Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The tortured rationalization of torture

Wherever Christianity has had some cultural influence, torture has been increasingly regarded as intrinsically evil.  Because it’s still perceived to be useful, though, arguments increasingly turn on what constitutes torture … the classical “appeal to finer detail”.

Consider water-boarding, as illustrated to your left.  Granting that it’s drawn and written to provoke a specific reaction (notice the brown skin on the victim!), the effect is accurate enough: the victim isn’t really drowning … he only thinks he’s drowning.  No harm, no foul, right?

At least, this is the conclusion that Teresa Rice of Catholibertarian wants us to draw:

What the Japanese did to American POWs which some now conveniently classify under the contemporary term “waterboarding” was in reality one part of a larger torture regimen known as “the water cure”.  During the “water cure” torture the Japanese did not place a cloth over the person’s mouth. They poured water over the person’s face which caused actual drowning.  The water went down their victim’s throat after which some would go into the lungs and some into the stomach.  It de-salinated the victim’s blood and often ended up drowning his intestines.  In other words, there was often actual physical harm involved and always the very real danger of serious physical harm.  That is a key morally relevant difference between the Japanese “waterboarding” technique and the way the CIA practiced waterboarding under the Bush administration.  For the latter there was never any physical harm inflicted nor was there any real danger of serious physical harm.  There was no actual drowning, only a psychologically convincing simulation of it.

Rice continues:

The Justice Department under Bush had strict guidelines for the administration of waterboarding. There was a cloth placed over the terrorist’s mouth and nose. The individual does not take any water into his lungs, and it is never permitted that harmful amounts of water should be ingested by the terrorist. Also, while the Japanese had no moral scruples about how often to apply their water cure torture, the CIA was not permitted to apply their waterboarding technique more than once in a 30-day period.

This explanation is part of Rice’s larger argument, which is that there’s no objective standards by which we can measure the victim’s pain: “Now, there are some obvious instances such as when a person’s finger nails are pulled out or there is a blow torch burning someone’s skin where we can intuitively know that these are torture.”  Otherwise, ¿quién sabe? Shrug.

But then she moves on from there to a dishonesty: “How do we *know* that when the U.S. and others classified waterboarding as ‘torture’ that they were correct in doing so? Is it because some today have preconceived notions, follow [a] secular Leftist definition of torture, and the past assertion fits into their narrative” [bold font mine.—TL]?

What is this “secular Leftist definition of torture”?  Unfortunately, Rice chooses not to enlighten us, because she doesn’t know herself.  Obviously, though, it was much too strict if it included something harmless like modern American water-boarding.  I wonder if this “secular Leftist definition” was “physical or moral violence [used] to extract confession, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred,” because, gee, that’s the same definition the Catechism of the Catholic Church 2297 uses.

It gets even worse.  Here’s Rice’s peroration:

The concerns and examples I stated above is why I titled this post, the tortured definition of “torture”. Some people have butchered the definition of “torture” and twisted it up like a pretzel in order to fit the politically correct culture of today. This even departs from Church Tradition. Since the Catholic Church is infallible and it has sanctioned torture in the past how can it possibly be an intrinsic evil? If the Church committed an intrinsic evil that would mean that the Church is fallible and that is impossible.

I’ve already written a post on The Impractical Catholic explaining how Church hierarchs could commit intrinsic evils without affecting her magisterial infallibility; an Apologetics Toolbox entry on infallibility is here.  I also offered an abbreviated response in her combox, to which she replied, “Do you consider the ‘Great Council’, also known as the Fourth Lateran Council, to be a legitimate ecumenical Council?”  Absolutely … and how Lateran IV, which mentions neither infallibility nor torture, applies to the issue escapes me.

One of the Lateran IV canons does forbid clerics to shed blood, which is mentioned in paragraph 2298 of the Catechism:

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 [see, I told you!].  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.

In this paragraph, the Church admits that she was wrong to use torture in the correction of heresy.  Since the use of torture was never a matter of doctrine, but rather one of discipline, the doctrine of infallibility doesn’t come into question … only Rice’s understanding of it.

Rice would like a “clear and concise” definition as a Catholic Libertarian; as her header explains, her mission is to reconcile the two platforms.  I’m simply a Catholic; while I have Republican leanings and am supporting Rick Santorum (yeah, I know, but all the candidates have baggage), parties no longer define me because none of them represent my understanding of Catholic social justice.

As Catholics, we have a clear and concise definition of torture.  Rice’s problem is, water-boarding fits within it.  Calling it “secular Leftist” or “politically correct” won’t make it go away.

You don’t have to be “for” torture to be a Libertarian … in fact, it would fit libertarianism much better if you’re against it.  But if you’re Catholic, you must be against it.