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October 26, 2006

Comments

BillyHW

There have been a number of statements in Magisterial and semi-Magisterial documents condemning torture, but these do not offer technical definitions of what torture is, and having a good definition is a precondition for formulating a solid response to finely posed moral questions on the topic.

The truth is that at this point we don't have a good definition for torture--one that will allow it to be distinguished from other uses of the infliction of pain (mental or physical) to ensure compliance with various goals...

We do, after all, need a sensible way to distinguish torture from the efforts of the state to deter crime by putting people in prison (something that is not pleasant and thus involves a form of pain) or the efforts of parents to keep their four-year olds from rushing out into the street by giving them a swat on the fanny (ditto on the pain).

You'll need to be careful with that sort of language around Mark Shea.

Barbara

Various Vatican dicasteries (departments) issue dubia

I thought the Vatican issued the Responsum to the Dubia. Which is why they are called Responsum et Dubium.

Scott W

I was the reader who submitted the question. Thanks so, much for that detailed response. In retrospect, the way I worded the question it may have looked like I believe the English-speaking blogsphere is the neo-Catholic lay magisterium. For the record I don't believe that. I instinctively thought a dubium would involve higher ups in the Church. However, I did think such a thing possible even if unlikely. I was thinking of CA's 5 non-negotiables. Hypothetically, if torture is intrinsicly immoral, if there was a policy by a government proposed something that was unambiguously torture, and if politicians supported it, it seems it would make the list. Thanks again for the information.

Stu

From Mr. Akins original post on torture...

"I also can't substantively engage the question of torture without a precise definition of what counts as torture in place."

There lies the problem in discussing this issue. I often find that those debating this issue are coming at it with entirely different viewpoints on what torture is.

Mike Koenecke

BillyHW hits the nail on the head. The trouble with Mark Shea, and the single reason I have ceased reading his blog, is that any attempt to define what torture is and set the boundaries about what is permissible and what is not is greeted with hysterical accusations that one is "condoning" torture. Anyone who dares to raise the question is condemned as a torture apologist, and not Catholic.

The torture question is to Mark Shea as gay marriage is to Andrew Sullivan: the single issue that sent that writer completely off the rails and turned him into a monomaniac. It's a shame, because I used to enjoy Mark Shea's thoughts.

Tim J.

"Hypothetically, if torture is intrinsicly immoral..."

Jimmy seems to be saying that according to the Magisterium, torture WOULD be intrinsically immoral... how we are supposed to KNOW whether torture has actually occurred is another question. I can understand, say, a commander-in-chief wanting to have SOME kind of legal definition to go on.

Torture could be defined as "the unjustified use of physical or mental pain or pressure"... not a very helpful definition. But we see the same kind of ambiguity in other areas - obscenity for instance - how do we know what is really obscene? What is okay for one person may seem obscene to another.

There are at least two mistakes you could make in looking at how to define obscenity... one would be to say, since obscenity is impossible to precisely define, that we should just eliminate from public view anything that might possibly be open to the charge of obscenity (eliminating a lot of great works of art and educational materials in the process).

The other mistake would be to say, since obscenity is impossible to precisely define, that nothing really is obscene in itself... that all is in the eye of the beholder and so anything goes.

Defining "torture" is similarly difficult. There are certain kinds of methods and activities that any reasonable person would recognize as torture, but there are others that might be legitimately doubtful.

In what circumstances would the use of a Tazer gun be justified, for instance? On paper, intentionally jolting someone with 50,000 volts in order to make them compliant might seem to qualify as torture going out the gate, but clearly this is not so in practice.

I don't know the answer... but I know torture when I see it, and I'm a-gin it.

I've been reading Mark Shea's comments on the subject for some time and I can sympathize with his concerns. At the same time, I think it is clear that we can't have a real discussion about torture without first trying to hash out what the word "torture" actually means, as opposed to "coercive interrogation" or some such.

Hashing out a definition is not an immoral enterprise and need not mean that one is looking for excuses or loopholes to exploit, even when the President does it.

francis 03

Well, in terms of Church teaching, at first glance it seems to me that there's a big elephant in the room: if the state can (in principle, anyway) execute people to defend its citizens, why can't it torture people for the same purpose?

Brian John Schuettler

It has been mentioned by Jimmy Akin and some commenters that a formal definition of torture is currently lacking and this, I believe, has led to much confusion in the debate as to the morality question. A definitive discussion cannot occur until we reach a point where we know precisely what we are indeed talking about.

this shows the sad state of the world that we live in.

definitions are all discussed by those that are not being tortured.

if you were being tortured, you would know what is and isn't torture.

as Jesus said, "do unto others as you would like them to do unto you."

bill912

So define torture for us.

Tim J.

"...if the state can (in principle, anyway) execute people to defend its citizens, why can't it torture people for the same purpose?"

That's a really good point, and the only immediate response I would have is that there might be things worse than death.

I mean, would you rather be killed instantly, or be tortured for weeks and then lobotomized, left to live out your days like some kind of zombie? I can think of worse things than that, but I don't want to make anyone nauseous.

Also, I can't imagine any kind of torture that does not require some kind of cruelty, making it a soul-destroying experience for the torturer, as well as being no fun at all for the victim.

This corruption of the soul is partly why I think humans are forbidden to treat animals in a cruel fashion. It is bad for animals - God's creatures - but it is worse for the humans. This is why I think factory farming can be a big moral problem.

If cruelty to animals is wrong (even in light of the benefits) then you would think cruelty to humans ought to be wrong as well.

Then again, animals don't fly jumbo jets into buildings.

Esau

this shows the sad state of the world that we live in.

definitions are all discussed by those that are not being tortured.

if you were being tortured, you would know what is and isn't torture.

as Jesus said, "do unto others as you would like them to do unto you."

huh?

Anon,
I think you may have missed the point on some of what's going on.

Sure, we can flatly say: No Torturing folks!

However, what would that mean?

Let's take the case of someone shooting somebody with a water pistol (one simple and short burst -- not some kind of Chinese water torture thing, mind you -- but stuff that normal kids do when they're playing with water guns). To some, that very action may be considered as 'torture'. But, is it really? Would you actually consider that as 'torture' as well? Would it be right to lock this person up for violating the 'No Torture' directive?

On the other hand, someone could go ahead and chop off the fingers of an accused person to force information out of them. Now, would this be considered 'torture'?

Certainly, and most folks would find it that way, but as you can see from the previous example, there needs to be a definition of 'torture' since circumstances necessitate it.

Becky

Francis wrote:
"Well, in terms of Church teaching, at first glance it seems to me that there's a big elephant in the room: if the state can (in principle, anyway) execute people to defend its citizens, why can't it torture people for the same purpose?"

I would assume that it is because torture does not respect the dignity of the individual. Capital punishment and corporal punishment and I daresay discomfort to encourage confession can be done in a way that respects the fact that you are dealing with a human being with inherent dignity.

I cannot see that you can say that the Church did NOT reflect on this question earlier, because the Church in fact issued guidelines as what tortures were permitted during ecclesiastical inquisitions and which were not. On New Advent in the "inquisistion" entry, it describes the Church approved boundaries of torture: "It was first authorized by Innocent IV in his Bull "Ad exstirpanda" of 15 May, 1252, which was confirmed by Alexander IV on 30 November, 1259, and by Clement IV on 3 November, 1265. The limit placed upon torture was citra membri diminutionem et mortis periculum -- i.e, it was not to cause the loss of life or limb or imperil life. Torture was to applied only once, and not then unless the accused were uncertain in his statements, and seemed already virtually convicted by manifold and weighty proofs"

These seemed to recognize that some actions violated the individual's dignity, and some did not. These guidelines were not followed, of course.

"Torture" (physical and psychological discomfort) is used today in US questioning all the time -- heat lamps, sleep deprivation, etc. are all common police tactics. Do these differ in kind, or only in degree, from the unacceptable torture we are speaking of?

Michael

"...if the state can (in principle, anyway) execute people to defend its citizens, why can't it torture people for the same purpose?"

Isn't the rather obvious answer that there is a legal procedure for conviction and rules regarding evidence, the allowance of defense, the right to face your accuser, and trial by your peers or at least a neutral party that must be followed before a conviction can be allowed that might deny someone their life?

Torture is employed to extract information or coerce a confession from someone who is suspected of being nefarious but who may in fact be innocent.

John

I refuse to Blog or read anything of Mark Shea as his blog is just one big blog of what he wants to hear and anyone else who differs is either stupid, a heretic (like he as before his so called conversion) or he deletes your post

Torture has many forms and I agree with what Tim J said as torture needs to be defined (did not the Geneva convention do this?)

But for a church where our main symbol is Christ crucified on the cross, and a church that has always supported the death penalty until lately from some of the liberal wings of the church-how can Mark Shea speak out as the moral authority of the church? Without torture-would we not have any martyrs? Are you saying that God did not allow this torture for a reason?

SDG

But for a church where our main symbol is Christ crucified on the cross, and a church that has always supported the death penalty until lately from some of the liberal wings of the church-how can Mark Shea speak out as the moral authority of the church? Without torture-would we not have any martyrs? Are you saying that God did not allow this torture for a reason?

John, with enemies like you, who needs friends?

Yes, torture and execution has given the church martyrs and saints. So has rape, murder and genocide (e.g., Maria Goretti, Thomas Becket and Edith Stein, respectively). God has allowed rape, murder and genocide as well as torture. Your argument is meaningless.

Tim J.

"Torture is employed to extract information or coerce a confession from someone who is suspected of being nefarious but who may in fact be innocent."

That may be true sometimes, but not always. People might also be tortured in an attempt to extract information it is KNOWN that they have... you know, like, "Where did you plant the bomb?!".

J.R. Stoodley

This reminds me of the question of what constitutes hazing (in a fraternity). All right, we agree there can be no hazing (or torture) but some people really want to do it anyway so they come up with reasons why something isn't really what it is.

Of course ultimately a good, strict definition would be helpful, but since we don't have that as someone who has experienced borderline hazing I say if there is some doubt don't even go there.

Not to say college fraternity hazing approaches the horrors that can be torture, or have a comparable reason for being done, but I think the same general principle can be applied to both situations. We are supposed to be a moral, honest, upright country, and example to the world. Why are we doing things that horrify and disgust any decent person in our military prisons? I don't care how good your intentions are or how bad the person being mistreated is, just don't do it.

Saving American Lives at Home

Isn't the rather obvious answer that there is a legal procedure for conviction and rules regarding evidence, the allowance of defense, the right to face your accuser, and trial by your peers or at least a neutral party that must be followed before a conviction can be allowed that might deny someone their life?

Sure - but let me ask you, for the sake of saving face and keeping up with the appearance of justice, would you, for all that, give someone the benefit of this long and engaging process, when, in reality, he may in fact be a terrorist and the plans he and his cell is to execute will take place in a matter of days rather than the weeks (and even months) that would be spent on the appearance of such procedure.

That is, say the plans of his cell were to execute a certain disaster in the very locale in where you and your family actually live? Would you, for the sake of such an appearance of procedure, allow this person such benefit even if it meant the deaths of you and your loved ones and perhaps the tremendous lives of many others and the greater population of cities in that area?

Say that plan was to become effective only a few days after you had actually captured this suspected terrorist? Do you really think you would be able to save lives of several Americans on the onset if you engaged in the appearance of lengthy procedures that would otherwise take months and sometimes years, as the case may be if in court, for something to come out, and, most likely, it would not necessarily yield any good result.

Could you afford this "luxury" when there is the matter of several lives at stake? We've already seen the great and tragic extent to which the terrorists will go in trying to destroy America and the lives of its citizens, including the lost of several hundreds of innocent lives!

If we were to turn back the clock, would your want for the appearance of abiding by such procedure have gone to save the lives of those lost in 9/11? I cannot help but think it would have helped to promote the cause of the terrorist in the fact that such methods would only be accomodating to their ends rather than disadvantageous.

BillyHW

or he deletes your post

Don't take it personally. He even deletes his own posts sometimes.

Brian John Schuettler

As a follow-up and agreement with Esau's comment about torture being oh so subjective let us consider what Bruce Willis said in Die Hard 2..."If you really wan't to torture me, play Rap!"

francis 03

Michael,

I'm talking about the intrinsic morality of torture and capital punishment; i.e., I'm assuming that we know of the subject's guilt to a moral certainty. Maybe there should be more procedural safeguards attached to the use of morally-licit torture (if there is such a thing), but that's not what I'm talking about here. Further, the Church has never embraced American principles of due process as requirements for the liceity of capital punishment.

But, for those of you who are saying that torture is always wrong, aren't you just defining away the problem? That is, aren't you implicit defining torture as "the immoral use of punitive or coercive force?"

I think at some point we have to face up to the fact that (a) the line between torture and lesser measures and (b) the line between moral and immoral physical coercion, are both fuzzy. Some things are obviously torture (e.g., cutting off limbs to get a subject to "talk"); things obviously aren't (e.g., handcuffing a suspect for a brief period of time). The same goes for morality. On the other hand, some things fall into a gray zone. For example, if you have a terrorist cornered at gunpoint, but he's holding a bomb that only he can defuse, is it immoral to threaten to shoot him in the leg if he won't defuse the bomb, or to actually do so if he refuses? What if you could prevent the bomb from going off only by either killing the terrorist or convincing him to defuse it-- would the shot in the leg then be immoral?

I think that where principles of self-defense meet principles of the dignity of the human person, there are a whole lot of unanswered questions.

francis 03

Addendum: so the big question we have to answer here, and the one I'm trying to get at above, is whether the "gray zones" between (i) torture and non-torture, and (ii) moral and immoral actions, exactly overlap, or whether there might be some forms of torture that are moral (or some forms of non-torture that are nevertheless immoral-- or both). It's very tempting, I think, to just say "torture is always immoral" without actually making this comparison. This is probably a useful way to define "torture," but it doesn't really address the question of what set of forms physical coercion are immoral-- it just gives that set a name.

Michael

"I'm assuming that we know of the subject's guilt to a moral certainty."

That is an invalid assumption. You never can. You are assuming omniscience. Just because the star of '24' nows the guy is guilty does not mean anyone knows that in real life.

And you cannot merely assume away the restrictions of due process as being irrelevent, even if specific aspects of it are not endorsed or condemned by the Church. At least they exist in those cases.

Esau

As a follow-up and agreement with Esau's comment about torture being oh so subjective let us consider what Bruce Willis said in Die Hard 2..."If you really wan't to torture me, play Rap!"

Please don't go there!!! ;^)

I can't say the many times I've been 'tortured' in the car just listening to some stations on the radio -- that includes both talk and music stations!

DJ

Heh, there's a reason I don't sing at church and its a moral one. :)

Tim J.

"I'm assuming that we know of the subject's guilt to a moral certainty."

"That is an invalid assumption. You never can. "

Guilt certainly CAN be knowable to a moral certainty, or we could never morally send anyone to prison.

Guilt might be unknowable to an absolute *mathematical* certainty, but that is not the requirement for moral certainty.

eCurious

The refusal to discuss a definition of torture is exactly why I can't read Mark Shea's blog on this topic anymore.

I think it's a mistake to compare torture to obscenity, with the "I know it when I see it" mindset. The reason obscenity has this component is that the ability of the obscene material to evoke a specific physical and/or emotional response in the viewer is part, though not all, of what makes it obscene, and yet that part of obscenity is necessarily subjective.

Torture has no such subjectivity, and "I know it when I see/hear about it" has little value. Suppose I tell you I saw a man grab a woman's shoulders, spin her around to face away from him, place his fist just above her stomach, and with the palm of his other hand force his fist inward several times. Sound like torture? Actually, I've just described the Heimlich maneuver.

Torture can be defined. I'd suggest, as a starting place, the following: torture is the deliberate infliction or threat of infliction of severe physical pain and/or mental anguish upon a person or persons under one's authority, against the will of that/those person(s), in order to cause suffering or degradation as a means of obtaining compliance.

I'm sure that can be improved.

francis 03

I didn't say due process was irrelevant; in fact I'm certain that some kind of process is essential to the morality of any punishment. But "due process," including the procedural safeguards you mentioned, is only one kind of process, and maybe not even the best one. A different set of procedures could do just as good a job. Anyway, the point I was making is that in considering the intrinsic morality of torture (or any punishment) you HAVE TO assume the guilt of the subject to a moral certainty; otherwise any kind of punishment is, as Tim J. pointed out, per se immoral.

Catherine L

Torture can be defined. I'd suggest, as a starting place, the following: torture is the deliberate infliction or threat of infliction of severe physical pain and/or mental anguish upon a person or persons under one's authority, against the will of that/those person(s), in order to cause suffering or degradation as a means of obtaining compliance.

This definition means that jailing reporters who won't reveal a source is torture.

Carl K

Not to be flippant, but my wife thinks tickling is a form of torture.

Tim M.

I think Geneva Conventions were established to define torture, interrogation and imprisonment.
Specifically in time of war when ALL sides in ALL wars would want to know ALL info that will help them win the war and have the least amount of loss of their lives.

Does anyone else believe that THIS is why the Pres. Bush publically declared that he would no longer honor the Geneva Convention?

So the end does not justify the means... except in this case?

THIS is illogical to me.

eCurious

Catherine L,

How would you amend it so that it isn't too broad? I think one could argue that any lawful punishment such as imprisonment, or the threat of such lawful punishment, by definition, doesn't cause "suffering or degradation," but maybe the wording should specifically exclude lawful punishment. In addition, my "starter definition" says "under one's authority" which may be too vague; perhaps it should specify that the person is already incarcerated and under the direct physical control of the would-be torturer. Any thoughts?

Esau

How would you amend it so that it isn't too broad? I think one could argue that any lawful punishment such as imprisonment, or the threat of such lawful punishment, by definition, doesn't cause "suffering or degradation," but maybe the wording should specifically exclude lawful punishment. In addition, my "starter definition" says "under one's authority" which may be too vague; perhaps it should specify that the person is already incarcerated and under the direct physical control of the would-be torturer. Any thoughts?

eCurious,
Now I'm curious -- is this an assignment or something???

Why the need to determine ultimately a technical, legal definition to 'torture'?

Not putting down your efforts as I agree that a precise definition is necessary for all intents and purposes, but I was just wondering why the actual need to accomplish this here and now? Just curious...

francis 03

One relevant aspect of "torture" seems to be that it is engaged in either (1) purely for the amusement of the torturer or (2) in order to coerce some affirmative act on the part of the subject. This is in contrast to most modern forms of punishment, which insofar as they are coercive are mainly oriented toward PREVENTING their subjects from committing criminal acts.

eCurious

Catherine L, I thought of something else. My definition says, "...the deliberate infliction..." Perhaps, like the definition of abortion, it should say, "...the direct and intentional infliction..." The words "direct and intentional" point to the will of the one doing the torturing, not the perceptions of the one who thinks he/she is being tortured. It could then be argued that the journalist who thinks the threat of incarceration constitutes severe mental anguish ordered toward compliance would have to demonstrate that this was the intention of those who ordered the revealing of the source--in other words, that the threat of incarceration had no legitimate punitive purpose, but only the purpose of torture. Similarly, a man forced to wear handcuffs and sit on a cement floor could not claim he is being tortured if the clear intention of those responsible for his being seated there in that manner is merely to keep him restrained while they make arrangements for his incarceration, which they do without undue delay.

francis 03

Of course, by that definition purely penal corporal punishment wouldn't be "torture." Whether that's true to the way we use the word, I'm not sure.

John

SDG

That was just a cheap shot at me as you once again could not answer or respond to my post

With a church that reveres the martyrdom of countless saints especially in her first 4 centuries, and now with a church whose members no longer believe they are "soldiers of Christ" when confirmed and cant even do a simple sacrifice such as abstain for meat for 52 Fridays a year that after Vatican II had to be done away with, how could the church even understand torture or what her true definition was anyway?

There is plenty of evil in this world, inflicted man upon man because of the free will God gave us, and to say that torture has no place in the world is rediculous. Is it bad? Yes. Is it something that has not place in the world of evil men flying planes into buildings in the name of Islam (dont forget we must hold Moslems in high esteem!!)-then torture of these men behind this evil deed is justified

eCurious

Esau,

Actually, I've been kicking this around in my head for some time, since reading many of the threads on Mark Shea's blog about torture. Frankly, I don't think those who discuss this issue CAN make any headway as long as the word "torture" means "anything we don't like about the way any prisoner is ever treated." I was shocked, for instance, when someone over there seemed to indicate that as Catholics we should agree that even making prisoners a little uncomfortable, such as keeping thermostats at 85 degrees instead of 70, automatically constituted torture and was thus intrinsically evil.

But why here, why now? Well, I respect the intelligence of everyone here, for one thing. For another, Jimmy himself said in his post, "There have been a number of statements in Magisterial and semi-Magisterial documents condemning torture, but these do not offer technical definitions of what torture is, and having a good definition is a precondition for formulating a solid response to finely posed moral questions on the topic." Frankly, this is the FIRST time I've seen a Catholic blogger agree that we actually need a definition of torture, and so refreshing a change of tone was it from the "Anyone who wants to define torture only wants to be able to walk right up to the line/anyone who wants a definition is acting in bad faith..." attitude I've seen elsewhere that I guess I let my enthusiasm run away with me.

How would you define torture, Esau?

eCurious

francis 03 says, "Of course, by that definition purely penal corporal punishment wouldn't be "torture." This is true, but is purely penal corporal punishment actually torture? Some countries, such as Singapore, still employ penal corporal punishment. I think it could be argued that this sort of punishment isn't torture but that it still isn't a desirable mode of punishment from a human rights perspective. To use an abortion analogy again, nothing in the definition of abortion specifically prohibits infanticide, but that hardly means infanticide is a good thing.

Esau

I was just curious, eCurious, and I do appreciate greatly your courteous and prompt response to my inquiry.

I originally thought you might be attending a class somewhere (be it law school or otherwise) and a discussion such as this arose wherein the necessity to define 'torture' in the most precise terms became immediately evident.

As they say: Good Hunting!

francis 03

I think I agree, eC. That's why I proposed the definition element that I did. But it gives me pause, because surely we could imagine excessive inflictions of pain (e.g., chopping off limbs piece by little piece) that would seem like "torture" even if they were notionally purely penal.

Esau

I was shocked, for instance, when someone over there seemed to indicate that as Catholics we should agree that even making prisoners a little uncomfortable, such as keeping thermostats at 85 degrees instead of 70, automatically constituted torture and was thus intrinsically evil.

I can't attest to the veracity of this statement, but it would defeat the whole purpose of combatting terrorism and preventing terrorist attacks if we were all but cordially receptive to suspected terrorists as if they were hotel guests.

francis 03

Another element of torture seems to be that it is a fairly discrete event in time and space. That is, I don't think that any individual session of "torture" could realistically last longer than several weeks-- and even that would have to be something like sleep deprivation or being forced to stand. Most other forms of torture we imagine as lasting only minutes or hours. The extremity of pain or anguish involved seems to require that.

Mark P. Shea

Mark Shea is regarded as the camp leader that asserts that that torture is objectively evil

For what it's worth, Mark Shea has tried to confine himself to the language the Church uses. In Veritatis Splendor 80, the Pope expands on the teaching of Vatican II and says:

Reason attests that there are objects of the human act which are by their nature "incapable of being ordered" to God, because they radically contradict the good of the person made in his image. These are the acts which, in the Church's moral tradition, have been termed "intrinsically evil" (intrinsece malum): they are such always and per se, in other words, on account of their very object, and quite apart from the ulterior intentions of the one acting and the circumstances. Consequently, without in the least denying the influence on morality exercised by circumstances and especially by intentions, the Church teaches that "there exist acts which per se and in themselves, independently of circumstances, are always seriously wrong by reason of their object".131 The Second Vatican Council itself, in discussing the respect due to the human person, gives a number of examples of such acts: "Whatever is hostile to life itself, such as any kind of homicide, genocide, abortion, euthanasia and voluntary suicide; whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, physical and mental torture and attempts to coerce the spirit; whatever is offensive to human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution and trafficking in women and children; degrading conditions of work which treat labourers as mere instruments of profit, and not as free responsible persons: all these and the like are a disgrace, and so long as they infect human civilization they contaminate those who inflict them more than those who suffer injustice, and they are a negation of the honour due to the Creator".

So I am not the camp leader. John Paul is. The question "Is torture intrinsically immoral?" has been answered by the Church and the answer is "Yes."

The normal follow up question in comboxes has been "What is torture?" That's because many comboxers are a) trying to figure out ways to justify current American policy or b) frightened that if we do not torture, we deprive ourselves of an invaluable tool in the War on Terror. A relatively small minority fear that John Paul's allegedly newfangled development contradicts previous Church teaching. So conversations quickly take on the strange quality of an especially weird Pharisaic legalism as makers of find distinctions struggle to figure out just how much we can abuse a prisoner before it crosses the line into torture. Some are asking in good faith. Some are simply struggling to wriggle out of the obvious teaching of the Church by hook or crook and excuse our past (and present) habits of waterboard, cold cells, and Palestinian hanging done by the CIA with the full approval of George W. Bush.

The difficulty with that entire line of moral enquiry is that it is exactly like asking "Just how far can I go with the secretary at work before I am technically committing adultery?"

The real issue is not "How close can we get to torture without crossing the line?" The real question is "How do I obey Christ fully when it comes to my responsibility to the prisoner in my charge?" And the Church is very clear:

CCC 2313 Non-combatants, wounded soldiers, and prisoners must be respected and treated humanely.

If we are seeking to obey this, we will not accidently torture somebody, because we will not be wondering if dragging somebody around naked on a leash while refraining from kicking them is really, technically, torture. Those interested in treating others humanely do not wonder if they can get away with attaching wires to their testicles, just so long as they don't turn on the current.

In short, the discussion is not "What is torture?" The discussion is "How do we obey the Church's command to treat prisoners humanely, while still seeking the common good by getting the information necessary for the conduct of a just war?" Those who automatically assume that this is impossible are, in effect, saying that obedience to Christ is impossible and that the choice to commit a grave and intrinsically immoral act is necessary and good, despite the fact that this makes God a liar.

My reply tto any who seriously want to defend that proposition is, "Good luck explaining that on Judgment Day."

eCurious

francis 03, I think that both of your points are really important. Even if you were to grant that governments had the right to use penal corporal punishment, I think that anything which would intentionally cause permanent damage would have to be barred for humanitarian reasons. In other words, just because a government decided it had the right to punish thieves by cutting off their hands wouldn't change the fact that doing so would be an egregious violation of human rights by most countries' standards, whether or not it could actually be called torture.

As for your second point, I agree. POWs in Vietnam were kept in bamboo cages four feet high and six feet long, and they were kept in this extremely uncomfortable condition for lengthy time periods. However, when most people speak of the torture of prisoners in Vietnam, they are referencing more specific, discrete events, such as beatings, burnings, mutilations and the like. So I'd agree with you that most people think of torture as specific and extremely painful acts, which if continued would most likely lead to the permanent injury or death of the person being tortured.

The only reason I included "mental anguish" in my initial definition is because I could imagine that it would be possible to torture someone, perhaps, by telling him you'd killed his family, describing it in graphic detail and then showing him (faked) pictures--which goes far beyond mere "Cooperate with us or you'll be sorry..." rhetoric. This, too, would be capable of producing permanent injury, albeit mental/emotional. Do you think that an important part of the definition of torture ought to include the idea that torture is capable of producing permanent injury or death?

Mark P. Shea

The refusal to discuss a definition of torture is exactly why I can't read Mark Shea's blog on this topic anymore.

I have repeatedly offered definitions. They have been repeatedly ignored.

Def 1: Check the dictionary. It defines what "torture" means. This is rejected as hopelessly fuzzy.

Def 2: Check the regulations for treatment of prisoners that have been used by the military and police for the past 50 years. Again, my readers find themselves helpless to have the slightest inkling of what "torture" could possibly mean.

Def 3: Try the Interrogator's Golden Rule of "If you'd call it "torture" if it were done to you or a friend, then it's torture. Still the cry goes up that all is mist and fog and I will not clearly define torture.

After a while, one gets the sense that some folk just aren't interested in a definition. So I've picked three particular technique which all but the most ideologically driven acknowledge as torture: waterboarding, cold cells, Palestinian hanging. These are all acts done by the CIA under President George "We don't Torture" Bush's watch. Most of them are still being done, along with other things which sane people would call torture, but combox ideologues prefer to quibble about until you show pictures.

So please. No more nonsense about my alleged refusal to define torture. The problem lies entirely with those who will not accept what normal people would call torture if it were done to their son or daughter.

Tim J.

"The difficulty with that entire line of moral enquiry is that it is exactly like asking "Just how far can I go with the secretary at work before I am technically committing adultery?"

No, it isn't. That is a baseless and uncharitable assumption.

I am against torture of any kind, but if we are going to see people charged with war crimes and send those guilty of torture to prison, we had better have a working definition of what it IS.

bill912

"So please. No more nonsense about my alleged refusal to define torture."

If you did define it, I didn't understand. Perhaps if you were to use simple, definite terms it would make for greater communication.

bill912

Absolutely right, Tim. For a police officer to arrest someone for a particular crime, the person has to be fulfilling all the elements of the crime. Example: Robbery is stealing property by means of the use or threatened imminent use of force. If someone steals property without using or threatening the use of force, or threatens the use of force at some future time, he can't be arrested for robbery. If he uses force, but doens't take property, he can't be arrested for robbery.

eCurious

Hear, hear, bill912.

Mark, over at your blog I have read the following, mostly from your posters (and these are just from the October archives):

Keeping prisoners too cold is torture.
Keeping prisoners too hot is torture.
Making prisoners uncomfortable, in general, is torture.
Feeding prisoners too little is torture.
Feeding prisoners too much is torture.
Lying to prisoners is torture.
Interrogating prisoners for extended time periods is torture.

I could go on, but I think these are illustrative enough.

I get that we are supposed to treat prisoners humanely. But it *does* matter what the definitions are. There are some people who argue that putting a prisoner in solitary confinement, in an unlighted room, is torture. I would say that such examples render the word "torture" meaningless, to all extents and purposes.

And no, I don't want to know "how far can I go before it's torture." My idea of a prison is that it should be modeled after a monastery: simple, bare rooms, simple, somewhat coarse clothing, simple, plain food...well, you get the idea. But some people seem to think that even that would be torture, if it doesn't include air conditioning and cable television.

As Jimmy says, "...having a good definition is a precondition for formulating a solid response to finely posed moral questions on the topic." It's not just a "loophole" to allow waterboarding and the like.

Esau

Keeping prisoners too cold is torture.
Keeping prisoners too hot is torture.
Making prisoners uncomfortable, in general, is torture.
Feeding prisoners too little is torture.
Feeding prisoners too much is torture.
Lying to prisoners is torture.
Interrogating prisoners for extended time periods is torture.

I could go on, but I think these are illustrative enough.

I get that we are supposed to treat prisoners humanely. But it *does* matter what the definitions are. There are some people who argue that putting a prisoner in solitary confinement, in an unlighted room, is torture. eCurious

I am against torture of any kind, but if we are going to see people charged with war crimes and send those guilty of torture to prison, we had better have a working definition of what it IS. Tim J.

Strangely, this reminds me of a situation that occured at a company some years ago. What had happened then was that a gentleman had a piece of art hanging on his cubicle which a female co-worker had found offensive. At that, she claimed sexual harassment and reported this to HR. The gentleman was fired as sexual harassment in the company was not genuinely defined in any definite terms but, at that point in time in the company's history, was rather arbitrary and primarily more so according to the subjective view of the accuser.

In that respect, it becomes all the more critical to have certain terms defined in order to ensure the rightful benefit of Law to both the accuser and the accused.

Puzzled

Ya know, I agree with Mark on this one. I'm an old-fashioned, farm-reared, red county American, *and for that reason* I am appalled and sickened by the torture that the governnment is doing on the accused. People snatched off the streets. Most of whom are innocent, and most of those who aren't are simply guerilla soldiers in an environment and culture where uniforms are not what was common in the Napoleonic Wars. (Our police often go without identification today, does this make them "enemy combatants" and elminates all of their unalienable rights?)

The Geneva Conventions are clear, as is our Lord: Treat POWs as one's own troops of like rank. Treat the accused as innocent until proven guilty. Love your enemy, and do good to him.

We won the hearts of many a German soldier in the midwest during WWII by treating them with Christian love as they helped out on the farms during the day. Some still return, as very old men, to see the nativity scene they carved while they were here, and to visit the families of those for whom they worked.

Somehow I doubt that the Arabs we have put in concentration camps will do the same when they are old men.

Pragmatically, most people will say anything to end torture. It is NOT a reliable means of obtaining information. Sodium pentathol would do a better job.

And how many followers of Jesus here would be ok with the sexual degradation and temptation that CIA and other American female personel have, in compliance with orders, forced upon the prisoners?

Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you.

The President really does need to be impeached. Not because he believed upon good intelligence, multiply confirmed, that Saddam had the WMDs he claimed to have, but because he has violated his oath of office in multiple and serious ways, and made this country loathsome in the eyes of foreigners and her own citizens for his despicable, ungodly, inhumane orders.
IF he be proven guilty of knowingly ordering such, by 12 good men, tried and true, who know the Law.

I say this as a social and Constitutional conservative.

BillyHW

Mark, you're alive!

Nice to see you're one of the one half of all Americans that made it through George Bush's avian flu plague.

I just want you to know that I believe in torture. The terrorists imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay should be forced to read your blog every day.

Mark P. Shea

eCurious:

Let me refresh you memory. You wrote, "The refusal to discuss a definition of torture is exactly why I can't read Mark Shea's blog on this topic anymore.

In response, I pointed out that I have, in fact, repeatedly offered *three* different definitions of torture, which folk like you have steadfastly ignored or waved away. Now, in reply, you say:

Mark, over at your blog I have read the following, mostly from your posters (and these are just from the October archives):

Keeping prisoners too cold is torture.
Keeping prisoners too hot is torture.
Making prisoners uncomfortable, in general, is torture.
Feeding prisoners too little is torture.
Feeding prisoners too much is torture.
Lying to prisoners is torture.
Interrogating prisoners for extended time periods is torture.

I could go on, but I think these are illustrative enough.

So now the problem seems to be that there are too many attempts to provide definition instead of "refusal". I'm sorry if you are confused because you can't distinguish between what I have (repeatedly) said in answer to the question "What is torture?" and what some random readers have said. That, however, is not my problem. Concerning the statement of fact that I have not provided any definitions, you are either completely ignorant (perhaps due to your refusal to read my blog) or a liar.

In any case, there has been no problem in my providing definitions of torture. There has only been the ongoing struggle of those who seem strangely reticent to acknowledge "torture" can ever be defined in such a way so as to actually have to obey the Church when She tells us it is intrinsically immoral.

Convenient, that.

eCurious

You know, Mark, I wonder if you know the definition of "unwarranted rudeness." I'll help you out. If your wife was asking you to clarify a point you felt you'd already made, would you answer by saying that you'd already discussed it, and that if she didn't understand she was either ignorant or a liar? Or would that be unwarranted rudeness?

I may have missed a post or seven of yours on the issue of torture, though this doesn't mean I take the issue lightly. You have done us the honor of summing up your definition(s) of torture thus:

"Def 1: Check the dictionary. It defines what "torture" means. This is rejected as hopelessly fuzzy.

"Def 2: Check the regulations for treatment of prisoners that have been used by the military and police for the past 50 years. Again, my readers find themselves helpless to have the slightest inkling of what "torture" could possibly mean.

"Def 3: Try the Interrogator's Golden Rule of "If you'd call it "torture" if it were done to you or a friend, then it's torture. Still the cry goes up that all is mist and fog and I will not clearly define torture."

Now my responses:
Def. 1. Here's Merriam-Webster on the subject:
1 a : anguish of body or mind : AGONY b : something that causes agony or pain
2 : the infliction of intense pain (as from burning, crushing, or wounding) to punish, coerce, or afford sadistic pleasure
3 : distortion or overrefinement of a meaning or an argument

I accept (2) as a starting point for a definition of torture (with some elements of (1) as well, though (1) could be used in such sentences as "My physics exam was pure torture." However, I find it not fuzzy, but too narrow, as under this definition Abu Ghraib's parade of horrors doesn't exactly qualify, and in our Catholic moral law definition we want to include such evils, do we not?

Def 2. refers to the regulations in use for the treatment of prisoners by military and police. Good, this is helpful of course. However, some of these regulations could be considered to allow inhumane treatment if they are carelessly understood. How do we ensure that the definition of torture clearly rules out not only such practices as waterboarding, but also calculated neglect?

Def 3 is, unfortunately, the least helpful of all, as it is the most subjective. I personally would find being arrested and placed in an interrogation room to be productive of extreme mental anguish. I also suffer from migraine headaches, so a light shining in my face would sometimes be torture for me--but do my jailers intend it to be? In any moral equation, the intention of the agent is of the utmost importance.

In closing, I apologize to Jimmy for the length of this post, and I ask, Mark, that you consider that posters like me are human beings with immortal souls, just like you, and that some of us want to get this not only right, but excruciatingly right, just like you.

bill912

"...I am appalled and sickened by the torture that the government is doing on the accused."

Evidence, please?

Jeff

The problem with all of the proposed definitions of torture that I have seen is that they are all stated in terms of a "sliding scale". "Grave" and "excessive" and "serious" all seem to play a role.

This is not the way to define a sin; you have to have conceptual clarity. If something is only definable in terms of degree, then the question will always be "How much is too much?" And people will always disagree.

Since I have never seen any definition of torture that didn't operate in this way, I am forced to conclude that torture is not a moral "thing", but rather a complex phenomenon, like slavery. And since slavery is not a moral thing, it cannot be an "intrinsic evil" as that phrase is used in Catholic moral theological circles, concludes Cardinal Dulles. The Pope in Veritatis Splendor is using the word in a descriptive sense, says Fr. Brian Harrison, and this is further shown by the fact that he does not single it out as intrinsic evil but simply recites the laundry list of "social sins" indicated by Gaudium et Spes...which includes phenomena like "inhuman working conditions" and "deportation."

Jeff

Mark's problem is that he's stuck in a cleft stick of his own devising.

He's not ALLOWED, under his own methodology of reading papal documents, to do anything other than regard torture as intrinsically evil in the standard sense of the word.

But he also can't come up with a coherent definition of what torture is...one that doesn't involve matters of degree or other subjective considerations.

So, he says that we need to condemn torture absolutely, but its wrong to ask that it be defined coherently before doing so.

The only way out is to change the statement from "Torture is wrong" to "Treat everyone humanely", which of course begs the question of what "humanely" is in a given circumstance and how it relates the responsibility for "humaneness" owed by an interrogator to those he is trying to protect for example.

No one charged with getting important information from a suspect has any guidance to go on from Shea except, "treat the prisoner humanely" and "surely waterboarding is wrong" and things like that. Completely useless stuff.

Shea is in a moral conundrum that he has created for himself and there is no way out, logically speaking. No way out except for two possibilities:

1. Come up with a coherent definition of torture that does not involve matters of degree and other subjective judgments, or

2. Concede that the Pope may have been speaking descriptively rather than categorically when he used the phrase "intrinsically evil" in Veritatis Splendor.

Deciding that he cannot or will not do either of these, Shea is reduced to accusing all his critics (they are now exploding all over the internet) of seeking to undermine Church authority and excuse vile things. But perhaps the fact that Christopher Blosser, Dave Armstrong, and Jimmy Akin are in substantial disagreement with his actual approach and are themselves raising and discussing issues that he insists are illegitimate ab initio will get him to reconsider his intemperance and stop "excommunicating" or insulting everyone who finds the way he deals with the topic to be hopelessly vague and uncharitable.

francis 03

A tour de force, Jeff. A bit brusque, perhaps, but you've hit the nail on the head. So by condemning "torture" the magisterium has not attached a specific moral status to a specific set of actions, but rather simply stated that it is indeed possible to go too far in a certain direction.

Would I be correct in inferring, then, that since the magisterial teaching is not referring to any specific set of actions, then any ex post definition of "torture" could potentially include actions that would not, in fact, be immoral?

Seamus

I also suffer from migraine headaches, so a light shining in my face would sometimes be torture for me--but do my jailers intend it to be?

Well, if your jailers knew that shining a bright light in your face would bring on a migraine, and did it anyway, a respectable argument could be made that that would constitute torture.

Brian John Schuettler

Mark Shea writes: "Concerning the statement of fact that I have not provided any definitions, you are either completely ignorant (perhaps due to your refusal to read my blog) or a liar."

When a person is attempting to demonstrate or prove a point in a group discussion and that person, especially if that person is a Christian apologist, uses words like "ignorant" and "liar" to diminish the dignity of their interlocutor then it must be sadly stated that that person has abandoned reason and surrendered their position. My admiration to e-curious for his intelligent and reasonable response to this indignity.

BillyHW

Mark Shea writes: "Concerning the statement of fact that I have not provided any definitions, you are either completely ignorant (perhaps due to your refusal to read my blog) or a liar."

When a person is attempting to demonstrate or prove a point in a group discussion and that person, especially if that person is a Christian apologist, uses words like "ignorant" and "liar" to diminish the dignity of their interlocutor then it must be sadly stated that that person has abandoned reason and surrendered their position. My admiration to e-curious for his intelligent and reasonable response to this indignity.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but wouldn't that constitute a rule violation?

Here's rule #1:

1. People are welcome to disagree with me in the comments boxes as long as they are polite. I don't mind disagreement. I do mind rudeness. (Be sure and see Rule 20 for how disagreement should be expressed in certain cases!) Rudeness towards others on the blog is also out of bounds.

John

Mr Shea

The church herself has used torture many times throughout her history in the face of danger from the Mohamedeans and other invaders, ordered directly from the Pope.

Are you saying that the Pope could be wrong?

Brian John Schuettler

"Correct me if I'm wrong, but wouldn't that constitute a rule violation?"

Yes, BillyHW, it is a rule violation. Would it be considered torture to exclude Mark from commenting on Jimmy's Blog?

Esau

As Jimmy says, "...having a good definition is a precondition for formulating a solid response to finely posed moral questions on the topic." It's not just a "loophole" to allow waterboarding and the like. eCurious

Mark Shea writes: "Concerning the statement of fact that I have not provided any definitions, you are either completely ignorant (perhaps due to your refusal to read my blog) or a liar."

Correct me if I'm wrong, but wouldn't that constitute a rule violation? BillyHW

Curious,
You guys ain't trying to manipulate a conflict between Jimmy and Mark now, are you? ;^)

(only teasin' folks -- wasn't bein' serious now -- God Bless Y'all!)

Sean S.

Mark, have you ever considered writing up one behemoth posting on torture, including your stance on it, the various arguments you've given in favor of your stance, including your citations from Church documents, the definitions you listed above (I'd suggest actually getting out a dictionary and typing the definition up yourself, and at least linking to the army regs you mention, just for clarity's sake). Also include any links to articles, other blogs, etc. that you'd recommend on the subject. You could include info on the Bush administration's practices with linked evidence for same.

Then you could have a permanent link to that post on the sidebar of your blog (kinda like Jimmy does). Whenever someone asks you questions about torture, you could simply refer them to that one uber-post. I think it could save you a lot of grief if you didn't have to write the same thing over and over.

Just a thought.

Seamus

Concerning the statement of fact that I have not provided any definitions, you are either completely ignorant (perhaps due to your refusal to read my blog) or a liar.

Mr. Shea has been on the receiving end of a lot of accusations that he is lying when he makes certain arguments. I have always maintained that those making those accusations have no basis for making them. Mr. Shea may be wrong, he may confused, he may have spoken quickly and without properly understanding what his interlocutor said. But unless his accusers can read his mind, they have no basis for saying that he is lying, that is, that he is saying what he *knows* to be at variance with truth.

It therefore ill behooves him to make similar accusations of others.

DJ

After thinking about this for a while (I think this is a very interesting topic) and talking to a co-worker who tends to share similar views as me, it seems that using the word 'torture' in such a large capacity might be part of the problem.

For example, this co-worker of mine didn't think that telling a captured individual that you raped and murdered his family (when you didn't) was torture. He didn't think it was right, nor something a person in any sort of authority position should ever allow, but he didn't think it should be classified as torture but something else. I sort of agree.

When this co-worker asked me for my definition of torture, I really couldn't give one I was comfortable with, so I guess I don't really have any input past what I've already said.

Mark P. Shea

Are you saying that the Pope could be wrong?

In is his prudential judgments? Of course! Read Galatians 2.

As to my reply to eCurious. Sorry but those are the choices, logically speaking. The claim that I have never offered a definition of torture is simply false. I have offered three. I have done so repeatedly. Therefore, the claim that I have not done so is either due to ignorance (eCurious has managed to completely miss every post where I have offered definitions in response to the pleas of my helpless readers who cannot figure out what "torture" means) or else he has seen the posts but chooses to lie and say I have offered not definitions.

It is amusing that people are more upset about my clear statement of the logical dilemma. The first casualty of these discussion does indeed appear to be clear language.

Tim J.

Mark -

With all respect, the problems with those definitions (generally, their vagueness and therefore their openess to misinterpretation) have been addressed.

The problems come when real people who really deal with prisoners on a daily basis (cops or military) have to apply these vague definitions in actual situations. This is why honest, NON-torture-apologists can look at such definitions and ask "Yes, but what does that (inhumane treatment, excessive force, severe pain) LOOK like?"

Hypotheticals are practically unavoidable.

For what it's worth, my own belief is that we would make a much greater impression on these guys if we treated them BETTER than they expected. Tell them, in effect, "That's not the way we do things in America" and let them decide for themselves which civilization they really care to back. Sure, some of them would laugh at us, but I think it could make a big impression over time.

That doesn't really address the "ticking time bomb" scenario, however.

Though everyone should enjoy certain inalienable rights, the fact is that people can, in a sense, voluntarily give up certain of those rights when they decide to act against the public good. They can't really complain that these rights have been TAKEN from them.

Some people, in other words, just REFUSE to be treated humanely. I am reminded (sorry, I don't know his name) of a notorious "lifer" who, while in prison, has killed three other prisoners and a guard, and injured several others. He now has to be kept without human contact in a cell 24/7, fed through a slot in the door and more or less treated like a wild animal when there is any necessary contact. That particular state does not have the death penalty, so they are forced to keep him in conditions that would be, for most others, "inhumane".

So, does a terrorist, in a "ticking bomb" scenario, retain all the rights that, say, a captured enemy soldier has? Does he have the right to not be slapped in the face? I don't know.

Part of me can't see any reason not to let Andy Sipowicz "tune him up" for a few minutes.

There are those who would take the ball and run with it, though, which I'm sure is what Mark sees happening. To make "tuning up" a matter of policy is truly worrying. At crunch time, we want the Andy Sipowicz-es of the world to do their thing when we are not looking, but if it comes down to it, we seem to want our "plausible deniability" too. We want to be able to hang such people out to dry with vague torture definitions.

See "Breaker Morant".

Mike Koenecke

Maybe it's a lawyer thing, but what Mark Shea has failed to (and evidently never will) understand is that a dictionary definition rarely suffices for a *legal* definition. I'll give you an analogy: in order to commit mortal sin, there must be a clear intent of the will and a consciousness that what one is doing is sinful. In religion, ignorance of the law IS an excuse. That does not, and cannot, work in law. Only God can look into the heart of an accused sinner; judges and juries are more limited when evaluating whether a law was broken.

So, legally, we need more specific standards.
What the dictionary definition does is make torture equivalent to obscenity: Black's famous dictum "I know it when I see it." That is not good enough to guide the military and law enforcement, who need to know guidelines ahead of time. Under the dictionary definition, torture includes "mental abuse."

Let me give you an example: I rather doubt that even Mark Shea would claim that, say, urinating on a book represented to be a Koran (not even an actual Koran) in the presence of a prisoner would qualify as "torture." However, any lawyer could make a case that doing so constituted "mental abuse." Which qualifies as "torture" under the colloquial dictionary definition. Or the Pope's definition, cited by Mark Shea: "physical and mental torture and attempts to coerce the spirit." What is "mental torture," anyway? Those are the questions we are asking, and we are being condemned as complicit with evil for that.

To a lawyer, "attempts to coerce the spirit" can easily be interpreted to make ANY interrogation beyond "pretty please" objectively evil.

Is shouting at someone an "attempt to coerce the spirit" or "mental torture?" What about telling them what a bad person they are? How loud *can* you shout, if at all? What about "good cop, bad cop?" What about telling lies (your partner told us everything)?

We all know what torture is: the Iron Maiden, beatings, electrical shocks, and so on. What we don't know is what it ISN'T, especially under colloquial and religious definitions.

And *that*, in a nutshell, is where Mr. Shea has gone completely off the rails. He deliberately accuses those of us who think it is important to have clearly defined boundaries as immoral and "apologists" for torture, despite our repeating, again and again, that TORTURE IS NOT PERMISSIBLE.

That sort of hubris does engender very uncharitable thoughts.

Seamus

Mr. Koenecke:

"I know it when I see it" wasn't "Black's famous dictum"; it was Potter Stewart's. (And it wasn't even dictum; it was, for justice Stewart, the ratio decidendi. Fortunately, Justice Stewart was only rendering a concurring opinion, not the opinion of the court; otherwise, we'd have to call on Justice Stewart every time we needed to make a determination of whether something was obscene.)

Justice Black famously didn't think it was necessary to come up with *any* legal definition of obscenity, because he thought that, obscene or not, it was protected by the First Amendment.

eCurious

Mark Shea, you wrote "As to my reply to eCurious. Sorry but those are the choices, logically speaking. The claim that I have never offered a definition of torture is simply false."

Kindly point out to me where in ANY of my comments on this page I have EVER said, "Mark Shea hasn't/won't offer a definition of torture."

What I said, and it wasn't even addressed to you, was "The refusal to discuss a definition of torture is exactly why I can't read Mark Shea's blog on this topic anymore." The word "discuss" is key here (as opposed to the word "lecture"). In other words, when readers on your blog enter the "torture comboxes" and start to ask specifics about what might/might not constitute torture under certain hypothetical circumstances, you generally enter the combox yourself in order to tell the people who want to discuss the boundaries and limits of the concept of torture that they are merely looking for loopholes, that they want a definition so they can tiptoe right up to the edge of it, that *everyone* knows what torture is and it's disingenuous to pretend otherwise, and we're all a bunch of waterboard lovin' Bush apologists. Then you start banning people. Perhaps you haven't noticed, but that sort of thing has a chilling effect on free speech--which is why I was eager to enter into an actual discussion of the idea that torture does need a clear legal and moral definition here on this blog.

(BTW, I'm a woman.)

eCurious

Several people here have raised some excellent points which have added to my understanding of the issue. I am beginning to believe that we need specific definitions not only of torture, but of prisoner abuse as well, because it seems to me that much of the bad treatment which right now gets lumped under the "torture" umbrella is actually abuse. This is because the treatment does not cause severe pain (mental or physical) or lasting damage, but instead is designed to render the prisoner uncomfortable and to cause humiliation of a lesser order than the degradation one would see as torture. I would be interested in what others might think about the need for a distinction between torture and abuse (both of which are immoral, of course).

Seamus

it seems to me that much of the bad treatment which right now gets lumped under the "torture" umbrella is actually abuse

Somehow, reading me immediately put me in mind of this colloquy:

Q: WHAT DO YOU WANT?
M: Well, I was told outside that...
Q: Don't give me that, you snotty-faced heap of parrot droppings!
M: What?
Q: Shut your festering gob, you tit! Your type really makes me puke, you vacuous, coffee-nosed, maloderous, pervert!!!
M: Look, I CAME HERE FOR AN ARGUMENT, I'm not going to just stand...!!
Q: OH, oh I'm sorry, but this is abuse.
M: Oh, I see, well, that explains it.
Q: Ah yes, you want room 12A, Just along the corridor.
M: Oh, Thank you very much. Sorry.
Q: Not at all.
M: Thank You.
(Under his breath) Stupid git!!

Mike Koenecke

Seamus: You're right, of course. I should have looked it up.

eCurious: That's an excellent point. There is a distinction between interrogation techniques (used to obtain information) and abuse (unrelated to a particular goal). There are things which, although not objectively evil and permissible in interrogation, might *still* be abusive and things we do not want to condone.

Everything is not shades of gray: some things are indeed black (objectively evil) and white (objectively good). But neither is everything clearly differentiatable into black and white.

Tim M.

Tim J -

I, too, would love to see these charged as war criminals and put in prison... the problem is that the Bush Administration continues playing legal twister and sees itself justified in not needing to formally charge prisoners.

This has led to people pulled off of streets around the world (and "battlefields") and sent to Guantanamo Bay or secret CIA prisons and held without charge for years on end.

second -

I have read and studied much about the (now ex-)Soviet Union in preparing for / working as a missionary in Eastern Europe. It is amazing how similar the Bush Administration sounds like the old Kremlin line: The Soviet Union did not torture anyone, but they insisted on the right to imprison and interrogate people.

again, if you were interrogated in the Gulags for years on end you may want to call "interrogation" is "torture".

but when you deal in semantics and those in power change language meanings, it is still true that "a rose is a rose is a rose by any other name"

ask Alexander Solzhenitsyn what "torture" is and I am sure he could give you a definition.

steve

is a "ticking time bomb" kind of like "a mushroom cloud smoking gun"?

Mark P. Shea

Kindly point out to me where in ANY of my comments on this page I have EVER said, "Mark Shea hasn't/won't offer a definition of torture."

What I said, and it wasn't even addressed to you, was "The refusal to discuss a definition of torture is exactly why I can't read Mark Shea's blog on this topic anymore."

And they say this discussion is dominated by semantic quibblers.

Gae Shae

2 Timothy, chapter 2:22-26

22: So shun youthful passions and aim at righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call upon the Lord from a pure heart.

23: Have nothing to do with stupid, senseless controversies; you know that they breed quarrels.

24: And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to every one, an apt teacher, forbearing,

25: correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant that they will repent and come to know the truth

26: and they may escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.

John

"And they say this discussion is dominated by semantic quibblers."

Now that really added to the discussion ... and we are still waiting for you to address the issues raised by Dave Armstrong.

John

eCurious

Mr. Shea:

At least twice so far you quoted my words and then INTERPRETED them to mean that I thought you'd never graced the world with your definition of torture.

You even said in reference to my words, "Concerning the STATEMENT OF FACT that I have not provided any definitions, you are either completely ignorant (perhaps due to your refusal to read my blog) or a liar."

When, to correct the record, I pointed out what I actually said and explained what it meant, you sneered about "semantic quibblers."

Sir, you can offer all the definitions you want regarding torture. I think they're deficient in that they don't go far enough to ensure that people don't try to take advantage of gray areas. You have made it abundantly clear that you aren't interested in discussing the issue with people like me. You appear only to be interested in pontificating about the issue, and then ripping to shreds anyone who doesn't parrot back to you exactly what you've said. I had enough of that in college, frankly.

Mark P. Shea

eCurious:

One of the most persistent charges I have had to put up with from the League of Perpetually Puzzled About Torture is the constant claim that I "won't define what I mean by torture". You chose to number yourself among these people by stating "The refusal to discuss a definition of torture is exactly why I can't read Mark Shea's blog on this topic anymore." If you wanted to distance yourself from this bogus claim there were lots of far less misleading ways to do it. If you want to play the game of saying you did not mean to charge me with "refusal" to define torture, you can. Just don't expect me to take it seriously. The simple fact is, I have done so--three times. The fact that the League of the Perpetually Puzzled finds it impossible to accept any definition is really not my problem anymore.

As I've made clear. The whole "define torture" schtick is largely a waste of time because the command of the Church does not stop at "Don't torture". It takes the form of a positive command: "Treat prisoners humanely." In a country where the state is, in fact, torturing people (using techniques that include, but are not limited to waterboarding, cold cells (from which prisoners have died), and Palestinian hanging), the spectacle of conservative Catholics straining at the gnat of just what exactly, precisely, technically is torture while swallowing the camel of *ignoring* Veritatis Splendor 80 and related teachings is as tragic as the spectacle of liberal Catholics poring over loopholes in St. Thomas about "ensoulment at 40 days" in order to justify a committment to abortion rights.

francis 03

I agree with Gae Shae. When a debate can't be carried on without using language like "liar" and "sneered," at least one party doesn't deserve to be in the conversation. I'll bet money that there are dozens of people every year who decide not to be Christian or Catholic because they witness petty exchanges like this one.

Shame on us.

eCurious

Mark, are you seriously convicting me of guilt by association? Do you really believe, despite my REPEATED posts on this blog, that all I want is to excuse harming prisoners, so I want to come up with some twisted definition of torture that will excuse whatever "my guys" are doing?

Let me make this clear. I abhor torture. I abhor treating prisoners abusively or inhumanely--and I think that EACH of these things, torture, abuse, and inhumanity, are separate concepts both in moral terms and in the law. They are all very wrong, very bad things which should be outlawed and stopped. But how, exactly, do you expect these things to be stopped if we don't define them in a specific, precise and legal way? It's all very well to say, we must treat prisoners humanely, period, no further questions. But if a prisoner claims bad treatment, it seems to me that it would be crucial not only to determine if he was treated badly, but also if the bad treatment was inhumane, abusive, or actual torture.

Someone above mentioned an incident involving a charge of sexual harassment. Governments agencies, companies, private organizations and the like have spent thousands of hours and dollars coming up with very precise definitions of what constitutes sexual harassment for their internal policy handbooks. Did they all do this so their employees could get away with everything just short of actual harassment, or is it just possible that these sort of definitions serve a valid and even noble purpose?

eCurious

francis 03, I apologize for "sneered." I am a bit infuriated by Mark Shea right now, particularly by the way he seems to be determined to convict me of acting in bad faith here. But you are right; I had an obligation to avoid loaded language which I failed to achieve. Thank you for reminding me.

bill912

"As I've made clear." Maybe I'm extra dense tonight, but I see vagueness, not clarity.

David B.

"the spectacle of conservative Catholics straining at the gnat of just what exactly, precisely, technically is torture while swallowing the camel of *ignoring* Veritatis Splendor 80 and related teachings is as tragic as the spectacle of liberal Catholics poring over loopholes in St. Thomas about "ensoulment at 40 days" in order to justify a committment to abortion rights."

I don't think it's AS tragic, because torture, while evil, isn't as bad as abortion. It's best to avoid equating the two.

Mike Koenecke

eCurious, give up. To Mr. Shea, we are all just torture apologists; to ask for any more specific direction beyond "God commands us to be nice to everyone all the time" is the work of Satan.

Mark

Here's how I define torture: Torture is the deliberate and malicious withholding of details from just authorities about immanent attacks upon innocent human targets which could be used to prevent those attacks.

Mary Kay

Coming in late to this discussion, what impresses me most is that it has generated more heat than light.

This is a topic that I want to think through more thoroughly, but that does not equate to "looking for loopholes."

I looked to what the Church teaches about taking a life, intrinsically wrong, "thou shalt not kill." Abortion is considered under varying circumstances, but is held to always be intrinsically wrong. An adult killing another adult (for the sake of simplicity), is wrong but there is the exception of legitimate defense.

It's a complex topic with a lot of layers. I had looked at the Catechism for now, but will re-read Veritatis Splendor.

Many of the comments on this thread echo the June 2004 thread.

Christopher Fotos

Mark, are you seriously convicting me of guilt by association? Do you really believe, despite my REPEATED posts on this blog, that all I want is to excuse harming prisoners, so I want to come up with some twisted definition of torture that will excuse whatever "my guys" are doing?

Well, that's what Mark Shea does. It is not enough for him to notice you disagree. Most often on the subject it makes you an apologist for Satan, or a torture apologist, etc. etc. Unless by good fortune you happen to be personally liked by Mark, in which case the same positions held by Apologists for Satan are mildly remarked upon or passed over silently.

It doesn't matter what your repeated posts are. Mark has mind-reading abilities. He read Michael Ledeen's mind as saying "kill unarmed terrorist prisoners on the battlefield" when he actualy said "I don't know what I'd order my solidiers to do." He read my mind to mean "I want to ignore what the Church is teaching" and "I don't bloody care what the Church says" when I said and meant no such thing. In this very thread, per the custom, he chastises people for "ignoring Veritatis Splendor" when they have done no such thing. They have rather voluminously tried to harmonize what Veritatis Splendor and Gaudiem et Spes say on the one hand with what other documents and a heckuva lot more Catholic history and practice say on the other. That these evidently competing interpretations need to be harmonized is a classic Catholic project; "the last encyclical wins" is not our technique. And thank goodness, on a variety of fronts, one tangential example being Veritatis Splendor's condemnation of "deportation," a common and entirely legitimate practice (Jeff notes this citation above).

Everyone interested in the subject, regardless of what they sincerely believe, would benefit from reading Fr. Brian Harrison's two-part article, Part one here and Part two here. I find the second part particularly on-point as far as Catholic tradition and the magisterium are concerned. Fr. Harrison is a professor of theology at the Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico, and while Catholic history certainly does not rule out the possibility that such a figure is an apologist for Satan, let us pray this is not the case.

Michael

Guilt certainly CAN be knowable to a moral certainty, or we could never morally send anyone to prison.

Nice to avoid all my points about legal due process being involved in a legitimate conviction to create a level of moral certainty. What is claimed by the torturer is that he knows intuitively that the prisoner he is causing to suffer and either fear for his life or hope for the end of it is either guilty of something or knows something that can be extracted under duress. There is no legitimate certainty that this is true. Of course you are also asserting that the torturer is not a moral degenerate who happens to enjoy the very sadism of it. History, even the most recent sort, teaches otherwise.

francis 03

Michael, I don't think anybody here is arguing that torture would be morally acceptable if you didn't have some minimum "level of moral certainty" as to the guilt or knowledge of people being tortured. The question that's being discussed is, assuming we have that certainty, what sorts of interrogation techniques are and aren't immoral?

The issues of what LEVEL of moral certainty is required for different kinds of techniques, and of how to most effectively acquire those levels of certainty (whether by American due process or otherwise) are fascinating, but they don't seem to me to be under disucssion here.

Michael

The question that's being discussed is, assuming we have that certainty, what sorts of interrogation techniques are and aren't immoral?

Assuming you were God, you could do whatever you want. We are however, fallible and fallen humanity. There is no moral certainty and there are no saints who torture. If you want to reduce this to an entirely theoretical and academic exercise, what is the point of the discussion? Maybe you should simply examine yourself. What level of damage could you do to someone and not have it affect you? Or maybe we should just pose the question as, "Who would Jesus torture?"

Justin

"Who would Jesus torture?"

And making a whip of cords, he drove them all, with the sheep and oxen, out of the temple; and he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables.

Mary Kay

Michael, methinks that in religion, you are Protestant (WWJD) and in politics, hold a "liberal" view. Correct me if I'm wrong about either.

Jesus allowed others to crucify him for a reason. However, we are not expected to let aggressors wantonly destroy us. It is morally acceptable to defend oneself, defend one's family, defend one's country.

To momentarily step outside that topic, you have twice mentioned either legal due process or jury of peers, a viewpoint that I've read only in liberal media. However, the context is war. It is in the context of war that the topic of torture is being discussed.

Tim J.

Here is another aspect of the discussion that I have not seen addressed much in regard to Christians and violence.

The biblical calls to forego violence and even legitimate self defense for a higher goal seem to apply to the individual, but when one is in a position (like the presidency) where one has taken an oath to protect the lives and property of others or is duty bound to do so (like a father), then the use of violence takes on a different dimension.

If I feel called to, I can absolutely renounce the use of violence in obedience to Christ, but wouldn't doing so rather disqualify me from taking the oath of office of President of the US?

In other words, turning the other cheek individually is fine and laudable, but it's no way to make public policy. The proper response to 9/11 isn't to offer to let the terrorists hit Los Angeles, too.

If I am in a position of having sworn an oath to protect people, I have to be open to using whatever moral means I can to accomplish this. That is another reason why this discussion IS important.

Torture is out, but what is the difference between aggressive interrogation, coercion and torture? I know what I think the differences are, but it does depend on the situation. We also can't allow the same techniques that might be approved in a "ticking bomb" scenario to be used on ordinary prisoners as a matter of course.

Truthfully, though, I'm not too concerned about becoming like our enemies, or becoming like Nazi Germany... I don't believe you will find any record of public debate on the issue of the treatment of prisoners in those countries.

Much as some might disagree, the U.S. is not anything even remotely comparable to a totalitarian state, the free press is alive and well, and the torture debate illustrates this as well as anything.

franics 03

Michael, you summarily state that moral certainty is impossible (at least with regard to torture). Of course, if this is true then our discussion here is entirely academic. But so far you haven't really made an argument-- you've just stated your conclusions and then informed us that those conclusions moot our entire discussion. Until you give us some reasons to back up those conclusions, people will probably continued "avoid"ing them, as you characterized it above.

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