Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Torture and Bishop Fulton Sheen

(The following was first posted at And Sometimes Tea)


Have you read about the torture report?  Here’s a look:

The report is reigniting the partisan divide over combating terrorism that dominated Washington a decade ago. Democrats argue the tactics conflict with American values while leading members of the Bush administration insist they were vital to preventing another attack.
It contains grisly details of detainees held in secret overseas facilities being subjected to near drowning, or waterboarding, driven to delirium by days of sleep deprivation, threatened with mock executions and threats that their relatives would be sexually abused.
The central claim of the report is that the controversial CIA methods did not produce information necessary to save lives that was not already available from other means. That is important because supporters of the program have always said that it was vital to obtaining actionable intelligence from detainees that could not be extracted through conventional interrogations. [...]
"In many cases, the most aggressive techniques were used immediately, in combination and nonstop," the report says. "Sleep deprivation involved keeping detainees awake for up to 180 hours, usually standing or in painful stress positions, at times with their hands shackled above their heads.”
In one facility, a detainee was said to have died of hypothermia after being held "partially nude" and chained to a concrete floor, while at other times, naked prisoners were hooded and dragged up and down corridors while being slapped and punched.
Multiple CIA detainees subjected to the techniques suffered from hallucinations, paranoia, insomnia and tried to mutilate themselves, the report says.

There are more gruesome details reported here, including details about sexual assaults, rectal feeding, threats to torture or kill family members of those imprisoned, ice water baths and other “enhanced interrogation” techniques.  And reportedly twenty-six of those treated this way were not guilty of anything, including two men who had been CIA sources before being arrested and tortured.

Some Catholics will read the report, shake their heads, and say that all of this was perfectly justified and morally right in the War on Terror.  They are wrong.  Torture is intrinsically evil, and this is just the latest in a series of proofs that this is so.

In Life is Worth Living: First and Second Series, Bishop Fulton Sheen described a Communist torture cell this way:  
The two ledges at the sides suggest beds for rest, but the slanting position makes it impossible for anyone to rest on them...The bricks fastened to the floor make it impossible for a person to sit, or even stand at ease...The Communists found after they used these torture chambers that they could drive people mad by making them stand for days and nights before a blazing light.  (Fulton Sheen, Life is Worth Living: First and Second Series, Garden City Books, 1955, p. 276)

Bishop Sheen then describes torture by the Chinese Communists of that day:
...the principle is to break down the mind through fatigue...When arrested, he (the prisoner) is kept standing before a blazing light for seventy hours or more.  Then he is told he may sleep.  The prisoner sleeps for fifteen minutes, then is kept awake for eight hours; is told to sleep again, but is awakened after six hours.  This goes on for months...(Fulton Sheen, Life is Worth Living: First and Second Series, Garden City Books, 1955, p. 276-277)
Bishop Sheen was warning the people of his day about the evils that people in Communist regimes had accepted as necessary for public safety and state security.  I wonder what he would say if he knew that some of the people who make the case for sleep deprivation and other forms of torture today are not only Americans, but Catholic Americans?  I have a feeling he would be shocked and appalled.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Sarah Palin and the politically homeless Catholics


(Cross-posted at And Sometimes Tea)

I don't know that I would have learned that Sarah Palin blasphemously compared the torture of waterboarding to baptism if Rod Dreher hadn't written about it here.  I'm completely with him when he says:
OK, stop. Not only is this woman, putatively a Christian, praising torture, but she is comparing it to a holy sacrament of the Christian faith. It’s disgusting — but even more disgusting, those NRA members, many of whom are no doubt Christians, cheered wildly for her.
For having written that, Rod is now being attacked on Twitter as a non-conservative; one such Tweet even misidentifies Rod as a Catholic in order to add a little anti-Catholic bigotry to the attack.  About that, Rod writes:
Well, I’m not Catholic, but I’m honored by the Hon. Kincannon’s mistake, given that the Catholic Church has stood up strongly against torture. Now, let’s be clear about this: Kincannon doesn’t represent Southern Baptists, either in his anti-Catholic bigotry or his support for torture. My Southern Baptist friend Joe Carter is a Marine Corps veteran and a political and religious conservative, but he was quick to criticize Palin’s remarks on the Gospel Coalition site. So readers, don’t use this Kincannon tweet to slam Southern Baptists. What’s interesting here, and unsettling, is that a professing Christian is so eager to defend a Christian who endorses torture (and compares it to baptism!) that he publicly indulged in anti-Catholic bigotry, presumably because the Catholic Church opposes torture.
Like I said, I’m not Catholic, but I’ll proudly stand with Catholics and any other Christians who believe that human dignity and the Holy Name is more important than maintaining solidarity with barbarism and its proponents. How can it make you proud that the more an American goes to church, the more likely he is to support torture? What is perplexing is the increasing self-marginalization of the populist right. Do they imagine that most Americans take pleasure in hearing a conservative leader promote torture in a gleeful tone, and a crowd cheer for her in doing so?
Sarah Palin was one of the last Republicans on the national stage I actually supported, mainly because I believed that she was that rarity, a truly Christian, conservative, pro-life, Republican party woman who would help shape the party in years to come.  Boy, was I wrong.  There is nothing pro-life at all about a rabid support of torture.  There is nothing Christian about cheering for waterboarding or comparing it to baptism.  There is nothing conservative about the kind of warmongering that leads to approving of torture in the first place.  That leaves "Republican party woman," and frankly there's nothing in any of that that would be worth supporting.

So I regret having supported her, just as I regret having believed that Republicans actually offered a substantially different choice to voters (as compared to Democrats) instead of being the other side of the same filthy coin, minted by oligarchs, circulated by sycophants, and duly rendered to Caesar.  It's becoming increasingly clear that we serious Catholics are politically homeless in this culture of death and destruction, and that both major parties only tolerate us as long as we're willing to stifle our Catholic consciences and give them our votes.