Catholics and Torture

There is a very interesting discussion going on at one of my favorite blogs, Creative Minority Report. The guys have invited a guest blogger to express her thoughts on moral clarity and torture.

The Church teaches that physical and moral torture is a sin against the dignity of the human person. From the Catholic Catechism:

2297 Kidnapping and hostage taking bring on a reign of terror; by means of threats they subject their victims to intolerable pressures. They are morally wrong. Terrorism threatens, wounds, and kills indiscriminately; it is gravely against justice and charity. 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. Except when performed for strictly therapeutic medical reasons, directly intended amputations, mutilations, and sterilizations performed on innocent persons are against the moral law.

As Catholics and Christians, we likely all agree with the above teaching. However, what the definitive definition of torture actually is, is still undefined, even by the Church. As a Catholic and a military wife, I'm a bit conflicted when the definition of torture includes water boarding. Many folks I respect and admire would argue that water boarding does indeed constitute torture. Others I equally respect and admire wholeheartedly disagree. For myself, the words "uses physical VIOLENCE" stick out and I am inclined to say water boarding does not inflict actual violence. I will say, I sure am glad I am not personally tasked with making any sort of determination on what constitutes torture. What do you think? Check out the post and read some of the comments here.


Sophie Miriam said…
Well, a thumbscrew isn't exactly violent either. It's slow and steady (from what I have read, anyway). And yet I think all would agree that thumbscrews are torture. (not the most reliable, I am aware, but easy to cite) defines violence as "1. swift and intense force: the violence of a storm.
2. rough or injurious physical force, action, or treatment: to die by violence.
3. an unjust or unwarranted exertion of force or power, as against rights or laws: to take over a government by violence.
4. a violent act or proceeding.
5. rough or immoderate vehemence, as of feeling or language: the violence of his hatred.
6. damage through distortion or unwarranted alteration: to do editorial violence to a text. "

Whether you are using definition 1, 2, or 3 makes a big difference, I think.
Maurisa said…
I fail to see where water boarding falls into any of those posted definitions. Don't get me wrong, either, we are not talking about a dictionary definition, but what the Church defines as violence. Correct me if I am wrong, but I have yet to read or hear anywhere, the Holy Father or the Magisterium define waterboarding as torture.
Sophie Miriam said…
Well, as far as I am aware, the Church doesn't provide us with a definition of violence. So the dictionary would be the next best thing. I'm not taking the stance that water boarding isn't torture. I'm not taking the stance that it is, either. I'm saying I think it depends on what counts as violence. I think water boarding could at least potentially be classified under "injurious physical treatment." And, of course, if it is torture it would fall under definition 3.
Pro Ecclesia said…
I think your definition of "violence" is too narrow. The crimes of assault and battery are considered "violent" crimes. Assault doesn't even include actual physical contact but merely the threat of unwanted physical contact.

The "violent" crime of battery is generally defined as the harmful or offensive touching of another. Spitting on someone qualifies.

Waterboarding involves "violence" in the sense that it is the coerced, unwanted, and offensive violation of a person's physical integrity. If someone stopped you on the street, held you down, and waterboared you, I'm sure you'd feel as though a "violent" crime had been committed against you.
Maurisa said…
Mr. Anderson,

Very well put. The video of water boarding I watched was of someone who had volunteered to be water boarded, so I would have missed the violence that might be inherent in an actual water boarding interrogation.

I feel this is something very worthy of discussion and deeper thought. I can't say I'd ever agree water boarding is torture, and as Mother Church has not come out and conclusively stated so, I believe I am still free to disagree with you and others that contend that it is.

My husband is in the Air Force and he disagrees that this is even worthy of discussion. For him, water boarding is not torture, end of story. As part of his training he is privy to information that we are not, and as his wife, I'd have to submit he knows quite a bit more about this than I'd ever want to.

Thank you for your comment. I'm continuing to follow the discussion on CMR with great interest.
Sophie Miriam said…
Might he be persuaded to possibly leave a comment here, or send one through you, explaining why he doesn't think water boarding is torture? Especially since, as you say, he undoubtedly knows more about it than we do.
Michelle said…
My husband, also in the military, also does not believe that waterboarding is torture because it does not cause drowning, it only simulates the feeling of drowning. So sticking someone's head in a bucket of water IS torture because the person might actually drown. But filling someone's nasal passages with water to simulate the feeling of drowning is NOT torture because the person can't actually drown. I think that's the argument.

Sounds pretty darn unpleasant either way. I don't have an opinion on waterboarding. I think focussing on waterboarding only gets away from the real discussion about what exactly constitutes torture and who gets to regulate it.

Every profession regulates itself within the confines of legal and moral boundaries. Doctors decide what is ethical within their profession. Engineers have professional guidelines created by engineers. Accountants do not tell plumbers how to be plumbers.

The Church has given fairly vague moral instructions regarding torture. The Congress and President have given legal parameters for how prisoners should be treated. Civilians have the right, duty and obligation to voice an opinion and demand acceptable behavior and influence guidelines. But I really think that those whose job it is to interrogate prisoners should have a say in what is ethical within their profession. I resent the notion that these sorts of people are inherently evil and incapable of making moral choices. It's like saying lawyers can't regulate their behavior.

My husband attempted to point out to the "Coalition of Clarity" that the term "torture" is highly subjective, and he was branded part of the "Coalition of Fog". The reality of the situation is that there are vocal groups willing to denounce any treatment short of a Club Med vacation as "torture". To ask for specific guidelines for what is and is not torture is hardly an attempt to cloud the issue. The Coalition of Clarity seems to fall short of a claim to clear the air.

My husband is not one to ignore the teaching of the Catholic Church for the sake of victory in war. Most of the military is comprised of highly moral individuals with high standards of integrity. I feel as those outside the military are judging those within the military as being barbaric.
Michelle said…
Correction: should be: "I feel THAT those outside the military.. "

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