"And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God"
-- Micah 6:8

"The duty of the prosecutor is to seek justice, not merely to convict."
-- American Bar Association Standard 3-1.2(c)

"There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia."
--Pope Benedict XVI, June 2004

Friday, October 27, 2006

Defining Terms

Sigh... Papa Mark is really a one note wonder about this whole torture thing. He is very anxious to smear everyone who does not immediately and unquestioningly accept his view that because Veritatis splendor #80 apparently says torture is intrinsically immoral then we all must accept it fully and not question its theological weight.

Oodly, after protesting that he could not possibly define torture, he now refers us to the dictionary, to interrogation manuals, and to the golden rule while accusing his opponents of not being willing to accept a definition of torture (since a fundamental problem of VS#80 and all the other modern teachings purporting to condemn torture is that they nowhere define it).

So in the hope that we might at least understand what exactly we are talking about when we're trying to figure out if torture is intrinsically immoral or sometimes immoral, I offer the following attempt at a serious, workable definition that all or most might agree on. Torture is very well defined, as I pointed out some time ago, in international law to which the U.S. has committed itself, as:

any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.

(U.N. Convention Against Torture). Torture is moreover defined in U.S. domestic federal law in very similar terms:

(1) “torture” means an act committed by a person acting under the color of law
specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering (other than pain or suffering incidental to lawful sanctions) upon another person within his custody or physical control;
(2) “severe mental pain or suffering” means the prolonged mental harm caused by or resulting from—
(A) the intentional infliction or threatened infliction of severe physical pain or suffering;
(B) the administration or application, or threatened administration or application, of
mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly
the senses or the personality;
(C) the threat of imminent death; or

(D) the threat that another person will imminently be subjected to death, severe physical pain or suffering, or the administration or application of mind-altering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or personality.

So, please-- no golden rule or Merriam Webster definitions. Torture is fairly well defined in international and domestic law. Since the Holy See maintains a presence at the U.N. and has ratified the U.N. Convention Against Torture it is fair to assume that the Vatican itself would accept this type of definition.

What of it? Two points. First, granting for argument's sake that torture is intrinsically evil, as Shea would have it, a fair conclusion is that this is what John Paul II had in mind when he called torture "intrinsically evil" in VS #80.

Second: Anything milder than what would fall under this definition is not torture, and thus does not fall under the condemnation of VS #80.

Although these two conclusions do not eliminate the debate over the development of teaching represented by VS#80, it at least gets us to a point where we can stop calling anything which makes us uncomfortable "torture."

Hence, aggressive interrogation techniques would be permisible, such as these actual methods now approved for use by US interrogators:

"change of scenery up; change of scenery down; dietary manipulation; environmental manipulation; sleep adjustment (reversal) ; isolation for 30 days"; and a technique known as "false flag," or deceiving a detainee into believing he is being interrogated by someone from another country. The other 17 techniques are approved in standard military doctrine and carry these names: direct questioning; incentive/removal of incentive; emotional love/hate; fear up/harsh; fear up/mild; reduced fear; pride and ego up and down; futility; "we know all"; establish your identity; repetition; file and dossier; good cop/bad cop; rapid fire; and silence.
Four of the tactics required interrogators to notify commanders in advance of their use. They are: isolating a detainee from peers; pride and ego up or down, which means attacking someone's personal worth and sense of pride; and "fear up/harsh," in which interrogators could yell at prisoners, throw things around the interrogation room and convince a detainee that he has something to fear, sleep deprivation, loud music, standing for lengthy periods of time, use of deception, isolation from peers, use of cold or unpalatable food....
Expressly excluded are methods such as waterboarding. Note however, that waterboarding, for all of Shea's histrionics, does not necessarily induce "severe mental pain or suffering." That is, it does not inflict any actual injury to the person but only causes a person to feel that he will drown. As has been pointed out in several places, US personnel themselves undergo the method in training, so as to understand its effect. Are they being tortured?

At any rate, with these definitions in mind, hopefully St. Blogs can narrow the discussion to those methods (which the US has disavowed) which are truly torture, that is, which inflict severe mental pain or suffering. Shea can come up for air and stop making not-so-veiled threats against the Vice President (the Secret Service might take exception): the administration's own laws disavow any intent to commit torture as the Holy See and the U.N define it. And the so-called Bushies can cease worrying: the administration proposes to do nothing contrary to the novel teaching of VS#80. Sadly, I get the impression that Shea likes using this issue to vent his hatred of Bush and Cheney, and will not let it go even if the administration expressly disavows torture (as it has).

No wonder St. Thomas was a stickler for definitions. It clarifies matters, no?

Carry on.


Windypundit said...

Yes, once you pick a fairly concrete definition of torture, as you have, the discussion becomes a lot more fruitful.

Although I realize it is not the main point you are making, I disagree with you regarding waterboarding, which I think is properly excluded as an interrogation technique.

First of all, if it "causes a person to feel that he will drown," then it does induce "severe mental pain or suffering" because it falls under definition "(C) the threat of imminent death."

Second, the fact that any interrogation technique is used for training American soldiers doesn't prove a thing. Pain and suffering are only considered torture when inflicted for one of the listed prohibited purposes, of which training is not one of them. American soldiers can be trained to resist waterboarding, but I doubt they can be legally waterboarded as punishment for an infraction. Similarly, just because cops practice hand-to-hand combat in the academy doesn't mean they are allowed to beat suspects.

Donald R. McClarey said...

Mark does not wish to define torture because once that is done then the argument becomes what is the line between torture and legitimate interrogation techniques. Other than asking questions and then taking no for an answer, I doubt if Mark regards anything else as truly legitimate in the interrogation of prisoners.