should be called to account. It sounds as if, from the Washingotn Post story you site to, that the use of “large amounts of water” was beyond guidelines and the law. It sounds like from that story that the proscribed form of waterboarding was similar to what was described in SERE training.

  • What if the law (including legal memos by the OLC) governing interrogation policy gave legal legitimacy to immoral and historically illegal interrogation techniques?

  • “Gave legitimacy” is too vague. They either supported illegal methods or they did not.

  • Austin is once again falling for the error that what is legal is what is moral. But this once again undermines his position on abortion (if he really holds to it as he claims). For all the abortionist has to say is “my method is legal.”

  • And finally, it happened to only three guys and yet it has taken up so much time and commentboxes (oh the humanity).

    I would say there are too many people with too little to do with their Ph.D.s or who should be spending blogging time on their dissertations.

    You seem to be spending quite a lot of time on it yourself. I guess you have nothing better to do?

  • Austin,

    In the more than half a decade of discussion we’ve had on this subject, one of many, many proposals was that a distinction between torture and punishment is that torture is, as far as the victim knows, open ended: it may go on forever, as far as he knows, until he breaks down and betrays his friends. Even the death penalty does not have that characteristic: the suffering implied in the death penalty is necessarily limited.

    And as it happens, that characteristic is a clear distinction – one of many – between SERE simulated waterboarding and actual waterboarding.

    Just FYI. But as I mentioned upthread, you have more than half a decade of discussion to catch up on, and you do yourself and your organization as disservice by wading in as a torture-apologist newbie like this.

  • Acutally I think “simulated waterboarding” is a euphamism. As pointed out above, all services save the Navy stopped it in training as no one could be trained to resist it even as applied in training. Waterboarding is just plain painful even in training.

  • Blackadder

    It is sad to me that he thinks even one is acceptable, let alone three, let alone how many really have been abused which we do not know. The problem is that this matters because by rejecting the stand on torture, as he does, and treating it as unimportant, he provides the means by which all other intrinsic evils, including abortion, can be “justified” (put in quotes because they cannot be). And that is what I’ve shown through a few examples, how his reasoning can be used by the abortionist in one way or another -from the “just war” theory of the woman being invaded by the child, to the “legally justified” theory he just provided now.

  • Blackadder,

    We have been snowed in. Plus, i can multi-task.

    Zippy,

    That these things have been discussed before, for six years?!, doesn’t mean that they have been settled. Quite clearly they have not been settled.

    I join in this debate because i am disgusted by how this debate is being used by GOP haters and pro-life haters to drive a wedge in the pro-life movements. I entered in here with that point and i remain on that point.

    The waterboarding of three men does not amount to a hill of beans when compared to the death of 50 million unborn children. yet this is the proposition of the GOP/pro-life haters. They want folks to think it is OK to vote for the party of death because Bush waterboarded three guys.

    Would that all of this good energy been spent for six years (six years!) on the question of baby killing and in recent months how Obama is the most pro-death president we hvae ever had. I wish this energy was spent on something real.

  • We have been snowed in. Plus, i can multi-task.

    And you think these qualities are somehow unique to yourself?

  • It is why i am on here right now and not two weeks ago and likley not next week…but who knows…

    Meow? Woof!

  • I join in this debate because i am disgusted by how this debate is being used by GOP haters and pro-life haters to drive a wedge in the pro-life movements. I entered in here with that point and i remain on that point.

    Well, first, the folks you’ve been arguing with in this thread aren’t GOP haters or pro-life haters. As I mentioned before I am a Republican and am very pro-life.

    Second, aside from a few stray comments you haven’t spent your time arguing that the discussion over waterboarding is a distraction. Instead you’ve spent hours defending waterboarding.

  • I doesn’t mean that they have been settled.

    Of course not, any more than one could claim that the abortion debate is “settled”. That is, there will always be dissenting Catholics who prostitute their faith to their political ideology, so no moral issue with political implications ever becomes “settled”.

    But you just have no idea how clueless your posts sound: how completely, naively unaware of the most basic arguments operating in the domain. Marc Thiessen is just as bad in his book, worse if anything, as I posted on recently, just on a particular passage from his book.

    And seriously, people like you really can make this go away — by getting on the right side of the moral issue.

    I agree that torture is a wedge driving apart the pro-life movement: a wedge created and driven in by the Bush adminstration, and exploited by the likes of MM (he is medium-bright but hackishly unprincipled, wielding principle as if it were a partisan weapon; Karlson, on the other hand, seems as sincere as the day is long, but the combination of faux-intellectual airs with his modest intelligence is cringeworthy. Kyle I have nothing but good things to say about, despite our occasional disagreements. Not that anyone asked).

  • Zippy,

    Now that’s the way to convince me! I am a naive prostitute dissenter and i am never going to get any of your money! After six years, this is your argument?
    More than 50% of American Catholics actually support torture and these are your arguments to convince them? Typical self made millionaire. Agree with me or I will not give you my money and i will call you names. Nicely done.

    We do agree about the Vox Nausea crowd though, Zippy, and I like that.

  • Waht i think is driving the GOP/Pro-life haters at Dotcommonweal, America and Vox Nausea is precisely that, a hatred of all things conservative. What drives this debate among this crowd is something else. i do not doubt that you all are sincere in your concern but i dont get is how three guys getting waterboarded is worth all this time and effort and ink adn giving aid and comfort to the enemies of the unborn. I suspect there is an aspect of boredom. We have been fighting the prolife fight for many many years. I have been doing it full time for 13 years. Boredom and frustration leads folks to new fights or new aspects of old fights. I think the personhood fight is an aspect of boredom and frustration. I do not know, but i suspect similar boredom adn frustration is driving this torture debate among good people.

  • i do not doubt that you all are sincere in your concern but i dont get is how three guys getting waterboarded is worth all this time and effort and ink adn giving aid and comfort to the enemies of the unborn.

    Austin,

    You seem to have missed or ignored my previous comment:

    I would say that, while waterboarding is probably the most prominent example of what has been termed ‘extreme interrogation’, the subject of ‘torture’ is not confined to such, nor are incidents of detainee abuse confined to those which occurred at Abu Ghraib. Incidents continue to occur in both Iraq and Afghanistan See for example Command’s Responsibility: Detainee Deaths in U.S. Custody in Iraq and Afghanistan – “comprehensive accounting of the U.S. government’s handling of the nearly 100 cases of detainees who have died in U.S. custody since 2002.” [See also Glenn Greenwald’s post, as Kyle pointed out].

    Practices which we might think of as fairly innocuous when presented on paper — sleep deprivation, raising/lowering the temperature, “stress positions”, and other techniques of “softening up” detainees for interrogation — have contributed to such deaths. Not all of these incidents can be dismissed as violations of the system in place, either — rather, the impression I get is that the system currently in place cultivates, and encourages, the abuse.

    Your “I don’t know if it’s intrinsically evil but even if it was, we only did it to three people — so it doesn’t matter” schtick is getting old.

  • I think the report above refers not to the CIA program that was approved by the Bush administration where waterboarding occured. I think it refers to command problems that encouraged rogue actions by military personel that resulted in abusive actions.

  • If these charges are true, who defends the deliberate killing of detainees? Or torturing them to death? Who has done that? As far as i can tell, no one. So, that is not really part of the debate. The only thing that is open for debate is whether the approved methods of enhanced interrogation are torture. As far as i can tell, only three men have been waterboarded. This debate is about that, three men who were waterboarded. My schtick is my schtick and i am schticking to it.

  • Reading the report also, it seems a number of individuals reached back to what they learned in SERE training even though it was not approved for these detainees.

  • Waht i think is driving the GOP/Pro-life haters at Dotcommonweal, America and Vox Nausea is precisely that, a hatred of all things conservative. What drives this debate among this crowd is something else. i do not doubt that you all are sincere in your concern but i dont get is how three guys getting waterboarded is worth all this time and effort and ink adn giving aid and comfort to the enemies of the unborn.

    If you think that the issue is a distraction then why spend so much time defending waterboarding? Why does the head of the American Life League feel the need to weigh in on the torture issue? Why does EWTN feel the need to have guests on to offer pro-waterboarding arguments? If you think the whole issue is a big distraction, then it seems to me those are the people you should be upset with.

  • We feel the need because the torture debate is giving aid and comfort to the party of death.

  • We feel the need because the torture debate is giving aid and comfort to the party of death.

    If you think the debate aids the party of death, why participate in the debate? Is this really such a hard point to grasp?

    The odd thing about these comments is that they’ve largely come after Bush left office. Waterboarding is no longer practiced by the U.S. government, and Bush isn’t on the ballot, so if there was ever a time to argue that the issue was moot and a distraction, it would be now. Yet instead of continuing to remain silent as they did when it was actually a live issue, for some reason a lot of Catholic groups have decided that now is the time to start actively defending the Bush era practices. It makes no sense.

  • Actually, i should say, i cannot comment for Ewtn or for Judy Brown. as for myself, i have commented for the reasons previously stated.

  • I think it is like mine, a reaction against folks, like you, who insist upon giving aid and comfort to the party of death by continuing to harp on a nonissue but one that divides prolifers.

  • I think it is like mine, a reaction against folks, like you, who insist upon giving aid and comfort to the party of death by continuing to harp on a nonissue but one that divides prolifers.

    As long as you continue to think that, you are going to perpetuate and aggravate the division. I’ve never seen someone hand Vox Nova – Vox-freaking Nova! – such a heaping helping of credibility on a silver platter.

  • Zippy,

    YOu are in league with Vox freakin Nausea in continuing this stupid argument. While this argument has been going on today there have been exactly zero waterboardings and roughly 2000 abortions.

  • Kyle, he makes reference to the reports of the organization Human Rights First. Human Rights First offers a total of 141 individuals who have died while in captivity. Since their total includes 38 individuals who were killed when a stray mortar hit a detention facility, I do not think they are inclined to lowball their figures. Human Rights First contends that a minimum of eight individuals have died ‘as a result of torture’, not the minimum of 100 individuals claimed by this dubious fellow Greenwald.

  • Reading Christopher’s link, it seems those things reported involved actual beatings and severe physical injuries as such. A number involved were disciplined though perhaps not to the degree that they should have been. But again these abuses seem different from what was approved in CIA interrogation. Not that it makes the CIA methods licit. Just that comparing the two seems faulty.

  • YOu are in league with Vox freakin Nausea in continuing this stupid argument.

    I see. If someone argues with you they are aiding the forces of death, but if you argue with them that’s fine and dandy.

    Frankly, if anyone in this thread is damaging the pro-life cause it would be you, both by claiming defense of waterboarding as a pro-life issue and by the juvenile manner with which you have conducted yourself.

  • The ‘we should be talking about something other than this’ line of argument is one of the least effective rhetorical ploys I’ve come across. Whether it’s the classic lament that “if we spent half as much time helping the poor as we do talking about abortion, the world would be a much better place,” or Mr. Ruse’s odd suggestion above that we should not talk about torture because it harms pro-life efforts, ‘be quiet about that, it’s not my pet issue’ is hardly an effective response.

    Torture and abortion are both abuses of the human person; Catholics should uphold the dignity of the human person on both issues. It is true that some people instrumentalize shared moral commitments for partisan purposes, such that torture is opposed not so much for its own sake but as a club to attack conservative Catholics, or abortion is condemned primarily as a means to attack liberal Catholics. Nevertheless, it is ridiculous to suggest that torture isn’t worth discussing at all simply because it’s not as bad as abortion, much less that to do so harms pro-life efforts; are we to be silent on every other matter of public policy save abortion?

  • John Henry — precisely. Good thoughts.

  • John Henry:

    There are troubles large and small in this world and someone is obligated to take responsiblity for each and every one.

    That having been said, you have the ambiguities involved in the question of how detainees are properly treated, you have a good deal of chaff obscuring your view (see the recent controversy over Scott Horton’s article in Harper’s) and questions about the credibility of various parties, and you have the scale of the problem to the extent it is a problem. On the other hand, you have the quantum of verbiage devoted and the vehemence of of the discussions, which have included the most atrocious personal attacks on various parties. It leads one to believe that whatever it appears people are discussing, they are truly discussing something else.

  • It leads one to believe that whatever it appears people are discussing, they are truly discussing something else.

    Well, yes. If we were confident that the three people waterboarded would be the last people ever waterboarded, and we were leaving it behind, then harping on it would indeed be counterproductive.

    What I see myself doing is ensuring that it ends there. And that it doesn’t open the door to other evils — will pro-life advocates be considered dangerous to the country?

    It is bigger than the three people; it’s about what kind of country we want to be; what kind of people we are. Are we the type of people who abandon are principles at the first threat?

  • Blackadder,

    Your post is beneath you. I dont mind if people argue with me. My point is that the torture debate is being used those who care more about it than the lives of unborn children. They use the torture debate as a subtext to convince people that it is better to vote for the non-torturers (the Dems) even though the Dems favor baby killing than for them to vote for the pro-life party, which is the GOP. Based on a recent post at Zippy in which he attempts to destroy my organization and several families who rely on my group for their livelihood, I am convinced that even on this side of the debate, torture trumps the babies and that those who disagree must be destoyed.

    I am sorry if i have been immature. I am not aware of having been, but in the comboxes, it is a strange place adn folks say things they do not mean and it is hard to convey true feelings and intentions here. Have I been sarcastic? I dont think anymore than anyone else. Anyway, if i have offended you, i apologize.

    Let me make several points i have made at Zippy’s hate site.

    1) I speak here as an individual and not as the president of C-FAM. C-FAM does not take a position on torture except insofar as we are faithful Catholics loyal to the Holy Father and the Magisterium in all things proper to them.

    2) I assert the debate over torture is being used by some, not all, to harm the pro-life movement.

    3) I assert the debate over torture is about very little since it involved only 3 people who were waterboarded.

    4) I have further questioned, not asserted, that waterboarding may not be torture. In fact, on this blog I demonstrated very convincingly that waterboarding is not intrinsically evil since the US does a form of it to our own troops as a part of training.

    4) I asserted that waterboarding could be torture under certain circumstances.

    5) I positively said i reject all forms of torture including waterboarding that is used as torture.

    If anyone needs me to be any clearer than this, let me konw.

  • But there is talking past one another. There have been 100 deaths of detainees. This of an estimated 80,000 detainees since 2001. Of these 32 were ruled homicide. Of these many (though not all) were court martialed or dealt with otherwise. The deaths reported suffered injuries which were not approved methods.

    But this gets presented as a sign of rampant torture.

  • And I’ve met thousands of women in my life that I’m not married to.

    And if I slept with one, it would be presented as a sign that I’m an adulterer.

  • Phillip,

    I contend there is not real debate over these things. If they happened, that is, if people were killed because of interrogation, this is a violation of human rights and should be punished. I dont knwo that even Marc Thiessen says its ok to kill someone during interrogation.

  • Let me rephrase that. The 32 homicides are against the moral order and should be punished. There is no evidence presented that these were approved of nor that they were the result of officially sanctioned interrogation techniques. Whether those techniques are torture are what some question. But the report linked doesn’t prove there is rampant, govt. sponsered torture.

    Just as JohnMcG having sex with someone not his wife doesn’t prove that the govt. is sanctioning adultery.

  • Well this torture thread is going the way most torture threads I’ve seen on Catholic sites. Endless posts by a few people and no one being convinced to alter their position one iota. I think perhaps the sterility of the debate is at base caused by the fact that some Catholics view torture in the same category as abortion and some do not. I am in the do not category. I am against physical torture as I’ve repeated ad nauseum in this endless futile debate over the past five years. However, I do not view torture as intrinsically evil, although it may well be evil depending on the circumstances, and I view it as a minor social ill at present compared to the mass slaughter of legalized abortion. Therefore, I simply can’t get worked up about it. Ban it, allow it under certain circumstances, allow it only under extreme cirumstances, it matters little to me one way or another. Obviously it excites some people greatly, but I am not in that category. There! My remarks should spark at least another 50 comments, but I will not be among them. The torture threads make amusing reading if one is interested in observing posturing, hair-splitting, avoidance of the argument your interlocutor is making, etc. I think they are rarely good for anything else productive.

  • I guess i am not follwing you Phillip. If detainees have died in custody and it is shown that it happened as a result of interrogation, then culpability must be assessed and the guilty should be punished. Again, i dont know anyone who would disagree with that.

  • Maybe this will help make my point. Some bishops have been pedophiliacs. Therefore the Church approves of pedophilia.

  • Some soldiers have tortured, therefore the govt. has approved of torture.

  • Of course that is not true. Has someone said its true?

  • Austin,

    I’m going to try and explain this one more time, as simply as possible. If you think the torture debate is a distraction, then DON’T GET INVOLVED IN THE DEBATE. You think that the issue doesn’t justify voting for Democrats over the GOP? Great. So do I. Making that argument doesn’t require you to defend waterboarding or other practices on the merits. When you start to do that, you have to expect that people who are opposed to waterboarding are going to respond. To accuse them of not really being pro-life when they do so it utterly hypocritical. What do you expect, for people who consider waterboarding a violation of human dignity to just sit silently while Judy Brown or Marc Thiessen or you or whoever make whatever pro-waterboarding statements? You clearly aren’t willing to abide by that standard, and it’s ridiculous for you to expect others to do so.

  • Since it is their interest and their duty to see that relations be normal between the members of a given group – a family, a school, a firm, a community, a social class, a city, a state – their constant temptation is to impose by the use of force such normal relations as bear the appearance of Peace. The ambiguous character of the social life which follows is torture and corruption for human spirits. A life of pretence is the atmosphere resulting sometimes from an inglorious victory, at other times from an irrational despotism, from a coercive repression, or from a balance of permanently opposing forces which are usually on the increase as they wait for a violent outburst which by devastation of every sort shows how false was the Peace imposed only by superiority of power and force.

  • Did the bishops hire lawyers to investigate whether there was wiggle room in Canon law to allow sex with minors?

    Have prominent Catholics responded to recent news events by saying that the Church’s rejection of pedophilia is making the Church less safe? Are retired bishops criticizing current bishops for this?

    Has there been a best-selling book making the case for pedophilia that was uncritically promoted in Catholic media?

  • John,

    You know I am not saying that. I’m merely saying that using the above cited report to state that what was reported was govt. policy is false.

  • …and that becomes a starting point to not be talking past each other.

  • Blackadder,

    Idont know if anyonehere works for a prolife group. I do. As someone who does this work, I am telling you this prolonged debate about how the GOP are torturers gives aid and comfort to those who want to kill babies. I have come into this debate to warn you that this could result in yet more proabortion people being elected to Congress and anohter term for Obama. This is why i have entered into this discussion. i regret digressing from my main point into an exploration of waterboarding, though i think we all benefited from some of the points raised there.

    Lstly, i am not aware of saying anyone is not prolife based on being against waterboarding. If i did, i retract it.

  • Amen Donald!!

  • Austin

    We get it. “Elect the GOP!” That’s your point. GOP this. GOP that. GOP. GOP. GOP. That’s your concern. Everything is for the sake of the GOP, and you are willing to undermine morality for the sake of the GOP. Moral questions and issues are insignificant to you. People dying are insignificant to you. GOP winning is all that counts. And this seems to explain why you confuse the GOP with the Catholic Church; how else can Bush be called a Catholic by you?! If you reject the moral absolutes, and say morality doesn’t matter, then you are indeed following consequential relativism for the sake of the party. And people see it here. Rock on, Austin. Rock on. (How did you like working for that pro-abortion Rolling Stone magazine, btw?)

  • Look Austin, it really doesn’t matter that there are people who use the Bush policy regarding waterboarding to justify support of pro-aborts and other policies that go against pro-life policies. They are objectively correct to condemn torture and want our country to not participate in it. It’s okay to agree with them even if you disagree with the gravity or importance relative to abortion and other life issues.

    Frankly, if it’s not the torture issue there will be something else they will use to justify supporting the a pro-abort candidate. Why fall into that trap? Why excuse a grave injustice just because your political opponents do? Why not use your support of conventionally pro-life candidates to lead him/her to a more thorough and consistant pro-life position? Don’t be the mirror image of those whom you’re finding fault with.

  • I will just reiterate to everyone here. I will not respond to anything Henry Karlson says. He has a totally free shot to say anything at all. I will not respond to him.

  • Idont know if anyonehere works for a prolife group.

    Several of the commenters here either currently work for a pro-life group or have in the past, including myself.

    As someone who does this work, I am telling you this prolonged debate about how the GOP are torturers gives aid and comfort to those who want to kill babies. I have come into this debate to warn you that this could result in yet more proabortion people being elected to Congress and anohter term for Obama.

    You said earlier that you know Marc Thiessen. Have you ever made similar warnings to him? Because I guarantee you that by writing his book Thiessen has prolonged the torture debate several orders of magnitude more than anyone on this thread. In fact, if Thiessen gone on EWTN to argue in favor of waterboarding this thread wouldn’t even exist.

  • I’m sure Austin is smart enough to know, by stating what he just said, he did respond to me. But of course, the problem for him is he acts like a typical bully. When the taunts don’t work, he has nothing left. But I will warn people: if you don’t want him pestering you at home, tell him now before he thinks you are fair game too.

  • Blackadder, I would be grateful to know who i am talking to…my email address is austinruse@c-fam.org

  • Your real identity will remain private…

  • … in which he attempts to destroy my organization and several families who rely on my group for their livelihood,

    Austin, I’ll make you a friendly offer right now. I disagree with your characterization of my post — all I did was link to information you posted publicly on the Internet, and recommend that people read it, so that they will be fully informed. But I’ll happily remove the post if you’ll back off, go have a coffee or beer or whatever favorite adult you prefer, and seriously reconsider what you are doing. I think pro-life leaders like yourself have a huge potential to do great harm or great good in how you approach this particular problem. I think you maybe jumped in with both feet when you ought to have been more careful, and that you were probably goaded into a lot of this by the Leftists and liars at Vox Nova. (I can’t judge the discussions over there because I don’t read them any more).

    But any way, if you’ll just commit to go re-think the issue, pray on it, and discuss it with your Bishop before speaking publicly on it again, I’ll be more than happy to take the post down.

    You know what — to Hell with it. As a gesture of good faith, I’ll go take it down now anyway. But please, please do what I asked. You really want to be on the side of the angels on this one, or the stink of Hell is going to infect the other things you do. And that would be a terrific shame, for all of us.

  • Here is my offer, Zippy. Lets get together…

  • And, i want you to know that is darn nice of you, Zippy. I appreciate it. I take it as an act of very good faith.

  • “Leftists and liars…” hah!

  • Love it, Zippy. Just went there and it is down. You are a man.

  • Here is my offer, Zippy. Lets get together…

    Expect an email.

  • I recall becoming best friends with guys i had fistfights with on the playground…

  • I submit that to call the Democratic Party “the party of death” and the Republican Party “the pro-life party” causes far graver injury to the cause of life than to insist that the Bush Administration approved of torture.

    Can the pro-life movement really succeed only if people stop telling the truth? Are professional anti-abortionists really insisting that voters be kept ignorant lest they not vote Republican?

  • Rick Lugari @ 5:07 PM – “Why excuse a grave injustice just because your political opponents do? Why not use your support of conventionally pro-life candidates to lead him/her to a more thorough and consistant pro-life position?” – Thank you.

    Donald McClarey / Philip — I freely concede and acknowledge that the ‘100 detainee deaths under U.S. custody’ merit close scrutiny, and likewise believe one should be skeptical of cases in which, for example, every one of those cases are attributed to torture and interrogation. At the same time I don’t think they can be dismissed wholesale, either, as some here are inclined to do. Here are some other attempts to break down the list in question:

    Deaths of Detainees in the Custody of US Forces in Iraq and Afghanistan From 2002 to 2005 (12/05/06) [free signup to access required]

    Medical Investigations of Homicides of Prisoners of War in Iraq and Afghanistan (07/05/05) [free signup to access required]

    And Philip — just to clarify where I stand:

    I understand that not everything that occurred happened with the authoritative sanction from the top. (I stand corrected if I gave that impression). I don’t necessarily buy into the liberal “torture narrative” either (the proposition that the Bush administration deliberately conspired to commit torture and demanded the legal sanction to do so. I find it more plausible that many of these officials did not want to commit torture, and — when approached for help on this matter by those conducting the actual interrogations — were thus motivated to ascertain those techniques which they deemed were “within the lines”.

    I’m not necessarily convinced they succeeded in doing so, but I believe they had honorable motives and did so in good faith.

    But — reading over the vast body of accounts and memos related to “enhanced interrogation” and detainee abuse, my sense is that even the lesser of the ‘enhanced interrogation’ techniques — “environmental manipulation”; “sleep deprivation/adjustment”; “stress positions”; “20-hour interrogations”, “controlled fear” — that were signed off and formally approved of, were a contributing factor. Moreover, that our present methods of implementing this incarceration and interrogation is grossly dysfunctional. (See “No Blood, No Foul”: Soldiers’ Accounts of Detainee Abuse in Iraq. On paper it sounds as if such ‘enhanced interrogation’ techniques were tightly regulated so as to prohibit any abuse; that such abuse would be easily recognized and quickly addressed — enough that our former President could say with a straight face and perhaps believe it himself: “we don’t torture.”
    When in reality, at least according to one soldier’s testimony:

    … And within a couple hours a team of two JAG officers, JAG lawyers, came and gave us a couple hours slide show on why this is necessary, why this is legal, they’re enemy combatants, they’re not POWs, and so we can do all this stuff to them and so forth. Yeah, they came the very same day. . . .Oh, it was very fast. We [laughing] it was like they were ready. I mean they had this two hour slide show all prepared, and they came in and gave it to us and they stopped interrogations for it. It was a PowerPoint. It was on a computer laptop. . . .

    Some of the slides were about the laws of war, the Geneva Convention, but it was kind of a starting-off point for them to kind of spout off, you know: why we don’t have to follow these Geneva Convention articles and so forth. Like, you know, inhumane and degrading treatment, well, this specifically relates to POWs, so we don’t have to do this. So basically, we can do inhumane and degrading treatment.

    And then they went on to the actual treatment itself, what we were doing, what we’d signed off on and those types of things: cold water and nudity, strobe lights, loud music-that’s not inhumane because they’re able to rebound from it. And they claim no lasting mental effects or physical marks or anything, or permanent damage of any kind, so it’s not inhumane. And then there was also [discussion about] degrading [treatment]. Like what’s more degrading than being thrown completely naked in the middle of a mud pile, with everybody looking at you and spraying water on you. . . .

    So while much of this is morally questionable, I agree with Philip that we have to rightly distinguish between those techniques which were “lawfully sanctioned” and signed off on by the Bush administration at the time (which may, nonetheless be gravely immoral and tantamount to torture); and other immoral abuses which occurred as a result of on-the-spot decisions by the parties themselves, not formally approved from the top.

    Donald / Austin

    Overall, it is disconcerting to me — as a self-identified ‘Catholic-conservative’ blogger since 2002 — that the predominant sources I have to turn to for investigations and reporting on this subject are leading liberal periodicals (New Yorker, New York Times, Mother Jones) or organizations (ACLU, Human Rights Watch, Human Rights First). I’m well aware of the liberal bias that is present, and am mindful to read with a critical eye. I very much resent the fact that it’s chiefly liberals who are raising a storm over this — and that some seem to shrug it off with the “we only waterboarded 3 guys years ago, so what does it ultimately matter? it’s only a distraction and will ultimately prevent us from electing another Republican” attitude.

    This kind of behavior puts pro-lifers in a sorry light and simply gives ready ammunition to Vox Nova‘s stereotype of the hypocritical conservative.

    * * *

    Austin Ruse asserts: “If detainees have died in custody and it is shown that it happened as a result of interrogation, then culpability must be assessed and the guilty should be punished.”

    Well, yes. I think it can be said that everyone desires thus. But it is one thing to assert this, and another to read over the reporting on these incidents and to find just how rarely justice is actually achieved.

    Here are some resources that may help evaluate “enhanced interrogation” — again, with the disclaimer that these are typically understood to be ‘liberal’ sources. We have to read critically, but we can’t wantonly dismiss for that reason either.

    Documents Released Under FOIA relating to the treatment of prisoners in detention centers overseas. (A project of the ACLU).

    ICRC Report on the Treatment of Fourteen “High Value Detainees” in CIA Custody International Committee of the Red Cross, Regional Delegation for United States and Canada, February 14, 2007

    The Torture Archive is an ongoing project of the National Security Archive, is assembling at a single location documents from wide-ranging sources on United States government policy toward rendition, detainees, interrogation, and torture. (In light of the criticisms of liberal bias that accompanies various portrayals of the cases, it may help here to refer to the primary documents).

    Torturing Democracy – A project of the National Security Archive.

    The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How The War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals by Jane Meyer. Yes, it’s by a journalist for The New Yorker; but it is to date one of the best researched accounts of how we got to where we are today.

    Lastly, I would be less concerned about the fact that all of his happened “years ago”, and we shouldn’t have to worry about it (much less talk about it), if a Catholic author like Mark Thiessen wasn’t making the television talk-show circuit (both secular and religious), peddling his book lamenting the fact that waterboarding is now prohibited and the Obama administration had done away with the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” program — and Catholics were still engaged in open debate on this topic as they have been for half a decade, both sides echoing by-now-familiar arguments.

    Indeed, the comments on this post validate my desire for some authoritative interjection on the part of the Bishops. (Not that I expect it will happen anytime soon).

    Thanks for your participation and commentary on this thread.

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Separating the wheat from the chaff in the Great Torture Debate …

Friday, January 22, AD 2010

There’s a new blog in town — “The Coalition for Clarity” — founded by Red Cardigan (And Sometimes Tea), with inspiration from Mark Shea; you can review their founding principles here.

Who could be a part of the Coalition for Clarity? — That’s a good question, particularly when reviewing various attempts at “clarity” from the vast array of prominent Catholics who have weighed in on the subject.

Consider the following candidates …

Continue reading...

29 Responses to Separating the wheat from the chaff in the Great Torture Debate …

  • Personally, I have always favored translating all the torture debates held on Saint Blog’s into Arabic. You then have them voice read, with different voice actors and actresses for all the different contributors and commenters over the years, and recordings made. Then, whenever a terrorist comes into the hands of the authorities, you have this piped into their cells non-stop. After a few days of hearing this, I suspect all but the most hardened terrorists would be begging to talk!

  • Good to hear. While I wish that we were all opposed to torture (and abortion, etc.), I am glad that at least we’re willing to have debates about the moral legitimacy of torture. It’s not a practice that we’ve yet happily embraced as a society, so I hope that, in time, we may, as a society, come to a clear vision of it.

  • If I’m not mistaken, veterans of WWII have said many times that they were told in no uncertain terms NEVER to torture Nazi POWs, and that in their experience, torture didn’t work anyway in terms of gathering actionable intelligence. I also remember reading somewhere (pardon the vagueness of this recollection) that the most effective Nazi interrogator of all never used torture or physical pain of any kind — his tactic was to appear friendly and sympathetic.

    I take it that the notion of justifying, or looking the other way at, torture of terrorist suspects, didn’t come from within the U.S. military — this was NOT something soldiers were begging to be allowed to do because it was going to “help” them out in the field — just the opposite.

    It seems to me that things which are sinful but touted as the only “solutions” to desperate, intractable problems (e.g. abortion, contraception, euthanasia, torture) almost always end up not “solving” the problem they were supposed to solve, or creating new, even worse problems. Sin not only makes you stupid and puts you in danger of damnation, it isn’t even practical in the long run!

  • I’m against torture, and I tend to see waterboarding as torture. *But*… if any debate about torture is going to go anywhere, it *has* to include discussion on the nature of torture… what the essence of torture is. And for the life of me, I can’t figure out why so many other opponents of torture are opposed to having that discussion, as Christopher alludes to at the end of the post.

  • Chris

    The problem is simple: definitions are never all-inclusive, and people who want a “definition” do so for the sake of finding a way to use the letter as against the spirit. I have no problem with people trying to make working definitions, when people know that is what is going on — but the people who insist on a “real definition” do so ignoring the limitations of definitions. The question of definition ends up being a way to side-swipe the whole issue and to divert attention away from practical issues and solutions.

    To confirm this, look to the way people try to play fast and loose with definitions in other issues, like religion!

  • Chris to further point out what I mean, consider the issues people rightfully have with those who think the Christian faith is merely what can be discerned and put down in propositions. Think about the attempt to classify Christ in propositions and to think that is the end of theological knowledge. They are wrong — and what is useful in one day ends up being incomplete and imperfect. Propositions in the end never truly hit the mark — they might aim for it, but never actually get it complete. We have seen this in Christology– look to St Cyril of Alexandria’s Christological propositions and how some people assumed they were “definitive definitions.” What happened? They opposed Chalcedon and therefore showed they didn’t understand the limits of definitions and propositions.

    So again, while I think one can make working, practical definitions, one must always do so with the addition of: this is imperfect and incomplete, and we must work with the spirit behind the proposition itself, not just rely upon the dead letter (for as St Paul says, it is the letter which kills).

  • Henry,

    While someone may focus on definitions in order to divert attention, it’s also possible that they are serious about attempting a thorough moral analysis of a particular human act. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, we ought to presume the latter.

    We use precise definitions in numerous other instances of intrinsic evil… abortion, adultery, etc. I see no reason why we can’t have the same degree of clarity on this issue.

    I agree that we need to start with a working definition… we need to start somewhere, after all. But we can proceed to refine that definition as our analysis unfolds.

  • Chris

    We have evidence – Mark Shea and others have given working definitions. Kyle Cupp on Vox Nova has done so as well. Indeed, I have seen many people give them — all to have people use it to say “so, waterboarding doesn’t count because of X.” So indeed, for some at least, it is a way to try to trap people into accepting something like waterboarding.

    But I think we both agree; a working definition is fine — so long as all the caveats are put in place. And with it, all definitions, even improvements, would be seen as working definitions. If we follow with that light, they can help, but again, I have seen people already give such — which is why the “they don’t give a definition” statement isn’t true. People do give it, but what is wanted is “the” definition.

  • In a post like this, why are you putting together American Catholic thinkers and American neocons? Catholicism has utterly nothing in common with this modern neocon tradition, which instead invokes the pagan ethic of might-makes-right.

    You know, efforts to claim certain forms of torture are not really torture are very similar to efforts claiming that abortion is not murder – it’s all about trying to draw an arbitrary line where you cease to respect human life and dignity. It’s the right wing equivalent of Catholic for a Free Choice, and is similarly corrupted by the evils of consequentialism.

    As for the argumenst above, Harrison’s is incredibly weak. And Akin is invokling a purely consequentialist argument – torture is OK in particular circumstances (ticking bomb scenario) when the very definition of an instrinsically evil act precludes such recourse to circumstances.

    Instead of this legion of neocons and their Catholic fellow travelers, why do you not simply report what the Church says about torture? See the article in the recent America magazine by Stephen Colecchi. See the Catechism, the Compendium on Social Doctrine, Gaudium Et Spes, Veritatis Spledour, the USCCB document, and the statements of Pope Benedict (that torture cannot be considered under any circumstances) on this issue. It’s not that complicated.

  • I think Michael’s definition which Mark offers is a great working definition, actually.

  • Elaine, in regard to World War II, the Americans and the Brits would usually give captured enemy agents the option of revealing everything they knew and cooperating with them or of being summarily executed since enemy agents were not covered by the Geneva Convention. Most of the captured agents chose to cooperate.

  • In a post like this, why are you putting together American Catholic thinkers and American neocons?

    Huh? What’s your objection to mentioning “neocons” who oppose torture? Given how readily you make common cause with, and defend, all sorts of political causes that you supposedly DISagree with, you can hardly fail to understand why it is that people who really do agree with each other (on opposing torture) would work together in that cause.

  • in regard to World War II, the Americans and the Brits would usually give captured enemy agents the option of revealing everything they knew and cooperating with them or of being summarily executed since enemy agents were not covered by the Geneva Convention.

    It may be well past time to shut down Guantanemo type programs and return to that approach.

  • [Morning’s Minion]: “In a post like this, why are you putting together American Catholic thinkers and American neocons? Catholicism has utterly nothing in common with this modern neocon tradition, which instead invokes the pagan ethic of might-makes-right.”

    Well, I suppose it might be to have readers compare and contrast the statements on the subject made by one set of speaker and the other. (I believe it well within your capability to do that).

    [Morning’s Minion]: “Instead of this legion of neocons…”

    That some sources might fall within your derogatory category of ‘neocons’ (which seems to be written with just as much a derisive sneer as you adopt when referring to ‘Calvinists’) certainly wouldn’t preclude my respect when they take a stance against torture.

    (Thank you for your reference to the America article by Stephen Colecchi. I’ve an interest in reading it — unfortunately, I’m not a subscriber).

    Chris [Burgwald] — I think that Michael’s definition is a useful working definition as well. I do take issue with those who define torture so as to wholly exclude mental coercion and/or confine it only to that which would result in bodily harm. On the other hand, there are those who would say that coercion itself is gravely immoral, which would certainly call into question those who constantly lobby on behalf of the Army Field Manual. (Kyle Kupp — I appreciate your discussion of “coercion” here).

    As for the Coalition of Clarity, I think that any attempt at arriving at clarify would necessarily involve some reflection and discussion on the identification of what constitutes torture. Definitions being the basic tools of thought.

    Readers of my prior posts on this subject know that one concern of mine would be that there has been a tendency from some bloggers to readily apply the brand of ‘Rubber Hose Right’ — and a range of other euphamisms — with wild abandon to practically anybody who questions their reasoning or methodology or approach to the topic. Strangely enough, in lashing out at conservatives he has applied these labels specifically to some of the ‘neocons’ cited above who have taken a stance against torture.

    Also, Mark’s post to which Henry drew attention flatly and vigorously denies Fr. Richard Neuhaus’ conviction that “as bright a line as possible between such coercion and torture, and to forbid the latter absolutely”:

    It is the common notion that there is some bright line difference between torture and techniques that are “not quite” torture and that the job of the morally serious person is to find it.

    This is simply an illusion. There is no bright line between torture and not-quite-torture.

    I think this kind of attitude from a leading Catholic apologist would be an impediment to the seeking of “clarity” on the subject.

  • The point of Mark’s comment, and in which he is quite correct, is that positivistic propositionalism tries to establish this idea that “torture is easy to define, so it is easy to make a line which separate the two.” But as was commented upon in this thread, this is false, and indeed, is the kind of reasoning which is used to support abortion, trying to tell pro-lifers to offer a consistent definition of a person(something which is just as difficult to define as torture!)

  • I really don’t see why this is so difficult. A few years ago this question came up in my Ethics class and not so surprisingly, I suppose, most people were in favor of waterboarding except for people, who by their comments in class participation, were unmistakably liberal. But from the language in the class “managing sleep”, “intense interrogation”, “mere drowning simulations” rather than what I’d call sleep deprivation, torture, and waterboarding respectively, seriously wrung a bell — “death with dignity”, “mercy killing”, “the right to die.” Or why not, “pregnancy termination”, “reproductive rights”, and other such euphemisms – even if you don’t find torture to be intrinsically evil or waterboarding to be torture – it should, at the very least, give you pause at the way these euphemistic marketing slogans are used to sell such things without the slightest moral examination.

    So, in one sense, I’m glad there can be a discussion. On the other hand, I am not even sure why – it seems so obvious to me.

  • If you can’t figure out what is torture and what is not, then that leaves you without any ability to make a counterargument when someone says, “Practice X is in a gray area, but doesn’t fall on the ‘torture’ side of the line.”

  • Zippy would have been a great candidate for the Coalition. I sure miss him!

  • While I think there are inherent risks, I’ve always thought it was important to define the terms of the debate for two reasons:

    1) This is an area where we need to make concrete, practical decisions as a matter of public policy, such as “X is permitted, for so long, and at such intensity.” “Y is not permitted”. If torture opponents refuse to provide clear definitions or make arguments about specific practices, that cedes the ground to torture supporters to define the terms of the debate.

    2) If you want to be taken seriously, there isn’t that much value in condemnations at a high level of abstraction on this issue. In my experience, many of the people who say ‘we can’t define it,’ often appear to be more interested in self-affirmation and blanket condemnations, than actually engaging in the difficult task of debating an issue in a way that might affect public policy. Debate requires making distinctions and arguments in an effort to convince opponents or the undecided; that takes effort. True, it’s much easier to pound the table louder and refuse to respond to requests for clarification on the premise that it won’t do any good anyway. But that’s hardly the way to win over anyone who is undecided or conflicted on this issue. Defining the terms may be a risk, but I think it’s a risk worth taking.

  • JH

    Once again, Mark and other HAVE gone in to discuss and make definitions. The fault is the accusation that they and others against torture have not. what has happened, however, is the sophistry which comes in response, which does as I said happens– legalistic attempts to find a loophole out of calling a preferred practice of the day as not torture. That is the problem: it would be fine if there WERE an honest interest in creating a working definition of torture; it is another when it is all about finding a way to excuse things recognized as torture to no longer be torture! And that is why people, in the end say, we have debated the definition enough — because people are not interested in the spirit but the letter, and are incapable of understanding the problem of positivistic definitions. As I said — think this through with the attempt to define “person” historically and how no working definition has ever been satisfactory. Pro-abortion supporters jump up and down with all the loopholes caused by this in the exact same manner. Both pro-aborts and pro-torturers are looking for loopholes via definition to ignore the path of virtue.

  • One source that is frequently cited by opponents of torture is the Army Field Manual. While this has eliminated waterboarding, it does nonetheless seem to pose problems for those who propose it as a model of interrogation. For example, reading the manual it allows that a prisoner should receive a minimum of 4 hours of sleep a day during interrogation. But the ability to reduce sleep to this minimum is sleep deprivation. It also talks about preventing excesses of heat and cold in cells. But banning an excess allows for some manipulation of the environment. Holding that sleep deprivation and manipulation of the physical environment of the prisoner’s cell is considered torture by many. Yet from the same Field Manual that is cited as definitive by these same people allows for these techniques.

    Source:

    http://www.army.mil/institution/armypublicaffairs/pdf/fm2-22-3.pdf

  • Truth-in-advertising would demand that they name it Coalition for Calumny because that is precisely what Shea-inspired anti-torture polemics amount to.

  • While I oppose torture, as a Catholic, I find some of the protestations here of the Vox Nova quartet (where are M.Z. and Michael on this?) to be a bit overstated.

    I have a big problem equivocating torture and abortion. While I wouldn’t place the quantitative aspect of these problems at the highest level of consideration, it is worth remembering that torture (lets narrow it down to people in U.S. detention centers) affects a few hundred people, while millions upon millions of innocent children are destroyed every year by abortion.

    That isn’t irrelevant.

    By the way, I searched for the phrase “positivistic propositionalism” and couldn’t find it anywhere. What does it mean? I’m not being snarky; I would really like to know.

  • I am always fascinated by these discussions. It always seems that we end up with two opposing camps pointing fingers at each other with shouts of “Heretic!”; having carried a weapon for our country, I see these things a little differently.

    In the original post, reference was made to a 2004 article by Father Richard John Neuhaus (may he rest in peace), in which he stated, “The uncompromisable principle is that it is always wrong to do evil in order that good may result.” Sounds good. But it needs qualification. Really, Deacon? Well, yes! Let me explain.

    Killing another human being is always *objectively* evil. Thus, one may adopt, as a religious principle, an absolute refusal to either kill, or to facilitate killing in any way (military conscientious objection takes this form).

    But, in reality (crudely stated), “some people just need killin’.” And we all know that. As bad as it sounds, there are certain circumstances in which even innocent people might have to die in order to prevent a greater evil (e.g., shooting down a hijacked airliner to prevent it being crashed into a populated area). Certainly, a police officer using deadly force in the performance of his duty would be exempted from the the prohibition against killing.

    And who gets to decide? Who has to make the judgment as to whether a particular person or group of people “needs killin'”? The person charged by civil authority with making that determination does! And no matter how we bloviate, pontificate, and Monday-morning-quarterback, that judgment still has to be made on case-by-case basis, in the moment, by an individual.

    I believe it’s the same with “torture. While we can objectively define it, there is always going to be an area of subjective judgment that will have to be exercised in the moment. There are certain absolutes: one cannot push one prisoner out of a helicopter aloft, for example, and then turn to the remaining prisoners and tell them that they have to talk, or they’ll be next. One cannot do that; murder is evil no matter what (that is what makes it murder, see?). But that is clearly different from putting someone under duress (through their environment, or by depriving them of sleep, or even by creating a sensation of drowning). All of these things can be, just as clearly, distinguished from cutting off fingers or toes, applying live electrodes to genitalia, or suspending someone over a pit of sharpened stakes.

    So…it’s fine to theoretically discuss the virtues of various courses and choices; but at the end of the day, we have to do a good job of teaching people in positions of authority sound principles of morality. Absolutes too narrowly described are almost dangerous, because they either leave people optionless, or they cause these moral actors to just reject the total package of rules we impose because they don’t meet the “reality check” or the “common sense” test. And I wonder if that wouldn’t be the worst of all possible outcomes…

  • *sings* Same song, seven hundred and fifty-three thousandth verse– little bit louder and a little bit worse.

    I gave up trying to have any sort of discussion when it became clear that Mr. Karlson’s mode of persuasive arguing– ie, reading my mind and informing me of why I believe something– was about all I could hope for.

    Amusingly, they’re the exact same tactics that get used against me when I argue against abortion….

    Side note– the torture in the pictured woodcut isn’t waterboarding; it’s probably the water cure or the tormento de toca (both popularly misidentified as the simulated drowning of water boarding– even if one agrees that water boarding is torture, these are three different forms that all happen to involve water)

  • Morning’s Minion said: Catholicism has utterly nothing in common with this modern neocon tradition, which instead invokes the pagan ethic of might-makes-right.

    Really? “Utterly nothing in common”? Vatican II teaches that Catholicism has things in common even with Hindu idolatry — but neoconservative political philosophy and Catholicism haven’t a single thing in common?

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Torture: Wrong Regardless of Effectiveness

Thursday, September 3, AD 2009

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.

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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?