This will all be relevant again soon

Those who remember the Bush years–when dutiful Catholic servants of the Administration labored for *years* to offer ever more tortured defenses of torture–will recall that one of the favorite rationalizations was “Hey!  We waterboard our own troops! So that makes it OK.”

Ahem: According to the invaluable Zippy Catholic: “our own government’s memoranda on the subject concludes (page 43, footnote 51) that ‘the SERE waterboard experience is so different from the subsequent Agency usage as to make it almost irrelevant.’”

In other words, as was said here all along, the equation of SERE training with the torture of prisoners is invalid because what happens in SERE training is fundamentally different than what happens to a helpless prisoner.  The core element–psychological terror and fear of death–is not there because the troops undergoing the exercise not only know their trainers are not going to kill them, but they are even socially reinforced by their peers with the sense that they are enduring hardship manfully.  The point of the training, in other words, is to build them up and it actually makes them feel like stronger men ready to heroically endure suffering.  The point of the torture, inflicted on helpless prisoners who do not know their captors, is to dehumanize and destroy the prisoner with terror–to tear them apart, not build them up.

The irony, of course, is that in the years long campaign to try to square the use of torture with the obvious teaching of the Church, apologists for torture often wound up contradicting themselves and each other. On the one hand, we were to believe waterboarding (which was, remember but *one* form of torture–we murdered prisoners with other forms) was “just a splash of water” and not torture at all since we did it to our troops. On the other hand, we were to believe it was so terrifyingly effective that it unhinged the reason of victims to the degree that they no longer felt themselves morally responsible for confessing under torture and were thus grateful to their torturers for relieving them of a sense of guilt. No, really:

That Marc Thiessen–a Catholic–could offer this absolutely disgusting rationale for torture as a sort of blasphemous parody of baptism (drowning somebody in order to relieve them of a sense of sin) is one of the most memorable moment in this long and obscene campaign by “faithful conservative Catholics” to rationalize this grave and intrinsic evil.

Meanwhile, any Catholic who is actually listening to the Church–the Church that teaches that “the prohibition against torture “cannot be contravened under any circumstances” would be swift to both look for and figure out the blazingly obvious distinction between SERE training building people up and torture tearing people down and would be able to do so in about 10 seconds.  He would see the blasphemy of trying to argue that torture taketh away sin. However, Catholics who have sold their souls to justify their tribe’s favorite form of grave intrinsic evil can and have taken eight years to make elaborate rationalizations for it.  And not just this one, but many others, all lousy. The only reason the argument stopped was because the GOP lost. And when they have had the chance, the GOP has attempted to proudly assert their noble legacy of torture in order to, for instance, try to take credit for finding Osama bin Laden (a lie, as well as a further attempt to justify stupid counter-productive mortal sin).

And this will all be relevant again very soon, since a President Romney has, like the Bourbons, remembered everything and learned nothing from the Bush Era choice to make the US into a torture regime.  He’s all in favor of it–as were all the GOP candidates except Paul.  Because torture is hugely popular with the Talk Radio-educated partisans of the Thing that Used to Be Conservatism.  If and when he is elected, the GOP, which has never retracted a word of the lying filth it vomited to justify this stupid and evil policy, will immediately burst into cheers when he re-activates it. We will be back to square one as Catholics faithful to the Magisterium resume attempting to argue for a consistent adherence to Catholic teaching, not only to the cafeteria Catholics of the left like Nancy Pelosi, but to the Cafeteria Catholics of the Right who, in greater percentages than the average American, support torture in absolute defiance of the Church’s clear and obvious teaching.  Pelosi and company make no claim at all to be faithful to the teaching of Church.  They are frank and open about their contempt for the Magisterium when it comes to abortion, contraception, gay “marriage” et al.  But boasting about being Faithful Conservative Catholics[TM] who are not like that liberal over there, all while endorsing the grave sin of torture? That kind of hypocrisy is what will be remembered in the history books as the other, and perhaps graver, derangement of our age.  For Pelosi and Co. don’t make a special claim to be devoted to the Magisterium.  Conservative Catholics do.  Those to whom much is given, much will be required.

And when Caesar finally feels safe to use “enhanced interrogation” against his own citizens (as he already feels safe to indefinitely detain and murder them without due process) it will be a bit late for Catholics who resist Caesar’s iron will to say, “I never thought the state would use torture against us!”  Dude, you had 2000 years of precedent.  How could you have been so blind?

Do not do evil that good may come of it.  It’s not just a good idea.  It’s the moral law.

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  • Andy

    Your writing here sort of reinforces in my mind the problem with a previous statement about the republicans and benign neglect of religion (paraphrase, I know) as preferable. It is much harder to “fight” benign neglect – the bending of what is taught because the definition of “is” “is”. The ingenuity used to support torture is to me far harder to comprehend when it comes from the pure catholics who claim reverence for church all that it teaches. I guess it depends on the meaning of prudential, and only the pure catholics not that meaning..

  • Dave G.

    For the record, I think waterboarding is torture. I’m not an expert, but it looks like torture to me. But I was wondering if at any point the Bishops, or the Pope, came out and said, “Hey, by torture, we also mean waterboarding as it was practiced here or there.” I say that because, when it comes to things like abortion, the Church is about as detailed and case specific as you can get. I mean, I’ve read documents folks have linked to from Church leaders that made me think I needed a medical degree to understand the essentials and the details. So given that this was only one of the biggest, most debated topics of the last eight years, did anyone with the ‘official Church statement’ stamp of approval come out and say ‘we mean waterboarding, too’? If not, why not? If so, where is it, because I would think that would clear things up? Because one thing I’ve read from those who support waterboarding is that the Church has not specifically said waterboarding. I would think that would end the argument right there (there could have been one recently; I haven’t visited the issue for quite some time).

    • Andy

      I don’t believe the church has come out with a definitive list of what is torture and what is not torture. If they did then creative minds would find ways around that list. However, they do define what torture consists of and in reading the definition of torture waterboarding is torture.

      • Dave G.

        I don’t disagree. I merely point out that the Church can, and has, been awfully specific about some things – like abortion. So when Catholics disagree with the Church about abortion, they are left saying ‘the Church is wrong and needs to get with the times.’ By not defining this – which again was only one of the biggest and most volatile topics of the day – it does allow Catholics to say it’s open for interpretation. Personally, I don’t see how. And at the risk of sounding judgmental, it seems like something that if the Church didn’t say was wrong (torture that is), most would say ‘of course waterboarding is torture, duh.’ But since the Church hasn’t, it does make you wonder why, especially if souls are at stake.

        • I merely point out that the Church can, and has, been awfully specific about some things – like abortion.

          Not really. Nowhere has the Church enumerated which techniques and procedures are abortion and which are not; and at the ‘margins’ of circumstances and technique, as in cases of salpingostomy/salpingectomy for ectopic pregnancy, there is no Magisterial document to quote.

          The idea that the Church has been more specific about abortion than about torture in Magisterial documents is, as far as I can tell, completely false.

    • Mark Shea

      It’s not the Church’s task to enumerate every concievable form torture may take, just as it is not the Church’s job to enumerate every concievable form murder or pornography or theft may take. The Church’s task is to lay out basic moral principles, such as “love your enemies”. If we are subjecting somebody to the dehumanizing torture of terror drowning in order to break their will, we are acting contrary to their human dignity and sinning gravely.

    • Ted Seeber

      The Vatican is a signatory to the Geneva Convention- in fact there is a rather specific loophole in the section of the convention on mercenaries for the Swiss Guard. I would assume, therefore, that magisterial teaching *must* be within that definition of torture, at the very least.

  • If we, today, are in a position where the normal forms of security are insufficient so that torture is even tempting, we have entirely wasted the years post 9/11 and have spit on the memories of all who fell there. This is the media missing the point more than usual.

    At its best, the argument for the Bush era security measures were that they were an expedient narrowing of the conduct safety zone against torture so as to make up for the profound dysfunction we had let creep into our security departments and that as we fixed those dysfunctions we would widen that zone back out again. Agree that this is what actually happened or not, that’s the best of the arguments for the policy. Consistent with that argument, we should have long ago widened the bands back out because the government has had plenty of time to reorient its priorities and act on them.

    So forget the dancing on the head of a pin hypotheticals and concentrate on the real world failure of the argument from the opposite side because one of the scariest ripostes from Mark Shea’s side of the fence always was that we would grow used to it, like it, cross the line to actual torture, and lose our souls.

    • Mark Shea

      We crossed the line a long time ago. When prisoners die, it was torture.

  • An article I’ve always found very useful when countering the torture apologists:

    Malcolm W. Nance is a counter-terrorism and terrorism intelligence consultant for the U.S. government’s Special Operations, Homeland Security and Intelligence agencies. A 20-year veteran of the US intelligence community’s Combating Terrorism program and a six year veteran of the Global War on Terrorism he has extensive field and combat experience as a field intelligence collections operator, an Arabic speaking interrogator and a master Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) instructor.

    He goes into extensive detail in the article about what, exactly, waterboarding is and condemns it as a brutal form of torture that is categorically wrong.

  • Mark Shea:
    I am happy to announce that you are this week’s recipient of The Rev. Fr. Dr. Philip Neri Powell, OP’s coveted You Are So Orthodox You Make Jesus Look Like a Freakin’ Nazi Hippie Medal of Honor. Congrats.
    The Rev. Fr. Dr. Philip N. Powell, OP

    • Mark Shea

      I’m…. honored? 🙂

      • As well you should be.
        Don’t get The Big Head.
        Fr. Philip Neri, OP

  • Lizzie

    Thank you for this column.

  • Peggy R

    When I first saw Mark on TV with his book a couple years ago, I recognized him. My husband and I realized he went to our parish in NoVa and we were part of a parent-volunteer toddler childcare group during Sunday mass.

  • Tim H

    I LOVE IT!!!
    “Dude, you had 2000 years of precedent”!!!!

    And that’s just persecution of the Church.

    Think of how good governments have gotten at persecuting ANYTHING it sees as competition in the last 100 years – family, local government, any other conceivable institution.

    So I echo it DUDE!!

    Thanks for another fantastic post Mark.