Today’s Desperate Lies from Torture Defenders

Today’s Desperate Lies from Torture Defenders December 18, 2014

In the ongoing effort of “prolife” Torture Defenders to ignore the fact that, among other things, we anally raped, froze to death, beat, stood on the broken legs of, and threatened to murder the wives and children of prisoners, said defenders insist on perseverating over the now dead as a doornail question: “Waterboarding: Is it Really Torture?”  It’s like obsessing over disproving an old charge that Himmler was cruel to animals after the camps have been opened.  The pretense that defining torture is impossible (so let’s maintain the status quo) is all Catholic Torture Defenders have had in their rhetorical arsenal for 10 years.  Now that’s gone (since the CIA itself called what they did torture).  But, in their desperation, Catholic torture defenders stick with the only thing they know and go on making excuses for waterboarding as though it makes any difference now.

Two of the most beloved lies told to that end are as follows:

  1. We waterboard our own troops in SERE training, so that proves it’s not torture.
  2. If it does not result in death and leaves no permanent physical injury, it’s not torture and therefore not gravely and intrinsically evil.

These lies are curiously related.  To the first, the reply is easily made: SERE training is done in order to build our troops up and strengthen them. Waterboarding prisoners is done in order to tear them down and destroy them. You might as well say that a man making love to his wife is the same thing as rape since the physical actions are the same.

Not coincidentally, the second lie turns out to be an excellent defense of rape.

That it should come to *this* for “prolife” Catholics.

Torture Defenders: Why die on this hill? Repent. Believe the good news. Confess your sin and Jesus will certainly forgive it.

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  • It seems that the Church’s definition is not technique centric which is why the SERE issue does not fly. But Mark, if the Church’s definition is not technique centric, then respect that and stop centering your criticism around techniques. You’re once again trying to have your cake and eat it too.

    This distraction gets in the way of figuring out a difficult question, are our interrogators torturing. It is difficult for military classification reasons as well as legitimate security reasons for the safety of the interrogators. It is also difficult because the definition from 2010 you laid out the last round of this discussion is not easy to capture with a form and mechanical oversight metrics. We need to solve that problem so that the 6 people in the Congress who have the right to get briefed on this issue can get information that would allow them to act appropriately.

    • Jonk

      I think of it as a sort of flow chart:

      (Note: Not complete.There are obviously time and training restrictions on what “available” means in a given circumstance.)

      • You might need to rethink your flowchart. Consider an interrogator who sets an alarm 45 minutes into an interrogation session and with the alarm going off, he pulls out his lunch, offering half his sandwich to the prisoner. That doesn’t create any of the things on the left hand box. It’s a technique designed to create empathy and fellow feeling. It would not be permitted by your flow chart but I don’t know of a person on this planet who would consider it torture or otherwise improper to legitimately offer to break bread with a prisoner. Even if you shoehorn this particular technique into uncertainty, there are other techniques available in the public domain that simply don’t seem to fit. Sympathy and love are in the interrogator’s toolbox as well as the slap or the kick.

        Your second decision box could also use work as the work of the interrogator legitimately escalates and de-escalates over time. Good cop/bad cop is a classic example and no secret. When the good cop leaves the room and bad cop takes over under your system, you seem to be setting up so that good cop never comes back. But maybe I’m misreading what you intend by “Move to N+1” as involving an escalation of intensity/invasiveness scale.

        • Jonk

          Fair points. My hastily-made hack at the subject leaves a lot to be desired.

          The first decision is a bit of a non sequitur: the target is more those interested in making captives feel pain because 9/11. As a result, it was drafted with the physical methods in mind. The more subtle, and more effective, err, mind-screws like you mentioned are outside this little flow chart. This is more of a subroutine.

          Regarding your second point, N – 1 might be better nomenclature. The point is to de-escalate to a level of force that’s the least-invasive method that’s still effective.

          • My nit picks should be entirely taken in the spirit of constructive criticism. I think your effort is actually useful because it provides the nub of a solution process that can get both sides thinking and focused on the same goal for the interrogator, moral action that is successful. That is a good way forward. Mutual insult sessions that circle back to start without progress are not.

  • It is both reasonable & responsible to ask “What do you mean by torture?” If you were called anti-choice, you would do well to ask “What do you mean by choice?” The CCC (#2297) is a good place to start the discussion “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.”

    That said, once things are separated & clarified, there comes a time to end endless questioning and to stop defending certain techniques.

    • chezami

      My thoughts are that I have defined torture years ago, multiple times But the people pretending to want a definition of torture never accept any definition and never offer any of their own–because they are seeking to justify torture, not avoid it.

      • In that case, I’d say it’s less about “reason” and more about “intent”.
        Merry Christmas by the way! May your stocking be filled with both Faith & Reason!

      • Mark, you need to accept that a big part of the problem is that you, yourself are not accepting the definition you laid out. On this blog at least, you have the dominant responsibility to frame conversations. When you state you believe in a definition of torture but frame the conversation in a way inconsistent with the definition you, yourself give, it’s inevitable for your observant readers to come to the conclusion that you don’t actually believe in the definition you say that you do.

        If, as the formal definition given at the link says, the differentiator between licit and illicit interrogation is to “use a human person as a means (or instrument) for some producible end” then that’s what it is. That statement is completely technique agnostic and thus statements that this or that was done and therefore torture happened are just wrong.

        A corollary to the problem we have in analyzing whether we can figure out if we are torturing post 9/11 is that we have the exact same problem with pre 9/11 interrogations.

        All this is to say that we have a moral problem with our interrogation system but it’s not the moral problem that people are complaining about because the metrics we are using are hopelessly wrong and both sides are aligned on those wrong oversight metrics.

        Until we come up with some way that an interrogation supervisor, in a scalable way, can objectively oversee his subordinates to ensure that what is going on is licit from a Catholic viewpoint, we are always going to get the interrogation issue wrong. For those of us at a distance that we cannot affect day-to-day interrogations (which is most of us) it is the metric issue that should occupy most of our time because it neither requires a position of power or a security clearance to meaningfully contribute to a solution.

  • Jimmy

    I am willing to bet that 99.9% of Catholics that 1) Do not contracept and 2)Attend Mass at least every Sunday are NOT defending this torture as a good thing.

    • Jimmy

      My point here is that there is no need for you to keep saying “Catholic Torture Defenders”. You may as well try to end Catholic contraception.

      • chezami

        Actually, the more one self-identifies as a “faithful” “conservative” “prolife” Catholic, the more likely one is to approve, and approve enthusiastically, of torture. That is why it is so scandalous and appalling. God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of us.

    • kenofken

      Don’t bet the rent money.

    • Newp Ort

      Yeah, but how many Catholics is that?

  • yan

    Legal definitions and legal degrees of culpability for torture should ideally consider the conditions [e.g., a prison cell or a battlefield; whether the victim is unarmed or lightly armed; whether the victim is an enemy or friend; whether there is any conceivable right to the act of coercion or infliction of pain, such as in paddling children or disciplining prison inmates; whether there is consent, such as in contact sports; etc.] in which the acts of coercion and/or infliction of suffering [mental or physical] occur.

    So, in reference to SERE training, I think it is also important to observe that the coercion and suffering inflicted is done WITH CONSENT [in addition to being intended for the good of the soldier, in the form of training.]

    [‘Intention’ doesn’t get you out of everything. Just ask Adrian Peterson.]

    • capaxdei

      The Senate Report quotes some interesting things the CIA said about SERE training and the enhanced interrogation program. Those who continue to point to the former to justify the latter should familiarize themselves with that material.

      • Dilbert

        Also, $40 million spent on a report that didn’t interview the interrogators. You do that in the business world and you’d be bounced out of the board room immediately. We are taking this report as truth.

        • capaxdei

          Well, yes, I suppose it’s possible the Senate Democrats fabricated the direct quotations from CIA documents, and the CIA doesn’t want to embarrass them by saying so.

  • Na

    wait a minute…i thought catholic theology states that you can’t use evil means to achieve a good end…so i guess building up our troops is a sin too. And YOU support it! Shame! Repent! Shame! You are not me. I am pure!

    • chezami

      There’s no lie so desperate that you can’t add a little stupidity to it.

      • Na

        Where is the accompaniment? the dialogue? the empathy?

        • chezami

          Heartbreaking pleas for empathy from somebody who sarcastically supports freezing people to death, anal rape, and drowning. I have never met more fragile self-pitying emotional flowers than the people most eager to inflict torture on others.

          • Marthe Lépine

            Of course, since I suspect such people are cowards they would be fragile emotional … I would not say flowers, more like weeds!

  • kenofken

    Why die on this hill? Why indeed. I don’t think the damn thing is worth a stubbed toe to defend.

    I’ll leave the theological arguments to Mark, but I’ll take it down to a more pedestrian level: Don’t defend any practice you don’t want done to you or your children. If you think that waterboarding or so-called “mild distress techniques” or whatever, if allowed to go unchallenged, will be used only overseas and on foreign enemies, you’re an abject fool. They will become staples of domestic law enforcement and a regular political management tool.

    That’s what amazes me so much about the phenomenon of religious conservatives supporting torture. They don’t trust the government to build a road or mandate vaccination for really basic public health threats or educate kids or regulate anything. But they implicitly trust this same government to wield absolute power over life, death and dignity and to essentially suspend a person’s humanity, all with judicious restraint and ultimate wisdom.

  • HenryBowers

    Mark, are you saying torture is dualistic, exploiting a spiritual good at the expense of a physical good (or vice versa)? If so, I wonder if we can say that waterboarding is amenable to a form of self-knowledge, the knowledge of one’s involuntary reaction to certain stimuli, whereas sexual acts outside of marriage cannot *possibly* be a kind of knowledge that is orderable to God. So we have to ask what are the objects of these actions, and why those objects intrinsically resist ordination to a reasonable end.

    • Andy

      This is a new one – water boarding leading to a form of self-knowledge – most of us know that water going into the lungs and extending the stomach is really bad for you. Torture as self= growth – wow.

      • HenryBowers

        The reflex can trigger without ingestion of any water whatsoever.

        • Andy

          I don’t need water boarding to know that – I am impressed with your willingness to move to a new reason to torture people – to see how they react to stimuli.

          • HenryBowers

            You’re just begging the question against my position. Not all amputations are immoral, so we need to ask how that compares with all waterboardings.

            • Andy

              Actually no I am not – I teach courses on stimuli and reflex – it is part of behavioral science – we as a race already know that a wide range of stimuli can cause a reaction/reflex. This is a scientific fact. Please stop with the silliness about water-boarding leading to self-knowledge. God has ordained that we respect the respect the dignity of all men – using water-boarding as a teaching tool does not respect the dignity of men.

            • Mike

              You’re a troll.

      • chezami


    • chezami

      I’m saying, “Stop spouting bullshit to justify grave intrinsic evil.”

      • HenryBowers

        I don’t deny that US waterboarding likely constitutes torture. I’m just wondering how we get there. I think we reach that conclusion only if we understand torture as an intentionally dualistic act. Waterboarding can be performed to teach someone about their reflexes, or it can be performed for the purpose of “breaking” someone. So I think we agree.

        • chezami

          I suspect that searching murk for clarity is a fool’s errand. Evil is a mystery. Why people choose it is ultimately a search into the heart of darkness.

          • HenryBowers

            I don’t disagree. What interests me, however, is that *what* is chosen must derive its intelligibility from something good. It is good, and irreducibly so, to have physical health and mental self-integrity. So a reason to choose torture could be to ruin someone’s health (unlikely, since sickness yields no information on its own), or to ruin someone’s self-integrity (highly likely). So the question is whether waterboarding per se attacks someone’s self-integrity. I’m not sure it does, but that doesn’t mean it cannot be used as a means to ruining someone’s self-integrity, since loud music can also be so used. [I suspect that waterboarding does not per se ruin health.]

            • Marthe Lépine

              About loud music to attack self-integrity: Don’t worry about that, it seems that a lot of people are doing it to themselves quite willingly… although maybe unwittingly.

        • Marthe Lépine

          About “teaching someone” anything: Is seems to me that using something like waterboarding for such a purpose would be a particularly foolish and dangerous thing to do, but it’s just me…

          • HenryBowers

            Lay in a bathtub full of warm water, hold your breath, and keep your face skyward, flush with the surface of the water. Then close your eyes, lay a dry washcloth over your face and relax. Chances are, as the washcloth absorbs water, your reflex triggers, and you bolt upright in sheer terror, not mentally afraid, but panting and gasping and stabbing your arms about to grip the wall, the tub, anything. You notice you’re nowhere near being out-of-breath, and you’re kind of bewildered about why you bolted upright so quickly, but you’re sure of one thing: you will *never* recline like that again. It’s like hitting your knee with the rubber hammer, and indeed, it can be abused.

          • wlinden

            Which is why when Hitchens underwent “demonstration” waterboarding, he was made to sign a waiver acknowledging the risk of “death or severe injury”.

  • wlinden

    It is done in SERE to train them to WITHSTAND TORTURE. How hard is that to understand?

    • chezami

      Not hard at all. But liars seek darkness, not understanding.

  • Mike

    Questioning the accuracy of that senate report is NOT justifying torture IF you are not trying to justify torture which is inherently evil and wrong and not permissible ever.

    Just like questioning some pro-life report (if one such exists i have no idea) which implies that all abortionists are Gosnell is NOT justifying abortion IF you are not trying to justify abortion which is inherently evil and wrong not permissible ever.

    Questioning a report’s accuracy CAN just be questioning a reports accuracy; it maybe done for political reasons just as a report may be put out for political reasons or it may be used to try to justify the un-justifiable.

    Lastly, some ppl think depriving inmates of video games is torture while others think that depriving them of sleep for days is not torture…they’re both wrong and the truth is somewhere in the middle IMHO.

    I lied: is waterboarding torture, i admit it is not a really easy case but i think it is indeed torture.

    • chezami

      Sure it is. When the torturers themselves call it torture and do not dispute the copiously documents facts but only yell, “DEMOCRATS!” to distract us, then repeating those tactics is *entirely* done to justify torture. For heaven’s sake, you have Cheney on the air *saying* the ends justify the means and dismissing the murder of prisoners as ‘worth it” and something he’d do again in a heartbeat.

    • Jonk

      Questioning the report’s accuracy is a red herring. Is it the whole truth? Surely not. Did they leave stuff out? I’m sure they did. But it’s also incredibly unlikely that they just made up stuff with no basis in fact.

      We should therefore focus our criticism on things in the report that require no context to be criticized, which I think Mark tends to be doing fairly well.

      • Mike

        I am not sure they didn’t “extrapolate” or exaggerate or “twist” but that’s politics it was clearly a political report issued by a legislative chamber defined by political parties and the committee that issued it is Democratic as in the party not the principle; all that aside i agree if torture was committed it should be exposed and stopped and condemned and not repeated.

        I agree with 100% of what Mark says but i agree with 50% of the way he says it. HOWEVER, he does nothing if not give everyone one a tough go which is admirable.

  • HenryBowers

    Can we discuss how the rape analogy fails? The question is whether it’s intrinsically wrong to intentionally inflict non-damaging pain. The answer is “no.” The police use arm-bars, which are very painful, against the suspect’s will, and it is not wrong. Justified uses of force may be painful. Is it possible, then, that we could intentionally subject prisoners to great pain, for short periods of time, as long as it doesn’t damage them? To refer to rape is beside the point, for two reasons: (1) forced arrangements for communicating with a prisoner are justified, while manhandling the public isn’t; (2) the act of inflicting non-damaging severe pain on a prisoner is not intrinsically immoral, but a non-marital sexual act is.

    Referencing Patrick Lee’s article (AJJ 2006), non-damaging extreme pain over short periods might not be effective, and might tempt sadistic guards, but it’s not an intrinsically unreasonable kind of violence.


    • Mark Neal

      Well put.

      Rape isn’t wrong because it’s a form of torture; rape is wrong all by itself!

      I have a feeling that Mr. Shea believes that the word “torture” means the same thing as the word “sin.”

      • antigon

        Subdue your feelings, it’s a subcategory.

      • wlinden

        If rape is intrinsically evil, it does not become something else when employed as torture.

        **I have a feeling that Mr. Shea believes that the word “torture” means the same thing as the word “sin.”***

        No, he is defining the word “rape” to mean the same as “forcible penetration”.

        You, on the other hand, seem to be arguing that if something is intrinsically evil, it is non-torture…. no, it is just too absurd.

    • chezami

      Perverse. How about we talk instead about how to treat prisoners humanely instead of perpetually try to figure out how much abuse we can heap on them before it’s technically torture. This who line of reasoning is the sort of filth that gives Catholic moral reasoning a bad name.

    • kenofken

      The aformentioned UN Convention against torture specifically addresses this point torture, it says “does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.”

      The key there is “only from.” Pain caused by the capture and restraint of criminals or supsects is not torture. It is supposed to be constrained by other considerations of human rights law, but more importantly, the instant you start using that force with the intent of accomplishing the goals of torture, you’ve crossed the line into torture.

      Torture is not primarily about the use of force or this or that technique. It is about who is employing or sanctioning that use of force and the intent for which it is being used. There are no loopholes in international law by which you can avoid the torture label by limiting the torment to “short periods of time” or by claiming the technique didn’t leave certain forms of physical “lasting damage”

    • antigon

      Alas Mr B, doubtful you’re prepared to recognize any even were they smothered in hummus & in accord with recent US policy poked up energetically where your soul seems currently to reside.

  • Mark Neal

    (1) Water-boarding is torture.
    (2) Torture is intrinsically evil.
    (3) Therefore, water-boarding is intrinsically evil.

    The reason why us “Torture Defenders” obsess so much about the definition of torture is because, as you can see above, it is literally the central issue which this whole entire argument revolves around. If you can’t define the terms you’re using, then both (1) AND (2) go out the window and your argument is shot.

    I would like somebody to define torture broadly enough to include water-boarding, and at the same time narrowly enough to exclude spanking.

    • chezami

      The reason you obsess about *waterboarding* is because picayune quibbles about it are all you have left in your now-threadbare attempts to justify torture by lying that you seek to define it. Meanwhile you completely ignore the fact that the CIA has acknowledged it tortured and that the menu of tortures goes far beyond the one and only torture you ever want to quibble about. Why die on this hill? Why keep lying when the elephant in the room has an enema up its ass and Cheney has stated clearly that he does not care that he murdered people since the ends justify the means? You are defending monstrous evil and you will face judgment on That Day for doing so. Bullshit about “just wanting a definition” will not help you then. Repent.

    • kenofken

      Try this on for size then. It’s from the United Nations Convention against Torture:

      “For the purposes of this Convention, the term “torture” means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity..”

      There is no serious dispute among competent authorities, or certainly anyone who has experienced water-boarding, that it induces severe suffering.

    • antigon

      Absolutely Neal, I’m converted, & so join you insisting opponents of torture must provide definitions the precision of which should be endlessly debated, that we might meantime continue enjoying your taste for used hummus!

  • Mark Neal

    “We waterboard our own troops in SERE training, so that proves it’s not torture.”
    “…the reply is easily made: SERE training is done in order to build our troops up and strengthen them. Waterboarding prisoners is done in order to tear them down and destroy them.”

    Mr. Shea, I think you just put the nail in your own coffin.

    If waterboarding can be done as part of SERE training without any sins having been committed, then that means that waterboarding is NOT INTRINSICALLY EVIL. For if it is, then the trainers (and trainees!) are willingly engaging in an intrinsically evil act without sinning, which is impossible.

    That means that at least one of following has to be the case:
    A) Torture is not intrinsically evil, or
    B) Waterboarding is not torture

    EDIT: Mr. Shea, why have I been blocked????

    • chezami

      Sophistry. Likewise, rape is either not intrinsically evil or rape is not torture for the victim. Stop lying. You are reducing waterboarding to the mere physical act and refusing to understand that we are talking about using a particular means to destroy a human being.

    • Heather

      Nonsense. What is actually the case is this:
      C) Activities undergone voluntarily between consenting parties for training (or other benign) purposes are different from activities undergone against someone who is actually a prisoner under someone’s power who has no reason to believe that the person torturing them has their best interests in mind, even if the physical actions are similar.

      If you can’t intuitively understand the difference that consent and the actual relationship between the parties makes, then I’m not sure how you actually manage to interact with other human beings in your life.

      Just because you are allowed to kick someone when you are sparring in martial arts class, doesn’t mean you can kick someone, even that same person, at the mall. Just because you can tackle someone during a football game doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be assault if you knocked even that same person down in the parking lot. Just because you can sleep with your wife when you are both amenable to such an activity doesn’t mean that it is not intrinsically evil to engage in those same physical actions with a stranger against their will. If you do not understand these distinctions, I really worry about you.

      • chezami

        The desperation of the lies from Torture Defenders is palpable. They have nothing.

    • capaxdei

      Has this terrible argument ever *not* been offered when waterboarding has been discussed over the last dozen years?

  • capaxdei

    If you’re a defender of the CIA program and you don’t want to sound like a chucklehead, read Zippy Catholic’s Gasping Grimoire before advancing the unanswerable, debate-ending argument you just thought up. Because chances are really good — I mean, *really* good — that a lot of other people came up with that same argument eight, ten, or twelve years ago, and that it’s not quite as unanswerable as maybe you think it is.

    I’ll also repeat my recommendation that you read the Senate report, to make sure it doesn’t include a quotation from the CIA that explicitly considers and rejects your argument. I’ve seen that happen a few times since the report was released, including the comments on this post.

    • capaxdei

      Though, admittedly, I don’t think I’ve seen Henry Bowers’s waterboarding-as-self-knowledge proposition before. (If I understand it correctly, it’s a defense of SERE training, not of waterboarding prisoners; sound or not, it at least acknowledges that the question of the morality of SERE training is usually begged.)

  • Scott W.

    This is just for anyone’s edification, so please no caviling about Tolkien not being the Magisterium or “It’s just fiction!” or what not:

    –But even before this wickedness of Morgoth was suspected the Wise in the Eldar Days taught always that the Orcs were not ‘made’ by Melkor, and therefore were not in their origin evil. They might have become irredeemable (at least by Elves and Men), but they remained within the Law. That is, that though of necessity, being the fingers of the hand of Morgoth, they must be fought with utmost severity, they must not be dealt with in their own terms of cruelty and treachery. Captives must not be tormented, not even to discover information for the defence of the homes of Elves and Men. If any Orcs surrendered and asked for mercy, they must be granted it, even at a cost. This was the teaching of the Wise, though in the horror of War it was not always heeded.–

    J.R.R. Tolkien, Morgoth’s Ring: The Later Silmarillion, ed. Christopher Tolkien (Houghton Mifflin, 1993), 419

  • Joseph

    Torture defenders falsely claim that such things as prolonged sleep deprivation do not cause irreversible harm to the person’s body and health.
    I’ve read an interview with a man whom the Bolsheviks interrogated in 1955, when he was 26 years old. They subjected him to sleep deprivation until he started to hallucinate. Today, almost 60 years later, this man still deals with the after-effects on his brain. Computer imaging shows “a tumor” in an area of his brain, whereas there’s no real tumor there. Clearly, something was messed up in his brain, on an anatomical-physiological level, and it never recovered. He also suffers, to this day, from nausea, headaches, and poor concentration in the morning, and those symptoms appeared precisely after he was subjected to sleep deprivation in 1955.
    He also received old-fashioned beatings, but the beatings healed in a matter of weeks. Thus, it was actually not the beatings that disabled him for a lifetime, but the sleep deprivation.