Monday, February 1, 2010

Scandal: EWTN and pro-torture interview

A huge hat-tip to Sean Dailey for the link on the Coalition's Facebook page to this absolutely outrageous pair of video clips from EWTN:

Why is EWTN giving Marc Thiessen a platform on which to spread pro-torture views, including his belief that enhanced interrogation techniques including waterboarding are not torture and are perfectly fine for a Catholic to promote?

A better question--where is Marc Thiessen's bishop? What does he have to say about this disgraceful exhibition of pro-torture propaganda?

UPDATE: You can send an email to to let them know what you think. I strongly recommend that anyone who cares about this issue take a moment to write. I, for one, would like to see a guest with some background or experience in Catholic moral theology tackle the question of torture, and particularly whether waterboarding can be excluded from the Catechism's prohibition of torture.


  1. Could it be because some do not see waterboarding as torture?

  2. The United States Catholic Bishops see waterboarding as torture. Does that matter?

  3. This, by the way, isn't the first time Raymond Arroyo has had a pro-torture discussion with a guest on his show.

  4. His opinion SEEMS to be that:
    -Waterboarding is the worst tactic "authorized"
    -Waterboarding, as authorized if at all, is not torture.
    -There are 6 years of misinformation out there that has led people to incorrectly identify w/b as torture.

    Now, there is certainly room for disagreement there, but I think if "Clarity" is the goal, then you at least have to deal with his assertion that there is a fundamental misunderstanding as to what the U.S. authorizes as waterboarding.

    And failing that and instantly casting him as "pro-torture" when he explicitly states that he does not believe it is torture, does not provide any clarity either.

  5. Adding this comment for a reader who doesn't have a profile:

    "This is horrific. I always suspected that EWTN has fallen for the notion that because the GOP is nominally pro-life that everything they do must be accepted without question. And now so many will be led astray since they assume EWTN is source of sound Catholic teaching.

    I will not give them another dime until they correct this.--Vickie"

  6. Christopher, I'm addressing your comment in a new post.

  7. I heard this the other night and was sickened by it. As a fan of Mr. Arroyo generally it is upsetting that he has given air time to torture apologetics.

    I had wondered why Raymond Arroyo hadn't corrected and taught his friend Laura Ingraham about the Catholic teaching on torture - now I know why.

  8. Thiessen misapplies the principle of double effect, and Arroyo doesn’t correct him. An interrogator may intend to get information to defend society, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t also intend to cause the one he interrogates harm. Indeed, he intends the one so that the other might follow. He intends to inflict physical or mental pain so that his prisoner will cooperate and give him information to defend society. Getting the prisoner to talk is an intended effect of the very much intended effect of pain. Double effect doesn’t work here because we’re not dealing with two effects, one intended and good and the other unintended and bad. We’re dealing with two effects, both of which are intended.

  9. The USCCB left wing democratic group that also funds groups that support abortion and anti family agenda may have an issue with Waterboarding. Is there a vote by the USCCB that has been taken on this issue? Just asking.
    As to EWTN, I would say they are clearly a very Catholic station. They have run against the left leaning bishops of the spirit of vatican II and supporters of homosexual anti family beliefs because they are actually in line with Catholic Church teaching. I find it interesting that you take the liberal tactic of attacking anyone that disagrees with you.

  10. Anonymous: would you mind explaining why opposition to torture is necessarily a "liberal" position? Every general in the US military opposes it; are they all liberals?

  11. I think it extremely likely that waterboarding was not morally justified by the circumstances in which it was used.

    That said, I have yet to see a compelling, consistent argument made by those who regard waterboarding as intrinsically evil.

    The definition of intrinsically evil is "never justifiable under any circumstances, likely or unlikely." If waterboarding is intrinsically evil, then it can not be justified EVEN IF the captured terrorist knows the location of, say, a "ticking bomb" which will obliterate all life on earth. Not even then. That's what's meant by "intrinsically evil."

    I can think of no rational, consistent argument why waterboarding should fall under such a category, but shoving against a wall and interrupted sleep should not.

    It is plausible as a matter of moral philosophy that varying grades of rough treatment require varying grades of justification. It is plausible that the shove-against-the-wall treatment is justified for terrorists while waterboarding is just barely not justifiable and multiple waterboardings are not justifiable by a significant degree. But all that falls on a continuum; I've not yet seen an argument that waterboarding somehow falls in such a radically different category as to be categorically outside the realm of justifiability, rather than merely requiring such high levels of justification that they don't happen to ever have been met.

    Again, I do not say there is no such argument. I only say that no one has yet stated it.

    Instead, folk tend to misquote passages from encyclicals where (a.) the intended message is not a dispassionate categorization of what is and isn't torture in moral philosophy but a general condemnation of its common uses in the world today; (b.) the torture being condemned is for punishment or political oppression or forced false confessions, rather than for interrogation of illegal combatants in war; and/or (c.) the torture being condemned is defined as "torture" rather than mere unpleasantness on the basis of a combination of its degree and its lack of justification. (That is to say, torture equals not merely brutal treatment, but unjustifiably brutal treatment -- a definition which leaves open the question of when, if ever, there is justification for brutal treatment, and thus fails to clarify the issue.)

    So it is one thing to say that the U.S. should not have waterboarded KSM (and let the people whose lives were saved by that waterboarding die). That statement seems likely to me, because you can rest it on the statement that the lives saved were only potential and unknown before-the-fact, and thus represented a flimsy justification...and that no other factors existed sufficient to justify the waterboarding.

    That argument works: It allows for the scale of means proportional to justification to exist, but defines the threshold for justification of waterboarding as higher than anything yet seen in this war. (Thus making the waterboarding immoral.)

    What does not work is saying, "Waterboarding is evil, and should never have happened, because it's torture, and torture is intrinsically evil." That's just circular logic: Torture is rough treatment which exceeds what is justified by the circumstances, or is never justifiable; ergo, one is saying that waterboarding is never justified because it's never justified, and is intrinsically evil because it's never justified." Like any form of circular reasoning, it may be true (I think it probably is in this case) or it may not, but it proves nothing and does nothing to help us understand the moral law any better.

  12. R.C., do you think the Church teaches that torture is intrinsically evil?

    Do you define torture as "...rough treatment which exceeds what is justified by the circumstances..."? Because I think torture is the physical or moral violation of a person in a way that is contrary to respect for that person and his innate human dignity, which uses the person as an object for the torturer's own ends.

    The positive command is "Treat prisoners humanely." We can argue whether some violations of that command might be venial sins instead of mortal ones, but to say that any violation of that command is justified is to begin walking down a very slippery slope.

    Besides, I would be among those who say that shoving a prisoner against a wall might well rise to the level of torture, and depriving a prisoner of sleep also might. How many times can you shove the prisoner against the wall, and how much damage can you do, before it's torture? How long must you deprive a prisoner of sleep, and what physical or mental symptoms of exhaustion and sleep deprivation must he exhibit, before it's torture? I think those questions illustrate what's wrong with thinking this way: one begins to sin the minute one thinks that some amount of wall-slamming or sleep deprivation must be justifiable, when in fact any amount is an act which violates the prisoner's human dignity.

  13. This comment has been removed by the author.

  14. R.C.:

    You said:
    "If waterboarding is intrinsically evil, then it can not be justified EVEN IF the captured terrorist knows the location of, say, a 'ticking bomb' which will obliterate all life on earth. Not even then. That's what's meant by 'intrinsically evil.'"

    Now, there is a proportionalist premise underlying your argument, which first of all must be addressed. Torturing a prisoner to find out information of what only MAY be the case is insufficient grounds for the applicability of double-effect, in which the good to be attained must be at least as certain as the evil allowed and must be at least as immediate from the act. An example of a proper use of double-effect is a triage choice in battlefield medicine, in which you employ time to save one patient while letting another die because you cannot save both. You don't will the death of the other directly, merely allow it as a consequence of the choice of the good.

    In the case of torturing the prisoner, there is no certainty that (1) there is a ticking bomb, nor that (2) his torture will lead to the prevention of that bomb event. Again, fr double-effect to attain, the good action must flow AT LEAST AS IMMEDIATELY from the act undertaken. The reason I mention double-effect is that this principle represents the only legitimate use of a "proportional" comparison between evil outcomes of an act. With double-effect, you determine whether the evil being prevented is proportionally grave to undertake an action which may allow a lesser evil; or, the weight of the good to be attained must be proportional to the gravity of the evil allowed.

    Proportionalism, which is manifested in your argument, "is a method of moral thinking according to which a person ought to choose that alternative course of action which promises the greater proportion of good over evil" (source). "Choosing the lesser of two evils" is a sticky area of necessity in which sometimes a pre-moral evil (such as omission of action, or choosing to do nothing) may be legitimized, but we won't get into that now, because the circumstances of the "ticking bomb" don't suggest such a dichotomy of necessity: there is no certainty that the terrorist being tortured will lead to the information required.

    Also, your argument against supposed "circular logic" is invalid. The reason for this is the definition you provide for "torture" - "Torture is rough treatment which exceeds what is justified by the circumstances." This definition already contains the seed of circularity. If you said that "torture is the treatment of a human person by means of psychological or physical abuse of varying severity, which, because of its disrespect for the inviolable dignity of the person and its treatment of that person as a means to some other end, can never be justified by any circumstances," then you would be closer to the mark. Then we would have a solid definition, without a moving mark of "justifiability by circumstances" which could lead us on a circular chase. And THEN, you could make the case that waterboarding, although it might not be severe, is torture WHEN IT IS USED to coerce or weaken the resistance of the will of another person in order to coerce his cooperation in some way (so that waterboarding used in training would not be classified as torture: it is the fully moral act, which includes an OBJECT or "end," that is considered "intrinsically evil" - not merely the means; cf., "Guns don't kill people; people kill people with guns").

  15. RE:

    RE: Water Boarding

    The US Government has a split personality regarding water boarding. On one hand DOD bans water boarding by name as illegal and counter productive as an interrogation tool as its ruins the subject for proper intelligence exploitation. (See Mr. Google for a copy of the Army Interrogation Manual FM 32-54 September 2006. the manual also discusses free will and physical and moral violence.)

    Prior to 9/11/01 the CIA also held that water boarding was illegal and counter productive. After 9/11/01 the CIA hired two shrinks (at $1,000.00 a day each) to develop a program to train official government torturers. And last I heard, after torturing merrily away for 9-years, our official government torturers still have not captured UBL or destroyed AL Qaeda. if you remember destroyed Hitler in only 4-years.

    Torture is counter productive as an interrogation tool and its use corrupts the inteligence product and gets US Soldiers killed.

    God bless

    Richard W Comerford

  16. " if you remember destroyed Hitler in only 4-years."

    Lets see, to destroy hitler we fire bombed entire cities, we shot prisoners of war in cold blood, we did worry about innocent civilians when we were chasing Germans into buildings saying we better wait around to make sure there are no possible innocent civilians. We were not fighting people who wore civilian clothes and hid behind women and children. In fact if someone was fighting us out of uniform and captured they were shot. We dropped two atomic bombs on cities whipping out the entire populations. prior to that we dropped fire bombs on Jap cities that we knew were mostly wood and paper and would explode in flames often killing 100,000 at a time.

    Now this is the greatest generation because they beat hitler who was guilty of war crimes with the most famous being the murder of 6 million people, mostly jews. He was a piker compared to the democrats led by their abortion loving liberal wing who have butchered over 50 million babies using real torture.

    Now the left wants to continually tie the hands of those fighting a war on terror. Wonder if Eisenhower stayed up nights worrying about the dignity being offended in his enemy or how to save the lives of his troops by killing the bastards they were fighting. I know Patton never did.

  17. By the way, I took your advice and sent a letter to EWTN with a very large donation to support their Catholic teaching and with special focus on the job Arroyo does each week in exposing the idiotic left leaning bishops and honoring those who truly uphold the teaching of the church. I made special mention of this program exposing the lies of the left and how they are trying to distort church teaching for the use of those who would kill innocent life in the womb. It appears to me that you folks do not know a terrorist in your midst when every effort is not made to end any democrat from ever holding office again. Go republicans for working to keep us safe and for trying to stop the holocaust by the butchers of babies, the democratic party.

  18. Mr. Annonymous:

    RE: WW II and GWOT

    During WW II, by policy, the USG committed unjust acts that objectively speaking were serious or mortal sins. However, by policy, the USG treated all prisoners humanely; and in the process, reaped a tremendous intelligence product. And we won that war.

    Now, during GWOT, by policy we no longer treat prisoners humanely. This failure corrupts our national intelligence product and get our soldiers killed while strengthening the enemy.

    After 9-years fighting an enemy without U Boats, Panzers or an Air Force and armed in the main with home made weapons and WW II technology, we are loosing.

    It is time to fight smart. Stop torturing and observe Just War teachings.

    God bless

    Richard W Comerford

  19. RE: Go Republicans

    Eternal Salavtion, Beatific Vision, Perfect Joy and Happiness thy name is GOP.

    God bless

    Richard W Comerford

  20. EWTN and Ave Maria should lose their tax exempt status. They have both crossed the line many times into partisan politics. If they want to compete with secular conservative talk radio they should pay the same taxes.

  21. I hope I am not going off topic, but have always wondered about this.

    Please correct me if I'm wrong. Catholics are forbidden to join secret societies that would require them to conceal things even from a priest during Confession. This is not limited to overtly anti-Catholic groups like the Masons. At one time Catholic boy scouts could not join the Order of the Arrow until the BSA revealed to bishops its secret initiation.

    My question is how does this work for a Catholic sworn to government secrecy? There are many Catholics in the CIA. All I presume are sworn to keep their work secret. I assume they are not allowed to make exceptions to this, even to a priest. The Seal of the Confessional is probably not accepted as security clearance by the U.S. government.

    If a CIA agent or any government operative sworn to state secrecy does something connected to their work that they consider or wonder to be a sin are they allowed by their employer to confess it? Are they required by their faith? Or does the Church have a special rule about this?

    Thanks for your answers.

  22. Mr. Anonymous:

    The law of God always trumps the law of man. And our immortal souls are infinitely more important than our careers.

    God bless

    Richard W Comerford

  23. Thank you for your answer.

  24. Anonymous,

    I would follow up to Richard's answer that the Church does recognize a legitimacy to "civil duty." Remember that Truth is a unity, a solid whole; it cannot contradict itself. If our civic duty is wholesome and good, then there should be no reason that it conflicts with our religious or moral duties.

    Also, the seal of the Confessional is always there to enable a person to be unbounded from an oath or to seek guidance without violating rules of secrecy.

    Similarly worth noting, so-called Catholic "secret societies" such as the AOH and the Knights of Columbus leave open two caveats for their secrecy: you are always allowed to reveal the secrets of the order to a legitimate Catholic clergyman, and also whenever your legitimate civil duty requires you to do so.

    The reverse is true of civic oaths. An oath which somehow precludes our honesty with God through His ordered will (i.e., the intercession of His ministers in the Church) is a violation of our religious duty, and so we actually cannot licitly contract such an oath. The oath is void from the get-go, because we cannot "bind" ourselves to a sinful contract. So, if we are bound by secrecy in our job (I had a secret clearance from the DOD at one time, for example), it is understood that we must be able to do our religious duty. We cannot act in a way contrary to our faith, and must need to be able to reveal whatever we need to in the confessional.

  25. Thanks again. I've really never had it explained.

    Way off, but I guess those cyanide pills we used to hear about would be off limits for Catholic spies.

    I don't want to take this over so no reply is necessary. It seems to make sense; you can't be bound by your job to do something that would go against your faith.

    Thank you both for your information.

  26. Richard, you say
    "During WW II, by policy, the USG committed unjust acts that objectively speaking were serious or mortal sins. However, by policy, the USG treated all prisoners humanely; and in the process, reaped a tremendous intelligence product. And we won that war."

    So we committed unjust acts such as firebombing cities and the other things I listed, but you actually believe we treated "all" prisoners humanely? Excuse me, but the facts are that we shot many prisoners and did a lot of other things to prisoners. In fact, after hearing that the SS shot a lot of prisoners, our troops took revenge on those captured in many ways. I will have to look up which PBS program carried that a couple years ago. I know I have seen that in many books on WWII. And we won the war because we pulverized the enemy with everything we had including two atomic bombs and firebombing cities. It was the last war we actually fought to win. Since then, we have had people who think you can fight a war that does not massivly break things and end it with some type of shame peace. FDR knew that there was only one way to win and that was unconditionaly surrender. In war, you are fighting grave evil and the only thing that stops them if massive force. We are taking 9 years because we have too damn many rules. We should have swept through the middle east with massive force because those folks are not are friends and never have been. I remember seeing a lot of cheering on 9/11 in all the muslim countries. If you put a heap of pain on them, they will stop supporting those who are bringing that discomfort to their lives.

  27. Mr. Anonymous:

    If you review my post you may note that I wrote "by policy" the US Government did not torture but treated prisoners humanely. And, in doing so, reaped enormous actionable intelligence.

    God bless

    Richard w Comerford

  28. Anon.

    The British were pretty good at heaping pain on those regions and others but the sun set on their empire anyhow. Are you seriously suggesting we should have had a WWII style assult on the entire Middle East? As evil as the terrorists are, WWII was different. The Axis Powers were nation states that were taking over the world with uniformed military force. It sounds like you would have advised the British to destroy whole cities in their rebellious colonies, including us. Such suggestions were made but were rejected because even the British realized that they couldn't kill whole populations because of insurgent revolt. You remind me of a relative of mine who said we should drop atomic bombs on Iraq in the first Gulf War. I said that was crazy. He said, "If you're going to drop bombs, don't drop water balloons". And oh, yeah, he was a Catholic convert. I guess he missed the water balloon lesson in RCIA. Even though we were fighting a uniformed enemy in that war using nuclear weapons would have been an act of insanity. The atomic and firebombings of WWII can be debated (We are still using the 500,000 Purple Hearts Gen. MacArther ordered, one of which probably would have gone to my father) but to suggest similar tactics in our fight with Al Queda defies logic and the teachings of the Church.

  29. Wow, he sure "laid the smack down" on Christine Amanpour!

    Did Arroyo get Thiessen's autograph before or after the interview?

  30. Mr. Arroyo did mentioned that some Catholics would say that it was brute to torture, at the beginning. The interview seems one sided but it does clears the fact that is called torture by some and goes on explaining the debate in detail, much better than anywhere I have heard before. And on behalf of EWTN, I would say that they been fair to interview even liberal Catholics on their programing, which by the way, does not mean this is what the Church believes either.

  31. Lent is a great time for public penance. Come on, EWTN, try it!

  32. Carlos,

    Arroyo's mention of that was in a mocking tone, similar to how liberal Catholics talk about those who believe that contracepting couples are damned to Hell.

    He presented a strawman for Thiessen to take down.

    I'm not giving credit for that.

  33. Given that the likes of Rep Peter King(R.NY) were the first to condemn "deep interrogation" of IRA prisoners during the NI "Troubles" by the British authorities(using methods not dissimilar from" enhanced interrogation techniques", one wonders how he can seriously defend the CIA's torture program!