What Torture Broke Was Us: An Examination of Conscience for American Catholic Torture Defenders

What Torture Broke Was Us: An Examination of Conscience for American Catholic Torture Defenders December 11, 2014

Now that the Torture Report is out and we are discovering that the lies we listened to for so long (We only waterboarded three high value targets! We had to do it to save lives!  Valuable intel!  Are you telling me that some filthy terrorist is more important than an unborn baby in your sick twisted liberal mind?) are all exposed as appalling lies, it’s important to do an examination of conscience.  Why?  Because we Catholics consistently supported torture in larger percentages then the average American population.  And the more we self-described as “faithful conservative” and “prolife” the more likely we were to do so.  God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of us. (Romans 2:24)

The ugly fact is that in our fear and rage, we became the thing we hate.

  • We defended the torture of innocents (indeed people who were on our side).
  • We defended standing on the broken legs of prisoners (something out of a Gestapo or SS scene in a movie).
  • We defended drowning.
  • We defended dungeons and putting prisoners at the mercy of interrogators known to be psychologically unstable and having a history of violence.
  • We defended forcing prisoners with broken feet to stand in stress positions.
  • We defended non-stop torture for days and weeks.
  • We defended 180 hours of sleep deprivation.
  • We defended “forced rectal feeding” (aka “anal rape and humiliation”) that consisted of ramming hummus up the anuses of helpless prisoners.
  • We defended refusal to treat bullet wounds and neglect leading to the loss of eyes.
  • We defended dragging shackled, naked prisoners around around blindfold and beating them.
  • We defended keeping prisoners in total darkness with only a bucket for their waste.
  • We defended a system that had no clear idea who it was imprisoning and torturing.
  • We defended a system that derived no  intelligence to stop terrorist attacks, and that used gruesome torture to get information we could have obtained by conventional means, while generating lots of false intel from prisoners who said anything to make the pain stop.  That false intel meant millions spent on wild goose chases.
  • We defended a system that got its torture techniques from the Commies we used to fight, not imitate.
  • We defended a system that mainly served to enrich contractors and shrinks who told it what it wanted to hear.
  • We defended a system that lied to its own superiors.
  • We–WE PROLIFERS–cheered for a system that “threatened to harm detainees’ children, sexually abuse their mothers, and “cut [a detainee’s] mother’s throat.’ In addition, several detainees were led to believe they would die in custody, with one told he would leave in a coffin-shaped box.

Detainees wouldn’t see their day in court because “we can never let the world know what I have done to you,” one interrogator said.

  • We defended sexual assaults on prisoners by interrogators.

And all the while we did it, we offered an immense menu of Ticking Time bomb scenarios, garbage sophistries, and “what if?” fantasies about bombs under orphanages, all carefully designed to distract us from the reality of what we were defending by reinforcing our fear and rage.  We told ourselves we were fighting an inhuman enemy that justified using any means necessary.  And we became the monsters we feared.

But most appalling of all, “prolife” people continually and consistently used the unborn as human shields for all this by ringing the changes on some form of “You expect me to care about what happens to some terrorist when millions of babies are being aborted?”–as though the dignity of unborn human life and the dignity of a prisoner’s life are opposites (and as though the fact that they are torture victims *proves* that they deserve to be tortured).

One of the most appalling (and hopeful) moments in the Torture Report, overlooked in all the other gruesome details, is that members of the CIA themselves wept at what they witnessed.  Some members of the CIA left the agency because they knew that these things were war crimes and gross mortal sins.  How can it possibly be that we Catholics refused to see that?

The effect of our embrace of torture, as is invariably the case with mortal sin, is what Uncle Screwtape tells us: “To get the man’s soul and give him nothing in return-that is what really gladdens our Father’s heart.”  Our bargain gave us even less than nothing.  Not only did it yield no significant intel we could not have gotten by legitimate means: it turned us into creatures who applauded the horrors above while having the hubris to call ourselves “prolife” and “real Catholics” in contradistinction to “cafeteria Catholycs”.  In breaking prisoners, we only succeeding in breaking ourselves.  And tragically, many Catholics are continuing to defend the indefensible and to double down on the now completely exploded lies and fallacies upon which they have relied for so long.  That is the road to hell.

The good news is:  This is Advent and the healing mercy of God is available to us.  God does not desire our destruction for our sins, but our repentance, healing, and glorification.  If at some point you bought into this system of lies and defended it, God is rich in mercy and pardon and will surely forgive.  *That* is the main takeaway from this whole sick and sorry episode in our history.  Meanwhile, the body of Christ is one and so those who know and profess the truth of the Church’s teaching have no right to sit in judgment of those who still cling to the lie.  Rather, our duty is prayer, fasting, and penance till the Church is cleansed of this stain once and for all.

Why do I say that?  Because the temptation to violent and cruel retaliation is as keenly felt by me as by anybody. There but for the grace of God go I. People think I have opposed torture because I think I’m so above it all.  Dead wrong.  I have opposed torture because I felt and feel keenly the attraction of it when I read about some vile monster in the news.  The One Ring calls to me as much as to anybody.  I’m no saint.

For he says,
“At the acceptable time I have listened to you,
and helped you on the day of salvation.”
Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. (2 Co 6:2).

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  • Bob Perillo

    Mark Shea uses the past tense, but the “take the gloves off” memo that the Bush administration used as a legal shield for practicing torture has never been rescinded.

    • Nonsense. Executive Order 13440 of July 20, 2007 signed by George W. Bush was revoked by Executive Order 13491 of Jan 22, 2009 signed by Barack Obama, just two days after he took office. http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/EnsuringLawfulInterrogations

      • chezami
        • If you disregard all the editorializing on alternet, and click through to ITS secondary source, and click through from there to the actual UN High Commissioner on Human Rights (UN-OHCHR) advance report (first draft, not the official reviewed document; they’ve not gotten as far as an official reviewed document) available at http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/Treaties/CAT/Shared%20Documents/USA/INT_CAT_COC_USA_18893_E.pdf , this is what you find:

          1. The UN-OHCHR would really like a Federal statute defining torture as a crime under US law, conforming to the Geneva convention rules about torture. For such a law to happen, the Congress would have to do it, and as you seem to be politically aware, the focus of the House of Representatives for the past four years has been to try to push Obama out of office, and not to run the country or get rid of torture or piddling little things like that.

          2. The UN-OHCHR praises President Obama for four separate Executive orders.

          3. The UN-OHCHR praises executive agencies under the Obama administration for adopting directives to implement certain treaty obligations which President Bush failed to do.

          4. “… the Committee notes with appreciation President’s Obama public statement of 1 August 2014 in which he qualified some of the so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” as acts of torture.”

          5. The UN-OHCHR, while noting that the Obama administration is in substantial compliance with article 16 of the convention via EO 13491, would like the US to formally withdraw its “reservation” to article 16. In other words, the Obama administration is in compliance with international law, but has not taken steps to make sure succeeding administrations also comply.

          6. The UN-OHCHR would really like some Federal statutes banning what President Bush did during his administration.

          7. The UN-OHCHR doesn’t like that the DoJ found insufficient evidence to prosecute alleged murders.

          8. The UN-OHCHR wants more statistics from the various JAG offices of the DOD.

          9. The UN-OHCHR disagrees with the US Court System on granting writs of habeas corpus. Rules of the US Courts are promulgated by the US Supreme Court, which is 66% Roman Catholic.

          10. The UN-OHCHR wants Obama to keep his campaign promise to close the Guantanamo prison. Heck, I want him to as well. But the same people I see defending the Bush administration’s policies are the ones, often Catholic, who don’t want Guantanamo prison closed either.

          11. The UN-OHCHR wants more information on what happened during 2001 – 2008 to be declassified.

          12. The UN-OHCHR wants to make sure that when detainees are released from Guantanamo to a country other than the US that they are not tortured in that country. It’s a little difficult to make sure a different country doesn’t torture people.

          13. The UN-OHCHR notes that operational techniques in Appendix M of the Army Field manual (written under the Bush Administration) are in contravention of EO 13491, and wants the Obama administration to ensure conformity.

          14. The UN-OHCHR wants the US to admit more people for asylum, and urges a less-restrictive standard which would admit more people.

          15. The UN-OHCHR wants less use of solitary confinement in regular civilian prisons.

          16. The UN-OHCHR wants state governors to comply with standards issued by the Obama administration to eliminate sexual assaults in correctional facilities.

          17. The UN-OHCHR wants the Federal DOJ to investigate deaths in jails at the county level and initiate Federal civil rights prosecutions in some of those deaths.

          18. The UN-OHCHR wants air conditioning to be improved in jails at the county level.

          19. The UN-OHCHR basically wants waiver of juvenile cases to adult court, and juvenile sentences comparable to adult sentences, to stop. You’re looking at all 50 state legislature plus the Congress for that one.

          20. The UN-OHCHR wants the death penalty abolished.

          21. The UN-OHCHR wants the police policed more, especially in regard to profiling and the use of Tasers.

          22. The UN-OHCHR wants more done on preventing sexual assault in the military.

          The UN-OHCHR also wants a preliminary answer in Nov 2015 and a comprehensive one in Nov 2018. Can’t rush these things.

          As far as the Huffington Post article goes, in my opinion, there should be prosecutions – of the DoJ lawyers that said what the CIA agents were doing was legal.

          • antigon

            Dear Steward:
            Apart from the despicable drone program, that abortion tortures & kills (& I refer here only to those children who endure pain while they’re killed) many more than the hummus commentariat’s wildest fantasies, & that such strengths of the president’s that you outline are severely undermined by his refusal to prosecute those responsible for the hummus & so many other crimes, it seems worthwhile also to note this, that:
            while men of good will with but a handful of caveats will endorse the UN prescriptions as you’ve outlined them, the UN precisely in this arena could not itself be a more criminal & contemptibly hypocritical institution because:
            It was the UN – despite knowledge that this was grounds for the Nuremberg condemnations as well as violation of virtually every human rights declaration including its own – that in the late 70’s & early 80’s through its agency UNFPA substantially helped the Chinese government organize & institutionalize against both women & children the most extensive campaign of torture in history through its well documented enthusiasm for massive forced abortion.
            Also in passim, despite that this was well known by 1984, China was granted most-favored-nation-status by Reagan, Bush the elder & Clinton annually & both Republican & Democratic Congresses regularly, with the exception of the 91-2 session, which rebelled for unrelated reasons but saw mfn status survive through a Bush elder veto. Though the slaughter & torture continued (& continues) unabated, it was made permanent shortly after Bush the younger became president in 2001.

            • You provided two sources.

              I refuted them.

              Not playing anymore, I don’t have time to waste on your tail-chasing games.

              • antigon

                Glad your time is well occupied, Steward, but what the hell are you talking about?

  • Guest

    Mark Shea tortures his couch every time his ample a$$ descends upon the innocent cushions.

    • antigon

      Hard to top the subtle brilliance of humor like that, Mr. Strife. Almost as good as the arguments for hummus we’ve been reading from your equally subtle confreres.

  • Two2trees

    How many Christian children have been crucified this year by Isis? How many Yadzi women were sold just in the last few months?

    They do that for fun. Literally. And that’s just for starters.

    So the idea is that using all means to defend my family against these monsters somehow makes me their equivalent?

    Go apologize to them in person then. No?


    • antigon

      ‘using all means to defend my family against these monsters somehow makes me their equivalent?’
      Absolutely not, Mr. Trees, all means, including hummus, are exactly what you & everybody should use. The Catholic teaching that morality has any bearing during war is obviously just more of that equivalency nonsense.
      And sputtering is precisely the right response to Mr. Shea’s preposterous suggestion that apologies should be made to God for this sin (or for any other as to that). –
      Best, & hope soon to meet (& eat) you – Uncle Screwtape

    • linda daily

      At least you admit openly that you are seeking vengeance – honest, but not Christian. You’ve become what you hate.

    • Where is your God now, Two2trees? On break?

      • chezami

        He is crucified between two trees.

        • And you will note that the documents saying that also said that representatives of said deity said that they weren’t allowed to kill people (Jn 8:31).

    • Jacob Suggs

      a) You don’t know what the word hypocrite means.

      b) There is nothing whatsoever that can justify an intrinsic evil. That’s what intrinsic evil means.

      c) It doesn’t matter whether it makes you “equivalent” or not, but yes, if you do monstrous things for any reason whatsoever, then you make yourself a monster. That’s kind of what calling someone a monster means. Torture is certainly monstrous. And it doesn’t matter if you feel patriotic while you do it.

      Have you looked up the word hypocrite yet, by the way? If you have, you might find that “decries torture as a thing that makes terrorists into monsters, and supports torturing people” fits in rather nicely.

      • Imrahil

        Good point. Equivalent? Not necessarily. Is equivalency the point? No.

  • billmarvel

    I am fairly certain that a small percentage of Catholics , “conservative” or not, can find it in their souls to condone torture. Nevertheless, those few who do need to pray long and hard about this. We need to remember at every moment that Our Lord was tortured before He was hung on the Cross. This is a profound lesson for all Christians who would offer any excuse for torture. As followers of Christ, we also need to remember that those who committed torture, even for “patriotic” reasons, have immortal souls hat must now bear the weight of this awful sin. Pray for the and for their victims.

  • Boniface

    Can you address the papal bull Ad Extirpanda of Innocent IV that authorized the use of torture in the Inquisition?

  • M DeVille

    Screw the innocent people the terrorists are going to murder,
    we must stay pure in our ivory tower.

    • Heather

      Screw the souls of those participating in mortal sin if it lets me sleep in a false sense of increased security at night.

    • chezami

      The tried and true “Real Men Torture!” cry from people who bravely want to force somebody else to commit mortal sin to save their cowardy skins.

    • Imrahi

      M DeVille, er, yes, exactly. Only without the irony.

      That is supposing we could by what you call “impurity” do anything to help said innocent people; this has shown to be not the case, but I quite agree these little factual evaluations are not the point:the real question is and remains *what if* we can save the world by torturing a single terrorist, should we do it?

      Now if torturing is a sin, Bl. John Henry has some interesting remark: “The Catholic Church believes it better for the sun and moon to drop from
      heaven, for the earth to fail, and for the many millions on it to die
      in extremest agony, than that one soul, I shall not say be lost, commit
      one venial sin, tell one wilful untruth or steal one farthing without

      • Imrahil

        Seems I lost an l in the name. 😉

  • Therese

    You have written a very soul-piercing article. Truth that hurts. I have never seen the situation any other way, though. So you are preaching to the choir.

    So why do some of us bristle? It’s because of the way you and other bloggers like to toss what you perceive to be inconsistencies with pro-life values in our faces whenever you get a chance. That makes the topic confrontational.
    I don’t personally know a single pro-life person who supports torture or the death penalty. The pro-lifers I know are out there with the rest of the social justice crowd staffing soup kitchens, collecting canned goods, Christmas presents for the needy, etc, etc, etc. IN ADDITION to that, we are teaching truth to the young about the sanctity of ALL life, from conception to natural death.

    I am tired of hearing (secret) pro-abortion catholics start ranting at me about how cruel and uncompassionate I am when they find out I take high school students to the March for Life.
    I am tired of hearing other women tell me outright that I don’t care about women. I am a female with 7 sisters and five daughters, and two careers – labor and delivery nurse and all girls school science teacher. It’s not possible for anyone to care more about women than i do.
    I am tired of having my pro-life values thrown in my face as if I am the bad guy.

    • I had an argument just a few days ago with a Roman Catholic pro-lifer who I work with, who supports the extra-judicial torture of unconvicted detainees even though she is an employee of a state judiciary. Therese, I’m sure if you look around a little, you’ll find “pro-lifers” – not just Catholic, but others – who also support torture.

      Also… I doubt Mark is attacking pro-life Catholics – I don’t think he sees non-pro-life “Catholics” as Catholics. His argument seems to me to be more that Catholic = pro-life, and therefore any behavior by Catholics that is not congruent with the pro-life stance is contradictory to Catholicism.

      As far as “secret” pro-abortion Catholics: if they take -any- action contrary to Canon 1389, they’re secret excommunicated Catholics who think they’re still Catholic. 🙂

      • chezami

        I see non-prolife Catholics as Catholics. I just see them as bad ones. I refuse to play the Protestant game of lay excommunications of Catholics who are saying, thinking or doing sinful things. You can pick your friends but you are stuck with your family.

        • There is no such thing as a “lay excommunication” in Roman Catholicism. However, there are *automatic excommunications*, referred to as “latae sententiae”. These are excommunications by the Pope without him having to take action, because they are automatic for certain actions.

          If a Roman Catholic gets an abortion, pays for an abortion, drives someone to get an abortion, performs an abortion, or assists in an abortion, they are automatically excommunicate. It has nothing to do with decisions by the laity.

          • chezami

            I know that. But in cyberspace, a standard trick for the Greatest Catholics of All Time is the protestant ploy of declaring that somebody is Not Really a Catholic if they do, say, or think something one of the GCOAT dislike. I leave excommunications to bishops.

    • antigon

      ‘I am tired of having my pro-life values thrown in my face as if I am the bad guy.’
      Dear Therese:
      Don’t be. In fact rejoice, since we have it on good Authority that those who suffer for righteousness’ sake are blessed. Plus no need to bristle, since in this matter Mr. Shea has only (& quite rightly) attacked those who yearn for moral evil or who’ve been seduced into defending it. And while we are quite properly obliged to pray for those who uphold what is morally cretinous (as that we don’t succumb to same), who wants their good opinion?
      Soldier on.

    • chezami

      Therese: This very thread is filled with “prolife” Catholics who are adamantly in support of torture. If you are not among them, then if the shoe does not fit, don’t wear it. I’m sorry you’ve gotten flack for being prolife. I want people to be *more* prolife, not less.

  • Bob Bugiada

    This discussion is childish. War causes unpleasantness of ALL kinds. What’s next, outlawing flamethrowers because dying by incineration is more painful than merely getting shot? Get real! War has been part of the human condition since the beginning of time, and it will always be with us. Attempts to sanitize it are futile. A better use of time and effort should be to prevent wars, or to prosecute them so that they are over with quickly and decisively.

    • chezami

      Excellent paganism, bad Christianity.

    • Jacob Suggs

      War isn’t some external thing laying around to be sanitized or not, it is the actions of the people involved. And we are responsible for our actions at all times.

  • Marilu

    I am amazed at the size of the brush Mr. Shea is wielding.

    • antigon

      Me too, in that such a small brush so effectively sweeps mortal sin (& its defenders) into the hummus barrel where the stench belongs. To escape it, the defenders need only repent their sin as they are obliged to do, tho some reparation wouldn’t hurt either.

    • chezami

      My brush is exactly as wide as the population of torture defenders. If the shoe does not fit you, don’t wear it. If it does, repent. No complicated.