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.