Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Reductio ad Republicanum

There's a kind of argument made for the use of torture which is specifically partisan, and in regard to which it may be straining the word to call it an "argument" at all. In essence, the argument goes something like this:

1. Sure, torture is evil. Torture is also defined as a) something which causes permanent physical damage--but not *everything* which causes permanent physical damage, and b) something which by definition only our enemies do.

2. Here in the real world, real people (real men, especially) know that sometimes to make omelets you have to break eggs. War is messy. People die, sometimes a lot of them. So anything short of killing a person in war is actually highly benevolent and kindly, if we just look at it properly.

3. During times of war, national security takes precedence over starry-eyed moralizing about the good and evil of roughing somebody up, waterboarding him, or forcibly keeping him awake for 96 hours or so. Real people (real men, especially) get this. Those who have our country's best interests at stake get this. Patriotic Americans get this.

4. There are two political parties. One of them is composed of enemies of the state, who in any perfect society would be waterboarded (or worse) themselves for their traitorous opinions, non-existent morals, and love of abortion. Ours is not a perfect society, alas, and this party is presently in charge of things, double alas. This party lacks the intestinal fortitude to do what must be done, and is, instead, so lost to all sense of patriotic duty as to arrest terrorists and charge them with crimes instead of merely detaining them and beating the unnecessary expletive out of them in the enhanced interrogation version of data mining.

5. But the other political party is composed of true patriots and heroes who also get how important it is to national security to be able to waterboard and otherwise robustly interrogate foreign terror suspects (and perhaps other enemies of the state, if that whole inconvenient Bill of Rights thing didn't get in the way). These patriots and heroes are pro-life (unless the baby is the product of rape or incest or a potential threat to the life of the mother, or is an embryo who is more valuable in a capitalistic sense if we kill her and harvest her stem cells, etc.), pro-family (except for the politicians who live on the coasts and have to vote for gay stuff or face the loss of their legislative careers), and pro-God (or so they assure us every election year). They are also the only ones we could possibly trust when it comes to dealing with terrorists, and if they say they need tort--oops, enhanced interrogation--to fight the Global War on Terror then by golly it's the duty of every patriotic American to see that they have the right to choose it legally. Enhanced interrogation must be safe, legal, and...well, let's not say "rare," because we don't want to tie the hands of our patriotic political heroes, right?

6. And since 1-5 are practically self-evident, then it remains that anyone, especially any Catholic, who questions any of this must be a secret anti-Catholic liberal pro-abortion commie pacifist pig-dude.

Like I said, it's a bit of a stretch to call this an argument. But judging from the comment boxes here, it's the one that seems to come up the most often.

I know there are Catholics seriously wrestling with this issue who have not fallen prey to the reductio ad Republicanum; it must be as frustrating for them as it is for us that the discussions here keep veering in the "reductio" direction. But bear with us, and keep posing serious and intelligent questions. There really is a difference between asking, say, "To what extent can coercion that is not torture legitimately be used, if at all?" and asking, "So, you pro-abort closet Obama-worshiper, how many American lives will have to be lost in the next terrorist attack to make you happy?"


  1. Red is becoming just as sarcastic and insulting as Mark Shea.

    "I know there are Catholics seriously wrestling with this issue"

    I don't know many who are, aside from the few that hangout at leftwing catholic blogs or guests on MSNBC.

  2. Another variant of the reductio ad Republicanum is: What was done at Guantanamo was done under a Republican Administration. Any criticism of what was done under a Republican Administration amounts to support for the Democrat Party. Support for the Democrat Party is support for abortion. Therefore, any criticism of what was done at Guantanamo is support for abortion.

  3. "I don't know many who are, aside from the few that hangout at leftwing catholic blogs or guests on MSNBC."

    Case, meet point.

  4. RE: Criminals and Heretics?

    From the American Revolution to The Philippine Insurrection the U.S Government by policy, did not allow the torture of prisoners. This policy largely reflected the teachings of the Church. In 1901 a US Army Major stood Court Martial charged with torturing (Water treatment) of prisoners. He was found guilty and sentenced to 10-years at hard labor.

    From 1901 to 2001 US Government policy and Church teachings again largely coincided with both parties signing the 1949 Geneva Convention relative to prisoners.

    In 2001 US Government policy split. DOD continued to prohibit torture. The CIA hired two shrinks, with no background in interrogation, to develop a program to train official government torturers. The success of the government's torture program can be measured by that fact that 9-years after 9/11/01 UBL is still at large.

    In 2006 DOD published a study which again found that torture and so called EIT were in fact counter productive. After the Study the US Army republished its interrogation manual (FM 34-62) which, among other things, prohibited EIT to include water boarding as counter productive and illegal. In 2009, by Executive Order, FM 34-52 became the standard for the entire US Government to include the clowns at the CIA.

    Political partisans who continue to advocate for torture appear in effect to be conspiring to violate federal statute. Catholic political partisans who advocate for torture place themselves out of full communion with the Vicar of Christ. I am not a lawyer (thank God) but does that make torture advocates (objectively speaking) both criminal conspirators and religious heretics at one and the same time?

    God bless

    Richard W Comerford