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Is Torture by the U.S. Continuing?

December 24, 2010

That’s a question to which the United Nations may soon have an official answer.  The UN’s top anti-torture envoy has begun an investigation into whether the detainment conditions of Pfc. Bradley Manning, who is charged with leaking classified materials to WikiLeaks, qualify as torture or mistreatment.  The conditions include prolonged solitary confinement and the prevention of exercise.

I’ve argued before that the line between moral and immoral treatment isn’t only set by the degree of discomfort or pain, but also and much more clearly by the affect that treatment has on the will.  The line is completely crossed when the will of the one detained ceased to be motivated and begins to be coerced and controlled.  The systematic infliction of minimal pain can result in a broken will just as surely as the sudden infliction of maximum pain.  Both of these can be torture.

When assessing Manning’s treatment, the UN envoy will need to determine more than just the level of discomfort Manning has experienced while in detainment, but also the long-term affects this treatment has had and continues to have on his will–his ability to make free, rational decisions.

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  1. David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink*
    December 24, 2010 11:03 am

    While not defending the treatment of Pfc Manning in any way, I think that it is fair to conclude that the attention being paid to his particular case is politically motivated. After I read the description of his confinement, I saw that it was typical for many death row prisoners and for most prisoners in the so-called Super-max prisons. Yet, outside of a small circle of activists, their treatment goes unremarked.

    A key difference is that the latter are convicted felons, whereas Manning has not yet been charged with anything. Nevertheless, in discussing his plight, it is worth remembering, as we commemorate the birth of He who came “to proclaim liberty to captives,” that Manning is one of hundreds of individuals in the U.S. subjected to similar degrading treatment.

    • Kyle R. Cupp permalink
      December 24, 2010 12:13 pm

      Quite right.

    • jacobus permalink
      December 25, 2010 11:33 pm

      Absolutely right.

      But, Manning hasn’t been convicted yet and may well not be guilty.

  2. Austin Ruse permalink
    December 24, 2010 12:56 pm

    He deserves it.

    • Kyle R. Cupp permalink
      December 24, 2010 5:39 pm

      Use every man after his desert, and who should ‘scape whipping?

      • Austin Ruse permalink
        December 24, 2010 6:45 pm

        Some more than others. Bradley more than most.

        • December 24, 2010 7:43 pm

          Why, Austin? Because he betrayed the power structure and exposed their venality? Personally, I think he’s a hero.

        • December 24, 2010 7:45 pm

          Adding, with a thousand Mannings, this country would be transformed for the better.

  3. Phosphorious permalink
    December 24, 2010 2:38 pm

    But it is disturbing, nonetheless, that Obama seems to have decided to continue the use of torture as standard military procedure. We are a much worse country than we were ten years ago.

    • Kyle R. Cupp permalink
      December 24, 2010 5:41 pm

      Disturbing indeed.

  4. December 24, 2010 7:49 pm

    I think a better question is, “Is torture by the government expanding“, and I would say that Manning’s treatment indicates that the answer may be “yes.”

    That’s the thing with corroding the rule of law; first the exceptions are granted for the Threatening Other, but before you know it none of us is safe.

  5. Austin Ruse permalink
    December 24, 2010 7:57 pm

    Revealing secrets during time of war, the release of which may have placed lives in danger? He should be shot.

    • December 24, 2010 8:12 pm

      Quit hiding behind the loathsome “put lives in danger” lie, Austin. He endangered no lives, by the pentagon’s own admission; what he did was make it more awkward for the oligarchy to enforce their power with the lives of the troops you profess to love.

      Austin, you need to quit sticking up for the powerful people who are making the world worse. Manning did an enormous service, and deserves, if anything, the Medal of Freedom.

      None of which, by the way, deals with the actual topic of the post; whether or not what Manning is undergoing constitutes torture, and if so, what this says about the morality of U.S. foreign policy.

    • Ronald King permalink
      December 25, 2010 4:56 pm


  6. Austin Ruse permalink
    December 24, 2010 8:35 pm

    Show me where the Pentagon said he placed no lives in danger.

    • December 24, 2010 10:02 pm

      Well, you can start here, Austin.

      The relevant paragraph:

      But despite similar warnings ahead of the previous two massive releases of classified U.S. intelligence reports by the website, U.S. officials concede that they have no evidence to date that the documents led to anyone’s death.

      Assange represents a threat solely to the powerful oligarchy; the biggest threat to “Our Troops” comes from the oligarchy deciding they need to be used to protect their power and freedom to dominate the weak.

      • rcm permalink
        December 24, 2010 10:16 pm

        you are confusing Austin with facts. Are you for real, Ruse? Really? What pro-life person advocates for the torture of another human being? Disgusting.

        • Austin Ruse permalink
          December 25, 2010 9:13 am

          I don’t have any problem with putting a creep like Manning in solitary. I do not consider that torture. You weenies calling something torture don;t make it so.

          About the evidence from the pentagon. They say no one has died. Does not mean they won’t….

        • Kyle R. Cupp permalink
          December 25, 2010 10:05 am

          True, just because a weenie, or anyone else for that matter, calls something torture doesn’t make it so. However, I, weenie or not, didn’t simply call something torture; I established a line between moral and immoral treatment, a line, by the way, that finds support in the church’s teachings on personal dignity, freedom, coercion, and treatment of prisoners.

        • December 25, 2010 10:58 am

          On the point about being a “weenie”: I know it is wise to admit to being a weenie and take the argument to higher ground, but it would be dishonest for me to do so. I am not a weenie at all, and I offer you the same deal I have to Joe Hargrave: We can have a debate followed by something physical — wrestling, boxing, cage match, or what have you — and I’ll buy the beer for afterwards with pleasure. This is what happens in rugby socials that follow a match: you clobber each other for 80 minutes then share an evening of spirited festivities. Ask Rocco, he’s a scrapper too! We could even make it a fundraiser, if you like.

  7. December 25, 2010 12:23 am

    “He should be shot.”

    -Austin Ruse, C-FAM President, on December 24th, 2010 — the eve of the birth of the Prince of Peace.

    Austin Ruse has headed the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-FAM) since shortly after its creation in the summer of 1997. Mr. Ruse is a Knight in the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, a Knight in the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre, and is a founding member of the Diplomatic Society of St. Gabriel. In recognition of Ruse’s commitment and leadership in the effort to advance the sanctity of life he was awarded The Henry Hyde Life Leadership Award in 2010.

    • December 25, 2010 12:24 am

      PS: Austin what is C-FAM’s position on capital punishment?

      • Austin Ruse permalink
        December 25, 2010 9:14 am

        We’re for it….just like the Church, Sam.

        • Austin Ruse permalink
          December 25, 2010 9:18 am

          Though in the case of Manning, who appears as if he is not an ongoing threat to society, and in recognition of Christmas, I would give him life at hard labor.

        • phosphorious permalink
          December 25, 2010 10:26 am

          After a trial, I’m sure.

        • December 25, 2010 10:45 am

          Check out these apples:

          The new evangelization calls for followers of Christ who are unconditionally pro-life: who will proclaim, celebrate and serve the Gospel of life in every situation. A sign of hope is the increasing recognition that the dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil. Modern society has the means of protecting itself, without definitively denying criminals the chance to reform. I renew the appeal I made most recently at Christmas for a consensus to end the death penalty, which is both cruel and unnecessary. (Pope John Paul II, St. Louis, MO, January 1999)

          May Christmas help to strengthen and renew, throughout the world, the consensus concerning the need for urgent and adequate measures to halt the production and sale of arms, to defend human life, to end the death penalty, to free children and adolescents from all forms of exploitation, to restrain the bloodied hand of those responsible for genocide and crimes of war, to give environmental issues, especially after the recent natural catastrophes, the indispensable attention which they deserve for the protection of creation and of human dignity! (Pope John Paul II, Christmas Day Message, 1998)

          Nowadays, in America as elsewhere in the world, a model of society appears to be emerging in which the powerful predominate, setting aside and even eliminating the powerless: I am thinking here of unborn children, helpless victims of abortion; the elderly and incurably ill, subjected at times to euthanasia; and the many other people relegated to the margins of society by consumerism and materialism. Nor can I fail to mention the unnecessary recourse to the death penalty when other “bloodless means are sufficient to defend human lives against an aggressor and to protect public order and the safety of persons. Today, given the means at the State’s disposal to deal with crime and control those who commit it, without abandoning all hope of their redemption, the cases where it is absolutely necessary to do away with an offender ‘are now very rare, even non-existent practically'”. (Pope John Paul II, Ecclesia in America January 1999)

          It is clear that for these purposes to be achieved, the nature and extent of the punishment must be carefully evaluated and decided upon, and ought not go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute necessity: In other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society. Today however, as a result of steady improvements in the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare if not practically nonexistent. (Pope John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae, 1995)

        • Kyle R. Cupp permalink
          December 28, 2010 10:08 pm

          Is “for” an accurate word to use in reference to the church’s position on the death penalty? It may theoretically allow it, just as it theoretically allows just wars, but it wouldn’t be accurate to say that the church is “for war.”

      • Austin Ruse permalink
        December 25, 2010 12:01 pm

        Sam, Until the Church takes capital punishment off the table, i will hold the Church’s position, taht it is allowed to protect society. By the way, the Church will never take it off the table because society, ours and others, will always need the capability to defend itself. Sorry, pal.

        Also, with 20,000 murders a year and what? 1500 executions since 1976?..sounds like “rare to never” to me.

        • digbydolben permalink
          December 25, 2010 2:11 pm

          What a “cafeteria Catholic” you are, Ruse: use the Pope’s words for your political agenda when you can, dismiss them when they won’t serve.

        • December 25, 2010 3:18 pm

          What part of “end the death penalty” do you fail to comprehend from these quotes?

          “I renew the appeal I made most recently at Christmas for a consensus to END THE DEATH PENALTY, which is both cruel and unnecessary.” (Pope John Paul II, St. Louis, MO, January 1999)

  8. digbydolben permalink
    December 25, 2010 4:41 am

    Manning is a true hero. He is being tortured so that an implication of Assange in a conspiracy to commit “espionage” may be wrung from him:

    So far, he has not capitulated. Catholics who believe in the “sanctity of life” should PRAY for him, rather than do what the odious Ruse has just done.

    However, even if Manning is broken, and implicates him, Assange will probably not be extradited by Britain either to the United States or to Sweden, unless Sweden can give an absolute commitment to non-extradition. The Brits have had just about enough of being America’s poodle, and Cameron will not want to go the way of Blair.

  9. Liam permalink
    December 25, 2010 6:39 am

    The tool of torture is a tool of Death, the partner of Caesar. To advocate for it is to mock God, who trampled down Death by death.

  10. December 25, 2010 11:04 am

    If one is concerned that Bradley Manning is being grossly mistreated or tortured, it should be noted that there are approximately 25,000 prisoners in the United States serving entire sentences in solitary confinement in one federal prison and approximately thirty state “supermax” prisons.

    • Austin Ruse permalink
      December 25, 2010 12:03 pm

      I totally agreee with DAvid. Supermax is ugly and brutal. But here is the question. Waht do you do with guys who kill repeatedly in prison?

  11. Austin Ruse permalink
    December 25, 2010 12:02 pm

    Actually, Sam, you admitted to being a weenie many posts ago.

    • December 25, 2010 2:55 pm

      So is that a “yes” about our debate/cage match? I’m not too far from Saint Louis you know…

  12. Austin Ruse permalink
    December 25, 2010 12:06 pm

    By teh way, boys..your beloved Obama admin abstained a few days ago in the UN vote to ban summary adn extrajudicial executions. Merry Christmas libs!

    • Kyle R. Cupp permalink
      December 25, 2010 1:11 pm

      Hmm. Everyone in the this thread, except you, Austin, seems to be against the kind of treatment to which Manning is being exposed, treatment that is happening under the Obama administration. Indeed, the post itself is an implicit criticism of President Obama. And I’ve been explicit in my past criticisms, having noted that Obama’s tyrannical wartime power claims exceed those claimed by Bush.

      • Austin Ruse permalink
        December 25, 2010 1:22 pm

        Just rubbin’ it in…
        Is that uncharitable?
        Anyway, Merry Christmas, guys. I do enjoy mixing it up with you!

        I am off to St. Louis. See you there, Nate!

        • December 25, 2010 2:53 pm

          I am on the record many, many times in my strong distaste and dislike of Obama and his administration. So I’m not sure what it is you’re rubbing in, Austin.

        • December 26, 2010 8:08 am

          A stereotype.

          There is this assumption that if you ever agree with Pres. Obama, then you must be a liberal, and therefore must always agree with him.

          It’s a symptom of not looking at the world as a whole.

  13. Austin Ruse permalink
    December 25, 2010 2:56 pm

    Let me see. 650,000 murders since 1976. Roughly 1900 executions. Pope says should Be used only rarely, if non-existent, and only for defense of society. Sounds like the US is right on the mark. Also sounds like you boys are being more Catholic than the Pope, something one finds on the far right and the far left.

  14. Austin Ruse permalink
    December 25, 2010 2:59 pm

    Rubbing it in for the other girly-men in these parts, Sam.

    • phosphorious permalink
      December 25, 2010 9:23 pm

      Liberals criticize Obama. Conservatives NEVER criticize their own politicians.


    • phosphorious permalink
      December 26, 2010 8:26 pm

      Austin Ruse: Internet Tough Guy.

      • Austin Ruse permalink
        December 26, 2010 9:37 pm

        I like that immensely!

        • Ronald King permalink
          December 27, 2010 11:11 am


        • phosphorious permalink
          December 27, 2010 7:41 pm

          Because he is unaware of the connotations.

  15. Austin Ruse permalink
    December 25, 2010 3:08 pm

    Nate and I are going to have a kumbaya match, then maybe you, sam.

  16. Austin Ruse permalink
    December 25, 2010 3:33 pm

    Read the catechism, Sam.

    Also, ponder this. Why won’t the church ever take it off the table? The church may campaign for a moratorium or for it not to be used but why hasn’t She and why won’t She take it off the table ?

    • December 25, 2010 4:54 pm

      In this case, Austin, we agree. This is my stance, informed by CST and the lot, too: I think that our bodies our weapons in and of themselves, so there will never be an abolition of violence, because it is proper to one of the ends of our bodies. So, I do not see JPII as arguing for a a complete and total rejection of the DP, yourself, he and I all agree there is a possible world where the DP could be justified. But JPII and I (and not you, it seems) don’t see the present world as that possible world.

      • December 26, 2010 3:34 pm

        It seems to me Pope John Paul II made himself very clear in Evangelium Vitae:

        It is clear that, for these purposes to be achieved, the nature and extent of the punishment must be carefully evaluated and decided upon, and ought not go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute necessity: in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society. Today however, as a result of steady improvements in the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare, if not practically non-existent. [Emphasis added.]

        Also, the Catechism says:

        Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm – without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself – the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity are very rare, if not practically nonexistent

        This means, to me, that in a less affluent and less advance country than the United States without a modern penal system, or during, say, a civil war or under other extraordinary circumstances, or if you have a real-life Hannibal Lecter on your hands, execution might be necessary to protect society. What it doesn’t mean is that having the death penalty as it exists in, say, Texas, involves a “prudential decision” that nobody can second guess. Now, I don’t fault George Bush for not living according to Catholic teaching, but if he had been a Catholic and had signed 152 death warrants, I don’t see how he could have claimed that something that was supposed to be so rare as to be practically nonexistent could be justified 152 times in a row.

        It seems to me that if encyclicals mean anything, Evangelium Vitae means not that a state or a country could decide that the death penalty, in general and as it has operated in the past, was absolutely necessary to protect its citizens, but that each and every execution had to meet the standard of being an absolute necessity to defend society.

        Pope John Paul II, it seems clear to me, was not requiring any modern state to ban the death penalty. But he was requiring them to use it not just relatively rarely, but so rarely that executions were reserved for extraordinary cases and almost never took place.

        • Austin Ruse permalink
          December 26, 2010 4:52 pm

          1900 or so executions out of 600,000+ murders since 1976 comports quite well with the Pope’s suggestion.

          Would be nice to see vox no vans getting as worked up about 45 MILLION abortions.

          Also amusing to see someone like Nickol wanting to bind Catholics to a brand new development of doctrine yet let Kathy Caveny Catholics off the hook on an ancient
          teachingnlike abortion.

        • December 26, 2010 7:45 pm


          In what way does Cathy Kaveny want to let Catholics off the hook on an “ancient teaching like abortion”? I don’t believe she has ever taken less than an “orthodox” position on abortion. What she may want to do is allow Catholics to make up their own minds on how to vote when abortion is an issue. I’d put the solid beginning of anti-death-penalty teaching in the Catholic Church at about 1995 (Evangelium Vitae), and the solid beginning of the current rational for voting when abortion is involved at 2004 (Cardinal Ratzinger’s statement to Cardinal McCarrick). And, of course, Cardinal Ratzinger did not say it was impermissible to vote for a pro-choice candidate.

          Cathy Kaveny’s arguments are erudite and carefully nuanced. The argument you seem to be making — that one can determine by looking at the ratio of murders to executions whether the use of the death penalty is “very rare, if not practically non-existent” is just fatuous. Clearly in a country like the United States, whether or not to execute someone must be made on a case-by-case basis. Pope John Paul II wasn’t urging governments to lower their murder-to-execution ratios.

        • Austin Ruse permalink
          December 26, 2010 9:02 pm


          A Kathy Caveny Catholicnus one who believes in abdomens right to abortion. You, sir, want to let her off the hook on n ancient teaching yet you, sir, want to bind Catholics on a brand new development of doctrine on capital punishment.

        • Austin Ruse permalink
          December 26, 2010 9:45 pm


          Sorry about that iPhone-garbled post. Let me try again.

          A Kathy Caveny Catholic is a pro-choice Catholic who sometimes masquerades as a pro-lifer. You give her and those like her a pass YET you want to bind faithful Cstholics to a brand new development of doctrine.

        • Austin Ruse permalink
          January 3, 2011 1:41 pm


          To put a finer point on the Kaveny position. Here is what she said at Princeton:

          “I do not think the American law should prohibit abortions in the case of rape, or where necessary to protect the life or health of the mother. I think that unborn life is equal in dignity to the rest of us. But I don’t think the law can rightly require a woman to bear the significant burdens associated with continuing a pregnancy in such instances.”

          Kaveny unmasked herself at the Princeton Conference. So, I ask you again, David. You are willing to bind Catholics to a brand new development of doctrine but want to let someone like Kaveny off the hook with regard to an ancient teaching of the faith. How does that work, sir?

  17. Ronald King permalink
    December 25, 2010 5:08 pm

    Justice without love is a human invention of punishment based on the fallen nature of the punisher who is under the influence of fear and hatred.
    Justice with love is under the influence of God’s nature to seek the deeper truth of every experience with another human being. Christ stated that men like the dark more than the light because they act out their sins in the dark.
    Someone who shines the light into the darkness and reveals the sins of the perpetrators will be punished in this world of fear and hate because their sinful truth will be revealed.

  18. December 26, 2010 7:27 am

    It is unfortunate that a man like this Ruse fellow seems to typify the American Church, whereas the many of the other “staff” writers of this blog are seen as the odd men out. I can only lay this at the feet of a priesthood (I guess you call it the “magisterium”?) that is itself bitter and full of fear-generated hatred. What are they preaching? Do they preach? Or do they just issue “fatwas?” The more I read, the less I can process…

  19. December 26, 2010 8:10 am

    Here’s a fun tea party game for people who claim to believe that the federal government can only do what the Constitution explicitly states.

    Where in the Constitution will you find the power to keep secrets from the public?

    • Austin Ruse permalink
      December 28, 2010 6:12 pm

      Where in the constitution are phones allowed?

  20. December 27, 2010 11:05 am

    This discussion has moved quickly beyond if what is happening to Manning allowed to happened under Catholic teaching to iss3es of State execution. I hope it returns to those much harder questions.

    However since it has gone there let me say I largely agree with Adam Ruse. If after a trial he is found guilty and the Execution is an option I would have no problem for the State going after that.

    Manning is no “hero” . He has put our relationships with Governments in jeopardy. Heck it has actually been commented on most of these cables makes the USA look good while other Governments not so good. I also think he has put lives at risk. We are fortunate that what ever you might say about the Wiki leaks guy that at least he is working with us AT THIS TIME to redact the names and possibly not release some cables. Manning was not redacting names when he turned all that over. Also I suspect there is a fear (and this might be what is behinds the solitary confinements as it is) of what else Manning might have released.

    As to State execution I think we all know the mind of the Church is too oppose it’s use nowadays. However the Church has never said it was an evil per se. Much of the argument is in today’s society there is no need for it.

    The military culture is another kettle of fish. 99.9 percent of what the Church talks about is in a larger criminal / victim prism as to this issue.

    In the military there has to be the option of the ultimate sanction in many cases in order to maintain order.

    I think Manning has set up a dangerous precedent if he is for whate ever reason set up as “HERO”

    • Ronald King permalink
      December 27, 2010 11:36 am

      From CS Lewis’ “The Great Divorce”, “…If we insist on keeping Hell (or even Earth) we shall not see Heaven: if we accept Heaven we shall not be able to retain even the smallest and most intimate souvenirs of Hell…”
      Everything that we use to protect our “freedom” keeps us in hell here on earth. Secrets that are revealed show us the sins that are committed beyond our awareness which keep us in hell. Through the revelation of these secrets we have a better chance at redemption and creation of a new and open communication between human beings and nations which is transparent and built on mutual respect and cooperation for the well-being of all human beings.
      Otherwise we continue to live in secrecy built on fear and the desire to protect ourselves in this hell that we live in presently.

      • Austin Ruse permalink
        December 27, 2010 1:09 pm

        Ron, yours is the most pathetic kind of drivel. “Everything we yse to protect our ‘freedom’ (of course freedom is in sneer quotes) keeos ys in hell gete on earth.” reslly? Everything? Are you really Stuart Smalley?

        • December 27, 2010 2:42 pm

          Austin – It strikes me sometimes that I sense deep pain in almost every word you write.

        • Austin Ruse permalink
          December 27, 2010 4:09 pm

          Hold me, Matt. Hold me.

        • December 27, 2010 4:21 pm

          Your glib joking about it convinces me even more, Austin.

        • Ronald King permalink
          December 27, 2010 3:43 pm

          That is correct Austin, you are not free due to your love of aggressive defensiveness and remarks that an angry and hurt 16 year old uses to defend himself.
          Here is a line from Ozzie Ozborne in reference to those who ride the same train as you, “I’m going off the rails on a crazy train”.

        • December 27, 2010 4:46 pm

          Austin: Your name-calling here is uncalled for and makes you look rather silly and even makes one feel a bit sorry for you — but don’t think that will be a good excuse when we have our match together :)

  21. December 27, 2010 11:18 am

    Austin is right about the teaching of the Church. Like it or not, the Church has never taught that the death penalty ought never be applied, even in modern society. Furthermore, the quotes from Pope John Paul II are his prudential judgment about the current relevance of the death penalty, not solemnly binding teaching about the moral principles involved in thinking about the death penalty. THIS IS NOT TO DISMISS THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE POPE’S WORDS, BUT TO ACCORD THEM THEIR PROPER STATUS IN CATHOLIC TEACHING. Whether you like it or not, a person can, in good conscience, come to a different judgment than the Pope. But this is really only possible after serious and thoughtful consideration of magisterial teaching.

    If you want to persuade someone that the Popes are right, good. Do it! But don’t claim that persons who believe otherwise are necessarily bad Catholics. It’s a bad argument and an even worse way of converting someone to your opinion. Evangelization does not happen by demonization.

    Avery Cardinal Dulles’s article from First Things is helpful in understanding the Catholic Church’s teaching on the death penalty.

    • Austin Ruse permalink
      December 28, 2010 6:55 pm

      My view is that the church wants unto rethink things and so have started a conversation. She wants us perhaps be less blodd-thirsty particularly CP for retribution. As for me, as a faithful Catholic, I have allowed my thinking on this issue to be engaged and have accepted the teaching on retribution.

      • Phosphorious permalink
        December 28, 2010 10:35 pm

        Less bloodthirsty?

        What a weenie the magisterium is!

        • Austin Ruse permalink
          December 29, 2010 9:13 am

          no kidding!

      • December 29, 2010 9:47 am


        Are you of the belief that the Church can someday teach that capital punishment is intrinsically evil?

        I personally think that the Church can never teach this for it would be a direct contradiction of the consistent teaching of the Magisterium and Tradition of the last 2000 years.

        In fact, I would say if the Church does teach this someday, it would be cause to doubt the divine authority of the Church, and so cause to doubt the Church and Christianity altogether.

        If the Church teaches divine truth with divine authority on matters of faith and morals, divine truth does not change. Truth cannot change. If the Church decides it can at some point in time, I would have some serious thinking to do.

        But of course, I do not think this could ever happen.

        • Austin Ruse permalink
          December 29, 2010 5:57 pm

          No, I do not believe the Church will ever or could ever take it off the table completely. I do believe the Church has taken or is in the process of taking it off the table for reasons of retribution. But for purposes of self defense, the Church will never take it off the table.

    • December 28, 2010 9:00 pm


      How does one distinguish, in an encyclical such as Evengelium Vitae, the pope’s “prudential judgments” from his binding teachings.

      Richard R. Gaillardetz says in his book “By What Authority?”

      One would expect, for example, that a new doctrinal formulation appearing in an encyclical would carry more weight than that offered in a weekly papal address. The teachings that are issued by way of the ordinary papal magisterium are official church teaching and call for internal assent by all Catholics . . . . At the same time, it must be noted that the ordinary papal magisterium does not engage the charism of infallibility.

      Could you give an example of a prudential judgment from Humanae Vitae?

      • December 29, 2010 10:20 am


        I think the Popes are generally very explicit in pronouncing moral truth that must be given assent by all Catholic faithful. Thus in Humanae Vitae, Paul VI, in speaking of artificial birth control, sterilization, and onanism, uses language that cannot be misinterpreted: [these things] “are to be absolutely excluded as lawful means”. A lot of interpretation is not necessary.

        Turning to the issue of capital punishment and Evangelium Vitae: John Paul II could have said something similar to Paul VI but with respect to capital punishment in the modern world, i.e. “recourse to capital punishment is to be absolutely excluded as a possibility of lawful punishment”. But he didn’t, for a number of different reasons, but chiefly because this would be a direct contradiction of consistent Catholic teaching from the past two-thousand years. Popes, Saints, St. Paul, and Doctors of the Church have all taught the legitimacy of recourse to capital punishment. The Pope is expressing a judgment about the status of modern political, judicial, and prison systems, which may or may not be right because it is his judgment, not revealed moral truth or moral principle. This comes out of the context of the Pope’s words alone.

        Different encyclicals have different purposes and different status in Catholic teaching. One has to read the encyclicals as the Church reads them, with respect to Tradition and Scripture. Sometimes clarity about principles only emerges after one considers the entire body of revealed truth. This is the case, I think, with capital punishment. Modern encyclicals do not address the entire question of capital punishment, but aspects of it. This is also the case with Catholic Social Teaching, where one can see the consistent articulation of principles applied in different contexts over time. The Church Herself looks at this emerging consensus (from Magisterial teaching, Scripture, and Tradition) in the Compendium of Catholic Social Teaching. SO I guess this is part of how one learns to distinguish between principles and judgments, aside from the clear differences in the language employed.

        Humanae Vitae is of course a different document than Evangelium Vitae. It comes from a different Pope, who had a different writing style. It is more succinct and less philosophical. It addresses the issue of the generation of human life directly and with specific reference to the competence and authority of the Magisterium to speak with vox Dei. There are fewer prudential judgments, and the prudential judgments that are in the document are less consequential than the one we are talking about from Evangelium Vitae. They are confined almost entirely to the section on Pastoral Directives (19-31).

        Please let me know if this helps you at all in understanding how to read encyclicals, and how to distinguish between a principle and a judgment in Catholic teaching.

        • December 29, 2010 7:02 pm


          Thanks for the detailed reply. I agree 100% that the pope did not call for abolishing the death penalty. But I think he did make a clear statement about morality that I wouldn’t call merely a prudential judgment. Here’s the pertinent passage from Evangelium Vitae:

          It is clear that, for these purposes to be achieved, the nature and extent of the punishment must be carefully evaluated and decided upon, and ought not go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute necessity: in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society. Today however, as a result of steady improvements in the organization of the penal system, such cases are very rare, if not practically non-existent.

          In any event, the principle set forth in the new Catechism of the Catholic Church remains valid: “If bloodless means are sufficient to defend human lives against an aggressor and to protect public order and the safety of persons, public authority must limit itself to such means, because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person”.

          It seems to me that the pope is clearly stating as a moral principle that an execution can only be justified “in cases of absolute necessity: in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society.” If there is a prudential judgment expressed in the passage, it would seem to me to be the part I have put in bold. The pope may be overestimating the capabilities of modern penal systems or the ability of resourceful dangerous men to continue to harm society even from inside prison.

          So what I would take from this as authoritative is that each and every case in which the death penalty is contemplated must be considered on its own merits, and the question must always be asked if execution is necessary to protect society from the individual involved. Now, I assume reasonable people may disagree over whether a particular individual is so dangerous that society can’t be protected by putting him or her in a supermax prison for life. But I don’t think it is open to those who take Evangelium Vitae seriously to make a general case in favor of executions (based on deterrence, say) and then justify the execution of everyone who commits a capital offense without looking at their individual cases and asking in every case whether the only way to protect society is execution.

          So I guess my question to you is, given what Pope John Paul II said in Evangelium Vitae, do you think it is open to Catholics to say that there are other criteria that come into play in the application of the death penalty, and it is permissible to execute someone even if it is clearly possible to protect society without resorting to execution? For example, if someone believes capital punishment acts as a deterrent and believes that executing a prisoner who poses no real threat to society will nevertheless make society safer by deterring others from committing a similar crime, is the person who supports the execution disagreeing with a prudential judgment made by the pope or with a moral teaching of the pope that requires religious assent?

        • Austin Ruse permalink
          December 29, 2010 7:29 pm

          I remain astounded, David, that you want to bind Catholics to a brand new development of doctrine yet let Cathy Kaveny Catholics off the hook on the clear and ancient teaching on abortion. Would that you were so strict on that one.

        • Austin Ruse permalink
          December 29, 2010 7:30 pm

          Also, I would like to know what you would do with repeat killers in prison?

        • December 29, 2010 11:36 pm


          You are repeating yourself in what is essentially an irrelevant point. I am saying what I think the authority of an encyclical is, and I am saying how I read this particular one. If you would like to dispute either position I take, feel free to do so. But you are either criticizing me for taking the positions, or criticizing the positions because I take them. And you are throwing in gratuitous personal insults at Cathy Kaveny whose position on abortion I am sure you could not state clearly.

          The question here is how a faithful Catholic is supposed to react to EV. The larger question is whether Catholics like yourself who criticize other Catholics for what you deem to be disregarding teachings of the Church are themselves engaging in the same kind of behavior they accuse others of. Zach is attempting to answer my questions, which are good faith questions about how Catholics must respond to encyclicals. Any answers to those question that you have would be welcome.

          I think protecting people in prison is not the same thing as protecting society, so I see putting a person in prison as protecting society even if he or she is a danger to fellow prisoners. However, prisoners certainly deserve a reasonable amount of protection from one another, so a prisoner who kills fellow prisoners could be isolated.

        • Austin Ruse permalink
          December 30, 2010 8:48 am

          Actually David, your reading of EV is meant to bind Catholics on the death penalty. I find it odd that you have such a rigorous reading of EV when you give someone like Kaveny such a wide birth on abortion. Certainly, you could find much stronger Church teaching on aborrion than you have found on the death penalty. Kaveny’s posotion it at best confused and those of us who are genuinely pro life have suspected her true colors which were revealed at the recent Princeton conference where she said she believes in a woman’s right to choose abortion.
          We all knew this anyway.

          So, why do you believe CAtholics are bound by a brand new development of doctrine on the death penalty but allow this off on the acicent teaching of abortion. Hardly irrelevant, old man.

        • December 30, 2010 10:30 am

          Hi David,

          I see two separate questions:

          (1) do you think it is open to Catholics to say that there are other criteria that come into play in the application of the death penalty?


          (2)is [it] permissible to execute someone even if it is clearly possible to protect society without resorting to execution?

          Regarding (1), I think the answer is that yes, other criteria can come into judging whether the death penalty ought to be applied in a particular case

          Regarding (2), I think that the Magisterium has been very clear as of late (EV and the Catechism). It is not permissible to apply capital punishment when society could be equally protected by other means.

          But I’m not exactly sure of the status of this teaching (whether it is binding absolutely or if there is any wiggle room). I default towards the former practically but suspect the latter theoretically, although I cannot prove it.

  22. Ronald King permalink
    December 27, 2010 12:41 pm

    It has occurred to me that strategies employed to outwit opponents within the context of gaining political or military power maintain a mindset that the other human being is a “bad object” and less than human. This perspective will never resolve the continuing world crises; it only maintains the history of violence in human relationships and keeps us attached to our delusional belief in the power of a dominant human being as the source of our safety. This is insane and this insanity has its appears sane because we do not know that we are insane.

  23. Ronald King permalink
    December 27, 2010 7:32 pm

    For some reason I do not see Austin’s most recent comments here that I saw in my email. I would like to respond to his vitriol. It is this underlying and unresolved rage that feeds the culture of death that he passionately objects to.

  24. phosphorious permalink
    December 27, 2010 7:46 pm

    I am disheartened to see that the conservative enthusiasm for torture is unabated, and defended in the exact same terms of “manliness” and “wussiness” that they were under Bush. As if that’s what serious discourse is.

    Obama has continued these policies, thereby costing him support of the left without gaining him any support on the right. The republican candidate. . . whoever it is. . . will most likely win in 2012, and will no doubt double down on the use of torture as standard operating procedure.

    In the end, Austin Ruse wins.

    • Ronald King permalink
      December 28, 2010 9:50 pm

      Phosphorious, In the end he is accountable for his intentional treatment of others. Violence never wins.

      • Austin Ruse permalink
        December 29, 2010 5:56 pm

        Tell that the Jews rescued by the American army.

        • Kurt permalink
          December 30, 2010 10:17 am

          War is never a win for virtue, but it van be a defeat for vice. But I have happy to find Austin for once is support of a liberal cause and willing to break with his fellow conservatives carrying their thin little umbrellas and waving pieces of paper or those attacking FDR in the name of right-wing isolationism.

        • Austin Ruse permalink
          December 30, 2010 8:25 pm

          Contra Ron’s usual hallmark card bloviating, violence can win as it was violence that savednmany Jews in WWII. I suspect the survivors would find such bloviating not only false but insulting.

          Whether your own slogan is true or not — I suspect not— i will leave to others.

        • Kurt permalink
          January 7, 2011 1:22 pm

          I would suspect survivors…

          I would suspect there would have been a lot more surviviors except for the isolationism and appeasement practiced by the conservatives in the 1930s.

        • Austin Ruse permalink
          January 7, 2011 2:29 pm

          I thought violence was always and everywhere wrong? I suspect you would be or are an isolationist or a pacifist. Cue Ron.

    • December 29, 2010 10:59 am

      Conservative enthusiasm for torture is not unabated. There are a number of things I think you should note.

      (1) Conservatives, or the ones you are referring to, do not advocate for torture per se. They usually argue that waterboarding is an acceptable form of interrogation and that it is not torture. So they are mistaken about waterboarding – it very clearly is torture – but they do not usually advocate for torture per se (maybe there are a few exceptions), and the distinction is important. We should be convincing these conservatives that waterboarding is torture, not demonizing them. Most conservatives of note would argue against Machiavelli, that it is never permissible to do evil in order to achieve any end, good or not.

      (2) Conservatism is not as monolithic as liberalism. There are many conservatives that have been opposed to waterboarding and all forms of torture from the moment this question was made public. Me, for example. I have written repeatedly about the illegitimacy of waterboarding and the lamentable practices of the Bush (and now Obama) administrations for a number of months.

      (3) I think it is at least questionable whether depriving someone of sleep is torture. How much and for how long? I think Kyle has a helpful definition about between the conditions necessary for torture, which includes not only the action but whether or not a person’s will is being coerced. Under this defintition, almost any interrogation technique that introduces discomfort is torture. Is this too strict? I’m not sure.

      In any event I think we should note that we are a much more humane and tolerant society than probably any in the history of humanity. In most countries, this man would have already been shot by a firing squad for high treason and sedition.

      • phosphorious permalink
        December 29, 2010 8:34 pm

        1) “Not advocating for torture per se” is merely a ploy, one that allowed torture to flourish. The conservative response was “We’re not torturing, waterboarding isn’t torture, terrorists deserve to be tortured, liberals want to mollycoddle terrorists. . . ” In other words there was deliberate obfuscation of the issue, with the upshot being that whatever it was Bush was doing the nation ought to be grateful that he had the balls to do it.

        2)I’m sure you spoke out against torture. . . but I’m equally sure you voted for Bush. Bush won by a historic margin that conservatives weren’t shy about gloating over at the time. Yes, yes. . . “libs” are monolithic and they worship Obama. But conservatives voted for Bush, period. Liberals are not hesitant to criticize Obama for his many lapses, including torture. I honestly don’t recall any conservative. . . in 2003, when the first photos from Abu Ghraib came out. . . criticizing Bush in any serious way. That was saved for AFTER his glorious re-election.

        3) More obfuscation. “America doesn’t torture” because sleep deprivation isn’t torture. Fine. But of course there’s a simple empirical test. You don’t think sleep deprivation is torture? Have yourself sleep deprived for a week. Then pontificate.

        • December 30, 2010 10:35 am


          It is clear to me that you do not want to respond to what I’ve written, but would prefer to respond to an imagined caricature of who you think I am and what you think are my ideas.

          If and when you overcome your desire to demonize people with whom you disagree, and you can explain yourself without insulting the other person involved in the conversation, I would be happy to talk to you.

          Nothing I wrote was a ploy.

        • phosphorious permalink
          January 1, 2011 11:24 am

          I’m not demonizing anybody. The simple historical fact is that Bush’s torture policy was met with approval by conservatives. . . who re-elected him in 2004, well after the policies were made public. Liberals who criticized Bush continue to criticize Obama for the very same thing.

          Even now, you defend the conservative lust for torture, saying on the oe hand that waterboarding is “very clearly” torture, and yet also claiming that conservatives who were in favor of it were not defending torture “per se”. . . no they were only making a factual error about waterboarding being torture.

          If waterboarding is clearly torture, then any factual error is a result of willful ignorance. . . an ignorance that you seem to find exculpatory.

          Conservatism is not “monolithic” I suppose. . . but you really do spend a lot of time defending each other against even reasonable criticism.

  25. Kyle R. Cupp permalink
    December 27, 2010 8:57 pm

    Expect me to delete any comments not pertaining to the post or to a fruitful discussion of ideas.

  26. David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink*
    December 30, 2010 9:55 am

    Deliberate, long term sleep deprivation is torture, by any reasonable definition of torture. Menachim Begin (not exactly a bleeding heart liberal) was tortured by the Soviets when he was a young man in this way. He describes his experience thus:

    “In the head of the interrogated prisoner, a haze begins to form. His spirit is wearied to death, his legs are unsteady, and he has one sole desire: to sleep… Anyone who has experienced this desire knows that not even hunger and thirst are comparable with it.

    “I came across prisoners who signed what they were ordered to sign, only to get what the interrogator promised them.

    “He did not promise them their liberty; he did not promise them food to sate themselves. He promised them – if they signed – uninterrupted sleep! And, having signed, there was nothing in the world that could move them to risk again such nights and such days.”

  27. December 30, 2010 10:01 am

    Exactly. We all saw several conservative types who were buying and selling the Bushco line that water boarding isn’t torture, change their tune after they tried it for themselves.
    Bottom line: it doesn’t matter what the man did. If held in captivity, where he can do no more harm, he must be treated humanely. Period. No wiggle room.

  28. David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink*
    December 30, 2010 10:08 am

    The question of “what to do with prisoners who kill” is a common debating point by proponents of the death penalty. However, under closer examination, it bears little or no weight.

    In his book Ultimate Punishment Scott Turow discusses the case of Henry Brisbon, sometimes called “Illinois’ poster child for the death penalty.” (His sentence was commuted to life in prison by Governor Ryan in 2005.) He comes as close to a real-life Hannibal Lector as imaginable. But the Warden of the prison where he is being held is confident that he can be held and kept from killing again. He won’t guarantee it (he would be foolish to do so) but he believes he can.

    Here in Connecticut, Mary Morgan Wolff, a former deputy warden, along with 14 other former wardens and corrections officers, testified in 2009 that there was no need for the death penalty. Given their day to day experience, I give a great deal of credence to their assertion that the death penalty is not necessary, even for prisoners who kill other prisoners.

    • Austin Ruse permalink
      December 30, 2010 10:39 am

      Actually, it is not a debating point at all. It is a question. What do you do with prisoners who kill? I don’t think you are saying it never happens. So, what do you do with prisoners who kill? What do you do with prisoners who kill in superman?

      • Ronald King permalink
        December 30, 2010 9:46 pm

        I think there is much to learn from genetic sociopaths and socialized sociopaths in the form of treatment and prevention. Both can give us knowledge of gene mutation and expression within the history of violence.
        We actually live on a continuum of reactions and each reaction contains subdivisions of reactions to a violent world and the sociopath is just one extreme example of a violent response to violence. Killing or life imprisonment does not help us understand the problem. Life imprisonment or solitary confinement may help our conscience but it also does not help to resolve the problem.
        We must understand the insidious violence in everyday life and how this evil begets the obvious evils that are labeled intrinsic evils. However, this label just as other labels do not provide the resolutions that are needed unless we understand the underlying influences that bring us to label something as evil or abnormal.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink*
      December 31, 2010 8:50 am


      nothing personal in calling it a debating point, but unfortunately I have run into too many people who throw this out as though it were an unanswerable objection.

      It is a a good question. On a practical note, I have been told that most murders behind bars are not committed by people serving life sentences for murder: apparently, murderers in for life are “good” prisoners. I have not been able to confirm this, however.

      Non-lifers who kill presumably are tried for murder and sentenced to life. Lifers who kill are presumably sentenced to another life term and subject to an increasing scale of administrative sanctions designed to control their behavior. It may be that there are some few who are unresponsive to discipline but can still be controlled: see Turow’s description of Henry Brisbon. But even in these hard situations my gut (or my “moral center” if you prefer) tells me that killing them is not a moral solution. As in any extremal ethical situation, the answers we get are not always comfortable or easy.

      • Austin Ruse permalink
        December 31, 2010 10:46 am

        My point of course is that even in this country we must kill from time to time to defend society. I would be interested in seeing numbers about killings in prison and also repeat killers.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO permalink*
      December 31, 2010 11:55 am


      where I would differ is your assertion that we “must kill in order to defend society” in this context.

      With regards to statistics: a quick search yielded little. According to the Bureau of Justice, the murder rate in prison is significantly lower than in the nation as a whole, suggesting that this is not a widespread problem. (See the
      Freakonomics blog for this data.)

      A more in-depth study of violent crime in prison found no statistical difference in rates of crime between the general population and those sentenced for capital crimes: see the study and the data

      Of course, this data does not address the underlying moral problem of whether these few cases are instances in which the death penalty is warranted. But I think they do show that this is not a pressing problem (as others have suggested to me in debate). And again, if a former warden does not see a need for the death penalty in this case, I take that as strong evidence that it is not warranted.

  29. Ronald King permalink
    December 31, 2010 6:58 am

    Austin, it seems that when you label my comments as hallmark card bloviating you once again fail to go into any depth of understanding and follow your prejudicial reactionary response and believe it to be true. Your type of response is what continues the violence in human suffering because its foundation is built on fear.
    As for saving survivors of the death camps through violent force, it was a hideous moral failure on the part of Christianity that the evil being committed against the Jews even got to the point of separating them from the rest of society. Christianity failed and violence took over.

    • Austin Ruse permalink
      December 31, 2010 10:12 am

      You describe what happened to the Jews as “separating them from society” ? oh brother. I am quite sure they would describe it that way.

      • Ronald King permalink
        December 31, 2010 12:00 pm

        That is the first thing that happened after they had been demonized. It never should have gone that far. Once again, Christians failed to stand up to violence with non-violence.
        If you can’t see that then I will be waiting for one of your caustic comments that you are so good at expressing.

  30. Jayne Horne permalink
    December 31, 2010 2:19 pm

    As always Ronald King, your words are powerful and enlightening. Bringing heartfelt comfort and compassion! Keep writing. Many of us are listening and learning.If you ever write a book, let me know. I would love to study your words and thoughts. As I debate becoming Catholic, your words draw me nearer to the church. Thank you and God bless you.

  31. phosphorious permalink
    January 1, 2011 11:26 am

    Contra Ron’s usual hallmark card bloviating, violence can win. . .

    I’m sorry, was anybody seriously doubting that violence can win? I would argue that the violent win most of the time. Do what we will, Death will claim us all.

    But I don;t see that as an occasion for glib smugness the way Austin Ruse seems to.

  32. Austin Ruse permalink
    January 7, 2011 8:53 am

    To all of those who think Manning’s corruption was merely benign. Here is the New York Time’s today about how he has placed lives in danger and that the State Department is warning those names in Wikileaks…

  33. Ronald King permalink
    January 7, 2011 6:03 pm

    Austin, Your limited ability to understand human dynamics is what leads you to totally misunderstand what I write. Your support of violence is an indication of your lack of understanding of sacrificial love and its role in preventing violence.


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