Friday, April 24, 2009


First off, torture is something evil, which we must not do nor condone:

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.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2297

So now the question is: how do we recognize torture? Are there some things that are torture under some circumstances but not under others? Specifically, are there circumstances under which water-boarding is not torture?

Keep in mind that a fundamental principle of Catholic theology (and classical philosophy) is that you may not do evil in order to achieve some good end. The good ends do not justify the evil means. So arguing that water-boarding has been effective and saved potentially thousands of lives does not justify it. If it's evil, it's evil.

So is water-boarding torture? Intuitively that seems obvious. It is using physical and moral violence to wrench information from an unwilling prisoner.

Is it always torture? Are there circumstances under which its moral? Say, you only do it once. Or there's a million lives at stake (a al 24). To which I respond, how many times do you have to use a thumb-screw for it to be torture? If it's just as effective as water-boarding and cheaper, why not use thumbscrews?

These are just my tentative thoughts on the subject. Here are some more erudite sources for your consideration:

A Word on Torture:

For now, go read Philip Zelikow at Foreign Policy’s Shadow Government blog, and Conor at The American Scene. For later, further comment from me. I suppose I can mention here that since I’m on record as saying that one dunk at the waterboard is not torture, whereas three dunks is, I judge 130+ dunks clearly to be torture, regardless of whether the issue is whether we ought to torture or not.

Read the whole thing.

(Via Postmodern Conservative.)

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