Pat Buchanan makes the case that torturing al Quaeda leaders may not be immoral. He argues that if a US soldier shot Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and saved 50 hostages, that would not be immoral, so inflicting pain on him to do the same should not be immoral either.
If Church teaching allows the state to execute a criminal to safeguard society and extract temporal justice, why cannot it not allow stae-sponsored torture to safeguard society as well?
I think one of the key differences there is that, even when permissible which is not all cases, a sentence of capital punishment is only justly carried out after a fair and complete judicial process in which the accused has multiple opportunities to defend himself against the accusations leveled against him. On the other hand, the torture that Buchanan advocates occurs before any judicial process and assumes the party is guilty until proven innocent. Now one could argue that “innocent until proven guilty” does not apply to enemy combatants such as the al Quaeda terrorists, and that’s true, but even so it just doesn’t seem to fit into all the other categories propped up by Buchanan.
Of course, if you want to take the Church’s teachings into account (and that’s the primary source for us on moral teaching), the Catechism expressly forbids torture in 2297-2298, even including torture of the guilty. I will note that it does not address the issue of whether it is ever permissible to use torture as the unintended side effect of extracting information to save other lives.
My gut says no to torture, although I will shamefacedly admit I don’t lie awake at night worrying if Khalid is being physicially or mentally pressured for information that will prevent a holocaust.