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« Defining Torture: Two Parameters | Main | Defining Torture: Proposing A Definition »

November 27, 2006


Tim J.

"Robust and satisfying..."

That reminds me, the coffee is finished brewing... time for a cup, while I wait for the next post.

Good stuff, Jimmy.


Very interesting analysis. A couple thoughts:

I wonder about the way you use the word "pain". The inclusion of both physical and mental pain makes sense, but mental pain seems to be so broad as to contradict our common sense understanding of pain.

If I give someone information which will cause him to feel fear, am I inflicting pain on him? Most, I imagine, would say no. So I am wondering about the example of the police officers telling a suspect what kind of punishment he can expect as an instance of causing pain.

That example concerns me for another reason: to what extent are the police the cause of the fear? It seems prima facie that they are the cause, for had they not told him, he would not feel fear (or, at least, as much fear as he does after being told).

Yet the objective information which they give him, about the punishments to expect for certain crimes within our justice system, would seem like a more likely candidate for a per se cause of the fear, whereas the police are the cause of his coming to know that information (a per accidens cause).

This is, I think, an important distinction. If the king has seven brothers killed in front of their mother, the king would be the cause of her grief. But if her sons are killed in battle, and a soldier comes to deliver the message that they have died, the messenger could be called a cause of her grief; but the more important cause of her grief is the death of her sons.

Any thoughts?


Further to that: the word "cause" is one I introduced; Jimmy uses "inflicted". I used the word cause because I find it more helpful in discussions of different ways in which pain can be said to be "inflicted".


Dave: maybe a helpful word is "choose". When we engage in (licit or illicit) punishment or discipline, we are choosing to make a helpless captive suffer. (I've explained on my own blog what I think the difference is between licit punishment/discipline and illicit infliction of suffering; torture being a proper subset of the latter). The messenger doesn't choose the suffering of the bereaved mother in the same sense that the father chooses the suffering of the paddled child (though both acts can at least in principle be licit).

I think to get to the bottom of this we have to understand how and when it is licit for a competent authority to choose to make a helpless captive suffer. And I think that one criteria which makes it definitely not licit (there are no doubt others) is when the captive is treated as nothing but a means to some end.

I think this makes people uncomfortable, because most people want there to be an at least limited moral license to choose to treat other human beings, in certain circumstances, as nothing but a means to some end. I think that is wrong though. I don't think it is ever morally permissable to treat another human being as nothing but a means to some end.

Julianne Wiley

Jimmy Akin, I want to thank you for undertaking this important work of defining torture. I've been looking for a long time for such intelligent discussion. I appreciate that you and your combox colleagues are handling it with precision and without unnecessary accuatory passion ("You're a self-righteous moral exhibitionist!" vs. "You're a slack casuist and a moral retard!") --- which pops up all too quickly in some discussions.

Again, thank you. I will be reading carefully.



I had a terribly interesting evening last night when I happened to learn just how awful a person Jimmy Akin really was.

I encountered the following comments concerning Jimmy Akin in Mark Shea’s blog:

At this juncture, it is customary to complain about my unfairness and mischaracterization of the position of people like Jeff and the Coalition for Fog. "We're *not* defending torture!" goes the protest. We are defending, er, aggressive interrogation. Totally different! Maybe, however, in this case what is being defended are acts which *would* be called torture if the circumstances were not desperate. For that is precisely what Jimmy argues for when he says, "I would not say that it [waterboarding] is torture if it is being used in a ticking time bomb scenario and there is no other, less painful way to save lives (it is proportionate since there is not a better solution)."

The logic of the argument is entirely understandable and even emotionally appealing. Some weirdo has kidnapped your kid and buried him alive in a box. He won't talk. Why not use torture to make him talk? You can hardly fault the parent who would beat the living daylights out of the guy. As a parent myself, I am not immune to the persuasiveness of such arguments.

Nonetheless, I agree with Zippy that Jimmy's argument is a bad one, both for Zippy's reasons and reasons of my own. If an act is intrinsically evil, then it does not become proportional and just when circumstances change.

Okay, from this, had I not read Jimmy’s entire post on his website, by the way he’s painted here, that Jimmy is actually for the torture of terrorists, but the other following comments happen to paint an even darker picture of him:

Another problem with Jimmy's argument is that it seems to me to be extremely subjective. How, precisely, is proportionalism to be determined? If it's proportional to torture at all, then how do you measure the proportion? Waterboarding if 100 lives are at stake? Pliers to the testicles for 200? Blowtorch to the eyes for 1000? If a city is endangered, then in what sense can we be "proportional"? How can the suffering of one man *ever* match the suffering of a million? And since those millions have families, why not threaten the family of the suspect? Indeed, why stop with waterboarding when you can gouge eyes, castrate and pull fingernails and not even come close to the suffering your (assumed) terrorist will inflict (assuming he knows something, which you are torturing him to discover). Of course, if it turns out your suspect knows nothing, then what? It turns out you have committed an intrinsically immoral act against an innocent man and you could well go to hell for it.

And yet, here in cyberspace, no small effort, ranging from the Coalition for Fog, to Against the Grain, to (now) Jimmy's blog has been put into figuring out some way to redefine it so that it's not torture, or shout down those who oppose it as "Pharisees" or otherwise figure out a way to overlook the bleedin' obvious in favor of the highly abstract and hypothetical. Virtually *no* effort has gone in to pursuing the question, "How do we treat prisoners humanely while still getting the intelligence we need?".

So, here, it seems that Jimmy Akin is nothing more than a heartless hypocrite who lives to Catholic morals when it suits him, but, under certain desperate circumstances, Jimmy’s the kind of horrible person who would actually abandon his morals, his very Catholic identity – no wait, he’s more sinister than that! – Jimmy would redefine Catholicism itself in order to weave arguments that would actually suit his vengeful purpose in such circumstances!

What’s interesting to note is that my post happen to come up as well:

Of course, Zippy couldn't care less that even if the hundreds of innocent victims of the 9/11 attacks could have been saved by the simple capture and rigid interrogation of terrorist(s) prior to the time of the attacks, the life of that terrorist is far more precious than those innocent people and shouldn't even undergo a smidgen of psychological interrogation tactics since even these are considered "torture".

See, it's so easy when folks can simply reflect such issues in an ivory tower, with an "holier-than-thou" attitude, looking down from an almighty throne on those who should even dare cross what they've declared to be the moral threshold, without even being in the actual trenches.

Yet, there are those of us who suffered greatly from the tragic events of 9/11 and have, in fact, lost people close to us.

To actually witness folks giving such "preferred" treatment to terrorists, of all things (even ordinary criminals aren't treated with such esteem and have to undergo a barrage of even the most rigid psychological tests), even at the cost of innocent lives, is just too repulsive.

Not to wish any harm on such folks, but it seems that the only way they could ever feel the pain of the tragic events of 9/11, is to suffer personal lost themselves. It's sometimes about walking in someone else's shoes until they come to terms with the other perspective.

In point of cool, rational fact much of this outburst has nothing to do with anything Zippy has ever said, or anything any opponent of torture has said. It has nothing to do with the reality of torture opponents. It has to do with pain and fear--pain and fear I readily acknowledge. But the fact remains, torture would not have stopped 9/11, except on "24". Zippy is not the heartless bastard this commenter declares and he certainly does not think a terrorist's life is *more* precious than an innocent man's. He simply does not think a terrorist's life is worthless. And he emphatically does not think Caesar will keep us safe by being granted the power to commit intrinsically immoral acts against those Caesar deems to be enemies. In this, at the end of the day, he has Veritatis Splendor to back him up

From what’s said here, I am made to appear as if I, myself, actually endorse torture – after all, I did know people who died on 9/11, and, therefore, I, myself, must be harboring some vengeful feelings toward such people! Yet, in fact, in much of the things I’ve said in other posts, I have made it clear that I do not endorse the actual torture of these terrorists, but that it *seemed* to me that there are those who would not even have these people go through even the same rigid interrogation tactics common criminals undergo since even this is considered "TORTURE" in their eyes – a point that would've been reached by readers actually interested in the truth had it not just been the *isolated* quote above.

Although, what had been said?

...*torture* would not have stopped 9/11, except on "24".

If there was any misunderstanding on my part, wouldn’t Christian charity have been for them to simply clarify my misunderstanding? Further, perhaps to even clarify Jimmy’s misunderstanding, if there was actually any on his part as well? Or perhaps even actually dialogue with Jimmy should there even be (God forbid!) a misunderstanding on *their* part, too!

Instead, what was done was folks (fellow Catholics-those who actually profess such high Catholic ideals!) actually engaged in vicious back-stabbing rather than confront their assumed opponents and deal with this misunderstanding.

I would've expected such devoted Catholics to have done what Christian charity would have called for in this case!

Was there perhaps some trace of intellectual pride and the "high and mighty ways" on their end that may have played a part?

It is said in the Prayer of St. Francis:

"O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as *to understand*..."

But, I guess that's all thrown out the window should such a noble cause arise!

Interestingly enough, isn't that what's being implied here about Jimmy? That he would actually throw out his Catholic morals for the *noble cause* of saving the lives of innocents from terrorists?

Though, those who actually know the full story, this is not the case at all!

Love Thy Enemies except if they are fellow Catholics and appear to oppose you.
Treat terrorists with human dignity because they’re in the image of God, but I guess this doesn’t apply to fellow Catholics.

Condemning innocent men? Well, suspected terrorists may end up being innocent people certainly, but those suspected to be against you, no way! In fact, when duty calls for it, engage in character assassinations by all means!

So, thank you Mark Shea et al, for confirming what some may have suspected all along, that this “Love Thy Enemies” routine might end up being all an act to flaunt that “Holier-than-Thou” attitude that some feel the need to pull over their fellow Catholics in such an underhanded way!

Could there be an ulterior political motive in this as well?

I would not have gone ahead and posted the preceding message, but, obviously, Jimmy being the stand-up person that he is, I don’t think he would have retaliated the least on his blog since he actually *lives out* his Catholic beliefs rather than merely *leave it to words*.

I wished that in some cases, I could be the same kind of person, but I am still a “work-in-progress” (so-to-speak), entirely fallible and but human and can only rely on God’s mercy and goodness. In the end, I can only pray he guides me to do the right thing in life and that I can ultimately live out the Catholic Faith in all aspects of life.

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