Friday, February 5, 2010

New Sidebar Link--America's Catholic Bishops on Torture

In the sidebar you can now find the USCCB's study guide on torture, titled "Torture is a Moral Issue."

I found quite a few things from a cursory reading of it interesting. Here's an example:

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.

How much of Catholic support for torture really depends on the uses of euphemisms for torture which deny that torture is really taking place? How are these euphemisms like those used to justify abortion: product of conception, termination of pregnancy, choice, etc.?


  1. This is from the left wing social justice group at the USCCB which is run by the liberal bishop Wenski. I will wait to see if Chaput signs on this this and then take it seriously.

  2. Mr. Anonymous

    Those parts of the article relative to torture mirror in moral value the relevant portions of FM 32-54 published by the left wing social justice group U.S. Department of the Army. FM 32-54 actually lifts a key phrase out of CCC No. 2297 in its discussion of torture.

    Those cunning left wingers!

    God bless

    Richard W Comerford

  3. I just emailed Archbishop Chaput about this. His reply:

    "Tom, it is not a good idea that people would look to me rather than their own bishops for pastoral and doctrinal guidance. You ought to ask your own bishop about this."

  4. "I will wait to see if Chaput ..."

    We already know that Cardinal George can hold his nose. He shared an awards celebration with a pro-torture politician earlier this week at the Legatus Conference in California. No protesters there, and hardly a peep from the blogosphere either.

  5. For what it's worth, I did ask my own bishop about this.

    More precisely, I sent an email to the Archdiocese of Washington's Director of Communications, Susan Gibbs, and asked if Archbishop Wuerl might make a public statement on torture and interrogation (unlike Abp Chaput, Abp Wuerl doesn't publish his email address, and writing a letter is so 20th Century).

    She replied that, absent an explicit statement from him, I may take the USCCB as speaking for him.

  6. This is from the left wing social justice group at the USCCB which is run by the liberal bishop Wenski

    If you put political leanings on the light spectrum Obama is yellow light, John McCain is green light. George Bush is blue light. Trent Lott is violet. Pat Buchanan is ultraviolet. Hitler is an X-ray. I on the other had am a gamma ray shot out of some vast, galaxy-munching black hole on the other side of the friggin' universe. I'm so right-wing, you need special equipment just to observe me. And yet I can still recognize that even stopped clocks are right twice a day.

    (Apologies to Mencius Moldbug for ripping off his description of Sir Robert Filmer.)

    Scott W.

  7. Be careful before listening to anybody from a 'Jesuit' university or any of these 'Moral theologians', many of them don't mind seeing unborn babies die by the millions but get very upset when terrorists are made to feel uncomfortable.


  8. Steven,

    The irony is that the moral school of the "manualists," championed by the Jesuits, is probably the school of thought within Catholicism MOST LIKELY to afford an argument IN FAVOR OF TORTURE.

    In fact, several Jesuit moral manuals DO offer explicit approbations of torture.

    It's those pesky liberal Dominicans, like Ashley and Pinckaers, and that ultra-liberal John Paul II, who have held the day in the theological development of the issue.

    Perhaps you might want to make nicer with the Society of Jesus if you're looking for seconds in this duel...

    Anonymous et al. who are writing of the USCCB because imagining them to be some kind of Catholic Borg:

    That's a very facile way of dismissing an argument. It's one, by the way, completely at odds with the philosophical tradition of the Church. Saint Paul founds "seeds of the word" amongst the pagans in Athens, Saint Augustine found a longing of the heart in the Manichees, Thomas Aquinas canonized Aristotle as THE Philosopher - and he baptized Averroes (i.e., Abu Mohammed Ibn Rushd) as THE Commentator.

    Catholic thought has never been wary of drawing from a well that holds water, provided a certain wariness that some boiling might be necessary before imbibing. Rather than just writing off an essay because it's from the USCCB, perhaps you'd like to attack the individual ideas.

    (By the way, I've read the document, and find a lot of tenuous smarmy junk that I would dismiss as bad reasoning and even worse rhetoric. But there's good stuff there, too.)

    Discernment and prudence, folks: they're part of the glory of being man, a rational, judging beings.

  9. Steven:

    Do you have any evidence that Fr. Massingale doesn't mind seeing unborn babies die by the millions but get very upset when terrorists are made to feel uncomfortable?

    If not, are you aware that calumny is a sin?

  10. Ok, I was exaggerating.


  11. I should think any of us would be proud to have Bishop Wenski as our bishop.

    On immigration:
    The Church in America, which began as an immigrant Church, after World War II moved up into the middle-class – and, out to the suburbs. As a result, this Church, now middle-class and suburban, has become invisible to many newcomers – who are not middle-class or suburban. The challenge is to make the Church visible to the new immigrants at the same time we make the new immigrants more visible to the Church. It is curious to note that while we Catholics invented the “national parish” during the last wave of immigrants, we seem reluctant to recognize its usefulness with the new immigrants. At the same time, our Protestant brethren have adopted our invention to great success. They are visible within the immigrant communities with ethnic congregations sprouting up wherever there are even small concentrations of immigrants. Their names: L’Eglise de Dieu Haitienne, Iglesia Hispana, etc. tell the newcomer quite unambiguously: Welcome!

    In testimony before Congress:
    First, the U.S. government needs to make religious liberty even more central to its foreign policy in both policy and practice. Our bishops’ Conference vigorously supported the creation of the Office of International Religious Freedom in the Department of State and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom in the belief that religious freedom lies at the heart of human rights and deserves greater support and higher visibility in U.S. foreign policy. Religious freedom is also a key to achieving greater justice and peace in our world.

    On World AIDS Day:
    On Sunday in anticipating today’s observance, Pope Benedict said: "My thoughts and my prayers go to all persons affected by this sickness, in particular children, to the poorest and to those who are rejected," he said. "The Church does not cease to combat AIDS, through her institutions and the personnel dedicated to it," the Holy Father noted. "I exhort everyone to make their own contribution with prayer and care, so that those who are affected by the HIV virus will feel the presence of the Lord who gives support and hope.

    "Finally, I hope that, by multiplying and coordinating efforts, this sickness will be halted and eradicated."

    Today – in union with our Holy Father – we too pray and we remember and we resolve to respond with a picture of compassion, imagining a world free of the advance of HIV. We indeed find hope in the light of Christ. Through our prayers, learning, advocacy, and giving, we can make a difference in another person’s life.


  12. As I said, bishop wenski is on the left of the debates on almost every issue. On immigration, I do not think people should confuse illegal and legal immigration as the left social justice crowd at the USCCB does. We have a system in our country for immigration. The bishops have a history of not paying much attention to our laws as witnessed by the past decade of covering up crimes by their homosexual priests. The left side of the bishops that fostered that issue now are on the side of law breakers who come across our borders illegally. If people in this country believe we should have millions of people from mexico and other countries here, they should go to their congresional representatives and tell them to change immigration laws to have no limits and open wide the doors. However they should also tell their representatives not to reward those who break our laws.

    We have the same left side of the USCCB showing their support for government healthcare that provides care to everyone, including illegals. Since the Catholic Church has one of the largest hospitals systems in our country, why not tell their hospitals and the doctors they employ to provide everyone in need free healthcare on them. What irks me is that they want to impose everything on the people who are out there working and paying taxes.

    So since they more or less support the leftist wing of the death and anti family party sending them as much money as they can funnel out and employing their liberal leftist in their various committees, why would anyone be surprised that they also support bashing anyone who supports keeping America safe.

    Richard seems to confuse something written by the army under the leadership of Barry the socialist as confirming catholic teaching of the USCCB article. Of course under this administration you also have military leaders coming out and advocating gays should be in our military and serving openly. What a time to throw that mess into our military in the middle of wars and at a time when we have people serving multiple tours. Kind of like the military not having the guts to push out the islamist terrorist who shoots up people on our bases but instead promoting him and sending him on to become someone elses problem.

  13. As I said, bishop wenski is on the left of the debates on almost every issue.

    Uh huh.

    So are you going to follow Archbishop Chaput's advice to ask your bishop about this, or are you just here to preach the National Review Catechism?

  14. Richard seems to confuse something written by the army under the leadership of Barry the socialist as confirming catholic teaching of the USCCB article.

    I am baffled by this.

    FM 34-52 was published in 1987, when the Commander-in-Chief was Ronald Reagan. It states, "The use of force, mental torture, threats, insults, or exposure to unpleasant and inhumane treatment of any kind is prohibited by law and is neither authorized nor condoned by the US Government."

    FM 34-52 was replaced by FM 2-22-3 in 2006, when the Commander-in-Chief was George W. Bush. FM 2-22-3 states, "All captured or detained personnel, regardless of status,shall be treated humanely, and in accordance with the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 and DOD Directive 2310.1E, 'Department of Defense Detainee Program', and no person in the custody or under the control of DOD, regardless of nationality or physical location, shall be subject to torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, in accordance with and as defined in US law."

    So, while I don't see how FM 34-52 could have lifted a key phrase out of the Catechism that was published in 1992, five years after the field manual, neither do I see what President Obama has to do with any of this, nor do I give much weight to the opinion of someone who thinks the Army has for decades opposed keeping America safe.

  15. RE: FM 32-54 September 2006

    Army doctrine regarding interrogation and torture has remained almost unchanged since about 1901. However the breakdown of discipline among US Army Military Police at Abu Graib prison in 2004, which included the torture of innocents, caused DOD to review its interrogation and prisoner handling doctrine.

    In 2006 DOD publsihed a study which, based on historical analysis, confirmed its traditional doctrine that torture was not only illegal but counter productive as an interrogation tool.

    In September 2006 the Army (which is the proponent service within DOD for interrogation) publised a new FM 34-52 which (of interest to me)included the phrase from CCC 2297 regarding physical and mental violence and torture.

    IIRC the new FM 32-54 is about 2.5 times as long as the old FM and with far more detail.

    God bless

    Richard W Comerford

  16. Also, the USCCB position on immigration - compassion toward People on the Move - is entirely consistent with Church teaching. Likewise with their study guide, Torture is a Moral Issue. I don't believe that any bishop has taken a public stance on these issues that will please Anonymous. So I suggest that he should spend less time shopping for bishops with the wisdom to agree with him, and more time learning why the USCCB speaks out the way they do.

  17. The techniques used against the most stalwart al-Qaida members, such as Abu Zubaydah, included one terrifying procedure referred to as "the attention grasp." As described in horrifying detail in the Justice Department memo, the "attention grasp" consisted of:

    "Grasping the individual with both hands, one hand on each side of the collar opening, in a controlled and quick motion. In the same motion as the grasp, the individual is drawn toward the interrogator."

  18. The techniques used against the most stalwart al-Qaida members, such as Abu Zubaydah, included one terrifying procedure referred to as "the attention grasp."

    What is the point of this comment?

  19. Tom,

    my point is that this is Torture and should not be considered 'interrogation'

  20. Mr. Anonymous:

    If you ask Mr. Google for a copy of FM 32-54 you wil discover relative to the "attention grab" the following:

    It is a violation of the Geneva Convention to which the USA and the Vatican are both signatories.

    The US Supremen Court has found that the Convention protections apply to all prisoners and detainees in US hands.

    It is a violation of federal statute.

    It is a violation of DOD directive.

    It is a violation of Army Regulation. It is also very, very stupid; and counter productive as an interrogation technique.

    It was, in fact, invented by two shrinks who the CIA hired after 9/11/01 (at $1,000.00 a day each)to develop a program to train CIA torturers. Prior to 9/11/01 the CIA, like DOD, believed that torture was counter productive and illegal and they had no official torturers on their staff.

    And now we are blessed with official government torturers on the federal payroll.

    God bless

    Richard W Comerford

  21. Mr. Anonymous:

    I did not sya it was torture. It is listed by the Army as a "prohibitive technique" It is illegal. It is also counter productive as an interrogation method. However torture advocates appear to have a strong attraction to it.

    There are no reliable reports that I no of regarding a "Caterpillar technique". President Bush apparently did approve the use of harmless insects. An official government torturer got a little carried away (as official government torturers tend to do) and reportedly used fire ants.

    Meanwhile, 9-years after 9/11/01, UBL is still at large and the Taliban (armed in the main with home made weapons and WW II technology) are on the offensive against NATO and control about half of Afghan.

    Torture works real good.

    God bless

    Richard W Comerford

  22. "I did not sya it was torture. It is listed by the Army as a "prohibitive technique""

    Well Richard, you can use your fancy words like 'prohibitive technique' and 'interogation', but I call it what it is -torture. Stop watching 24 my friend.

  23. Richard:

    It's not my blog, but I think "Don't feed the fog trolls" -- meaning, ignore attempts to derail the conversation with idiocies -- is good advice generally.