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Sign me up NOW!

From Erin Manning (hat tip to Mark Shea):

A long while ago, a reader of this blog asked what my “Member, Coalition for Clarity/Because Torture is Intrinsically Evil” item on my sidebar meant. Was there a group called “Coalition for Clarity?” Who were its members?

Truth is, the group is (thus far) fictional. I put the sidebar item (and the picture that I hope is okay to use, but will remove if it’s not) up as a statement of my principles on torture, which are as follows:

1. Torture is intrinsically evil. Period. We’re not entitled to do it, not under “ticking time bomb” or any other scenarios, just as we’re not permitted to engage in acts of rape, murder, etc. under “ticking time bomb” scenarios. What is intrinsically evil may not be done.

2. Catholics especially have a moral obligation to stand against torture. Whatever may have been done or excused or tolerated in the past, Catholics today are not in a position where they may pretend to ignorance about the Church’s teachings on torture. The Church’s teachings include this, from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

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 amputationsmutilations, and sterilizationsperformed on innocent persons are against the moral law.91

2298 In times past, cruel practices were commonly used by legitimate governments to maintain law and order, often without protest from the Pastors of the Church, who themselves adopted in their own tribunals the prescriptions of Roman law concerning torture. Regrettable as these facts are, the Church always taught the duty of clemency and mercy. She forbade clerics to shed blood. In recent times it has become evident that these cruel practices were neither necessary for public order, nor in conformity with the legitimate rights of the human person. On the contrary, these practices led to ones even more degrading. It is necessary to work for their abolition. We must pray for the victims and their tormentors.

3. The enumeration of the following in the definition of torture above: “…to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred…” in no way implies that torture may be used for other reasons, including interrogation; there is also no “good guys exception” which permits torture by the “good guys” in order to prevent worse acts of terror or war by the “bad guys.” Though this seems blindingly obvious to me, I never cease to be amazed at the number of Catholics who would swear to both an “enhanced interrogation exception” or a “good guys exception” in the Church’s discussion of torture.

4. Most of what is called “enhanced interrogation” is, in fact, torture. Waterboarding, cold cells, sleep deprivation, and the like are torture tactics. In one of the late Fulton Sheen’s books, he includes a picture of a Soviet “torture cell” which is a small room in which every surface is made impossible to sit or lie down on (including the floor) in various ways (e.g., covered in spikes, slanted at a steep angle, etc.) so that the prisoner had to stand, hour after weary hour, in the tiny bit of clear floor space. We had no problem seeing this for what it was–torture–when the former U.S.S.R. was the entity responsible for it–but now, all of a sudden, that sort of thing’s just dandy so long as the Stars and Stripes are flying overhead?

5. I owe most of my understanding of the torture issue to this man, and I’m grateful for his persistent and (mostly) patient explanations as to why Catholics can’t support torture, full stop. Any Catholic who is wrestling with the issue in good conscience would do well to search Mark’s blog for his many posts on the subject. I do believe it is possible for Catholics to wrestle with this issue in good conscience. Certainly we believe in the protection of the innocent and the punishment of the guilty. The problem with torture is that it does not really involve either; the person being tortured has generally been deprived of his legal rights, has not had a trial, has not been judged guilty; the innocent are quite likely not to be protected at all by the torture of a prisoner, and the prisoner himself may turn out to be innocent of terror activities or ties. We can’t morally decide that torture is a solution to any problem.

Should there be a Coalition for Clarity? I think there should be, and that Catholic bloggers who, regardless of their political leanings, are firm in the conviction that torture is intrinsically evil and may not be condoned under any circumstances should be vocal about saying so. It’s especially necessary given Senator-elect Scott Brown of Massachusetts’ views on torture, and the way those views are already being spun by what Mark Shea likes to call the “Rubber-hose Right.” As someone who often votes for Republicans, it is absolutely unconscionable to me that the Republican Party or any observer of it would decide that my vote was a vote for torture, and I would rather see Republicans lose every election from here to kingdom come than have there be the slightest bit of confusion as to the utter moral repugnance of torture to many of us who have reluctantly supported the GOP for their stance on other issues.

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