Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A Torturous Equivalence

Here and there in the Catholic blogosphere, the discussion about Mary Ann Glendon's decision to refuse the Latare Medal from Notre Dame continues.

One theme that has sprung into being keeps cropping up rather regularly, almost as if left-leaning Catholics were receiving talking points from somewhere--but as everyone knows, only right-wing conservatives get talking points; liberals are all highly independent thinkers who just happen to reach the same conclusions within moments of each other, which makes it convenient for them to post the same thoughts on multiple Internet conversations all at once. This theme goes as follows:
  • Mary Ann Glendon was ambassador to the Holy See during the Bush administration.
  • The Bush administration condoned torture.
  • Mary Ann Glendon did not resign her position.
  • Therefore, Mary Ann Glendon wholeheartedly approves of the intrinsic evil of torture, and her refusal to accept the award from Notre Dame is a purely partisan act.
  • Thus, Catholics who were already inclined to applaud ND for honoring Obama may continue to do so in perfectly good conscience.
There are a lot of things wrong with this construction, of course. But what is not wrong is that it is clear that the Bush administration was allowing one intrinsic evil, torture, to take place, while opposing another intrinsic evil, abortion. We get nowhere as Catholics if we try to minimize the evil that torture is, or make excuses for it.

That said, however, this notion that the fact that Glendon didn't resign as ambassador sometime during the Bush administration removes her credibility to object to ND's choice to honor the most pro-abortion president this country has ever had is pernicious nonsense. If we are going to claim that only those who wholeheartedly and enthusiastically accept every action of a presidential administration, even actions which for a long time were kept secret or outright lied about, may serve in that administration, then I think we've pretty much made it impossible for any Catholic at any time to serve in any high-level government position. And if we're going to insist that Glendon must have approved of torture, or else she would have resigned her post, then what are we to make of all those "personally opposed, buts..." serving presently in this administration--should we now insist that if they don't resign their positions they must necessarily accept the president's views on infanticide?

Moreover, as some have pointed out already, there is a difference between the Bush administration on torture and this current administration on abortion. If Bush had been elected on the strength of his promise to torture our enemies, if a strong "pro-torture" faction existed which pumped countless thousands of dollars into his campaign, if Glendon in order to serve in the administration had to quell any moral qualms she had about torture and come up with some kind of, "Well, I'm personally opposed to torture, but..." formulation in order to get the post, if her job required her to gloss over Catholic teaching on torture on a constant basis, then perhaps the comparison might be valid. But there is not (as of yet, anyway) a strong, vocal "pro-torture" movement; even in the Republican party itself there are plenty of people who abhor it. There is no such thing as the "National Enhanced Interrogation Rights Action League (NEIRAL);" there is no "Planned Bauerhood" group which celebrates torture as a right and raises money to support it. President Bush did not campaign on a pro-torture platform; the tactic used was to deny torture was happening, and when that didn't work anymore to quibble about "enhanced interrogation" and insist firmly that whatever was going on, if something were going on which they didn't admit, it wasn't torture, because we don't torture people, etc.

So it is perfectly possible to suppose that many Catholics who worked in positions in the Bush administration do not now, and never did, approve of torture, because it is a fact that the Bush administration did not commit itself openly to torture or insist that its appointees pass a "pro-torture litmus test" as a condition of their employment. Similarly, it is theoretically possible for a Catholic to hold a post within the Obama administration and yet to be vocally and openly pro-life (though thus far Obama hasn't even tried to appoint such a person, not even to Glendon's former post as ambassador to the Holy See). But it is not possible to claim that a Catholic university can honor the most pro-abortion president America has ever had with an honorary degree while simultaneously showing in a clear and unequivocal way their disapproval of abortion; and it was beyond disingenuous for Father Jenkins to claim that awarding the Latare Medal to Mary Ann Glendon was a sufficient act of "equal time" that would provide that unequivocal clarity.

To her credit, Glendon recognized both this reality and the clear fact that Notre Dame was ignoring the bishops' instructions in their 2004 letter, Catholics in Political Life, and thus declined the honor. People who think that this is a partisan act, or that her former position as ambassador to the Holy See somehow makes her a torture apologist, are the ones guilty of a partisanship which won't allow them to see the naked evil of Barack Obama's views and actions on abortion for what they really are.


Magister Christianus said...

"pernicious nonsense," you say. Great turn of a phrase!

Of course, they accused Jesus of being a drunk as a way to slander Him. He also reminded us, "Blessed are you when men revile you and say all manner of evil against you falsely for my name's sake." Thus they persecuted the prophets before Jesus, and thus they continue to persecute the martyrs of this present age.

Anonymous said...

waterboarding is not torture, ask our milatary that have been subjected to it.

freddy said...

Dear "Anonymous at 11:41,"

Before you can be taken seriously in this discussion, you should do a little research.

Ask youself a few questions, such as, "why does the Army Field Manual prohibit waterboarding?" and "if waterboarding isn't torture, what, then, is it?"

Second, carefully read the post in which you intend to comment. Who's talking specifically about waterboarding, anyway?

Next, don't comment as "anonymous," it's sloppy and shows a lack of creativity.

Finally, learn to spell. Spelling mistakes can be overlooked in long, passionate posts, but in a short post like yours it just looks silly.

Good luck!

Red Cardigan said...

Anonymous, I deleted your second post. Freddy's a friend of mine, and you don't get to beat up on her just because you want to turn this conversation into a debate about waterboarding--which is torture, by the way.

Pick a nickname if you want to be taken seriously. I generally ignore anonymous comments, unless they're abusive, in which case I delete them.

freddy said...

Red, don't delete a comment on my account!

However, given the nature of this particular post, a continued discussion on one particular form of torture really isn't germane.

If "Anonymous" wants to discuss your post, I'd be happy to reply. If, however, "Anonymous" just wants to ride his hobby horse, he can do that elsewhere.

eulogos said...

I am not anonymous, I am Susan Peterson, and I think the statement that the Bush administration engaged in or condoned 'torture' is not proven. I do not consider waterboarding to be what is usually implied by the word torture, which makes me think of the rack and pulled fingernails. Undoubtedly making people feel that they will not be able to breathe induces panic and the feeling that anything must be done to make this stop, but it isn't painful,and it doesn't cause lasting harm. I think stressful interrogation is an appropriate term for this practice, along with subjecting people to bright lights, loud noises, and sleep deprivation. I believe waterboarding was authorized a very few times for high level terror suspects, and that in fact information was recieved which enabled a major attack to be averted. I think that this is the kind of decision which has to be made by the leaders of governments who are charged with protecting the security of their citizens. If 9-11 could have been averted if one person had been subjected to waterboarding, don't you think that is an acceptable moral calculus? I don't look upon stressful interrogation as immoral in a time of war, nor do I think that this is what the church forbids when it forbids torture. Of course there has to be careful judgment about when such things are necessary and likely to produce essential information, and there have to be safeguards against the abuses that the sad facts about human nature make possible. I believe there were efforts to provide this type of oversight, efforts which were imperfect with relation to the treatment of some prisoners, (as in fact is the case with all prisoners everywhere including in civil prisons) but which seemed to have been quite effective in terms of limiting waterboarding to a few situations.

I don't think one can even begin to compare this to the destruction of innocents in abortion.

So I don't think that working for the Bush administration in any way compromised Mary Ann Glendon.

Todd said...

I don't agree with Erin's assessment of the argument used against Professor Glendon. Others may speak for themselves, but I think she should have been morally free to take a job with the Bush administration, just as I think ND is morally free to invite President Obama.

It is possible that as an ambassador, Glendon would have been asked to compromise her moral principles by covering up Bush administration actions. But my presumption is one of trust in her as a principled believer.

Likewise, it is possible that the president would use his ND platform to preach to the graduates and the YouTube audience of the wonders of legal abortion. But I tend to doubt it.

I think Professor Glendon was put in a difficult spot by political pro-life Catholics. Here's why:

If she keeps to the "joy" of the event and declines to mention abortion, she will be branded a traitor like Kmiec and Brownback.

If she engages the abortion issue, the president avoids it entirely, and she looks like a partisan.

Red Cardigan said...

Todd, why does engaging the abortion issue make Glendon look like a partisan?

Abortion isn't wrong because (some) Republicans say it is. Abortion is wrong because it violates the law of God in the most egregious way--it is harder to imagine a sin worse than the slaughter of the innocent.

Is she supposed to remain silent in the face of the president, particularly when he is the first to hold that office who openly said that the mother's "original decision" to have an abortion was more important than saving the life of a child who survives his abortion against his mother's wishes?

There is no evil graver than the evil of abortion. There is no sin that has drenched this nation in more blood; and that's not partisanship--that is numerical fact.

Todd said...

"(W)hy does engaging the abortion issue make Glendon look like a partisan?"

It's a hypothetical case, remember. She does, and the president doesn't. She's in the fray and the president's above it. How does that play to the non-extreme folks on the issue?

But there's no need to preach to a fellow pro-lifer about the evils of abortion. Nice blog, btw.