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“It’s just so obvious!”: The case of torture

In the combox to his recent post on waterboarding, Zippy writes:

That what we actually did to prisoners was immoral torture, yes, is just so obvious.

I assume that “what we actually did to prisoners” refers specifically to waterboarding the likes of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and that this in Zippy’s view would have been “immoral torture” even if it happened only once. If that is what Zippy meant, then I don’t think this claim is “obvious” at all. It might well be true. But it isn’t obviously true.

Of course, there are things that should be obvious that aren’t to some people. To most people it’s obvious that material objects exist. But get your head full of Idealist philosophy and it will stop seeming obvious; indeed, it might in that case start seeming obvious to you that material objects don’t exist. So, perhaps Zippy would say that waterboarding KSM can fail to seem obviously like “immoral torture” only to someone who’s got his head full of some bad moral theory.

Well, my own thinking about morality is guided by (1) orthodox Roman Catholic moral theology, i.e. the kind which is loyal to the Magisterium of the Church, and (2) classical natural law theory. In other words, it is guided by the same things that guide Zippy. (At least, I know he is guided by (1). I assume he is guided by (2) as well, rather than, say, the “new natural law theory.” Otherwise I doubt we’d agree 90% of the time, as we seem to!) Yet in this case, what is “obvious” to him is not obvious to me.

Is it, then, some desperate desire on my part to justify American foreign policy that keeps me from seeing the obvious? Am I too blinded by “neocon” propaganda to believe what my own eyes and ears should be telling me? Not likely, given that I agree with Zippy that the usual “neocon” arguments marshaled in defense of waterboarding and the like are no good, at least not as they stand. For example, it’s no good simply to say that “Waterboarding KSM allowed us to prevent such-and-such a terrorist attack.” Even if this is true, it would be irrelevant if waterboarding is intrinsically immoral. We may not do evil that good may come. So, anyone who wants to defend waterboarding has to establish that it is a morally acceptable means of acquiring information in the first place, before he can appeal to the value of some piece of information allegedly acquired by means of its use. Nor is it any good to argue that if firebombing Dresden and dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were morally justifiable, so too must waterboarding be morally justifiable. For the former acts were not morally justifiable, but gravely immoral, even though they were carried out in the course of a just war.

Why, then, do Zippy and I not agree in the case at hand about what is “obvious”? I’m not sure. For my part, all I can say is that it is precisely my own commitment to Catholic moral theology and classical natural law theory that leads me to think the claim in question is not “obviously” true, whether or not it is true full stop. And no, I am not trying to play the “More loyal than thou to the Magisterium” card against Zippy here. Not for a minute. Partly because the suggestion that Zippy is anything less than completely loyal to the Magisterium is absurd – indeed, obviously absurd, if I may say so. And partly because there are already enough blowhards in the Catholic blogosphere playing that card against their fellow orthodox Catholics. I don’t want to join their ranks. The point is rather that, as far as I can tell, what Catholic tradition and classical natural law theory have actually said about torture, corporal punishment, and related matters make it anything but obvious that waterboarding KSM was immoral. Apparently Zippy reads the evidence very differently. If so, I’m sure he’ll let me know why.

Again, my claim is not that Catholic tradition and/or classical natural law theory don’t entail that the act in question – waterboarding a known terrorist like KSM (even just once) so as to extract potentially life-saving information – is in fact immoral, all things considered. It might well be immoral, but whether or not it is is a question I’m not going to try to settle here. My claim is that this particular issue is a complex one, so that it takes some work to discern what the correct view is. The right answer doesn’t just “scream off the page” to the honest inquirer doing a cursory examination. So, the fact that some Catholics who are otherwise clearly orthodox happen to disagree on this particular issue should not be as surprising as some people seem to think it is. Neither side can justifiably claim that its position is so “obvious” that the other side’s disagreement with it is a mark of irrationality or moral corruption. Hence the odium theologicum which has so often attended discussions of this matter is not justifiable. (I do not say that polemics are never justifiable; my longtime readers, indeed even my shorttime readers, know that I think polemics are called for in some contexts. Just not in this context.)

Here’s a consideration from classical natural law theory that shows that waterboarding the likes of KSM to get the information in question was not obviously wrong. We know from classical natural law theory that capital punishment is at least in principle justifiable as a matter of retributive justice. But in that case (as Aquinas concludes) the lesser punishment of inflicting severe pain must also be justifiable at least in principle. So, given that he is known to be guilty of serious wrongdoing (mass murder, no less) the severity of the punishment meted out to KSM cannot by itself be sufficient grounds for objecting to waterboarding him. What about the motive, namely extracting information? Is it a legitimate one? Well, we know that there are cases where someone can merit a stiff penalty for failing to provide certain information. If you’re a property owner who fails to disclose to a prospective buyer the presence of some hazardous substance, you may have to pay a hefty fine. Now KSM, who was involved in planning further terrorist attacks, surely owed his potential victims information about those attacks. Thus he merited a severe penalty for failure to provide this information. And given that the potential harm that might ensue from failing to provide that information was far greater than the harm that might ensue from a property owner’s failing to disclose the presence of lead paint (or whatever), the penalty merited by KSM for non-disclosure would have to be far more severe than that merited by a dishonest property owner. Indeed, since the harm would be the deaths of possibly thousands of people, it is hardly absurd to suppose that he might merit some sort of corporal punishment for failing to disclose the information in question. Add to this the consideration that he already merits such punishment anyway for his past crimes, and it becomes fairly plausible that waterboarding him for the purpose of extracting the information in question might be justifiable at least in principle.

Does this argument show that waterboarding him was in fact morally justifiable, at least in principle? I don’t know. But I do think it suffices to show that it was not obviously wrong to waterboard him, at least not from the point of view of classical natural law theory. The question is at least debatable.

[Side note: I realize that some people will claim that the Catholic Church has been moving away from the position that capital punishment is in principle justifiable as a matter of retributive justice – which claim, if true, might seem to pose a problem for my argument here, since I am a Catholic. But the claim is false. First of all, the Church has consistently taught that capital punishment is in principle justifiable, even if ill-advised in practice. No one denies this; in particular, no one denies that even John Paul II, widely thought to be the pope most hostile to capital punishment, taught this. But some do seem to think that John Paul II thought it justifiable even in principle only where necessary to “protect society,” and that retributive justice is irrelevant. This claim is also false. First of all, John Paul II explicitly taught that retributive justice is one of the aims of punishment in general. It follows from this that it is one of the aims of capital punishment in particular (even if not in his teaching a sufficient aim). Secondly, “protecting society” could not possibly be the sole consideration the pope thought relevant to capital punishment, unless you think John Paul II was a consequentialist, which he manifestly was not. He would never have claimed, for example, that killing people in general, even innocent ones, would be justifiable if this were necessary to “protect society.” The only reason it could possibly be legitimate even in theory to execute some dangerous criminal, then, is precisely because he is already guilty of some offense grave enough to merit such a punishment. Retributive justice is, and logically must be, as relevant to “current” Catholic teaching on capital punishment as it ever was. That John Paul II did not personally emphasize the retributive justice aspect on this or that occasion does not prove otherwise.

It is important to stress this, because some among those Catholics who hold that waterboarding the likes of KSM is intrinsically immoral do so on the basis of novel moral theories according to which capital punishment is also inherently immoral. But in order to believe that a Catholic can regard capital punishment as intrinsically immoral, you have to believe also that it is consistent with Catholic orthodoxy to hold that the Church has for 2,000 years been teaching grave moral error, and indeed that Scripture itself has done so. Instead, some theory Germain Grisez came up with 40 years ago has finally gotten things right, and stands poised to set the Church and Bible straight. Good luck with that.]

Now of course, everything said so far would become moot, at least from a Catholic point of view, if the Church has in fact taught that actions like the one in question are intrinsically immoral. So, has the Church actually taught this? Perhaps Zippy thinks it is obvious that the Church has done so. But here too, I don’t think this is obvious at all.

The reasons for thinking that it is not obvious are well stated in a two-part study of “Torture and Corporal Punishment as a Problem in Catholic Theology” by Fr. Brian Harrison (available here and here). Fr. Harrison’s articles are scholarly, detailed, non-polemical, and decidedly unfavorable to the use of severe corporal punishment as morally justifiable, in practice, in most cases. His survey of the evidence from Scripture, tradition, and the teachings of popes, church councils, saints, and approved theologians leads him to draw three general conclusions: First, the Church has clearly condemned as intrinsically unjust the infliction of severe corporal or psychological pain for the purposes of extracting confessions or frightening opponents, or carried out by persons without legal authority to do so. Second, the Church has not condemned as intrinsically unjust the infliction of severe bodily pain, by those with legal authority to do so, for the purpose of punishing those guilty of grave crimes, even though the Church has also taught that in practice such methods should not be used. Third, the moral legitimacy in principle of the infliction of severe pain for the specific purpose of extracting life-saving information from a known terrorist has neither been affirmed nor denied by the Church, but remains an open theological question.

While I have not myself come to a settled view about these issues, it seems to me that Fr. Harrison is right about this much, though I advise the interested reader to study the articles for himself and see what he thinks. I have not seen any serious rebuttal to Fr. Harrison, though I have seen some Catholics critical of waterboarding and the like unjustly dismiss the articles with what amounts to little more than a smart-ass remark or two. This will not do. Perhaps the most important point Fr. Harrison makes is that the justifiability at least in principle of severe corporal punishment is clearly taught in Scripture, which any Catholic must regard as infallible. To take only the most colorful example, the book of Sirach or Ecclesiasticus – regarded by Catholics as divinely inspired and thus part of the scriptural canon – clearly teaches the moral legitimacy in principle of punishment by “yoke and harness,” “the rack and torture,” and “clap[ping] in irons” (33:27-30), and even of “lashing a wicked slave till you draw blood” (42:5).

This is, in my view, the main theological reason why it is simply no good to insist that waterboarding is “obviously” torture and therefore “obviously” immoral. Yoke and harness, the rack, clapping someone in irons, and lashing someone until blood is drawn would also seem obviously to count as “torture” if waterboarding does. More to the point, torture itself – explicitly cited in Sirach as sometimes justifiable – would surely count as “torture”! And yet Scripture affirms the legitimacy in principle of these things, in which case they cannot “obviously” be wrong, at least not for any Catholic. By parity of reasoning, neither can waterboarding be “obviously” wrong. It might still be wrong all things considered – as yoke and harness, the rack, clapping someone in irons, and lashing all certainly would be wrong as means of punishing criminals under modern conditions – but it is not plausible to say that it is “just obvious” that it is wrong, so that anyone who doesn’t see that it is wrong must be irrational or morally corrupt.

This is also the main reason why it is incumbent on any Catholic critic of waterboarding to provide a careful definition of “torture,” and a careful explanation of the claim that “The Church condemns torture,” before he censures his fellow Catholics for daring even to inquire about whether the practice is morally justifiable. Whatever we mean by “torture,” and whatever we mean by claiming that “The Church condemns torture,” has to be consistent with Scripture and tradition, and in particular with the moral legitimacy at least in principle of severe corporal punishment. The appeal to purportedly “obvious” paradigm cases cannot possibly suffice, because such a strategy would equally justify condemning as intrinsically immoral practices the Church does not and cannot condemn as intrinsically immoral.

So let’s consider some possible definitions. Does “torture” mean “the intentional infliction of severe bodily or psychological harm”? If so, then for the reasons I have given, it is not open to the Catholic to say that “All torture is wrong” and condemn waterboarding on that basis. Does “torture” instead mean “the unjust intentional infliction of severe bodily or psychological harm”? In that case, the claim that “All torture is wrong” would be true by definition. But then it would simply beg the question to characterize waterboarding as torture in this sense, since what is at issue is precisely whether waterboarding is an unjust infliction of severe bodily and psychological harm.

Is a better definition possible? No doubt. (See here for some helpful thoughts on the topic from Jimmy Akin. It's the first of a four-part series of posts -- follow the links at the top of the page linked to for the rest.) But providing it will require significant intellectual effort and careful attention to the sorts of philosophical and theological considerations I’ve been referring to. It is hardly “obvious” what such a definition should cover, and it is unjust to accuse those who do not see it as obvious of being guilty of some moral or intellectual lapse. For the same reason, it is also unjust to accuse them of dissenting from Church teaching, to compare them to faithless “pro-choice” Catholics, or to dismiss their concerns as motivated by a desire to justify recent U.S. policy. Perhaps some Catholics are driven by such political motives. But some of us are motivated instead by a desire to do justice to Scripture and tradition, and to defend the Church against the charge – made by liberals and some radical traditionalists alike – that she has (in this case and others) arbitrarily changed her teaching so as to conform herself to the sensibilities of the modern world, a claim which if true would cast doubt upon her infallibility in matters of faith and morals. For some of us, it isn’t Bush’s War on Terror that matters most, but Benedict XVI’s Hermeneutic of Continuity.

Finally, in examining the question of whether Catholic teaching rules out waterboarding a known terrorist for the purposes of extracting life-saving information, we need to consider whether this case is more like the case of inflicting pain for the purposes of extracting a confession – which the Church has condemned as intrinsically unjust – or more like the case of inflicting severe pain for the purposes of punishing someone guilty of a heinous offense – which the Church has not and cannot regard as intrinsically unjust. I suspect that Catholic critics of waterboarding are assuming that it is more like the former case. But this is not at all obvious. As the natural law-based argument sketched out above indicates, waterboarding of the sort in question might plausibly be seen instead as the punishment of a grave injustice, namely the injustice of refusing to provide information that is owed to potential victims of terrorism as a matter of justice. In that case, the practice might plausibly be seen as analogous to the sort of severe corporal punishment that the Church does regard as legitimate at least in principle.

Is it legitimate in principle, then? And even if it is, is it allowable in practice? As I have said, I do not have a settled view on these questions. But they are serious questions, and those who raise them are not thereby guilty of being “dissenters” from Church teaching. The case is simply not at all analogous to that of abortion. Until the Church officially speaks on the matter, this is an area of legitimate theological disagreement. Or so it seems to me.

Anyway, appeals to what is “obvious” cut no ice in a debate between enemies. And sometimes not even in a debate between friends.

Comments (238)

Hi Edward, after reading[quickly], I want to say that I appreciate the views regarding the knotty tangled moral questions surrounding how we ought to reconcile torture acts. You've made a case I intend to consider fully since it seems to deal fairly with both camps[pro or con torture].

I'd like to ask you though, what does your understanding[Catholic understanding if I may] of Natural Law tell you about moral intuitions? Are they imprinted and/or just part of the imago dei? If so, is that imprint modified by reasonable apprehending and acknowledging of truth or suppression of truth? In the Natural Law scheme, do individuals have access to God's version of moral truth as they reason out how then they should live, or is the Church to be the dispenser of reasonable defense of truth claims regarding morality?

Does Augustine's Logos Doctrine play any role in moral intuition in your opinion?

What was this guy thinking?:

“Torture is not easy to define, but—as our U.S. Supreme Court stated regarding pornography—common sense usually knows torture when one sees it.” (Archbishop Edwin O’Brien of Baltimore, Md., speaking Oct. 13, 2007, to a Vatican-sponsored course for military ordinaries and chaplains in Rome)

He knows it when he sees it. It's just so obvious.

Indeed, it would appear the bishops disagree with you, given that their teaching on torture assumes waterboarding to be torture in the very first word introducing the topic on the USCCB website. It is also worth noting this:

The Church defines torture formally (i.e., what makes an action torture):

1. violation of human dignity in the form of
2. intentional mental and/or physical harm in order to
3. use a human person as a means (or instrument) for some producible end
4. against that person’s will.

Waterboarding (among other techniques) fills the bill. That's why Rome signed off on the UN Convention against Torture and that's why Pope Benedict reiterated that "The prohibition against torture ‘cannot be contravened under any circumstances’”

Note that the Church's instruction (particularly in the USCCB document) begins, not with "How close can we get to torturing somebody with it technically, precisely being, you know, torture?" but with the question of human dignity. That's actually the starting place for Catholics wishing to think with the Church, not "If you waterboard somebody three times is that 'enhanced interrogation' but if you do it 4 times, is that torture?" The sorites paradox, while a fun parlor game, seems to have little bearing on the Church's thinking here. The only place it seems to be used is in arguments for the legitimacy of the Bush program of prisoner abuse and torture.

Indeed,what the bishops urge us to do is eschew the tommyrot about "enhanced interrogation". Here, again, is what the American bishops are teaching us:

2. End the Use of Euphemisms for Torture

How important is it to label a reality accurately—to call it what it is? Some commentators believe that by avoiding the use of certain terms in discussions of disturbing social realities, we actually avoid dealing with these realities themselves.

The use of “sanitized” or “evasive” terminology and “skewed definitions” in discussions of the handling of prisoners in the current combat against terrorism has a way of keeping torture itself from coming into full view, the Torture Abolition and Survivor Support Coalition suggested, in a 2006 submission to the U.N. Committee Against Torture. TASSC called it “highly deceptive” for government officials to use such language.

Father Bryan Massingale, a Catholic moral theologian who teaches at Jesuit-run Marquette University in Milwaukee, also has called attention to the terminology sometimes used in discussions of major social realities, including torture. In a July 2007 speech to the Roundtable Association of Diocesan Social Action Directors, Father Massingale said, “Consider some contemporary euphemisms, that is, how we describe social reality in ways that disguise and misrepresent it to dull our awareness of injustice. We speak of ethnic cleansing instead of genocide; of gated communities instead of racially segregated neighborhoods; of neutralizing the enemy instead of killing; of downsizing instead of unemployment; of domestic surveillance instead of spying; of corporate restructuring instead of profit maximization; of enhanced interrogation techniques instead of torture.”

Enhanced interrogation techniques: This terminology, cited above by Father Massingale, undoubtedly represents the euphemism most frequently cited by commentators on the contemporary use of torture. And the second most frequently cited euphemism for torture is surely “the extraordinary rendition” of prisoners, meaning that the United States or its allies sends a prisoner into another nation’s custody for interrogation. Often, commentators point out, it is well known that these other nations practice torture.

But any terminology that waters down the reality of torture, or that masks its reality, may be a euphemism. Thus, “sleep management” might replace “sleep deprivation,” forcing prisoners to sit or stand in “stress positions” might mean forcing them to assume cruelly punishing postures for long periods.

Sometimes severe forms of interrogation are labeled “abuse,” rather than “torture”—apparently out of a sense that “abuse” somehow sounds less cruel. Some might say that a certain interrogation technique is “tantamount” to torture, as if to suggest that it is almost, but not quite, torture. And some commentators consider even the term “waterboarding” euphemistic—a term that they say does not fully call to mind the reality of a simulated drowning.


This, and not, "Gee, we're just not *sure* if 183 waterboarding constitutes so-called 'torture' is the actual guidance we are receiving from our shepherds.

So: *is* waterboarding somebody 183 times torture? According to our bishops and the broad consensus of international law (including the US until the Bush Administration decided that Geneva did not apply to us), the answer is "Yes". Pray, do not raise the red herring of Geneva not applying to "enemy combatants". The question is not "Who is covered by Geneva?" The question is, "Is it torture?" The answer is "Yes."

One can argue, as Charles Krauthammer does with refreshing frankness, that torture (not the euphemistic bunk "enhanced interrogation") is not only permissible, but a moral imperative in cases where life-saving information is desperately needed. Indeed, lots of people (huge numbers of them Catholic) do so. But judging from what the Pope and the bishops are saying above, such Catholics are either wittingly or unwittingly contradicting the actual teaching of the Magisterium. I doubt that, for the vast majority of Catholics, you could call the contradictions "dissent" since I doubt the vast majority of Catholics have the foggiest idea what the Church says. Catholic torture defenders, like Catholic abortion defenders, appear to get most of their views from non-magisterial sources such as friends, favorite pundits, family members and social networks. How Catholics who *are* familiar with magisterial guidance on the matter square the circle, I do not know.

First, the Church has clearly condemned as intrinsically unjust the infliction of severe corporal or psychological pain for the purposes of extracting confessions or frightening opponents, or carried out by persons without legal authority to do so.

In what world does waterboarding not cause severe pain intended to extract confessions?

Second, the Church has not condemned as intrinsically unjust the infliction of severe bodily pain, by those with legal authority to do so, for the purpose of punishing those guilty of grave crimes, even though the Church has also taught that in practice such methods should not be used.

If it is supposed to be punishment it should be handled as an adjudicated punishment instead of a conditional interrogation method.

Third, the moral legitimacy in principle of the infliction of severe pain for the specific purpose of extracting life-saving information from a known terrorist has neither been affirmed nor denied by the Church, but remains an open theological question.

I believe that even if this is the case, intense physical coercion like water torture is so incredibly vulnerable to corruption and abuse (infinite examples abound) that the Vatican decided to make it impossible in practice. Previously, you have admitted that things like indentured servitude could be legitimate in principle but are so full of moral hazard that as a practical matter it can never be done. Waterboarding is on the same scale.

Finally, in examining the question of whether Catholic teaching rules out waterboarding a known terrorist for the purposes of extracting life-saving information, we need to consider whether this case is more like the case of inflicting pain for the purposes of extracting a confession – which the Church has condemned as intrinsically unjust – or more like the case of inflicting severe pain for the purposes of punishing someone guilty of a heinous offense – which the Church has not and cannot regard as intrinsically unjust.

This is curious. You appear to be making precisely the opposite arguement as Fr. Brian Harrison (here and (here), who contrarily says that since the Catechism rules out torture to "punish the guilty" as intrinsically immoral but doesn't mention torture "to obtain information", it is possible (just barely) that torture to obtain information is not intrinsically immoral. That's why the standard argument I've heard from most Catholic defenders of torture (following him) is "We're not doing this to punish, but just to get vital intelligence."

At any rate it would appear to be the case that you are failing to distinguish between "torture" and "inflicting severe pain for the purposes of punishing someone guilty of a heinous offense" (say, "hanging"). The Church grants the power to execute (on an extremely limited basis). But the Church says that torture in intrinsically immoral and specifically notes that this includes torture inflicted "to punish the guilty". I suspect the distinction lies in the difference between retribution being meted to a person (hanging) and the reduction of the person to a mere instrumentality to some other end (torture). But I could be all wet on that.

So we are now left with two theologians, in direct contradiction to each other, both arguing against the normative teaching of the Church as articulated by both the Pope and the American bishops. One theologian says torture to punish the guilty is impermissible, but torture to obtain information *might* be permissibble. The other says torture to obtain information is impermissible, but there's still room for torture as punishment. Indeed, if I understand you correctly, even mutilation is permissible.

Meanwhile the Holy Father says that torture is impermissible and that the prohibition against torture may *never* be contravened. On the whole, it would appear that prudence suggests we obey the Holy Father's guidance, rather than the contradictory arguments being made by you and Fr. Harrison.

Ed, I've got the title for your next book:

Rack'em: The Story of Spain's Glorious Inquisition


(Just messin' with ya, Dr. Feser)

If it is supposed to be punishment it should be handled as an adjudicated punishment instead of a conditional interrogation method.

Just so. If we are proposing a return to abolition of jury trials in favor of waterboarding as the means to determine the facts of a person's guilt or innocence, then Dr. Feser needs to make this clear. Interrogations normally are done in the evidence gathering phase of police work. *Punishment* is supposed to be administered *after* the state has established the facts of the case. Otherwise, what tends to happen is that, even if it turns out the person you are torturing is innocent, they still wind up tortured (and sometimes dead) and then you have a big mess on your hands requiring lies, coverups, and the possible need to arrest, torture and murder family members and friends of the victim just to keep things safely under wraps. This is one of the reasons we invented "rule of law". The suggestion that we combine punishment with interrogation is the suggestion that quickest path to justice is to inaugurate a police state in which the interrogator is judge, jury, and executioner, subject only to the orders of his superiors.

"So we are now left with two theologians, in direct contradiction to each other, both arguing against the normative teaching of the Church as articulated by both the Pope and the American bishops."

I hate to split hairs here, but Mark are you saying that the Pope and the American bishops are teaching as the ordinary Magisterium?

I don't actually think hanging, properly administered, causes severe pain. It was, I've read, a point of pride for the hangmen of England and (more generally) the British Empire that they were "quick on the drop" and broke the criminal's neck immediately.

Golly, this post makes me glad that (as a Protestant) I don't have to accept the book of Sirach as Holy Writ... The rack, no less. :-)

Until the Church officially speaks on the matter, this is an area of legitimate theological disagreement.

This looks like the Church speaking to me:

“Torture is not easy to define, but—as our U.S. Supreme Court stated regarding pornography—common sense usually knows torture when one sees it.” (Archbishop Edwin O’Brien of Baltimore, Md., speaking Oct. 13, 2007, to a Vatican-sponsored course for military ordinaries and chaplains in Rome)

More specifically, the USCCB has this guidance for the faithful about attempts to redefine torture (including waterboarding) as "enhanced interrogation"

2. End the Use of Euphemisms for Torture

How important is it to label a reality accurately—to call it what it is? Some commentators believe that by avoiding the use of certain terms in discussions of disturbing social realities, we actually avoid dealing with these realities themselves.

The use of “sanitized” or “evasive” terminology and “skewed definitions” in discussions of the handling of prisoners in the current combat against terrorism has a way of keeping torture itself from coming into full view, the Torture Abolition and Survivor Support Coalition suggested, in a 2006 submission to the U.N. Committee Against Torture. TASSC called it “highly deceptive” for government officials to use such language.

Father Bryan Massingale, a Catholic moral theologian who teaches at Jesuit-run Marquette University in Milwaukee, also has called attention to the terminology sometimes used in discussions of major social realities, including torture. In a July 2007 speech to the Roundtable Association of Diocesan Social Action Directors, Father Massingale said, “Consider some contemporary euphemisms, that is, how we describe social reality in ways that disguise and misrepresent it to dull our awareness of injustice. We speak of ethnic cleansing instead of genocide; of gated communities instead of racially segregated neighborhoods; of neutralizing the enemy instead of killing; of downsizing instead of unemployment; of domestic surveillance instead of spying; of corporate restructuring instead of profit maximization; of enhanced interrogation techniques instead of torture.”

Enhanced interrogation techniques: This terminology, cited above by Father Massingale, undoubtedly represents the euphemism most frequently cited by commentators on the contemporary use of torture. And the second most frequently cited euphemism for torture is surely “the extraordinary rendition” of prisoners, meaning that the United States or its allies sends a prisoner into another nation’s custody for interrogation. Often, commentators point out, it is well known that these other nations practice torture.

But any terminology that waters down the reality of torture, or that masks its reality, may be a euphemism. Thus, “sleep management” might replace “sleep deprivation,” forcing prisoners to sit or stand in “stress positions” might mean forcing them to assume cruelly punishing postures for long periods.

Sometimes severe forms of interrogation are labeled “abuse,” rather than “torture”—apparently out of a sense that “abuse” somehow sounds less cruel. Some might say that a certain interrogation technique is “tantamount” to torture, as if to suggest that it is almost, but not quite, torture. And some commentators consider even the term “waterboarding” euphemistic—a term that they say does not fully call to mind the reality of a simulated drowning.

That said, the question "What is exactly and precisely torture?" will probably always be a matter of theological disagreement.

True, the UN Convention on Torture (to which Rome is a signatory) defines it as well as anybody with common sense could want. But there will always be those who are unable to figure out if waterboarding somebody 183 times is really torture. For some, it will always be (as Peg Noonan called it) "mysterious" whetherr compelling somebody to undergo simulated drowning 183 times for the express purpose of terrifying them into divulging information we *hope* they might have is torture. Some people will remain baffled even though the definition of torture the Church agrees to

1. violation of human dignity in the form of 2. intentional mental and/or physical harm in order to 3. use a human person as a means (or instrument) for some producible end 4. against that person’s will.

...quite obviously fills the bill in the case of waterboarding and many of the other tortures inflicted on priaoners. Still, some people will remain forever lost in murk about all that.

*Because* those people are lost in murk about that question, I think the best this you can do if you want to be safe is follow the guidance of Holy Church on that matter. The USCCB appears to have little doubt that waterboarding (along with the rest of the torture regime implemented by the Bush Administration) is torture. The Holy Father, judging by his comments, appears to agree. If you are not sure whether waterboarding is torture, then you should not support it, for reasons remarkably like you should not support abortion if you are not sure a fetus is a human being. If a Catholic who is murky about torture or abortion follows the Church's counsels, they won't have to worry about committing a grave sin.

Indeed, if they follow the Church's lead, they will not waste too much time asking "If I waterboard somebody four times, but not five, am I only doing 'enhanced interrogation' but not crossing the line into intrinsically immoral torture that will damn me to hell forever?" Instead, they will start where the Church urges us to start: with the dignity of the human person and how to respect that, even in our enemies--as Christ commanded.

The Church *is* speaking on this matter, as the link I provide makes clear. I trust that will come as a great relief.

Mark Shea,

You write:

But the Church says that torture in intrinsically immoral and specifically notes that this includes torture inflicted "to punish the guilty".

and

Meanwhile the Holy Father says that torture is impermissible and that the prohibition against torture may *never* be contravened.

You seem to me simply to be ignoring everything I said about why we need to get clear on what "torture" means before we can pull out these citations as if they were trump cards that should shut off all discussion. Would you say that the Church and the Holy Father are contradicting Scripture, since (as the citations I gave above show) it explicitly says that "torture" can be permissible in principle as a way of punishing the guilty? Presumably not; and neither would I. But how can they fail to be contradicting it? The answer is that they are evidently not using the word "torture" in exactly the same sense as that in which Scripture uses it. But in that case we need to work out exactly what is meant if we are properly to understand the force of the statements in question.

Re: the alleged differences between myself and Fr. Harrison, I did not say that the use of waterboarding to extract information was the same as punishing a criminal for a past offense, but that it was arguably analogous to doing so. Like any analogy, the analogy is not perfect. It may be that the analogy is strong enough to support the claim that waterboarding for such a purpose is as in principle legitimate as severe corporal punishment is, and that the differences between them merit the use in practice of waterboarding even though severe corporal punishment should not be used in practice. Or maybe such a line of argument could not ultimately be defended. As I've said, I don't have a settled view on this, but am merely trying to show that it is not as cut and dried as Zippy (and you) seem to think it is. Anyway, I don't see any conflict between what I have said on this specific issue and what Fr. Harrison says.

Also, Fr. Harrison does not assert that inflicting severe corporal punishment on a known terrorist as a means of extracting life-saving information is in fact permissible, barely or otherwise. And I did not say that either. Both of us have said only that it is an open theological question whether it is permissible. I would also say that torture is not permissible, given that the Magisterium is now clearly using the term "torture" to refer by definition to practices considered intrinscially immoral. The problem is that, for the reasons I have given, it is not clear now exactly what "torture" includes, since it cannot include everything that has historically (and in Scripture) been understood to count as torture. Jimmy Akin, in the posts I linked to, has helpful things to say about this and provides about as good a proposed definition as I've seen, which he argues does not rule out every possible use of practices like waterboarding. You may disagree with him (and me), but simply repeating that the Church condemns torture does not address the question at hand at all.

Mark Shea,

In response to your latest comment, yes, of course the terms in question are euphemistic. The trouble -- as Jimmy Akin points out in the posts I linked to -- is that the term "torture" now carries a normative connotation that it did not carry historically. That is to say, in the past the term was evidently used simply to refer to the infliction of severe bodily or psychological pain, in a way that was neutral regarding whether this is good or bad in any particular case. But now the language has changed to the point that the use of the term now carries the meaning, not simply of the infliction of severe corporal or psychological harm, but if the immoral infliction of such harm. The Church's recent use of the term has tracked this general linguistic shift.

It's no surprise, then, why terms like "enhanced interrogation techniques" have come to be used. It's not that those who defend them "really know" deep down that they are immoral and want to hide this fact by avoiding the use of the word "torture." It's rather that, while they know full well that they count as torture in the older sense of the term -- which connoted merely the infliction of pain -- they do not believe that they count as "torture" in the newer, normative sense which incorporates a negative moral judgment. To slide between these two uses, as so many do -- "X is a case of inflicting severe pain (torture in the older sense), therefore X is an immoral infliction of severe pain (torture in the newer sense)" -- is just to commit the fallacy of equivocation.

And as I keep saying, whatever we are going to say about torture, we'd better not say anything that contradicts Scripture. (And Lydia, it's not just Sirach that poses a problem here -- look at Fr. Harrison's articles for many other examples.) Since the bishop's statements you cite do not address how to square their condemnation of torture with Scripture, they do not solve the problem of definition at all. They just highlight the need to solve that problem. I think it can be solved. But solving it requires more than just repeatedly quoting this or that condemnation of "torture."

Brad,

Natural law theory does hold that we naturally tend to have certain moral intutions and sensibilities that at least very roughly correspond to some of our general moral obligations. But the connection is only rough. And it is not that the fact that we naturally tend to find something unpleasant or horrifying by itself shows that it is wrong; it is rather that the fact that it is wrong leads us to find it unpleasant or horrifying. So, natural law theorists don't argue on the basis of what emotional reactions we tend to have. Even in the best of circumstances our emotional reactions only very roughly approximate the moral facts; they usually get mixed in with emotional reactions that are only contingent and culturally based; and they are often overridden and even nullified by false opinions about morality that we come to accept through the course of our lives. Classical natural law theory's appeal to the natural ends of our various capacities is therefore not an appeal to our emotions.

I think Step2's right. The post's main flaw is to conflate torture with punishment.

He (the Pope) would never have claimed, for example, that killing people in general, even innocent ones, would be justifiable if this were necessary to “protect society.”

Nor would he say anything similar regarding torture.

Until the Church officially speaks on the matter, this is an area of legitimate theological disagreement.

Instead of Fr. Harrison, try this source, scroll down to #80, and tell me if you find some wanton ambiguity.

...it is incumbent on any Catholic critic of waterboarding to provide a careful definition of “torture,” and a careful explanation of the claim that “The Church condemns torture...”

As though we do not know it when we see it. Such urgings remind me of a comment Alex Pruss made at Zippy's long ago, where he described them as amounting to asking oneself a question: "How much can I torture him without actually torturing him?"

Since your view is "unsettled", I would assume you'd condemn the use of waterboarding until you've settled it. That would be the morally cautious, and commendable, course of action, would it not?

Step2,

In what world does waterboarding not cause severe pain intended to extract confessions?

The point of waterboarding is presumably not to get an answer to the question "Did you commit the crime? Yes or No?" Rather, it is supposedly used on people who are already known to be guilty of plotting some crime, and where the question asked is "Where is it going to happen? Who is involved?" etc. The moral difference would be that in the first case, you are hurting someone you don't know to be guilty, whereas in the second case, you're hurting someone you do know is guilty. They might both still turn out to be immoral all things considered, but not for the same reasons.

I believe that even if this is the case, intense physical coercion like water torture is so incredibly vulnerable to corruption and abuse (infinite examples abound) that the Vatican decided to make it impossible in practice. Previously, you have admitted that things like indentured servitude could be legitimate in principle but are so full of moral hazard that as a practical matter it can never be done. Waterboarding is on the same scale.

Maybe so. I think there is real force to that line of argument. My point is that the issue is by no means as "obvious" as Zippy and Mark Shea seem to think.

William Luse,

As I keep saying, unless you are prepared to accuse Scripture of advocating something inherently immoral, please do not fling around the term "torture" as if by itself it settles anything in the case at hand. (Lest anyone be tempted to distort what I am saying here, I am not saying that the term shouldn't be used or that the Church's statements on the matter which use the term should not be cited. Of course not. I am saying that, since the question at issue is precisely how to understand what these statements rule out and what they don't rule out, simply citing them, and simply condemning "torture," is not sufficient.)

Re: Veritatis Splendor, if you will trouble yourself actually to read what Fr. Harrison (or Jimmy Akin) have written, you will see that the problem is precisely how to interpret what VS says in light of what Scripture and tradition have said. Maybe your way of reading VS is spot on. And maybe not. But just linking to it doesn't settle anything.

As though we do not know it when we see it.

I suppose I can put you down as condemning Sirach then, since "you know when you see it" that lashes, the rack, etc. are intrinsically wrong. But wait, Sirach was divinely inspired. Oops!

Please, please people, get off your high horses and realize that some of us are motivated, as you are, by nothing other than the desire to defend the coherence of Catholic teaching.

Re: your last question, yes, I would say that a Catholic should not engage in these practices until such time as the Church has made it clear that they are allowable, if it should turn out that they are.

But given the difficulty of the issue, and in particular of how it is not at all obvious from natural law alone whether the practices in question are immoral, a Catholic should also refrain from comparing U.S. interrogators (especially non-Catholic ones) to abortionists, Nazis, gulag administrators, etc., and refrain also from the use of expressions like "Rubber Hose Right." Definitely criticize them if you think they are wrong, but don't pretend that the issue is as obvious as abortion, genocide, etc. are.

In what world does waterboarding not cause severe pain intended to extract confessions?


In the actual world.

It was employed to gain intelligence about terrorist plans to conduct massive and catastrophic attacks. It was not for reprisal, revenge, punishment, or to extract a confession of guilt. Those distinct reasons for resorting to the waterboard are not irrelevant to the moral evaluation of its use.

Let's assume for the sake of argument that it might be permissible to waterboard someone as punishment for a crime. And let's further assume (also for sake of argument) that withholding information about an impeding terrorist plot is something for which a person may be legitimately punished by the State. Isn't it obvious that this isn't what happened in the case of KSM? KSM wasn't charged or convicted with withholding information. He wasn't subject to any sort of adjudicative proceeding, wasn't sentenced to "thirty seconds of waterboarding," etc. Given that Zippy's claim was about what actually happened, rather than some hypothetical alternate scenario, I'm not sure that considering whether it would be obviously wrong to waterboard KSM in the circumstances you describe really gets you very far.

To put it another way: there is nothing wrong in principle with capital punishment. The state may execute someone who has engaged in heinous acts, such as murder. Now suppose that during the course of interrogating KSM, a CIA agent had pulled out a gun and blown KSM's brains out. Does the fact that capital punishment is legitimate in principle mean that this wouldn't be obviously wrong? Surely not.

Briefly:

I assume that “what we actually did to prisoners” refers specifically to waterboarding the likes of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and that this in Zippy’s view would have been “immoral torture” even if it happened only once.
No, what I meant by the specific comment to which you are referring is what we actually did, period, without any "even if we change it into a hypothetical" or "if we look at just this one case" modifiers. Waterboarding KSM five or 183 times (whichever it is; we executed Japanese officers for war crimes for waterboarding prisoners) is one example. The strappado interrogation of Manadel al Jamadi by CIA agent Mark Swanner, from which Jamadi died and ended up the "ice man" in the Abu Ghraib photos, is another. The unnamed captive who died of hypothermia after being doused with cold water and left out all night in Afghanistan by an unnamed CIA officer, as reported by CBS news, is yet another. And Maher Arar, the Canadian of Syrian birth who was kidnapped at New York's JFK airport when he was on a layover and rendered to Syria to be interrogated under torture is another still.

Note that none of these refer to the incidents at Abu Ghraib in which the persons responsible (e.g. Lynndie England) were tried and convicted.

Somewhere in the body of facts about things we actually did every intellectually honest person can reach a conclusion, an obvious and undeniable conclusion in my view, that we in fact tortured prisoners, even if he believes that this or that example is ambiguous or a "false positive" for some reason. A cancer patient who sees one tumor on his PET scan might hope that a fungal infection caused a false positive. A PET scan riddled with tumors is a different matter. The facts need to be faced here.

There are people who are not acquainted with the facts of what we actually did, and such a person might not reach the obvious conclusion from those facts simply because he doesn't know them. Once acquianted with those facts, though, I do think it is obvious in a properly basic way that we in fact tortured prisoners and have not treated those acts of torture as crimes.

I have much more patience with an argument that torture is not always wrong than I do for an assessment of the facts with a conclusion that we did not torture prisoners.

I also have some respect for the argument in the practical domain that the people who authorized and carried out torture on our behalf ought to be tried and convicted, but then pardoned or given light sentences. But for the sake of the common good things cannot be left in this postmodern state where we are euphemistically claiming that torture is not torture when we do it and it happens to be done for a really important reason, even though (e.g.) we executed some Japanese officers and sentenced others to hard labor for doing it -- and this during the Tokyo Trials after we had actually destroyed two of their cities with nukes.

I will read the rest of the post carefully when I get the time to do so.

Blackadder,

I'm assuming that folks like Zippy, Mark Shea, WIllima Luse, et al. aren't primarily concerned in this case with due process. In other words, I'm assuming that they'd say that even if KSM was afforded all the procedural rights one could ask for, waterboarding him for the purposes of extracting life-saving information regarding a terrorist attack he was invloved in plotting would still be "obviously" immoral.

I'm assuming that folks like Zippy, Mark Shea, WIllima Luse, et al. aren't primarily concerned in this case with due process.
True, I'm not. But that wasn't BA's point. BA's point was that in our society, this is the kind of thing we do when someone is punished; and in these cases, we didn't do anything remotely like that. That may not deductively prove that waterboarding KSM could not possibly have been a punishment, but it provides evidence that it wasn't a punishment and also appeals to our intuitions in a way that makes it more obvious that it wasn't.

Dr. Feser:

Actually, I thought I was being pretty clear on what the definition of torture was in referring to the UN Convention. The definition is right there and the UN itself (which Rome agrees with), as well as common international law, Geneva, and even our own military regulations agree waterboarding fills the bill. Similarly, the American bishops in their actual teaching on the matter seem to have no difficulty recognizing that waterboarding (among other things) is torture. Indeed, they are careful to note (in their condemnation of euphemism I quoted above) that not only is "enhanced interrogation" a euphemism, but that it can easily be argued the "waterboarding" is just another euphemism for the reality of simulated drowning. None of the sources mentioned above seem to have the immense difficulties found in the conservative Catholic circles laboring with such difficulty to figure out whether waterboarding is torture.

Now, as I note, it's true that some people remain perpetually confused about what O what torture is. You appear to be among them. Indeed, you appear to be confused about a number of things, and your confusion naturally leads to confusion in your readers. So, for instance, you complain

You seem to me simply to be ignoring everything I said about why we need to get clear on what "torture" means before we can pull out these citations as if they were trump cards that should shut off all discussion.

Actually, I'm paying very close attention to what you said, which may account for the confusion. You seem, for instance, to be suggesting by this complaint that we don't just don't know that waterboarding is torture, so I am jumping the gun. You suggest it may be a legitimate interrogation technique and that I am therefore begging the question in calling it "torture".

However, in your initial entry you wrote this:

Finally, in examining the question of whether Catholic teaching rules out waterboarding a known terrorist for the purposes of extracting life-saving information, we need to consider whether this case is more like the case of inflicting pain for the purposes of extracting a confession – which the Church has condemned as intrinsically unjust – or more like the case of inflicting severe pain for the purposes of punishing someone guilty of a heinous offense – which the Church has not and cannot regard as intrinsically unjust.

Now, if waterboarding is a legitimate interrogation technique and not torture, then the Church cannot have condemned it as intrinsically unjust any more than it has condemned lie detectors as intrinsically unjust. No, what the Church condemns as intrinsically unjust is torture. What your words therefore imply in your post is that you are perfectly aware that waterboarding is torture, or else it would not be intrinsically unjust. I simply took you at your word.

But now you are trying to backtrack and claim that you have no idea if waterboarding is torture. That suggests a major incoherence in your argument.

Not that you aren't welcome to be as baffled as you please. However, this suggests you are unlikely to be a useful guide to Catholics attempting to think with the Church on the matter.

So, to recap:

1. You propose a rationale for waterboarding in direct contradiction to Fr. Harrison's rationale. He says it's okay for obtaining information but not for punishment. You say (in direct contradiction to the Catechism) that it's okay for punishment, but not to extract confessions. Indeed, you also contradict the Catechism by suggesting that mutilation is also acceptable. (And, of course, you also imply, thereby, that interrogators can simply bypass the normal rules of investigation, trial, and condemnation and simply enact the punishment as part of the investigation.)

2. According to your theory, waterboarding (unlike, say, a lie detector) is "intrinsically unjust" in "extracting confessions". Since the bishops are referring to torture when they speak of intrinsically unjust means of extracting confessions, that means you are saying that waterboarding is torture when used to extract confessions. You also seem to overlook the fact that the principal rationale offered for waterboarding by the Bush Administration and its defenders is precisely to extract confessions, thereby rendering it intrinsically unjust by your own standards.

3. You then say that waterboarding (which you have just granted to be torture) is somehow permissible if administered as punishment. This is in direct contradiction to Pope Benedict who says that torture is always impermissible.

4. Now you are saying that you have no idea if waterboarding is torture or not.

It would therefore appear, given these numerous contradictions (including self-contradictions) that a reader could be forgiven for neither knowing what you are saying, nor for taking you as a reliable guide in deciding whether it would be prudent engage in waterboarding and other techniques which the American bishops call "torture". This is doubly true given that they specifically condemn the use of euphemisms like "enhanced interrogation" to describe torture and *specifically* highlight "waterboarding" as, itself, a euphemism for simulated drowning.

So: Since you are not sure what torture even is, while the American bishops, international law, military manuals, the Geneva Convention, the UN Convention and the Vatican signatories all concur that waterboarding *is* torture while you are self-confessedly lost in murk and confusion, my suggestion is that Catholics should heed the guidance being provided by these authorities and not from you or from other who are similarly baffled.

Hello Zippy,

If all you meant was "Somewhere in all that stuff that has happened over the last 7 years or so, it's obvious that something happened that counted as immoral torture," well, OK, I'll give you that! But I assumed -- not unreasonably, surely -- that you meant to say something a little less trivial than that.

Anyway, the post of yours in question was about waterboarding, specifically. And part of what we "actually did" was waterboard KSM once (even if far from only once), and since you've been very critical of the practice of waterboarding for as long as I can remember, including before we heard this 183 number, I was assuming that it wasn't the 183 number per se you were concerned about, but rather the practice itself.

But you can clarify this for me now if you'd like: Do you think waterboarding KSM even once (even under ideal legal circumstances, per Blackadder's concern) was "obviously" a case of "immoral torture"? And while we're at it, do you think it is "obviously" ruled out by the natural law? And "obviously" ruled out also by what the Church has said, taking into account all the evidence from Scripture, tradition, etc.?

Mark Shea,

Just saw your latest. I'm going to reply later on -- got to drive my daughter to a birthday party just now.

Several minor technical points:

*Punishment* is supposed to be administered *after* the state has established the facts of the case
KSM wasn't charged or convicted with withholding information. He wasn't subject to any sort of adjudicative proceeding, wasn't sentenced to "thirty seconds of waterboarding," etc.

Modern American criminal justice system is nice, provides stability, and may be a better way than some alternatives to promote a fair semblance of justice. But in no way is the Warren Court's interpretation of constitutional criminal procedure reflective of the requirements of the Magisterium. This sort of ham-fisted layman's legalese cum moralizing is essentially chronological snobbery: we do things this way these days, so it must be The Best. The only problem is the same thing works for [insert prevalent modern evil].

the UN Convention on Torture (to which Rome is a signatory)

Actions taken, diplomatically or otherwise, by the Vatican City in its temporal role as a sovereign nation are not actions of the ordinary magisterium. Driving a Chevy is not immoral because the Vatican has a contract with Mercedes.

This looks like the Church speaking to me:

Actually, that looks like the particular church in the United States (or more accurately, I think, the collective voices of the many collective churches [dioceses] in the United States talking) talking, not the universal Church talking. It's informative, illuminating in some ways, but unless it articulates a firm consensus among the entire episcopacy throughout the world together and in union with the Supreme Pontiff, it's not "the Church speaking" in a magisterial sense. Now, statements by one's local bishop or one's local episcopal conference on the matter might obligate one to refrain from engaging in or actively promoting acts prohibited by those statements. But neither a local ordinary nor a single national episcopal conference, nor the supreme pontiff when not speaking for the extraordinary magisterium, has the power to make declarations on the content of the ordinary magisterium. What Dr. Feser appears to be saying here is that the precise meaning of the ordinary magisterium is not clear. And I have not seen anybody demonstrate the contrary.

collective voices of the many collective churches [dioceses]

Whoops, that should be "collective voices of the many particular churches"

Recall that in the medieval inquisitors' manuals the use of torture was hedged about with all sorts of limitations. One was that torture could not be used unless the person's guilt was already virtually certain from other evidences. In medieval law, one could not be convicted of a capital crime on circumstantial evidence alone. Confession was required as a practical matter. (Caught red-handed or testimony of two independent witnesses were the other two acceptable means.) There were other limitations on how much and on whom torture could be inflicted.

So it was clearly something acceptable for use by authorized persons under carefully defined constraints. It was not to be used whimsically or to discover whether the person was guilty.

But the medieval inquisition was a couple decades old before the Church allowed the tribunals to use torture; and even then the priest-inquisitors themselves were not allowed to personally inflict the pain or, for a while, even to be in the same room when it was done.

So it is also clear that there were deep reservations about using it. More than one medieval inquisitor found himself clapped in prison for going to far or flouting the rules.

This would seem to be in line with the idea that the term "torture" has a different meaning to the post-modern mind than it did to the medieval. In the opposite sense, an American might say "I'm starving" when he means only that he is hungry. Words shift in meaning over the centuries.

+ + +

FWIW, my son-in-law is a muslim from Jordan, and served for a time as bodyguard to the then-crown prince. On hearing of such enhanced interrogation methods as stress positions, loud music, pushing and shoving, and so on, he laughed. "Do you call that torture?" Then added more soberly, "Americans do not know what torture is."

If all you meant was "Somewhere in all that stuff that has happened over the last 7 years or so, it's obvious that something happened that counted as immoral torture,"...
What I meant - again in the specific comment you cite - was not that "things happened" that were torture, but that we deliberately tortured prisoners at an official level, and that the people who did so have not been prosecuted.

Yes, in fairness to your other question, I do think it is just obvious that waterboarding a prisoner for information is torture. Following that with "... and is therefore always wrong" is obvious to the extent that it is obvious that torture is always wrong. So again, I have more patience - though I think it is wrong - with an argument that torture is sometimes morally acceptable than I do with claims that water torture isn't torture.

I looked up Fr. Harrison's references. Of all the "authorities" he mentions, the only one I could find in my search through his article that I think I have to worry about in the slightest is Proverbs. I couldn't find that he gave specific chapter and verse references in Proverbs, but I've read Proverbs about a zillion times throughout my life and memorized swathes of it from near-infancy up, and the nearest thing I can think of that he could be referring to are several references to corporal punishment upon one's child or son, including punishment involving a "rod." I believe there is also a reference to "stripes for the back of a fool." These hardly constitute an endorsement of the rack nor anything near.

That Fr. Harrison can find Catholic authorities from past centuries who assume the liceity of torture (even for extracting confessions, as he does) is hardly surprising. And I'm sure he could find Protestant ones, too. (I seem to recall that Calvin had Anabaptists drowned.) But I see no reason why that fact should carry any weight with me, honestly.

Actions taken, diplomatically or otherwise, by the Vatican City in its temporal role as a sovereign nation are not actions of the ordinary magisterium.

It is not the job of the ordinary magisterium to draw up either definitions of torture, nor The Big Book of Condemned Interrogation Techniques. There was a demand for a definition of torture from a competent authority. I provided one. You are ignoring it and providing none of your own. This is... not uncommon in such conversations.

Actually, that looks like the particular church in the United States (or more accurately, I think, the collective voices of the many collective churches [dioceses] in the United States talking) talking, not the universal Church talking.

So what? It is, I repeat, not the job of the ordinary magisterium to provide us with the Big Book of Condemned Interrogation Techniques, any more than it is the job of the ordinary Magisterium to give us a detailed program for farm relief. Meanwhile, it is our job to actually pay attention to the guidance provided by our bishops. When we actually do that, the guidance is extremely clear: instead of finely parsed attempts to figure out how much enhanced interrogation you can get away with before it's torture, the American bishops teach us to begin with the dignity of the human person in our deliberations.

The reason the *American* bishop are focusing on this and not, say, the bishops of New Zealand, is because they recognize that we have been engaging in torture and that Catholics want (or say they want) guidance on the matter.

So why not follow the guidance of the bishops here?

What Dr. Feser appears to be saying here is that the precise meaning of the ordinary magisterium is not clear.

Actually, it appears that Dr. Feser is saying that the obvious teaching of the Church is rendered non-obvious if we cannot derive from it a one-size-fits-all diagnostic heuristic from which every single human being on planet Earth can derive certitude that a given action constitutes torture. He is then using that claim as a basis for saying that it is impossible to know if waterboarding somebody 183 times is torture, and even to say that it is impossible to see a pattern of torture in a trail of dead bodies, Red Cross reports, torture memo, and accounts from traumatized interrogators.

Zippy is right. It would be less contemptible and insulting to one's intelligence to argue that torture is not always wrong than to claim we did not torture prisoners.

Prof Faser--
Very interesting commentary on the issue of waterboarding. Well, what is wrong with asking a KSM, "Have you participated in acts that have led to the death of many innocent people?" In such a juridical context, interrogation is a good thing, whereas punishment is not. The punishment, following the correct sequence of the judicial process, is meted out by the judge upon passing sentence. So, putting the cart before the horse has an intrinsic problem from the get-go. I think that the more we mine the language, as you fascinate me in doing upon exploring "obvious," the more we get away from the reality at hand, which is a terrorist who is entitled to certain legal and human rights while being tried, no matter how despicable the terrorism he has perpetrated. True, we need the information he is concealing, but waterboarding is bringing in a new physical setting that is at odds with the established judicial process. I am also a Catholic and this commone sense view I am expressing to you accords with Catholic teaching, as Fr. Harrison, to some degree corroborates. The Bible does not espouse torture. Jesus preached love and forgiveness. Let's get back to first causes. How the hell did crazies like KSM and Bin Laden get a chance to make murderous suggestions to humanity in the first place? What has happened to traditional values? Something has gone way awry over time that we would do well to redress. The Bible, although having an eschatology, is not aiming its focus to such a high magnitude as 9/11 terrorism. "Love thy neighbor," "Do unto others" are the key precepts. 9/11 belongs in a Revelations mentality. The earth is reaching Armageddon. To reiterate, waterboarding is waterboarding, a torture, so that Sirach doesn't carry the day in justifying it. Based on my reasoning, then, I would suggest that waterboarding is immoral. Yes, it is justifiable and I can "turn the other cheek," but that is not the moral and judicial framework that we have heretofore established. We can ask the defendant to confess, and desire the information he proffers. We cannot help the words forcefully out of his throat!

You are ignoring it and providing none of your own.

I didn't set out to proffer a definition of anything. In fact, I didn't really set out to agree one way or another with any of the fundamental claims made by either party to the wider debate. That's why I termed my comments "minor" and "technical." The point, Mr. Shea, is that you spoke about the statements of the USCCB and a UN treaty as if they were statements of the ordinary magisterium. This is imprecise to the point of being misleading. Perhaps your broader point is valid, but vagueness and mischaracterization don't facilitate anyone's attempt to realize that.

Furthermore, I did not deny that the American bishops' statements on these matters are either useful for or binding upon American Catholics. I said they don't represent an authoritative interpretation of the divine law. If our attempt is to discern the content of that law, and we recognize that the law has an authoritative interpreter, it is important to distinguish that authoritative interpreter with great precision. The American bishops can be mistaken about that content, while the ordinary magisterium cannot be.

Finally, I think my characterization of De. Feser's point is fair and that yours is high on rhetoric and short on effective engagement. Dr. Feser grants that the divine law as expressed in the ordinary magisterium permits some acts and prohibits others, but that it is not immediately obvious which are which. Not unknowable, simply not obvious. Your insistence that the ordinary magisterium is not in the business of creating diagnostic heuristics would seem to support Dr. Feser's thesis in this regard. But even if you were only concerned with refuting Dr. Feser's suggestion that the divine law does not contain a per se ban on torture, you have not done so because you have failed to present evidence regarding his interpretation of Scripture.

Step2 If it is supposed to be punishment it should be handled as an adjudicated punishment instead of a conditional interrogation method.

Please, have you ever heard of summary justice? Martial law? Suspension of habeas corpus? There are times when you morally do not observe the usual regime of long-drawn-out trial by jury, etc. In any case, the point is not that the pain is, precisely, the prescribed punishment, but analogous to it. Just suppose, for the sake of the argument, that we have already convicted him of the things that Dr. F assumes are applicable.

Mark P. t any rate it would appear to be the case that you are failing to distinguish between "torture" and "inflicting severe pain for the purposes of punishing someone guilty of a heinous offense" (say, "hanging"). The Church grants the power to execute (on an extremely limited basis). But the Church says that torture in intrinsically immoral and specifically notes that this includes torture inflicted "to punish the guilty". I suspect the distinction lies in the difference between retribution being meted to a person (hanging) and the reduction of the person to a mere instrumentality to some other end (torture).

Mark, you seem to have missed a distinction here. The Church does not condemn the use of pain for punishment. Nor does the Church permit the death penalty as under a mode of allowing pain for certain punishments. The death penalty is permitted whether it causes pain or is administered without pain. The pain associated is not allowed because it is "the right sort of pain", but rather because the penalty of death is licit and a means of carrying it out that intends the death per se (and not pain per se) need not have a level of pain that is associated with the notion of "torture". But even if it does have that level of pain, that level of pain is consistent with the fundamental objective, which is to rend the person's body from soul in death - pain which is consistent with this is natural to the concept of the death penalty. (There may be a moral objection to choosing a form of death penalty that is painful when a simple and easy lower-pain form is ready to hand, but the Church has never really spoken to say this, has she?)

So that automatically requires that we seek a distinction between some pain (licitly used to punish) and other pain (not licitly used). In this context, it seems consistent with both the ancient Church teaching and modern teaching that there may be some kinds of pain that are forbidden for use no matter what the purpose (including punishment), and that these certainly may be called torture. Other kinds of pain of a lesser degree we know are licit for punishment. What we have not yet had explicitly from the Church is that even lesser pain, used to extract information, is inherently disordered. (Even in the instances where the modern CHurch has said don't do it, this is consistent with a view that this injunction does not rest on an absolute principle, but on practical reasons that are not universal).

I will raise the "reduction of the person to an instrumentality" later.

Mark P. Just so. If we are proposing a return to abolition of jury trials in favor of waterboarding as the means to determine the facts of a person's guilt or innocence, then Dr. Feser needs to make this clear. Interrogations normally are done in the evidence gathering phase of police work. *Punishment* is supposed to be administered *after* the state has established the facts of the case.

No, that's ridiculous. Pain to obtain a confession is clearly inappropriate, because the pain itself colors the confession so that it is useless. If you know before hand you cannot use the product, you cannot justify producing it. As for punishment applied "after the facts of the case", you can know the person is guilty of a crime and of withholding information about more crime (and, if you like, convict him of same). Does that make things all OK to use pain to get the information?

Mark P. Some people will remain baffled even though the definition of torture the Church agrees to: 1. violation of human dignity in the form of 2. intentional mental and/or physical harm in order to 3. use a human person as a means (or instrument) for some producible end 4. against that person’s will.

C'mon, Mark, please show more thought. The fact that the Church signs a treaty for political reasons does nothing to indicate that she agrees with the definition for theological considerations. The Vatican's diplomat service enter into all sorts of provisions that are not perfect, but are sufficiently beneficial for political purposes to be agreed to.

W. Luse Instead of Fr. Harrison, try this source [Veritatis Splendor], scroll down to #80, and tell me if you find some wanton ambiguity.

William, yes, this passage does, exactly, harbor the ambiguity that is at issue. The passage mentions, as if talking about inherently evil acts, a broad range of things that are clearly only inherently evil only in special or restricted conditions (deportation, for example). Also, what does "subhuman living conditions" do for the list, but to make clear that some things fit the bill a little more clearly than others. So torture is another ambiguous entry.

This looks like the Church speaking to me:

This was a document prepared by the busybody bureaucrats of the USCCB machine. It is not made clear even that the bishops voted for it. It no more represents a coherent theological pronouncement of the Magisterium than their document on war and nuclear weapons of 1980 (which they did vote on, if memory serves). After that document, it later came out that many bishops had no clue what the realities of the weapons really were. The inclusion of various references, such as one to an article by the former president of Notre Dame, make it clear that even under its own view of this document, the USCCB is not intending to speak definitively.

Nevertheless, the document does not clearly attempt to make the case that the use of pain to extract information is intrinsically evil.

Moving on to a few other points brought up in the post, with some trepidation since I don't really want to repeat hundreds or thousands of discussions I've already had over the past six years or so - it seems an endless penance that I am always involved in it - I'll just say that one of the problems with both the Harrison and Akin articles is that they are founded on what I take to be an incoherent conception of intrinsically immoral behaviors. If a behavior (say adultery, murder, rape, etc) is intrinsically immoral, that means (among other things) that it is immoral no matter why the person chooses that behavior. Once the objective facts about the behavior being chosen (combined with the subjective fact that it is in fact being chosen) specify that behavior as intrinsically immoral, no appeal to additional circumstances or the purposes why the behavior is being chosen can make the act into a good act. Both the Harrison and Akin pieces expressly assume otherwise: they assume that it is possible for a behavior to be intrinsically immoral when it is chosen for an insufficiently important good purpose, yet morally good when chosen for a sufficiently important good purpose. One might as well say that adultery is intrinsically immoral when it is done for pleasure, but it would not be immoral if it were done in order to save the world: perhaps we could think of it as James Bond consequentialism.

Once this incoherent conception of what it means for a chosen behavior to be intrinsically immoral is adopted the rest of the theses don't matter: though it might make for interesting reading and I certainly encourage people to read them. (Note: there are plenty of people who disagree with me about the subject of intrinsic immorality, which is fine: my point here is not that everything I've ever said on the subject is right, but that this particular concept, upon which both the Harrison and Akin pieces are founded and without which their conclusions, however tentative, do not follow, simply cannot be right).

Part of the problem is a kind of "have your intrinsic immorality and eat it too" approach: we want (in those kinds of discussions) to be able to stipulate that torture is intrinsically immoral but then make it become "not torture" or "not intrinsically immoral" when we think we have a really good reason to do it. I think that is just a non-starter. Again, it would make far more sense, it would be a more forthright discussion and would do less violence to our moral discourse, to say that torture is not intrinsically immoral and thus and such are circumstances under or purposes for which it is justified.

As with a lot of other topics, this issue doesn't stand alone independently from other maybe more wieghty [or less] moral concerns. The sanctity of human life and the moral obligation to protect it by defending it is not ambiguous at all. I cannot reconcile "thy shalt not kill" and all that it means with allowing a proven guilty conspiritor to stand mum while taking no action to save lives. At some point, the guilty person has lost or forfeited some protections that innocent persons ought not ever lose, including the public concerted initiative to protect their life and liberty.

If the public concerted effort to proctect life wanes, I think the godly are morally obligated to orgainize and oust the impersonating magistrates who've failed in their primary duty.

Mark Shea,

Well, after reading your latest we can agree to this much: I am confused, at least by the argument of the middle part of your comment, which I can barely even make out. Where exactly have I backtracked? You cite my statement vis-a-vis:

inflicting pain for the purposes of extracting a confession – which the Church has condemned as intrinsically unjust

and then suggest (as far as I can understand your argument) that this acknowledgment conflicts with my claim that waterboarding a known terrorist for the purposes of extracting life-saving information is arguably consistent with Church teaching. But there would only be a conflict if "extracting life-saving information from a known terrorist" meant the same thing as, or were a special case of, "extracting a confession." But that is not the case. As I note in my reply to Step2 above, there is a clear moral difference between the two. The attempt to extract a confession vis-a-vis the infliction of pain involves harming someone not known to be guilty. The attempt to extract information about a terrorist plot involves harming someone who (in the sort of case under discussion, anyway) is known to be guilty. That is a crucial moral difference. It may or may not make a difference to our overall conclusion about waterboarding -- that is a separate issue -- but it suffices to show that there is no "backtracking" in what I said.

Re: my alleged "contradictions," if you would make some attempt to read what I wrote fair-mindedly and carefully, and in particular to note the distinctions I make between (a) what is intrinsically moral or immoral, (b) what is moral or immoral not intrisically but only given certain conditions, (c) what is not immoral at all, either intrinsically or given current conditions, and (d) what may arguably be defensible in the light of the total body of evidence from Scripture, tradition, the teaching of the popes, etc., then I think you'll see that there are no contradictions in what I've said. In short, I think you would see this if you would try to engage in a serious debate rather than looking for ways to score cheap rhetorical points.

Re: whether I have contradicted myself vis-a-vis the specific question of whether waterboarding is torture, here too you are simply playing rhetorical games and not even trying seriously to grapple with my argument. I have already acknowledged that in one sense of the word "torture" -- the older, non-normative or purely descriptive sense -- waterboarding is torture. What is in question is whether it is "torture" in the newer, normative sense that implies by definition that torture is immoral. That is not obvious, for all the reasons I have given and which you still have not addressed.

For example, you have yet to address the question of how to reconcile what you say about torture with Scriptural passages like the ones from Sirach. In the non-normative sense of "torture," what these passages allow for is obviously torture. But it cannot be said that they allow for torture in the newer, normative sense, since Scripture cannot teach moral error. (I'm assuming you agree with this. Or do you think that Sirach is teaching error?) If you acknowledge that passages like Sirach are not teaching error, then you must also acknowledge that inflicting severe pain as a means of punishment is not intrinsically wrong (but at most wrong under certain conditions). And in that case, since one of the purposes of punishment is to deter future disobedience, the U.N. definition of torture you cite is surely inadequate. For isn't Sirach telling us it is OK to "use someone as a means" to secure an end (i.e. future obedience)? Even if you think not, it is hardly obvious that he isn't: These questions aren't as cut and dried as you think, so that it is not appropriate to go around accusing people who disagree with you of being in conflict with Church teaching.

Furthermore, no one is claiming that we have to provide a definition that will cover every single case before we can say anything about the subject of waterboarding. The claim is rather that we have to provide a definition that at least is consistent with everything that Scripture and tradition tell us about the subject. Jimmy Akin proposes one possible definition when he describes torture as "the disproportionate infliction of pain" (thereby incorporating the modern tendency to use "torture" in an inherently normative sense). He argues that this definition best fits all the evidence, and also thinks that there are some cases in which waterboarding a known terrorist to extract life-saving information would not count as torture in this sense. Is he right? I don't know, but his proposal is worth taking seriously, and is an honest attempt to do justice to everything that the Magisterium has taught.

I cannot reconcile "thy shalt not kill" and all that it means with allowing a proven guilty conspiritor to stand mum while taking no action to save lives.
OK. If you mean that you literally cannot reconcile it I would suggest that if you cannot tell the difference between things you do, things you don't do, things other people do, and things other people don't do -- all of which have moral implications -- you won't be able to make anything coherent of morality at all. "We must never do evil in order that good may come of it" is a basic foundation of all legitimate moral thought. It is true that working that out in practice in particular situations can become non-obvious. But any "working out" which concludes the contrary - that we must sometimes do evil in order that good may come of it - is not only false, but undermines the very possibility of objective moral norms.

Less abstractly, there are some things we ought never do, not even to save lives or even to save the whole world. Some people don't agree with that; they are not really in the conversation. But most of us do -- most of us do not think it would be OK to rape and torture a little girl to death even to save the world, for example. Most of us think it would be wrong to sodomize KSM as a punishment for his crimes, or as a way of convincing him to talk. So it isn't for most people an abstract question of whether choosing some behaviors is intrinsically immoral. It is just a question of whether choosing that particular behavior is intrinsically immoral.

The attempt to extract a confession vis-a-vis the infliction of pain involves harming someone not known to be guilty. The attempt to extract information about a terrorist plot involves harming someone who (in the sort of case under discussion, anyway) is known to be guilty. That is a crucial moral difference.

So your view is that it would be okay (or at least arguably okay) to torture someone to extract a confession if you know he's guilty?

But there would only be a conflict if "extracting life-saving information from a known terrorist" meant the same thing as, or were a special case of, "extracting a confession."
I suppose in a case where the terrorist has admitted that he planted a bomb, extracting information about exactly where might not be a species of extracting a confession. Is the suggestion that it might be OK to waterboard an admitted bomb-planter in order to get specifics from him, but that it would be morally illicit to get him to admit to planting the bomb in the first place?

I'm not sure that this putative category distinction between extracting live-saving information and extracting a confession is as straightforward as all that.

One more point in response to this silly "I guess some people think that not all torture is really torture" nonsense. One finds the same rhetorical game being played by people who think that colleges and universities who require their faculty to refrain from homosexual acts are comparable to racists. "Oh, I see, so some discrimination is not really discrimination, huh?" Checkmate, right?

Of course not. The fallacy here is failing to see that "discrimination" has come to have a normative sense in addition to its older, non-normative sense. The original meaning was just something like "treating people differently." Because some differential treatment is unjust, the word has now come to have a second, normative sense of "unjustly treating people differently." When this is kept in mind, it is obvious that people who oppose racial discrimination but not the faculty hiring policy in question are not contradicting themselves. They might agree that both cases involve discrimination in the older, non-normative sense, but not that they both involve discrimination in the newer, normative sense. To insist that they must be contradicting themselves is just to commit the fallacy of equivocation.

The "Ah, so you think some torture isn't torture, huh?" shtick is no more respectable than this. Everyone agrees that waterboarding is torture in the older, non-normative, descriptive sense. What they disagree about is whether it is torture in the newer, normative, "immoral by definition" sense. Here too, to insist that those who deny that waterboarding is immoral must be contradicting themselves is simply to commit the fallacy of equivocation.

I know this basic point of logic and language robs some folks of a favorite rhetorical move, but them's the breaks.

Jimmy Akin proposes one possible definition when he describes torture as "the disproportionate infliction of pain" ...
Yes, but his use of "disproportionate" here refers to disproportion with respect to the purpose for which the behavior is chosen. IOW, it begs the question of double-effect, assuming at the outset that the chosen behavior in question is not intrinsically immoral.

Others in the Akin threads (IIRC) have proposed a different sense of "disproportionate": that is, that deliberately exceeding a particular pain or suffering threshold is always immoral: that there is a threshold of suffering which in effect turns a man into an animal, and one ought never deliberately inflict suffering past that threshold for any reason. This latter doesn't suffer from the consequentialist problems of the former, though it does have its own problemmatic issues.

In general, I think pursuing a comprehensive (in either of the suggested senses - that is, covering all possible hypotheticals and/or consistent with all possible interpretations of Scripture and Tradition) definition of torture is as much of a positivist rat-hole as pursuing a comprehensive definition of pornography.

In fact, I tend to think that torture and pornography are closely related moral wrongs. The reasons why we should not ask or order our own people to torture are similar to the reasons why we should not ask or order our own people to make pornography, however laudible our end goal may be. It is as much about what we should not do to ourselves as it is about what we should not do to others; or, shall we say, it is about what doing certain things to others also does to ourselves.

I'm not sure that this putative category distinction between extracting live-saving information and extracting a confession is as straightforward as all that.

I would tend to agree. If you torture someone to get them to tell you where the bomb is planted, you may have extracted life saving information, but you've also extracted a confession. "Extracting a confession" and "extracting life saving information" are just two ways of describing the same thing.

Everyone agrees that waterboarding is torture in the older, non-normative, descriptive sense. What they disagree about is whether it is torture in the newer, normative, "immoral by definition" sense.
I've been having these discussions which I would rather not have for at least six years now. I guarantee you that not everybody agrees that waterboarding is torture in the older, non-normative, descriptive sense.

For my own part, I don't think bringing up postmodern schtick on "discrimination" is helpful. Heck, I don't even like framing obligations in terms of "rights".

The point, Mr. Shea, is that you spoke about the statements of the USCCB and a UN treaty as if they were statements of the ordinary magisterium.

No. I didn't. I spoke about them as though they (especially the American bishops' document "Torture is a Moral Issue") are guidance from the Church's shepherds, speaking from their office as teachers. Dr. Feser says he is begging for light from the Church's teachers. They offer it. If, like you, he now objects that the light offered is unacceptable since it has not been prefaced with "Simon Peter says" then I have to conclude that the burning need for the Church to give guidance in this matter is not all that burning after all.

Similarly, like Dr. Luse, I have to wonder why, be so baffled as to what torture is, we do not instantly conclude that something which so many competent authorities *do* treat as torture should be refrained from in order to err on the side of caution. After all, it's not as though we face a binary choice between torture and nothing. We've been questioning people for a very long time (and deriving lots of useful intelligence) without instantly leaping to waterboarding to get the job done. If there is grave doubt about the moral legitimacy of "enhanced interrogation" then prudence says, "Don't do it" just as prudence say to the person who is utterly baffled about when human life begins "Don't abort till you know." In short, don't shoot. That might be a hunter in the bush.

Dr. Feser says he is begging for light from the Church's teachers. They offer it. If, like you, he now objects that the light offered is unacceptable since it has not been prefaced with "Simon Peter says" then I have to conclude that the burning need for the Church to give guidance in this matter is not all that burning after all.

Man are you a nasty piece of work. I think I'm done trying to have a discussion with you, civil or otherwise, thank you very much.

Where exactly have I backtracked?

When you acknowledge that waterboarding, done to extract a confession is "intrinsically unjust" (i.e. torture) but then insist that you don't know if waterboarding is torture when done to punish the guilty. Having granted that waterboarding is torture, you then contradict the Holy Father, who Given that the very authorities your argument seeks to defend (in the real world, I mean) deny that they are torturing to punish, but to extract confessions, that's problematic. Given further, that Fr. Harrison (the Council and John Paul) directly contradict you by insisting the torture to punish the guilty is intrinsically immoral *and* the fact that Pope Benedict says that torture is always impermissible and may never be contravened, it appears safest to ignore both you and Fr. Harrison and simply abjure techniques that are commonly regarded as torture in international law (and pre-Bush US law). This is obvious what the American bishops are counseling too. So rather than say, "Let's waterboard till the Vatican publishes the Big Book of All Conceivable Torture Technique No No's", the more prudent course is to follow normative Church teaching: Don't torture. If you are baffled about what the means, start by trying to treat prisoners humanely while you interrogate them."

There's something passing strange about the argument "I have no idea if waterboarding is torture, so let's do it and let's focus our energies on silencing and ridiculing those agree with common international law and pre-Bush policies that it is torture!"

Zippy,

Perhaps there are people who would deny that it is torture in either sense, but surely at least some of them do so because they are as careless in distinguishing the two senses as some of their critics are. In other words, they falsely assume that if they acknowledge that it is torture in any sense of the term, then they would be committed to saying that it is immoral, which they sincerely believe (rightly or wrongly) that it is not.

The point of bringing up the "discrimiantion" example is only because there is, it seems to me, a semantic shift in that case that parallels the one we find in the "torture" case. Nothing rides on the details about this or that case of discrimination. Nor does it have anything to do with postmodernism, only with the sort of semantic changes that happen all the time as language develops.

Re: Harrison and Akin on what is intrinsically immoral, I'll have to take another look at exactly what they say, but I assume you wouldn't deny that what constitutes an act is in part the intention that lies behind it. E.g. when I plunge a knife into someone while intending to perform life-saving surgery, there is a sense in which my act is a different act from the one I would be performing in the case where I plunge it in intending to take his life so I can steal his wallet. It's not just that the intentions are different, but that the acts themselves are, at least at some level of description. The first is an act of surgery -- inherently licit, given the intention that partially constitutes it -- the second an act of murder -- inherently immoral, given the intention that partially constitutes it. So, could you be more precise about what is wrong with Harrison's and Akin's approach?

Man are you a nasty piece of work.

Why? I never said you were refusing to listen to "Torture is a Moral Issue". I simply said that if, like Paul, you chose to disregard the obvious and clear implications of that document, then it would appear you were really not all that interested in the guidance the American bishops are offering the flock. I have no idea if, in fact, you choose to disregard it or not.

The point of this thread is that you are seeking some sort of definitions of torture from competent authority. I have referred you to some. Now the claim appears to be evolving (at least among some contributors) to the notion that the *sole* competent authority to define torture is some sort of exercise of the ordinary Magisterium. Since this will likely never occur, and all other competent authorities are being diminished or dismissed by guys like Paul and Tony, it would appear that, if you choose to follow suit, then you will never have a definition of torture that satisfies you. If that is so, then it appears you will remain lost in murk forever about whether waterboarding and "enhanced interrogation" are torture. Since theologian who are lost in murk are poor guides to turn to for practical guidance, I turn to "Torture is a Moral Issue" at the USCCB, which tell me pretty clearly that a euphemistic approach to torture (notably waterboarding) is a bad way to approach the question and instead guides me to begin, not with "How close can I get to intrinsic injustice without quite committing it?" but instead with the question of the dignity of the human person.

So, to be clear, I have no idea what you think of "Torture is a Moral Issue" and had no intention of saying you reject it. I simply note, for myself, that so far your argument seems to me to contradict yourself, Fr. Harrison and the obvious teaching of the Catechism that torture inflicted to punish the guilty is intrinsically immoral, just as torture inflicted to extract confessions is. Give the confusion of your argument, I think it safest to set techniques condemned by common international consensus aside and focus on interrogation techniques which were legal pre-Bush.

Please accept my apologies if you took me to imply that you were, in fact, refusing light from the Church. It was not my intention.

Lydia:

That Fr. Harrison can find Catholic authorities from past centuries who assume the liceity of torture (even for extracting confessions, as he does) is hardly surprising. And I'm sure he could find Protestant ones, too. (I seem to recall that Calvin had Anabaptists drowned.) But I see no reason why that fact should carry any weight with me, honestly.
If I had a nickel for every time a Catholic has brought up historical juridical practices and such posing them as a doctrinal problem for Catholicism, I'd be able to feed all the world's hungry for a century. The idea seems to be that torture - torture understood in the traditional, factual, non-normative way Ed refers to - cannot possibly be intrinsically immoral, else that would imply a contradiction at the core of Catholicism. The crisis seems to arise from an imputed doctrinal infallibility to the claim "torture is not intrinsically immoral". Professor Kevin Miller once put it this way:
[the notion seems to be] that it's something like ecclesiologically impossible for the Church to have approved of something that turns out to be intrinsically evil (in effect, then, that when the Church, in what would otherwise be a non-infallible act, approves of action X, then this amounts to an infallible teaching that X is not intrinsically evil)
I'm not imputing this ridiculous view to Ed, of course; but discussion of torture (the bull Ad Exstirpanda is inevitably mentioned) almost always brings this kind of faux ecclesial crisis to light. The idea seems to be that if the Church once juridically regulated torture, restricting the ways in which it could be used, that amounts to an implicit infallible declaration that torture is not intrinsically immoral.

The way peoples' minds work is just bizarre sometimes.

I would tend to agree. If you torture someone to get them to tell you where the bomb is planted, you may have extracted life saving information, but you've also extracted a confession. "Extracting a confession" and "extracting life saving information" are just two ways of describing the same thing.

Absolutely not. Certainly not for moral purposes. If a terrorist were to thumb his nose and and say, "sure I planted the bomb, and I know where it is but you don't and there is nothing you can do about it", using pain to extract the info about its location is totally different - morally - from using pain to get an admission of guilt. He has already admitted to being guilty of the crime. He just has not yet divulged the specifics of that crime's circumstances, particularly place. More details do not make either "another" confession, or complete the first confession except in a totally incidental manner, as far as confession of the crime itself are concerned.

As a general clarification, Dr. Feser (and I) agree that there may be types of pain that it is intrinsically evil to intentionally inflict as punishment, and/or to intentionally inflict as a method of extracting information. But we know for certain that there are types of pain that it is NOT intrinsically evil to use to punish. What is at issue is whether there may be types of pain that are not intrinsically evil to use for extracting information (I am using "extract information" in the sense distinguished from extract confession).

Zippy and Mark Shea root their entire argument on a fairly compact thesis: Using pain to extract information is using the person as an object to produce a good. Using a person as an object to produce a good is intrinsically evil.

I personally think that there is some doubt about HOW to understand the term object in the premises stated, and whether they are unequivocally true in the sense they mean them. Just to start the doubts flowing: we universally admit that one of the secondary ends of punishment is deterrence - not only to deter the specific criminal from future offenses, but to deter others as well. This second part is a use of the criminal - we are using him as an "object lesson". (I use "object" here quite consciously, of course). It is quite clear that the lesson is applied whether I use this criminal or that one for the lesson. The fact that I explicitly intend this deterrent effect means that I am using the criminal as an object to produce a good effect.

Naturally, Zippy and Mark will deny this conclusion - and SO WILL I. For one thing, the rightful use of the punishment first requires that the person be guilty and be known to be guilty, so you can't use just any detainee. (Oh, wait, this is also true of Dr. Feser's proposed use of pain to extract...Well, moving right along:)

For another thing, the punishment that is used for deterrence must also be a punishment due in degree to the evil committed. So you can't use death on a jay-walker for deterrence. But that is still true of the proposed information extraction.

Ah, of course, the last thing is that the punishment must primarily be intended as re-dress for this specific person's crimes. That makes the use of the punishment directed specifically at the criminal as such, insofar as he is a person, and thus is not "objectifying" him.

But that does not get rid of the whole problem, sorry: This can ALSO be used in the case of extracting information. We can insist that the extraction only go forward on the understanding that what we are doing in the first instance is a redress of justice. Zippy will say no: (I am going by his remarks in previous comment boxes): if the use of pain were personal, it would have to stop at a certain point whether or not you succeeded in getting the information (because the person is himself a limited being, and his crime is limited, so it can only deserve so much punishment), AND if you turn up the needed information in the meantime by some other investigative work you stop the torture so it wasn't the person you were treating, it was the information database you were treating.

But neither objection works. For the first - that the pain would have to be limited by the criminal and yet the torture continues until he gives in: If you set out to begin with that the criminal has (A) conspired to murder thousands and is so convicted, and (B) in addition to that he has criminally persevered in being an accomplice to the ongoing crime, and (C) one of the licit punishments for crime (B) is pain of level 2 applied for 3 hours, then pain of level 2 is legitimate for a 3 hour period for each time he commits crime B. But that means that it is legitimate until he gives in, i.e. for such time as the crime continues in being. St. Thomas says about eternal damnation that it is just precisely because the punishment ought to continue (at least) as long as the will of the offender remains in its evil offense. As long as he refuses to give the information he is morally obliged to give, he continues to commit the crime, his will remains contrary to the common good, so his continuing punishment is licit.

The second objection is that since we stop the torture as soon as he gives the info, so clearly we were treating him as a data-bearing object rather than as a person. No: If (as I said above) we agree that the primary purpose of the punishment is to be the re-dress of the evil of the crime, and the crime is (B) withholding of information of a criminal conspiracy which he is obliged to give to the state, and if we agree that pain of level 2 for a period of 3 hours would be appropriate for one single instance of such a crime, then we are not automatically obliged to stop the pain at hour 1.2 if that is when he gives in. Not if we are applying the just punishment for an already determinate crime, and that's our primary purpose. We may stop earlier than the 3-hour length that justice would provide (and instead complete the punishment with a prison sentence, which would (since it is much less painful) need to be much longer in time), but that would not be an intrinsically necessary requirement for the facts.

I simply cannot see that adding extracting information to the just punishment as an additional intention along side of redress of justice, reformation of character, and deterrence of others - all as licit ends of the action - somehow vitiates the act as now being an act of treating him as an object. Certainly not without also making it that deterrence as an intention is intrinsically immoral.

To be careful, the Church has never explicitly said that using pain for extracting information intrinsically consists of the use of the person as an object and is therefore intrinsically evil on that specific basis. The Church has indicated that imposing pain that is contrary to the human personhood of a person is intrinsically immoral. Maiming - taking off a limb, for example, is clearly an example of this. I submit that, to speak more precisely than "contrary to the human personhood" but still generally, what is meant might be this: pain that is of such a nature as to make the man simply crazy, or to cease to be rational, or cease to be his integral whole being, is what is meant here in first instance. It is intrinsically bad for the human person to be made mad. (Certain other things follow as consequence - threat of such pain is also forbidden, for instance. Pain that simulates the loss of a limb might likewise be forbidden.) Intense pain can do drive someone over the brink in a relatively short time, but even medium level pain can do it over an extended period. (So, although pain of level 2 for 3 hours is licit as punishment for a crime, and the punishment can in theory be applied as many times as the crime is committed, the fact that an indefinitely long use might make him lose his rationality limits its use in the concrete. We accept such implied limitations on the use of pain as punishment and extracting information.)

If this is the case, it would leave plenty of room for the Church to forbid the use of such extreme pain for other reasons in addition. And such additional reasons for prohibitions might be some absolute and universal, while others are limited or not intrinsic. For example, she might say that use of extreme pain (of such a nature as to drive the person mad) cannot be used as redress of justice - and therefore intrinsically cannot be used for extracting information - because the madness impedes the just redress. But such a condemnation would not itself condemn of the use of pain to extract information as being intrinsically evil.

Likewise, the use of pain for instilling fear of the tyrant in the populace, or for sadistic purposes, can be intrinsically evil without affecting the implication that pain may be used for punishment and additionally to extract information.

I would suggest that this understanding makes more coherent sense of the Church's old and new teaching better than Zippy's & Mark's belief that the specific reason that torture is intrinsically wrong, and applies to all use of pain used in extracting information, is that any such use of pain inherently is a use of the person as an object.

Summary: using pain that is extreme may be intrinsically evil. Using pain for certain purposes common in torture may be intrinsically evil. Both of these may be maintained without implying that all use of pain for one of the purposes that is present in many tortures is intrinsically evil.

Ed:

Perhaps there are people who would deny that it is torture in either sense, but surely at least some of them do so because they are as careless in distinguishing the two senses as some of their critics are. In other words, they falsely assume that if they acknowledge that it is torture in any sense of the term, then they would be committed to saying that it is immoral, which they sincerely believe (rightly or wrongly) that it is not.
I can't tell you how many times someone has characterized water torture as barely amounting to frat hazing, dunking, etc. How many times I've gotten the "SERE trainees undergo waterboarding, I did it once myself, Real Men can immediately tell it isn't torture"; how many times I've been told that unless there is permanent physical damage to the person or loss of life and limb it can't be torture. The notion is most definitely supposed to be a factual contention about suffering and harm, not a normative contention.

Maybe you are right in psychoanlayzing the motivating reasons -- that this is in anticipation of the move from "it is torture" to "it is always wrong", since in this day and age there is (perceived to be, I dunno about actually) pretty wide consensus that torture is wrong. (To the extent that is true, I take it to be a good thing). More likely, I suppose, is that torture is illegal, so once we admit as a factual matter that it is torture it is outside the law. But granting that everyday Internet conversations are not exactly precise philosophical discourse, I think a lot of the arguments I've been in about torture have been about what constitutes torture as a matter of fact, independent of normative conclusions which may or may not follow, but in any case which require additional premises.

My own first impulse, on hearing the first rumors of torture and such years ago, was that it was lefty pacifist military-hating types trying to play a word game. I've never actually found any significant number of those though; just real torture done by our people in our name, and large numbers of ostensible conservatives supporting it at least materially. The political Left is an amoral raving freakshow, and yet ostensible conservatives handed it a genuine moral victory on a silver platter.

I assume you wouldn't deny that what constitutes an act is in part the intention that lies behind it.
A human act is understood morally in terms of its object, intentions, and circumstances. The object (c.f. Veritatis Splendour) is the behavior the acting subject is choosing: roughly what, in a way inextricably connected to the potentialities he chooses to make actual through his body and will. The intention is the thing at which he aims in choosing that behavior: roughly why. An object is specified in terms of intention-independent facts: the object of the act is intended only in the sense that it is a behavior that the acting subject is choosing, so we have to put ourselves in his perspective and see what he knows he is choosing in order to specify the object.

Intrinsically evil acts are evil in their object; formal cooperation with evil is evil in intention; imprudence is evil because of circumstances.

Obvious examples of intrinsically immoral acts include sodomy and adultery. Identifying sodomy requires only knowledge of the physical facts, and the further fact that the acting subject knowingly chose the behavior. Identifying adultery requires knowledge of additional non-physical facts: that Bob is married to Jane, for example, not Mary. But we don't need to know why Bob slept with Mary or what he hoped to accomplish by doing so to know that it is adultery. The central point of Veritatis Splendour, which self-referentially states that it is the first ever detailed Magisterial statement on the foundations of moral theology, is to condemn false theories of intrinsically immoral acts; to wit:

"One must therefore reject the thesis... which holds that it is impossible to qualify as morally evil according to its species — its "object" — the deliberate choice of certain kinds of behaviour or specific acts, apart from a consideration of the intention for which the choice is made ..."

Intrinsically immoral acts are specific chosen behaviors which can be qualified as morally evil apart from a consideration of the intention for which the choice was made or the foreseeable consequences of choosing the behavior.

The facts which specify the object are different in the murder/surgery cases. The acting subject is choosing to attack a healthy innocent person with a killing behavior in the case of murder. The acting subject is choosing to operate on a sick person with a healing behavior in the case of a surgeon. That they both do so with the further intention of getting access to the person's wallet can affect the morality of the act, but is not part of the object of the act.

There are more problemmatic cases, of course, theft being the archetype. This is an atrociously long comment already, but suffice to say that although everyday heuristics on how to understand theft do vary, it is in fact possible to understand theft deontologically rather than teleologically, so arguments premised on the idea that it is impossible to understand theft deontologically rest on a false premise.

The Harrison/Akin understanding doesn't work, because it attempts to simultaneously understand torture as intrinsically immoral and at the same time say that the same chosen behavior or concrete act can be good when done with some purposes and intrinsically immoral when done with others. If they were contending that torture is not intrinsically immoral, but can be good for some purposes and evil for others, their approach would be coherent. As it is, the assertion of intrinsic immorality conflicts with the teleological moral analysis they make of the act.

Zippy and Mark Shea root their entire argument on a fairly compact thesis: Using pain to extract information is using the person as an object to produce a good. Using a person as an object to produce a good is intrinsically evil.

Er, no I don't. I rest my argument on the fact that every argument I have encountered which tries to square waterboarding and other forms of "enhanced interrogation" (to quote the euphemistic term condemned in "Torture is a Moral Issue") is extremely incoherent, while the consensus of international law, combined with the plain meaning of Church teaching is, despite protests from Dr. Feser, extremely clear.

At the end of the day, Dr. Feser is saying that he has no idea whether waterboarding or enhanced interrogation are torture or not. That was the point of the post: it's not obvious. Great. Let's grant it's not obvious that waterboarding or [insert favorite harsh technique here] is torture. It's also sure as hell not obvious that it's not, especially when people get waterboarded 183 times, or die from strappado or hypothermia, or the Red Cross calls it torture. So we are, by Dr. Feser's argument, lost in murk and he is powerless to lead us out of the fog. It might be torture. It might not be. Who knows? Dr. Feser appears to be useless as a guide.

So, I turn to various competent authorities to answer the question "What is torture and does waterboarding fill the bill?" I know the ordinary magisterium is not in the business of producing the Big Book of Condemned Interrrogation Techniques any more than it is in the business of prescribing how the US should write its tax code. So I turn to other competent authorities, some of which I mentioned in earlier posts. What I find is that the Bush Administration is at variance with all of them in how it defines torture. I further find that these competent authorities say, "Yeah. Waterboarding (among other Bush approved techniques) is torture." Those competent authorities include our own government, pre-Bush. So I conclude, "Waterboarding (among oher harsh techniques) is torture". I further conclude, therefore, that since the Church says clearly "Don't torture", we should not waterboard and engage in other forms of "enhanced interrogation" which were illegal pre-Bush.

Meanwhile, when I turn back to Dr. Feser, he is still arguing strenuously that he has no idea whether waterboarding is torture or not. I take him at his word and hope he figures it out, and then turn to the specific guidance of the bishops in "Torture is a Moral Issue". I realize it's not an exercise of the ordinary magisterium. But it *is* an exercise of the bishop's teaching office, specifically created to help American's navigate the question of what to make of Church teaching--all in reaction to the embrace of torture by the Bush Administration. That's about as clear a piece of ecclesial guidance on the question as you could ask for. That's why it exists: so I turn to it.

Now: My mention of what may constitute the possible distinction between torture and hanging was not intended as some sort of one size fits all diagnostic heuristic. I simply noted that this distinction *appears* to be the basis of the Church's thinking in distinguishing torture from, say, hanging, but I could be wrong. Personally, I'm not interested in trying to work out all the bases of the Church's thinking here. I'm content that Holy Mother Church is a reliable guide, even when she's not speaking infallibly. If Dr. Feser is maintaining his bafflement over whether or not waterboarding is torture while the USCCB is clearly indicating that it is, then I will go with the bishops' document (as well as the plain words of Pope Benedict) and not remain in the fruitless murk with Dr. Feser. He is welcome to have no idea whether waterboarding is torture. I simply note that I do not see an obligation to remain there with him when the overwhelming consensus of competent authorities are against him in regarding waterboarding (among other techniques which were illegal pre-Bush) as unequivocally torture. If he insists on holding out for an exercise of the ordinary Magisterium from the world's bishops or the Pope, listing waterboarding as torture (along with a definitive list of other techniques in some Big Book of Condemned Interrogation Techniques) I am morally certain he will be waiting until the Parousia and will therefore always be lost in murk on this matter. But since the bishops are teaching us via "Torture is a Moral Issue" (albeit not as an exercise of the ordinary magisterium, if I understand correctly), I see no obligation for me to remain in the murk with him.

Zippy and Mark Shea root their entire argument on a fairly compact thesis: Using pain to extract information is using the person as an object to produce a good. Using a person as an object to produce a good is intrinsically evil.
One of my proposed definitions of torture - again, I think the positivist search for a comprehensive and bulletproof one is wrongheaded, but I've played along for many years now because people often need to talk things out - was to suggest that inflicting severe suffering on a person as nothing but a means to an end is always morally wrong, no matter how important the end or how bad the person. I myself can talk about problems with this suggestion, but one of them is most decidedly not that there can be concomitant good effects when inflicting punishment, because I specifically formulated it as nothing but. Another more heuristic formulation was that when punishing and at the same time getting a fungible commodity like information from the punished, it is not a licit punishment unless we would inflict more or less the same punishment anyway even if we had no hope of extracting the fungible commodity. The primary aim of punishment (goes the proposal, which again is not something I own as a completed positivist definition) is justice: the correction of the person -qua- person. Secondary benefits are licit to the extent those secondary benefits (like deterrence) are accidental to the infliction of suffering. Lots of discussion ensued, with no clear resolution but many good thoughts from many people.

So two things:

1) My positivist/complete abstract definition isn't compact, because I don't have one that I've signed up to at all; and

2) Even what I proposed for the sake of discussion was somewhat more subtle than characterized here.

My own first impulse, on hearing the first rumors of torture and such years ago, was that it was lefty pacifist military-hating types trying to play a word game. I've never actually found any significant number of those though; just real torture done by our people in our name, and large numbers of ostensible conservatives supporting it at least materially. The political Left is an amoral raving freakshow, and yet ostensible conservatives handed it a genuine moral victory on a silver platter.

This (and no supposed "pro-terrorist* empathy of mine) is no small part of what has always motivated my opposition to torture. It is, in the words of Talleyrand "worse than a sin. It's a mistake." In addition to being wrong in itself, the prolife Right's broad embrace of torture apologetics has battened the prolife cause to an argument that makes it a sitting duck for the Left. The spectacle of pro-lifers going to the mat to defend what the overwhelming consensus of competent authorities unequivocally calls "torture" is a scandal the Left will *surely* exploit. It will not keep us safe. It will instead greatly harm the prolife movement and the Church in a time where the culture is turning radically against Her.

Indeed, the spectacle of Christians laboring to press into a rapidly and aggressively de-Christianizing Caesar's hands the power to torture those whom he regards as "extremists" is like watching somebody sign their own death warrant. The Obama Extremist Watch List should give every Catholic and prolifer pause about just where the power to torture suspected enemies of the State could go.

I give the devil the benefit of law for my *own* safety's sake.

If history teaches us anything, it is that most humans will eventually say whatever they have to, no matter what, to stop pain.

Torture works. It can be relied on for everything the torturer wants.
Except truth.

Just a note to Tony:

William, yes, this passage does, exactly, harbor the ambiguity that is at issue. The passage mentions, as if talking about inherently evil acts, a broad range of things that are clearly only inherently evil only in special or restricted conditions...

If by "inherently" you mean "intrinsically", which is the word the Pope used, there are no "special or restricted conditions" that make them so. Intrinsically evil acts are so by their very nature, and no circumstance can make them otherwise. I don't know what you mean by "as if", since he is quite clearly talking about those kinds of acts.

If history teaches us anything, it is that most humans will eventually say whatever they have to, no matter what, to stop pain.Torture works. It can be relied on for everything the torturer wants. Except truth.

Here's my former boss Michael Hayden being interviewed by Chris Wallace on this issue:

WALLACE: Not only, as you point out, did the president go against four former directors of the CIA, as you point out he also went against the current CIA director, Leon Panetta.
And here's how White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs responded this week to the claims that the release of these documents makes the country less safe. Here it is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It is the use of those techniques, the use of those techniques in the view of the world, that have made us less safe.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: What does that tell you about President Obama's approach to the war on terror?
HAYDEN: It's difficult for me to judge the president. I don't think I would do that. But Mr. Gibbs' comments bring another reality fully in front of us. It's what I'll call, without meaning any irreverence to anybody, a really inconvenient truth.
Most of the people who oppose these techniques want to be able to say, "I don't want my nation doing this," which is a purely honorable position, "and they didn't work anyway." That back half of the sentence isn't true.
The facts of the case are that the use of these techniques against these terrorists made us safer. It really did work. The president's speech, President Bush in September of ‘06, outlined how one detainee led to another, led to another, with the use of these techniques.
The honorable position you have to take if you want us not to do this -- and believe me, if the nation says, "Don't do it," the CIA won't do it. The honorable position has to be, "Even though these techniques worked, I don't want you to do that." That takes courage. The other sentence doesn't.

And here is Hayden in his Wall Street Journal article:

Which brings us to the next of the justifications for disclosing and thus abandoning these measures: that they don't work anyway, and that those who are subjected to them will simply make up information in order to end their ordeal. This ignorant view of how interrogations are conducted is belied by both experience and common sense. If coercive interrogation had been administered to obtain confessions, one might understand the argument. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), who organized the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, among others, and who has boasted of having beheaded Daniel Pearl, could eventually have felt pressed to provide a false confession. But confessions aren't the point. Intelligence is. Interrogation is conducted by using such obvious approaches as asking questions whose correct answers are already known and only when truthful information is provided proceeding to what may not be known. Moreover, intelligence can be verified, correlated and used to get information from other detainees, and has been; none of this information is used in isolation. The terrorist Abu Zubaydah (sometimes derided as a low-level operative of questionable reliability, but who was in fact close to KSM and other senior al Qaeda leaders) disclosed some information voluntarily. But he was coerced into disclosing information that led to the capture of Ramzi bin al Shibh, another of the planners of Sept. 11, who in turn disclosed information which -- when combined with what was learned from Abu Zubaydah -- helped lead to the capture of KSM and other senior terrorists, and the disruption of follow-on plots aimed at both Europe and the U.S. Details of these successes, and the methods used to obtain them, were disclosed repeatedly in more than 30 congressional briefings and hearings beginning in 2002, and open to all members of the Intelligence Committees of both Houses of Congress beginning in September 2006. Any protestation of ignorance of those details, particularly by members of those committees, is pretense.

What does a fair-minded observer do when confronted with something like this? I suppose the among the first things to do is to inquire into the character of the man saying it. This kind of thing might be rejected out of hand because the guy is a known liar. Or because he is a bureaucratic hack covering up the misdeeds of the CIA. Or he could have been complicit in the evil deeds and is trying to cover them up. If you knew him to be such a scoundrel then you might be inclined to think this to be nothing more than a bald-faced lie.

But what if you knew someone like this to be a honorable man, a nonpartisan intelligence professional, and even a faithful Roman Catholic (I'll kick the latter one over to my RC friends.) What then should you think of his assertion that the program produced critical intelligence, that is, it worked?

I'm not asking at this point whether it was the right thing to do, just what we are to make of the claim that it worked. So, when someone like Burr Deming speaks with CERTAINTY on this matter, I inclined to ask: why should I believe you, rather than Michael Hayden? Your disagreement with Hayden, after all, is not over a "normative" issue. Your judgment doesn't reach to the rightness or wrongness of the interrogation program or specifically to waterboarding. Why the hesitancy, then, to say concede that it is just possible that waterboarding works. After all, you can then go on to say that because it is evil in itself, it should not be done, EVER? That would be the honorable position.

The view that it NEVER works, that it didn't work here, and that you KNOW it never worked or didn't work in this instance back in 2003, is not honorable, unless you can bring forth evidence that it has NEVER worked or that it didn't work here. And by "worked" I don't mean "produced a confession" (or in some metaphysical sense cleansed the soul, or whatever) but worked in that it produced valuable intelligence. So, fire away, tell me what you know that Michael Hayden and the other authorities on this issue, including those who oppose the program, don't.

Of course not. The fallacy here is failing to see that "discrimination" has come to have a normative sense in addition to its older, non-normative sense. The original meaning was just something like "treating people differently." Because some differential treatment is unjust, the word has now come to have a second, normative sense of "unjustly treating people differently." When this is kept in mind, it is obvious that people who oppose racial discrimination but not the faculty hiring policy in question are not contradicting themselves. They might agree that both cases involve discrimination in the older, non-normative sense, but not that they both involve discrimination in the newer, normative sense. To insist that they must be contradicting themselves is just to commit the fallacy of equivocation.

This explains why, btw, that international lawyers (and other scoundrels) no longer speak of the "principle of discrimination" when referring to the jus in bello notion of noncombatant immunity from direct attack, but rather to the "principle of distinction." The term "discrimination" has taken on such a negative connotation that evidently it can no longer be employed as a normative requirement of justice in warfighting. Not exactly relevant to the thread, but thought I would throw it out there anyway.

If by "inherently" you mean "intrinsically", which is the word the Pope used, there are no "special or restricted conditions" that make them so. Intrinsically evil acts are so by their very nature, and no circumstance can make them otherwise. I don't know what you mean by "as if", since he is quite clearly talking about those kinds of acts.

There is simply no way to read the passage as being a tight, logically formulated list that means "intrinsically evil" in a univocal sense to each of the items listed. It is impossible. Deportation is listed. PLEASE don't suggest that deportation is intrinsically evil as such. Nobody thinks so, and nobody ever acts as if it is. What we must presume is that deportation is on the list because there is some form of it - deportation of masses of people without regard to their individual guilt or innocence - that is intrinsically evil. But the passage makes no reference to that qualified subset of deportation. Even worse is "subhuman living conditions." If the fact that someone somewhere in the world is living under subhuman living conditions means that my government is doing something intrinsically evil, then of course the passage has become meaningless. Even if that person is living in the US, it still cannot be manuevered into meaning that the federal government is doing something intrinsically evil. At best, it could only mean that being the direct and primary cause of someone living in subhuman living standards is intrinsically evil, but that's not ever what happens - there are always a multitude of causes, and they are none of them the primary cause - except "poverty" of course. Sure, go ahead and blame poverty. There is rarely one specific person, or one specific identifiable group, that is morally responsible for the condition. Who then is doing an "intrinsically evil" act? The passage ends up referring to these conditions as a "disgrace" rather than as intrinsically evil - just possibly the sense of the passage changes a little mid-stream.

The reality is that the passage applies "intrinsically evil" in different ways and to different degrees to various items on the list, and not in a tight, formal sense that is clean and unambiguous and univocal with respect to each item on the list. This is sufficient to conclude that the expression "torture" on the list is not explicitly and formally intended to refer to all uses of pain as methods of punishing crimes and extracting information.

The Obama Extremist Watch List should give every Catholic and prolifer pause about just where the power to torture suspected enemies of the State could go.

Mark, would you be satisfied with an explicit policy statement that says:

Applying pain to extract information works. Some forms of using pain for punishing crime and extracting information are morally licit, but all forms of this behavior are fraught with moral danger and some forms are intrinsically evil. Therefore we have decided to forego the use of pain to extract information even in cases where it is not intrinsically evil.

Would such a position be sufficient not only as a plan of action but as a moral account?

If a terrorist were to thumb his nose and and say, "sure I planted the bomb, and I know where it is but you don't and there is nothing you can do about it", using pain to extract the info about its location is totally different - morally - from using pain to get an admission of guilt. He has already admitted to being guilty of the crime. He just has not yet divulged the specifics of that crime's circumstances, particularly place. More details do not make either "another" confession, or complete the first confession except in a totally incidental manner, as far as confession of the crime itself are concerned.

Perhaps it's my legal training and experience that is affecting my view here, but it seems clear to me that providing more details even about what you've already said you did most certainly can and does constitute another confession. In any event, even if you want to say that there is some analytic difference between extracting a confession and extracting life saving information about an impending terror plot, still the two categories would seem to be pretty close to each other. Mr. Feser's argument, as I understand it, depends on the idea that extracting information is less like extracting a confession than it is like imposing punishment. Mr. Feser says that this is "plausible" but so far as I've seen he's offered no reason to think that, and it certainly does not appear plausible to me.

Keith:

Let me take the opportunity to agree with you on a specific point: the courageous thing for the torture abolitionist to say is that it works and nevertheless it isn't the kind of thing we should be doing. And the courageous thing for the torture consequentialist to say is that it is torture, it works, and therefore we should do it.

Enough with the postmodern fog and unwillingness to face and speak to reality, all the way around.

Even worse is "subhuman living conditions."

Yeah--my wife and youngest daughter (the one still living at home) tell me all the time that living with a guy trying to learn the banjo counts for "subhuman living conditions." In fact, they tell me that listening to me picking, say, "Cripple Creek" counts as "torture." I think they are going to take the issue to the International Criminal Court. I await indictment.

If a terrorist were to thumb his nose and and say, "sure I planted the bomb, and I know where it is but you don't and there is nothing you can do about it", using pain to extract the info about its location is totally different - morally - from using pain to get an admission of guilt. He has already admitted to being guilty of the crime. He just has not yet divulged the specifics of that crime's circumstances, particularly place. More details do not make either "another" confession, or complete the first confession except in a totally incidental manner, as far as confession of the crime itself are concerned.

To which Blackadder replied:

Perhaps it's my legal training and experience that is affecting my view here, but it seems clear to me that providing more details even about what you've already said you did most certainly can and does constitute another confession. In any event, even if you want to say that there is some analytic difference between extracting a confession and extracting life saving information about an impending terror plot, still the two categories would seem to be pretty close to each other.


Perhaps it is my background in intelligence that makes the distinction between "using pain to force a confession" and "using pain to force someone to divulge information that would lead to the prevention of a catastrophic terrorist attack" seem just rather obvious. That they are "close" (whatever that means) is irrelevant. To defeat Feser's assertion that they they are anlytically distinct, you have to tell us why the former NCECESSARILY collapses into the latter such that there is NO distinction?

If they are analytically distinct, then you can go on to say that the use of pain for either reason is "intrinsically immoral" if you want. Or you can say that they are both permissible on consequentialist grounds. Or you can say that while "pain" is permissible in both, "severe pain" is not. Or you can say that "severe pain" is permissible in one but not the other. (Although that would take you into forbidden territory since you actually might have to define the term "severe" and how that relates to the term "torture.")

All this I can understand. I just don't get how anyone can reasonably claim that there is no relevant distinction in the first place.

If you knew him to be such a scoundrel then you might be inclined to think this to be nothing more than a bald-faced lie.

One might be inclined to think he has no concern for obeying the law.
http://glenngreenwald.blogspot.com/2006/05/gen-hayden-admits-administration-knew.html

It was not for reprisal, revenge, punishment, or to extract a confession of guilt. Those distinct reasons for resorting to the waterboard are not irrelevant to the moral evaluation of its use.

That seems to be a misreading of the history leading up to the Military Commissions Act. Until that legislation, confessions obtained under torture were permitted in the tribunal. Even under the Act, if the confession was obtained before 2006 it may be allowed as evidence by a judge.

In fact, they tell me that listening to me picking, say, "Cripple Creek" counts as "torture." I think they are going to take the issue to the International Criminal Court. I await indictment.

Oh, I get it!

See, Keith's wife and daughter say that listening to him pick "Cripple Creek" on the banjo counts as "torture" because he doesn't play it well. But that's not really torture. So suffocating someone with water isn't really torture.

It's funny, because it's true.

Perhaps it is my background in intelligence that makes the distinction between "using pain to force a confession" and "using pain to force someone to divulge information that would lead to the prevention of a catastrophic terrorist attack" seem just rather obvious. That they are "close" (whatever that means) is irrelevant. To defeat Feser's assertion that they they are anlytically distinct, you have to tell us why the former NCECESSARILY collapses into the latter such that there is NO distinction?

Certainly there are cases of confessions that don't divulge information that could help thwart a terrorist plot. The question is whether there are cases where a person divulges information under torture that could help thwart a terrorist plot that don't amount to a confession. In the standard case under consideration (i.e. where you have the terrorist in custody and with to make him tell you the information), then extracting the information would seem to constitute extracting a confession according to the plain dictionary meaning of the term. For this not to count as a confession, one would have to assume that the person being tortured was completely innocent, such that the information he provided would not implicate himself at all. But surely no one wants to argue that it's okay to torture the innocent to get information, but not the guilty.

The only reason Mr. Feser has given for thinking that extracting a confession is different than extracting information is that in the latter case we know the person is guilty, whereas in the former we don't. But this is not true. There are cases where you may know that a person is guilty of a crime yet still want him to confess, and there are cases where you may wish to get information out of someone without knowing that he is guilty of anything. It's not even clear to me that such cases are more common in the torture for information situation than the torture for confession situation. And Mr. Feser has offered no reason at all for thinking that extracting information is more like imposing punishment than it is extracting a confession (which on his own account he should have to do).

Certainly there are cases of confessions that don't divulge information that could help thwart a terrorist plot. The question is whether there are cases where a person divulges information under torture that could help thwart a terrorist plot that don't amount to a confession.

No. That's not the question. The question is whether there is an analytical distinction between applying pain for the purpose of getting a confession of past guilt and for applying pain for the purpose of preventing a future terrorist attack.

Is it really so unreasonable to understand the position of someone who might say:

1. I would never apply the waterboard (or sleep deprivation) on KSM to get him to confess to being the mastermind of 9/11 or some other past terrorist plot, being a member of Al Qaeda etc, and

2. I would, if the situation were sufficiently grave, apply the waterboard (or sleep deprivation etc. or playing the banjo for many hours) on KSM to get him to spill the beans on forthcoming terrorist attacks.

I'm not asking for you to approve of (2). You may think waterboarding is intrinsically evil and you don't want to do evil (waterboard) so that good may come (prevent terrorist attack).

And I’m not denying should if you proceed with (2) that this will raise sticky legal issues with regard to permissible evidence to be used against KSM when he goes before a military commission, or a civilian jury or some sort of future “national security court.”

I'm just asking why you are so resistant to the common sense fact that (1) and (2) are DIFFERENT.


Oh, I get it!

See, Keith's wife and daughter say that listening to him pick "Cripple Creek" on the banjo counts as "torture" because he doesn't play it well. But that's not really torture. So suffocating someone with water isn't really torture.

It's funny, because it's true.

Well, not exactly, Tom. My wife and daughter would say that listening to me pick "Cripple Creek" would be torture even if I played it as well as Earl Scruggs (which I don't). Its not the quality of picking, it is (to them) the banjo. You might say, they think the banjo is evil in itself.

My wife and daughter, of course, share with so many who speak with certainty on the waterboarding issue, a refusal to define what they mean by "torture." And so, I keep on a pickin'.


BA writes:

Certainly there are cases of confessions that don't divulge information that could help thwart a terrorist plot.
Exactly. For the distinction to work as required in Harrison's argument, there have to be real cases where torture to extract life saving information is not also and concomitantly extracting a confession. Maybe if we tortured a doctor - "tell me the procedure to remove an appendix, or back to the waterboard with you" - there might be that kind of case, at least in theory. But that doesn't apply to the actual cases of interest here. If KSM revealed various plots he was involved in under and because of torture, that was a case of, among other things, extracting a confession. That extracting life saving information and extracting a confession are analytically separable in the abstract - e.g. torturing the appendectomy procedure out of a doctor - does not make them analytically separable in the actual kinds of cases and in the manner which is required in order to make Harrison's case, at least as applied in Internet discussions.

If one buys into Harrison's argument, he might conclude e.g. that a doctor who is being punished for a crime can be licitly tortured in order to reveal a medical procedure that only he happens to know. I think that is a silly and wrong result; but Harrison's argument doesn't help with a case like KSM, where the information we want him to reveal just is necessarily also and concomitantly a confession of crimes in which he is involved.

John Paul II:

In this service to man, Christians readily endorse the aims and practices of the Red Cross. . . . [In those who suffer] they see the figure of Christ himself, who has identified himself with prisoners, the sick, exiles, and those despoiled of everything. How many pages of the Gospels graphically depict this theme, beginning with the parable of the Good Samaritan! And as for torture, the Christian is confronted from infancy onward with the account of Christ’s Passion. The memory of Jesus – stripped, flogged, and derided right up until the sufferings of his final agony – should always make him resolve never to see analogous torments inflicted on any one of his brothers in humanity. Spontaneously, the disciple of Christ rejects every recourse to such methods, which nothing could justify, and by which the dignity of man is as much debased in the torturer as in his victim.

Hello Zippy and Lydia,

Re: the Kevin Miller quote, I agree that that is a point worth making. But here is another point worth making: If one is going to cite e.g. papal speeches (as opposed to encyclicals or other offical documents), pamphlets issued by the bureaucracy of a national bishop's conference, etc., then surely he has to take papal bulls and the like pretty seriously. That the bulls in question might be old is irrelevant, since Catholicism is not about what's current, but about what's true, and what's consistent with tradition. Progressives give the present a privileged position, but Catholciism doesn't. My point isn't that the Magisterium cannot clarify past statements or correct non-infallible ones; of course it can. The point is just that, just as we cannot glibly dismiss current documents of the sort I cited, neither can we glibly dismiss older documents. I know you agree with this, Zippy, but it seems to me worth emphasizing.

Now, that is a point about documents and statements, past or present, of a relatively low level of authority. How much more does it apply to documents of a very high level of authority (e.g. encyclicals, decrees of Church councils, papal condemnations of heresy, and above all Scripture)? But notice that this latter sort of source, and in particular Scripture, is what I have been focusing on. It is one thing to ridicule an appeal to some medieval bull as somehoe posing a crisis for Catholic doctrine. But one cannot so easily ridicule an appeal to Scripture. (And Lydia, it isn't just Sirach that affirms the legitimacy in principle of severe corporal punishment. As Fr. Harrison notes, it is also the Mosaic law that does so, and it is only with violence to the text that one can deny that even the NT allows that someone can merit such punishment, even though the accent is of course far more on mercy.) If it seems that there is a conflict between Scripture and e.g. Veritatis Splendor, then that is very serious indeed. No responsible Catholic can just wave away the question. I don't for a moment believe that there really is a conflict, but to explain why there isn't requires getting clearer on exactly what "torture" is, when the infliction of severe bodily pain counts as torture, when such punishment is intrinsically wrong vs. only contingently wrong, etc. And that is why people like Harrison, Akin, and myself keep insisting that these questions need to be addressed in detail. It has nothing whatsoever to do with nit-picking, a refusal to see the obvious, etc.

Perhaps you will agree with that much. I think it worth emphasizing, though, because there are some people with a reputation for orthodoxy who have contributed to the Catholic debate over torture, and also to the debate over capital punishment, who seem to me to be extremely glib indeed when dealing with documents of the high level of authority I refer to. Their zeal for that they take to be a "deeper" insight into Catholic morality (inspired by the "new natural law" theory) has led them in effect to put their own novel moral theories above the authority of Scripture, past popes, etc. They jump through logical hoops to reconcile their extreme conclusions (e.g. that capital punishment is inherently and always wrong) with traditional Catholic teaching. Indeed, their position logically entails that traditional Catholic teaching -- even the Bible itself -- are just wrong, and sometimes even cite the purported trajectory of JPII's "development" of doctrine in their defense. (As if it did honor to a pope to characterize him as taking a position which entails that Scripture and tradition are wrong!)

Amazingly, however, no one ever accuses these people of being dissenters, disloyal to the Magisterium, peddling legalistic attempts to wiggle out of clear teaching, etc. Instead, it is people like Harrison, Akin, and myself, whose sole motivation is to do justice to everything Catholic tradition has said about these issues, who are accused (by some people, anyway) of these things.

Please consider, then, Zippy, that there is a very real danger on your side of this issue of failing to do justice to the Magisterium, just as you think there is a danger on my side of it of doing so. I am not accusing you of this sort of error. Not at all. My point is just that the concern of many people on my side is precisely to avoid doctrinal or moral error, and in particular to avoid the sort of glib dismissal of tradition that some (not all, some) on the softer, anti-capital punishment, "anti-torture" side have been guilty of. Our concern about people on the other side doing violence to Catholic doctrine is a real one, not merely hypothetical.

My wife and daughter, of course, share with so many who speak with certainty on the waterboarding issue, a refusal to define what they mean by "torture." And so, I keep on a pickin'.

Is there an argument being offered or an assertion being made here that relates to anything outside the Pavlischek household?

I ask because the argument that seems to be offered is so patently unsound that it's not worth rebutting if it's not actually being offered.

Is it really so unreasonable to understand the position of someone who might say:

1. I would never apply the waterboard (or sleep deprivation) on KSM to get him to confess to being the mastermind of 9/11 or some other past terrorist plot, being a member of Al Qaeda etc, and

2. I would, if the situation were sufficiently grave, apply the waterboard (or sleep deprivation etc. or playing the banjo for many hours) on KSM to get him to spill the beans on forthcoming terrorist attacks.

Sure, I can understand that position. But presumably a person who held to this view wouldn't say that it was always wrong to torture someone for the purpose of extracting a confession, since that is what is happening in case 2. I don't deny that the details a confession might be used to thwart a plot and save lives, but that doesn't mean that it wasn't a confession.

But let's assume for the sake of argument that "extracting a confession" and "extracting information" are distinct categories. What reason is there to think that extracting information is more like imposing punishment than it is like extracting a confession?

The first three paragraphs of my last comment should be in italics.

[Fixed]

Ed, I'm afraid I really don't agree with your interp. on the NT front. It seems to me that this is all fairly strained--taking highly indirect implications (perhaps of parables or poetry or references to divine punishment) to tell us that something cannot be deemed intrinsically immoral. The Psalmist calls down blessings on the head of the unspecified enemy of his enemy who dashes the brains of the enemy's infants against the stones, but I don't think this should stop any of us from concluding that it is intrinsically wrong for soldiers to dash out infants' brains against stones. But I think I can see that your chief interest here is in addressing your fellow Catholics, and there, I don't claim to have a position on what a Catholic may/should/must believe. It seems to me understandable and predictable that we find more apparently pro-torture statements from Catholic theologians and thinkers hundreds of years ago than now, and also that we now have very strong anti-torture Catholic statements. And that's about all I'll say on that. The canon lawyers and lay Catholics are going to have to duke it out among themselves.

By the way, I will just add here that I think the whole debate is to some degree confused by the presence among the interrogation techniques of things that, IMO, should just be taken _off the table_ as plausibly being torture or wrong. It is not wrong or torture to put a caterpillar in someone's cell, even if he is irrationally afraid of caterpillars. And some degree, at least, of sleep deprivation seems to me an entirely licit interrogation technique. I think the whole thing gets trivialized when we don't focus on something that really is, if I may put it this way, uncontroversially controversial--like waterboarding. The "antis" are tempted to say ridiculous things, like that all of this is prisoner abuse and wrong, and the "pros" are tempted to lump waterboarding with putting a caterpillar in someone's cell and laugh off the idea that anything under consideration could be considered either torture or wrong. This just confuses matters. Sticking to something in particular (not everything that someone calls "enhanced interrogation techniques") is helpful to focus agreement and disagreement.

Lydia, re: the NT, Christ evidently whipped the money changers as well as the animals. The good thief acknowledged that his own punishment on the cross was just. Several parables evidently presuppose that severe corporal punishment can be just -- certainly that seems to be the way they were traditionally understood (and for my money, I trust older interpreters over recent ones any day). And then there are all the even more explicit OT texts. I am NOT saying "Therefore waterboarding is OK." I AM saying "Therefore any Christian had better think twice before saying that inflicting severe corporal punishment is 'inherently contrary to human dignity.'" That premise is simply not available to him in the debate over waterboarding. This should be even more obvious when we consider that if capital punishment is in principle just -- as I assume you'd agree the Bible makes crystal clear -- then a fortiori severe corporal punishment can in principle be just. I don't see why you think there is any Protestant/Catholic issue here. Sirach aside, the specific point I am making (about what premises are available in the debate) applies to Protestants as well as Catholics.

I agree with you that both sides of this debate lump all sorts of things together that shouldn't be lumped together. That's part of my point in this discussion. There's way too much moralistic preening and way too little careful conceptual or theological analysis. And the minute someone attempts such an analysis, some jackass accuses him of hair-splitting, or dissenting from the Magisterium, of denying the "obvious," or whatever. It's disgusting and depressing, which is why I mainly try to stay out of the debate.

It's true that some on the Right (certainly among the secular Right) are too glib about these things, but so too are people on the Left. People act like there's simply no way to be too squeamish and soft on the issue of corporal punishment, that the errors of excess are all on the Right. This is nonsense. The Scriptural passages in question and the tradition in general should be a constant reminder that it is possible to overstate the significance of corporal suffering. These aren't simply "problem texts" that we should brush aside and ignore as far as we can get away with doing so. They are there for a reason.

I suppose I had better emphasize yet again that I am NOT saying that this by itself proves anything about waterboarding specifically. Nor am I saying "Corporal suffering is not a big deal" or any other such thing. I am saying only that it is possible to go too far in the other direction, and some people (such as the "new natural law" folks I've cited a couple of times now) have in fact done so.


But let's assume for the sake of argument that "extracting a confession" and "extracting information" are distinct categories. What reason is there to think that extracting information is more like imposing punishment than it is like extracting a confession?

I don't know what "more like" means. In any case, it is enough to simply recognize that inflicting pain to (1) impose punishment (2) extract a confession and (3) extract information to prevent grave harm are analytically distinct. To defend the moral permissibility or impermissibility of (3) I don't have to figure out how it is "more like" (1) or (2). Or at least I don't think so.

It is not wrong or torture to put a caterpillar in someone's cell, even if he is irrationally afraid of caterpillars. And some degree, at least, of sleep deprivation seems to me an entirely licit interrogation technique.

"intentional mental and/or physical harm"

If he is "irrationally afraid of caterpillars" then "to put a caterpillar in someone's cell" would be to inflict "intentional mental ... harm." Mental harm is a wonderful thing. To those who live in the world of words rather than in the world of deeds, the conclusion is obvious. It would also be torture to assign a woman to interrogate a prisoner for whom such a subordination is humiliating and mentally harmful.

Hmm. Does it matter that it reads "harm" rather than "pain"? That let's your pre-anesthesia dentist or surgeon off the hook.

British treatment of IRA detainees in Northern Ireland was one of the benchmarks the Bush Administration used in distinguishing between harsh treatment and actual torture. It's quite clear that the British [and the Americans in following their lead] were doing due diligence in making the distinction. Otherwise, where on the scale between woman interrogator and feet-first into the plastic-shredder do you draw the line? No one who has read the torture manuals employed by al Qaeda - or by the medieval Church, for that matter - is in doubt that what they describe is torture. But the raw words of definition are easily construed to include the whole scale. Consider how a hug can now be construed as child molestation or an alcohol-enhanced date can become rape after one sobers up.

For example, a 1978 ruling by the European Court of Human Rights found that "stress positions," "hooding," and sleep deprivation did not, in fact, constitute torture. Yet, there are those who still argue that these things are torture.

OTOH, the US military under Teddy Roosevelt banned "the water cure" after field officers began employing it in the Philippine Insurrection.

The Congress has the power to end the debate by simply defining waterboarding as torture by statute. But they moved a bill only when they knew it would be vetoed. Since Obama has been president, they talk about investigation commissions instead of outlawing "torture."

By the way, I will just add here that I think the whole debate is to some degree confused by the presence among the interrogation techniques of things that, IMO, should just be taken _off the table_ as plausibly being torture or wrong. It is not wrong or torture to put a caterpillar in someone's cell, even if he is irrationally afraid of caterpillars. And some degree, at least, of sleep deprivation seems to me an entirely licit interrogation technique. I think the whole thing gets trivialized when we don't focus on something that really is, if I may put it this way, uncontroversially controversial--like waterboarding. The "antis" are tempted to say ridiculous things, like that all of this is prisoner abuse and wrong, and the "pros" are tempted to lump waterboarding with putting a caterpillar in someone's cell and laugh off the idea that anything under consideration could be considered either torture or wrong. This just confuses matters. Sticking to something in particular (not everything that someone calls "enhanced interrogation techniques") is helpful to focus agreement and disagreement.

Yep--the problem is that all these other non-torture techniques are violations of the joint interrogation manual and would violate the Geneva Conventions, IF they were applied to lawful enemy combatants. This entire debate must be understood against a broader political argument. And that argument has everything to do with whether the US should treat our "conflict" (so as to not beg the question) with the transnational jihadi terrorists as a criminal matter rather than a matter of war. If it is a criminal matter they get all the due process rights and privileges of, say, O.J. Simpson. If it is a war, the argument goes, they get all the rights and privileges of lawful combatants--name rank and serial number, thank you. Why? Because the "antis" insist that the category of "unlawful enemy combatants" is illegal and immoral.

THAT is why the "antis" want to restrict all interrogation techniques to those kid-glove methods found in the joint interrogation manual and why they will tell you, with a straight face, that putting that caterpiller in the box is "torture."

I do see how it works, Tony. The Pope says he's talking about intrinsic evils, lists "whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, physical and mental torture and attempts to coerce the spirit" as examples; since the application of physical and mental pain is not intrinsically evil in all circumstances, it becomes your duty as a Catholic to begin parsing the Pope's words in an effort to make room for waterboarding as fitting those circumstances under which the application of said pain is not evil. The Pope's words could not possibly mean what they literally say. I understand how it works; I just think the methodology flawed. I might even respect it, if someone can tell me what circumstances make waterboarding licit, such that it does not fit the Pope's description.

I do see how it works, Tony. The Pope says he's talking about intrinsic evils, lists "whatever violates the integrity of the human person,

William--just for clarification. do you believe that the intentional killing of a human being is "instrinsically evil" in all circumstances. If so, why? If not, please explain why killing someone in just war or exectuting a person (capital punishment) does NOT violate human dignity or the "integrity of the person," but inflicting pain on them does.

Ed:

That the bulls in question might be old is irrelevant, since Catholicism is not about what's current, but about what's true, and what's consistent with tradition. Progressives give the present a privileged position, but Catholicism doesn't.
I agree. Kevin Miller's observation provides a kind of "backstop" on the faux ecclesiological crisis some have tried to precipitate if is stipulated that torture (as traditionally understood) is intrinsically immoral. The notion that if torture is in fact intrinsically immoral - leaving aside the distinct question of the extent to which the Church has taught that it is - that that somehow precipitates an ecclesiological crisis, is total hogwash. In other times and places I've made the further point that Ad Exstirpanda doesn't have the function - making a doctrinal statement about the morality of torture - that many attribute to it. Juridical regulations limiting a common practice simply are not the same kind of thing as doctrinal statements affirming the morality of a practice.
It is one thing to ridicule an appeal to some medieval bull as somehow posing a crisis for Catholic doctrine. But one cannot so easily ridicule an appeal to Scripture.
(As an aside, the phrase "ridicule a medieval bull" contains the kind of words that make me reflexively chamber a round).

Quite frankly, if it comes to whether I have to accept some individual's interpretation of how a certain passage of Sirach putatively affects doctrine in a particular kind of case, set against some pretty clear statements from Pope Benedict, the Compendium of Social Doctrine, the Catechism, etc I'm very much inclined toward treating the latter as having more authority. Granting that none of the above carry the authority of an encyclical, and that individual encyclicals do not carry the authority of infallible dogmatic definitions (of which there are really rather few), it seems to me pretty clear that the latter has far greater authority than the former. In short, I'm having a hard time figuring out why I should treat naked citation of Sirach any differently than I would treat any sola scriptura attack on (say) something in the Catechism. I say that as one fully aware that the Catechism is not the be-all and end-all of authority, that its goal - to teach the faith to everyman - is not precise exposition of moral theology, etc.

Maybe I am too glib in seeing "what about Sirach" as just another sola scriptura attack on, in this case, recent statements by the Pope and recently published catechetical (which is to say, with the purpose of teaching everyman rather than precise philosophical formulation) documents. Hermeneutical apologetics isn't my cup of tea in general anyway; the lack of imagination on the part of most people who discuss the subject drives me near to madness, though it can't be as bad as the penance you must have faced in comprehensively reading through the major New Atheists as due diligence for TLS.

And that is why people like Harrison, Akin, and myself keep insisting that these questions need to be addressed in detail.
The phrase "need to be addressed in detail" assumes some purpose or end for which this need is present. I've never objected to casuistry about torture. I've participated in a great deal of it myself; probably far more than the vast majority of the folks who are always telling me that more of it is needed.

So lets think about reasons why it might be needed.

(I) It might be needed in order to address a perceived ecclesiological crisis. I just don't see this as a pressing need. I think the whole notion that if we stipulate the intrinsic immorality of torture this presents an ecclesiological crisis is completely wrongheaded. It may not be trivial to show why, but it isn't all that difficult to show why, and I and others have done so on any number of other occasions.

(II) It might, on the other hand, be needed in order to pass judgment on whether any of the specific things we've actually been doing in the GWOT are immoral torture. I don't think it is needed here, because it is just obvious - as I explained above in my first or second comment - that some of the things we've been doing with official sanction in the GWOT do amount to torture, and indeed illegal and immoral torture.

(III) It might be needed in the more general sense in which a casuistry of things like abortion, euthanasia, etc are also needed. I am perfectly fine with that, as long as we are clear that this casuistry in no way is permitted to imply or create ambiguity about the previous two.

Amazingly, however, no one ever accuses [dissenting progressive Catholics] of being dissenters, disloyal to the Magisterium, peddling legalistic attempts to wiggle out of clear teaching, etc.
I wouldn't say that! Many voices, including my own and Mark Shea's, are very regularly raised against progressive dissent. Heck, I've been banned from blogs I don't know how many times for saying just that kind of thing. (I don't understand why. I'm such an agreeable, loveable guy). Mark Shea has whole categories of keywords at his blog for years of posts against progressive dissent on women priests, open communion, homosexual acts and "marriage" -- every progCath heresy you can think of. Further, granting that Pope Benedict's speeches and the Compendium (for example) don't carry the same level of authority as Humanae Vitae, there is definitely a similarity in how certain folks have responded to them.
Our concern about people on the other side doing violence to Catholic doctrine is a real one, not merely hypothetical.
I understand. I am perfectly fine with the day to day blocking and tackling of moral theology dealing with difficult and borderline questions. In fact I'm a pedantic enough geek that I find it enjoyable, when that is what it is. But I don't see any point in pretending that the case for an ecclesial crisis of some sort over torture is greater than it in fact is, and I don't see any point in creating or proposing ambiguity where there is none in the question of whether we've immorally and illegally tortured prisoners in the GWOT. It is absolutely true that - as with other moral questions, e.g. abortion, contraception, etc - there remains plenty of room for interesting discussion of the moral principles involved and how they apply to particular concrete situations and decisions. The truth is always important. However, it does no service to the truth to introduce or create ambiguity or lack of confidence where it does not belong. Ambiguity is inappropriate in (I) and (II) above, in my view, no matter how much legitimate ground there is to explore in (III).

(III), in other words, while a perfectly valid pursuit in its own right, is in most cases, because of our present context, just a proxy for a fight over (I) and (II). In my experience there is very little interest in discussing (III) while stipulating (I) and (II). Conflict over the first two - conflict which I believe to be misguided in the case of (I) and just obviously wrong in the case of (II) - is what the discussion tends to really be about, appearances notwithstanding.

William, I hold no brief for waterboarding. I don't claim it is not torture, and I don't claim that it is moral. What I claim is that it is consistent with formal Church teaching that using some forms of pain as punishment and to extract information is licit.

I do see how it works, Tony. The Pope says he's talking about intrinsic evils,

So tell me how deportation is intrinsically evil. And tell me how Regina in Calcutta living in subhuman living conditions is an intrinsically evil act on the part of...what person?

So tell me how deportation is intrinsically evil. And tell me how Regina in Calcutta living in subhuman living conditions is an intrinsically evil act on the part of...what person?
I don't speak ecclesial Latin, but I've been told that the term could as easily be translated as "banishment" - that is, uprooting an innocent person and throwing him out of his lifelong rightful home. I can certainly understand that being intrinsically immoral. I can also understand concrete acts forcing a person to live in subhuman living conditions as intrinsically immoral. So while I'm not as sanguine about VS 80 as some - I tend to think it is a fairly offhand list of things JPII considered obviously wrong, given as concrete examples to illustrate the foregoing abstract discussion - I also don't think it presents the hopeless case of befuddled ambiguity that many attempt to impute to it.

Hello Zippy,

Just to be clear, my appeal to Sirach and other biblical texts is not a sola scriptura attack on the relevant papal statements, etc. for the simple reason that it is not an attack on them at all. I am not saying "The Bible says this, therefore what JPII et al. said is wrong." I am saying "The Bible says this, therefore what JPII et al. said cannot be interpreted in such-and-such a way." Far from being a Protestant-like sola scriptura attack on papal teaching, what I am saying (about the intrinsic morality in principle of severe corproal punishment) is actually a defense of papal teaching against Protestant-like claims to the effect that the Catholic Church contradicts the Bible when it arrogantly believes it has some better view to teach.

For that reason, I would urge caution when making statements like this:

Quite frankly, if it comes to whether I have to accept some individual's interpretation of how a certain passage of Sirach putatively affects doctrine in a particular kind of case, set against some pretty clear statements from Pope Benedict, the Compendium of Social Doctrine, the Catechism, etc I'm very much inclined toward treating the latter as having more authority.

Are you saying that the Protestants are right when they say that the catholic Church reserves the right to contradict Scripture? Are you saying that Scripture could in fact be in error? Surely not, and neither claim actually does honor to the Church, since such claims actually conflict with the Church's understanding of her own authority and of the authority of the Bible. To say that the Bible can teach moral error is itself a heresy. Again, I am not saying you are taking this view. I'm sure you aren't. My point is just that one should be very careful before saying anything that seems even in the ballpark -- indeed, even near the offramp that might take one to the ballpark!

Perhaps the expression "some individual's interpretation of how a certain passage of Sirach etc." was meant by you to forestall the possibility of such a position. But as with the statements of Pope Benedict et al. you allude to, what Sirach says, and what some of the other relevant biblical passages say, is "pretty clear." In particular, there is no controversy whatever that Sirach is saying that the severe corporal punishments he describes are in principle legitimate. Indeed, that is precisely the point of the relevant passages, where Sirach names such severe corporal punishment as among the things one "should not be ashamed of" even if "others think" they are wrong! Hence (from this consideration and the others I've named) there is simply no avoiding the conclusion that Biblical revelation itself tells us that the principle "Severe corporal punishment is intrinsically wrong" is false. That is simply a datum with which any theology of punishment must deal. This is not sola scriptura, because I'm not saying that the Bible alone settles this or any other issue. It's just standard Catholic doctrine to the effect that the Bible is infallible, and (therefore) that not even the Church or the Pope can ever contradict it. Nor can we seek to give it some new and different sense so as to justify introducing a new doctrine -- that would be positivism, not Catholicism, and contrary to Vatican I's teaching about the immutable sense of dogmas (including dogmas about the authority of the Bible) into the bargain.

Re: an "ecclesastical crisis," I never said anything about that - that was your expression. I don't think there is any such crisis at all. What there are are certain Catholics running around saying that severe corporal punishment is "inherently an affront to human dignity" etc., without realizing, perhaps, that such a claim contradicts Scripture and (therefore) implicitly contradicts Catholic teaching.

And re: those who I have claimed have not been accused of dissent, I was not talking about "progressive Catholics" -- of course they are accused of dissent all the time, including by me, because they are dissenters. I explicitly said that it was people with a "reputation for orthodoxy," namely certain people (not all, but some of them) "inspired by the 'new natural law theory'" that I had in mind. For some of these people claim on "new natural law" grounds that capital punishment is inherently immoral, and that inflicting severe corporal harm is inherently immoral, even though these views are in conflict with Scripture and tradition. And yet no one ever questions their orthodoxy. I am NOT myself calling these people "dissenters," by the way; I am sure that if the CDF told them to stop saying these extreme things, that they (unlike the "progressives") would obey. I do think they are very seriously in error, though. And my point in raising the example was just to show that it is possible to go so far in the "anti-torture" direction that one is in danger of departing from orthodoxy. Possible because it is (in the case of some well-meaning but misguided people) actual.

Hi Keith, thanks for your input in all you've said. I agree with you and I think you've stated well that to love righteousness is to hate iniquity, like Jesus Heb. 1:8-9 who we are to be like.

To Mark P. Shea, in your 1:13 am post, I am disappointed to see that your reasons for opposing torture in any circumstance is because you fear for your own skin if the occasion arises where you might have to endure pain. Aren't the lives of innocent people worth risking persecution? It seems to me that the Bible is quite one sided against self preservation in the case of standing for righteousness and opposing evil acts. Your last sentence reminded me of this quote from Ben Franklin. "those who are willing to sacrifice freedom for short term security deserve neither freedom nor security".

I disagree with how you characterize the debate as: "christians laboring to press into a rapidly and agressively de-Christianizing Caesar's hands the power to torture those whom he regards as "extremists"..."

This isn't about extremists per se, it's about saving lives, innocent lives whether they are Christian, Muslim, Atheist, or any other human person who endeavors to live peacable lives. I posted earlier that the obligation to protect life weighs heavily on this debate, and I hold to that position still after reading every post so far.

BTW, to any who'd care to address this question, does the Roman Church have any declaration or doctrine on God's sovereignty similiar to WCF's "God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established" or does it refute it in some way?

Keith:

William--just for clarification. do you believe that the intentional killing of a human being is "instrinsically evil" in all circumstances?

Obviously not.

If not, please explain why killing someone in just war or exectuting a person (capital punishment) does NOT violate human dignity or the "integrity of the person," but inflicting pain on them does.

Part of the answer lies in the word with which you preface 'war': just. The criteria for just war having been met, it is licit to kill an attacking enemy in defense of one's country (or in defense of another who cannot defend himself). I assume we need not argue over this. Likewise, capital punishment falls under those kinds of acts which the Church has always described as 'good in their kind,' and which become evil only when corrupted by circumstances or intentions. This is a terrible truth about the moral law, that good acts can be made evil, but bad acts cannot be made good. Ever. Under any circumstances. The bad man therefore has more behavioral latitude, shall we say, than the good man, not being inhibited by the latter's scruples.

Another part of the answer lies in KSM's moral status once he has been captured. He is now, I'm sorry to say, among the 'innocent', by which I do not impute his possession of any moral purity, but must declare him so by virtue of his being our prisoner. We have rules about what we are allowed to do to prisoners, and torture is not among the options. Inflicting pain for the purpose of punishment is at least arguably licit. Inflicting pain for its own sake, or that we might thereby profit from it by extracting life-saving information, is clearly illicit. For example, we don't normally (I hope) execute criminals because we hope to gain more information or to profit in any other way than to claim that we have administered justice fairly, and with our motive unstained. Punishment should be inflicted to give a man what he deserves, and for no other reason. It might happen that after, or in the midst of, some form of punishment, a man might see the error of his ways and repent. But this cannot have been our primary reason for punishing him in the first place, since we did not know that this most pleasing side-effect would result. It's not as though the interrogators waterboarding KSM were just trying to give him what he deserved, and were then rewarded in the course of it by KSM's blurting out, "Stop! We're going to blow up a building in LA! Tomorrow!" I have trouble supposing that the interrogators then turned to each other saying, "What luck! We hadn't really expected that he'd tell us anything. We were just trying to punish him justly."

Therefore, I must be taking the position that waterboarding (under the circumstances we're describing) cannot possibly be taken for punishment, and I am. Dr. Feser said earlier, "I'm assuming that folks like Zippy, Mark Shea, William Luse, et al. aren't primarily concerned in this case with due process. In other words, I'm assuming that they'd say that even if KSM was afforded all the procedural rights one could ask for, waterboarding him for the purposes of extracting life-saving information regarding a terrorist attack he was involved in plotting would still be 'obviously' immoral."

Nevertheless, I am very concerned about due process, for it is that process that inhibits savagery and removes personal animus (such as vengeance or sheer hatred) as motivation for punishment. I'm trying to imagine the judge at a military tribunal pronouncing sentence: "KSM, I hereby sentence you to an indeterminate number of waterboarding sessions for the purpose of extracting from you life-saving information regarding a terrorist attack we suspect you to be involved in plotting." It's not going to happen, is it?

This is why I said in my first comment that the post conflates torture with punishment, and against the contention that, under certain scenarios, one is not easily extricated from the realm of the other, or at least that is not obviously so. But in the case we've been discussing here - waterboarding employed for the purpose of extracting information - yes, it is quite obvious that punishment is not its purpose. Punishment is what we give as an end result, not as a means to some other end. It's our way of saying, "We're through with you. No more talk. Now you pay the price." In short, punishment and torture are different kinds of acts, and once a man has to ask himself whether he's moving from the former to the latter, it's probably time to stop whatever he's doing.

Now if you want to make a case that waterboarding is just punishment - apart from any side benefit that might accrue - we can start the discussion from there. But Dr. Feser will no doubt assume that I wouldn't like that either, and he would almost certainly be right.

Sorry this was so long. I hadn't intended it to be.


Tony,

William, I hold no brief for waterboarding. I don't claim it is not torture, and I don't claim that it is moral.

I will admit to being very glad to hear this.

What I claim is that it is consistent with formal Church teaching that using some forms of pain as punishment and to extract information is licit.

That last part sounds like you're taking back with one hand what you gave with the other. But I could be wrong.

Zippy answered your other question as well as I could. If Pres. Obama exiled Tony from the country because he supported some form of coercion the president held to be torture, I'd be on your side.

Zippy said I don't speak ecclesial Latin, but I've been told that the term [deportation] could as easily be translated as "banishment"

William said Zippy answered your other question as well as I could. If Pres. Obama exiled Tony from the country because he supported some form of coercion the president held to be torture, I'd be on your side.

So, Zippy, if we take "deportation" as "banishment", it is still true that banishment can be used well or ill. When a Greek state convicted Alcibiades of crimes and banished him, this was not intrinsically evil, was it? Even your description requires the use of an additional qualifier: uprooting an innocent person. That qualifier in no way belongs to "banishment" of its own nature - it is perfectly possible to banish people justly or unjustly.

Same with subhuman conditions - you had to add terms to the expression to make it work: concrete acts forcing a person to live in subhuman living conditions . Unfortunately, the lily-livered liberals don't understand the expression that way - they think that it means just what it says. And they are in part justified, because very many of the people living in such conditions are doing so not on account of such concrete acts.

It is odd that Dr. Feser and I (not that I put myself in his class) are attacked as using proof-text arguments and inappropriate parsing of supposedly clear Church teachings, when , if we ask for the meaning of a text we are given a meaning that requires added terms not in the original, and the meaning given to the bare, "unexplained" on its face is not the one accepted either. Do I sniff a hint of double-standards here?

So while I'm not as sanguine about VS 80 as some - I tend to think it is a fairly offhand list of things JPII considered obviously wrong, given as concrete examples to illustrate the foregoing abstract discussion - I also don't think it presents the hopeless case of befuddled ambiguity that many attempt to impute to it.

I think that much of this sentiment is quite right, and most forthright. VS 80 gives an offhand list, and one should not attempt to apply each and every aspect of the list in exactly the same way without context, adjustment, clarification, and qualification. And my adjustment is that he uses the word torture in the modern sense rather than in the ancient. Therefore it does not speak to acts that involve pain that are not torture in the modern sense.

Tony:

...it is still true that banishment can be used well or ill.
Not as I expressed it, no, it can't be done justly.

Ed:

OK, fine, I'll bite this once. Here is Ecclesiasticus 33:25-30 from Douay-Rheims:

25 Fodder, and a wand, and a burden are for an ass: bread, and correction, and work for a slave.26 He worketh under correction, and seeketh to rest: let his hands be idle, and he seeketh liberty. 27 The yoke and the thong bend a stiff neck, and continual labours bow a slave. 28 Torture and fetters are for a malicious slave: send him to work, that he be not idle: 29 For idleness hath taught much evil. 30 Set him to work: for so it is fit for him. And if he be not obedient, bring him down with fetters, but be not excessive towards any one: and do no grievous thing without judgment.
Interestingly, I could easily take this one to be saying that a slave should be kept busy so that the master is not tempted to torture him; and that in the event of disobedience, only fetters in moderation are warranted. IOW, there is an obvious interpretation that cuts against the other interpretation proferred, saying pretty much the opposite, even if I buy into the whole 'hermeneutical problemmatic' in the first place, which I don't.

And 42:1-5:

1 Repeat not the word which thou hast heard, and disclose not the thing that is secret; so shalt thou be truly without confusion, and shall find favour before all men: be not ashamed of any of these things, and accept no person to sin thereby: 2 Of the law of the most High, and of his covenant, and of judgment to justify the ungodly: 3 Of the affair of companions and travellers, and of the gift of the inheritance of friends: 4 Of exactness of balance and weights, of getting much or little: 5 Of the corruption of buying, and of merchants, and of much correction of children, and to make the side of a wicked slave to bleed.
I'm just not getting where this OT scriptural advice about how to treat slaves means that all Catholics have to buy into the notion that Ecclesiasticus is a catechism or manual of moral theology, such that there is some problem of interpreting (for example) the Catechism's entry on torture - or slavery, for that matter - in light of it. Like, at all, any more than Catholics are required to treat Genesis as a scientific treatise, or Joshua as a manual on Just War. Where is the sequiter? And furthermore, how again is this not a descent down the private-interpretation sola scriptura rat-hole?

Tony:

In reviewing your comment again, it seems to me that part of the problem is that you may be arguing with me, with respect to VS 80, about things I haven't said about VS 80.

Zippy,

With all due respect, the accusation that what I am saying entails "a a descent down the private-interpretation sola scriptura rat-hole" seems Orwellian. I fail to see how anything you quote undermines anything I have said. Indeed, it seems to me that you are straining not to read what is obviously there. Is it the archaic English of the Douay-Rheims version that makes it seem less blatant to you? Well, even there you undeniably get advice to "bring him down with fetters" and to "be not ashamed" of "mak[ing] the side of a wicked slave to bleed." (And all this despite all the stuff about moderation -- evidently Sirach thinks they're perfectly compatible.) The rest is pretty clear too, although other translations -- and in particular, the sort made in our purportedly more Enlightened and less barbaric times -- have it even clearer.

E.g. here's RSV:

33:26: Yoke and thong will bow the neck, and for a wicked servant there are racks and tortures.

33:28: Set him to work, as is fitting for him, and if he does not obey, make his fetters heavy.

42: 1, 5: Of the following things do not be ashamed... of whipping a wicked servant severely.

And here's NAB (a post-Vatican II Catholic version -- note that some of the verses are numbered slightly differently, given the translators' choices):

33: 27: Food, correction, and work for a slave; and for a wicked slave, punishment in the stocks.

33:29: Put him to work, for that is what befits him; if he becomes unruly, load him with chains.

42:1, 5: But of these things be not ashamed... of beating the sides of a disloyal servant.

And finally, just for fun, Today's English Version:

33: 26: You can use a harness and yoke to tame an animal, and a slave can be tortured in the stocks.

33:28: Work is what he needs. If he won't obey you, put him in chains.

42:1, 5: Here are some things you should not be ashamed of... beating a disloyal slave until the blood flows.

So, my appealing to what everyone has always understood these verses to mean -- and the Magisterium has never claimed they mean anything different -- is "private interpretation," but your suggestion, which occurs to you this fine Sunday night of A.D. 2009, that gee-who-the-heck-knows maybe they don't really mean that after all... That's not "private interpretation"?

I just don't get it...

Nor does this have to do with treating Sirach as anything other than what it presents itself as being: A book of moral wisdom (not science, or a theological manual -- this is the least likely context in which the "Well, it's not really addressing the question at issue" sort of dodge will work). And again, this is just one Biblical example among others.

Anyway, I don't see what the big problem is. Why not just say "OK, fine, so severe corporal punishment is not intrinsically wrong" -- something the Church has maintained for 2,000 years anyway -- and move on to the question of whether it is in practice appropriate? Why this insistence on leaving the door open to some theological novelty that never even occurred to anyone until late in the 20th century? Catholicism isn't in the business of coming up with theological novelties, but in preseving the faith once delivered. Anything "new" can only ever be that which grows out of what is already there, but never what contradicts what is already there.

One more point, Zippy. What we're doing here is not "private intepretation." It's "theology." Read any two typical theological works of the past, the sort by "approved theologians" -- that is, those considered orthodox by the Church -- and you will find all sorts of arguments and disagreements about points of theological detail, and important ones too. And you will find all sorts of advice and disagreement about what advice to give, about whether such-and-such really counts as a sin. The Church has always allowed this sort of debate on matters where her explicit teaching has left certain things unclear. That unscrupulous progressives twist this fact into a rationalization for dissent from teachings that are absolutely unambiguous and have been explicilty reaffirmed countless times in statements directed at said progressives -- e.g. on issues regarding abortion, contraception, homosexuality, etc. -- does not by any stretch of the imagination entail that anyone who raises the sorts of issues I have is indulging in "private interpretation."

I realize that you know this. But it's worth emphasizing, because it seems to me that you're unjustifiably treating this context different from other ones where I imagine you'd allow that debate is warranted.

Ed:

No, my main Bible that I read is the Loretto Publications D-R, so it is what I had handy to thumb through.

Indeed, it seems to me that you are straining not to read what is obviously there.
So it is just obvious that Ecclesiasticus is a straightforward exposition of moral theology and implies just what you say it implies w.r.t. doctrine, eh?

7 Where there are many hands, shut up, and deliver all things in number, and weight: and put all in writing that thou givest out or receivest in.

It isn't my position that severe corporal punishment is intrinsically wrong, by the way. I did once upon a time try to work with the "disproportionate infliction of pain on a prisoner" definition understood in a non-teleological sense, that is, where "disproportionate" referred to some degree of severity in a pain sorites, as a discussion point. But as I've mentioned a number of times, I don't have a definition of torture that works in all boundary cases against every hypothetical. Since I don't have one it makes no sense to attack "infliction of severe pain" as if that were one that I take to be correct and complete.

Indeed, as with pornography, I am not convinced that such a definition is even possible, or that searching for such a definition is always a healthy thing to do, even though there are clear cases where we know it when we see it. As Ecclesiasticus says:

Seek not the things that are too high for thee, and search not into things above thy ability: but the things that God hath commanded thee, think on them always, and in many of his works be not curious. For it is not necessary for thee to see with thy eyes those things that are hid. In unnecessary matters be not over curious: and in many of his works thou shalt not be inquisitive.(3:22-24)
I'm just sure that we actually did torture prisoners in the GWOT.
Flee from sins as from the face of a serpent: for if thou comest near them, they will take hold of thee. (21:2)

But it's worth emphasizing, because it seems to me that you're unjustifiably treating this context different from other ones where I imagine you'd allow that debate is warranted.
I didn't say that debate was unwarranted. I said that when it comes to a layperson's take on those two out of context snippets from Sirach (including all of that layperson's hermeneutical assumptions) which don't address interrogation at all, but rather the disciplining of slaves, are set against statements by the teaching Magisterium - however low in the heirarchy of authority those statements happen to be - I'm going to grant substantially more weight to the latter.

That's all fair enough, Zippy, except that, again, nothing in what I've said requires assuming that Sirach is a formal textbook in moral theology, nor does it require a Ph.D, in biblical studies. This ain't St. John's Apocalypse. Put it this way. Given that Sirach, a divinely inspired teacher of folksy moral wisdom -- not science, not metaphysics, but just practical moral advice -- is from the context clearly saying that one should not be ashamed of severely beating a wicked servant even if some people say otherwise and despite Sirach's also urging moderation and kindness, can you come up with any plausible reading on which this claim is consistent with the claim that "Inflicting severe bodily pain is intrinsically immoral?" How about a not-so-plausible reading?

Me neither.

Whew, good thing neither of us is committed to the claim that inflicting severe bodily pain is intrinsically immoral!

Not as I expressed it, no, it can't be done justly.

Well, yes, technically true - when one takes into account not only your use of the term banishment itself, but your additional qualification of the term. But this "your expression" is not the meaning of "banishment" that everyone else uses. For example:

Mirriam-Webster online dictionary:

1 : to require by authority to leave a country 2 : to drive out or remove from a home or place of usual resort or continuance

In reviewing your comment again, it seems to me that part of the problem is that you may be arguing with me, with respect to VS 80, about things I haven't said about VS 80.

Maybe you are right. William Luse said them, and you chimed in with a defense of his point. I thought that implied that you stood with his point, but it doesn't logically require that conclusion.

Tony

If you review the discussion you'll see that I just directly answered a question you asked. Yes, VS 80 cannot be taken as complete without elaboration. But of course nothing else can either. The Decalogue can't be understood without interpretation and elaboration either. That JPII presumed his words would be read charitably, and made an example list constructed from 'structures of sin' in Gaudium et Spes, is hardly surprising. I don't understand why people think that, in effect, the claim that VS 80 is as in need of interpretation as the Decalogue is a telling point. No text stands alone to such an extent that it requires no 'external' sources of meaning in order to understand it. So we either accept that VS says forthrightly that torture is intrinsically immoral, and try to understand that with as much good faith as we try to understand the Ten Commandments, or not. As I've put it in the past, there are those who try to make sense of Veritatis Splendour and those who try to make nonsense of it. Choose your path wisely.

William Luse said:

Another part of the answer lies in KSM's moral status once he has been captured. He is now, I'm sorry to say, among the 'innocent', by which I do not impute his possession of any moral purity, but must declare him so by virtue of his being our prisoner. We have rules about what we are allowed to do to prisoners, and torture is not among the options. Inflicting pain for the purpose of punishment is at least arguably licit. Inflicting pain for its own sake, or that we might thereby profit from it by extracting life-saving information, is clearly illicit. For example, we don't normally (I hope) execute criminals because we hope to gain more information or to profit in any other way than to claim that we have administered justice fairly, and with our motive unstained. Punishment should be inflicted to give a man what he deserves, and for no other reason.
William Luse's last comment deserves more reflection. but I just started my first cup of coffee this morning. So I have another question for clarification. Help out a "separated brother" on this one.

I had thought that John Paul II had argued that nowadays in modern societies and all we no longer have reason to resort to capital punishment. Here is Evangelium Vitae:

It is clear that, for these purposes to be achieved, the nature and extent of the punishment must be carefully evaluated and decided upon, and ought not go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute necessity: in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society. Today however, as a result of steady improvements in the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare, if not practically non-existent.

I find it hard to square this with William Luse’s insistence that “Punishment should be inflicted to give a man what he deserves, and for no other reason.” It seems to me that JPII is giving public authorities a pretty good “other reason” to kill a prisoner. That pretty good reason seems to be “to defend society.”

I stand to be corrected if my interpretation of JPII is seriously flawed, but this "defense of society" justification for CP seems relevant to the question at hand. For if I can execute a prisoner and justify the execution not merely on the basis of “just retribution” but to “defend society” why can't I inflict pain for the defense of society (especially since it is already licit to inflict a lot of pain on enemy combatants by killing people and breaking things in a just war). Another way to put this is that JP II seems to suggest that “executing prisoners” is not merely a matter of “rearward looking” (just retribution) but also forward looking (just defense of society).

More needs to be said about Willam's "moral status" of prisoners. Those who have been following my arguments will not be surprised that I would insist on a more differentiated understanding of the status of "prisoners." What we owe in law and morality to lawful combatants is distinct from what we owe to unlawful combatants and they are distinct from what we owe to common domestic criminals. After all, in the old days, captured pirates were summarily hanged by the yardarm, and other "prisoners," such as spies and saboteurs were summarily executed on the battlefield. (More help: was this practice ever condemned by the Church as intrinsically unjust?) Same could be said for non-uniformed irregulars. That is to say the "moral status" of each class of prisoners (not to mention their "due process" rights) were different from the "moral status" of captured uniformed soldiers.

But I need another cup of coffee.

Nor does this have to do with treating Sirach as anything other than what it presents itself as being: A book of moral wisdom ...
Put it this way. Given that Sirach, a divinely inspired teacher of folksy moral wisdom -- not science, not metaphysics, but just practical moral advice -- is from the context clearly saying that one should not be ashamed of severely beating a wicked servant even if some people say otherwise and despite Sirach's also urging moderation and kindness, can you come up with any plausible reading on which this claim is consistent with the claim that "Inflicting severe bodily pain is intrinsically immoral?" How about a not-so-plausible reading?
Me neither.

Sure. The sacred writer may be telling us not to be ashamed of authority and discipline, using concrete examples from the everyday experience of the ancient Israelite. I see no reason whatsoever to interpret the passages as an infallible doctrinal endorsement of chattel slavery or of particular kinds of punishment.

This reminds me very much of the kind of hermeneutical dispute I have left behind on purpose. One might as well say "Genesis is straightforwardly an account of the order of creation. Genesis 1 and 2 conflict on the order of what was created when. Therefore the Bible contradicts itself. Can you think of any plausible reading on which the two temporal orders in which creation occurred are consistent? How about a not-so-plausible reading? Me neither." I lost interest in that kind of Scripture-parsing game a long time ago, and while I've indulged in a bit of it here against my better judgment I will absolutely not validate this approach to Scripture. I think it is just wrongheaded to approach reading Scripture this way at all.

Whew, good thing neither of us is committed to the claim that inflicting severe bodily pain is intrinsically immoral!
I never have been committed to that claim. I realize that not everyone can be expected to remember every comment in every thread, but a couple of times now I've referred (initially with Lydia's prompting) to the old Enchiridion Militis discussion, in which Maximos had the last word on the "severe pain for punishment" subject, when he pointed out that it is moot when what we are talking about is waterboarding. As others have reiterated in this thread, simply calling to mind the notion of a judge sentencing a convicted criminal to waterboarding puts the matter to rest - not by resolving it with a positivist definition, but by showing that the dispute over severe pain is beside the point of the eminently reasonable, even obvious, conclusion that using water torture to extract information is straightforwardly just the sort of thing that has always been understood to be torture and condemned as such.

What we owe in law and morality to lawful combatants is distinct from what we owe to unlawful combatants and they are distinct from what we owe to common domestic criminals.
That is doubtless true. Two brief points though: (1) there are certain things we owe to every human being no matter what his legal status; and (2) this has as much to do with what torturing prisoners says about and does to us as it is about what the prisoner deserves in justice. The man who orders a subordinate to torture a prisoner - even under color of positive law authorizing it - is ordering that subordinate to debase not only the prisoner, but also himself, just as if the commander had ordered the subordinate to sodomize the prisoner. For all I know the prisoner deserves to be sodomized; but that doesn't make it the right thing to do.

Lydia,

You said:

"Golly, this post makes me glad that (as a Protestant) I don't have to accept the book of Sirach as Holy Writ... The rack, no less. :-)"

This is funny, I hope you don't lose the point as it pertains to yourself. Because, as a Protestant, you can't possibly speak with an authority that goes beyond the capability of every other person. IOW, as a Protestant, you don't have to accept any books of the Bible as Holy Writ. How could you?

Because, as a Protestant, you can't possibly speak with an authority that goes beyond the capability of every other person.

That's fine with me, Pat. I don't want any special authority. Now, please, we already have a lengthy thread. Let's not add a Catholic-Protestant food-fight to the mix.

When Ed wrote this:

I am saying "The Bible says this, therefore what JPII et al. said cannot be interpreted in such-and-such a way."

I immediately thought something very similar to what Zippy says here:

...how again is this not a descent down the private-interpretation sola scriptura rat-hole?

Ed and Zippy,

Thanks much for a thoughtful and well-written debate on an important topic. As someone who has been convinced by Zippy that waterboarding is torture, I am nevertheless sympathetic to both Ed (and you too Keith) that the issue does NOT seem straightforward or obvious to me at all. On a different post I commented that I had recently listened to the Drew Mariani show in which he asked Dr. Patrick Lee for a yes or no answer as to whether or not waterboarding is torture. Essentially, Dr. Lee said it depends on the context, since he defined torture is the effort to physically/mentally 'destroy' a person, even if it was for a good end (Mariani then asked if waterboarding was torture, would it be O.K. to save millions of lives and Dr. Lee said there was no question that it would NOT be O.K.) Dr. Lee pointed out (and forgive me if this is just "obvious" to everyone) that inflicted pain was not intrinsically evil because a life free from pain is not a moral absolute. He gave the example of a doctor breaking a person's bones to correct some sort of medical problem.

Anyway, perhaps I'm too new to this debate to add anything of worth except for the fact that I'm glad W4 is on my list of favorites and that I have Zippy and Ed around to think seriously about these issues.

Finally, I just want to note that it is factually incorrect to say that we executed Japanese war prisoners for waterboarding G.I.s This argument has popped up (mostly by lefties) and while it is true we punished certain Japanese prisoners for the crime of waterboarding, all Japanese prisoners sentenced to die had committed all sorts of other crimes (sometimes IN ADDITION to waterboarding). Also, reading the Wikipedia entry on the "strappado interrogation of Manadel al Jamadi" suggests that what killed al Jamadi was a severe beating *followed* by the strappado interrogation. That no one went to jail for this incident is shameful and I agree with Zippy that this case, among others, is why we can all say with clarity that the U.S. tortured some prisoners during the GWOT.

The sacred writer may be telling us not to be ashamed of authority and discipline.

His other examples already make that point. Look at the context. He's using examples of specific things someone might claim are shameful, and telling the reader not to be ashamed of them. He's evidently saying "Some people might not like these specific acts, but don't let that deter you." Keep in mind also that the Mosaic law specifically allows whipping of this sort, not just the exercise of authority in general.

I see no reason whatsoever to interpret the passages as an infallible doctrinal endorsement of chattel slavery or of particular kinds of punishment.

"No reason whatsoever"? Like it's just a total crap shoot what it means, huh? Come on, Zippy. Even if your suggested reading were plausible, which I don't think it is, you have to admit it doesn't exactly jump off the page.

Anyway, it's not a question of "endorsing" anything. (I certainly don't endorse either whipping or slavery.) It's a matter of whether the Bible could be commending something even just for a certain time and place that is intrinscally wrong.

And re: the supposed Genesis parallel, the reason interpreting Genesis is tricky is because Genesis isn't addressing scientific or empirical issues per se, but theological and metaphysical ones. Hence the statements it makes that seem to be scientific or empirical claims might not be. But Sirach is directly addressing moral issues specifically. We can't say, "Well, gee, he wasn't addressing morality per se, so maybe the examples should be taken with a grain of salt." For he was addressing morality specifically, and indeed he was addressing the morality of those specific acts. You might as well say "Well, who knows, maybe the Sermon on the Mount was not really about morality" or "Maybe the books of Chronicles weren't trying to give us a historical account." Reading either the Sermon on the Mount or Sirach as about morality is not an "approach" to Scripture, any more than reading the instruction booklet for a DVD player as an instruction booklet is an "approach" to reading instruction booklets -- if "approach" is supposed to signify some controversial method.

Fair enough RUs. And now that you've seen my replies to that particular suggestion of Zippy's, you know how off-base he was.

Keith,

If you are confused about what the phrase "more like" means, I suggest you take it up with Mr. Feser. He is the one who said it was important to determine whether extracting information was "more like" imposing punishment than extracting a confession.

Keith:

For if I can execute a prisoner and justify the execution not merely on the basis of “just retribution” but to “defend society” why can't I inflict pain for the defense of society (especially since it is already licit to inflict a lot of pain on enemy combatants by killing people and breaking things in a just war). Another way to put this is that JP II seems to suggest that “executing prisoners” is not merely a matter of “rearward looking” (just retribution) but also forward looking (just defense of society).
For JPII it was a case of both/and not either/or, and this both/and explicitly rests on the factual premise - which may or may not be true, in general, and about which JPII has no and claims no special competence - that it is possible to remove a criminal's capacity to cause further harm by incarcerating him.

The distinction between doing and not doing is crucial for a correct understanding here. If what we are appealing to is self-defense or defense of another, violence can be justified in order to stop an attack. An attack is something that the attacker is doing; something a person is not doing, even if he has a duty to do it, is not an attack in the pertinent sense.

A helpless prisoner by definition is incapable of mounting the attack about which he is being questioned. He may have engaged in an attacking behavior in the past, and the effects of that attacking behavior may still be propagating; but he is by definition incapable initiating that attacking behavior. He may be capable of initiating other attacking behaviors, particularly against other prisoners and guards or whatever, and it is certainly licit to use violence and coercion in defense against those attacks. But as a matter of self-defense, distinct from punishment, violence is only justifiable as a proportionate means to the end of stopping a person from choosing to engage in a violent attack. Forcing someone to act in order to unwind something already done is not self-defense; it falls under justice, not violent defense against a violent attack.

One way to think about it is that if we were to kill the person right now, and the attack against which our violence is putatively directed would nonetheless proceed anyway without change, then our violence is not self-defense and cannot be justified as self-defense. (It might be justifiable some other way; but not that way).

I wrote:

I see no reason whatsoever to interpret the passages as an infallible doctrinal endorsement of chattel slavery or of particular kinds of punishment.
Ed replied:
"No reason whatsoever"?
That's right, no reason whatsoever.
Like it's just a total crap shoot what it means, huh?
That isn't what I said.

Just FWIW, I looked up the bloodthirsty Sirach passages last night, and the only one where it says "not to be ashamed" is the one where it's talking about whipping a servant and drawing blood. The one about the rack and tortures does indeed appear to endorse them, but not in terms of telling people "not to be ashamed" of them. It's in a passage on the treatment of servants. It talks about keeping your donkey busy so he doesn't get into mischief, keeping your servant busy so he doesn't get into mischief, and then it talks about the various things "there are" for "wicked" servants, including the rack and tortures and heavy chains. Then, with almost unintentionally amusing suddenness, it starts saying that you should treat your servant (who is pretty clearly a slave) "as a brother," because if you're too hard on him and he runs away, you may not be able to find him again!

This argument has popped up (mostly by lefties) ...
FWIW, I believe I got the factual claim initially from John McCain. So I guess I have to agree with the "mostly by lefties" :-)

To my comment

Another way to put this is that JP II seems to suggest that “executing prisoners” is not merely a matter of “rearward looking” (just retribution) but also forward looking (just defense of society).

Zippy responded:

For JPII it was a case of both/and not either/or, and this both/and explicitly rests on the factual premise - which may or may not be true, in general, and about which JPII has no and claims no special competence - that it is possible to remove a criminal's capacity to cause further harm by incarcerating him.

Ok, but doesn't this contradict William Luze's comment here:

Punishment should be inflicted to give a man what he deserves, and for no other reason.

It appears that there is another reason than rearward looking retribution, namely, the "protection of society."

If this is the case, then we can begin to see how punishment might be analogous to using pain to extract information. They are analogous when applied for the "protection of society." If, in SOME CASES, I can execute somebody for the protection of society (remove his capacity to cause further harm AND NOT MERELY AS REARWARD LOOKING RETRIBUTION), why can't I apply pain, IN SOME CASES, to extract information that if revealed, would "protect society." And if I can apply pain in some cases, why can't I, IN SOME CASES, apply the waterboard?

BTW--I don't think this is a consequentialist argument anymore than JPIIs argument for the permissibility killing a guilty prisoner (capital punishment)for the "protection of society" is a consequentialist argument.

Ok, but doesn't this contradict William Luse's comment here:
It only contradicts Bill's comment, or what I take him to mean by his comment, if we fail to distinguish between self-defense and punishment and the distinct conditions for their justification.
...why can't I apply pain, IN SOME CASES, to extract information that if revealed, would "protect society."
Because, again, the reasoning goes, using violence to force someone to do something - even when "something" is to unwind the consequences of his own past act - is not self/other-defense. It may be justifiable under some other moral theory; but not specifically as self/other-defense. Killing is self defense only when it prevents the condemned from choosing an attacking behavior. JPII is arguing that the death penalty can only be justified when it falls, jointly and severally, under both just punishment and self/other-defense.

Should read:

Killing is self defense only when it prevents the condemned from choosing or completing an attacking behavior.

(An attacking behavior in the past is already complete, even if it has consequences independent of the prisoner which are still propogating. From the standpoint of the prisoner it is a past behavior, not a present or future behavior.)

Indeed, it seems to me that you are straining not to read what is obviously there.

So... the meaning of Sirach is Just So Obvious, but the meaning of Veritatis Splendor, the teaching of the American bishops, the reiterated teaching of Pope Benedict that the command against torture can never be contravened and so forth is so impenetrable that nobody can possibly know if it applies, even in the case of waterboarding somebody 183 times?

I don't see why we can't, as Zippy points out, claim that it is likewise Just So Obvious that slaughtering civilian women and children in wartime is likewise not intrinsically unjust since the book of Judges commends it. Using your exegetical method it would appear that the Church is in "contradicting Scripture" to say that we may never deliberately take innocent human life. Or rather that this cannot be what the Church really means when she says we may never deliberately take innocent human life.

Seems rather easier to just listen to the obvious teaching of Holy Church than to listen to your claims about the allegedly obvious meaning of Holy Scripture, Dr. Feser. Since you remain absolutely baffled about what the definition of torture even is, I don't see why you are a reliable guide for saying that Scripture trumps the magisterial teaching about whether or not it can be used.

Brad writes:

I am disappointed to see that your reasons for opposing torture in any circumstance is because you fear for your own skin if the occasion arises where you might have to endure pain. Aren't the lives of innocent people worth risking persecution?

Can you please describe the difference between your words and the more succinct formulation "It is better for one innocent man to die than that the whole nation should perish?" I'm glad that you are willing to sacrifice your wife and children (or is it just me?) so that a Security State can have the freedom to torture its perceived enemies whenever it feels threatened. But you still have not persuaded me that a Security State which has the power to persecute and torture innocent Christians for the crime of being Christian is a state that is really quite the goal of Catholic moral teaching. "We have no king but Caesar" is not in the Catechism and apologetics for empowering him to torture innocents in order to save our collective skins are not really all that persuasively shown to be specimens of Catholic social teaching.

Since you remain absolutely baffled about what the definition of torture even is,

Yeah, that's what I've been saying. I'm absolutely baffled. Totally at sea. Don't know which end is up. Just what I said, spot on.

When you can bring yourself to the point of attacking even just a plausible caricature of what I've said, Mr. Shea, and restrain yourself from indulging your taste for the ad hominem, maybe then I'll buy your earlier "Aw shucks, I didn't mean nothin'" routine and return to conversing with you.

Dr. Feser, thanks for your post and especially the portions clarifying JPII's thoughts. Discerning the coherence of the sources of authority within the Catholic tradition is certainly difficult, but life is that complex and often difficult, and my guess is that the ones who feel they do not have to submit themselves to this sort of discipline are the ones who haven't examined the incoherent foolishness of their own thoughts. So thanks for your diligence, from which readers like myself are truly learning--really--though I wouldn't recommend diving into the abyss of the comments pool very frequently. It's not good for one's sanity.

Man are you a nasty piece of work. I think I'm done trying to have a discussion with you, civil or otherwise, thank you very much.

Just one of those inevitable conclusions about Shea which many past notably prolific Catholic authors themselves of various online publications -- who, in fact, did charitably give such patient ear to the man's rabidly rigorist (as well as infamously pharisaic) leftist opinions -- eventually reached.


Like others before me who attempted so much as engage the man with both reason and charity, such efforts are ultimately in vain.

Not only is the man flawed in several respects as far as his own intellect and christianity is concerned, but his own knowledge of Church Teaching unfortunately only goes so far as Post-Vatican II.

Contrary to popular belief, we did have other Popes before John Paul II that go all the way back to even Peter himself.

Unfortunately, their very teaching, theological prescriptions, and scriptural support are often only neglected (not to mention, notoriosly snubbed) in matters as these.

Dr. Feser:

I was quite sincere in my apology, as I am in my understanding that you seem to be completely baffled about what torture is. I'm sorry you refuse to grant forgiveness, but my conscience is quite clear so I won't worry about it any further.

Meanwhile, it would be good if somebody could answer the questions I raised. Also, if Ari could refrain from hijacking the thread with another psychodrama about how much he despises me, that would be good too.

"I'm sorry you refuse to grant forgiveness, but my conscience is quite clear so I won't worry about it any further."

You probably also throw like a girl. :-) Sheesh!

Hey, now that you're into forgiveness and all that, maybe we can go back to that 2002 phone call that served as the catalyst for your acquisition of Bush Derangement Syndrome. I know, I know that the former president does not provoke in you the sympathies and charity you extend to pirates, rapists, jihadists, and beheaders (which reminds of the joke: what did the one gay jihadist say to the other gay jihadist,"You give good behead. But at some point you may want practice the incarnational faith you claim to embrace.

In response to my question: "why can't I apply pain, IN SOME CASES, to extract information that if revealed, would "protect society," Zippy says:


Because, again, the reasoning goes, using violence to force someone to do something - even when "something" is to unwind the consequences of his own past act - is not self/other-defense.

I don't understand this. It seems obvious to me that if I apply pain to get KSM to "unwind the consequences of this own past act" and by doing so I prevent a catastrophic terrorist attack against my fellow citizens, that this would clearly be an act of "self/other-defense." I'm not applying the pain for purely sadistic reasons. He has set in motion a series of events such that, were I to forbear from inflicting pain, it would cause death and destruction to my fellow citizens.

By my action (inflicting pain on KSM) I have defended my fellow citizens and protected them from harm that would otherwisde have been visited upon them had KSM not otherwise "unwinded the consequences of his own past act." Could not the citizen preserved from such harm reasonably say to the interrogator who applied the pain that led to the unwinding--"You did so in my defense."

This doesn't rise to the normative claim as to whether the pain ought or ought not to have been applied in my fellow citizen's defense. The proper response to my fellow citizen might well be that "it would have been morally preferable for you to have been killed than for me to apply the pain associated with the waterboard to extract the information that saved your life." But THAT it was indeed done for the sake of "other-defense," seems obvious.

Yes. Well. Thank you for that thoughtful contribution, Jack.

I'm quite willing to extend forgiveness to the Bush Administration for its crimes. However, when I do so, I find myself surrounded by a chorus of people here telling me there are no crimes to forgive. Torture? Who even knows if they authorized it? It's all so baffling. Nothing is Just So Obvious except Dr. Feser's Obvious Scriptural Proof that Torture is fine and that the Church means nothing like what it says when it calls torture intrinsically immoral.

For myself, it think it manifest that there are indeed real crimes of torture for which the Bush Administration is responsible, and I do, therefore extend forgiveness to Bush and the other people who authorized and ordered them. I also extend forgiveness to those who, with various degrees of culpability, do everything in their power to deny this obvious fact. However, forgiveness does not mean the crimes should not be named and, where appropriate, punished.

I think the same for the crimes of rapists, pirates and other wicked people, by the way. But then you knew that. (Hey! And classy of you to suggest that I'm gay or something. Manly men don't oppose torture, right? Wink. Wink.)

Yeah. What this calls for is a serious and careful deliberation of the question. Too bad guys like me muddy the waters.

I think I'm done here. The drive to obfuscate the bleedin' obvious is pretty evident. I don't need to waste more time on it.

I'm sorry you refuse to grant forgiveness

I don't refuse. I forgive you.

The reason is that I really do think that you "know not what you do." Judging from this and other exchanges I've seen, you really, honestly, do not seem to be aware how unfair and needlessly offensive you are.

So, I forgive you. But for the same reason, I just don't see much point in trying to have a discussion with you. The fact that you seriously continue to think that I and others haven't answered, or even tried to answer, your points is one good piece of evidence that there's no point. Why continue when the evidence shows you're just going to continue ignoring, ridiculing, caricaturing, making unfounded accusations, etc. and then expressing shock when someone objects to this?

Sorry.

Keith:

But again, you are using the term 'defense' in a broader sense than the sense that applies to justifying violence in self defense. Surely you at least concede the distinction: that your use of the term to include torturing information out of a prisoner is hardly an analytical necessity, and that the difference between preventing a positive act and coercing a positive act is a valid distinction with moral implications?

(iPhone replies are necessarily terse)

I don't understand this. It seems obvious to me that if I apply pain to get KSM to "unwind the consequences of this own past act" and by doing so I prevent a catastrophic terrorist attack against my fellow citizens, that this would clearly be an act of "self/other-defense." I'm not applying the pain for purely sadistic reasons. He has set in motion a series of events such that, were I to forbear from inflicting pain, it would cause death and destruction to my fellow citizens.
(my emphasis)

Welcome to a twisted world where apologia is so diligently (and quite unreservedly) devised for even the vile terrorists and, indeed, the painful tragedies of 9/11 is simply scoffed at as "That Was Yesterday", while the still looming, ever ominous potential destruction of innocent American civilian populations rabidly sought by these blood-thirsty terrorists is not only welcomed but even wholly embraced by those who would just as soon forfeit our own lives (and even those whom we love) as mere humble sacrifices to their lofty Cause of sheer moral self-righteousness -- since they themselves would sooner accept the deaths of their own loved ones than should any actual harm be visited upon their beloved terrorists!

Less Dr. Fesser reprimands me similarly for thinking/speaking thus, I'm out.

Hopefully, those of more sound minds (along the lines of the above comment) will ultimately prevail.

Yes. Well. Thank you for that thoughtful contribution, Jack.

I think I'm done here. The drive to obfuscate the bleedin' obvious is pretty evident. I don't need to waste more time on it.

Well, I suppose there was at least one positive that resulted out of Jack's seemingly obscene remarks.

Zippy,

But again, you are using the term 'defense' in a broader sense than the sense that applies to justifying violence in self defense.

Well, I don't know -- let's see:

1. Terrorist seek to murder several innocent American lives.
2. Terorist engage in plot to do so.
3. If successful, terrorist will have murdered -- not ONE -- BUT tremendously countless innocent lives.

How you don't see such acts which seek to thwart further terrorists attacks -- that would do murder on a majorly large scale -- as not satisfying the specification for "self-defense" is beyond me.

The only difference between a man killing another person (or even a serial killer killing several) and a terrorist killing immense multitudes is the sheer number of his victims, which I would think would make an even greater case for the need of such "self-defense".

Mark Shea wrote:

I was quite sincere in my apology, as I am in my understanding that you seem to be completely baffled about what torture is. I'm sorry you refuse to grant forgiveness, but my conscience is quite clear so I won't worry about it any further.

If you would have confined yourself to making statements about what your own conscience tells you, then everyone would have agreed that your private opinion is quite respectable and no one would have bothered you about it. But you claim that your views are backed up by fully authoritative Church teachings, so that everyone who has a different take on the matter is either ignorant of the teachings or guilty of a sin. This is wrong. The argument made by folks like me, Dr. Feser, Francis Beckwith, and many others has met the burden of proving that the real situation is not that simple.

As you've stated above, your principle reason for banging this drum so loudly seems to be a deep-seated fear that once the state is "allowed" to torture anybody, nothing will prevent it from torturing you, your relations, practicing Christians, and anybody else whom it finds unsavory. In this you are in need not so much of a lesson in moral theology but of an awareness of Oswald Spengler's distinction between truth and facts. Positive law does not by itself restrain what an agent, and especially a state, is able to do. If it did, there would be no crimes, no criminals, no treaty violations, no political revolutions, no regime changes, not now or ever. We would all live in Immanuel Kant's republic, which, through the perfecton of reason, is suitable even for devils. The reality is that while positive law places de jure restrictions on the behavior of individuals and governments, their de facto capabilities are limited by nothing but the exhaustion of their power. To make a long story short, a proscription against "torture," as you define it, would in no wise prevent it from happening anyway, as you must admit if you believe both A) That the U.S. has tortured detainees and B) That the Church, federal law, and international law has already forbidden this. In other words, you are in danger of that which you fear. There is a certain irreducible danger that you will suffer torture in this life no matter what anybody has to say about it. Welcome to the Valley of Tears.

By the way, I've noticed that you've made some attempt to refine your style when dealing with a worthy opponent like Dr. Feser. You were rather less kind to me on your blog, as I've taken care to document. Apparently you think I am someone who can be dismissed with nothing more than cheap rhetoric and slander, someone to whom it is not necessary to afford even the pretense of a charitable argument. I shall not forget that, and I will take appropriate measures should I need to correspond with you in the future.

Now, changing the subject. For a definition that can distinguish between the normative and non-normative uses of the word "torture," I propose something like the following: Torture (the intrinsically immoral kind) occurs whenever the subject suffers or has reason to fear the arbitrary use of power directed against him, or power directed against him incommensurate with his crimes. This obviously includes all cases wherein the punisher does not have the lawful authority to inflict the punishment. It also includes any sort of sadistic abuse doled out for the sake of thrills. It precludes any claim of torture on the part of a guilty person, so long as there is positive law stipulating what sort of punishments may be meted out for what offenses, and if the punishment was administered accordingly.

I've always been fond of Frank Herbert's dictum, "Thou shalt not disfigure the soul." It seems to sum up the thrust of all genuine morality rather nicely, and could be useful as a practical rule of thumb for both diagnosing crime and assigning punishment.

Dr. Feser, what do you think of these arguments in favor of inflicting pain as a punishment for disobedience?

1. The inflicting of pain as a punishment is permissible when the person is lying or refusing to obey a lawful command by the comptent authority to give information (about an impending terrorist attack, etc.) that is necessary to save lives or protect the common good, and there is sufficient evidence that he is lying or knows the truth.

Each act of disobedience is punished accordingly, and followed by the opportunity for the guilty to provide the information requested.

2. The punishment should be proportionate to the offense. However, it also seems that this is something that should be reserved to judges alone. (In contrast to the use of force and pain by police officers on those who are resisting arrest or refusing lawful commands. In this case, it would seem that the police officer himself is the competent authority to decide that this is the case and respond accordingly. But do you think this is actually a case of punishment/contrapassum, or a different kind of just act?)

This of course brings up the question of what is necessary in order to formally establish that someone is guilty of disobedience or lying.

Matt Beck:

That people dispute a proposition does not imply that the proposition is complicated or untrue. We in fact immorally tortured some prisoners in the gwot, and indeed it is manifestly obvious, given the basic facts, that we did so.

Ari:
If your objective is to make Keith's argument sound more reasonable by sheltering it in the aura of your dispassionate reason, I would suggest that your words may not be having the intended effect.

But you claim that your views are backed up by fully authoritative Church teachings, so that everyone who has a different take on the matter is either ignorant of the teachings or guilty of a sin.

One more and I'm gone.

Yes, I do claim that the obvious and plain teaching of the Church is "do not torture".

No, I do not claim that "everyone who has a different take on the matter is either ignorant of the teachings or guilty of a sin" since "having a different take on the matter" can mean a vast range of things running from "I'm not sure if sleep deprivation is always torture" (with which I whole-heartedly agree) to "who cares what Veritatis Splendor says, you have a moral obligation to use torture in sume cases (which is what Charles Krauthammer advocates).

I am quite confident that people who contradict the claim that the obvious and plain teaching of the Church is "do not torture" are wrong. I am likewise confident that the people who contradict the obvious and plain fact that we have, in fact, tortured are wrong. I am similarly confident that those who are searching for exceptions to the obvious and plain teaching of the Church on this matter are engaged in a spectacular project of majoring in minors. And, in your particular case, Mr. Beck, I am confident that your argument essentially boils down to saying that because Dr. Feser and a pre-Vatican II handbook of moral theology speak of torture (and even mutilation) as morally legitimate at times, that we should ignore the plain and obvious teaching of the Council and the last two Popes in favor of this opinion. I regard this argument as obviously defective. Similarly, I regard your attempt to press these arguments in your large theory that state sovereignty means that Caesar is subject to no judgement but God's and that opponents of torture, when committed by a sovereign may rightly be viewed as "fifth columnists" as dangerous rubbish and great folly.

Okay. Gotta leave now. My gay lover is calling.

Zippy,

Ari: If your objective is to make Keith's argument sound more reasonable by sheltering it in the aura of your dispassionate reason, I would suggest that your words may not be having the intended effect.

I believe what presents itself a difficulty in your seeing such things as actual acts of self-defense is the very fact that it's not as immediately discernible as attempting to stop a knife in mid-flight coming at you from your would-be assailant.

Perhaps if you only thought of those interrogations as vigorous attempts at stopping the terrorist's metaphorical knife at mid-flight (a knife that, if it should ultimately fall on their intended victims would inevitably result in their very murders), then you might finally see it for what it is: an act of self-defense.

The problem with using 'like' in conversions is that people treat it like 'is'. Giving a young man $20 to go to a brothel so I can evacuate the school, doesn't save the children's lives. Beating the crap out of a perp, getting him to confess the location of the bomb, and then defusing the bomb are not a single act of self-defense. We aren't helped in these matters with the US treating conspiracy the same as acts, something other countries don't do. I have little doubt this is a significant part of the confusion. Yes, the presence of threat does allow us to assume powers typically reserved to the State, e.g. shooting in self-defense. Threat becomes meaningless though when it becomes about the indefinite. When we held KSM in captivity, he did not hold us under threat. It is a perversion of language to hold otherwise. Perhaps he had knowledge we were desirious of. Perhaps we might have even done good with the gained knowledge. That doesn't equal license though.

"Okay. Gotta leave now. My gay lover is calling."

Ha! I knew the guy must be a faggot!

If Keith or anybody else wants to say that punishment is similar to interrogation, extracting information is separate and distinct from extracting a confession, preventing a prisoner from causing further harm is equivalent to preventing a conspiracy he knows about from causing harm, and protecting society means disregarding the current laws of that society, be my guest. Just don't expect the rest of us to follow you into that abyss.

Imitating one of Zippy's commentators: The torture posts will continue until morality improves.

Badger:

How is the subjecting of viciously notorious terrorists to severe interrogation measures in order to prevent that figurative knife from ever falling down on its intended victims "license"?

It is self-defense for the very fact that these acts seek to hold down the already swung arm of the terrorists from actually completing that sweeping motion that would ultimately result in inevitable, overwhelming significant murder which they are actually in the midst of completing in one fell swoop!

If this is "license", if the very act of saving lives in this manner not "self-defense", then I should say that you might as well call the very incarceration of criminals in 6x9 cells enclosed in bars for a seemingly enormously unreasonable lengthy period of time, whether they be terrorist or regular criminal, "torture"!

You are assuming your conclusion: Torturing men doesn't prevent knives from falling. Try breaking out of metaphor. We aren't holding a swaung arm. He isn't completing a swing. He's in captivity.

Call imprisonment what you will, but it isn't self-defense.

Badger:

He is a part of the terrorist organization that is bent on doing so and engaging in plots that are actively in place, endeavoring to do just that.

He and his co-conspirators constitute that one and the same entity: the very assailant who is lunging the proverbial knife right at us!

That captured terrorist makes up every bit of that arm that is about to swing the knife at us and several innocent American populations, ultimately resulting in our deaths!

To stop this would-be assailant is, indeed, self-defense!

Wake up, will you?

Contrary to insidiously leftist historical revisionism, 9/11 is NOT fiction -- it did happen.

Much to the regret of those who still suffer that fateful moment's several tragedies.

These terrorists are seeking to inflict the very same atrocity on all of us another time.

They are still swinging the knives at us, hoping to deliver the same fateful blow (repeatedly).

To not see such acts that attempt to thwart these instances as "self-defense" ironically gives these terrorists the perceived notion of having actual license to kill as many innocent Americans, even our own families, as they will because, heck, what's the worse they'll get from the Pro-terrorist rights agenda?

Accomodations at the Four Seasons?

Anything else will simply be dismissed as sheer "torture"!

Regarding the object of the act: what is popular understood to be torture [harming another person or inflicting pain in order to induce the person to give information or confess] is not the same as punishment as a response to disobedience, as I've laid out above. The material object (the external act) may be the same in both cases, but the formal object is quite different, and it's the formality that we are looking at. If we look at recent pronouncements by the popes, it looks as if they are defininig torture with the latter formal object. But this is not the same as the former, and their statements cannot be construed as condemning it, since they are two different kinds of acts.

A reader of mine asks a question for the chin-pullers and brow furrowers.

Let's make it easy on the torture defenders, and straight-up ask the obvious question. Forget torturing a little girl to find out where the guilty guy is. What if the guilty guy is dead, and the little girl knows where the nuclear bomb is? But she's not talking because he dad told her never to talk.

Do we torture the little girl?


If we are going to tempt ourselves to do evil that good may come of it, then let's not shilly-shally. Let's talk real evil. Waterboarding hairy thugs like KSM hardly strikes some consciences as evil at all. But torturing, say, his seven year old daughter? How far do we get to go before it's "too much evil". Perhaps somebody will object that she's an innocent (though "know where the bomb is" makes that problematic). Are you going to sit there on your holier-than-thou butt and let New York be bombed rather than just waterboard her or, perhaps threaten her with rape? Since we are all about mocking the brain-dead moral purity of those who say torturing to get vital information is wrong, than let's this a fair fight: argue for real hardcore evil, not for the cinematic KSM in his underwear. Are we for torturing the little kid if necessary?

Ed writes to Mark:

The reason is that I really do think that you "know not what you do." Judging from this and other exchanges I've seen, you really, honestly, do not seem to be aware how unfair and needlessly offensive you are.

So, I forgive you. But for the same reason, I just don't see much point in trying to have a discussion with you. The fact that you seriously continue to think that I and others haven't answered, or even tried to answer, your points is one good piece of evidence that there's no point. Why continue when the evidence shows you're just going to continue ignoring, ridiculing, caricaturing, making unfounded accusations, etc. and then expressing shock when someone objects to this?

Sorry.

Ed is spot on here. The main reason for my own self-imposed detachment from this conversation--found on this entry and elsewhere--is Shea's apparent inability to entertain two possibilities: (1) that one can honestly disagree with him while attempting to be true to Church doctrine, and (2) that queries about definitions and distinctions are not Jesuitical inventions of the inauthentic sadist employed to excuse evil, but rather, serious attempts to advance the common good.

Yeah, because all terrorists are essentially innocent "Little Girls"!

What's the next despicably absurd parallel that would make these terrorists into supposed saints by pro-terrorist rights advocates?

Osama Bin Laden is actually Jesus Christ?

Mkay. So nobody's gonna answer the question, I take it.

In a way, that is an answer.

Aristocles,

He is a part of the terrorist organization that is bent on doing so and engaging in plots that are actively in place, endeavoring to do just that.

Sounds like cause to imprison or at least question. So far so good.

He and his co-conspirators constitute that one and the same entity: the very assailant who is lunging the proverbial knife right at us!
Once he is a captive he ceases being a co-conspirator. Once my wife dies, the other woman ceases being a mistress. It doesn't mean I don't have sin issues, but an adulterer I no longer am.

That captured terrorist makes up every bit of that arm that is about to swing the knife at us and several innocent American populations, ultimately resulting in our deaths!
It would be nice if he did. This is qualitatively little different than arguing that the spouse who remains with her husband inside the house targeted by the Israeli's is complicit in his terrorism. You are conflating the captured terrorist's actions.

To stop this would-be assailant is, indeed, self-defense!
He is captured. He ain't doing anything.

Wake up, will you?
I've been awake a solid 12 hours now. If I appeared to be resting, I was probably just resting my eyes.

Contrary to insidiously leftist historical revisionism, 9/11 is NOT fiction -- it did happen.
And some other terrorist attack will happen in the future.

Much to the regret of those who still suffer that fateful moment's several tragedies.
I don't think one has to be a victim not appreciate the terror. You can do better than be the rape victim that cries we need to castrate all men though.

These terrorists are seeking to inflict the very same atrocity on all of us another time.
Last I checked we weren't sending them flowers for Mother's Day. We share a common humanity and that is the basis upon which we argue for human rights.

They are still swinging the knives at us, hoping to deliver the same fateful blow (repeatedly).
See above.

To not see such acts that attempt to thwart these instances as "self-defense" ironically gives these terrorists the perceived notion of having actual license to kill as many innocent Americans, even our own families, as they will because, heck, what's the worse they'll get from the Pro-terrorist rights agenda?
Nonsense. See rape victims and castrating men above.

Accomodations at the Four Seasons?
But of course.

Anything else will simply be dismissed as sheer "torture"!
Yes, the line between pouring water in a man's lungs and a room with 24-hour housekeeping, meal service, and bathrobes inscribed with the letters of the hotel is impossible to draw.

Ok—let’s try to get at this “unwinding” past actions with a little thought experiment.

Let’s say that the special forces raid the hideout of Dr. No somewhere in the caves of Afghanistan, after having received intelligence that he is about to launch a missile that aimed at the Sears Tower. (This missile is a special super secret stealth missile that once launched cannot be detected or destroyed by a counter-missile. Once launched it can’t be shot down. ) The Delta guys burst into the room just as he is about to push the big red button. After crying “halt you fiend” Dr. No takes a step toward the big red button but before he takes another step Sgt Rock puts a well place round into his forehead, killing him dead.

I take it that we would all agree Sgt Rock’s action in killing Dr. No was an act of (what Zippy would call) “self or other-defense.”

Now suppose instead of bursting into the room just in the nick of time, our Delta Force heroes get there just a moment too late. As they burst into the room they notice that Dr. No has just pushed the button to launch the missile. He immediately throws up his hands and surrenders. Now, thanks to the brilliant intelligence work of the folks back and Langley and Ft. Meade, the Delta Force guys know that the missile can be destroyed only by entering the “destruct code” into the keypad next to the big red button. Guess who knows the “destruct code”? Yep, you guessed it—Dr. No. (hey, its my thought experiment)

Now, the Delta guys were smart enough to bring the CIA intell weenie, Agent 44, along with them on the raid. Agent 44 is an expert in applying “enhanced interrogation techniques.” He tells Sgt Rock and the boys that he has done his homework and can get Dr. No to talk. After consulting with the lawyers in the Office of Legal Counsel back in Washington, Agent 44 then proceeds to apply the waterboard, supplemented with a caterpillar to exploit his insect phobia. Sure enough Dr. No relays the code, they enter it into the keypad and a moment or two later get told by the space command guys that a missile had been shot out of the air over the Atlantic. The evacuation of the Sears Tower is cancelled.

Now, before asking about the moral permissibility of the latter scenario, I would like to know why the actions of Agent 44 in the second scenario would not be considered action that should be called “self or other-defense.” After all, in the first scenario, Sgt Rock went back to the States and was welcomed as a hero, given a medal and praised for his defense of his fellow citizens, saving them from death and destruction at the hands of Dr. No. My question is, in the second scenario, didn’t the actions of Agent 44 result in the same defense of the lives of his fellow citizens as that of Sgt Rock? Didn't Agent 44 waterboard for the same reason that Sgt Rock killed--to prevent the slaughter of his fellow citizens. In fact, didn’t Agent 44 manage to prevent the evil without having to kill Dr. No, a person made in the image of God? When Agent 44 returns to Langley and one of the brass says, “thank you for your actions in the defense of our country and the innocents that would have been slaughtered that day” should we dismiss these sorts of statements as irrational? As crazy? Or common sense?

Again, it seems to me that the actions of Sgt Rock and Agent 44 can BOTH be labeled “self-or other-defense.” But now to the normative question: I’m having a hard time understanding why killing someone who is about to commission a grave evil (mass murder) is morally permissible, (indeed, for Sgt Rock it is morally obligatory) while the actions of Agent 44 are somehow intrinsically evil. Why is inflicting pain on a person intrinsically evil if it is the only way to prevent the same evil that Sgt Rock prevented by killing Dr. No. If Dr. No’s sin of commission in the first scenario is sufficient to forfeit his “right to life,” why would his sin of omission in the second scenario not be sufficient for him to be forfeit his right not to have pain inflicted on him?

Now, for some reason, a few people want to insist that Agent 44 resorted to the waterboard to "punish" Dr. No. I confess I just can't understand that. Let's try a counterfactual: If, say, they had arrived at Dr. No's lair five minutes earlier and captured him before pushing the big red button, Agent 44 would have no reason to apply the waterboard. If Pvt Psycho said, "hey Agent 44, let's put the screws to this guy," and Agent 44 responded, "no, that would be wrong, he is out of the fight and he can do no more harm because he no longer has any information that is valuable to us (this being Dr. No's only missile and all)", that would seem to indicate that absent the intent to save innocent fellow citizens from slaughter, Agent 44 was not going to resort to the waterboard for "punishment" or any other reason. He did what he did not to "punish" Dr. No, but to extract information from Dr. No to prevent harm and injury to his fellow American citizens.
Semper Fi, Agent 44!


Badger says:

Once he is a captive he ceases being a co-conspirator.

This, I believe, gets to the core of the issue. It is also, I believe, false.

Imitating one of Zippy's commentators: The torture posts will continue until morality improves.
Heh. I can't possibly adequately express how much I had hoped to avoid talking about this godforsaken subject yet again despite recent news.

OK, I'll take the bait one more time. I know I'll regret it.

The answer to Pope Mark's latest question is No, of course not. The girl is innocent. Not just because she hasn't committed any evil act in the past, but because even if she was somehow "involved" in planning the future act in question, she does not have the level of maturity to be held responsible the way an adult would. So, no, of course she cannot be waterboarded. If that means NYC is toast, then yes, we'll have to accept that, horrific as it is. Because as I've made clear already, like Mark, I believe that we must never do evil that good may come.

Sorry it took me so long to answer. Such a tough question for us pro-torture dissenters, you know. Had to sweat out whatever desperate, half-assed response I could come up with. (Though I see you did generously give us all of 14 minutes before deciding we were stumped.)

Well, either that or it just took me all this time to leave work, pick up my kid from school, and fire up the computer to see what Mark's latest zinger would be.

OK, Mark, your turn. Caricature and condemn away...

I’m having a hard time understanding why killing someone who is about to commission a grave evil (mass murder) is morally permissible, (indeed, for Sgt Rock it is morally obligatory) while the actions of Agent 44 are somehow intrinsically evil.
I get it that you have a hard time seeing that there is a difference between self defense and torturing a prisoner for information. But I'm sick and tired of trying to educate you on the subject. Your own post shows that you get it enough to get it, if you wanted to get it.
The material object (the external act) may be the same in both cases, but the formal object is quite different, ...
What you are calling the 'material object' may be the same in principle; but in reality we don't punish people by waterboarding them. We - and by 'we' I expressly exclude pure sadists - would never waterboard a prisoner just because he deserved it, without asking him for any information.

Keith,
Seriously, go write a Hollywood script. The second you described a "special super secret stealth missile" launched by a bloodthirsty terrorist which for some unfathomable reason has a destruct code I was laughing out loud. Is it even possible to create a more unlikely ticking bomb scenario?

Badger:

Once he is a captive he ceases being a co-conspirator.

Can't you see the sheer absurdity of such a claim?

His (i.e., the captured terrorist) doggedly keeping any and all such information concerning the terrorist attack he and his fellow terrorists are about to inflict upon an innocent civilan population is proof that he has NOT ceased being a co-conspirator! His very silence only furthers their objective and, in all actuality, brings to fruition the terrorist act. Indeed, he still acts as part of that very arm that is now about to thrust that knife right at us.

Seriously, do you actually deem only regular criminals to be held to this kind of standard (as even ordinary law enforcement would) rather than these vile terrorists who, in comparison, seek to do outrageous & overwhelming violence to an innocent American populace!?

Wow, gee, look, everyone, it's been 36 minutes and Mark hasn't yet responded! "In a way, that is an answer," right?

The material object (the external act) may be the same in both cases, but the formal object is quite different, ...
What you are calling the 'material object' may be the same in principle; but in reality we don't punish people by waterboarding them. We - and by 'we' I expressly exclude pure sadists - would never waterboard a prisoner just because he deserved it, without asking him for any information.

Never said it had to be waterboarding, nor was I writing an argument in support of waterboarding. Just in support of inflicting pain in general, as a punishment.

Never said it had to be waterboarding, nor was I writing an argument in support of waterboarding. Just in support of inflicting pain in general, as a punishment.
Fair enough. I think it is important to highlight alongside that argument that it would not apply to things like waterboarding, since waterboarding just isn't the kind of thing we would do as a punishment. That is, we wouldn't do it in a case where we did not want anything from the prisoner and were just giving him what he deserves.

Dr. Feser:

I'm glad you answer my question in the negative. This would comport with your earlier remarks that torture to extract confessions is illegitimate but torture to punish may be admissible. I'm still confused by the direct conflict between you and Fr. Harrison who says that torture to obtain information might be fine, but torture to punish is intrinsically immoral.

I'm also less than convinced that, in the wide world of popular argumentation for the use of torture (not "enhanced interrogation", but torture as guys like Charles Krauthammer freely grant it to be) my scenario has been given sufficient thought. Krauthammer freely grants that he *is* saying we need to do "morally poisonous" things sometimes so as to achieve the greater good. He has rather a wider audience than you do and his arguments are Received Wisdom for far more supporters of torture, including a great many Catholics, than yours are. If one is living in a world where the national conversation is being driven by people who do, quite openly, insist that we do have, not merely the right, but the moral duty to do something "morally poisonous" in order to save a million people from the Ticking Bomb, I'm not as sanguine as you that confused Catholics will instantly draw the line at torturing the kid who knows where the bomb is.

Especially when so many of them have been trained in rhetoric which urges us to torture to save the millions so "at least I won’t have to answer for standing idly by and watching it so that my morals might remain intact."

Krauthammer is even stronger. He insists that if you have "the slightest belief" that torture will save the lives of millions, then it is a moral imperative. He makes no caveat that I am aware of if the victim happens to be a child. The possibility seems never to enter his head.

I'm glad you are leading the way in the serious and careful thinking that Dr. Beckwith commends by calling me "Pope Mark". I'm learning so much!

Fr. Harrison who says that torture to obtain information might be fine, but torture to punish is intrinsically immoral.

I don't see him making this claim for himself:

Secondly, I do not think that the direct infliction of severe physical pain, as a punishment for duly convicted delinquents carried out by public authority in accord with a norm of law, can be categorized as intrinsically evil. Such a thesis would seem to be incompatible with the divine inspiration of the Old Testament, which clearly prescribed such penalties for numerous offences. It would also amount in practice to the thesis that imprisonment is the only penalty that can ever justly be applied to even the worst criminals. But this would clearly be impractical, and indeed, inapplicable, in primitive nomadic societies (like the Israelites during the Exodus and many others) wherein nobody has any permanent dwelling place. Under such social and physical circumstances, much less is there a possibility of prisons for delinquents.

However, as we have argued, not everything that escapes the extreme moral censure of being intrinsically evil or unjust can without further ado be pronounced compatible with the New Law of Christ. Jesus has left us no specific legal instructions for dealing with crime in a society based on Gospel principles. But as we have seen in Part I of this study, the Lord has certainly left us, by precept and personal example, a new approach or outlook which emphasises, much more than the Old Law did, the importance of mercy and forbearance in the treatment of sinners. We could reasonably try to formulate a general legal principle, in application of this Gospel teaching, to the effect that the punishment of even the worst criminals should not detract from their dignity as human persons to a greater extent than should really be needed in order to maintain public order and protect innocent citizens. Also, the contemporary magisterium (GS #27) has emphasized also the harm – in this case spiritual, moral and psychological – that the infliction of grave physical pain on another human being does to the tormentor himself. In contrast to the profession of being an ordinary prison warder (and probably even the role of an executioner who presses a lever to administer a lethal injection or, in the case of hanging, to open a trapdoor), the role of torturer not only brutalizes and renders increasingly insensitive to terrible human suffering the agent himself; even worse, that role or function will tend to attract in practice, as the only persons in society willing to carry out such a function, those sorry types of individuals who already have at least latent sadistic tendencies, and so will actually enjoy their grisly task. But precisely in that situation, another type of grave sin (or at least the near occasion thereof) will be involved: that of cruelly delighting in the infliction of intense pain, often accompanied by perverse sexual satisfaction.

For all these reasons, it seems that the exclusion of torture (flogging, etc.) as legal punishment can be seen as an appropriate practical implication of the Law of Christ, especially under modern circumstances, even though such punishment is not intrinsically unjust. I would suggest that the Catechism’s censure of torture (and mutilation) as "punishment of the guilty" (#2297), and Pope John Paul II’s allocution against torture at Geneva, be understood in that light.

I think it should be obvious to anyone of good will that Prof. Feser has proved his point in this thread -- and, also, that this Mark Shea guy is a disgrace.

AMEN.

For all these reasons, it seems that the exclusion of torture (flogging, etc.) as legal punishment can be seen as an appropriate practical implication of the Law of Christ, especially under modern circumstances, even though such punishment is not intrinsically unjust. I would suggest that the Catechism’s censure of torture (and mutilation) as "punishment of the guilty" (#2297), and Pope John Paul II’s allocution against torture at Geneva, be understood in that light.

This is, once again, where I become confused by the way in which Veritatis Splendor gets filtered through Fr. Harrison.

The text of Veritatis Splendor tells us that "physical and mental torture and attempts to coerce the spirit" are "'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.

Granted, the text does not spell out every permutation of "physical and mental torture and attempts to coerce the spirit". So we turn to the Catechism, which specifically tells us that torture inflicted to "punish the guilty" is forbidden. Why? Because torture is intrinsically immoral. From which Fr. Harrison concludes... that it is indeed forbidden, but *not* intrinsically immoral, despite what Veritatis Splendor says.

Then, we continue to the speculation that it might be permissible for obtaining intelligence... and we are off and running with the apparent assurances (for folks like Mr. Pavlischek and Aristocles) that, so far from things being barely admissible as "open questions" and, indeed so far from them being "not obvious" at all, it is now glaringly obvious that we *must* torture and only a fool who is too blinded with love for terrorist could fail to see it.

And presiding over this discussion is Dr. Feser: who sees no logical problems with the progression of though (just so long as it tends toward saying torture is licit) but plenty of problems with "Pope Mark".

And people wonder why I get the impression that such rhetoric is a conclusion in search of an argument.


Dr Feser:

I'm sure you are regreting it now. It would have been better to have kept your own counsel. You gave an unequivocal answer which Shea then uses as a launching point to inveigle you to parse Krauthhammer and by implication the neocons. Now a lesser man (like myself) would at this point write something indiscreet in connection with KSM and the daughter. Woe betide that man, he'll be a poster boy for another one of Shea's interminable posts on his blog. For years now this has been his standard MO; trip up some commentator and use him as crutch to generate content. This of course is not an instance of "doing evil so that good may come of it", since as he is pure of heart, he gets to define his own terms.

Keith: Seriously, go write a Hollywood script. The second you described a "special super secret stealth missile" launched by a bloodthirsty terrorist which for some unfathomable reason has a destruct code I was laughing out loud. Is it even possible to create a more unlikely ticking bomb scenario?

With all due respect to Mr. Pavlischek, while I agree with him on the matter of certain interrogation measures necessary for the saving of actual human lives, I do however believe that the remarkable fiction he provided us earlier and the subsequent reaction as observed in Step2's comments is but a microcosm of how the outrageous fiction notoriously devised & popularly depicted in 24 has ultimately numbed the general populace at large to actual & likely terrorist attacks that may very well occur in the real world still.


Perhaps if the interrogation, as proposed by Mr. Pavlischek, was performed by (the original) Agent 99, employing some sort of "special super secret soaker" in a wet hot pink bikini, then we'd get somewhere.

But, then again, pro-terrorist rights group fashoined after the image of Mark Shea might still consider that "torture", too.

From which Fr. Harrison concludes... that it is indeed forbidden, but *not* intrinsically immoral, despite what Veritatis Splendor says.

But are the uses of the word torture univocal? One might like to think that everyone uses the same word with the same meaning, but there's no guarantee that this will happen.

Fr. Harrison is talking about torture as a form of punishment -- the formal object is different from the formal object of the act which merely aims to coerce someone through the use of violence/infliction of pain.

Woe betide that man, he'll be a poster boy for another one of Shea's interminable posts on his blog.

Indeed, observe if you will the whole slew of Anathema Sits arising from that man's realm and should you violate the moral precepts as taught in The Gospel According to Mark (Shea, that is) and dare reach beyond the man's sheer omnipotence, thou shalt be excommunicated and ipso fact be damned!


The unfortunate thing is that kind of blatant rigorism so highly espoused & promoted by Mark had unfortunately rubbed off on a certain disciple, whose name I dare not utter out of personal respect & high regard for his person.

Mr. Shea, re: the Catechism -- does the prohibition against torture cover corporal punishment of children?

Ari, give it a rest, for goodness' sake. These threads are unpleasant enough and long enough, without that sort of thing.

This would comport with your earlier remarks that torture to extract confessions is illegitimate but torture to punish may be admissible. I'm still confused by the direct conflict between you and Fr. Harrison who says that torture to obtain information might be fine, but torture to punish is intrinsically immoral.

Apparently you've read Harrison as carefully as you've read me. That is, not carefully at all. Fr. Harrison explicitly says:

"I do not think that the direct infliction of severe physical pain, as a punishment for duly convicted delinquents carried out by public authority in accord with a norm of law, can be categorized as intrinsically evil."

He then goes on to say that he thinks that in practice it should nevertheless not be used. I agree with both of these judgments. So, there is no conflict between me and Fr. Harrison on this particular point at all. I've made this clear several times, but you keep refusing to read what's in black and white in front of you. Go to the end of part II of Harrison's article and read it for yourself if you don't believe me. I look forward to your acknowledgement of your misreading. It would be a good first step to acknowledging all your other ones.

You'll notice that neither I, nor Harrison in that particular quote, refer to "torture." That's because, as I keep saying, the word is ambiguous. In one sense it just means "the infliction of severe bodily pain." In that sense of the word, and only in that sense, it can't be intrinically immoral, because Scripture and tradition, never contradicted by the Magisterium or any pope, says that in that sense it isn't immoral. But there is another sense of the word "torture" -- the sense that is evidently being used in Veritatis Splendor, and which Jimmy Akin has plausibly argued is something along the lines of "the disproportionate infliction of pain" -- on which torture is intrinsically immoral, and which I, like you, therefore condemn.

It seems to me that the dispute between us is essentially over whether or not waterboarding, specifically, counts as torture in this second sense. You say that it does, though I have yet to see an argument, or certainly any good argument, for this particular claim. My position is that whether it is torture in this second sense is not clear. It might be, but I haven't seen a compelling argument for that claim. It might also be at least wrong all things considered, even if not intrinsically -- I can certainly see strong arguments for that claim. But until I have a chance to pursue this issue in more depth, I don't have a settled view. I have also said, though, that until the Church clarifies this issue, waterboarding shouldn't be used. Furthermore, I have never said that what counts as "torture" is a mystery. Like you, I think that there are many clear cases and some not so clear ones. As far as I can tell, we may disagree only about the specific question of whether waterboarding counts as torture in the second sense. But neither of us defends it.

Now how all this makes me "pro-torture" or in conflict with the Magisterium, I have no idea. Anyway, I thought it worthwhile yet one more time to summarize what I've already said here many times already, in the hope that you might finally see that you have been unfair in characterizing my views.

Re: the "Pope Mark" stuff, I think if you'll go back and read through our exchange, you'll find that the sarcasm did not begin with me. So I flung a little back your way. Sue me, I'm only human...

Again, on the Catechism: I am aware that the Catechism uses the word torture to cover both acts, but that is a problem with the Catechism. Unless one wishes to jettison a Thomistic (or perhaps scholastic) analysis of human action. (Which VS seems to endorse.)

Ari:

God bless you.

PB:

Mr. Shea, re: the Catechism -- does the prohibition against torture cover corporal punishment of children?

Not in my opinion. Is this a setup for another round of those "There's no way to distinguish spanking from waterboarding somebody 183 times if you read Veritatis Splendor for anything like the plain meaning, so don't even bother citing it against waterboarding somebody 183 times. Heck! Keith Pavlischek is powerless to distinguish waterboarding from bad banjo playing!" obfuscations?

If so, then as I mentioned the other day, such fruitless and sterile discussions could be avoided if we stopped asking questions which aim to figure out how close you can get to torturing somebody without tecnically doing so and instead took our guidance from "Torture is a Issue" which begins by looking at the dignity of the human person instead. That doesn't mean we have to book terrorists a room at the Ritz. It just means that we approach interrogation for needed intelligence without the assumption that the first thing we need to do is waterboard or, as Krauthammer suggests, hang people by their thumbs. We the neglect of resources the Church is providing?

Aristocles and Step2--It is a thought experiment. You know, like the thought experiments you learned in Philosophy 101 to show how, say, rule utilitarianism collapses into act utilitarianism and the sort. It is designed to demonstrate a conceptual point or two.

In this case, I was trying to demonstrate how it might be conceivable to inflict pain on a "prisoner" who you know is directly responsible for initiating a chain of events that will result in a catastrophic terrorist attack on American civilians, and reasonbly say that it was done for the "defense of society." If there is something irrational with THAT, I'd love to hear it. I think there are all sorts of reasons you can give to forbear from inflicting such pain. It just seems to make little sense to say that the reason for inflicting such pain has nothing to do with the "defense of society."

I also wanted to suggest that, at least at first glance, it is odd to say that you can permissibly kill someone like Dr. No to prevent him from initiating that chain of events (and label it "a defense of society"), but then say that it is intrinsically evil to inflict pain AFTER he has initiated the act, but before it has been consumated in the destruction of his innocent targets, if that infliction of pain will produce information that will prevent the destruction of his targets.

I also wanted to suggest that "infliction of pain to extract of information to prevent a catastrophic terrorist attack" (Agent 44) is distinct from "infliction of pain for punishment, or reprisal etc." (Sgt Psycho).


Not in my opinion. Is this a setup for another round of those "There's no way to distinguish spanking from waterboarding somebody 183 times if you read Veritatis Splendor for anything like the plain meaning, so don't even bother citing it against waterboarding somebody 183 times. Heck! Keith Pavlischek is powerless to distinguish waterboarding from bad banjo playing!" obfuscations?

If so, then as I mentioned the other day, such fruitless and sterile discussions could be avoided if we stopped asking questions which aim to figure out how close you can get to torturing somebody without tecnically doing so and instead took our guidance from "Torture is a Issue" which begins by looking at the dignity of the human person instead.

Is coporal punishment the use of violence to punish the guilty or not? If you say it isn't, then why isn't it? Certainly it is punishment in an univocal sense. Perhaps you may wish to dispute over the world "guilty" -- such that only those who are found to be guilty by a judge can be reckoned guilty. If, however punishment by the use of violence is not permitted to a judge, who has a greater authority than a parent, how can it be permitted to a parent?

Looking at the dignity of the human person (an novelty found in recent moral theology and papal statements, you would admit?) doesn't get you far enough. If respect for human dignity ultimately is equivalent to talking about the human good, and the precepts of charity, that does not tell us whether depriving someone of some good in response to an offense he has committed or not is a morally licit action. Taken far enough, an appeal to human dignity would exclude all forms of punishment and violence as evil.

If you think this is sterile, perhaps it is because you are not well-versed in scholastic moral theology and don't really understand what is at stake.

Looking at the dignity of the human person (an novelty found in recent moral theology and papal statements, you would admit?)

Ah! This tells me all I need to know. Conciliar and papal teaching on the dignity of the human person is "novelty". You are proceeding on the assumption that Vatican II and papal teaching on the dignity of the human person is a departure from the Tradition, not a development of it. I should not be surprised that you have no interest in it then.

Fair enough. I won't bother trying to talk about the guidance the living Magisterium offers here.

You are proceeding on the assumption that Vatican II and papal teaching on the dignity of the human person is a departure from the Tradition, not a development of it.

Mr. Shea -- instead of making assumptions, perhaps you should ask for clarification. When I say novelty, I mean that the language is new. Do you agree or not? Do you find talk of dignity in the Church Fathers? Or in the Doctors? If you do, please point it out, and I'd be happy to take back what I said about it being a novelty.

Note that I did not say it is a departure from Tradition either. In fact, I implicitly said it could be harmonized with Tradition, by looking at the ratio of charity, and the basis for the charity-love of neighbor. My question was whether it added anything as a principle of moral theology that charity and the human good did not already cover, and if it went far enough. If you think it does, please demonstrate how so, and address my concerns with respect to punishment in general.

Gaaah, I can't stand it anymore. (A) Would it be too much to ask people to please, please, please distinguish a rough sense of what they mean by the word "torture" in the various places of their argument? Or, if using a quote, maybe suggest what sense of torture is intended by the author? And I don't mean "provide a defninition" - it is just that the word is being used equivocally and people are not picking up on that. It is virtually impossible to make a thread of several comments coherent when the sense changes with each user.

It is clear that the word torture in ancient times was used differently than now. This is not a value judgment, it is mere observation. The modern sense includes within it already a connotation of censure - either (as some would have it) censure in that it may only be used sparingly and within carefully prescribed limits; or, the censure (as others would have it) that it is intrinsically immoral. The old use of the word was broader, and included things that we would not readily refer to as torture today, and certainly did not include within itself a connotation of censured activity. I am not trying to resolve which one is "right" here, but if you mean the first sense when you say it is intrinsically immoral, and your opponent means the second sense, your comments will not bear on each other properly.

(B) Can we say that NOT ALL use of pain is immoral? I am asking. Is the use of mild pain in punishment licit? Is spanking licit as punishment? Is a slap as punishment for using expletives intrinsically immoral?

(C) Whether you agree with my opinion or not (mine is that these instances of using pain are not immoral as such), you will surely agree that these forms of using pain are not included in the meaning of "torture".

(D) Is using a red-hot iron hook to rip open the criminal's guts and roast them before his eyes torture? I am not asking whether it is moral or not here - just whether it is torture. I think everyone on this site agrees that it is. So, regardless of where we stand on whether torture is moral in some cases or immoral in all cases, we DO agree that using pain is not torture in some cases and is torture in others.

(E) We all should, by this point, accept that there is some doubt in between spanking and red-hot hooks whether some acts constitute torture. (I am not trying to justify doubt about waterboarding per se - so pace to those who protest against too light an attitude of censure - I am making a pedagogic point not a substantive one, I am trying to be careful and build consensus step by step, and I will get to later steps at a later point). If a specific act is doubted by either party, then discussion about the principles of right and wrong in this area will not move forward by using this specific act as the central piece of discussion. So the elements of the discussion intended to elicit principles should not rest on whether that one act is, or is not, torture. Make your point about principles clear from examples that everyone agrees on, and you may move forward.

(F) For example, some people are simply extraordinarily overly sensitive to pain and have overactive imaginations (one of my children is). It is not outside of plausibility to get someone like this to talk by imposing a relatively light pain or discomfort. Also, some people who have consorted with criminals and are sympathetic to some of their aims are not themselves hell-bent on the success of the criminals' whole world-view, and hold at least a little respect for authority, so the wall of resistance you must overcome to get them to talk in their case is much lower. If you get a combination of these characteristics in one person, it is not at all unreasonable to suppose that they would talk with only a very mild pain administered by authorities, such as the equivalent of a moderate spanking one hour, followed by a double dose followed 2 hours later, followed by a triple dose 2 hours later - and let their imagination do the rest. If you think I am being ridiculous, read about the "wall" technique in the CIA manual. It is considerably lighter.

My point is that it is possible to talk of using pain to punish or to extract information in a way that does not automatically lend itself to being a type of pain that most people will simply call "torture". It may be that the above is still immoral. It may be that the above is intrinsically immoral. That case can be made, but if you wish to do so, please make it without assuming that it falls into the description of such phrases as "whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, physical and mental torture and attempts to coerce the spirit" .

By the way, just what does "coerce the spirit" mean in this context anyway? I know what coerce means generally, and I know that punishments in general are intended to modify the behavior of the criminal - does a punishment that scares the bejabbers out of the criminal and helps him go straight fall under the description of "coerce the spirit" and if not why not? Does it mean the kind of coercion that results in a broken spirit, so that the recipient can be induced to do essentially anything the authorities demand? If that is what is meant, then that is consistent with "torture" as it is normally used. If you think it means any kind of action that is intended to make the prisoner change his mind, well what about the rehabilitative end of punishment?


One other point of the thought experiment. It was designed to call into question the assertion by Zippy:

The distinction between doing and not doing is crucial for a correct understanding here. If what we are appealing to is self-defense or defense of another, violence can be justified in order to stop an attack. An attack is something that the attacker is doing; something a person is not doing, even if he has a duty to do it, is not an attack in the pertinent sense.

The thought experiment is designed to appeal to our intuitive sense that there is something counter-intuitive about saying I can kill Dr. No prior to pushing the button (for the "doing," or the sin of commission) but can't inflict pain on him after he pushed the button, just because he is at that moment "not doing" (the sin of omission)what he ought to do (give up the info that will stop the attack). I think it is not at all implausible to think that Dr. No is very much still "involved in the attack." By withholding information that would prevent the COMPLETION OF AN ATTACK THAT HE CAUSED--that he set in motion--I would suggest that an attack can indeed be something a person is "not doing."

In other words, Zippy's case rests on a hard and fast moral distinction between "acts of commission" and "acts of omission" that a reasonable person might not find persuasive. That hard and fast distinction MAY be reasonable. But the thought experiment was designed to suggest that it isn't OBVIOUSLY so. Which is sorta where all this started.


Hi Keith, I think the story was sound in it's demonstration. I wonder if it's worthwhile to reverse the burden and ask: you have the perpetrator Dr.No, you know Dr.No's plan, you also know he has information to end the threat, what if any is your responsibility to save the innocent? This adds a twist to "acts of ommision", and "acts of commission" as it regards the Christian duty to God to protect innocent human life-either personally or by demanding that of the civil magistrate.

Zippy's case rests on a hard and fast moral distinction between "acts of commission" and "acts of omission" that a reasonable person might not find persuasive.
I suppose this is where I ask for a comprehensive definition of "reasonable".

It probably won't help your intuitions, I'm guessing, though it might give you ideas for your Jerry Bruckheimer movie script; but one reason it is a critical distinction is that violence in self-defense (as distinct from punishment) is justified as the use of proportionate force to block an attack. The violence of self-defense is justified precisely and only because it is directed against an attack, not a person.

You can't use violence to block nothing, and a prisoner not doing anything is nothing. We can tell that the prisoner "not doing X" is nothing because things would remain the same even if the prisoner suddenly and completely ceased to exist. If killing a person and removing him completely from existence is incapable of stopping X, then violence against that person is not self-defense against X.

That doesn't mean that violence against that person can't be justified in some other way: as, say, punishment. But violence against that person cannot be justified as self defense.

At least you appear to concede that there is in fact a valid analytic difference between an attacker doing something and a prisoner not doing anything: between being and not-being. Baby steps.

So much of this debate comes done to Pope John Paul II's use of the words "intrinsically evil" in Veritatis Splendor to describe a list of proscribed practices he quotes from Gaudium et Spes. Among the practices are torture, slavery, deportation, and inhumane living conditions. I note that Cardinal Dulles, himself raised to the purple by John Paul II, said that the words "intrinsically evil" cannot be applied to every practice in that list without qualification. Cardinal Dulles argues that, regardless of the superficial impression one might get from reading Veritatis Splendor, the Church simply does not teach that slavery, deportation, and inhumane living conditions are intrinsically evil. He suggests that Pope John Paul II would have qualified his statements if he thought it would not detract from his immediate point, which, if I recall correctly, is *not* slavery, deportation, or inhuman living conditions. I quote Cardinal Dulles (http://www.firstthings.com/article.php3?id_article=234):

"Noonan has one further argument for doctrinal change. In 1993, in his encyclical Veritatis Splendor, John Paul II took, from Vatican II’s pastoral constitution on the Church in the modern world, a long list of social evils: “homicide, genocide, abortion, euthanasia and voluntary suicide . . . mutilation, physical and mental torture and attempts to coerce the spirit; whatever is offensive to human dignity, such as sub-human living conditions, arbitrary imprisonments, deportation, slavery, prostitution and trafficking in women and children; degrading conditions of work which treat laborers as mere instruments of profit, and not as free responsible persons.” Where Vatican II had called these practices “shameful” (probra), John Paul II calls them “intrinsically evil.” In the same encyclical the pope teaches that intrinsically evil acts are prohibited always and everywhere, without any exception.

Did John Paul II, by including slavery in his list of social evils, effect the revolution in Catholic moral theology that Noonan attributes to him? It seems to me that if he had wanted to assert his position as definitive he would have had to say more clearly how he was defining slavery. He would have had to make it clear that he was rejecting the nuanced views of the biblical writers and Catholic theologians for so many past centuries. If any form of slavery could be justified under any conditions, slavery as such would not be, in the technical sense, intrinsically evil.

According to the logic of Noonan’s argument, whatever holds for slavery would have to be said for deportations, subhuman living conditions, and degrading conditions of work. But could not degrading or subhuman conditions be inevitable, for example, after some great natural disaster in which mere survival is an achievement? Individual deportations of undesirable aliens occur continually as a matter of national policy today; mass deportations could perhaps be necessary for the sake of peace and security. If pressed, I suspect, the pope would have admitted the need for some qualifications, but he could not have specified these without a rather long excursus that would have been distracting in the framework of his encyclical. So far as I am aware, he never repeated his assertion that slavery is intrinsically evil. Neither the Catechism of the Catholic Church nor the recent Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, in their discussions of slavery, speaks so absolutely."

It is fair to ask if the same situation is true of torture. As deportation (for instance) is not an intrinsic evil, we know that we cannot simply apply the words "intrinsically evil" simplistically to all of the practices John Paul lists. As for abortion, we already know that that is intrinsically evil from sources other than Veritatis Splendor.

No doubt we'll now be hearing from certain quarters that Dulles was a dissenter, a denier of the obvious, a hair-splitter, a chin-puller and brow-furrower, someone with a pro-slavery conclusion looking for an argument, a member of the Slave Holding Right, someone whose desire for light from the Church isn't really burning so hot after all, whose views are contemptible and insult our intelligence and are preternatually stupid, a sola scriptura private interpreter, etc. etc.

I mean, what did he ever know about theology or JP2, right?

Some passing observations.

I still recall the incoherence of the American bishops on usage and possession of nuclear weaponry. To which the French bishops immediately responded by issuing their considered opinion on the subject, {To Win the Peace}.

Shea seems to think we're somehow bound by the collective opinion of the American bishops, or if not precisely "bound," if that's too strong, then at least that somehow we're to be unduly impressed by their utterances on the subject. As it is clear that he is.

But there's a little problem present. Some might consider it a procedural one, but national gatherings of bishops lack AUTHORITY. And I don't know of any delegation of power by the Bishop of Rome that would vest compelling authority on a conference of American bishops. Not just on this issue, but on any for that matter. The USCCB's only power is persuasive power. But when one considers some of the nonsense they've poured forth over the last couple of decades, that's not any power at all.

It is NOT the bishops who carve these various policy statements, but rather a bureaucracy, and a bureaucracy that endlessly churns out commentary that the bishops subsequently sign off on because it would be too troublesome to actually edit or alter.

When the bishops themselves fail to trouble themselves to actually edit or control the product that emerges from such bureaucracies, I'm hardly to take such commentary seriously.

And that's a charitable take on the USCCB.

As for the UN, -------------------------------------- please. Is someone actually mentioning the UN and moral authority in the same breath? Wow. Where's that person been over the last few decades? Has that person perhaps missed the UN "peacekeepers" who double as rapists? Has that person missed how that organization's bureaucracy, with the activie connivance of many major members, was STEALING the wealth of the people of Iraq.

But even if the UN had a moral authority, which it demonstrably does not, it would still suffer from the same defect as does a regional conference of bishops, that is, want of proper authority. In addition, in the UN's case, {very much akin to the case of an "American" conference of bishops} besides lacking such authority, we're witnessing an attempt to arrogate unto itself power precisely denied it in its foundational document.

The Geneva Convention? The Geneva Convention's affordance of protections to POWs was a device designed to bring those that subscribe to the Convention into some kind of rough conformity with the proper customs and usages of land warfare. It was meant as a lure, to get those states that waged war outside of the customs and usages of land warfare, to begin conformity to those customs and usages. And as a reward for conformity, there would be protections extended to POWs.

Terrorists, by their very nature, ARE STATELESS. Thus no state has the power to enter into the Convention on their behalf. Furthermore, terorists make "war" in a manner INCONSISTENT with the customs and usages of land warfare. And thus it would be passing strange indeed to extend them rights that have as their origination a CONFORMITY with the customs and usages, which they pride themselves upon violating. The Convention applies to soldiers of states, and states that subscribe to the Convention.

The Convention is a WESTERN CONVENTION. It is a fruit of the West. Which the jihadists followers of mohammad are very much against, for they subscribe to shariaa.

Why not rexamine the issue ab initio?

How?

By asking what moral duties and obligations exist in all of those party to the "dispute."

What are the moral obligations of those with information of future terror attacks, who are in custody, and being queried that information, and being queried by an authority with not just the right to ask, but the most solemn and ancient of DUTIES to ask?

What is the role of the state? Not just that, but what is the DUTY of the state here?

Is the state allowed an activity that is beyond any one individual? Absolutely, for instance the power to make war and enter into treaties is an authority not vested to any one individual, but retained by the state.

If taken to its logical extreme, {and it is ALREADY an extreme position} Shea would have a state that "bears the sword" in vain.

For instance, were an enemy to launch a bomber raid against NYC, the state would be quite within its rights to order squadrons aloft to engage them, destroy them, all in the interests of safeguarding the lives and property of those within NYC. How is this situation similar to terrorism? There is an enemy of all openly proclaimed, launching strikes against America, and the only way to order an active defense is to first obtain accurate information, {which some have termed "actionable intelligence}.

IN THE ABSENCE of that information, NO EFFECTIVE DEFENSE is possible. In the absence of information, defense becomes scattershot. INDEED, in the absence of information government becomes prey to sweeping up the innocent with the guilty, all in the effort to safeguard the populace.

Shea's position takes the scalpel from the hand of the surgeon that would treat a wound, leaving only a meat cleaver to amputate whole limbs. When these amputations naturally follow, we can anticipate Shea howling then too, even though the response follows naturally upon Shea's previous policy prescriptions.

Shea's position deprives the government the ability to be active, to be vigilant and to be preemptive.

Shea seems awfully cavalier with the natural consequences of leaving urban centers open to enemies that make use of clandestine entry. He may deny that, for it might be a little too brutal in expression. But any objective review of his many postings on the subject of torture would leave little doubt that he suffers from a noted and pronounced mental and moral blindspot, at least when it comes to considering the consequences of terror activity.

But that stands to reason, for he's out there on the plank defending the right of "conscience" of the terrorists. Imagine that! Just imagine the idea of ascribing to the terrorists a "conscience!" The Church stands for the right of RIGHT REASON, properly exercised. To put the Church, and the whole authority of the Church out there on the plank, with the terrorist, is an EXTRAORDINARY and amazing mental activity.

Some might deem that I'm merely restating the obvious.

Not so. For I'm trying to get some to focus on what's the MORAL DUTY of the state.

Shea seems to have a real problem acknowleging, {and not shorting, not marginalizing, not trivializing} the REAL, historical and God-given role of the state in preventing such attacks.

When one is trotting out the collective opinion of American bishops on national security matters, ------------ past experience with what the "conference" of bishops has uttered leads us to the inexorable conclusion that a want of seriousness is present.

Shea accuses others of fudging definitions of what constitutes "torture." But then noted with disapproval the efforts of some to recommend techniques that wander close to the definition, but still don't quite cross the line. Such an ability to wander close yet not cross the line bespeaks a comfortable understanding of what does, and does not constitute torture, and betrays a clear understanding of precisely WHERE that line is.

But of course that's assuming that torture, REAL TORTURE is somehow barred in the case at instant.

And even that's a stretch.

But for Shea to go to all of these lengths, to drag the whole authority of the Church, out there on the plank with himself and the terrorist, --------------- EXTRAORDINARY, and all for waterboarding, ---------------------- waterboarding.

Good God, what a signal failure of perspective!

I'd like to know if Shea ever read Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago. If he had, he would't be so exercised about "waterboarding," that's for sure.

Another thing, and this comes through loud and clear. Shea seems to think the terrorist has a right to keep the information he has, and that right of his is superior to the duty of the state to protect its citizens.

That's his position, which if you think of it, is precisely akin to that of Sandra Day O'Connor's in Casey v. Webster. If you recall in Casey, O'Connor allows the state leeway to act towards the prevention of abortions, BUT limits that leeway to those activities which aren't at all likely to actually ameliorate the frequency of abortions.

Which is exactly what we see here. Shea accords a certain leeway to question, but forbids any technique tailored to actually elicit information. BUT THE WHOLE purpose of interrogation is the ELICITATION of information. Why does Shea allow a futile act? Does the state bear the sword in vain? Since when? By whose authority has the sword been stripped from the hand of the state?

So on the one hand, we have a state, with the power to act. The state was given authority to act in such situations precisely because the citizen cannot act, for on his own, the ordinary citizen doesn't have the information, the power or the ability to act in a way to secure himself or his neighbors. But the state can.

And on the other hand we have a creature possessed of information of mass murder, which is a moral wrong, a moral evil

Let's just go through some of the sins of the one possessing such information, who refuses to disclose it to proper, legitimate and lawful authority, and prefers on his own, CONTRARY to right reason, to keep it to himself.

In no particular order, there is the sin of entering into an evil terrorist group, there is the evil of entering into a conspiracy of mass murder, there is the conspiracy of waging war without proper authority, and of waging war outside the ordinary customs and usages of land warfare, then there is of course the dreadful scandal given by terror, and of course the many lies by which the terror groups try to advance their agenda. Just about all of these sins are mortal. None venial.

But for all this, Shea sees the terrorist as someone who has a right of conscience in the matter, a right so pronounced, that before it the solemn and serious duties of the state must bow.

As if the terrorist were St. Thomas More or Edmund Campion or some such.

Shea fails to understand, or by deliberate act of will refuses to mentally acknowledge the murderous intentions of America's enemies. Concurrent to that, he equally short-changes the solemn obligations of the state in the issue at hand.

Seems to me, Zippy is the one who is involved with the real debate club!

So to sum up:

Shea is wrong about the "rights" he accords the "conscience" of the terrorist, which in any event, is not a "conscience" in conformity with rectio ratia;

Shea is wrong about the olbigations of the state, which he consistently trivializes;

Shea is wrong in his analysis of the collision of the duties and obligations of the parties present in the matter at bar;

Shea is wrong to have introduced the wayward USCCB into the matter, as well as introducing the UN; and of course

Shea got the Geneva Convention wrong.

But all of this is akin to going to the mattresses over the number of angels dancing on the head of a pin.

Once Tehran completes and perfects their own Manhattan project, measures are going to become commonplace which even I would object to.

For then we'll see REAL and not imaginary loss of civil liberties; then we'll see measures taken to elicit information that none will dispute are indeed torturous.

We're all going to see horrors.

Henry:

That you think my vigorous disputation here bears any resemblance whatsoever to the lipstick marks you left all over Gerald Campbell's pro-choice posterior is hysterical.

Zippy It probably won't help your intuitions, I'm guessing, though it might give you ideas for your Jerry Bruckheimer movie script; but one reason it is a critical distinction is that violence in self-defense (as distinct from punishment) is justified as the use of proportionate force to block an attack. The violence of self-defense is justified precisely and only because it is directed against an attack, not a person.

Well, that's not how police use pain holds to quell an arrestee who is "restive" - they use pain to convince the arrestee that continued attacks are a bad idea, but it is the perpetrator himself who decides to stop the attack, on account of the pain.

In other words, if the "self defense" were to be used on the "attack" as you say, a pain hold would be pointless, because the attack does not feel pain. It is precisely because the arrestee is a person who feels pain that pain works as a means to end the attacks. The pain does not bother the attack itself.

I think that JPIIs point that for violence used as self-defense, the harm done to the aggressor is really due to his own action, applies just as much to the police using a pain hold - if the arrestee had not struggled, there would have been no reason to apply the pain hold to begin with. But let's be clear that the pain is not incidental to the violence of self-defense in a pain hold, it is intrinsic to act.

if the "self defense" were to be used on the "attack" as you say, a pain hold would be pointless,
Are you a policeman? Because it sounds like you are talking out of your hat. As far as I know, the purpose of a licit hold is precisely to immobilize a hostile person, not to cause him ongoing and continuous pain while he remains immobile. A policeman can get in trouble if he goes farther than that, at least in some jurisdictions.

Of course we can logic chop all day without changing the manifest fact that we unequivocally, illegally, and immorally tortured prisoners using among other things water torture, which is a war crime, in the GWOT. Like the infamously wicked (And ugly. Did I mention ugly?) Mark Shea I am convinced that the logic chopping and Magisterium-parsing wouldn't be of such intense fascination if it weren't for that fact.

Zippy writes:

The violence of self-defense is justified precisely and only because it is directed against an attack, not a person.

Let's call the killing of Dr. No by Sgt Rock not a matter of self-defense but of what you called "other defense." Sgt Rock was not threatened personally by Dr. No's pushing of the big red button. He was not in the Sears Tower. I take it that you will grant me this much. (I understand "self-defense" can be used in the sense of "collective" self-defense as in "national security" and the like, but it might be misunderstood as personal self-defense, so I will use "other" defense, as you did earlier just to keep it simple.)

Well, when Sgt Rock puts the crosshairs of his rifle onto the forehead of Dr. No, do you seriously mean suggest that his attack is not directed against a person? That he does not INTEND to kill Dr. No? I always thought that a just warrior could directly and intentionally kill combatants but could not intentionally kill noncombatants. Both combatants and noncombatants are persons (no Ceylons around yet, Battlestar Gallactica fans!) Which means that it is licit to directly and intentionally kill some persons but not other persons.

You can't use violence to block nothing,

The moral intuition traded on in the thought experiment is that there is something odd about declaring just (and not intrinsically evil) Sgt. Rock's killing a person made in the image of God before he presses that button (hence "blocking a great evil) and yet saying it is intrinsically evil to apply even the slightest measure of pain to force him "unwind" (if that is the right term) the chain of events that will "block" the great evil that his sin of commission initiated (pushing the button) and that his sin of ommission (silence) will cause.


At least you appear to concede that there is in fact a valid analytic difference between an attacker doing something and a prisoner not doing anything: between being and not-being.

There is for sure an analytic distinction between being and not being. I'm not so sure that this is the same distinction as between "an attacker doing something and a prisoner not doing anything." It is that "not doing anything" bit that is at issue. There are probably a lot of metaphysical and ontological assumptions here about the nature of persons. I'm assuming that a person is not just a series of discreet acts, that there is something deeper to personal identity and conscioiusness such that "withholding information" can plausibly be said to be an "act." I will leave it to the professional philosophers to tell us whether "withholding information" can plausibly be said to constitute an "act," or whether it is just a crackpot idea I dreamed up before I had my morning coffee fix. My thought experiment was designed to explore exactly this sort of question. I can say that it seems to be at least plausible, because it fits the intuitions of a reasonable person. Sort of like me, for instance. And Dan:


Let's just go through some of the sins of the one possessing such information, who refuses to disclose it to proper, legitimate and lawful authority, and prefers on his own, CONTRARY to right reason, to keep it to himself.

whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, physical and mental torture and attempts to coerce the spirit

Can we go back to this passage in VS? I think that JPII was giving us a hint, in the very last phrase, of what it is about "mutilation, physical and mental torture" that is objectionable in an intrinsic way. In some cases where torture is used, the explicit intent is the "break" the prisoner. By "break" I don't mean something like "get him to stop resisting and tell us what he knows." I mean something more radical than this, I mean break him so that he ceases to resist the torturer in ALL respects - he is willing to do whatever the torturer says, including anything itself immoral. It is clear why this is appropriately called "coerce the spirit" in a special sense - if the prisoner cedes up his right and duty to consider whether a command to act is moral, he is becoming amoral himself, he ceases to act as a rational, responsible being, and is then being handled as an irrational animal, an instrument.

I agree with the anti-torture crowd that this use of torture is intrinsically immoral, and it is so precisely in that a person is being objectified.

However, I don't think that the semi-break that breaks down the prisoner's refusal to give information is automatically and necessarily in the same category, that it holds the exact same meaning as "coerce the spirit" univocally. First of all, in practice it is possible to do achieve a semi-break without reducing the prisoner to that ultimate jello of doing whatever the torturer demands. The wall that is broken down is on one plane only, not the entire realm of choice. So there is a difference in facts.

Secondly, the pressure (i.e. coercion) imposed on the prisoner is pressure to comply with the state in something that the prisoner has an objective obligation to comply with. The prisoner never has an objective obligation to "do whatever I tell you".

This difference may be noticeable in that the guards themselves are (rightly) convinced that what they are attempting to get the prisoner to do is essentially a moral obligation, and is a duty that morally binds the prisoner to comply with the state's demand for information for the common good. So what the guards are about is visibly different even in the eyes of the prisoner. I.E. there is a subjective difference as well.

I would at this point like to mention that one of the reasons we moderns have higher sensitivity to the notion of torture is also the basis for the Geneva Convention requirements for treatment of POW. A POW does not cease to be a subject of the state he was fighting for. Therefore he retains a moral obligation to that state (so far as he knows, if he understands his country's fight to be just) to withhold information from the enemy that holds him. Therefore an attempt by the enemy state to get him to divulge information through pain is explicitly an attempt to get him to violate his own conscience.

This does not hold in the case of a criminal. The criminal does not generally believe that he is morally obligated to withhold information about his co-conspirators. So the moral basis for the POW hands-off treatment does not begin to apply here. Convincing him to talk does not constitute getting him to violate his conscience.

There might be (and indeed, there ARE) additional reasons why various uses of pain are wrong in certain circumstances, without amounting to reasons applying to ALL uses of pain, nor amounting a claim that ALL cases where the use is wrong is by being intrinsically evil.

Therefore, there is a reasonable interpretation of the VS passage that BOTH makes sense of why JPII wanted to list torture as intrinsically evil, AND provides perspective on that passage's limitations that allows the older teachings and practice of the Church on torture (that it is permitted) to not be in direct conflict. In charity, then I would submit that this understanding is to be preferred over one that takes JPIIs passage as more forceful than he himself really intended it, and makes it virtually impossible to reconcile with the ancient Church without a tortured :-) rendition of that teaching.

Thus I agree that there are plenty of instances of the use of pain that are intrinsically evil. I just don't that the teaching requires as a logical conclusion that all use of pain on a prisoner is intrinsically evil.

do you seriously mean suggest that his attack is not directed against a person? That he does not INTEND to kill Dr. No?
Not at all. He intends to stop the attacker from attacking, using lethal force.
I will leave it to the professional philosophers to tell us whether "withholding information" can plausibly be said to constitute an "act," or whether it is just a crackpot idea I dreamed up before I had my morning coffee fix.
It is definitely a crackpot idea to think that something which a person can "do" without even existing is precisely and identically the same kind of thing that a person must exist in order to do.
Thus I agree that there are plenty of instances of the use of pain that are intrinsically evil. I just don't that the teaching requires as a logical conclusion that all use of pain on a prisoner is intrinsically evil.
I don't know of anyone sensible - I almost said "sane" - who thinks that all infliction of pain on a prisoner is intrinsically evil.

Zippy says:

It is definitely a crackpot idea to think that something which a person can "do" without even existing is precisely and identically the same kind of thing that a person must exist in order to do.

Zippy--I was not asking about what a person can "do" without existing. I was inquiring into whether "withholding information" by a real-life existing living person can plausibly be considered an "act." Pushing the big red button was an "act of commission," by Dr. No. Is it plausible to consider the "withholding of information" by Dr. No to be an "act of ommission," by Dr. NO? Or is the very phrase "act of ommission" a crackpot idea? I've had my coffee now and I'm inclined to think it is not a crackpot idea, but at the very least a plausible one.

Earlier Zippy said:

The violence of self-defense is justified precisely and only because it is directed against an attack, not a person.

Maybe I'm missing something but you seem to be saying here that the use of lethal force is only just when it is NOT DIRECTED AT A PERSON. How is this to be squared with your concession just now that Sgt Rock directed his lethal attack against a "person," and that Sgt Rock's act was just (and not intrinsically evil)?

Is coporal punishment the use of violence to punish the guilty or not? If you say it isn't, then why isn't it? Certainly it is punishment in an univocal sense. Perhaps you may wish to dispute over the world "guilty" -- such that only those who are found to be guilty by a judge can be reckoned guilty. If, however punishment by the use of violence is not permitted to a judge, who has a greater authority than a parent, how can it be permitted to a parent?
I would like to see Mark Shea's answer to this. The sources he cites include a blanket condemnation for the infliction of physical pain as punishment which is quite clear. He is fond of claiming that people who disagree with him aren't abiding by the clear meaning of contemporary teaching when they balance recent statements concerning torture with earlier authoritative writings. I bet he'll do the same exact thing here and deny that the corporal punishment of children violates their human dignity.

The Catechism is clear. What do you say, Mr. Shea? Does the infliction of physical pain by parents on their children as punishment violate their human dignity as the Catechism would imply?

"I will leave it to the professional philosophers to tell us whether "withholding information" can plausibly be said to constitute an "act," or whether it is just a crackpot idea I dreamed up before I had my morning coffee fix."

It is definitely a crackpot idea to think that something which a person can "do" without even existing is precisely and identically the same kind of thing that a person must exist in order to do.

We have already supposed that the criminal has an objective moral obligation to supply the information to the state. Since he has an objective moral obligation to do an act, not doing that act is a sin of omission. It is an act in the sense that every sin of omission is an act. Zippy, "withholding information" is not simply "not telling the information", which Jim in Tokyo also is (not) doing, and the rock in my garden is also not doing - it is a refusal to meet a positive obligation. That refusal is a choice, even if the choice is to not act. You cannot pretend that a choice to not act is a nothingness that has no moral reality.

Are you a policeman? Because it sounds like you are talking out of your hat. As far as I know, the purpose of a licit hold is precisely to immobilize a hostile person, not to cause him ongoing and continuous pain while he remains immobile. A policeman can get in trouble if he goes farther than that, at least in some jurisdictions.

Are you a human being? Because you sound like someone who has never had a tussle with an opponent. Did you ever have your arm held behind your back in a schoolyard disagreement?

First of all, "immobilize" requires first getting a person not yet under control to be under control, and then keeping him there. The getting him there with a pain hold technique applies pain so that he stops resisting. The pain is intended. Whatever you say about the "ongoing" aspect, the pain in the first instance of the hold is licit and intended.

Second of all, once the person is under control, an effective pain hold does not merely keep him immobilized by the threat of pain if he moves . It keeps a low level of tension on the limb constant, with a threat of an immediate huge surge of pressure and pain if he moves. If you hold someone's arm behind their back slack, with no upward pressure at all so that there is no actual pain just yet, you also leave enough wiggle room that he may think he can squirm out of the hold. The hold is intended to give him no chance to create slack and maneuver out, and thus to convince him that he has no chance of getting out before you can surge his pain level, and this effectively means some tension as a constant. That tension implies a moderate level of pain - a level that is bearable by any normal person for a short period.

I can imagine someone saying that you must carefully parse this action, and in doing so it is clear that the pain from the continued tension is not specifically intended, it is simply an accidental result of the needed tension. (I don't necessarily agree with that, but even it it were...) I cannot imagine this coming from the same persons who refuse to parse the meaning of VS 80 and other Church documents to discern with precision just what is being condemned, and is unwilling to peer into various ranges of pain uses to see which ones are licit and which ones are not. At least not while keeping a straight face.

Is it plausible to consider the "withholding of information" by Dr. No to be an "act of ommission," by Dr. NO?
Sure. We can do wrong by not acting, and someone with an obligation to act in fact does wrong by not acting. The point is just that not acting is a very different thing from acting, and has very different moral implications, and - appeals to your intuitions aside - as an analytic matter the distinction has to be stipulated.
Maybe I'm missing something but you seem to be saying here that the use of lethal force is only just when it is NOT DIRECTED AT A PERSON.
I didn't say that. I said that self/other defense, as a specific species of the morally licit use of violence, is directed at stopping a person from attacking. It is never directed at forcing a person to do something.

I completely agree that Sgt Fury or whatever name you gave him intends to kill Dr. Badguy before Dr. Badguy can launch the attack, that that is morally licit, and that Nicholas Cage should play Sgt. Fury and Forest Whittaker should play Dr. Badguy.

And, again, it is an interesting theoretical conversation and all, but the real world context of the conversation is that we manifestly actually unequivocally immorally illegally committed war crimes by using torture in the GWOT.

Tony:

That is an interesting theoretical conversation and all, but the real world context of the conversation is that we manifestly actually unequivocally immorally illegally committed war crimes by using torture in the GWOT.

I cannot imagine this coming from the same persons who refuse to parse the meaning of VS 80 and other Church documents to discern with precision just what is being condemned, ...

I don't refuse to parse the meaning of VS 80. You guys keep speaking to me as if you think you are talking to someone else, who said different things from anything I've actually said.

I just observe that that parsing takes place in a context in which we manifestly actually unequivocally immorally illegally committed war crimes by using torture in the GWOT.

Back to Dr. No.

Version 1. He has not yet pressed the button. Sgt. Joe can licitly shoot him to prevent the destruction.

Version 2. He has pressed the button, but has rigged it so that the attack continues in operation only so long as he keeps on pressing it. Sgt. Joe can still shoot him to stop the attack.

Version 3. He has pressed the button, but has rigged another button that will cancel the attack. If nothing further is done, the attack will be consummated. Sgt. Joe can shoot to remove him from guarding the "stop" button, and press the stop button to bring the attack to a halt.

Version 4. He has pressed the button, but has rigged number pad that will accept a 6 letter code that will stop the attack. Sgt. Joe may kill him to remove him from guarding the keypad. (And then spend the next 90 seconds entering in 100,00 different combinations...) Or, better yet, Sgt. Joe may seize Dr. No and put him in a painful arm-lock to immobilize him. I.E. to stop Dr. No from attacking him.

But Sgt. Joe may not use any pain whatsoever to elicit the 6 letter code !?!?!? I.E. to stop Dr. No. from attacking a city.

That, my friends, is incredible.

Are you familiar with Sophie's choice Tony? As an American you probably have difficulty accepting that there are many situations in life where there is no good option.

But Sgt. Joe may not use any pain whatsoever to elicit the 6 letter code !?!?!? I.E. to stop Dr. No. from attacking a city.
Sgt. Joe may not use water torture to elicit some 6 letter code (which, hey, might be the six letter code to disable six letter codes, that tricksy Dr. No) in this fantasy; he may not use water torture as we did in reality when we manifestly actually unequivocally immorally illegally committed war crimes by using torture in the GWOT.
Sgt. Joe may not use water torture to elicit some 6 letter code (which, hey, might be the six letter code to disable six letter codes, that tricksy Dr. No) in this fantasy; he may not use water torture as we did in reality when we manifestly actually unequivocally immorally illegally committed war crimes by using torture in the GWOT.

Hold on just a second here. Let's not beg the question. The fundamental issue is whether Agent 44 may apply some degree of pain to get Dr. No to fork over the code. Before we get to the issue of how much pain (e.g., the issue of "severe" pain and the more particular issue of waterboarding) we have to know whether it is intrinsically evil to apply any pain at all for that purpose. This, again, is what such thought experiments are meant to clarify. So, is it obviously mistaken, is it obviously crazy, is it obviously irrational to say that Agent 44 acts justly if he applies some pain to extract the information from Dr. No?

Maybe it is, but it isn't obviously so.

Hold on just a second here. Let's not beg the question.
Not begging the question. Independent of this whole discussion, we manifestly actually unequivocally immorally illegally committed war crimes by using torture in the GWOT.

zippy says:

Not begging the question. Independent of this whole discussion, we manifestly actually unequivocally immorally illegally committed war crimes by using torture in the GWOT.

Well, now you are not begging the question, you are avoiding it completely. I didn't ask you about whether "we" committed war crimes etc. etc. (I assume by "we", you do not mean "Zippy.") I asked you whether it is "obviously mistaken, is it obviously crazy, is it obviously irrational to say that Agent 44 acts justly if he applies some pain to extract the information from Dr. No?"


First of all, "immobilize" requires first getting a person not yet under control to be under control, and then keeping him there. The getting him there with a pain hold technique applies pain so that he stops resisting. The pain is intended. Whatever you say about the "ongoing" aspect, the pain in the first instance of the hold is licit and intended.

Tony: I would mention the use of tasers, which are not only used on those who actively resist arrest (and they don't have to be fighting back) but on those who are passively resisting as well.

Kieth, Zippy wants us to acknowledge that real, immoral torture occurred in GWOT. He appears not to be interested in whether some of the acts at GWOT that were used to elicit information were within morality.

OK, Zippy: yes, we agree that real, immoral torture occurred in GWOT.

There, that discussion is done.

Now, moving on to a more interesting question: were any of the techniques to get information from prisoners moral? Are there any moral techniques involving discomfort for getting information from a prisoner? This is a question that Zippy does not appear to be interested in, unless the technique is first assumed to be "torture" in the modern sense, or is discussed within a framework that assumes without need of clarification or justification that all discomfort used to extract information is intrinsically evil. Since our discussion is intended to get behind those sorts of assumptions and ask them to justify themselves from first principles, and prove whether these first principles imply such assumptions of necessity or only within certain conditions, this appears to be beyond the scope of his interest.

But WE can inquire into those first principles. One is that it is immoral to do evil that good result. But the principle requires the qualifier "moral" for evil, since it is moral to punish - which means to impose a penalty, an evil - on a malefactor, and it is moral to use pain to stop an aggressor, and it is moral to use pain to shock someone in a hysterical fit into a rational mode of response, and it is moral to do physical damage to the body in order to effect a cure of a more grave condition, etc.

Another principle is that it is it is immoral to treat a person as an object alone, a mere instrument. But this principal already contains the qualifier "alone", so it does not imply that it is immoral to treat a person, at one and the same time under a single act, both as a person and as an instrumental cause of a good.

See, once you actually examine the first principles, all sorts of interesting nuances and qualifications appear that maybe make initial assumptions not so, ummm, obviously , valid in application to the study at hand. And this proves Dr. Feser's thesis.

Tony:
However, I don't think that the semi-break that breaks down the prisoner's refusal to give information is automatically and necessarily in the same category, that it holds the exact same meaning as "coerce the spirit" univocally. First of all, in practice it is possible to do achieve a semi-break without reducing the prisoner to that ultimate jello of doing whatever the torturer demands. The wall that is broken down is on one plane only, not the entire realm of choice.

Exactly. Let me build on your point here. What you call a "semi-break" is actually a reform of the person's will, not depriving him of his ability to choose, but rather restoring his ability to choose rightly. What people have difficulty understanding is the point Dr. Feser has continually reemphasized as a Biblical teaching: severe pain can train the will just as it can break it.

Because of precisely the ambiguity in the connotation of the term "torture" that you noted, I have previously suggested inventing two neologisms, "tworture" and "thorture," to remove the ambiguity and the baggage based on this distinction.

Let "tworture," then, refer to the infliction of pain reasonably calculated to break the will of the person on whom the pain is inflicted under the circumstances. That seems to map on to "physical and mental torments and attempts to coerce the spirit" mentioned in VS, which are forbidden as intrinsically evil. This also appears to me (admittedly, as a layman in the area of international law on this subject) to map on how the term "torture" in legal terms by international courts, which I would take as a reasonable indication of cultural norms expressed analytically (as opposed to inchoate sort of general feelings or so-called "ick factor," which may or may not be objective indications).

Let "thorture" refer to the infliction of pain reasonably calculated to reform the will of the person on whom the pain is inflicted under the circumstances. That seems to cover the Biblical and traditional cases of severe corporal punishment, and it also seems to comport with the Catholic Encyclopedia's description of the guidelines outlined in Ad Exstirpanda, etc.: "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." In other words, you have to know with reasonable certainty that the person is guilty, so you are not making determinations of guilt or innocence based on what might be dubious information (i.e., extracting confessions, which is forbidden). Moreover, and this is what I view as more important, you have to suspect that there is some reasonable likelihood that the person's will is reformable by such means. In other words, this is not a general policy of inflicting severe pain as a general punishment for an offense, but a particularlized determination that in this case, the infliction of pain has some reasonable likelihood of reforming this particular person's will. That doesn't mean that such acts cannot be evil, but they do not appear to be of an intrinsically evil species.

Like Dr. Feser, I would conclude that it is by no means obvious that waterboarding KSM was clearly in the category of "tworture" rather than "thorture." For while it may be true that there is a goal of gaining information, it may also be a licit case of gaining information just by reforming the will through severe corporal punishment so that he complies with his moral duty to disclose the information. And severe corporal punishment has been approved in certain cases to do that very thing. Hence, it occurs to me that Fr. Harrison is correct in asserting that it remains an open question as to whether the means are appropriate when the importance of reforming the person's will in question has drastic consequences (as in the ticking time bomb scenario) and when one is trying to do it just by the sort of aversive (albeit severe) training that could in principle be licit.

For myself, I will say that I was disinclined to accept that reasoning on account of waterboarding being an unusual tactic not ordinarily used for reforming the will. I was previously convinced that this suggested that it could not be reasonably viewed in this way, but on further consideration, the fact that international law has held waterboarding not to be torture provides some basis for thinking that it could reasonably be viewed in this way (viz., as an aversive tool for reforming the will). If the proportion or disproportion is viewed in those terms, i.e., with respect to the importance of reforming the person's will, then it seems that one could then say that means were proportionate or disproportionate to the good end of reforming the person's will, and so long as the means chosen were reasonably related to that purpose, then there is a legitimate scope of prudential judgment.

In retrospect, that approach could be what the Bush administration did, at least if viewed in the most charitable light. They carefully researched the objective indicia of what crossed the line into breaking the will based on international law, they applied it solely to people whom they knew to a moral certainty to be guilty (viz., they were not using it to determine guilt or innocence), and they made the determination based on the proportion to the good end of reforming the terrorist's will. The method is certainly irregular, in the sense that it is an exercise of state power that deviates from the ordinary sort of legal process (outside of emergency executive powers that could inhere in the sovereign), and it might even be illegal, but it would seem that it is not intrinsically immoral and perhaps not immoral at all.

This is a question that Zippy does not appear to be interested in, ...
That is right, it is a question I am not interested in, at least until after the war criminals are prosecuted.
I would conclude that it is by no means obvious that waterboarding KSM was clearly in the category of "tworture" rather than "thorture."
OK, now that is more brass tacks. As I said, people on the political Right are interested in this discussion not because of abstract casuistry and its value, but because they are trying to cast doubt on whether we actually committed war crimes.

But there is no doubt about that, whatsoever.

Zippy,

Jonathan Prejean brings up a very good point on the need to distinguish what are fundamentally two sets of acts by specifically referring to them through utilization of more distinguishing terms.

People seem bent on regarding anything and everything to be "torture".

It's almost as if a doctor during the civil war who was performing an operation absent anesthesia was himself guilty of "torture" due to the resulting & remarkably tortuous pains inflicted on the patient by the very removal of (i.e., sawing off) his leg.

The fact of the matter is that this is not the end being sought by that very physician; on the contrary, his purpose was something entirely different than simply inflicting unbearable pain on his patient (i.e., removal of a leg where gangrene had essentially set).

The same can be said concerning the kind of thing that occurs within the immediate setting of an interrogation of a terrorist; the interrogator's end is not some sort of sadist fantasy he seeks to indulge in insofar as performing certain interrogation measures on that particular terrorist is concerned but, more precisely, the extraction of actual life-saving information to save hundreds, if not, thousands.

Keith,

You might want to look at my comments here (where I basically agreed with you, in spite of my seeming distaste for the fiction earlier employed) and here (where I had basically stated that a co-conspirator has not ceased being a co-conspirator when captured, especially since his very refusal to reveal consequential information is ultimately a significant act in the very consummation of the pending terrorist attack of which he is still a part by doing thus).

I agree with pretty much everything Ed has said here. This is by far the clearest, most illuminating exposition on the torture question I've seen yet.

For my part, I've become persuaded towards the opinion that we should probably stay away from a policy of waterboarding for reasons of prudence, because the danger of abusing the policy is too great.

However, I do think that there is at least one theory under which repeated waterboardings might be justified.

As Ed points out, the infliction of severe pain as a punishment is not intrinsically evil, (though he - and I - advocate avoiding it as policy for practical purposes).
In normal criminal cases, you are punishing a criminal for past misdeeds. Though he may deserve severe pain as punishment, his actions are in the past and can't be undone, and we may reason that the risk of abusing a policy of severe pain-infliction outweighs the mandate to make sure the criminal gets everything that is due him.

But with a terrorist that is withholding life-saving information, there is a special case. Not only has he participated in murder, he is continuing to participate in murder with every moment that he refuses to divulge his life-saving information. So, I think a persuasive argument exists that he merits repeated punishments until he stops participating in murder.

What about the prudential judgment that the risk of abusing a policy of causing severe pain outweighs the need to meet out sufficient justice to criminals? I think that in this situation, a case could be made that the risk of abuse may be prudentially outweighed by the necessity of preventing the attack(s) that the terrorist knows about.

I think discussions like this one, taking place all over and throughout on the political Right for that last six years, have

(1) Handed Obama and the Left a huge political victory on a silver platter; and

(2) Are poisoning the pro-life movement from within.

I think everyone who participates in them should give that meta-point about this kind of discussion some careful thought. Speech acts are not morally neutral.

aristocles

Keith, You might want to look at my comments here (where I basically agreed with you, in spite of my seeming distaste for the fiction earlier employed) and here (where I had basically stated that a co-conspirator has not ceased being a co-conspirator when captured, especially since his very refusal to reveal consequential information is ultimately a significant act in the very consummation of the pending terrorist attack of which he is still a part by doing thus).

Thanks, we do agree on that, which is, I think, of crucial import.
But that distaste for my fiction... Hey, maybe I can make up for it with a few banjo jokes:

What's the difference between a South American Macaw and a banjo?
Answer: one is loud, annoying and obnoxious. The other is a bird.

What’s the difference between a banjo and trampoline?
Answer: when you jump up and down on a trampoline you take your shoes off.

What is the difference between a banjo and an anchor?
Answer: You tie a rope to an anchor before you throw it overboard.

What is the difference between forcing someone to submit to waterboardeding and forcing someone to listen to the banjo.
Answer: Forcing someone to listen to a banjo is always intrinsically evil.

(I made that last one up all by myself.)

People seem bent on regarding anything and everything to be "torture".
The only people I see who are bent on regarding anything and everything as torture, constantly bringing up things like Jerry Bruckheimer scripts and field surgery, in relentless pursuit of a definition of pornography which does not include their own Playboy magazines, are those who don't seem to want to concede that waterboarding KSM was torture, and a war crime.
Handed Obama and the Left a huge political victory on a silver platter

Zippy, there, I have to come out and disagree with you. My own opinion is that it wasn't something the right did that handed Obama his victory. In fact, I would go so far as to say that Obama would have won even if the right had done everything (from my perspective) right. There are lots of reasons why I think this, but I won't go into them here. Did the torture issue increase Obama's lead? I'm not even at all sure of that. For one thing, McCain was strongly against torture, so if people were all that concerned about that, McCain should have been a strategically good candidate. I've seen too many claims, often from the traditionalist or paleo right (and I consider myself something of a traditionalist, though not a paleo) to the effect that *X issue* "handed" Obama the victory. I haven't seen one of these yet that seemed to me correct, as a sheerly factual matter. I have my own ideas as to better strategies the Republicans should have pursued that might have made Obama's victory smaller, but often they don't tally with the strategies suggested by the "we handed them a victory" claims.

That is fine, Lydia. Reasonable people can disagree about something as radically contingent as a particular political victory for a particular candidate. I don't think there is any question though that the embrace of torture and unjust illegal war on the Right has given tremendous material help to the political Left, and is poisoning the pro-life movement from within.

unjust illegal war

All right, everyone, let's move on to this topic now! Iraq War: Manifestly Unjust or Not? Who wants to start us off?

Just kidding. Man oh man am I kidding. That would obviously be torture. Don't even think about it.

Zippy,

constantly bringing up things like Jerry Bruckheimer scripts?

You must have confused me with Keith or, better yet, are engaging in the very same delightful caricatures as the very one whom you yourself so reverently consider Ille Philosophus.

Or perhaps you simply dismiss the notion of a possible terrorist attack on an innocent civilian population as nothing more than the novel invention of the ever notorious "neo cons" that you so often have but the highest regard.

As for the other smut, I'll leave that to the auspices of such a well-formed conscience which by such comment has thereby demonstrated it not beyond devising so colorful an interpretation.

As for this insidious nonsense:

That is right, it is a question I am not interested in, at least until after the war criminals are prosecuted.

The actual crime is folks like yourselves who apparently advocate habeas corpus rights not only for the likes of foreign enemies but, most especially, it seems, for even the most vile of murderers.

9/11 -- blah. The stuff of Bruckheimer scripts. Or, better yet, a ruse actually carried out by the notoriously belligerent & even demonic Bush administration.

In this case, I was trying to demonstrate how it might be conceivable to inflict pain on a "prisoner" who you know is directly responsible for initiating a chain of events that will result in a catastrophic terrorist attack on American civilians, and reasonbly say that it was done for the "defense of society." If there is something irrational with THAT, I'd love to hear it.

For the sake of argument, I'll pretend like it could happen that Dr. Evil went through all the trouble of making this incredible weapon and then, in the interest of public safety (?), put in a destruct code. Part of the conceit of the ticking bomb scenario is that you actually have a large amount of knowledge; only one or two pieces of the puzzle are missing. In this case, you know all about the tactical ability of the weapon deployed and also that Dr. Evil is the only person with the knowledge to stop it. So just to get to the starting point of the scenario means that you have managed to infiltrate a significant part of the terrorist operation. But alas, by the time you move in on him, Dr. Evil has fired the weapon and is smirking at you. Now the thing about a ticking bomb is that there is a set time limit that you must actually have a clue about. An open-ended ticking bomb scenario is little more than a false pretense to justify something that you would not consider under less extreme circumstance. Now if all these highly unlikely things were to converge into one actual event, I would be willing to take a vigilante approach to punishment but not towards interrogation. In other words, Dr. Evil would be solemnly promised that at the first confirmation the missile I am absolutely certain he initiated and could have stopped explodes, he will be executed on the spot. I would also point out that I would be perfectly willing to stand trial for making that threat of swift and sure justice, unlike those who approved the more glamorous work of suffocating prisoners for confessions.

(A) Would it be too much to ask people to please, please, please distinguish a rough sense of what they mean by the word "torture" in the various places of their argument?

Sure. My general sketch is any act that is intended to bring a prisoner to the brink of mental or physical collapse, especially but not limited to acts which involve infliction of severe pain.

Lydia & Zippy,

Obama won (and the democrats will probably get a lock on the presidency soon) because of massive immigration. 70% of Hispanics voted for Obama.

http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/015/786rezxu.asp

Zippy wrote:

I think discussions like this one, taking place all over and throughout on the political Right for that last six years, have

(1) Handed Obama and the Left a huge political victory on a silver platter; and

(2) Are poisoning the pro-life movement from within.

I think everyone who participates in them should give that meta-point about this kind of discussion some careful thought. Speech acts are not morally neutral.

Ironically, this is very similar to the point I made to Mark Shea in my letter to him of a few days ago which helped to precipitate a wave of controversy at his blog and which now has erupted here. The relevant passage reads as follows:

I was very pleased to see that Fr. Sirico of The Acton Institute granted an interview on EWTN's The World Over Live last Friday night in which he refused to condemn waterboarding as torture. Fr. Sirico recognizes that any statement of his which denounced Bush & Co. as being in violation of the moral law would be seen as him lending his pastoral support to a certain pacifist interpretation of Catholic social doctrine, which would not only hinder our country in dealing with its foreign policy challenges, but would throw fuel on the flames of a partisan divide such that the side least likely to advance a genuine moral agenda would reap the net advantage. This conflict is dividing the Church, sadly, into many subversive or misguidedly pacifist Catholics on one side, many pseudo-tough Mel Gibson-like "conservative" Catholic charlatans on the other, with hotheads on each side arrogantly approriating for themselves the title of "magisterium of the day." Since my concern is for the integrity of the Church, the leavening of the world, and the protection of the country (in that order), I can only applaud Fr. Sirico's suave handling of the question, in which he effectively told the blogosphere to "mind its own business."

Even though we disagree on the issue in question, it seems we both have made statements indicating that the subject could benefit from some amount of benign neglect. Very interesting.

Where did Mark Shea go? I was hoping he would be able to explain how his use of more recent authoritative writings with respect to "torture" doesn't conflict with a condemnation of the punitive infliction of pain on children by their parents.

Where did Mark Shea go?

You can always find him on his blog.

Zippy (with a bit of help from Step2) seems the only one left here trying to maintain a point contrary to Dr. Feser's thesis. He has not attempted to bring forth any new considerations that actually bear on the philosophic point in quite a while, preferring instead ad hominem attacks such as

As I said, people on the political Right are interested in this discussion not because of abstract casuistry and its value, but because they are trying to cast doubt on whether we actually committed war crimes.

I take this as intending to be offensive because Zippy cannot possibly know my motives, and his aspersion of my motives is factually in error. I am impartial as to whether Bush is exonerated or condemned through this discussion and others like it. I never thought Bush was God's gift to right thinking, and I am still unconvinced now. And if Zippy is mistaken about my motives, perhaps he is mistaken about many others.

Or he resorts to misdirection: I think discussions like this one, taking place all over and throughout on the political Right for that last six years, have

(1) Handed Obama and the Left a huge political victory on a silver platter; and

(2) Are poisoning the pro-life movement from within.

Whether speech "like this" handed Obama the victory does nothing to determine where the truth lies. It is perfectly possible that speech that helps to correctly discern the truth would have helped Obama win anyway. Or, speech like Zippy's accusing Bush of war crimes helped Obama far more dramatically. None of which decides where the truth is. Misdirection.

Dr. Feser, thank you from the bottom of my heart for a forum in which to air this issue in enough detail and extent to clear the air. Although not every participant used the forum with equal dispassion, it was fruitful enough to make any reasonable person come to a respect for the Church's current teaching, the Church's ancient teaching, and to feel confident that there is a reconciliation of these that does not violate the sense of either one. That alone is sufficient good for the amount of work this entailed.

There is still more work to be done, such as trying to discern what are the most appropriate standards for limiting the amount of pain used. However, I do not think that a blog like this will help with that, unless you announce at the outset that you are not willing to receive input from people who are only going to attack the premise that some pain is licit.

Lydia, Albert, pb, Keith, Duece: thank you for taking serious the work of making distinctions and helping fine tune the issue.

I am impartial as to whether Bush is exonerated or condemned through this discussion and others like it. I never thought Bush was God's gift to right thinking, and I am still unconvinced now. And if Zippy is mistaken about my motives, perhaps he is mistaken about many others.

I know for a fact that he's mistaken about mine, even though my statement was the one quoted. Based on Dr. Feser's explicit statements, the same is true in his case. Seems like the count of mistakes just keeps increasing, which says something about the credibility of the position.

Tony:
See my more recent post for clarification on my substantive point about public speech acts.

Golly, this post makes me glad that (as a Protestant) I don't have to accept the book of Sirach as Holy Writ... The rack, no less. :-)

It didn't prevent certain Protestants from practicing such remarkable forms of torture upon several sections of fellow English (or, generally-speaking, where the larger continent is concerned, European) Catholics; unless, of course, it would be a much more convenient thing to suffer temporary amnesia concerning the historical likes of Tyburn.

Ari:

Lydia said it earlier, and I'll reiterate here: this is not the place for a Catholic-Protestant food fight. Lydia is fully aware of the history anyway, so I'm not sure why you would want to bring it up in the first place. She didn't say that protestants never tortured, or didn't torture as much as Catholics, or anything like that.

Zippy (with a bit of help from Step2) seems the only one left here trying to maintain a point contrary to Dr. Feser's thesis.

Tony, don't make the mistake of thinking that numbers in a combox prove anything. If the thesis is that water torture is not obviously torture, then what is obvious is clearly out of reach. I just don't see much prospect of any headway being made.

Lydia writes:

"Did the torture issue increase Obama's lead? I'm not even at all sure of that. For one thing, McCain was strongly against torture, so if people were all that concerned about that, McCain should have been a strategically good candidate."

Precisely so. Zippy is just fantasizing, here. I mean, is there any living American who voted against McCain who otherwise wouldn't have, simply because he was P.O.'ed about KSM being water-boarded?

Please.

Steve:

What you may be neglecting is the number of defectors from the Republican tent over torture and illegal unjust war. I know not a few of them myself; YMMV. But that's fine. Lets say it is a fantasy that Obama specifically got any materially important additional support by Republicans who defected over those issues. That isn't a hill I care to die on.

Zippy - not having voted for a Republican in the last twenty years, I can't speak from personal experience.

But I'd have to see some serious number-crunching before I'd believe that McCain's loss had anything much to do with the water-boarding of KSM, let alone the alleged "illegality" &/or "injustice" of the war in Iraq.

My mileage does, indeed, vary.

"But I'd have to see some serious number-crunching before I'd believe that McCain's loss had anything much to do with the water-boarding of KSM, let alone the alleged "illegality" &/or "injustice" of the war in Iraq."

IMHO, McCain had his chance to win by triangulating Bush and Obama. When Bush came out in favor the bailout, and McCain postponed his campaign, McCain should have returned from his trip to Washington with this: "I will not support the Bush-Obama plan for the bailout." Bingo. Election over. Triangulation complete.

It was a vortex that Obama could have been sucked into and from which he could have never escaped. It would have thwarted the McCain-Bush meme and established McCain as an independent maverick permanently.

But no use crying over spilled Moose blood.

(BTW, here's my theory on Andrew Sullivan's visceral dislike of Sarah Palin: she can have Obama's baby and Andrew can't. Womb envy, I tell you.)

If the thesis is that water torture is not obviously torture

William, if even men of good will like yourself still cannot muster even enough fairness and objectivity to acknowledge that no one is defending such a silly, self-contradictory claim, then it's no surprise that little "headway" is being made -- nor any mystery about whose fault that is.

See my more recent post for clarification on my substantive point about public speech acts.

Zippy: I already declared that I thought that torture had occurred at GWOT that was immoral. I thought I passed your dreamed up test.

Oh, just possibly you weren't aiming at me personally. In that case: I actually think your points on this commbox about torture are MUCH more coherent than your rant about public speech acts. I could spend days picking holes in that stuff without half trying. And I won't half try, because I don't know anyone whose opinion I actually care about takes it seriously. I certainly don't. If you are making an invitation for me to comment even so, well, I don't see what the point is.

Tony, thanks for the compliment and for your own efforts to bring light into the conversation. I'm not sure how successful our efforts were in the face of the epistemological certainty of some, but I personally benefited from not a few comments. Cheers!

And now that you've seen my replies to that particular suggestion of Zippy's, you know how off-base he was.

No, I don't. You continued to quote texts as if your interpretations were the only ones possible, and you expressed disbelief at Zippy for having another interpretation. That's typical of almost every "sola scriptura rat-hole" I've fallen into. (Also note that in spite of having a reasonable interpretation, Zippy did not make personal claims that it must be interpreted his way.)

In any given scriptural duel, there are always numerous possible interpretations that are perfectly reasonable, which is why apostolic tradition and authority is not only important, but critical.

One of the reasons my Catholic discernment soundly defeated competing religions is the complete humility that is required when dealing with scripture and authority.

Ed Fesser

What do you think of Alan Donagan's views on the ticking time bomb case? Donagan noted that a government is permitted to use violence against a person who is threatening the lives of its citizens provided the force is (a) proportionate to the threat and (b) necessary to prevent the threat being carried out.

This is the basis for the states right to use force in defence of its citizens. Donagan then notes that (i)a terrorist who has planned and attack and is witholding information that could prevent it is complict in an attack on others (ii)if the attack will kill thousands then torture would be proportionate, hence if torturing him is necessary to prevent the attack, traditional moral theology in principle allows torture. The only reason for an absolute ban is the danger of abuse that could occur if the state were allowed to use it.

Mark,

FYI, the USCCB is not the Church. Plus the one statement of a Bishop, not invoking his formal teaching authority in the Church, does not state that waterboarding or torture of terrorists for intel is intrinsically evil.

Peace,

TM

Removal of clothing was authorized by the Secretary of Defense [Rumsfeld] for use at GTMO [Guantánamo] on December 2, 2002,” acknowledges the recently released U.S. Senate Armed Service Committee report on the use of harsh interrogation techniques. It also reports that the use of prolonged nudity proved so effective that, in January 2003, it was approved for use in Afghanistan and, in the fall of 2003, was adopted for use in Iraq.

“Inquiry into the Treatment of Detainees in U.S. Custody”

The forced prolonged nudity of a prisoner was "clearly designed to undermine human dignity and create a sense of futility … resulting in exhaustion, depersonalization and dehumanization.”
http://armed-services.senate.gov/Publications/EXEC SUMMARY-CONCLUSIONS_For Release_12 December 200

"Sexual torture served two purposes on those subjected to such abuse: to physically harm and to emotionally scar. It was intended to break male inmates. It sought to inflict both pain and shame, to make the recipient suffer and loathe himself. Sexual torture attempted to break the victim both physically and spiritually, to leave scars on (and inside) the body and in the psyche."
http://www.counterpunch.org/rosen05152009.html

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