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I Will Not Abide This

February 13, 2010
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Several Catholic blogs have made comments that those opposed to torture are too shrill.  We are claimed to be divisive.  And the plain truth is that after at least a half decade of having our country commit torture, including to the point of having tortured people to death (obviously denied or otherwise attempted to be excused), many of us have difficulty seeing the good will of those who defend our country’s practices.  Further, our country has clearly not limited its use of torture to the difficult case of a known and imminent threat, aka the ticking time bomb.  And for all the alleged nuance of those supporting “enhanced interrogation”, we find such things as over half the country supporting the torture of Abdulmutallab, the underwear bomber, for the sadistic purpose of going on a fishing expedition, figuring he must have other information of use.  In fact, Raymond Arroyo’s personal moral theologian on torture, Marc Thiessen, found President Obama’s unwillingness to use torture against Abdulmutallab to be negligent.  Yes, this is the man that EWTN is hosting.  This is the man whose voice needed to be aired – no, supportively promulgated – on the leading worldwide Catholic television station.  Why not just offer a sympathetic platform to NARAL – Catholic for Choice would be too moderate – for crying out loud?  There are times for moderation.  This is not one of them.  If EWTN wants to liberally support torture, that is its business.  It has no business calling itself Catholic while doing it though.

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15 Comments
  1. February 13, 2010 12:57 pm

    Exactly the point; when is to me interesting is to see who it is that claims it is a partisan issue — and see they are partisans. On the other hand, thankfully, it is not a partisan issue, and people from the whole political spectrum have come to denounce torture. It is best to keep it that way.

  2. GodsGadfly permalink
    February 13, 2010 1:49 pm

    Kind of lends to theories of Traditionalists that Mother Angelica was forced out by a bunch of Neocons and Charismatics, especially since she *can* talk and by most accounts of those who’ve seen her, is fairly rehabilitated from her stroke.

  3. February 13, 2010 2:16 pm

    Godsfly I would not put too much stock in that.

    Question has anyone here done othe productive step and contacted ETWN to contact Raymond Arroyo of EWTN and ask him if he wishes to give a post here or engaed in a discussion on this.

    Perhaps he does not. However maybe if he did not think the whole purpose was an ambush there could be a productive Catholic dicussion with Charity on this here.

    Maybe someone has some pull here that could that and set something up that will benefit us all

    Who knows he might do it

  4. Frank permalink
    February 13, 2010 2:47 pm

    As I’ve always said–The guy with the microphone rules. Do not hold your breath waiting for Arroyo to be corrected by his bishop or to issue a statement correcting or clarifying his own (or guests) remarks on torture. He appears to have a very healthy ego, along with a microphone and a TV camera. He Da Man!

  5. Kurt permalink
    February 13, 2010 3:43 pm

    For a generation we have avoided this question, but I think now is time for a new discussion – the influence of money on elements of the Church. Let’s face it, EWTN does not stay on the air thanks to advertizing. And it doesn’t stay on the air just with a broad base sending in $10s and $20s (though, as PBS shows, this still has at least an upper middle class bias). They have wealthy benefactors. Benefactors who may have other interests than pious devotions and saving the babies. As was said about another matter…follow the money.

  6. R.C. permalink
    February 13, 2010 5:18 pm

    Has anyone exhaustively examined this issue as a matter of ethics, and applied it to all the myriad uses of the word “torture?”

    I ask for a complicated reasons. (Let me state up front, before I get lynched, that the reason is not that I’m keen on having pantybomber waterboarded.)

    I wish for an exhaustive examination, and as a matter of ethics or moral theology, because it seems to me that there are distinctions being made by those who hold that waterboarding KSM was justified, which claim that what was done to KSM falls outside the category of things condemned by the Church as intrinsically evil. Those who hold otherwise say it falls in that category.

    It is clear that there are many categories, and also that there are many relevant statements by the Church to be found in the Catechism, in Papal Encyclicals, and less importantly in USCCB press releases and the like.

    But it seems to me that the final nail in the coffin of the argument that waterboarding KSM was morally permissible (or even a moral responsibility) would be to enumerate all the categories of things which involve treatment of a prisoner which is unpleasant to the prisoner, and then enumerate all the relevant statements by the Church, and show which categories of treatment are addressed by each Church statement.

    At the end, if the only treatment categories permitted (or not addressed), by a Church statement are ones into which waterboarding could not plausibly fall, then clearly it is prohibited.

    On the other hand, if no Church statement addresses the category of treatment of waterboarding, then the KSM-dunking advocates are better off than we think they are, dogma-wise.

    Again, I want clarity. I anticipate that clarity prohibiting waterboarding. But the lack of clarity allows for misunderstanding, and allows those with rebellious inclinations some cover under which to operate.

    I know some are going to claim there’s already plenty of clarity, the science is settled, [i]et alia[/i]. Very well, indulge my slowness; just walk me through it.

    With respect to the different categories of unpleasant treatment: It seems to me that they can be categorized in various ways:

    1. Is the prisoner a criminal accused of violating the law, or a combatant captured at war?

    2. Is the captured combatant a lawful, or unlawful, combatant?

    3. Is the prisoner entirely helpless, or is the prisoner, while physically confined, still able to effect war? If able, how so? Through positive action? Through negative action, such as withholding information crucial to ongoing warfare?

    4. Does the treatment cause physical or psychological discomfort? (Or both?) To what degree?

    5. Does the treatment cause permanent harm, or long-lasting harm, or brief harm, or no harm apart from physical or psychological discomfort? What degree of harm?

    6. Is the intent of the treatment to compel the prisoner to say something false? (As in a false confession.) Or something true? (As in battlefield intel.)

    7. For how long does this treatment last? How many times is it repeated?

    …and so on. There may be other distinctions beyond those I’ve listed, which further subdivide unpleasant treatment into more and more categories.

    Anyway, I think it useful to identify all the possible categories and then to apply the specific relevant Church statements to them, so that in the end, when someone says, “Don’t you see, the context of the statement against torture made in Encyclical XYZ clearly condemns governments which torture political prisoners in order to compel false confessions from those who’ve committed no crime, and to intimidate racial and cultural minorities within the borders of nations ruled by dictatorial regimes. That is miles different from KSM, an unlawful combatant, captured in wartime, who declared at his time of capture that he knew of additional upcoming attacks and wasn’t going to to talk.”

    Assuming that argument is in fact a false one, I’d like the clarity of being able to say, “Yes, but we’ve heard that argument before, and long since defeated it. You see, while the particular statement you’re thinking about doesn’t apply, these other three statements, equally Magisterial and authoritative, do apply, and their context is broader and unambiguous. Case closed.”

    That’s the kind of clarity I’d like to see. We have it about abortion and a host of other things. Why not this?

    By the way, if you noticed I avoided the use of the word “torture” in the above, don’t read more into that than is there. I used the term “unpleasant treatment” because I am including such things as shouting at a prisoner…which I don’t think anyone regards to be torture, as well as endless playing of Britney Spears records. (Which I assume everyone does.)

    Five minutes of a stress position is probably not torture; five days is; I suppose five hours is, depending on the nature of the position. Shoving a person into a trick wall doesn’t seem like torture to me. A mock execution does. And so on.

    Anyway one reason I avoided the term “torture” is because I wanted an exhaustive treatment of all the different categories of unpleasant treatment, whether or not they seem bad enough to qualify as “torture” in the opinion of Any Given Person.

    Another reason is that the usage in Church documents seems to be inconsistent. I think I could make a good argument that the Church’s definition of torture has sometimes been “unjustifiably nasty treatment of a prisoner” …leaving open the option that there is such a thing as “justifiably nasty” treatment.

    A final reason is related to the preceding one: It seems that the statement that torture is “intrinsically evil and thus never justified” is a tautology in the sense that, if the definition of “torture” in use is “unpleasant treatment which exceeds what is justified,” then as soon as you call something “torture” you’re saying it isn’t justified, and is thus morally wrong…and therefore of course it’s not justified, and of course everything in the category of not-morally-justified treatment is evil.

    But this doesn’t advance the argument of whether waterboarding is intrinsically evil unless we have already confirmed that it matches that particular definition of torture. Which means we have to start by proving that it isn’t justified.

    And so on. The circularity of it all is tiring; my hope is that by examining specific Church teachings and their applicability to particular categories of prisoner and prisoner treatment and motive, we can break out of the tautological circle in a fashion which is black-and-white, with no room for contradiction or hedging.

  7. Ronald King permalink
    February 14, 2010 8:21 am

    R.C., When I read your comment I first thought, man, he put a lot of thought into this. My next thought was of a quote from Thomas Merton, I think and I paraphrase, in which he states that we either live a spiritual life or we do not. It cannot be sometimes and not other times.
    I hope I can find the correct words to describe what I see when the Church attempts to define what is intrinsically evil and all of the different levels of evil and how we are to navigate our decision-making through this maze of confusion.
    It seems to me to be impossible to operate at this level of perception and expect different results. This has been the history of the Church’s attachment to a materialistic spirituality that seems separated from the perception of Christ on the Cross. From the Cross Christ shows us that every attachment to this materalistic world, no matter how small, is an attachment that leads to more fear of suffering and death and separation from a mystical vision of freedom and peace that is different from the expectation of peace that the world attempts to attain. All acts of evil no matter how small create the intrinsic evil that is so easily observable and definitive. Even acts which are not evil but result from a defensive reaction against evil are still connected to that evil and reinforce a repetition of perception and belief that human strategies will conquer evil eventually if we can get enough people to join our side.
    However, it is all insane within that maze of history. The question is, how do we separate from that delusional system of reality?

  8. February 14, 2010 1:44 pm

    Follow the money is right.

  9. R.C. permalink
    February 14, 2010 5:27 pm

    Ronald:

    Thank you very much for your kind reply.

    I must admit, I’m straining to understand it. It seems to me you are trying to convey something pretty deep, and perhaps using words a little differently than I would to convey the same idea, and for that reason I’m having trouble tuning in to your precise wavelength…if you’ll pardon the mixed metaphors!

    “We either live a spiritual life or we do not. It cannot be sometimes and not other times.”

    Hmm. I haven’t read that particular quote, so I don’t know its context. Read outside of context, I am not sure what to make of it. If taken as a literal statement of fact, it seems to be false: Most of us do live a spiritual life only sometimes, and at other times live carnally, because we are not yet the saints God created us to be.

    So I suppose Merton meant it not as a literal statement but a desideratum: We ought to live with our hearts focused on eternal things at all times, rather than lapsing back into carnality.

    Assuming that’s what he meant, then of course I agree. But I’m not sure how you, Ronald, are applying the quote to the topic of my previous post. Are you arguing that a failure to intuitively “just see” that waterboarding (or shouting or bad music or whatever) falls under a prohibition from the Church, without the kind of exhaustive analysis I hoped for, is necessarily indicative of a carnal mind?

    If so, then I suppose you could be correct, but even so I would still wish for the exhaustive analysis. To provide such clarity strikes me as being in the mold of St. Thomas Aquinas’ writings: His Summa runs down every rabbit-trail, chases the possibility of error or misunderstanding into every foxhole, until it every hiding-place has been found and stopped up and none remain.

    “I hope I can find the correct words to describe what I see when the Church attempts to define what is intrinsically evil and all of the different levels of evil and how we are to navigate our decision-making through this maze of confusion.”

    Well, I hope so too, and I hope I can be perceptive enough to catch on! (grin) Perhaps some back-and-forth here will allow the two of us to synchronize brains a little bit.

    “It seems to me to be impossible to operate at this level of perception and expect different results.” Okay, you lost me: Which level of perception exactly? Yours? Or are you referring to the level of difficulty of the topic in general?

    And when you say “different results”: Different from what? I almost thought you were going to say, “It seems impossible for two people to discuss such a complicated topic and come up with exactly the same conclusions.” But that can’t be what you meant because you’re saying you do expect same results, and you think it’s impossible to get different results…?

    “From the Cross Christ shows us that every attachment to this materialistic world, no matter how small, is an attachment that leads to more fear of suffering and death and separation from a mystical vision of freedom and peace that is different from the expectation of peace that the world attempts to attain.”

    Whew…watch out you don’t get mistaken for a Gnostic; your words could be misconstrued that way.

    But I assume that you and I agree that detachment in the Christian sense is not to be understood as identical to detachment in the Buddhist sense. Whereas the latter would detatch us from all desires and replace them with no desire at all, the former teaches that all earthly things which seem desirable but ultimately prove unfulfilling are intended by God to point us to the creator which Nature fitfully reflects, so that our desires for them will ultimately be replaced with a far stronger desire for Him. Nirvana is not in the abnegation of desire, but in focusing it towards its correct object.

    That is how I should understand your “mystical vision of freedom and peace,” right? Not as “freedom and peace” in the abstract, but the specific freedom and peace of the Beatific Vision which is the face of Christ?

    “All acts of evil no matter how small create the intrinsic evil that is so easily observable and definitive.” Hmm.

    What do you mean that acts of evil “create” “the” “intrinsic evil” …? I put the three terms in separate quotation marks because I’m not sure what you mean when you say these acts “create” something; I’m not sure how you’re defining “intrinsic evil” in this sentence, and I’m not sure why you’re using the word “the” as if there were only one intrinsic evil.

    I’m sorry to sound like I’m chopping-logic with you! I’m not trying to criticize what you’re saying, I just am not getting what you’re saying, so I hope that by showing you exactly how I’m failing to “get it,” perhaps I can help you figure out how to help me understand.

    “Even acts which are not evil but result from a defensive reaction against evil are still connected to that evil and reinforce a repetition of perception and belief that human strategies will conquer evil eventually if we can get enough people to join our side.”

    Okay, now that I think I understand. It is in fact similar to a common criticism conservatives make of social- and economic-engineering experiments by those on the leftward side of the political spectrum: That it’s a mistake to break all the rules in the pursuit of solving some particular human evil (like poverty or discrimination) because human means are insufficient to eliminate evil in that way and tend in fact to self-corrupt and self-defeat: The evil re-emerges elsewhere like an air-bubble popping up under badly-applied wallpaper.

    Applying that principle to the question of how we treat illegal combatants who brag about their knowledge of upcoming terror operations, I suppose I would say, “We do not go to extremes or break rules, justifying those extremes and rule-breakages by the theory that they’re needed to ensure our safety, because in the end we find that our safety is only marginally increased, whereas other kinds of evils have multiplied in ways we could not specifically anticipate.”

    Now we can see after-the-fact that waterboarding, whether or not it is either (a.) categorically unjustifiable in any conceivable circumstances or (b.) not justified under the circumstances in which it was used, is certainly extreme. The fact that there’s so much ongoing debate, with some people on one side and some on the other, illustrates that it must be very close to the line.

    If we know that, we don’t have to know which side of the line it’s on: It’s either wrong, or it’s on the extreme bleeding edge of permissibility, and thus represents the kind of extreme we should avoid because it feeds back into the temptation that solving our problems is possible by human effort, if we do something sufficiently extreme or grandiose or clever.

    However, you’ll notice in that case I was required to lean on the understanding of waterboarding as an extreme kind of thing. I could not rely on it being something which “breaks the rules” (by which I mean breaks the moral law) because that’s begging the question until we line Church teaching up against different kinds of prisoner treatment to settle, once and for all, what does and doesn’t fly.

    Re: “However, it is all insane within that maze of history. The question is, how do we separate from that delusional system of reality?”

    Well, I while I do not have faith in human reason when severed from God, I do have faith that human reason which is illuminated by divine revelation can apprehend truth. (Another nod to Aquinas.) So it seems to me that by getting really comprehensive with specific Church teachings and really clear about specific types of prisoner-treatment, circumstances, et cetera, we are using our brains in light of revealed wisdom, and thus are likely to learn something.

  10. Ronald King permalink
    February 14, 2010 7:34 pm

    R.C., I completely understand why you are experiencing difficulty understanding my comment. I have difficulty writing and speaking my thoughts in a clear manner, just ask anyone who knows me. I must take some time to read your comment in order to give you a clearer response. I know what I was attempting to say above and now I see that I wasn’t able to. I do not take your comments as unkind in any way. I need this critique to express myself better.

    One point I was attempting to make, and, you made it very well, is that we do fluctuate between attachment and spirituality. It is not only the individual, it is also the human leaders of the Church. When the Church addresses an intrinsic evil, such as torture or abortion, it fails to clearly see that it is the underlying insidious “lesser” evils that are the ingredients of the recipe which create that evil. For example, torture and abortion require the ingredients of fear, hate, poverty, hopelessness, war, isolation, male aggression, capitalism, socialism, etc. in order to exist. Neither the left nor the right hold the answer. The Church leaders do not seem to have a vision that removes the Church from human problem-solving styles. Their reasoning seems to be stuck in a left brain linear, logical, linguistic and literal thinking operation that misses the input of the extremely critical right hemisphere that seems to be holistic, nonverbal, emotional, visuospatial and empathic.
    Attempting to go down each rabbit hole indicates left brain dominance and it excludes the holistic picture of the right brain. What is the result? Confusion and fragmentation in the faith. This is typical of male left brain dominance.
    I am exhausted right now, R.C. I am old tired and slow for the moment so I will talk tomorrow unless I somehow make a comeback this evening.
    I am extremely thankful for your input and your loving spirit.

  11. Bruce permalink
    February 15, 2010 11:27 am

    Odd that no one has noted that the World Over is a News program and the arguments of this particular Catholic author are a newsworthy contribution to the debate.

    REgarding the merits, he specifically echewed doing any physical harm as part of an interrogation. The Church herself countenanced even that for centuries as a mere physical evil versus the spiritual evil of heresy or to rpeserve the common good of the Catholic state. Sadly, no one here seems to want to argue the question, but to condemn the debate itself. To dismiss the discussion by “the Church condemns torture” neither answers the question “why?” she does or “what exactly is it she condemns?”. That would require investigating the very questions the author viewpoint raises.

  12. February 15, 2010 9:04 pm

    Bruce,

    The Church condemns torture because it is an attack on and an affront to the dignity of the human person. She condemns exactly any and every direct attack upon or affront to the dignity of any human person anywhere under any conditions.

    Re: The World Over as a news program – there is a difference between a news report on his book and an on-show interview with him as a guest. The latter is essentially a promotion of the author and his work.

  13. digbydolben permalink
    February 17, 2010 6:40 pm

    Robert is absolutely right, because the interviewer conducted a fawning conversation and never disagreed with ANYTHING that Thiessen said; he even cut off the video segment of Thiessen’s debate with his female interlocutor when she was about to make what seemed as if it might be an important point. It was a thoroughly disgusting example of shoddy, sycophantic journalism.

  14. Ronald King permalink
    February 17, 2010 10:05 pm

    Digby, Why don’t you send him an email. I did last week and told him I was sickened by his support of torture and invited him to get into a discussion at Vox Nova. He replied with the standard answer of being in alignment with church teaching and that he has guests that he doesn’t agree with but he never indicated that he disagreed with this guest. He also told me that I was wrong in jumping to conclusions. I of course wrote him a response that I was open to discussion but he did not respond again.
    The walls are so thick and impenetrable. He cannot and will not see.

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