Waterboarding

Waterboarding is for pansies.

‘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.

Social Contract and Morality

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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Apropos of Last Weeks Torture Post …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

No War Crimes Trials

In the comments on a post on another blog, I was challenged with the following question, which while fringy in origin strikes me as being the sort of thing which requires a post-length answer if it’s going to be answered at all. (I’ve put together the content of a couple comments in the following summation.)

Given the statement by president-elect Obama’s incoming Attorney General that waterboarding is torture, shouldn’t one want to see “everyone in the Bush administration who authorized torture” sent to the Hague to stand trail for war crimes?

My short answer is, “No.” And I think there are a number of interesting reasons for saying this.

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