Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Oversimplification of the Torture Debate

Too many have been quick to judge our soldiers and civil servants who authorized and implemented enhanced interrogation techniques.

Now I must admit, I have not read the complete report or the memos. But from the information in the above link, I think many are being quick to judge. After all, something that everyone finds so obviously torture and immoral is not so quickly dismissed by gifted and saintly minds.

For example, St. Robert Bellarmine, Doctor of the Universal Church, argued that death and other punishments were moral responses to unjust aggression: "Our proposition is proved, fourthly, from reason. Granted that it is lawful for the State to protect its citizens from disturbers of its peace from within, by executing them with various forms of torture, then this is also lawful when there is no other possible way of defending those same citizens from external enemies; since, in order that the State may be preserved, it is necessary that all enemies, internal as well as external, may by kept off. And since this is the law of nature it is incredible that it should be set aside by the Gospel." St. Robert Bellarmine, De Laicis, Ch. 14.

Indeed, the Angelic Doctor himself, St. Thomas Aquinas, held that it was lawful for the public authority to maim guilty individuals: "Hence just as by public authority a person is lawfully deprived of life altogether on account of certain more heinous sins, so is he deprived of a member on account of certain lesser sins." Summa Theologica, Second Part of the Second Part, Question 65, Article I. Call it a wild guess, but I think he would condone the waterboarding of evildoers.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church does not contradict the beliefs of these Doctors of the Universal 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."

Notice two points in the above passage.

First, the prohibition does not prohibit torture for the purpose of defense of others. The techniques used by our armed forces, which I am not sure are even torture, were implemented not to obtain a confession of guilt, to punish the guilty, frighten opponents or satisfy hatred. The interrogations were implemented to get actionable intelligence to prevent ongoing attacks, which those being interrogated had helped plan and put into place. In other words, the interrogations are a use of proportionate force against an unjust aggressor to repel an act of violence.

Second, if the use of intense tactics against evildoers was intrinsically immoral, then the additional prohibition on the intended amputation, mutilation and sterilization of "innocent persons" is superfluous. Indeed, the following entry in the Catechism supports the interpretation that the prohibition of torture against evildoers is conditional and prudential: "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. "

The Church admonishes her pastors, calling their actions "regrettable," "[un]necessary for the public order," and not "in conformity with the legitimate rights of the human person." The Catechism never states that the actions taken were intrinsically immoral and always wrong. Indeed, the human rights violated by torture are described not as inviolable, but as simply legitimate, i.e., worthy of recognition.

The discussion on torture is not an unequivocal as the Catechism's teaching on abortion and the value of innocent human life: "2273 The inalienable right to life of every innocent human individual is a constitutive element of a civil society and its legislation."

The use of enhanced interrogation is in keeping with the Catholic teaching to avoid killing murderers if it is possible to stop their wrongdoing by lesser means. If we could not get information from those detained at Gitmo, we could not take the risk that they would continue to further their conspiracies to kill Americans with outside operatives. Therefore, without the ability to use these techniques, our government will be encouraged to either apply the death penalty or kill enemy combatants abroad rather than capture them for further interrogation:

CCC 2267 "Assuming that the guilty party's identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor. If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people's safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity to the dignity of the human person. . . . .'"

For some, like KSM who helped mastermind a second 9/11 on Los Angeles that he refused to help stop after he was captured, the waterboarding made him undo his evil plot and; therefore, the technique was an instrument of justice by undoing the disorder that KSM introduced into our society by his evil actions: CCC 2266 "The efforts of the state to curb the spread of behavior harmful to people's rights and to the basic rules of civil society correspond to the requirement of safeguarding the common good. Legitimate public authority has the right and duty to inflict punishment proportionate to the gravity of the offense. Punishment has the primary aim of redressing the disorder introduced by the offense. When it is willingly accepted by the guilty party, it assumes the value of expiation. Punishment then, in addition to defending public order and protecting people's safety, has a medicinal purpose: as far as possible, it must contribute to the correction of the guilty party."

To those who spend more than five minutes condemning the men who used waterboarding and other enhanced techniques to keep us safe, I must say shame on you. You have taken the bait of an administration that has violated the most basic laws of Christ's Church and humanity.

There is a President in the White House, who in his first 100 days has contributed money to kill millions of innocent babies. He spent his career as a law professor teaching young attorneys that killing innocent babies was a positive moral good for the benefit of women. He used his power as a state legislator to help facilitate infanticide. He made a campaign promise in 2007 to Planned Parenthood to sign the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA), which would help murder more babies by removing all abortion restrictions. The fact that FOCA might have zero chance of passing is a non-sequitor. The fact that President Obama was willing to offer the death of innocents for political power is what is relevant. He has picked a Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton who has publically endorsed the racist, eugenic and murderous views of Margaret Sanger. More than that, Mrs. Clinton has stated that the Sanger Vision is the American Vision for women and children at home and abroad. He has picked a Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, who accepted money from a late-term abortionist, George Tiller, and who vetoed pro-life legislation as governor of Kansas. President Obama has picked a nominee for head of the Office of Legal Council Dawn Johnsen who has justified abortion by comparing pregnancy to slavery! Not to mention the fact that President Obama has proposed rescinding essential conscience protections for doctors and nurses who do not want to kill babies. All the while, Catholic politicians like Senator Patrick Leahy have supported a "torture truth comission" while opposing legislative efforts to undo President Obama's rescinding of conscience protections and the Mexico City Policy. Even worse, many so called pro-lifers have gleefully joined the anti-waterboarding witchhunt bandwagon. But I say enough with the outrageous outrage! Where is the outrage where it is needed?

Where is the outrage! Where are the comparisons to Nazis for these people! Where are the calls for Nuremberg for Obama, Clinton, Sebelius, Johnsen, Pelosi, et al.? No, instead we have Catholics who argue for the appointment of Johnsen and Nuremberg for an federal judge, Judge Bybee, who gave his best legal opinion at to lawful methods of interrogation. http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/chi-torture-lawyersapr23,0,3839563.story; http://volokh.com/posts/1239717805.shtml.

We get others who compare the use of rough techniques on killers and thugs who plot to kill us to communist political repression. http://markshea.blogspot.com/2009/04/what-would-jack-bauer-do.html. Moreover, they cite as moral authority individuals who support other grave evils in support of their claims, i.e., Andrew Sullivan.

No. You will have to forgive me. I will not jump on the bandwagon. I cannot stand the idea of whipping up the American public into a frenzy over the actions of some individuals who, in the exercise of their public duties, might have gone too far in protecting us from evildoers. Not for three terrorist who were waterboarded. Not for 3,000 or even a million terrorists. Not while that effort is support and led by a group of pundits, politicians and an administration that supports, funds and implements a national and international system of laws that continues to kill 50 million innocent babies a year worldwide by surgical abortions and only God knows how many more countless innocents through abortifacents and embryonic stem cell research.

So while some have argued that the current "torture" debate has illustrated the "mental murder" of "rightwingers" and the Republican Party. I think that the current outrage over this waterboarding issue, in light of the most grave evils being performed right now by the present administration, shows how the current debate on torture has made many prone to oversimplification of the moral questions posed.

Our law must protect the innocent. This is a clear imperative from God, Himself. Those who violate this known law, like the Nazis, were not allowed to hide under the protection of positivism. And neither should the current administration: CCC 2273 "The moment a positive law deprives a category of human beings of the protection which civil legislation ought to accord them, the state is denying the equality of all before the law. When the state does not place its power at the service of the rights of each citizen, and in particular of the more vulnerable, the very foundations of a state based on law are undermined. . . . As a consequence of the respect and protection which must be ensured for the unborn child from the moment of conception, the law must provide appropriate penal sanctions for every deliberate violation of the child's rights."

When I start hearing calls for a Nuremberg for President Obama, then I'll start to take those of you with selective outrage seriously. Until then, you can count me out!


For further reflection please read a well thought out article at http://www.catholic.com/thisrock/2006/0612fea4.asp by Fr. Brian W. Harrison, O.S., "a professor at the Pontifical University of Puerto Rico. He is a prolific writer on matters of liturgy and canon law." Id.


In a previously unpublished St. Thomas Aquinas Commentary on Romans 13, he interpreted it thus: "From this it is clear that it is not only lawful but meritorious for rulers to execute vengeance on the wicked, when it is done out of zeal for justice." St. Thomas Aquinas, Letter to the Romans Commentary at 512, available at http://vivificat1.blogspot.com/2009/02/st-thomas-aquinas-biblical-commentaries.html. (emphasis added).


  1. You took the words out of my mouth, especially with the persecutions of civil servants who are doing their duties! Thank you!


  2. Thanks Phil! If you like what you read please forward it along!

    God Bless,