"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

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Coalition for What?

Poor old Papa Shea is ginning up controversy about torture again on his blog (hmmm, a little short of visits this month, maybe?) He's trumpeting a new endeavor, "The Coalition for Clarity," which is apparently dedicated to the task of arguing that Catholic moral theology on the issue of torture began in 1993 with a proof-text papal encyclical of John Paul II.

Shea and CfC bemoan what they claim is the obfuscation of their opponents in arguing that the term, "torture," is ill-defined and therefore we cannot really know what the current Church administration is condemning. I'm not sure I've heard this objection as much as Papa Shea et al. have, but nonetheless, for the record:

Defining torture in a broad legal sense is a relatively simple task, e.g., the common international law definition of torture as "any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person" (U.N. Convention Against Torture, to which the Holy See is a signatory). I think sometimes the self-styled "Coalition for Clarity" is the side which shies away from a firm definition, including this one, because it would mean accepting many, though admittedly not all, the methods described generally as "enhanced interrogation." Many of these methods do not in fact inflict severe pain or suffering, and thus are not "torture" at all.

No orthodox Catholic is suggesting or adopting a consequentialist rationale for enhanced interrogation, that is, that despite the inherent evil of the act, the good end makes the act morally acceptable. Rather, the point they make is simple: the Church has not clearly ruled out certain enhanced interrogation methods as an intrinsic evil. The task before us then, is the tough work of moral theology, which is to delineate exactly when and under what circumstances could enhanced methods of interrogation be morally permissible. This analysis of circumstances, proportionality of means, and intent, is the bread and butter of Catholic moral theology, and is used to evaluate use of force in just war and self-defense, what economic practices are moral, and a vast array of moral questions where an act can be moral or not, depending on the intent of the actor, the circumstances, and whether the means are proportional to the ends. I suspect that with respect to enhanced interrogation or torture, the conclusion is these methods are moral “only rarely, when other methods have not worked, when an imminent and reasonably discernible threat to life is present, and using methods narrowly tailored to achieve the information sought.”

Murky statements like "treat the enemy humanely" are nothing other than mastubatory feel good statements designed to make the utterer feel morally virtuous while execrating the "other side" for daring actually to discern what is and what is not permissible in the war time interrogation of jihadists. Such a phrase is an empty vessel into which anyone can import whatever restrictions (or lack of restrictions) he supports.

So who's really for clarity here, anyway?

[cross-posted in part as a comment on Shea's blog].

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