But what is Just War theory? The Catechism of the Catholic Church spells it out:
2309 The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration. The gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy. At one and the same time:
- the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;
- all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective; - there must be serious prospects of success;
- the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modem means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.
These are the traditional elements enumerated in what is called the "just war" doctrine.
The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good.
It is easy to forget that back in 2002, the Catholic Bishops of the United States sent a letter to the President and also issued a statement detailing the areas in which they thought a resolution to go to war in Iraq would violate certain Just War principles. Their concerns about preemptive war, the possibility for greater instability in the Middle East, and the proportionality of the suffering of the innocent were, in light of our continued presence in the region, not far off the mark.
At the present, we continue to think of ourselves as being at war (and we are still fighting in Afghanistan, as well as Iraq), but the "War on Terror" has a nebulous feel to it; air strikes in Pakistan have been part of the war, and there's a sense that just about anywhere that terrorism exists, the United States may be obliged to go fight against it. But can such an open-ended, ill-defined, widespread conflict really fall under the principles of the Just War theory?
It's an important question, especially for those who insist that "Don't you know there's a war on?" is a legitimate rejoinder to any criticism of so-called "enhanced interrogation" techniques. If the war we are fighting has overstretched any legitimate boundaries it might have had at the beginning--and we have been at war in Afghanistan since 2001 and Iraq since 2003--and no longer meets Just War criteria, then quite a lot of things we may be doing aren't necessarily morally justified, above and beyond the question of the morality of torture.
However, even if we could argue that our continued military actions around the world a) are, indeed, a war, and b) are, indeed, a just war, we would still have to face the reality that not all actions are justified merely because we are at war. If torture is morally evil and thus prohibited, as the Church teaches it is, then it is not permissible to have recourse to it simply because we are at war. There is no such thing as preemptive self-defense; taking a bound and helpless prisoner and violating his human dignity by causing him to experience the pains of controlled drowning is not at all the same as defending oneself from a free man's aggression.
This is where a person who supports torture may object by asking if it is true that the Church would rather see innocent people die in an air strike than cause a prisoner some discomfort. The Church would, of course, prefer it if innocent people did not die at all, and thus speaks strongly and passionately against many aspects of modern warfare for the suffering it inflicts upon the innocent. But the question of the morality of torture remains. If we could prevent the death of the innocent by permitting the rape of terrorists, for instance, would that change the morality of rape? If we could prevent the death of the innocent by playing pornographic films in the cells of terrorists, would this use of pornography cease to be morally evil?
Neither an argument that in war certain acts which are usually immoral are now moral, nor an argument that to save the innocent from death certain violations of morality may be overlooked, changes in the least the fact that torture is immoral and never justified.