Reasonable discussion of torture and the Catholic response

Reasonable discussion of torture and the Catholic response

I have to say that between Christopher Blosser and Victor and “Torquemada” at the Coalition for Fog, they given about the best summary of the Church’s teaching and history as related to the subject of torture.

This is a complex and difficult subject because the question of torture is so topical today and related to such issues of life and death (e.g. getting information from terrorists to prevent attacks), but we also don’t want to be approving evil means for good ends. I’ve been uncomfortable with the arguments of those who say that all “torture” is bad, and then dismiss any talk of trying to define just what torture is.

Unlike abortion—where an unborn child is either dead or alive—torture is less easily defined. On the one end, some things are clearly just interrogation and on the other, some are clearly torture. But where is the line drawn in the middle? Like with a beard, one hair is not and a full face is. If I start plucking hairs from my beard, at what point does it stop being one? Likewise, at what point do we transgress from questioning to torture? Is playing Barry Manilow music torture? What about playing it at 120 decibels? How about 80 decibels?

To some that is hair-splitting and an attempt to justify what we should not do. Yet when I read the discussion between Christopher, Victor, and Torquemada, I find that the Church’s historic teachings may not have been so solicitous to the comfort and well-being of those who might suffer coercive punishment or questioning. I won’t rehash the whole thing here, but before you post a comment here, you should read their arguments.

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  • So many words on this issue…I’ve been reading all the pundits on all sides.

    Sin starts in the heart. It lies in the intent.

    For me, I view it all through the lens of the Sorrowful Mysteries.

    Being arrested and hauled before the tribunal is one thing. Being shuttled between Pilot and Herod, it’s still a court of law. But once the slapping and the punching and the humiliation of the scarlet robe and the reed and the crown of thorns comes into play, torture begins. And at that point it’s hard to put on the brakes.

    The Catholic Church rejects condoms, not because killing is taking place, but because of the intent of the user. Torture doesn’t have to be thumb screws and the rack to make it wrong.

  • Liam: Did you read the posts I linked above? Chris quotes papal bulls requiring what some today would call torture in certain cases.

    Some would say that holding a man in a cell with a promise of a future date of death and then marching him off to be electrocuted, hanged, shot, or given a lethal injection is torture, yet the Church allows for capital punishment.

    I think Chris and Victor and Torquemada raise some interesting points that no one on the anti-torture “concession to human weakness” side has yet ventured to answer.

    I’d like to see someone respond so I can continue to examine the issue.

    Of course, I’m prepared for answers I don’t like. What would be the point of asking the question then? I think assuming that I’m being disingenuous in asking the questions is a matter of bad faith. Why can’t they (and I’m not specifically addressing you here) just answer the question without worrying about our reaction?

  • Liam,

    I don’t get the reciprocity argument. The way I see it, if Osama bin Laden catches one of _our_ terrorists, he can smack them around to prevent an attack on innocents. Fine. One problem for Osama: we don’t produce terrorists here.

    Secondly: if somebody captures my son and he turns out to be a terrorist, yes they can forcefully interrogate him.  If you’re involved in indiscriminate acts of horrendous evil, you’re going to forfeit some privelages.


  • But you assume that every single one of the people we interrogate is an Evil Guy. That’s the nub of the problem: it is not true.


    No, I don’t assume that, and it is not the nub of the problem. The question we’re addressing is whether forcefully interrogating the Evil Guy is wrong (and also, at what point that interrogation becomes torture—-which is wrong). 

    A secondary, obviously very important, practical question is: who *is* the Evil Guy?  (although this is not what I was asking).

    If you reread my post, you’ll see that both of my statements were predicated on the person _actually_ being a terrorist (i.e., an Evil Guy).