Wednesday, January 20, 2010

We need a coalition for clarity

A long while ago, a reader of this blog asked what my "Member, Coalition for Clarity/Because Torture is Intrinsically Evil" item on my sidebar meant. Was there a group called "Coalition for Clarity?" Who were its members?

Truth is, the group is (thus far) fictional. I put the sidebar item (and the picture that I hope is okay to use, but will remove if it's not) up as a statement of my principles on torture, which are as follows:

1. Torture is intrinsically evil. Period. We're not entitled to do it, not under "ticking time bomb" or any other scenarios, just as we're not permitted to engage in acts of rape, murder, etc. under "ticking time bomb" scenarios. What is intrinsically evil may not be done.

2. Catholics especially have a moral obligation to stand against torture. Whatever may have been done or excused or tolerated in the past, Catholics today are not in a position where they may pretend to ignorance about the Church's teachings on torture. The Church's teachings include this, from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

2297 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.91

2298 In times past, cruel practices were commonly used by legitimate governments to maintain law and order, often without protest from the Pastors of the Church, who themselves adopted in their own tribunals the prescriptions of Roman law concerning torture. Regrettable as these facts are, the Church always taught the duty of clemency and mercy. She forbade clerics to shed blood. 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.

3. The enumeration of the following in the definition of torture above: "...to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred..." in no way implies that torture may be used for other reasons, including interrogation; there is also no "good guys exception" which permits torture by the "good guys" in order to prevent worse acts of terror or war by the "bad guys." Though this seems blindingly obvious to me, I never cease to be amazed at the number of Catholics who would swear to both an "enhanced interrogation exception" or a "good guys exception" in the Church's discussion of torture.

4. Most of what is called "enhanced interrogation" is, in fact, torture. Waterboarding, cold cells, sleep deprivation, and the like are torture tactics. In one of the late Fulton Sheen's books, he includes a picture of a Soviet "torture cell" which is a small room in which every surface is made impossible to sit or lie down on (including the floor) in various ways (e.g., covered in spikes, slanted at a steep angle, etc.) so that the prisoner had to stand, hour after weary hour, in the tiny bit of clear floor space. We had no problem seeing this for what it was--torture--when the former U.S.S.R. was the entity responsible for it--but now, all of a sudden, that sort of thing's just dandy so long as the Stars and Stripes are flying overhead?

5. I owe most of my understanding of the torture issue to this man, and I'm grateful for his persistent and (mostly) patient explanations as to why Catholics can't support torture, full stop. Any Catholic who is wrestling with the issue in good conscience would do well to search Mark's blog for his many posts on the subject. I do believe it is possible for Catholics to wrestle with this issue in good conscience. Certainly we believe in the protection of the innocent and the punishment of the guilty. The problem with torture is that it does not really involve either; the person being tortured has generally been deprived of his legal rights, has not had a trial, has not been judged guilty; the innocent are quite likely not to be protected at all by the torture of a prisoner, and the prisoner himself may turn out to be innocent of terror activities or ties. We can't morally decide that torture is a solution to any problem.

Should there be a Coalition for Clarity? I think there should be, and that Catholic bloggers who, regardless of their political leanings, are firm in the conviction that torture is intrinsically evil and may not be condoned under any circumstances should be vocal about saying so. It's especially necessary given Senator-elect Scott Brown of Massachusetts' views on torture, and the way those views are already being spun by what Mark Shea likes to call the "Rubber-hose Right." As someone who often votes for Republicans, it is absolutely unconscionable to me that the Republican Party or any observer of it would decide that my vote was a vote for torture, and I would rather see Republicans lose every election from here to kingdom come than have there be the slightest bit of confusion as to the utter moral repugnance of torture to many of us who have reluctantly supported the GOP for their stance on other issues.

34 comments:

Dawn Farias said...

Oh, thank you for explaining so much! I will have to come back soon when I have a bit of quiet in order to read everything 'more betterly'.

Mickey Jackson said...

Sign me up!

Anonymous said...

Funny, I was actually thinking of adding that to my blog at some point here.

Irenaeus

romishgraffiti said...

I'm in.

romishgraffiti said...

And to go to your point #4, we often here the cry go up, "But we do it in SERE! We do it in SERE!" Well, here is former SERE-trainer Malcom Nance stating that enhanced interrogation techniques are torture:

http://www.salon.com/opinion/feature/2007/11/09/nance/

http://smallwarsjournal.com/blog/2007/10/waterboarding-is-torture-perio/

Scott W.

Daddio said...

"...the person being tortured has generally been deprived of his legal rights, has not had a trial, has not been judged guilty; the innocent are quite likely not to be protected at all by the torture of a prisoner, and the prisoner himself may turn out to be innocent of terror activities or ties. We can't morally decide that torture is a solution to any problem."

I am honestly not sure about this. I don't know that they have any rights to be deprived of. And I'm not convinced that it doesn't work in certain cases.

And frankly, I just don't lose any sleep over it. Don't know why. This and capital punishment, I just can't get myself excited about it.

And Mark Shea really turns me off. I can't say that he's wrong, but I just don't find myself agreeing with him, and his style is so sarcastic sometimes.

But, I admit I haven't really done the research that I should to form my conscience on this. So I'll read your stuff with an open mind.

Mark P. Shea said...

I don't know that they have any rights to be deprived of.

If they are human, they have rights. Right to life come from God, not from the state. If you aren't sure about that, then I would suggest you reacquaint yourself with the Christian tradition.

Sorry I irk you. Can't win 'em all.

Anonymous said...

And Mark Shea really turns me off. I can't say that he's wrong, but I just don't find myself agreeing with him, and his style is so sarcastic sometimes.

"If they are human, they have rights. Right to life come from God, not from the state. If you aren't sure about that, then I would suggest you reacquaint yourself with the Christian tradition."

I think I understand why you are irked Daddio.

If the right to life comes from God, not from the state, then the state has no business meddling above its pay grade in God's domain and rightly so. If you aren't sure about that, then I would suggest you reacquaint yourself with the Christian tradition.

David

Anonymous said...

waterboading is not torture, the US does not torture. Mark Shea is a liberal first and a Catholic second. As Catholics, we're suppose to vote for the lesser of 2 evils. Mark Shea refused to vote against Obama last year, knowing that he would appoint a supreme court justice that would keep abortion legal.

Good Catholics, please don't fall for lie, this awful fraud. What Red Cardigan wrote above is from Satan. Don't fall for it.

Jasper

LarryD said...

I'm impressed - Mark Shea reads your blog.
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Maybe a little jealous, but definitely impressed.

Red Cardigan said...

Larry, I'm more impressed that I've finally attracted the sort of commenter Mark's had to put up with all these years, in the person of Jasper, above.

Jasper, friend, waterboarding is of Satan. And no Catholic is supposed to vote for evils, lesser or otherwise. Check with your pastor.

Rebecca said...

Amen sister. I am not very informed on this topic but I know what torture is, I know it's wrong, and I'm glad you are doing this.

Daddio said...

I was referring to certain legal rights and the distinction between civilians and enemy combatants. Not the right to life.

And by the way, I'm not in the military or law enforcement. I don't even discuss this topic with real people. So my not-fully-formed personal opinion is not really important at this point.

Like I said, I'll be reading and maybe persuaded.

Daddio said...

I really should learn when to accept my smackdown and let it go. But I'm stubborn, so I gotta say, regarding this comment...

"If you aren't sure about that, then I would suggest you reacquaint yourself with the Christian tradition."

...there's that sarcasm I was referring to. I am a faithful practicing Catholic. Not a PhD, but a regular guy trying to learn more. I just think you should know that you are not winning hearts and minds with that style.

Anonymous said...

worrying about a few terrorists when millions of unborn babies are being killed is just insane.

It's a red herring, an exuse for liberal catholics not to vote for patriotic americans.


Do not fall for this awful, cruel lie folks.

Anonymous said...

"And no Catholic is supposed to vote for evils, lesser or otherwise. Check with your pastor."

You don't have a clue what you're talking about. Of course you vote for the person who will do the least amount of evil. If Hilter were running against George Bush, who would you vote for?

This is crazy.

John Thayer Jensen said...

If Hilter were running against George Bush, who would you vote for?

Jasper - of course you could just not vote, but if you had to vote, naturally you would vote for Bush.

You seem to me to have confused two things: choosing the lesser of two evils, on the one hand, and choosing a person who will do less evil.

Of course if one has to choose between two persons, one chooses the one who will do less evil.

But one can never deliberately choose an evil action. One cannot choose, for instance, to torture someone because the alternative is that others may die. When the terrorist tells me, "kill the innocent man in the seat next to you, or I will blow up the 'plane," I cannot kill the man next to me. I may, of course, kill the terrorist - assuming I can - and can risk my own life to do so. But I cannot deliberately do an evil act to avoid a worse evil.

jj

romishgraffiti said...

worrying about a few terrorists when millions of unborn babies are being killed is just insane.

So, you are tacitly admitting that torture is evil?

We are still a ways off from a general election. Is it not reasonable to work for a candidate that sanctions neither torture nor abortion? Or are you just assuming that such candidates are non-existent or impossible?

Bill said...

While I can agree with you that as Catholics we must oppose torture as an instrinsic evil, we should also pray in thanksgiving that the Lord has left us free to make such pronouncements without our souls in the balance.

I am lucky that I never had to place a man in my rifle sights and question my salvation nor have I ever sat across from an enemy, a man who would kill me as thoughtlessly as a fly, and wonder if my conduct could be construed as a violation of law or code.

It is one thing to posit theorems and dictums. It's another to engage in the practice. It is probably easier to delineate art from pornography than torture from the degradation of confinement and questioning.

My point is that one man's torture is another's discomfort. Who defines what is torture? A mayor in a town in which I lived decided that prisoners would be fed military MREs. He was chided that to do so was torture. Yet as a Soldier, I've eaten plenty. What is torture? No cable TV? The room I lived in for a short while in the mountains of Afghanistan had a metal floor, no heat and no mattress. Was I tortured or living spartanly? Put a prisoner in that room and it's torture. Is a caffeinated drink after 8pm torture? It is to a member of the Red Cross I met. If torture is intentional degradation, then when is confinement not degrading, and thus torture. To a middle-eastern, military age male, having someone come into your home uninvited is torture. Forget being carted off to a detention facility.

If you want to consider how difficult it is, imagine your child has been kidnapped and the apprehended suspect is across the table from you. How long before you raised your voice, inflicted emotional and moral pain on the suspect, and thus "torturing" him.

Theory is easy, practice is tough.

Rebecca said...

Please Bill. Your argument reminds me of those who say, "well we can't really tell if a virus is 'alive' or not...the line between life and non-life is just so fuzzy...so who are we to say that a horse is alive and a stone is not?" Waterboarding is the horse here Bill.

joye said...

Indeed, Rebecca. Bill, let me turn your own words against you:

I am lucky that I have never had to have a woman in stirrups before me ready for me to perform an abortion on her and question my salvation, nor have I ever had to confront a positive pregnancy test knowing that carrying to term would result in me losing my education and dreams and wonder if my conduct could be construed as a violation of law or code.

It is one thing to sit here in our comfortable computer chairs talking about this "abortion" issue. It's another to engage in the practice.

My point is one man's murder is another woman's choice. Who defines what is murder?

If you want to consider how difficult it is, imagine that your daughter has been raped and she's sitting before you, her belly swelling from the rapist's child. How long before you call the abortion clinic?

---

How can we face pro-choicers who use these arguments if we're using the same arguments to excuse torture, Bill? Answer me.

romishgraffiti said...

Theory is easy, practice is tough.

Practices sometimes explains our acts. In certain circumstances, it even mitigates our responsibility for committing acts. What it never does is justify intrinsicly evil acts. Saying it does is no more different that Our Lord became incarnate and died for our sins just to give us the warm fuzzies at Christmas time, but when the stuff hits the fan, you have to dump all that and do what you gotta do. Under such a theory/practice scheme, there is no end to the atrocities one could commit. It's a philosophy of relativistic chaos.

Scott W.

Anonymous said...

test

Anonymous said...

RE: Defining Torture

The U.S. Army is the proponent service with Department of Defense for interrogation and prisoner handling. The Army interrogation manual defines torture as illegal and a violation of DOD Directives, federal statute and the Geneva Convention. The Army includes within its definition of torture so called "enhanced interrogation techniques" to include water boarding. The Army further describes torture as counter productive as an interrogation technique. A supporting DOD study found that there is no historical basis to assume that torture is an effective interrogation technique.

See Mr. Google for a copy of the Army interrogation manual.

God bless

Richard W Comerford

Anonymous said...

"Of course if one has to choose between two persons, one chooses the one who will do less evil."

and thats what Mark Shea, Richard Comerford and Red Cardigan failed to do in the last election. They should all really examine their consciences.

John Thayer Jensen said...

The room I lived in for a short while in the mountains of Afghanistan had a metal floor, no heat and no mattress.

Bill - supposing that the conditions were what was apparently done to some in Guantanamo Bay - there is a fundamental difference: what was done to them was done to them.


A saint who uses the 'discipline' on himself, to the point of drawing blood is not being tortured. Whipping a man until he bleeds to force him to talk is.

jj

Anonymous said...

I cast my vote for President Bush as the lesser of two evils.

God bless

Richard W Comerford

romishgraffiti said...

and thats what Mark Shea, Richard Comerford and Red Cardigan failed to do in the last election. They should all really examine their consciences.

I voted for McCain and, upon examining my consience, realize I shouldn't have. As others have pointed out, in 2000, Republicans harrangued us that if we didn't support Bush, then that awful embryonic stem-stell research loving liberal McCain would get the nomination. It's a ever-downward spiral. Plus, the document is worded that when there are no candidates that do not endorse intrinsic evils, one may (not must) vote to limit the harm. There were candidates that did not endorse intrinsic evils, just not popular ones. If one insists on effectiveness above all, then that's a consequentialist, and they are in the wrong church.

What's really ironic here is that we are still years from a general election, and already we are being set up for, "You better vote for whoever the GOP barfs up. I don't care what he supports."

Anonymous said...

"There were candidates that did not endorse intrinsic evils, just not popular ones. If one insists on effectiveness above all, then that's a consequentialist, and they are in the wrong church."

You are so true! So what that one party supports killing 1.3 million unborn babies per year and the other waterboared 3 filthy slimy terrorists 6 years ago.

They are both equally bad!!
do not for either parties!!

Anonymous said...

"Of course if one has to choose between two persons, one chooses the one who will do less evil."

There are more than two parties. In the last election I voted for a party that was pro-life and against torture. Did I think that candidate would win? No. But I didn't have to vote for someone who did not support one or the other view.

Bill said...

OK, so I wrote enough that you missed the point.

My first sentence reads; "as Catholics we must oppose torture as an instrinsic evil." TORTURE IS EVIL.

My point was that (unlike abortion which is obvious in it's measure - death) torture is subjective. Waterboarding is obviously torture. Sleep deprivation is torture. Subjection to extreme temperatures is torture.

But define those limits. What temperature must a cell be kept before it's torture. Is 80 degrees in southern Cuba in Julyu torture or comparatively pleasant. How about 65 degrees? Was the Red Cross volunteer right that a soda after 8pm torture because it might lead to sleep deprivation? Is it tortue to deny someone a copy of the Koran? Is it torture not to have vegitarian meals available?

I firmly believe torture is evil. It is easy to delineate black from white. However, in everything it comes application and it boils down to determining shades of gray. I was simply trying to point that out.

Sorry for the misunderstanding and the discord.

Bill

p.s. I read the Interrogation Manual quite some time ago. It's quite good and I recommend it for others interested in the subject. CSI & 24 will never look the same.

romishgraffiti said...

You are so true! So what that one party supports killing 1.3 million unborn babies per year and the other waterboared 3 filthy slimy terrorists 6 years ago.

They are both equally bad!!
do not for either parties!!


I assume you are being sarcastic. In your zeal to do so you blew past my point: in 2000 we were told we had to support Bush or that slimey McCain would win. There is no two ways about it. What we have here is a Mutt and Jeff routine going here. Dems crazy for abortion and Republicans going, "Those Dems are crazy! Give us power and money and maybe we can keep them at bay. Never mind that we will share the same platform as them, just 10 years later. Vote for us or the babies get it." It's exploitation pure and simple, and eventually one must have the courage to get off the consequentialist merry-go-round.

Anonymous said...

Romish,

I understand what you mean. But there is only one party preventing abortion from being illegal.

Dr. Bill said...

I realize it is a little late to comment on this post, but here goes:
Without attempting to defend torture at all, please explain why, in a "just-war" situation, it is morally defensible to shoot, stab or blow up an enemy, but not right to subject him to torture.