In our “Everything Old is New Again” dept,

…we have this chestnut being rehashed in my comboxes:

“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.”

Why do suppose the statement gives these unacceptable conditions? Why does it not include “interrogation for the greater good”? Why does it not simply define it as an intrinsic evil, like abortion?

The reason is that it is following the Just War line of reasoning, which justifies killing in certain circumstances.

Because the whole point of saying an act is “intrinsically immoral” is that there *is* no such thing as committing it “for the greater good”. An intrinsically immoral act is one which *cannot* be justified by its end. Whether my reader realizes it or not, she is regurgitating the line of jesuitical reasoning proposed by Fr. Brian Harrison, instantly adopted as The Final Magisterial Word by the Rubber Hose Right (and dispatched by Tom Kreitzberg several years ago). No word yet on when the Rubber Hose Right will likewise be signing off on Fr. Harrison’s defense of Robert Sungenis’ defiance of his bishop. Evidently, he’s a magisterial referee only on politically *useful* issues, though the argumentation style (“Hey! It’s not *technically* torture/defiance of the bishop”) is remarkably similar. Similarly, it’s an approach that tends to bury the lede by majoring in some really major minors.

There are two basic methods for attempting to justify torture. The first is to say, “According to my ingenious definition, that’s not torture, so it’s okay.” Except with Rush Limbaugh Kool Aid drinkers who think that waterboarding somebody 183time *proves* it’s not torture, this trick no longer passes the laugh test (and do recall that waterboarding is but one of the strategies devised for inflicting torments on our prisoners). The other method is to say, “Yes, it’s torture. But it’s still okay because we had a good end in mind.” That is the strategy my combox person is pursuing. She’s trying to square the circle and say that an intinsically immoral act is rendered “not intrinsically immoral” if we have a good end in mind, much like saying a circle is rendered square if we really wish it were.

To get the hang of “intrinsically immoral” let’s change the example a bit. Instead of a nice cinematic waterboarding involving Keifer Sutherland as Our Hero and Khalid Sheik Mohammed as the grimy unshaven thug, let’s insert, oh, real life CIA interrogators as our Heroes and Khalid Sheik Mohammed as the grimy unshaven thug. According to Ron Suskind, while we were torturing KSM, we told him that his family would be harmed, including his kids, who were 7 and 9. If you approve of an intrinsically immoral act like torture “for the greater good”, then you logically must approve of any other intrinsically immoral act for the greater good. Indeed, it is a known fact among the goons who run torture states that a person who may sacrifice his own life will quickly crack, if you threaten those he loves. If you are all into efficiency, torturing the children of your target is the way to go. So saying “Torture is okay when you are interrogating for the greater good” is like saying “Sodomizing the children of KSM before his eyes is okay, if you are pursuing the greater good. After all, there are no permanent physical effects and (if you hire the right torturers) it doesn’t “shock the conscience” of the interrogators.”

If you reply, “But the children are innocent, so that would be evil” you give away the fact that the *real* reason you are doing this is not to get information, but to punish the victim of interrogation. The real reason you are torturing KSM is because the son of a bitch has it coming. Yet even Fr. Brian Harrison denies (along with the Catechism) that torture which is done to satisfy hatred or punish the guilty is legitimate. You are also, by the way, overlooking the fact that torture is often done in order to discover whether the person you are torturing knows anything or is guilty of anything.

As to my comboxers second claim: “The reason is that it is following the Just War line of reasoning, which justifies killing in certain circumstances”… well, this is the sort of incredibly specious reasoning that has come to characterize the thinking of far too many allegedly “faithful conservative Catholics”. Just War reasoning justifies killing *in self defense*. It does not justify taking prisoners out and gunning them down once they are in your power. Why? Because prisoners are creatures in the image and likeness of God. That’s why the Catechism says that the moral law is not abrogated in wartime and the fact that we are at war does not justify immoral acts. For the same reason, we do not torture prisoners. So, when you actually look at the Catechism, rather than to Fox News talking points for your moral reasoning, you discover that Holy Mother Church commands that prisoners be treated humanely, not tortured. No where in her teaching on Just war does Holy Mother Church say torturing prisoners is okay. Nowhere.

The real question here is this, “Why are Catholics trying so hard to find justifications for war crimes when the Catechism is so bloody clear that torture is not justifiable and that prisoners are to be treated humanely?”

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