A reader writes:
I’ve enjoyed your talks and essays from time to time, but I think your reaction to this whole torture debate has been bizarrely self-righteous and extreme. I believe the last essay I saw meditated on all the wicked “conservatives” who are going to Hell for supporting “torture” and so on and so forth. I’m disappointed, and I think you’ve embarrassed yourself somewhat by going way too far.
I say no such thing. I warn, as the Church does, that approval for grave intrinsic evil will, if unrepented, result in hell (assuming sufficient knowledge and freedom on the part of the one who approves it). Just like those who oppose abortion warn.
The issue admits of varying positions and interpretations.
CCC – “Torture which uses physical or moral violence to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred…” I’m not sure that what people are alleging we did falls under this prohibition, at least not in its main outlines.
Even Fr. Harrison, who pioneered this incredibly tendentious line of argument, has abandoned it, because Pope Benedict made clear that the prohibition against torture “may never be contravened”. That’s what “grave intrinsic evil” means. There is no circumstance that can justify grave intrinsic evil.
Depending on who you talk to, these “torture victims” were or were not withholding information that could protect innocent people. Assuming that they were, then it seems to me that this withholding of information could rightly be seen as an act of aggression, and the person doing the withholding understood as an aggressor. I believe also that the “torture victims” were all professed jihadists bent on mass murder, particularly of Christian women and children, so we were not inflicting pain on innocent people just for the pleasure of doing so.
“Depending on who you talk to”. You mean Dick Cheney, who now nakedly professes the ends justify the means, including the murder of innocents? The only people who are claiming–without documentation–that this “worked” are the people who have lied and covered it up for years. In fact, the Torture Report makes clear the CIA was itself grappling with the fact that it didn’t work and was, in fact, counter-productive. And, of course, the lie at the heart of it is that this is about getting information at all. It’s about punishment. And we didn’t even care if the people we punished were guilty (as Cheney made clear when he ignored the fact that we murdered at least one innocent man. Torture is not done because we know somebody is guilty. Torture is done in order to find out if somebody is guilty. And in about 25% of cases, we found out we were torturing innocents. In many other instances, we tortured people out of false information since (duh)people say what they think we want to hear to make the torture stop. It’s evil and stupid. Here is what smart interrogators did.
Obtaining the information by inflicting temporary pain on these perpetrators could also rightly be seen as an act of self-defense, and I don’t see that only a wicked person going to Hell might see it this way.
The Church commands us to treat prisoners humanely. It say that torture is gravely and intrinsically evil, just like abortion. End of story.
As far as the similarity with the Jihadists is concerned, I’d only remind you that acts which are materially similar or even identical are not ipso facto morally equal. Intentions and circumstances matter.
Our intention was to torture. Circumstances mean no more here than they do with abortion. It is always gravely evil. It is also deeply stupid.
If a Jihadist beats a Christian man so that the Christian man will reveal the whereabouts of his wife and children, and the Jihadists intend to use this information to find the wife and children, rape them, beat them, and then behead them, then clearly this behavior is not identical to a CIA agent water boarding a terrorist to gain information on the next attack.
Just as we cannot threaten to abort the child of a captured terrorist or (as we did) torture and threaten to kill his child, so we cannot torture the prisoner since no circumstances can justify it. In addition, however, the fact is that torture is not only evil, it’s stupid. We gained no information about attacks and frequently harmed our intel gathering and spent millions on wild goose chases due to torture. We lost information that would have been admissible in court had we used the more effective conventional means. And we have taught Catholics like you to defend mortal sin for the sake of saving your skin. A perfect Faustian Bargain: losing our souls and getting nothing in return. Why die on this Godforsaken hill?
Only a willful blindness to facts would pretend that these two behaviors, the beating of the Christian man for information on the whereabouts of his family, and the water boarding of a terrorist to extract information on the next attack, are morally equal acts.
Only wilful blindness pretends that torture, a gravely and intrinsically evil act is ever justifiable, and then invents false dichotomies like the one above to justify it. Only wilful blindness overlooks the documented fact that it produced nothing that was not derivable by conventional means. Only wilful blindness ignores the fact that it harmed our intel gathering process and endangered us. Only wilful blindness ignores the fact that the only people saying it helped are documented liar with an intense interest in saving their own butts who openly and nakedly declare that the ends justify the means and have no problem with the murder of innocents.
But then, I have the impression that the facts might be inconvenient to your denunciations of all the “conservatives” who are supposedly going to Hell.
I say no such thing. I have no crystal ball for reading the future. What I say is that impenitent defense of grave intrinsic evil will result in the everlasting fires of hell. Because that’s what the Church teaches. You should repent your lies.