Marc Thiessen, Professional Torture Apologist, on EWTN

Marc Thiessen, Professional Torture Apologist, on EWTN February 16, 2010

Well, the excitement has come and gone and I’m happy to see that some good may be coming out of it.

For those of you not following this sort of stuff, here’s what transpired while I was Down Under.

1. Raymond Arroyo decided it would be a good idea to have Marc Thiessen on to defend the legacy of the Bush Administration’s torture policies. How embarrassing and bad is Thiessen in shilling for torture? This embarrassing and this oh so bad.

2. This coincides (not accidentally, I’ll wager) with a new campaign by the Thing that Used to Be Conservatism (led by Dick Cheney) to mount a new charm offensive and gain respect for Cheney’s now admitted enthusiasm for war crimes).

“War crimes”? Typical obnoxious Shea overkill. When will I stop hurting the tender feelings of people who want to subject others to torture? Why won’t I just ignore the sundry murders and renditions of innocent people and keep repeating “It was just three high value targets”? How painfully rude! How tiresome! Why can’t I get it through my thick Irish skull that war is a prudential judgement, and that “prudential judgment” means anything a government leader authorizes in prosecution of that war, if not specifically condemned by a papal bull or a council of Holy Church, is automatically up for grabs and no Catholic can ever dare to call it a crime or a grave sin? The only grave sin we can know is a grave sin is abortion (unless of course, you are a prochoice Catholic who uses torture as your smokescreen to preserve your favorite sin, in which all the rhetoric is reversed in order to achieve the identical foggification effect).

The pleas to consider the delicate feelings of torture advocates are duly noted. But yes, gentle reader, it’s true: when there is not a court in the United States or in the world that does not consider waterboarding torture, when the Red Cross calls it torture, when it’s called torture by the UN Convention on Torture (signatories: the US under Reagan *and* the Vatican) and the Geneva Conventions have historically treated it as torture, then it’s, y’know, torture.

And if that’s not enough for the perpetually definitionally confused who haunt St. Blog’s comboxes for six years, seeking enlightenment about what O what torture could be, ever learning and never able to come to a knowledge of the truth, it should also be noted that the British government certainly calls it torture. Indeed, no legal authority of any type in the US or the world has ever doubted that waterboarding is torture–until Bush/Cheney decided to unilaterally adopt torture as US policy and call it by another name in the hope that euphemism would change the nature of what they were ordering. (And, of course, I reiterate that waterboarding is but one of a panoply of tortures authorized under Bush/Cheney. So that whole “only three high value targets were waterboarded” thing is a total red herring.)

The problem is that words cannot wish away torture into Never Never Land and so the tortures inflicted in the name of the United States remain torture and Cheney knows it (and so do his defenders currently fanning out in the latest media disinformation campaign). Cheney has a lively awareness of the fact that he is guilty of authorizing what has historically been recognized as torture under US and international law. His solution is brazen: admit no wrongdoing but instead boast about it and get the American people to enthusiastically back him as a hero (a rather easy task given that consequentialism is our favorite moral heresy and given that we have been told for years that only torture can save us). This means, like Jeroboam, deliberately setting out to corrupt public opinion in order to save his skin. To the factual claim that Cheney has frankly admitted authorizing what is legally recognized as torture by the civilized world, the reply is therefore not a rebuttal from the spokesoids of the Thing that Used to be Conservatism but the cry, “How dare you!” Ladled on top of this is the panic-mongering of men like Thiessen, who make the media round to frighten us and say, “Only torture will keep us safe. Bush/Cheney were wise and just. We must preserve the noble legacy of torture or die horribly!” And, I mourn to say, Raymond Arroyo gives such men a forum in the name of the Catholic faith while giving absolutely no forum to, say, the bishops behind Torture is a Moral Issue.

2. Not surprisingly, all this prompted St. Blog’s resident Obamaphile, Morning’s Minion, to propose denying the Eucharist to public advocates of torture. Given MM’s amazing flexibility when it comes to defending Catholic abortion advocates in the public square, I find it difficult to buy the notion that this was little more than yet another application of MM’s favorite rhetorical strategy, the tu quoque (aka Pee Wee Herman’s “I know you are but what am I?” reply). But he did nonetheless raise an interesting point given that Thiessen/Arroyo’s advocacy for torture does constitute precisely what is meant by the term “scandal” (i.e., tempting Catholics to believe and act on ideas which are deeply contrary to the clear and obvious teaching of Holy Church).

That the teaching of Holy Church is not extremely clear here is one of the great fictions put forward by Catholic excuse makers for torture. Here is the bleedin’ obvious, spelled out for any person of minimal intelligence, multiple times from multiple magisterial sources, with all the normal escape hatches ably blocked by Tom Kreitzberg. For those who insist on remaining perpetually confused for six years about about how to define torture, here is the put-up-or-shut-up response. The Church and the legal/political systems of the world (including ours until Bush/Cheney decided to commit war crimes) have no trouble with the definitions that so plague the Makers of Fine Distinctions in the comboxes of St. Blogs.

So: Given that such people have been offered multiple definitions that work fine for normal people, rejected them all, and refused to offer any of their own while complaining everlastingly about their confusion, my own suggestion is that such people should be quiet and stop defending torture since they plainly profess to be utterly intellectually incapacitated to even know what they are talking about. The basic rule of thumb here is exactly the same as it is for those who feign everlasting bafflement about how they can’t be sure when human life begins and so claim they have no idea whether abortion is intrinsically immoral: namely, if you aren’t sure then don’t do it and don’t defend it. Don’t fire your rifle into the bush when it rustles till you are sure there’s not a hunter in there.

3. Zippy Catholic, who is (yay!) blogging again, makes much the same point when he responds to an absolutely amazing performance by Austin Ruse of C-Fam in a combox thread here. I urge you to go read the whole thing for yourself. Zippy’s point is short and sweet and to the point and worth quoting in full:

In this comment thread, Austin Ruse makes the following proposition:

Three men waterboarded vs 50 million murders of unborn children. This is a waste of time and I reiterate, an attempt by a small group who want to divert attention from a truly horrific situation.

OK, if this is what you really believe, it is time to lay down your cards. If we all can just agree that the torture perpetrated by the Bush administration was despicable and must be unequivocally repudiated by all Catholics as completely unacceptable, the whole issue can go away.

That’s the thing I find most baffling about all this: the spectacle of pro-lifers going to the mat to defend torture, all while claiming that it is virtually impossible to even know what torture is.

The ridiculous and insulting tendency among so many who do this is to imply that if you oppose torture you do so because you are secretly supporting abortion or trying to derail the prolife movement. The obvious reply to this is that it is precisely Catholic pro-life belief that rejects the ends-justifies-the-means thinking behind both abortion and torture advocacy. If pro-lifers would simply stop defending the use of torture, there’d be no problem and I for one would never make another peep about it. But the fact is (as Raymond Arroyo, Marc (“Scott Brown Shows Waterboarding Wins”) Thiessen, Austin Ruse and a depressing roster of other prolife Catholics demonstrate in percentages greater than the average population, we are now so required to be in bed with whatever consequentialism the GOP leadership demands that a principled prolife stand that rejects consequentialism in all its forms is spoken of as betrayal of the prolife movement.

The solution is simple: it’s not that Catholics who repeat the plain and repeated teaching of the Church should be quiet about torture. It’s that Catholics who claim to have no idea if the Bush Administration committed torture or not (since they are helpless to define torture) should stop defending what everybody (including the Reagan Administration and the Vatican, as well as Geneva, the UN, Britain and the Red Cross, as well as the rest of the civilized world) calls torture.

In short, they should avoid the blunder of the Democrats and stop making intrinsic and grave immorality a core value upon which they stake the future of their political hopes. That’s the strategy that destroyed the Dem health care package. They loved abortion more than their health care bill. Is it wise to imitate it by (insanely) loving torture more than the Catholic commitment to the defense of the unborn and offering Lefties perfect sword with which to destroy the prolife movement as a mere pawn of the GOP with no real commitment to Catholic principles?

Admittedly, that will mean telling Mr. Cheney to take a hike and refusing to defend him on this point, but that’s what the sacrament of Confirmation and the gift of Fortitude are for, so that Catholics can have the moxie to do the right thing rather than the expedient thing. There is absolutely *no* reason the prolife movement needs to invest itself in dying on this hill. Support the GOP’s prolife efforts and candidates by all means. But don’t hitch the prolife wagon to this inexcusable sin of torture. It’s madness.

4. The happy thing in all this is that, as you read the comments in the thread on the American Catholic post linked above, there are three rays of sunshine. First, not a few of the commenters make exactly the same point to Mr. Ruse, eventually penetrating Mr. Ruse’s rather reflexive assumption that the only conceivable reason somebody could care about torture is in order to give aid and comfort to the pro-aborts. Second, Mr. Ruse (to his credit) shows himself willing to meet with Zippy Catholic and discuss the matter in person. I’m gratified to see this because Zippy is a thoughtful and clear thinker and I hope that Mr. Ruse will reconsider his position. Finally, I’m particularly gratified to see (in the final comment) Chris Blosser expressing his grave misgivings about the rather substantial pile of evidence that torture was not simply due to the Few Bad Apples but was, in fact, the policy of these United States. He’s not fully persuaded, but he’s also not buying the kneejerk defenses that have characterized so much of the discussion for so long. That gives me hope.

There is one and only one reason that torture is still being discussed at St. Blog’s and on EWTN a year after Mr. Bush left office. It is that the GOP leadership, taking its cue from Dick Cheney, is pressing hard to defend the use of torture as a positive good and, if possible, to reinstitute it as public policy in a future GOP administration. If the GOP had taken its licks, admitted it was wrong, and backpedaled from torture, this discussion would not be happening. But Cheney insists on defending torture, so men like Thiessen act as court prophets for him and provide theological rationales for doing evil that good may come of it which the unwary may well buy since they are broadcast by EWTN, which is usually reliable and a source of good Catholic information. It would be nice if Thiessens’ (and Arroyo’s) bishops would rap their knuckles (not denial of communion, which I think is overkill, but a public correction that left no doubt they were speaking out of turn here). However, my wishes, plus five bucks, will get you a cup of Starbucks. Personally, I will be astonished if the bishops touch this. Meanwhile, we continue to pray and fight.

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