Sunday, January 31, 2010

Torturing the grammar

In the comments thread below this post at Creative Minority Report, an argument developed that hinged on a particular point of English grammar.

Specifically, some were objecting that because the Catechism says, "Torture which uses physical or moral violence to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred is contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity..." that we have to accept that torture which is not done for these reasons is not necessarily contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity. In other words, torture as interrogation might be fine, because the word "which" restricts "torture" to something which uses physical or moral violence for the specific ends listed, and interrogation isn't one of them.

But, of course, the definitive edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church is not written in English; it is written in Latin. Specifically, it says,
"Cruciatus, qui physica vel morali utitur violentia ad confessiones extorquendas, ad culpabiles puniendos, ad adversarios terrendos, ad odium satiandum, observantiae personae et dignitati humanae est contrarius."

Since I am in no way a Latin scholar, I turned to someone who is: my friend Magister Chrisitianus, who writes the supremely excellent blog Bedlam or Parnassus. His wonderfully clear explanation of what we are to make of the Latin word "qui" and its punctuation follows:

First of all, the Latin relative pronoun "qui" can be translated either "which" or "that," or even "who." In other words, it can be translated using any of the English relative pronouns. The distinction between "which" and "that" in English is twofold. First of all, "which" can only apply to things, whereas "that" can apply to both people and things. Example:

The man whom I saw is the president.
The man that I saw is the president.
The rock that I saw is pretty.
The rock which I saw is pretty.

Secondly, although it is a distinction not made much any more, "which" used to be reserved for non-essential information, and "that" for essential information. Example:

Scenario A: There were rocks and pebbles scattered all over the kitchen. They were on the floor, on the chairs, and on the counter. The rock that was on the table, however, Billy had decided was the shiniest, and it was this that he was carefully wrapping as present for Mommy.

Scenario B: The room was empty, save for a table. There was no other furniture and no sign that anyone has been in the apartment in a long time. A gleam suddenly caught the detective's eye. A shiny rock, which was on the table, had caught the beam of his flashlight.

In Scenario A, there are rocks all over the place, so the information about one rock being on the table is essential. It distinguishes the rock from all others, thus I used the pronoun "that" and no commas. In Scenario B, it is not necessary to distinguish the rock as being on the table, for it was already established that there was nothing else in the room. The information is interesting, but not necessary, hence the use of "which" and the comma.

Now, such distinctions are not present in the Latin relative pronoun. In translating either of the above scenarios, I would have used a form of "qui." What Latin does do, however, is indicate whether something is a fact or whether it is a general characteristic by the mood of the verb in the relative clause. Example:

A: Publius est vir qui canes verberat. Publius is the man who beats dogs.
B: Publius est vir qui canes verberet. Publius is the sort of man who would beat dogs.

In the first sentence, the verb of the relative clause, "verberat," is indicative. This sentence is saying, "We know there is someone who has been beating dogs in the neighborhood, and now we know who it is. It is, in fact, Publius." The indicative mood is used for stating facts.

In the second sentence, the verb of the relative clause, "verberet," is subjunctive. This sentence is saying, "Publius may in fact be an animal lover and would never lift a finger against anyone or anything, but he seems suspicious. There is just something about him that makes us think he would be the kind of guy to beat a dog." The subjunctive does not state facts, but suggests possibilities.

In the Latin you cite, the verb in the relative clause is "utitur," and is indicative. It is saying, "Torture, which does in fact do X, Y, and Z, is contrary...."

What I find interesting is that in the Latin you cite, a comma is used before the pronoun "qui." The ancient Romans used no punctuation, so I am assuming that the rules guiding punctuation of this modern Latin are similar to what we find in English. If so, then the relative clause is non-essential. It is saying, "Torture is contrary to human dignity. Period. Now if you are being deliberately obtuse and claim not to know what this means, we will tell you. It is that which uses physical or moral violence to extract confessions, etc." I notice, however, that there is no comma before the "which" in the English translation. So, here is what I see:

1. If the Latin is punctuated correctly and is indicating that all torture is contrary to human dignity, while generously but not of necessity describing what torture can include, then the English should have used a comma with its translation "which."

2. If the interpretation is that only certain types of torture, such as those listed in the Latin, are contrary to human dignity, then the English should have used "that" and no comma.

So the question then becomes: does the English version merely lack a comma, or has "that" been mistranslated as "which?" Given the indicative verb which Magister Christianus points out, it seems far more likely that the English version simply forgot to include the comma. If the sentence is really supposed to mean "Torture that does x, y, and z, and only torture of that kind, is contrary to human dignity etc." then we immediately run into other problems, one of them being that an approved English-language compendium to the Catechism clearly takes the meaning of this sentence to be that all torture is evil.

And if the sentence is supposed to mean, "Torture of type x, y, and z is evil, but not necessarily all torture," then why does the official Latin use the comma after "qui"? At the very least, we have to note the discrepancy between the Latin, which is the official Catechism text, and the English, which is merely a translation.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Parsing the Catechism

Tom at Disputations has some ideas for those who read the Catechism definition and say, "Oh, but it doesn't say we can't torture to gain intelligence!" Excerpt:

For years, people have been interpreting that one statement in CCC 2297 --
Torture which uses physical or moral violence to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred is contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity.
-- as implying that torture for reasons other than those listed -- in particular, for interrogation of someone assumed to have information that can save lives -- might not be contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity.

As it stands, it's a mighty sketchy interpretation. It asserts that there's nothing objectively or circumstantially contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity to torture a prisoner. All you need is a good enough reason. (And what do you know? The reason people today might want to torture prisoners just happens to be a good reason! These interpreters will, though, stipulate that other reasons -- to save face after you were double-dog dared to torture the prisoner, say, or to get someone who loves the victim to talk -- are immoral.)

I haven't seen anyone even try to explain why it's contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity to torture a murderer, but not contrary to those things to torture a would-be murderer. The problem here is that torture isn't evil because it's icky, in which case it wouldn't be evil when not torturing would be ickier. Torture is evil, according to the Catechism, because it's contrary to respect for the person of the victim, and the respect due the person of the victim doesn't change based on what you want to get out of torturing him.*

Read the whole thing here.

Some early Christian thoughts on torture

From the City of God, St. Augustine:

What shall I say of these judgments which men pronounce on men, and which are necessary in communities, whatever outward peace they enjoy? Melancholy and lamentable judgments they are, since the judges are men who cannot discern the consciences of those at their bar, and are therefore frequently compelled to put innocent witnesses to the torture to ascertain the truth regarding the crimes of other men. What shall I say of torture applied to the accused himself? He is tortured to discover whether he is guilty, so that, though innocent, he suffers most undoubted punishment for crime that is still doubtful, not because it is proved that he committed it, but because it is not ascertained that he did not commit it. Thus the ignorance of the judge frequently involves an innocent person in suffering. And what is still more unendurable— a thing, indeed, to be bewailed, and, if that were possible, watered with fountains of tears— is this, that when thejudge puts the accused to the question, that he may not unwittingly put an innocent man to death, the result of this lamentable ignorance is that this very person, whom he tortured that he might not condemn him if innocent, is condemned to death both tortured and innocent. For if he has chosen, in obedience to the philosophical instructions to the wise man, to quit this life rather than endure any longer such tortures, he declares that he has committed the crime which in fact he has not committed. And when he has been condemned and put to death, the judge is still in ignorance whether he has put to death an innocent or a guilty person, though he put the accused to the torture for the very purpose of saving himself from condemning the innocent; and consequently he has both tortured an innocent man to discover his innocence, and has put him to death without discovering it. If such darknessshrouds social life, will a wise judge take his seat on the bench or no? Beyond question he will. For human society, which he thinks it a wickedness to abandon, constrains him and compels him to this duty. And he thinks it no wickedness that innocent witnesses are tortured regarding the crimes of which other men are accused; or that the accused are put to the torture, so that they are often overcome with anguish, and, though innocent, makefalse confessions regarding themselves, and are punished; or that, though they be not condemned to die, they often die during, or in consequence of, the torture; or that sometimes the accusers, who perhaps have been prompted by a desire to benefit society by bringing criminals to justice, are themselves condemned through the ignorance of the judge, because they are unable to prove the truth of their accusations though they are true, and because the witnesses lie, and the accused endures the torture without being moved to confession. These numerous and important evils he does not consider sins; for the wise judge does these things, not with any intention of doing harm, but because his ignorance compels him, and because human society claims him as a judge. But though we therefore acquit the judge of malice, we must none the less condemn human life as miserable. And if he is compelled to torture and punish the innocent because his office and his ignorance constrain him, is he a happy as well as a guiltless man? Surely it were proof of more profound considerateness and finer feeling were he to recognize the misery of these necessities, and shrink from his own implication in that misery; and had he any piety about him, he would cry to God From my necessities deliver me.

From Medieval Sourcebook: the Responses of Pope Nicholas I to the Questions of the Bulgars A.D. 866
Chapter LXXXVI.

If a thief or a robber is apprehended and denies that he is involved, you say that in your country the judge would beat his head with lashes and prick his sides with iron goads until he came up with the truth. Neither divine nor human law allows this practice in any way, since a confession should be spontaneous, not compelled, and should not be elicited with violence but rather proferred voluntarily. But if it just so happens that you find nothing at all which casts the crime upon the one who has suffered, aren't you ashamed and don't you recognize how impiously you judge? Likewise, if the accused man, after suffering, says that he committed what he did not commit because he is unable to bear such [torture], upon whom, I ask you, will the magnitude of so great an impiety fall if not upon the person who compelled this man to confess these things falsely? Indeed, the person who utters from his mouth what he does not hold in his heart is known not to confess but to speak.[cf. Mt. 12:34] Therefore leave such practices behind and heartily curse the things which you have hitherto done foolishly. Indeed, what fruit shall you have in those practices, of which you are now ashamed. Finally when a free man is caught in a crime, unless he is first found guilty of some wicked deed, he either falls victim to the punishment after being convicted by three witnesses or, if he cannot be convicted, he is absolved after swearing upon the holy Gospel that he did not commit [the crime] which is laid against him, and from that moment on the matter is at an end, just as the oft-mentioned Apostle, the teacher of the nations, attests, when he says: an oath for confirmation is an end of all their strife.[Heb. 6:16]

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

"Intrinsically" evil

Sometimes words can hinder clear communication as much as they help it.

I've seen many commentators, on this blog and elsewhere, object to the phrase "intrinsically evil" with reference to torture. So I'd like to try to translate and/or clarify what this phrase really means.


From a philosophical point of view, evil is not a thing itself. Rather, evil is the twisting or destruction or denial of a good thing. Evil must have a good thing to distort; it cannot exist as a separate thing, any more than "big" can exist without some thing to be large.

Keeping that in mind, when we call something "evil" or "bad" or "wrong", what we really mean is that the thing is not what it ought to be. A "bad" apple is one that has rotted, or perhaps one that has not yet ripened. An "evil" deed is one that fails to enact the love or truth which it should.


It's understandable to me that some would consider the phrase "intrinsic evil" to be an oxymoron. After all, what's wrong with the apple is not that it exists; it's that it lacks the good that it ought to have.

This is also where we get the very sane requirement to love a sinner (because he or she is good, being a creature of God) and to hate the sin (because such actions distort or pervert the goodness of being human).

Now, some evils are accidental. If I step on my co-worker's toe because I wasn't watching where I was going, I harm the health of my co-worker and the comaraderie between us; but that is easily remedied by an apology and (if I was wearing my steel-toed boots) an ice pack.

But other evils are actions whose entire purpose is to distort the good. A deliberate lie, for example. Or, if I were to stomp on my co-worker's toe out of spite. Whatever good thing I might be seeking (safety or advantage or even a vengeful kind of justice) is itself ruined because my action is itself meant to harm. The intention is to attack what is good, such as truth or health, in another.

And this is what "intrinsically evil" conveys: an act with the direct purpose of attacking, distorting, twisting, breaking down, or altogether destroying some good thing. That is, the evil is intrinsic (rooted inside) the action.


Now, just as human life and human dignity is perhaps the greatest good we have in this life, attacks on human life and dignity are some of the greatest evils.

This is why torture, which directly attacks the dignity of another by physical and mental and spiritual torment, is considered an evil so great that it is absolutely prohibited. It is not an act that one can commit accidentally. It requires someone to twist and distort some part of his or her conscience in order to do it. It is literally inhuman.

Now, I'm happy to concede that there are limits to the usefulness of the phrase "intrinsically evil". But an objection to the phrase cannot be an excuse for a twisting of one's conscience to the point that torture becomes an acceptable practice, under any circumstances.

Strange bedfellows

Just googling around the web to see who was saying what on the torture topic, I found an idealistic but intriguing proposal on HuffPo, and several stories about the ACLU suing for transparency about the torture memos, allegations that the United Kingdom also jumped on the torture bandwagon, and notes that President Obama (despite his claim in tonight's State of the Union) has not exactly put an end to torture under his administration.

Whatever else these people may be wrong about, let's give credit where credit is due. And let's hope that agreement on one issue can lead to conversion on others.

Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete on torture and abortion

This is an older essay by Msgr Lorenzo Albacete, but I thought it was worth sharing:

In both cases there is a division between moral absolutists and moral relativists. In the case of abortion, the moral absolutists are mostly associated with the political right wing. These will accept no compromise in drawing up legislation to regulate the current abortion right legislation. For them, it is a matter of a constitutional amendment eliminating all legal abortions. On the left of the political spectrum we find those who will accept no legislation limiting abortion rights. These insist on the passage of a “Freedom of Choice Act” that eliminates all current abortion right legislation.

During the last campaign for the Presidency, Barak Obama associated himself with this position. Senator John McCain and the Republican Party took the moral absolutist position against legalized abortion.

In the case of torture of prisoners in the struggle against terrorism, the roles are reversed: the moral absolutist position is supported by the Obama Administration and the left wing of the Democratic Party which advocates bringing criminal charges against those in the Bush II administration who authorized torture, including the former President himself, while the right wing Republicans and some conservative Democrats insist that there are certain circumstances in which national security might make torture of prisoners necessary.

The only coherent position in the debate about these two issues is that of the Catholic Church. On the one hand, religious conservatives tend to be more open to the possibility of approving torture in special circumstances, while the secularists concede no such possibility of compromise. Only those who embrace the position of the Magisterium of the Catholic Church condemn equally both abortion and torture in all cases. Other Catholics (many serving in Congress and in the Obama Administration) follow the secularist arguments condemning torture but defending abortion rights. The President, who professes an abstract “middle ground” on abortion, unequivocally condemns torture in all circumstances.

In the words of a Jesuit defender of the Church’s position: “Church teaching is clear: torture is never permissible, even for the gravest reasons…That’s because the Church has a deontological or rules-based approach to ethics. In other words, moral standards are objective and absolute and based on the inviolability of the human person. That contrasts, he said, with a utilitarian approach that seeks the greatest good for the greatest number, suggesting that a utilitarian model would permit torture in the event, say, of an imminent nuclear attack.”

Read the whole thing here.

Are Americans more willing than ever to torture?

Coalition member Vickie Hoffman sends along a link to this truly disturbing essay:

Days after the thwarted Christmas bombing, the Rasmussen Group took a poll. They asked whether the failed bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, should be tried in civilian or military court. Seventy-one percent said military.

They also asked whether he should be waterboarded to extract information about his connection to terrorism. In a sign of the times, 58 percent of respondents said yes, even though he had already confessed.

By themselves, the numbers are alarming but not surprising. Other recent polls have consistently shown substantial support for torture and considerable skepticism about the use of civilian courts to prosecute terror suspects. And this despite the empirical proof: after eight years, there is no evidence that information secured by torture could not have been secured by lawful means, and despite the hysteria, we have successfully prosecuted terrorists in civilian courts for many years with no complications.

But this particular poll reveals something more important than the stubborn persistence of mythology. After all, as recently as late 2007, a New York Times/CBS News poll found that a third of all Americans, and 40 percent of Republicans, still believed Saddam Hussein was personally involved in 9/11. The more significant fact about the most recent poll is what it reveals about the arc of American thought since 9/11. [...]

Read the whole thing.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


Spot the logical fallacies! How many can you count? (And no, "You're not really a skinny black guy" does not count).

It's really quite fascinating what people do when they can't provide a coherent argument for their position.

Actually, Sean...

I disagree when you say, "Always remember: saying things like 'It all depends on how you define torture' marks you as a moral imbecile. Don't let that happen to you."

People first encountering this issue, are more or less bound to want to know "What do we mean by 'torture'?" Especially in a culture where bedwetters and hyperventilators will tell you that making Johnny do too much math is 'torture'.

However, when reasonable people have given reasonable answers to that question which reasonable adults can accept (I mean "reasonable adults" like lexicographers, moral theologians, judges, international bodies and ordinary people in the street) and the person supposedly "puzzled" about torture then spends six years rejecting definition after definition after definition after definition while proposing none of their own, all while resolutely defending the proposition "I may not know what torture is, but I am absolutely certain that forcibly subjecting somebody to simulated drowning is not it!"--and claiming the person who offered all the definitions "refuses to define torture"...

...then I agree with you wholeheartedly that such a person is a moral imbecile.

I think we should either remove or edit Sean's quote from the sidebar to make clear that merely asking "What is torture?" is not the problem.

Loving our enemies--not just a suggestion

Mark Shea asks some provocative questions:

How do I do it? How do I reconcile concepts like loving God and loving our enemies? How can I be both anti-abortion and anti-torture at one and the same time? What mysterious thread ties together the utterly irreconcilable ideas of making a good examination of conscience with my objections to the pro-life movement sloughing off principle after principle in service to the needs of Caesar? Who can fathom my mercurial and contradictory whims?

The two issues I personally had the hardest time with as someone who is both Catholic and (more often than not) a GOP voter have been torture and the death penalty. How could I be a right-wing conservative True Believer and have any problem with beating the unprintable out of some filthy America-hating terrorists who are probably hiding a Ticking Time Bomb somewhere? How could I be a tough-on-crime type and oppose the use of the death penalty on practically all occasions? Wasn't there some wiggle room somewhere in my Catholic faith that would let me reconcile Catholicism with these political views?

I have sympathy for those in the throes of that same mental journey. But the same God Who told us not to put our trust in princes also told us to love our neighbor (defined as--well, everybody) and to love our enemies and pray for our persecutors. Starting from that perspective, it's pretty hard to keep seeing Love in things like torture or the indiscriminate and too-frequent use of the death penalty (which, of course, remains something legitimate authority can have recourse to--I don't want to create the impression that the two issues are on the same moral footing).

When we realize that the command to love our enemies is not merely a suggestion, we're often going to be led out of our comfort zones, away from our partisan political leanings, and beyond our ordinary assumptions. And that's a good thing.

More on the definition of torture

A new post from Tom at Disputations on the definition of torture. Worth the read!


Some questions for those whose need for a definition of torture has not yet been met
  1. What are you going to do with your definition once you get it?

    I ask this because lexicographers, moral theologians, legislatures, courts, governments, and international bodies all have definitions that meet their needs.

    What specialized needs do you have that existing definitions don't meet?

Small matter of business

Just a quick note about commenting--when I set up this blog, I had the intention of leaving comments open to all, including anonymous posters. I'd still prefer that, because not everybody has a Google or Open ID etc. account, and if possible will return to that sort of commenting. But already yesterday and today I've had to delete spam comments of the "Nice you very having blog!" with a link to some weird site or other variety. Truth is, I don't have the time to babysit the comment boxes to pull obvious spam on a regular basis, so for now I've switched the comments over to the Google/Open ID setting.

Perhaps when the blog has been going for a bit, the spammers will not be such a problem (I don't often get those sorts of comments on my personal blog, for instance). So we'll see. In the meantime, if you don't have the ability to post comments here but really, really want to say something, feel free to email me at redcardigan (at) gmail (dot) com, and put "Comment for blog" in the subject heading. Then send me your comment along with the post title for the post where you want your comment to appear, and I'll post it for you. Not the best solution, I know, but I'll try to open the comments back up to all in a few days and see how it goes.

Thanks for your patience!

Quick link: Roe and Gitmo

Check out the date of this article from the Newark Examiner. Is it coincidence that Roe v. Wade and Gitmo share a birthday? You decide.

Update: Here's a blog post about a protest in DC.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The need to raise Catholic awareness on torture

One of the objections I've heard so far from Catholics regarding the torture debate is this one: abortion is a much graver evil. Innocent unborn children lose their lives to abortion in alarming numbers. More than fifty million children have been killed by abortion since the Roe v. Wade decision was handed down by the Supreme Court. So why discuss torture?

The glib answer is that pro-lifers can do more than one thing. The question, after all, isn't unlike the question which asks why pro-lifers pray outside clinics instead of fighting poverty through community or political activism--the assumption is made that it's not possible to be really pro-life and truly concerned about poverty or injustice at the same time. It's a silly assumption, and I don't wonder that many people brush such assumptions aside with a glib response.

The reality is that many, if not most, Catholics who are against torture are also very pro-life. Speaking for myself, I don't see why concern and care for the unborn, the soul of the woman contemplating abortion, or the souls of those who participate in or condone it is in any way in opposition to or competition with concern and care for the victim of torture, the soul of his abuser(s), or the souls of those who participate in or condone torture on political or any other grounds.

So why focus on torture? I think there's a compelling reason, and it is this: no one can seriously claim to be confused about what the Church teaches about abortion. No one, not even groups like "Catholics for a Free Choice," can pretend that there's a lot of gray area, and that the Church actually means to approve of abortion in some circumstances, etc. What they can do, and proudly claim to do, is dissent from Church teaching. They say, in effect, that they know perfectly well that the Church calls abortion a grave moral evil--they just disagree with that teaching.

However, the same is not true when we're speaking about torture. Many Catholics claim to be confused about what the Church teaches about torture. Many have never seen the passage from Pope John Paul II's encyclical "Veritatis Splendor" which discusses intrinsic evil and lists torture as being among such evils. Many have not seen the passage from the Catechism of the Catholic Church which mentions torture, or any other documents or writings about it.

The lack of education on this particular moral issue has had some grave results. Consider, for instance, this Pew Forum survey of attitudes toward torture by people of various faiths. The question asked was this: "Do you think the use of torture against suspected terrorists in order to gain important information can often be justified, sometimes be justified, rarely be justified, or never be justified?"

Catholics answered this way: 19% replied "often justified," 32% said "sometimes justified," 27% said "rarely justified," and only 20% said "never justified." Think about this--over half of the Catholics asked the question said that torture could often or sometimes be justified if it were being used against suspected terrorists to gain important information--and only 20% said it was never justified, the position the Church takes.

We need to talk about the Church's teaching on torture not to draw attention away from the innocent unborn whose lives must be protected, but to raise awareness among Catholics about this issue. In our understandable zeal to protect the unborn, we shouldn't become complaisant about other moral ills.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

In the comboxes below, bilbannon says:
Good luck with your blog though as it develops hopefully away from "intrinsic" as a pertinant concept herein. There are brutal people in the military and I was in it. But I also hold to rare use of torture. Within the past several months a five year old girl was raped and killed in NC and an 11 year old girl was raped and killed in Florida. Both girls trusted the man who was about to rape and kill them. The girl in NC had her hand on his shoulder as he carried her into a hotel room seen on video. And the girl in Florida brought her tooth brush.

Long ago I read of that type of man who raped and then left a child dying in a shack but he would not tell the police where the child was dying. I suspect there are people in this world who could obtain a change of mind in such a person and maybe with pain and I think that would be a very good thing and a virtuous thing approved by God implicitly in Proverbs 20:30 NAB "Evil is cleansed away by bloody lashes, and a scourging to the inmost being." We can assume the passage is not about child discipline.

It seems to me that the quotation from Proverbs does refer to criminal punishment, rather than torture.

I fully admit to being squeamish, and passages such as the above can turn my stomach. And I agree that we must not let our fears or squeamishness - or, for that matter, our desire for vengeance - cloud our thinking on doctrinal or moral issues. Hence I accept the legitimacy of corporal punishment, even though it is easier for me to receive it than to deliver it.

But torture is not punishment. Torture is, more than any physical assault, a spiritual assault on a person's dignity. Torture does not refer to the amount or degree or kind of pain inflicted, but to the manner of inflicting it: in such a way that denies the humanity of the prisoner.

We do not live in an ideal world, and I do not know what an "ideal" interrogation would look like. But I do know that our government has condoned torture as a matter of policy under the previous administration, and so far as I know has not removed that policy in the current administration. Can we at least agree that this policy is horrific and unjust?

Can we agree that even those examples given above, the kidnappers and rapists who seem to do all they can to deny their own humanity, ultimately remain human beings? Isn't this why we give them due process of law, and access to legal counsel? Isn't this also why we punish them: to hold them accountable to their responsibility as human beings?

Torture is a life issue

Yesterday in Washington D.C., the March for Life commemorated the Supreme Court's ruling in Roe v. Wade. Today, the Walk for Life is reminding San Franciscans (and, hopefully, the whole west coast) that the culture of life is alive and well in their midst.

These public acts focus on abortion, which is appropriate. Abortion has been a tremendous threat to human dignity for the past three-and-a-half decades.

It's absolutely clear to me, though, that the same reasoning that underlies a defense of the unborn also underlies a defense of prisoners against torture. That is, the fundamental dignity of the human person.

What does human dignity mean?

If every person has a basic dignity, regardless of any actions that person may take or any attributes that person many have, then there are certain implications.

  1. Every person shares something in common with every other person - namely, that foundational dignity, worth, and value

  2. That dignity is not subject to loss; no one can take away another's worth as a person, because that dignity is part of actually being a person

  3. That inalienable dignity requires a certain level of respect and honor, which I suggest minimally implies the golden rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you

So, we ought not murder babies in the womb, because they are persons just as we are, and murder is a crime against their dignity just as much as it is against ours.

Likewise, we ought not torture prisoners, because they are persons just as we are, and torture is a crime against their dignity just as much as it is against ours.

Where does dignity come from?

I expect most readers of this blog, at least at first, will be Catholics. With my fellow Christians, I hope there will be no argument that our dignity comes as a gift from God, first by creation, and second by the redemption wrought by our Savior, Jesus Christ. This gift is given to all humanity by God himself, who sends his rain on the just and the unjust alike.

But, for those non-Christians who are reading, I hope it is clear that - whatever source you ascribe human dignity to - this dignity is universally inherent in being human, or it is no basis for morality at all. If "rights" or "values" depend on the situation, or on the will of the people, or on the letter of the law, then there is no reason that you or I could not be subjected to any level of harm - and have no legitimate recourse.

Simply as a practical matter, ascribing dignity to any and every human being makes sense, and the golden rule becomes a basis for moral reasoning.

Therefore, I ask anyone who opposes abortion, anyone who defends human rights in any capacity, to see that we are on the same side: we defend the dignity of the human person against any threat. Any threat to one is a threat to all.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Housecleaning and torture: a repost

It's funny to think about it, but my "Eureka!" moment concerning torture involved, well, a vacuum (though not one sharing that brand name).

The post below comes from the days when I was still anonymous on my blog (hence the "Cardigan" moniker). The principles, however, remain the same:

The Cardigan family had some out of town extended family company visiting this weekend. If this were a different sort of blog, what follows would be a description of the event the family came in to town for, complete with pictures of the Cardigans surrounded by various family and friends.

Since this isn't that sort of blog, though, I thought I'd share with you some of the thoughts that occurred to me as I was vacuuming on Friday afternoon. [...]

At this point, as I rounded the corner of the living room and began to vacuum the bedroom hallway, I was struck by a sudden, horrifying thought: what, exactly, does "clean" mean?

Clearly it means more than the absence of dirt, or I wouldn't have been so committed to the clutter-removal stage of company preparation. But equally clearly, people can, and do, define "clean" differently, so at the deeply subjective level "clean" can mean different things to different people at different times and places. So, how do I know if I'm really "cleaning?" Is clutter-removal necessary? Is scrubbing the kitchen sink necessary?

Is this vacuuming even necessary?

I switched off the vacuum, but only to move the plug to a different outlet so I could reach the children's rooms. Logically, I knew there had to be a reason why I was doing what I was doing, and after a bit more rumination, I found it.

The principle, I thought, is not that I clean for my guests. The principle is that I'm committed to the ideals of good hospitality. If my focus is on good hospitality, then the exact definition of the word "clean" becomes supremely unimportant; even if my guests are the sort of people who dust their light fixtures daily (they weren't) it doesn't be come necessary to clean as they would; it is only necessary for me to clean as I would, when I'm having guests, in order to maximize their comfort and enjoyment of the time we spend together.

And suddenly, I found myself understanding exactly what Mark Shea has been saying all this time about torture....
Read the whole post here.

Mark Shea on the definition of torture

Here's a great post Mark Shea wrote in May of last year tackling that question of the definition of torture:

One of the funnier falsehood current is the claim that I "refuse to define" what torture is and that I claim that "to ask that question is to sin."

Here is reality: I have, in fact, given multiple replies to the demand "Define torture"

Among them have been such replies as:

A) Check the Dictionary.
B) Check the Army Field Manual or some reference book for police interrogators on proper treatment of prisoners.
C) The Interrogator's Golden Rule seems reasonable: "Don't do it to a prisoner if you'd consider it abuse when done to a buddy or yourself."
D) If you are still utterly baffled, you could try paying attention to Policratus' handy delineation of the question, which is, of course, just a regurgitation of the Church's basic teaching:
[T]he Church defines torture formally (i.e., what makes an action torture):

1. violation of human dignity in the form of
2. intentional mental and/or physical harm in order to
3. use a human person as a means (or instrument) for some producible end
4. against that person’s will.

These are the essential features of torture, and any material action with this form is torture. And it does not take any meticulous reasoning to figure out which material acts bear this essential form.

Church sources: Veritatis Splendor 80, Gaudium et spes 27.

Read the rest here.

Quid est cruciatus?

One of the persistently frustrating aspects of the torture debate is that people who ought to know better have a tendency to raise the question, "But what is torture, anyway?" with the air that this is probably an unanswerable question, and that thus prohibitions against torture are mere ivory-tower abstractions, not practical rules for conduct.

Now, I have to differentiate between the sort of smart-aleck askers who think that this question is an end-all to debate, and those people who have somewhat legalistic minds and like to have everything spelled out in, if you'll forgive the phrase, torturous detail before they decide whether they're for a thing or against it. I used to belong to the latter category, and it sometimes frustrated me to hear from someone that the only reason I wanted to know what torture was was so that I could tiptoe right up to the line and then stick my hand over it while swearing virtuously that whatever I was doing or supporting, it wasn't torture.

What finally got through to me, thanks to Mark's ceaseless diligence and often-prickly charity (which works a lot better on a redhead than the syrupy-sweet kind), was that it came down to a question of intent.

You'd think that would be obvious, especially to Catholics. But judging from the number of hits my personal blog gets from people who are frantically searching the Internet to find out if it's a sin for them to miss Sunday Mass in a blinding snowstorm when they've been without power for days and are running a 99.5 degree fever, I think quite a few of us Catholics have missed the boat on the question of how our intentions influence the morality of our actions.

I'm not a moral theologian (and if one out there wants to become a contributor, email me, please!), so this is subject to correction. But as I understand it, actions themselves may have objective morality or immorality, and the intentions of the actor may also be moral or immoral. To look at a silly hypothetical, suppose a married couple both suffered from bouts of amnesia. During those bouts they forgot that they were married. If they engage in the marital embrace while truly believing they are not married, have they sinned? Objectively, they are married whether they realize it or not--but in choosing, as an act of the will, to commit the sin of fornication they have in fact, if I am not mistaken, committed that sin.

So how does this discussion of intent relate to torture? I'll be re-posting, above this post, something I wrote on my own blog to tackle this problem a while ago. But what I finally realized is that all the seemingly-gray areas evaporate when we realize that torture is a matter of intent.

If an interrogator slams a prisoner violently up against a wall in order to frighten him, hurt him, intimidate him, etc., his intent is to torture. If that same prisoner tries to escape, and the guard who catches up with him is propelled by both his force and the prisoner's such that the prisoner ends up slamming into the wall, and the guard's honest intention was only to stop the prisoner from escaping--then he has not had the intent to torture. Even if the first incident only results in a broken shoulder and the second two broken arms and a hairline skull fracture, the first incident, and not the second, is an act of torture.

The question we need to be asking ourselves is not "Well, did a little water forced down someone's throat causing them all the pain and terror of drowning every really hurt anybody?" but "Is this action intended to cause pain, fear, terror, etc. in someone whom I have complete power over at this moment?" Because if the answer to the second question is "Yes," then our intention is to torture, regardless of the method being employed.

Members List Growing

On the sidebar you can see the list of those who have asked to be counted as official members of the Coalition for Clarity blog. I'm so excited to see so many faithful Catholics joining in this effort!

Also, I'd like to point out that we have our first official contributor, as well! Robert King, who blogs here, will be joining in the Coalition's blogging efforts. Look for his posts to start soon!

Watch this post for more news--I'll be updating it throughout the day.

UPDATE: Tom McDonald has created a Coalition for Clarity Facebook page. Join now!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Some links from some great thinkers

Maclin Horton of Light On Dark Water, the first "official" member of the Coalition for Clarity blog, emailed me to share two posts of his on the subject of torture:

Torture: Safe, Legal, and Rare?

The Right Wing and 24

And over at Disputations, Tom has linked to a total of 41 posts he's written since October of 2006 on the subject of torture.

My advice to any Catholic who thinks that the Church approves of torture so long as Jack Bauer is doing it: start reading.

Welcome to Coalition for Clarity

If you're reading this, it probably means you followed the link from my personal blog, And Sometimes Tea, or from Mark Shea's comment box where I left the address, or some such thing. I got such an overwhelming and enthusiastic response to my post yesterday calling for a "Coalition for Clarity" whereby Catholics of all political leanings could make it clear to our political leaders that we do not condone torture, that it seemed like a logical step to create a blog specifically for that purpose and to open it up to Catholic contributors who share this view.

The way I envision this happening is this: anybody who has written or wants to write about the Church's teaching about torture, the political debate about torture in light of the Church's teachings, the hijacking of once-moral conservatism to serve the torture agenda, the human-rights aspects of torture, or any similar topics can send me an email to redcardigan (at) gmail (dot) com (remove the usual) requesting to be added to this blog's contributors. I'll send back the invite from the appropriate source, and you'll be all set up to post here.

While original posts written just for this blog would be lovely, I'm thinking that the real purpose of this blog will be to serve as a collection point for the many posts people already write in a variety of places on the Internet which attempt fidelity to the Church's teachings on the intrinsic evil of torture. I think it would be extremely helpful to be able to find different Catholics' thoughts and reflections on this moral evil in one place. It's not difficult at all to find pro-life Catholic blogs and bloggers, but it's more challenging to find anti-torture ones.

That said, I don't much relish the role of "blog administrator" here; it's not something I've ever done before, and I'd be very happy if some much more technically-inclined person were to decide eventually to create a more professional looking blog and take over that role. The reason I'm doing this at all is because I think it ought to be done, and I don't think it's fair to ask others to do what I wouldn't be willing to do myself. But I'll be thrilled if this blog eventually evolves to a bigger sort of effort. In a way, I see this as our chance to stop an "I'm Catholic, but..." position on torture from ever getting underway, and having the deleterious effect on our Church and our culture that the "I'm Catholic, but..." pro-abortion position has had.

If you're a Catholic blogger who would like to write against torture from a Catholic viewpoint, please email me at the address above. Let's get this started!