If you get to kill people in war, why don’t you get to torture them too?

Over at the Register, a reader asks a common question:

I’m confused about something. Assuming we have a just war (and I know there are doubts about whether Iraq/Afghanistan fall into this category but that is a discussion for another day), the Church says it is OK to use force i.e. to kill soldiers on the other side, but we are saying certain kinds of interrogation to gain intelligence and hopefully prevent lives from being lost is immoral? But it would have been OK to shoot the person we are about to interrogate (not in cold blood of course but in a “fair” fight). Seems to be a disconnect here.

You can’t torture prisoners for the same reason you can’t murder them: because they are prisoners. Shooting the enemy is the best way we have for stopping an aggressor in the heat of combat. Unfortunately, that commonly results in death, but death is not the optimal result of battle: surrender is. If it were possible to fight with phasers and not guns, the Church would insist on setting them to “stun” not kill, because the goal of war is not death, but surrender and peace, and the purpose of the gospel is life and peace. So in war, the proper view of combat is not that you get to kill, but that you have to kill sometimes. Why “have to” and not “get to”? Because the Church insists that the human person is so beloved to God that killing him is, at best, a huge tragedy and never something to desire.

Because of this, the moment a combatant becomes a prisoner, you absolutely lose the right to kill him and you become bound to respect his human dignity. He is not yours for the killing–or the torturing. He is to be treated humanely and not reduced to a means to an end–that is, a thing.

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