The Catholic members of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture and the Office of International Justice and Peace of the USCCB have jointly produced a Catholic study guide on torture in PDF format called Torture is a moral issue. [Via Christopher at Catholics in the Public Square]
I do like the idea of a study guide format which has some strengths and might be a good format for some future documents. Though while I am glad they have addressed this important topic, I think they could have done it better.
It is a little too touchy-feely when presenting and asking questions such as asking you feel about something. For example: “Do you find it surprising or confusing that Pope John Paul II spoke about finding the face of Christ in every human face?” I don’t know about you but I find this neither surprising or confusing since it is part of the Gospel and has been constantly said throughout the history of the Church. “Whatever you do to the least of me, you do to me.” – is not exactly a secret.
I also found it odd that the United Nations and the Red Cross are referenced more than Church documents addressing torture. Much of the development of doctrine on torture is fairly recent and so you would think they would quote from Gaudium et Spes since it is one of the most important Magisterial statements on torture. They do quote from Gaudium et spes using a paragraph not as germane. The following is what they should have referenced:
Furthermore, whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia or wilful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where men are treated as mere tools for profit, rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others of their like are infamies indeed. They poison human society, but they do more harm to those who practice them than those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are supreme dishonor to the Creator.
At least they correctly referenced Veritatis Splendor where it lists “physical and mental torture” as being intrinsically evil.
I also can’t say I was much impressed by the people they chose to quote in the document. People such as same-sex marriage defender Father Bryan Massingale. Surely their are some orthodox moral theologians they can quote from on the subject?
There are positives though such as starting directly on the question of the dignity of the human person. Yet even though in the summary of this section they write “The end does not justify the means” they never actually addressed this important aspect which really is what all torture apologists effectively deny. The section on loving our enemies is fairly good and is certainly a part of the dialogue about torture. I am reminded of St. Paul writing in the Book of Romans.
No, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Those who justify torture get it backwards and want to eliminate the middle man of doing good and go straight to pouring burning coals on their heads.
This document is like most that come out of the USCCB in that they really need to be edited down since they become so muddled. Clear teaching on why torture is always in every circumstance intrinsically evil gets diffused when the document concentrates more on 9/11 and the war on terror than focusing on torture. Clarity is needed to help those who do not yet understand why torture can never be used and this document does not provide it.
Nobody advocates torture. The moral question is whether methods that might seem to be torture may be morally used in certain circumstances. Torture is the infliction of pain for the sake of enjoying somebody else’s suffering. However, if government investigators inflict pain on a suspect in order to obtain life-saving information (e.g., the “ticking time bomb” scenario), they are not inflicting pain for the sake of enjoyment. Is that a morally permissible action on behalf of the defense of innocent people? Even an intrinsic evil such as abortion contains within the definition of the act the deliberate intent to kill the developing human being. An act that seems to be an abortion, such as the unintended death of an embryo while treating an ectopic pregnancy, is recognized by the Church as morally permissible. Might there be acts by legitimately deputed government officials that resemble torture, but because of the intent (saving the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent people) and the circumstances (obtaining life-saving information by force, not deliberately inflicting pain for the sake of enjoying it) would also be considered morally permissible? The answers depend on how one defines “torture”. I think this is just an issue that lefty Catholics are trying to use against the Bush administration to persuade Catholics not to vote Republican. I oppose torture, but I affirm that there could be a set of circumstances in which it would be moral to inflict pain on an individual who was a participant in a “ticking time bomb” scenario and probably had information that could save the lives of thousands of innocent people. The latter case would not be “torture” as I understand the word, even though the attempt to access the life-saving information might use methods of inflicting pain that would also be employed in torture.
Your points in this post are dead on. However, what bothers me is the silence over the way the 8 marines charged with the Haditha Massacre had their reputations destroyed. As you may know 7 of those 8 have been cleared of all charges, yet know word from the media. The media as you know which accussed them in 05 of Mass Murder. By media, I mean the Liberal MSM and even the Catholic media and bloggers.
Your points in this post are dead on. However, what bothers me is the silence over the way the 8 marines charged with the Haditha Massacre had their reputations destroyed. As you may know 7 of those 8 have been cleared of all charges, yet no word from the media. The media as you know which accussed them in 05 of Mass Murder. By media, I mean the Liberal MSM and even the Catholic media and bloggers.
If you want the average person in the pew to read and consider authoritative a particular writer, then quote him or her in official documents and many people will hear the name after reading a quote that was acceptable and willingly read and accept the other things he or she wrote, after all, someone in authority quoted him or her.
Of course, it is also because you only know to quote those writers/theologians whose work you were assigned in classes or read on your own–if you are unfamiliar with orthodox theologians you are unlikely to quote them.
“Torture is the infliction of pain for the sake of enjoying somebody else’s suffering.”
False. That’s “sadism”. Torture is to deliberately inflict physical or mental torment as a means of intimidation or coercion.
Mark, I think you’re probably just trying to be good, but you’re making a serious error. Leaving aside the question of whether torture is an intrinsic evil, you must come to terms with the fact that anything that is an intrinsic evil cannot be deliberately done for any reason. Again: anything that is a per se evil cannot be deliberately done. Full stop.
The principle of double effect says that you can do something which is in itself not intrinsically evil even if there’s a chance that an evil will result if the good that you are trying to do outweighs the risk according to its benefit, the harm of not doing it and the reasonable prospect of success. For example, say a pregnant lady is standing in the street and a bus is coming. I can tackle her to save her life, even though we may both land on her stomach and accidentally kill the baby. If that is what happens, it is not an abortion because the death was not intended. You know that’s an unintended consequence (a double effect) because, if I tackle her and the baby lives, I don’t then start kicking her until I kill it. Killing the baby was not included whatsoever in my intention. There was just a chance that it could happen.
This does not apply to deliberately doing something evil. To try to apply double effect to deliberate evil makes you a “Proportionalist”. If the evil was in your intention, if it is part of what makes the act complete, then there’s no justifying it. Period.
Torture can seem like a murky issue because, whether it is intrinsically evil or not, it doesn’t always seem like it is. They make it easy for you on TV’s show “24”… Jack can hurt this demonstrably horrible person or little Suzy and her teddy bear get torched. I’m sorry but that’s a softball. The real issue comes out when you frame it like this: Jack knows that the terrorist is a really tough hombre and is not going to tell where the time bomb is even if you skin him. But he has a real soft spot for his daughters. So Jack realizes that if he rapes this guy’s daughters in front of him, the guy will say where the bomb is. Jack, feeling magnanimous, starts with the eldest daughter and works his way down. Hopefully Hassan over here will spill the beans before he gets to the toddler. But hey… New York must be saved, right?
That’s the issue to get clear on first, before you move on to the murkier particulars: you can’t do a per se evil no matter what is at stake, no matter what is the projected benefit. If the only choices are commit a rape or lose a city, you lose the city. End of story.
So if torture is intrinsically evil, you can’t do it even to save the city, the planet or the species. If only some forms of torture are intrinsically evil, then it is only those that absolutely cannot be done, etc.
Thank you for your contribution. I agree that an intrinsic evil cannot ever be rendered morally acceptable by intentions or circumstances. Hence, if torture is an intrinsic evil then torture is always immoral.
What I tried to explain while being brief about it is that I can envision scenarios in which the act of inflicting pain on an individual would have the appearance of torture but would really be a different species of moral act and could be morally permissible. That was the point of the “ticking time bomb” scenario.
Two different species of moral acts can have very similar appearances: say I shoot another human being with my handgun and kill him. Was that a moral or immoral act? You would correctly state that you need to know more in order to make a judgment. If the man I killed was completely innocent and my shooting and killing him were voluntary and directly willed, then I have committed murder; an intrinsically evil act. If the man I killed was gravely and imminently threatening my innocent life or someone else’s innocent life and I shot and killed him out of necessity to stop the attack, then I have acted in self defense; a morally permissible act. Two acts, similar effects, similar appearances, different species, different moral judgments.
The “ticking time bomb” scenario could, in my judgment, render an act that has the appearance of torture to be an act that has the species of self defense, just as shooting and killing a man can have the appearance of murder while being the species of self-defense. In a “ticking time bomb” scenario, what looks like torture might not really be torture, in which case the infliction of pain would not be an intrinsically evil act even though it superficially appears to be.
However, in order to avoid the rationalizations and errors of consequentialist or proportionalist moral reasoning (as you describe in the “24” scenario in which Jack rapes a terrorist’s daughters), the justification of inflicting pain would have to be done under the something like the following conditions:
1. There is an impending grave attack that will harm or kill innocent people, and there is insufficient time to evacuate them (the “ticking time bomb” scenario).
2. Person(s) are in custody who are participants in the impending attack. Such persons refuse under standard interrogation techniques to provide information that will disarm or neutralize the impending grave attack.
3. There is moral certainty (no “hunches”, but also no need for absolute certainty) that the person(s) in custody are both responsible for the attack and have the ability to stop it. In other words, the person(s) in custody are the assailants and could halt the attack if they chose to.
Not having the time or space to flesh it out more, I believe those three conditions are sufficient to clarify that I would not approve of Jack (in the “24” scenario) raping the terrorist’s daughters because the daughters are presumably uninvolved in the attack.
However, provided that the three conditions above are satisified, I believe the application of pain to the terrorist himself (not to anyone who is not responsible for the attack) for the purpose of extracting information that would disarm or neutralize an impending grave attack would be morally permissible because the infliction of pain would be in the species of self-defense, not in the species of torture. The attack is, in a sense, underway but you could prevent it with the right information. Yet the right information is in the terrorist’s mind and he is not releasing it voluntarily. It will take force, violence, the infliction of pain to extract the life-saving information.
The action of an attacker’s hand, holding a knife that he is threatening to use to harm someone else (an attack in progress, but not yet carried out), might be stopped by pleading with him to stop the motion of his arm; but the circumstances might require the use of violence — perhaps ever lethal force — to prevent the attacker from carrying out his attack.
Similarly, the action of an attacker’s mind, remaining silent about information on how to defuse a ticking time bomb that he has armed (an attack in progress, but not yet carried out), might be stopped from carrying out the attack by pleading with him to divulge the information; but the circumstances might require the use of violence to extract the information and prevent the attacker from carrying out his attack.
You wrote, “That’s the issue to get clear on first, before you move on to the murkier particulars: you can’t do a per se evil no matter what is at stake, no matter what is the projected benefit. If the only choices are commit a rape or lose a city, you lose the city. End of story. So if torture is intrinsically evil, you can’t do it even to save the city, the planet or the species. If only some forms of torture are intrinsically evil, then it is only those that absolutely cannot be done, etc.”
I hope I have clarified that I do not support the consequentialist or proportionalist reasoning that you identify.
I further hope I have clarified the limited scenario in which I believe an act that appears to be torture would actually have the species of self defense and thus would be morally permissible.
The problem with the torture teaching is that there is a wide range of treatment that some may try to fit under the rubric of “torture” without really being so.
Is sleep deprivation torture?
Is feeding a Muslim pork torture?
Is loud noise torture?
Is keeping someone confined torture?
Is depriving someone of intimate relations with their spouse for a prolonged time torture?
Some of these actions may be considered “torture” in someone’s mind, but they may hardly be so.
Mark, thanks for the clarification. I don’t know what I think about your “torture as self-defense” argument, but it’s a good argument that deserves further investigation.
Forcing a Muslim to eat pork? That’s pretty disturbing, dude. And I’m rather unsympathetic to those guys.
Philosophically it’s an interesting question: what species of sin is it (if any) to force someone to commit what they think is sacrilege (but is not)? We better call in St. Thomas Aquinas on this one. Potentially complicated by the possibility that a perverse religion may (incorrectly) think that it is sacrilege to omit to do something which in fact really is sinful. Like a Carthaginian (or Liberal) *not* tossing the baby into the bronze idol.
In general I’d say that forcing somebody to commit what they consider to be sacrilege is a bad policy and potentially very corruptive of the torturer. If you’re going to torture somebody, at least act like a civilized ruffian and stick with his fingernails.
Why does there need to be a study guide on this? Hasn’t anyone read the Gospels? “What you do to me, you do to the least of these.? What part of that is unclear? I don’t get it.
Oops, turn that quote around. You know what i meant to say.
So as I understand it, it’s okay to vote Democrat now? Glad the USCCB makes things so clear.
Mark, this may be a little late, but I want to make a statement for those who come across this discourse as late as I have.
You say that torture can be used as a means of self-defense. Torture is not merely inflicting pain or suffering. It is inflicting pain for the purpose of coercing the free will. No one may ever coerce the free will, as Gaudium and Spes said. It is an intrinsically immoral act to attempt to coerce the will. The good effect of saving a city necessarily flows through the evil act of coercing the free will, and hence, it is immoral.
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