Month: October 2006

Breaking Communion – Reactions to Rod Dreher’s Eastward Turn

Earlier this month Rod (“CrunchyCon”) Dreher announced the news — disappointing but not entirely unexpected — that he and his family were now communicants at an Orthodox church (“Orthodoxy and Me” October 12, 2006).

I encountered “CrunchyCon” Rod Dreher only briefly in his sojourn on St. Blog’s parish — in the combox of Amy Welborn’s Open Book. I have yet to get around to reading the book for which is blog is named. As a journalist who covered the scandals in the Church and the resistance and obfuscation of the clergy, I think it is understandable how completely sickened, disillusioned and jaded one might become, having been exposed to that degree of corruption in the ranks of the clergy and heirarchy. As Dale Price reminds us, Rod’s former bishop is Charles Grahmann,

currently cooling his heels as he awaits the acceptance of his tended resignation offer. That would be the same bishop who is remarkably solicitous of gropers in the confessional and proved to be a noted enabler of pedophilic monster Rudy Kos.

and, later:

the sex abuse Scandal has been the most horrific of these. Starting with the hideousness of children being violated. But not stopping there. The Scandal revealed a deep rotting disease within American Catholicism that has only begun to be recognized, let alone treated.

Rod saw it up close and personal as a journalist covering the story for years. As much as I am loathe to quote him, Nietzsche’s insight cannot be denied: “And when you look long into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you.” There is only so much horror one can stand, especially when the atrocities are committed by those who are supposed to bear the name of Jesus Christ.

If disillusionment and repulsion to the Catholic sex-abuse scandal and the ongoing corruption of the hierarchy was one reason for leaving, it was — however dominant — not the only reason. Dreher goes on to declare his intellectual rejection of the claims of the Church:

I’ll spare you the details, but I will say that I came to seriously doubt Rome’s claims. Reading the accounts of the First Vatican Council, and how they arrived at the dogma of papal infallibility, was a shock to me: I realized that I simply couldn’t believe the doctrine. And if that falls, it all falls.

And, in a further clarification :

I don’t deny that reason played a minor role in my conversion. It was primarily emotional and psychological — but I do deny that that minimizes matters. As I’ve said, a decade ago, I argued with a friend considering Orthodoxy and Catholicism that all that mattered was doctrinal truth. He said he worried about raising Christian kids in the mess that is US Catholic parish life. I dismissed those concerns, and said he should instead concentrate on the doctrinal arguments. Well, real life — and having kids of my own — showed me how brittle that position was, and is. Human beings are not machines. We all have to work out our salvation in fear and trembling, between radical objectivity and radical subjectivity. I used to think that being a Christian was merely a matter of finding the most logical arguments, intellectually assenting to them and doing your best to live by them. It is far more complicated than that, and I found through the scandal my intellect humiliated.

Many an angry word has been exchanged by readers in response to Rod’s conversion. Yet, there are a few Catholic bloggers who have offered some very thoughtful and respectful reflections to Dreher’s rationale and consequent decision to break communion with the Church. It is to those that I’d like to turn . . .

  • Scandal and Bad Reasons, by Scott Carson The Examined Life October 14, 2006):

    Precisely because he is an intelligent person, he knew that Catholicism is right, and he needed an intellectual justification for doing what he was doing, and the only possible way to get that justification would be to call into question the teachings of the Church. In short, he made a conscious decision to become a functional protestant, while wishing nonetheless to continue enjoying the fruits of the genuine Sacraments.

  • When a Catholic leaves the Catholic Church, by Alvin Kimel. Pontifications. Kimel had penned two responses to Dreher when he had originally heard of his contemplation on leaving the Catholic Church: Ten thousand scandals do not make one doubt (Pontifications May 8, 2006), and Dare we entrust our children to the Catholic Church? May 11, 2006. Both are worth revisiting. In his latest essay, he extrapolates from Dreher’s experience the chief question:

    In light of Dreher’s departure from the Catholic Church, I only have one question: Was he in fact a Catholic? I do not have access to Dreher’s heart and soul, and I certainly do not condemn him for his decision. I regret that he has left the Catholic Church, and I grieve the sins of the Church that led him to renounce the divine authority of the Vicar of Christ. I pray that I may never be so tested.

    My interest at this point is purely theoretical. How are we to understand a person who enters into the communion of the Catholic Church and then departs from that communion?

  • Dreher Looks East, by DarwinCatholic. May 6, 2006 (responding earlier this year to Rod’s initial admission that he was contemplating Orthodoxy):

    By his own description, one of the reasons why Dreher is currently finding it so hard to be Catholic is that initially, after his conversion, he expected so very, very much of it. It’s tempting to think that Catholicism, or some little portion of it, is very near to perfect. And seeing as the institution Church is made up of humans, it clearly isn’t.

    Perhaps it’s easier to see this as both a cradle Catholic and a student of history, but it’s always seemed to me that the proof of God’s divine guidance is not that the Church is so sinless, but rather that she has remained wholly true to the deposit of faith despite being populated and occasionally run by some exceedingly sinful people.

  • In his own BeliefNet column, “Church of Sinners”, Mark Shea counters Rod’s apologia with a challenge:

    . . . I fear that the Orthodox communion will not, in the end, provide permanent sanctuary for Rod. For in the end, what Rod cites as unbearable in Catholicism is also true of Orthodoxy. For instance, he suddenly discovers that he cannot believe in Vatican I’s dogma of papal infallibility because of the ecclesiastical politicking that led to the formulation of that dogma. Nevertheless, he accepts as sacrosanct the dogmas of the first seven councils of the early church (Nicea, Ephesus, Chalcedon, and so forth)–all of which settled crucial issues of faith and doctrine concerning Christ’s divinity and humanity, and all of which are accepted by the Orthodox as well as Catholics. This betrays a historical naiveté that leaves him open to some unpleasant surprises when he learns how the sausage was made at those historic councils. Likewise, when Rod discovers the history of Orthodox sins that rival anything in the history of Catholic sins—such as a long habit of being in the pocket of the state to such a degree that many clergy and even some bishops in the Soviet Union were on the KGB payroll and routinely reported the contents of confessions to the Stalinist police–what will he do? When he discovers that the Orthodox have their own struggles with priestly abuse and episcopal cover-ups, how shall he find purity then? Will he content himself with the fact that his own particular parish is beyond reproach, so it doesn’t matter what happens in the larger Orthodox communion? If so, how is that different from the Protestant sectarianism he left when he became Catholic?

  • “The doxing of Rod Dreher” Sacramentum Vitae Oct. 14, 2006: Michael Liccione notes the ex post facto nature of Rod’s rejection of papal authority, but goes on to offer a stern warning to the clergy:

    . . . many Catholics who leave the Church do so either because the clergy haven’t formed them properly or because the clergy betray their trust. Dreher’s case is only one of the more public, and well-explained, examples. But in one form or another, his name is legion.

    Such facts are all the greater proof that nothing will improve in the American Catholic Church until the quality of the clergy, especially the higher clergy, improves significantly. In the last decade, it has improved only marginally; the majority of bishops, regardless of theology, are still more bureaucrats than shepherds. That’s what has to change; if it does, all else will change with it, and for the better.

  • By way of Amy Welborn (“Dreher’s Way” Open Book Oct. 15, 2006), Fr. Neuhaus’ response to Dreher’s conversion, which mirrors that of a number of Catholics:

    Yes, his decision is in large part reactive. But he is reacting to very real corruptions in the Catholic Church. I hope every Catholic bishop and priest will read his essay, and especially those bishops and priests who are inclined to heave a sigh of relief that we have weathered the sex-abuse scandal. And every Catholic engaged in the standard intra-church quarrels, whether on the left or the right, should take to heart what he says about Catholics being more preoccupied with church battles than with following Jesus.

    Dreher concludes his reflection with this: “Still, those of you more charitably inclined, please just pray for me and my family, that we always live in truth, and do the right thing, and be found pleasing to God, the Father of us all.” No Catholic should hesitate to join in that prayer.


Robert Sungenis & the Jews – An Update

On September 18, 2006, in response to Michael Forrest’s analysis Sungenis and the Jews, Robert Sungenis published an “An Open Letter to the Patrons of CAI”, in which he indicated in part:

As most of you know, CAI has been on a somewhat controversial path the last four years, ever since our critique of the Reflections on Covenant and Missions statement was issued in 2002. We began to focus on politics, culture and other peripheral issues that were not the frame and substance of our former work, which started in 1993. Although those areas certainly have their merit, they have detracted from the expertise we offered to the public in the area of biblical studies. Hence, we are retreating from those more controversial areas for the foreseeable future so that we can concentrate on our areas of strength.

So what has transpired on Catholic Apologetics International since the publication of Sungenis’ letter to his readers? — Besides the fact that the old material on the Jews remains intact on the website, the October 2006 “Q&A” — responses from Sungenis on “Jewish hatred of Christians”; Sungenis’ “Book of the Month” features “the Holocaust industry”, and CAI News Alerts’ distributes a somewhat-dated article, Pike’s Report on the ADL and B’nai B’rith re: Internet Policing, asserting that “clearly, the Jewish leaders of Verizon and Comcast circulate within the highest levels of evil Jewish media leadership.”

A persual of Pike’s website, and radio programs like “Pedophilia: The Talmud’s Dirty Secret” and news alerts like “Talmud: Wellspring of Jewish Pornography Industry” and “ACLU Top Heavy with Jews” is an indication that Sungenis is dipping into the same trough that sparked the intial controversy with Bill Cork back in 2002.

In January 2005, Sungenis bestowed the following “advice” to Catholic apologist Dave Armstrong “regarding the references on your site to [William] Kristol, [Ann] Coulter, et al”:

If you have no political affiliation with these neo-cons, then I suggest you put a disclaimer on your site, otherwise people are going to get the wrong impression, and you can’t blame them if they do. Any person with common sense who sees their names on your website would assume that you support the political views of the aforementioned unless you say otherwise.

Meanwhile, Sungenis’s own website is populated with copious citations from Albert Hoffman, Ted Pike, Michael Piper, The National Vanguard — with nary a disclaimer.

What follows are some links to articles and key events in the controversy over September/October 2006. If anything further develops it will likely be appended to this blog.

  • Sungenis responded to Forrest’s web site with a 72-page tome entitled “Michael Forrest and the Jews: Let’s Separate Fact from Fiction” — in Sungenis and the Jews: Comments on a Controversy Jacob Michael responds to innaccuracies and outright falsehoods in Sungenis’ claims about his relationship with Forrest and Michaels himself. According to Michael:

    Sungenis has made this necessary by spending the first 20+ pages of his rebuttal attacking Michael Forrest personally, and making certain claims about Forrest that amount to little more than character assassination. Therefore, it is only logical that these claims must be demonstrated to be false, using the black-and-white evidence at hand.

  • In late September 2006, Sungenis’ “Vice President of Apologetics” Ben Douglass, with Sungenis’ approval, contacted Forrest with a proposed truce, in which he offered:

    CAI will take down all of Robert’s old articles on the Jews and Judaism, and the latest articles in response to your website, Robert will stop writing about Jews and Israel, and in the future I will handle all matters Jewish at CAI … In exchange you and Jacob Michael take down your articles. (Douglass, email of Sep. 29, 2006)

    After obtaining confirmation from Sungenis that Douglass had “the authority to speak on Bob’s behalf in order to reach an agreement,” and that he had knowledge of the original proposal from Douglass, talks proceeded.

    It was during this time that Forrest, in a gesture of good faith, removed the website “SungenisandtheJews” were temporarily removed. Negotiations followed and on Oct. 3, 2006 an agreement was reached between Douglass and Forrest. Regretfully, the agreement was rejected in its entirety by Sungenis, who demonstrated his intent on maintaining the present course and chosen themes of Catholic Apologetics International. As Jacob Michaels concludes:

    At this point, there is not a single individual who contributed to Forrest’s piece who believes there is any point in further negotiations with Sungenis. He has proven himself to be disingenuous and self-centered to a degree that makes it impossible to reach him, or bring him out of his delusions. He has taken his stand and is bent on defending it at all costs.

    For complete details see SungenisandtheJews: An Update on the Negotiations.

  • Sungenis and the Jews: David Palm’s Defense of Michael Forrest, which offers, in addition to Palm’s own analysis and rebuttal of Sungenis, the following helpful chronology:

    03/01/2005 – Forrest and Sungenis have two phone conferences in which Forrest tells Sungenis about the great many things that have finally broken the camel’s back with regard to his tenure at CAI.

    03/05/2005 – Sungenis writes an e-mail to Forrest, hoping that Forrest will stay on at CAI but stating that CAI’s present course will not be changing.

    03/18/2005 – Forrest lays out his latest difficulties for Sungenis in more detail and states categorically that he will be unable to continue at CAI unless core changes are made.

    03/22/2005 – Sungenis writes in response to Forrest’s claims. A few e-mails of lesser length follow this one, getting more and more emotionally distraught. For this reason, Forrest opts not to send a last response he had written to all of Sungenis’s complaints.

    Interim – Sungenis continues to publish problematic material on Jews and Judaism, including citations from white supremacist Web sites and more shoddy scholarship. Forrest decides that the time has come to publish a full-blown, public critique of Sungenis’s treatment of Jews and Judaism.

    09/11/2006 – Forrest posts his study “Robert Sungenis and the Jews” at (Hereafter “RSATJ”).

    09/18/2006 – Sungenis posts an “Open Letter” in which he “apologizes” for inciting offense with “some” of the sources he has used – he never specifies which sources, or who was offended.

    09/22/2006 – Sungenis posts a lengthy “rebuttal” to Forrest entitled “Michael Forrest and the Jews: Let’s Separate Fact from Fiction” (Hereafter “MFATJ”).

    09/29/2006 – Jacob Michael posts a defense of RSATJ and Michael Forrest entitled “Sungenis and the Jews: Comments on a Controversy” (Hereafter “SATJCC”).

    09/29/2006 – Sungenis e-mails a response to Jacob Michael’s piece entitled “Jacob Michael and the Jews” (Hereafter “JMATJ”). This is not posted on the CAI Web site as negotiations commence.

    09/29/2006 – Ben Douglass is given permission by Sungenis to negotiate with Forrest. Douglass e-mails Michael Forrest with a proposal for negotiations. The parties involved agree to take down RSATJ, MFATJ, and SATJCC while negotiations proceed.

    10/03/2006 – Agreement is reached between Forrest and Douglass.

    10/05/2006 – Sungenis e-mails a rejection of virtually all of the negotiated truce agreed upon by Forrest and Douglass (Hereafter “Negotiations”). The history of these negotiations may be found here.

    10/12/2006 – Michael Forrest re-posts RSATJ and Jacob Michael re-posts SATJCC, along with an additional piece documenting the proceedings of the negotiations and Sungenis’s nullification of them.

  • The topic is being vigorously debated on Catholic Answers Forums.

Update! 11/01/06

Ben Douglas informs me from the combox that “My article on the Talmud is finished, and available here. I have little interest in debating the finer points of what ugly things Jews might have said about Jesus way back when. (Come to think of it, Christians have said some pretty ugly things about Jews as well). Anyway, somebody else already inquired as to my impression — for the sake of convenience I’m just going to excerpt from personal correspondence:

The Talmud is an important element to the life of a religious (orthodox) Jew, but whatever the Talmud has said about Jesus, it figures very remotely in a contemporary Jewish encounter with Christianity. What is usually the subject of discussion in Jewish-Christian dialogue is not centuries-old polemics but more central and familiar theological questions: the divine sonship of Christ in relation to the Shemah (“Hear oh Israel, the Lord our God the Lord is One” — a focal point in Jewish liturgy), the idea of the Trinity, the understanding of revelation, etc. So at least Ben admits that:

Not all of the Talmudic doctrines listed below directly reflect the beliefs of even Orthodox Jews; some may have been modified or eliminated by later Jewish Halakhah.

But I’m finding myself wondering: what’s the point? — I can only picture the bemused expression on the face of a Jewish reader who happens across [Catholic Apologetics International] and finds a 24-year old “Catholic apologist” laboring intently on demonstrating how rabbinical Judaism adopts a carefree attitude toward adultery (with gentiles), paedophilia, sodomy and bestiality.

God forbid a Jewish reader should come to the conclusion that this is what “Catholic apologists” do as a profession or even a pasttime.

If Sungenis or Douglas wanted to know how Jews really behave, they could probably do no better than to read Rabbi Hayim Halevy Donin’s To be a Jew: A Guide to Jewish Observance in Everyday Life.

If they wanted to examine a contemporary Jewish encounter with Jesus, I might suggest a critical reading of Rabbi Jacob Neusner’s A Rabbi Talks with Jesus — praised by none other than Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger as

“By far the most important book for the Jewish-Christian dialogue in the last decade. The absolute honesty, the precision of analysis, the union of respect for the other party with carefully grounded loyalty to one’s own position characterize the book and make it a challenge especially to Christians, who will have to ponder the analysis of the contrast between Moses and Jesus.”

But you know, I just don’t get the sense they’re interested in a genuine discussion with contemporary religious Jews. Ben clearly states his intent in the footnotes, on desiring that

this study should serve its stated purpose of moving Jews to reconsider their Judaism, even in those who already know that they don’t believe in everything in Halakhah.

However true it may be (and if it is true — I’m not qualified to say), although I’d be curious what a Talmud scholar would make of Ben’s “study”), dredging up all that is nasty and ugly in Jewish tradition (which one could readily do with any religious tradition) is hardly the best strategy for evangelization.

CAI reminds me of the website “” — think of the online equivalent to the film series “Faces of Death.” I don’t recommend visiting the website, but its basic premise is to dredge up the very worst in humanity and put it on display.

Douglas, Sungenis, E. Michael Jones, Thomas Herron — they seem to relish doing the same with Jews and Judaism. “Apologetics-by-repulsion” — perhaps that should be their motto?

The Torture Debate – Pt. IV (Roundup)

I am reluctant to post again on this topic but at the request of a reader, for the sake of documentation and aiding the combox discussion, here is a roundup of recent responses on the topic over the course of the past week:

Fr. Brian Harrison

On October 19, Fr. Brian Harrison informed Tom McKenna (Seeking Justice) that the second part of his article has been published in Living Tradition:

Since your comment mentions and links my last year’s letter to “Crisis” commenting on Mark Shea’s article on torture, you and your readers (and perhaps even Mr. Shea) may be interested to read my much more extensive two-part article on the morality of torture which has since been published in Living Tradition. Mr. Shea’s Crisis article was a big factor in prompting me to research this difficult and unpleasant subject much more thoroughly. Part I of my article deals with the teaching of Sacred Scripture regarding the ethics of torture, while Part II deals with the witness of Tradition and Magisterium. My bottom line is that you are right and Mr. Shea is wrong. As I see it, the authentic (and much less the infallible) magisterium, correctly understood, does NOT clearly condemn as intrinsically evil the direct (intentional) infliction of severe bodily pain. Mr. Shea’s position seems to me a good example of what has been described as “magisterial fundamentalism” (interpreting magisterial statements in a superficial, literalist way without taking account of their literary and historical context, and the previous history of Scripture and Traditon on the subject). The links to my two-part article are:

Torture and Corporal Punishment as a Problem in Catholic Moral Theology: Part I – The Witness of Sacred Scripture

Torture and Corporal Punishment as a Problem in Catholic Moral Theology: Part II. The Witness of Tradition and Magisterium

Sincerely, Fr. Brian W. Harrison, O.S., S.T.D. Associate Professor of Theology, Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico, Ponce, Puerto Rico

Parallel discussions to Harrison’s debate:

  1. I Shawn McElhinney has written a substantial three-part post on the subject in On Torture and General Norms of Theological Interpretation Contra Certain “Apologist” Fundamentalist Hermeneutics; Pt. II; Pt. III) Rerum Novarum. Oct. 13, 2006.

    — Response: Who Speaks for the Church?; More Thoughts on the History of Torture – Scott Carson (The Examined Life).

    On Torture and General Norms Revisited: Reply to Scott Carson, by I. Shawn McElhinney. Rerum Novarum Oct. 25, 2006.

  2. Michael Liccione (Sacramentum Vitae): Why her condemning torture doesn’t discredit the Catholic Church Oct. 15, 2006; The branch theorists join the discontinuants Oct. 21, 2006.

    — Response: More on Torture and the Problems With Trying To Discount the Historical Record Explicitly or Otherwise, by I. Shawn McElhinney. Rerum Novarum Nov. 1, 2006.

    Torturing Heretics Again, by Michael Liccione. Sacramentum Vitae Nov. 4, 2006.

    On Torture, the Limitations of Dignitatis Humanae, Logic, Etc.:, by I. Shawn McElhinney. Rerum Novarum Nov. 14, 2006.

Two fellow Catholic apologists have weighed in on this as well:

  • On October 24, 2006, Catholic apologist Dave Armstrong weighed in on the matter with The Controversial “Torture” Issue as Related to Catholic Development of Doctrine on the Treatment of Heretics, Cor ad cor loquitur Oct 24, 2006. Dave responded to Scott Carson and offered a supportive appraisal of Fr. Harrison.
  • Doubts About Torture, by Jimmy Akin. October 26, 2006. Jimmy admits he has not been keeping up with the debate, but “[having] briefly chatted with Mark about the matter, my impression is that his position is within the permitted range of Catholic moral thought on this, though his is not the only position within the permitted range of Catholic moral thought.” He goes on to offer his thoughts on the possibility of a Responsum ad Dubium from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on this issue (not likely – “Unlike Catholic Answers, the Holy See is not in the business of running a Q & A service”):

    . . . There have been a number of statements in Magisterial and semi-Magisterial documents condemning torture, but these do not offer technical definitions of what torture is, and having a good definition is a precondition for formulating a solid response to finely posed moral questions on the topic.

    If Rush Limbaugh were commenting on the situation, he might–in his own characteristic idiom–refer to such brief condemnations as acts of “drive-by Magisterium” that condemn torture in a brief manner that does not pause to explain in technical detail what torture is or allow finely-tuned moral questions to be answered about it.

    While one would find such a characterization by Rush to display “a startling brusqueness, a brusqueness that we find unacceptable,” such Magisterial acts express a deep moral intuition that torture is wrong, but they have not thus far meditated on this intuition to the point that technical questions can be answered about it. . . .

    The truth is that at this point we don’t have a good definition for torture–one that will allow it to be distinguished from other uses of the infliction of pain (mental or physical) to ensure compliance with various goals–and so at present moral theologians have the liberty to hash out the question until the issue matures to the point that, should it be warranted, an official response would make sense.

    Readers are referred as well to a 2004 discussion on Akin’s blog on this subject – What about Torture? June 28, 2004:

    The Catechism’s discussion of torture (CCC 2298) focuses significantly on the motive that is being pursued in different acts of torture. If it means us to understand that having a particular motive is necessary for an act to count as torture then it might turn out that some acts commonly described as torture are in fact not torture–just as some acts commonly described as stealing are not actually the sin of stealing, such as taking food to feed one’s family during a time of starvation when the person who initially had the food has plenty. The same might turn out to be true of torture ( i.e., not everything that looks like torture would be the sin of torture).

    For example, the Catechism’s list of motives for torture does not mention the use of physical pressure to obtain information needed to save innocent lives. It thus might turn out that it is not torture to twist a terrorist’s arm behind him and demand that he tell you where he planted a bomb so that it can be defused and innocents can be saved. Certainly the kind of things that Jack Bauer may do on 24 are very different morally from the kinds of things that happened in Soviet prisons.

    I would be disinclined to go the route of saying that torture is not always wrong. I think that the Church is pretty clearly indicating in its recent documents that it wants the word “torture” used in such a way that torture is always wrong. However, I don’t think that the Magisterium has yet thoroughly worked out all the kinds of “hard case” situations one can imagine and whether they count as torture.

Finally getting back to the torture discussion – Mark Shea responds to Shawn McElhinnney, Dave Armstrong and the “Coalition for Fog” in a roundabout manner. As before, Victor Morton and company are imbued with the most dubious of motives, of being “driven by an agenda to try to liquidate John Paul’s teaching,” and “just like Catholics for a Free Choice, laboring to persuade Catholics to ignore that teaching [on torture] using much the same sort of rhetorical trickery.”

Mark goes on to portrays his dispute with the ‘Coalition’ thus:

Armstrong, it is worth noting again, does not seem to me to be engaged in this project of simply trying to ignore John Paul. I think he misunderstands me to some degree, given that he seems to be under the impression I think the Magisterial teaching is infallibly defined, and given that he seems to be under the impression that the argument is about what acts constitute torture. That’s not what the discusssion, at least with Coalition types, is about. The discussion is not about defining torture (when we are talking about Veritatis Splendor). It is an argument rather between those who say “Assuming we all agree that X is torture, X is *always* wrong by its nature” and those who say, “Assuming X is torture, X is sometimes (such as when the Bush Administration wants to do it) OK.” The Church’s teaching is that torture is *always* wrong. Always. Without exception or excuse.

No. VS is not an infallible definition. It is, however, an authoritative teaching. That it is a recent development is of absolutely no consequence to our obligation to obey it. That it presents difficulties to Fr. Harrison is of absolutely no consequence in our obligation to obey it. That other issues, like slavery, present difficulties to Cardinal Dulles, is of absolutely no consequence to our obligation to obey it. But this, in the end, is all the Coalition has going for it as it labors to persuade, if not other Catholics, at least each other that those who advocate obedience to the Magisterium are idiots who have failed to split the difference between past practice and present teaching.

Dave Armstrong took Mark to task in his combox, requesting evidence to back up his portrayal of his critics as such. Like Dave, I think Mark’s portrayal bears little relation to the actual participants involved. There is simply no question as to what Fr. Harrison himself thinks of torture and its moral worth in his theological analysis of the subject. I would add that, to express sympathy for (and to take seriously) Fr. Harrison’s comprehensive analysis of this issue and criticism of Shea’s approach does not necessarily render one a practioner of “rhetorical trickery,” out to “liquidate John Paul II’s teaching,” or to argue that “assuming X is torture, X is sometimes (such as when the Bush Administration wants to do it) OK.” Mark, wholly convinced this is the case, is invited to point out specifically where the ‘Coalition for Fog’ fits this description. Personally I think his post vindicates Carson’s criticism of the problems inherent in his approach (“Just Say It LOUDER”, (The Examined Life). Oct. 17, 2006).

I look forward to the continued exchange btw/ Scott Carson, Shawn McElhinney & David Armstrong — and perhaps Michael Liccione’s interaction with them as well. It is to their credit that they are engaging this issue and even at times expressing very real disagreements in the manner that they have.

And I’ll echo Dave Armstrong’s suggestion to his own readers: read Cardinal Dulles, read Fr. Harrison — because Fr. Harrison touches on practically all the arguments put forth by the “Coalition,” and can only serve to inform this discussion.

Here and There . . .

An irregular roundup of blogs, articles and commentary.

  • “Patristic Rosary Project”, by Fr. Z (What does Prayer Really Say?) — Because October is dedicated in a special way to the Most Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, during the month I, as a dedicated patristiblogger, will work my way through the Mysteries of the Rosary offering some comments from the Fathers of the Church.”
  • The Anchoress goes Stargazing with Merton:

    Spent some time stargazing last night, when I couldn’t sleep. No telescope, just the naked eye, a dark neighborhood and a willingness to wonder, and a bit of Thomas Merton, and it’s stayed with me all day – the sight of the stars, the early, wise writings of a monk. . . .

  • The Ressourcement Movement: Historical Context, by Michael Deem, guest-blogging on Cynthia Nielsen’s Per Caritatem. Michael earned his Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy and Theology at the Franciscan University of Steubenville and his Master of Arts in Historical Theology at Saint Louis University. He maintains two blogs: TheoPhenomenon (academic) and Evangelical Catholicism (personal), and plans to earn a Ph.D. in theology.
  • Michael Liccione on Magisterium and Private Judgment – from Pontifications:

    One of the great blessings of Pontifications has been the articles and numerous comments (2,162 of them, to be exact) of Dr Michael Liccione. Reading Mike’s contributions has been a true theological education for me.

    One of Mike’s favorite topics is ecclesial authority. I have read through his comments and copied into a pdf document those that address magisterium and private judgment. Even though separated from the thread context, I think you will find them enlightening.

  • In celebration of her feast day on October 15, Teresa Polk (Blog By The Sea) blogs a post “About St. Teresa of Avila”:

    It is [long] for several reasons, the most obvious ones being that she is my favorite saint and my namesake. In addition to those, I had more that I wanted to say because of recent biographies that overemphasize her feminism and minimize the massive support that she had from many men during her lifetime. Another is a news report about a movie being made that overemphasizes her sex appeal, suggesting that the men who helped her were responding to her sexuality. Hopefully, in responding to those characterizations of her life, I have not overcompensated by overemphasizing something else. In any event, it is my view of my favorite saint.

    Carl Olson (Insight Scoop) blogs about the upcoming cinematic Assault on Saint Teresa of Avila, to which Teresa’s post is a refreshing antidote.

  • “Without a Doubt”The Way of the Fathers introduces us to Thomas the Apostle, “the man who did for the orient what Peter and Paul did for the occident.”
  • The Art of Confession Rorate-Caeli provides a translation of an article by French Dominican Father Chery, O.P. Father Henri.
  • Catholic Psychology 101, by Patrick Morris. Friends of La Nef, on a topic that to my knowledge is little-discussed in Catholic blogland:

    Psychology is one of those topics that is often maligned in religious circles. I think that we as traditionalist Catholics are especially prone to bash psychology. A lot of this stems from the fact that there is, admittedly, a lot of bad psychology out there. Those of us who have taken a college or even high-school level psychology course know that there is a lot of the bad mixed in with what may be good.

    So, why have I as a Catholic writer decided to write on the topic of Psychology? . . .

  • Amy Welborn has a question:

    If one wanted to read a critical, objective examination of Islam’s origins and the origins of the Koran, where would one go?

In Politics . . .

  • I’ve read and very much appreciated Fouad Ajami’s Dream Palace of the Arabs. His new book, The Foreigner’s Gift (Free Press, 2006), looks to be an equally illuminating look at the complexities of religious factions in pre/post-Saddam Iraq. Richard Nadler reviews for the Daily Dispatch:

    Ajami has produced less a history of Operation Iraqi Freedom than a psychological portrait of the cultures involved. America’s attempt to “defy gravity” – to establish a functioning democracy in the heart of the Arab world – has encountered three hard cultural facts: Sunni rejection, Kurdish acceptance, and Shi’ite reticence. Ajami clarifies each attitude through interviews, biographical portraits, and historical review.

  • Rednecks, White Power, and Blue StatesDeep Thought takes on liberal prejudice and Southern stereotypes.
  • Is there blood on his hands? – The Case Against Kofi Annan Times UK Oct. 1, 2006:

    Srebrenica is rarely mentioned nowadays in Annan’s offices on the 38th floor of the UN secretariat building in New York. He steps down in December after a decade as secretary-general. His retirement will be marked by plaudits. But behind the honorifics and the accolades lies a darker story: of incompetence, mismanagement and worse. Annan was the head of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) between March 1993 and December 1996. The Srebrenica massacre of up to 8,000 men and boys and the slaughter of 800,000 people in Rwanda happened on his watch. In Bosnia and Rwanda, UN officials directed peacekeepers to stand back from the killing, their concern apparently to guard the UN’s status as a neutral observer. This was a shock to those who believed the UN was there to help them. . . .

    On a related note, from last year: Implosion: The Collapse of the United Nations, by Mary Jo Anderson. Crisis magazine, Oct 6, 2005.

On a lighter note . . .

  • Depressing, yet intriguingly cool — Maps of War – Who has controlled the Middle East over the course of history? Pretty much everyone. Egyptians, Turks, Jews, Romans, Arabs, Greeks, Persians, Europeans…the list goes on. Who will control the Middle East today? That is a much bigger question.
    See 5,000 years of history in 90 seconds.

  • Rocco Palmo – probably the first member of “St. Blog’s Parish’ to be profiled on NPR’s All Things Considered — see Young Catholic Blogger Makes Waves, by Rachel Martin. Sept. 11, 2006.
  • Beer blessing:

    Bene+dic, Domine, creaturam istam cerevisae, quam ex adipe frumenti producere dignatus es: ut sit remedium salutare humano generi: et praesta per invocationem nominis tui sancti, ut, quicumque ex ea biberint, sanitatem corporis, et animae tutelam percipiant. Per Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen

    Bless, O Lord, this creature beer, that Thou hast been pleased to bring forth from the sweetness of the grain: that it might be a salutary remedy for the human race: and grant by the invocation of Thy holy name, that, whosoever drinks of it may obtain health of body and a sure safeguard for the soul. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

    Translation by Fr. Ephraem Chifley, O.P. Courtesy of Michael Novak / First Things.

  • Avert Thine Eyes? Check out this provocative — no pun intended — post from DarwinCatholic on modesty:

    I’ve always been annoyed, as a man, by this line of argument — and not primarily because I don’t want to give up the occasional sight of a well-formed shoulder blade or clavicle. Rather, it annoys me to hear other men claim that we are, as a sex, so completely controlled by our baser instincts that upon seeing a women in a spaghetti strap dress, we cannot help but to wallow in a desire to seize her roughly and have our way with her.

    This isn’t just a “I can hold my liquor so leave me alone and let me drink” kind of reaction. Rather, there is a certain kind of crassness, a debasement of all that is beautiful in the pursuit of avoiding lust, to which I believe many of us who are religious are prone to be tempted.

  • Jeff Miller (Curt Jester) links to an amusing piece by Cardinal Arinze on Liturgical Dance:

    I saw in one place — I will not tell you where — where they staged a dance during Mass, and that dance was offensive. It broke the rules of moral theology and modesty. Those who arranged it — they should have had their heads washed with a bucket of holy water!

  • You fixed the earth on its foundation, never to be moved. . . .” – From NASA, The Blue Marble” – the most detailed true-color image of the entire Earth to date.
  • Pius XII Gone Wild!!!, Fumare:

    Recently released documents and photos from the Vatican archives shed new light on the Pontificate of Pius XII. The wartime pope often known for his stern countenance and regal bearing apparently had a wild side! For many years thought to be a hindrance for his cause for canonization, the Vatican jealously guarded these details lest the outside world know the “real” Papa Pacelli. Now for the first time, the world will know about the Pontiff’s “secrets.” Among the recent revelations are the following . . .

"The Torture Debate" – Part III

This is a third post in a series, the first part being On Torture, “Aggressive Interrogation” and The Military Commissions Act of 2006 (10/02/06); the second The Torture Debate, Part II (10/08/06) on Against The Grain.

Readers will forgive me for dwelling once again on this disturbing topic, but I’d like to address to Mark Shea’s response to my last post (A response (probably inadequate) to the Big Ol’ Torture Roundup Post at Against the Grain Catholic and Enjoying It Oct. 10, 2006).

On Michael Ledeen

Mark revisits his Crisis magazine piece against Michael Ledeen and Linda Chavez (Toying with Evil Crisis March 2005) as grounds for adopting his particular approach

I got involved in this whole fracas when it became clear to me that some on the Right (namely Michael Ledeen and Linda Chavez, who inspired my “Toying With Evil” piece were advocating “entering into evil” and “doing things we know to be morally wrong” (Ledeen’s words) and, more concretely, suggesting that we concretize these evil counsels by a) shooting unarmed wounded combatants and b) torturing people.

While I do not endorse Michael Ledeen’s Machivellian reasoning, I will suggest that when Shea proclaims that “Michael Ledeen Reliably Suggests that our Troops Should Murder Surrendering Enemy Combatants”, a closer look at Ledeen’s words is probably warranted. This was demonstrated by the Coalition for Fog‘s “Torquemada” in an examination of the article in question. The point was likewise made by Christopher Rake* in January 2005, on Amy Welborn’s Open Book, when he challenged Mark to square his characterization of the Michael-Ledeen-who-wants-to-shoot-unarmed-prisoners-in-cold-blood with Michael Ledeen on the matter of “abuses” of prisoners National Review March 21, 2004):

. . . Maybe the temperature of the rhetoric has cooled enough for us to address the most important aspect of the debacle: Torture and abuse are not only wrong and disgusting. They are stupid and counterproductive. A person under torture will provide whatever statements he believes will end the pain. Therefore, the “information” he provides is fundamentally unreliable. He is not responding to questions; 99 percent of the time, he’s just trying to figure out what he has to say in order to end his suffering. All those who approved these methods should be fired, above all because they are incompetent to collect intelligence.

Torture, and the belief in its efficacy, are the way our enemies think. And remember that our enemies, the tyrants of the 20th century, and the jihadis we are fighting now, are the representatives of failed cultures. Our greatness derives from the superiority of our culture, and we should, as the sports metaphor goes, stick with what got us here.

The exchange between Shea and Rake took place on Amy Welborn’s Open Book, with Rake contending that “I think you are cherry-picking to make [Ledeen] look as bad as humanly possible.” Shea gave no inclination then of moderating his evaluation of Ledeen in light of his comments on torture, and hasn’t since. However, in his response to me, he cites practical arguments from Richard W. Comerford that closely mirror Ledeen’s own objections.

Mark then proceeds to offer an apology of sorts, but in the same breath excuses himself by insisting that

“I really do feel as strongly about this as I would if a group of people came on my blog (some of them no doubt well meaning) and pleaded with me to find every loophole, excuse, justification, and nuance in favor of partial birth abortion.”

So much for the reasoned protests of Rich Leonardi, Victor Morton, Daniel Darling, and other erstwhile inhabitants of Shea’s combox.

* From what I understand, Christopher Fotos was blogging under the pseudonym “Christopher Rake” at that period in time.

On the Church’s Position on Torture Through the Ages

On Mark’s challenge to whom he has on more than one occasion referred to as “some priest named Fr. Brian Harrison,” I cede to Victor Morton, who has already made a sufficient rebuttal.

Likewise, in On Torture and General Norms of Theological Interpretation Contra Certain “Apologist” Fundamentalist Hermeneutics (Rerum Novarum Oct. 13, 2006 – Pt. II; Pt. III), I. Shawn McElhinney offers a substantial reflection on this matter. Stickler that he is for a coherent, rational argument (imagine that!), Shawn begins by emphasizing the need for a definition of terms:

. . . on the subject of torture we are asking those who have seized on this as a major agenda item of theirs to give the rest of us the most basic of courtesies and explain themselves. Define for us what in a workable sense constitutes “torture” and what does not. Notice we are not asking for an abstract manualist definition of the term but one which can be applied to real life situations with reasonable assurance that it provides a point of reference on the subject in question.

With that in mind, Shawn then undertakes an examination of Mark’s position given his starting point with Gaudium et Spes (“whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself”). He demonstrates that those like Fr. Harrison, Victor Morton and company, who have questioned papal pronouncements and conciliar documents on this issue, are engaged in something more than what Shea casually dismisses as “looking for excuses, loopholes, apparent contradictions” or “attempting a direct assault on the Magisterial teaching of the Church.”

This week, a reader by the name of Jeff (sorry, I don’t know his last name) challenges Shea’s approach with an appeal to Cardinal Avery Dulles, who has raised similar questions about the Church’s prohibition of slavery (Development or Reversal? First Things 156 October 2005). (A partial CAEI combox discussion between Kevin Miller and Josiah of Cardinal Dulles’ on slavery can be found here and here).

Commenting on my own blog, Jeff sums up the nature of the dispute:

I think one KEY component to understanding this discussion and the motivation of people like Mark is the question of levels of authority in Church teaching; how we give our assent to ALL Church teaching on a subject, old AND new; how we read Church documents “honestly” when they seem to conflict. . . .

There are those who think that the latest passage always trumps in every possible way: the Ultramontanists, if you will, for lack of any better term leaping to mind. Then there are those, who see an apparent contradiction between the latest thing from Rome and past teaching, i.e, the issue of “novelties”, as Harrison calls them, and who simply discard or reject the latest teaching: the Traditionalists.

But there are also those who think that a harmonization is necessary and that involves substance, not just rhetoric. I.e, if Vatican Two’s teaching on religious freedom seems to contradict earlier teaching, a harmonious understanding of its substance may be found in language which shifts the proper understanding back a bit toward earlier formulations, while preserving the essence of the new concerns.

This effort to “Harmonize” Church teaching, which Harrison represents fairly well, is not what Mark and others would have it be: a dishonest attempt to dissent from present teaching. But as long as he thinks it is, discussion on some of the foundational questions about this debate will remain difficult or impossible. . . .

I don’t know how to sum all this up except to plead for this issue to be raised frankly and discussed charitably on blogs and in comments. And for there to be real charity on both sides in the discussion…however misled or wrong one of another party may be, the shared concern of most of us is to discover and hew to genuine Catholic teaching. That may result in distortions or mistakes along the way, but the way must be walked. Better if we can do it to some extent together. And certainly the discussion on torture will remain mired in invective and rhetoric unless it is put on the table.

I think that both Fr. Harrison, Victor Morton and I. Shawn McElhinney have demonstrated how one can approach this debate in a charitable manner. If they wish for a suitable response (one that rises above the imputation of dubious motives), they may find it in Michael Liccione (Sacramentum Vitae), who in two recent posts — Torture and the Church (October 13, 2006) and “Why her condemning torture doesn’t discredit the Catholic Church” (October 15, 2006) — responds to an Anglican critic, on the proposition that

“If a Church or communion of Churches authorises, condones and engages in an activity with virtual unanimity through its official organs of authority over an extended period of time, this constitutes a definitive teaching affirming the moral goodness of that activity.”

I for one am interested in the potential exchange.

Mark Shea’s Characterization of the Bush Administration

I would like to address, once more, Shea’s (mis)use of Abu Ghraib. But first, touching on his
cynical approach to President Bush, she can’t help but assume the worst:

This brings us back to the teaching of the Church, which has not only a negative but a positive formulation. The negative formulation is “Torture is intrinsically immoral.” Endless electrons have been spent on the question, “What, exactly, is torture?” Our own President finds himself baffled by what on earth “outrages on human dignity” could possibly mean. It’s all so murky and confusing!

Dr. Scott Carson (The Examined Life), has a different take:

So, while it may be salutary for a Christian to keep the prohibition from violence in mind while thinking about torture, as a philosophical starting point it is not going to be of much help. Nor may we begin to search for necessary and sufficient conditions by presupposing that what we are looking for are levels of violence that are “too great” or “morally unacceptable” since that again begs the question. George Bush made this same point in his notoriously colloquial way the other day, drawing derision from the likes of Jon Stewart and Mark Shea, but it is worth noting that the expression used in the Geneva Conventions–“outrages on human dignity”–is not a univocal expression. The Geneva Conventions do not bother to stipulate what an “outrage” is nor what “human dignity” is. As Christians, we believe we have some inkling as to what we mean by the latter, but we have no grounds for assuming that what we mean by “human dignity” is what everyone else means by it, or even that it is what the authors of the Geneva Convention meant by it. Mark Shea does a disservice to those who point this out in good faith by portraying them as making an obvious and outrageously stupid error. The implication is that George Bush is either a cynical sophist or an ignorant moron (or perhaps both); although he may be, his asking what an “outrage against human dignity” means is not evidence for the claim–it is a perfectly reasonable question to ask when one is trying to decide whether what one is doing is morally justifiable or not and folks are sticking Geneva Conventions under your nose in answer to your question. In short, pointing to the Geneva Conventions is not merely vague, it also begs the question, since the very point at issue is whether these actions are morally licit.

Defending his posting of images from Abu Ghraib, Mark asserts that

. . . the [Bush] Administration was all about more Abu Ghraib’s and would have gotten their wish if they had succeeded in loosening the regulations on interrogation. However, the Army, to their great credit, defied Cheney’s attempt to do this and instead made clear that prisoner abuse was not in keeping with the traditions of our honorable troops.

And, later on in the post:

It does not follow that what the experts say is always going to conform to Catholic teaching (how should I know?). But given that the Bush Administration tried hard recently to alter long-standing regulations for the Army to make the definition of prisoner abuse fuzzier and the Army responded by make it clearer what could not be done to prisoners, I’m inclined to trust the experts on the ground interrogating people rather than the meddling bureaucrats with a proven record of approval of torture and prisoner abuse.

The gist of Mark’s argument and the impression he gives is that the Bush Administration is fighting “tooth and nail” to give the CIA the same freedom to commit the same atrocities that occurred at Abu Ghraib. But it seems to me that Abu Ghraib is rather a demonstration of the kind of abuse that can occur “on the ground” in an uncontrolled, unsupervised environment — as when the specific responsibilities of interrogation and obtaining “actionable intelligence” are delegated to individuals lacking professional training in that area.

Here, then, is an exclusive interview Army Reserve Brigadier General Janis Karpinski (on — by no means “Bush-friendly”, so please, no accusations of stumping for the Administration) — which supports this reading of events. Karpinski was in charge of Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq in the fall of 2003, when the abuses occurred. She was reprimanded and demoted to Colonel for her failure to properly supervise the prison guards, and is the highest ranking officer to be sanctioned for the mistreatment of prisoners.

When questioned on the specific involvement of the CIA in the detainee abuses, I found her response suprising:

MC: Do you think the CIA is involved? Did you have any contact with the CIA at all, in terms of their involvement with the interrogations?

JK: Marjorie, I have to tell you that from July onward, even up until December, I wouldn’t say regularly, but it was often, that I encountered somebody from the Task Force, from the CIA, from Special Operations, and by and large, they were professionals. They were absolutely the consummate professionals.

Now I don’t know if they ran separate facilities, and I don’t know what techniques they use. I do know that when they determined that somebody they were holding in one of their facilities no longer had any value and they wanted to turn them over to us, at Abu Ghraib, most likely, they turned them over with full medical records. They turned them over with a whole file of interviews and interrogations, and they turned them over in relatively good health, particularly given the situation. So I think that – this is only my conclusion – but I think that techniques in the right and responsible hands are used appropriately. I mean, I never saw anybody under the control of the Task Force or under the control of the CIA who came in bruised, bloody, beaten, and, you know, stitched together. Occasionally we did see the aftermath of a gunshot wound, but these were higher-value detainees, if there was cross-fire or if there was a bullet, but they treated those kind of wounds. That would be my impression.

However, these same techniques or suggestions of aggressive techniques that were designed, in my opinion – again, I don’t know this first-hand – but all of these reports now would indicate that these techniques were designed and tested and implemented down at Guantánamo Bay and in Afghanistan. And when you take those same techniques and put them in the hands of irresponsible and non-accountable people, like these civilian contractors were, you are combining lethal ingredients. And what happens? You get civilian contractors who have a playground, and they get out of control. And unfortunately, at Abu Ghraib they suck the military into that same playground. There’s no doubt in my mind that they ordered these things to be done.

MC: Who is “they?”

JK: They being the civilian contractors – Titan, CACI. The majority of those contractors were either in Guantánamo Bay or Afghanistan prior to being sent to Abu Ghraib. There were a lot of translators who were working for Titan. Some of them were locally hired, some of them were brought in from the United States. And they were given an opportunity to upgrade their positions to be interrogators – without any kind of formal training whatsoever. So now you have a deadly mix. You have people who have been exposed and who have used these techniques first-hand in other locations. They know that there is no supervision or control. They have been directed, using whatever words, to get Saddam, get the information and get these prisoners to start talking, use more aggressive techniques. So you have allowed people who have no responsibility whatsoever to use techniques that were originally, perhaps originally designed and used by very experienced hands. And it got out of control. It clearly got out of control.

In my last post, I raised the issue of “independent contractors” (The Unaccountables American Prospect September 2006 ) who were placed in positions of responsibility for interrogation and who operate without accountability or under the jurisdiction of the army, such that while instances of abuse by the Army are routinely investigated, “instances of contractor abuse are vastly underreported by victims — and underinvestigated by the military.”

According to a article, “The use of civilian contractors is key to understanding Abu Ghraib” (“Contract to torture”, by Osha Gray. August 9, 2004):

As the full Taguba report makes clear, private contractors held many sensitive positions at the prison. The wealth of classified documents suggests that once the administration decided to privatize military intelligence operations — giving inexperienced contract workers nearly unlimited power over detainees — with only a pretense of military oversight, the door to prisoner abuse was thrown open.

Among the individuals not qualified for sensitive interrogation positions at Abu Ghraib were many hired by CACI International, a Virginia company that provided intelligence services to the U.S. military, and Titan Corp., a San Diego company that supplied translators. According to an investigation released July 21 by the Army’s inspector general, a third of contract interrogators at Abu Ghraib “had not received formal training in military interrogation techniques, policy, and doctrine.”

The problem might not have been so serious if there had been only two or three contract workers on interrogation teams. But according to the Taguba report and an inside source, all 20 of the interpreters at Abu Ghraib worked for Titan. The classified documents contain an organizational chart that indicates that on Jan. 23, 2004, nearly half of all interrogators and analysts employed at Abu Ghraib were CACI employees.

On the problems presented by the use of non-military personnel for interrogation, see also the Amnesty International report, Outsourcing Warfare (Summer 2004).

Which, all in all leads me to suspect that the causes of Abu Ghraib are a little more complex than Mark lets on.

Based on the articles cited, one could argue that the presence of “independent contractors” delegated to oversee interrogations at Abu Ghraib, without adequate training and under minimal supervision, was a prevalent and unaddressed flaw in the Bush Administration’s handling of the war on Iraq and the WoT.

One could discuss whether the later interrogations of Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Shaikh Muhammad meet the criteria for torture and whether they should be rightly rejected. (Q: Is it necessary for us to conclude that they are intrinsically evil, or that they must constitute torture before deeming them objectionable? — Ed Graham argues, “whether it is ‘torture,’ . . . is not a simple, clear cut legal question. What seems clear to me about waterboarding is that it constitutes inhumane treatment of prisoners and is immoral under, e.g., Catechism of the Catholic Church # 2313.”).

However, I maintain that to slap some shocking photos of detainee abuse from Abu Ghraib on a blog and suggest that “Dick Cheney wanted this,” or that the Bush administration “wanted more Abu Ghraibs” — does not accurately convey what happened at Abu Ghraib, but wrongfully conflates the CIA’s interrogations of Abu Zubaydah and Kalid Shaikh Mohammad with the acts of pure sadistic cruelty at Abu Ghraib.

Here I am sympathetic to Sydney Carton’s protest, that

“Far too many people are just too eager to mock people charged with serious responsibilties and hence endure enormous temptations. Every time I hear the word “torture apologist,” “Bushie,” etc, I think that it makes no sense to denounce an evil while engaged in the evil of character assassination. How many insults can support a moral argument? How many attacks on the character of a person can build a strong foundation?”

In his response to Krauthammer (Symposium: The Truth about Torture), Fr. Neuhaus likewise appears to argue for a similar distinction (or against such a conflation) when he asserts:

We are not talking here about the reckless indulgence of cruelty and sadism exhibited in, for instance, the much-publicized Abu Ghraib scandal. We are speaking, rather, of extraordinary circumstances in which senior officials, acting under perceived necessity, decide there is no moral alternative to making an exception to the rules, and accept responsibility for their decision. Please note that, in saying this, one does not condone the decision. It is simply a recognition that in the real world such decisions will be made.

Related readings:

* * *

Responding to the second roundup, a reader questioned my “impartiality” on this debate and wondered:

While we have the luxury of taking a careful, leisurely — while still being academic — approach to this issue, there are people suffering. Is enough being done or are we just giving lipservice?

I share that concern. As citizens, our capacity for doing something on this very issue is unfortunately limited — we can draw attention to abuses when and where they occur, and support organizations that do the same. We can also exercise our vote, with the hope that those legislators we elect will make the right decision.

And as long as we’re discussing these issues in the first place, we can do our best to have an informed discussion — meaning an accurate presentation of each others’ positions, supplemented by research, and a measure of civility and charity which I think are integral to this process. These posts are an attempt to provide a vehicle for such a discussion. Like other roundups, I do this for my own benefit. Like you, I’m in the process of thinking through (and educating myself on) this issue.

In the interest of sparing you the torture of another lengthy post, consider this my last on this particular subject, at least for a good long while. I will continue updating the first roundup (“On Torture, “Aggressive Interrogation” and The Military Commissions Act of 2006″) with any relevant material on the subject that I think would advance the discussion.

God bless and thanks to those who participated (and did their best to keep it civil).

  • “Maybe I’m Naive But . . .” – Christopher P. Atwood (Three Hierarchies) suspects a “bait and switch” on part of the outcry over the MCA:

    Call me naive, but it seemed to me that a bait and switch was going on — aided by the posturing of the White House. Up until the actual bill, the issue was specific “torture-lite” techniques: is waterboarding acceptable or not? Prolonged sleep-deprivation? Cold cells? But once the bill was passed, the word habeas corpus became the big thing.

  • Interrogators Beware, by Stephen Rickard. The Washington Post October 17, 2006:

    On rare occasions, President Bush and his toughest critics agree on something. That will happen today when Bush signs the Military Commissions Act, while claiming “clear” authorization from Congress for “enhanced” CIA interrogations. Many critics claim the bill authorizes torture. Fortunately, both sides are wrong.

"The Torture Debate" – Part II

This post is a supplement to On Torture, “Aggressive Interrogation” and The Military Commissions Act of 2006, posted one week earlier on Against The Grain.

Framing the Debate

Readers and pundits wrestle with the question of how to frame the debate on torture and the U.S.’ development of new measures of interrogation in dealing with terrorist detainees. In my first post I’ve discussed the problems inherent in labeling the opposition ‘torture apologists’ — of willfully, consciously endorsing torture. In a recent post, Mark Shea suggests that raising questions about the validity of certain interrogation procedures and whether they constitute torture is tantamount to deceitfully asking “how close can I come to committing torture without actually doing so,” in the same manner as “a man who is constantly calling you to ask just how far he can go with the blonde at work without it actually crossing the line into adultery.”

Of course, you don’t have to go through the trouble of finding out what the Christian tradition says. You can just go straight to the multiplying loopholes and excuses part. Because something in our hearts tells us there’s something wrong with beating a defenceless man with a rubber hose. That’s what I the majority of torture apologists appear to do out there in the wide world. That’s certainly what those in the Bush Administration and the right wing media have been doing. . . .

Now, I realize Mark is taking aim at what he has dubbed on some occasions the “Rubber Hose Right” and on other occasions “Torture Apologists”, by which he refers to a certain segment within the “right wing media” — who would dismiss Abu Ghraib as “frat hazing” (Rush Limbaugh) or defend water-boarding as a legitimate tactic (a practice rejected by the Department of Defense, according to this report). But I take issue with Mark’s wholesale imputation of devious motives to the Bush administration or the Republican Party in general (“The Torture Party”, as he is taken to referring to the GOP nowadays).

Nor do I think that the majority of those (infinitely more patient than I) who continue to respond in Shea’s combox — including Chris Fotos, Victor Morton and the Coalition for Fog — advocate beating prisoners with rubber hoses or “poo-pooh” Abu Ghraib as a harmless prank (more about this in a minute).

In defense of the latter, Ed Graham puts it best:

I think your real debate here is not with those who would try to justify the decision to “enter into evil,” but with those who sincerely desire NOT to enter into evil but are unconvinced that particular interrogation techniques, including interrogation techniques that seem to fall short of any traditional definition of torture, but which may otherwise violate strict interpretations of the Geneva Convention, are “intrinsically evil.” That’s where efforts — by both sides — to “think different” (God, I hate that ugly slogan!) truly are needed. Yes, there are some who will defend torture or other obviously immoral approaches outright, but most of the people on these threads . . . are sincerely struggling to balance two powerful goods: protect life but act virtuously. They understand that some conduct is obviously beyond the pale but they cannot believe that we must always eschew even mild forms of physical and psychological coercion and disorientation when interrogating prisoners who may have life-saving information. I know that that is what I struggle with when thinking about this subject. Perhaps we must eschew such techniques. But if your goal is to convince us that we must, I’m afraid that simply repeating that our guiding principle should be the question “how do we treat prisoners humanely?” inevitably begs the question whether interrogation technique X is “inhumane”? No matter how many times you inflect the delivery.

I’d like to believe that there is mutual agreement from all of us in the Catholic blogging community that torture and the abuse of prisoners is morally impermissable. For example, here is Mark Shea [in his own combox]:

We have to *begin* by recognizing there are certain things we may not do, such as torture and abuse of prisoners. *Beginning there*, we have to then ask, “How *can* we interrogate them?”

And here is Rich Leonardi [in my combox this week]:

Detention and interrogation are legitimate; cruelty and torture are not. Determining at what point the former crosses over into the latter is essential. Characterizing those who are making that determination as either legalists or near-torturers isn’t helpful.

At least, Mark and Rich Leonardi seem to be on the same page. But as Rich points out, this begs the question as to what practices actually constitute torture, and whether some forms of “physical and psychological coercion” used during interrogation are licit. (Judging by conversations I’ve read over the course of this week, I am certainly not alone in thinking this discussion is necessary).

Mark Shea’s continued Referral to Abu Ghraib

One impediment to holding a serious discussion on this topic at Catholic and Enjoying It is that the prominent example cited by Mark in recent discussions on torture are the scandalous abuses which occurred at Abu Ghraib. Mark has on more than one occasion given the impression that the Bush administration is fighting tooth and nail to perpetuate the abuses and cruelty towards prisoners that occurred at Abu Ghraib. This is demonstrated by this past week’s “I can’t believe it’s not torture” use of black humor, which perpetuates the equasion that Abu Ghraib should be considered the norm for U.S. interrogation.

Never mind the fact that the abuse at Abu Ghraib was subject to a military investigation with those directly responsible for Abu Ghraib were investigated, tried and convicted. See Accountability for Abu Ghraib ( March 14, 2006); in June 2006, a dog handler was convicted, making for a total of 11 convictions (Hard labour for Abu Ghraib abuser BBC News June 2, 2006).

When this point was raised by a commentator, Mark’s cynical response is: “People were prosecuted and sent to jail for this because it would have been political suicide not to do so” — as if to suggest that our own military, and the Bush administration, are utterly incapable of recognizing that those acts which occurred at Abu Ghraib constitute abuse and are morally impermissable.

But this flies in the face of both the facts, the testimony of witnesses and — according to this report (The ‘Torture Narrative’ Unravels”, by Robert Pollack (Wall Street Journal Oct. 2, 2005) — the conclusion of the Independent Panel to Review DOD Detention Operations that the abuses “were not part of authorized interrogations nor were they even directed at intelligence targets.” As the report goes on to say:

It’s worth remembering too that these prosecutions were based on investigations conducted with dispatch that did the Army nothing but credit: A criminal probe was begun within a day of the abuse reports traveling up the chain of command on Jan. 13, 2004; two days after that, Central Command issued a press release about the investigation; on March 20 it was announced that charges had been brought against six of those involved. Meanwhile, Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba had completed an investigation whose conclusions have now stood the test of nine courts martial. And this all more than a month before the photos were leaked to the press.

Have detainee abuses occurred elsewhere in the war on terror? Of course. But they were “widespread” only if you define that term geographically instead of by frequency. The adjective “systematic” has been similarly misused. Overall, more than 70,000 detainees have passed through U.S. military custody since late 2001. About 500 criminal investigations have been conducted into allegations of related misconduct, many of which were found to be unsubstantiated. But more than 200 people have already been disciplined for actions ranging from failure to report to prisoner abuse itself.

(Hat tip: Tom Conelly | 10.06.06 – 10:12 am).

And in the estimation of Jeffrey Addicott, Associate Professor of Law and Director, Center for Terrorism Law at St. Mary’s (Military Justice at Abu Ghraib Jurist Sept. 28, 2005):

At the end of the day, it seems improbable that the United States military engaged in command directed torture or ill-treatment at Abu Ghraib, particularly when it was the military itself that self-reported to the media the fact individual soldiers were being investigated and punished in accordance with the rule of law for wartime abuses at the prison. Clearly, the best indicator that the senior leadership is not culpable is found in its continuing commitment to criminally investigate and prosecute those soldiers accused of committing detainee abuses. Numerous soldiers have already been prosecuted and sentenced for their crimes, and criminal trials will continue for others.

Does Mark Shea consider Abu Ghraib to be the primary example of what the Bush administration is — in his own words — “fighting tooth and nail” — to establish as the norm?

If so, I would suggest that the burden of proof rests on him.

Addendum 10/9/06

According to this briefing with Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Detainee Affairs Cully Stimson and Army Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence Lt. Gen. John Kimmons, the new releases of the Defense Department Directive for Detainee Programs and the Army Field Manual for Human Intelligence Collector Operations were developed in part as a response to the abuses which occurred at Abu Ghraib:

This directive is the cornerstone of DOD detention policy, and that’s important to understand. The Army Field Manual, for instance, falls under this DOD directive. It sets out policy guidance for all DOD detention operations that is necessary and appropriate to ensure the safe, secure, and humane detention of enemy combatants, both lawful and unlawful, regardless of the nature of the conflict. It consolidates existing direction and instructions of the president and the secretary of Defense, and incorporates the lessons we have learned over the past few years in waging the global war on terror. It does so in a number of ways. It incorporates key policy changes recommended in the 12 major investigations conducted by DOD over the past two years. In fact, by publishing this document and the Army Field Manual, we will have addressed over 95 percent of the recommendations from those 12 major investigations since Abu Ghraib.

I would encourage a full reading of the transcript to understand the depth and scope of the changes. According to Gen. Kimmons, there are more than 500 interrogators deployed, four-fifths of which are Army soldiers, assigned with generating “actionable intelligence of practical, tactical relevance.”

Now, the question I would ask — which I think Mark would likely ask as well — is if the DoD directive can hold accountable “civilian contractors” and those not directly affiliated with our Armed Forces? One article that I came across yesterday — “The Unaccountables” (American Prospect September 2006) — raises this troubling question:

On May 7, 2004, shortly after the Abu Ghraib scandal broke, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Acting Secretary of the Army Les Brownlee appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Brownlee said they would make sure individuals “responsible for the shameful and illegal acts of abuse are held accountable.” Eighty-nine members of the U.S. military have been prosecuted for detainee-related misconduct since the start of Operation Enduring Freedom. And recent reports of rape, murder, and other crimes in Haditha, Mahmudiya, and other Iraqi towns indicate that some soldiers responsible for such acts will be held accountable.

Not so for independent contractors like Nakhla, who has been implicated in charges of rape, torture, and assault during his one-year stint in Iraq. He is one of 25,000 civilian contractors who have worked for the military in Iraq since hostilities began. Currently, more than 15 contractors are under Justice Department investigations. While that number may seem small set against 25,000, many observers say instances of contractor abuse are vastly underreported by victims — and underinvestigated by the military. Only one civilian, David A. Passaro, a CIA contract interrogator, has been indicted — for assault on detainee Abdul Wali, who died in June 2003. Passaro’s trial opened on August 7.

In short, while the DoD’s response to the Abu Ghraib scandal and other incidents of detainee abuse is commendable — according to the American Prospect, more than 250 officers and soldiers have been held accountable — the process for taking legal action against contractors and those not directly under the jurisdiction of the military presents a grave impediment to justice, as evidence by the fact that “none of the civilian workers from Abu Ghraib have even been put on trial.”

We can agree that this remains a problem to be rectified. Nevertheless, as regrettable as it is, it does not remotely warrant the suggestion that the Bush administration is not concerned about detainee abuse, or that the only reason disciplinary actions have been taken is “because it would have been political suicide not to do so.”

Fr. Brian Harrison’s Examination of Torture

In response to the second section of my post, including my citation of the Catechism on the Church’s sanction of torture in the past, Greg Krehbiel and Victor Morton raise like-minded objections. The weakness in Mark Shea’s approach, according to Victor, is that “how can something become an intrinsic evil when the church has affirmatively and authoritatively mandated it.”

Victor Morton and others have mentioned this letter from Fr. Brian W. Harrison, who in response to Shea’s article in Crisis magazine, noted “the huge elephant in our Catholic living room that everyone politely refrains from mentioning is the massive, trimillennial Judeo-Christian tradition that legitimized torture right up until Vatican II.”

A more extensive and scholarly treatment of this subject is offered by Fr. Harrison in Torture and Corporal Punishment as a Problem in Catholic Theology (Living Tradition No. 118 July 2005). After noting the “near-silence on the part of theologians may be the great difficulty involved in the ethical evaluation of a concept [of torture]” due to its resistance to precise definition, Fr. Harrison goes on to say:

Another reason for our reluctance to address this issue theologically may be a sense of uneasiness, not to say embarrassment, about the prospect of re-opening old wounds. For while the shudder-evoking practices that we qualify as torture are generally excoriated on all sides today, every student of Catholic history and theology knows they were endorsed for many centuries by the most respected theologians (including saints and doctors of the Church), and by the highest ecclesiastical authorities. And yet the issue cannot simply be side-stepped forever. . . .

The theological problems arising in this are area can be put fairly simply. First, how has this great ‘disconnect’ – this astonishing contrast between the beliefs and attitudes of Christians today and yesterday respectively about the ethics of torture – arisen historically? And secondly, is there any discernible continuity across the centuries in the Church’s official doctrine regarding this matter? Or has she simply contradicted her own magisterial teaching?

Fr. Harrison’s two-part essay — the second part has yet to be published — represents a significant and serious treatment of the subject, “[following] the classical procedure of examining in turn the witness of Scripture, Tradition, and Magisterium.” It calls for a careful reading, and seems to warrant something more than the casual dismissal from Mark Shea, who in his response to Chris Fotos in my combox gives the impression that Fr. Harrison has adopted a permissive attitude to torture:

[Shea] . . . because somebody named Fr. Brian Harrison says so, we can all pretend that physical and mental torture are not intrinsic moral evils, despite the fact that Veritatis Splendor defines them as exactly that.

I am curious whether Mark Shea had read Fr. Harrison’s more lengthy treatment of the subject? — If he did, he would discover that — despite their differences on the formulation of the Church’s prohibition of torture — with respect to the practical, contemporary application of torture itself, they are basically in agreement. Consider Fr. Harrison’s conclusion:

These biblical principles would seem to lay the foundation for a coherent account of the gradual development of Catholic doctrine on the ethics of inflicting of bodily pain. First, there is no evidence of approval in either Old or New Testaments of torture for the purpose of coercing the will. Then, as regards similar extreme pain as punishment for offences already committed, the fullness of revelation in Christ, without ever reaching the point of condemning such penalties as absolutely and intrinsically unjust, emphasizes mercy and forbearance – taking account of both the human sinfulness of the judge and the human dignity of the malefactor – to the maximum extent compatible with preserving public order in a society formed by Gospel principles. The eventual abolition in practice of these extreme measures from such a society in accordance with a changing common estimation of the needs of both human dignity and public order remains, therefore, in fundamental harmony with the fullness of biblical revelation. The requirements of mercy merge, for practical purposes, with the requirements of justice.

(Note as well that Scott Carson and ZippyCatholic have both offered something in the way of a response to this issue).

Related Discussions from “St. Blog’s Parish”

(And of course, read the comments).

  • Torture, by Prof. Scott Carson (The Examined Life October 4, 2006):

    In this post I am interested in addressing two separate, but related, issues: first, what I will call the Demarcation Problem, that is, what are the boundary conditions that separate acts of torture from acts that are merely “aggressive”? Second, a problem raised in Christopher’s post: what to make of the use of torture by agents of the Church during certain periods of history? Does this in any way imply that the Church accepts the moral licitness of torture in defense of the common good?

  • The Doctrinal-Juridical Two Step, ZippyCatholic. Oct. 3, 2006. (Zippy takes on Victor Morton / Fr. Harrison’s argument with respect to the Church’s advocacy of torture in the past):

    There is a fundamental difference, though, between a doctrinal teaching and a juridical decision. When Church administrators (including the Pope) make juridical decisions, they are not exercising the teaching office of the Magisterium. Their authority is every bit as legitimate, and obedience to it is every bit as obligatory, as is the civil authority within its legitimate domain. But a juridical decision is just a juridical decision: an act of a human administrator doing his best – or not – in exercising his legitimate authority over human affairs. It is a different sort of thing from a doctrinal teaching about a truth of the Faith.

  • Thinking About Torture, by Maximos. Enchiridion Militis Oct. 6, 2006; response: What the Meaning of “Just Is” Is, by ZippyCatholic Oct. 7, 2006.
  • More from Disputations: Against rule-based rules Oct. 4; Torture Debate 6.0: Now With Visual Aids! Oct. 5; Lines, laws, and morals Oct. 6, 2006.
  • Torture Redux and Consequentialism, from M.Z. Forrest The Discalced Yooper Oct. 2, 2006.
  • Gestalt Morality, by Tom McKenna (Seeking Justice):

    One thing is certain: the view that holds “it is fundamentally wrong-headed to approach this question from the perspective of ‘How close can we get to committing the grave evil of torture and get away with it?'” is a variety of Quietism that negates the whole endeavor to make distinctions in moral theology so that we can know “what it right and what is wrong.” A police officer interrogating a suspect for 8 hours with only bathroom breaks might be on one end of a spectrum. Waterboarding might be on the other end. Simply repeating, mantra-like, “torture is evil” does not answer the question for the interrogator “what may I do in the (legitimate) endeavor to elicit information from a wrongdoer?” Not only are such lines important in and of themselves for moral reasons, but the government agents need to know what is civilly permissible. Hence the efforts on the federal level to codify some of these distinctions.

  • Torture: Safe, Legal, and Rare?, by Maclin Horton. Light on Dark Water Oct. 9, 2006:

    That’s the nature of the rules we make for ourselves. Wherever the line is drawn, we can assume that people will cross it. To pass laws allowing torture in some circumstances, however limited they may be, is to declare it fundamentally licit, and its use a matter of judgment on the part of those most likely to be tempted to employ it. . . .

    A better approach, it seems to me, is to think of scenarios such as the ticking-bomb one as similar to the case where a starving man steals food. Because no reasonable person (in our culture, at least) would blame him, we would expect a sensible administration of justice to let him off with little or no penalty. . . .

  • Is Torture Intrinsically Immoral?, by Maclin Horton. Caelum Et Terra October 10, 2006.

Update! Oct. 11, 2006

Update! Oct. 19, 2006

Fr. Brian Harrison informs Tom McKenna (Seeking Justice) that the second part of his article has been published in Living Tradition — see Torture and Punishment as a Problem in Catholic Moral Theology: Part II. The Witness of Tradition and Magisterium Living Tradition No. 119, Sept. 2005. [The link was not available at the original time of this posting].

Please see my first post — On Torture, “Aggressive Interrogation” and The Military Commissions Act of 2006 — for an extensive compilation of links and reference materials on the subject.

On Torture, "Aggressive Interrogation" and The Military Commissions Act of 2006

Readers of Mark Shea’s blog (Catholic and Enjoying It) are no doubt aware of the exchanges between himself and another blog, cheekily titled “The Coalition for Fog”, consisting of Victor Morton and other erstwhile (now exiled?) participants in Shea’s combox-debates on torture, military interrogations and the ethics of combat.

Much of their disagreement with Shea concerns his manner of labeling the opposition and framing the debate. I suppose I qualify as a Coalition-for-Fogger, having taken issue with Shea in recent months on his characterization of the “neocons” — and I am certainly sympathetic when the CFF takes Shea to task for misrepresenting Vice President Cheney’s statements on Iraq and Al Qaeda.

Commenting from National Review‘s “The Corner”, Jonah Goldberg addresses this unfortunate aspect of the “torture debate” as it has progressed thus far:

It steals a base to say that the Bush Administration wants to legalize torture because you first have to demonstrate that what they want to do is torture. I think it is a perfectly defensible and honorable position to claim that waterboarding, sleep deprivation etc. amount to torture. I don’t think I agree with that view. But I certainly believe it is made in good faith. But the good faith ends when the same people then issue blanket and sweeping assertions that the people who want to legalize those actions are simply pro-torture. If the legalizers were simply pro-torture they would favor hot pokers, iron maidens, finger-nail-yanking and the rest. And the people supporting the use of waterboarding (in a tiny number of cases) aren’t doing that. Not only do they think they’re not in favor of torture but they objectively oppose things they consider to be torture. So even on the “anti-torture” crowds’ own terms, the worst that could legitimately be said is that Bush wants to legalize “some torture” while banning most kinds of torture.

I understand this all sounds like hair-splitting, but part of the point of my column was that we don’t have a good terminology to discuss this stuff clearly. So one is forced to take a razor to the clumsy language we do have.

As to why this debate over what constitutes “torture” is necessary at this time, one of Shea’s commentators had this to say:

We had been doing fine without a precise exhaustive definition of torture for years now. Why do we all of a sudden need one now?”

Quite simply because advocates for both extremes have taken positions and no longer trust the other side to reasonably define it, and legal prosecution against guards/soldiers/etc. are now highly likely as a result.

For every CIA agent arguing for waterboarding to be allowed and not considered torture, there is a newspaper or human rights ‘expert’ claiming that longstanding interrogation tactics like solitary confinement or sleep deprevation should now be considered torture, and the guards/soldiers that authorize it should be prosecuted as war criminals.

Which leaves the only real option to negate both extremes is to try and define more precisely each act as acceptable or not. I support Mark’s efforts to have tactics like waterboarding condemned and stopped. But I also support better definition of if/when tactics like sleep deprevation, etc. can be used so that guards/soliders can’t be brought to trial for simply doing things they felt were acceptable.

Evan | 09.30.06 – 6:45 am | #

The problem, however, is that some Catholics are of the opinion that merely debating on what, exactly, constitutes torture is tantamount to moral capitulation to grave evil. Commenting on Shea’s blog, ZippyCatholic opines:

“to “weigh” the things many people want to do to prisoners in order to get them to talk is itself to give up the moral ground to consequentialism

and elsewhere, more bluntly, concludes:

It isn’t possible to exhaustively catalogue every possible inhuman despicable thing someone might want to do to prisoners. And the only people looking for a comprehensive catalogue are those looking for the loopholes.

It is pathetic, inhuman, vile, and most certainly un-Christian. A whole section of Hell is going to be paved with Republican skulls over this one; right next to the vast square paved with the skulls of pro-abort Democrats.

It seems to me that in order to condemn an action, you have to be in a position to recognize and define what it is. Especially when defining and implementing legal regulations pertaining to “the laws of war” and prisoner interrogation, I don’t see how you can go about formulating such criteria without discussing the range of actions taken. And this seems to be the chief reason why some are criticizing Shea’s approach — not because they are rabid “torture apologists” enthusiastically chomping at the bit to bring out the “hot pokers and iron maidens.”

But didn’t the Church use Torture?

Before I address the focus of this post — the events of this past week — I want to address two arguments put forth by those advocating techniques which might be construed as torture. Both of these are easily dispatched, but as they have nevertheless appeared in many a combox discussion I’d like to respond.

The first strategy of some advocates of torture is to point out that the Church has, in the course of its history, used and legitimized techniques which might in our time be defined as torture. As one commentator on Rich Leonardi’s Ten Reasons put it:

However, your argument isn’t with me but rather with the Church that freely used torture for centuries. Somehow I suspect that the Popes and the councils of the Church during those centuries had an understanding of the Bible at least as keen as yours, but perhaps I am mistaken.

The Church responds to this unfortunate fact of history in its Catechism (Section #2298), which I think is a sufficient refutation of the proposal:

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.

Does Torture Ever “Work”?

The second position I wanted to address is actually one used against torture — the assertion that torture “never works,” never produces reliable results. On the contrary, the use of techniques which would be categorized as torture has actually worked. Two popularly cited cases being the August 2006 breaking of a Pakistani Muslim terror-cell plotting to blow up flights out of Heathrow; a lesser-cited case is that of Oplan Bojinka, when Abdul Hakim Murad — co-conspirator of 1993 World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef — who was caught by the Philippine police in 1995 and revealed the Bojinka plot to crash 11 commercial airliners into the Pacific Ocean. (Another stage of this operation was the assassination of Pope John Paul II by a terrorist masquerading as a priest). The Wikipedia entry describes the “tactical interrogation” of Hakim Murad in disturbing detail.

As Fred Kaplan noted in Slate (Does Torture Work? Sept. 14, 2004):

But it is, in fact, very likely that, under some circumstances, with some detainees, torture does produce, in the parlance of the trade, “actionable intelligence.” Torture to produce a confession (“Yes, I am a terrorist”) almost certainly is useless; at some point of pain, many people would confess to anything. But torture to elicit specific information (Who told you to do this? Where did the meeting take place? Who else is in your cell? What are they planning to blow up tomorrow?) sometimes will do—clearly, has done—the job. If it hasn’t, many times over the centuries, then why do so many regimes engage in it? Some no doubt do it for the kicks, but they’re not all purely sadists.

From a purely pragmatic standpoint, one could affirm that techniques classified as torture have worked and could make the case for their future use. After all, countless lives were undoubtedly saved as a result.

But as much as the legislation and use of torture would be supported by a utilitarian ethic, it is far from being justified by a Catholic one. Sympathetic as I am to the “Coalition for Fog’s” criticisms of Shea’s stylistic approach and wrongful characterization of those who disagree with him as “pro-torture,” this is one point that he has hammered home — and is right in so doing. Which brings us, then, to . . .

The Military Commissions Act of 2006

This past week, the Bush Administration sought formal Congressial support for contining CIA interrogations of detainees using what President Bush himself has dubbed “an alternative set of [interrogation] procedures — or, what Jonathan Rasch in The Right Approach To Rough Treatment (National Journal Sept. 22, 2006) describes as “rough or humiliating interrogation practices that exceed what is allowed under strict interpretations of the Geneva Conventions but that stop short of torture as conventionally defined.”

For details on the debate over the bill, see White House, Senators Near Pact on Interrogation Rules – President Would Have a Voice in How Detainees Are Questioned, by R. Jeffrey Smith and Charles Babington (Washington Post Sept. 22, 2006). For a wrapup of the negotiations between Bush & McCain and what it means for the GOP, see Byron York’s The Detainee Deal: The White House Won — and So Did McCain (National Review Sept. 22, 2006):

How did that come about, giving the president what he wanted while still addressing McCain/Graham/Warner’s concerns? The key to the deal was the decision to have Congress define, in U.S. law, what are called “grave breaches” of the Geneva Convention. “We recognized that the president has the authority to interpret treaties,” says the source aligned with McCain/Graham/Warner, “but Congress now has the authority to define ‘grave breaches.’” In doing so, the negotiators enumerated nine offenses that everyone agreed constituted a grave breach of the treaty: torture, cruel or inhuman treatment, performing biological experiments, murder, mutilation or maiming, rape, causing serious bodily injury, and sexual assault or abuse, and taking hostages.

Some are quite clear. Rape is rape, and murder is murder. But what does “cruel or inhuman” treatment mean? There was a lot — a lot — of negotiation about that. For example, the two sides haggled over the meaning of “severe mental pain” versus “serious mental pain.” The senators maintained that “serious” was the more serious term, and they won. What that will mean in practice is not entirely clear, which is probably what both sides intended.

But what is clear is that, after defining grave breaches, Congress gave the administration significant leeway to define non-grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions. “Grave breaches are crimes,” the source says. “Non-grave breaches are something else….We are going to spell out grave breaches, and then it is up to the administration to come up with sanctions for violations that are less than grave breaches.”

That could include many, if not most, of the techniques that the administration has used in the CIA interrogation program. For example, both sides appear to believe that the agreement permits the CIA to continue to use sleep deprivation, cold rooms, and other such techniques. On the other hand, the status of the most notorious of those techniques, waterboarding, is not quite clear. When a reporter asked Hadley whether waterboarding constituted a grave breach under the new agreement, he answered, “We are not going to get into discussions of particular techniques.” A few seconds later, he added, “for purposes of complying with our international obligations under international law, that’s something that the president will clarify by executive order.”

For purposes of debate — which I expect will ensue in the comments — here is the final form of Military Commissions Act of 2006, passed by the House and the Senate, and which received the President’s signature.

Legal bloggers like John M. Balkin have raised serious concerns about the legislation (What Hamdan Hath Wrought and Does the Military Commissions Act apply to citizens? Balkinization Sept. 29, 2006). In fact — thanks David (via the combox) — you can find Balkinization: The Anti-Torture Memos – a compilation of all their posts on the complex of issues raised by torture, interrogation, detention, war powers, Executive authority, and the Office of Legal Counsel.

Other commentators, like Rasch, have embraced the utilitarian elements of the deal with a note of caution, recommending for the purposes of “keeping everyone honest”:

. . . Every so often, the government would report to the public on how many people it roughed up over a given period, in what fashion, and why. Even with sensitive particulars redacted, a general description would force politicians to confront the public. More important, it would force the public to confront its conscience.

Coercive interrogation is a form of deliberate abuse that treats human beings not as ends in themselves but as means to an end. For a democracy founded on the promise of equal and unalienable human rights, there is no graver compromise. If the country needs to make this compromise — as I and, apparently, most Americans think it does — it needs to look its behavior squarely in the eye.

But is this a compromise that we — as Catholics — can accept?

Reactions by the Catholic blogosphere to the MCA and the practice of “aggressive interrogation” techniques are mixed:

  • The Anchoress: “I can only be honest and say I can see both sides of the thing. I’m not thrilled about it, but I think sometimes we walk blind and have to kiss it up to God and pray for the best, trusting that what we get wrong, in good faith, He will make right. . . . And may God have mercy on us all.”

    UpdateFollow-up reflections from The Anchoress.

  • What are we doing? What have we done?, by Rod Dreher. CrunchyCon Sept. 29, 2006.
  • Mark Shea is entirely convinced that the vital-to-our-security-as-a-nation techniques the current Administration is laboring to preserve are precisely those which occurred at Abu Ghraib. At least, that’s the gist of this particular post (feel free to correct me if I’m wrong). Personally I don’t buy it.

    Update Mark Shea’s written a lot on this topic, but today’s post — Thinking about Sin and Law vs. Virtue Catholic & Enjoying It October 3, 2006 — is probably the best expression of where he’s coming from and his fundamental concern.

  • “Pounding the Table”, by Tom KcKenna. Seeking Justice Sept. 28, 2006. Tom McKenna offers his own thoughts on the “Shea vs. Coalition for Fog” debate, including what I think is a perfectly legit observation about the self-referentiality and lack of Thomistic precision in Gaudium et Spes‘ brief condemnation of torture (No. 27). and of the Catechism (section #2297):

    . . . by its plain language, [The Catechism] is directed at the motivation of the conduct, not the content of the conduct. Hence it rejects torture intended to produce confessions, punish the guilty, etc. But the methods we use against our enemies (which again, are not “torture” under civil law) are not engaged in to induce confessions. We use these methods to secure actionable intelligence about our enemies. What Lyndie England did might arguably fall under this definition, since she was motivated by hatred or some other illegitimate motive. What a trained interrogator might uncover through controlled, judicious use of such methods is clearly not encompassed by this definition.

    I agree with McKenna’s criticism of Gaudium et Spes but find his appraisal of the Catechism less persuasive, in that I think the latter’s condemnation of those acts specifically understood to be torture would apply regardless of whether the objective sought was a “confession” or “actionable intelligence.” Nevertheless, McKenna is correct in locating the present dispute in those controversial acts which are not deemed to be “torture” by civil law.

  • Prof. Stephen Bainbridge on Torture and the McCain Amendment (Nov. 17, 2005):

    it ill behooves the US to have used Saddam’s torture of his citizens as a justification for war without having committed itself to a higher standard of treatment of detainees.

  • Our Utilitarian Times, by Scott Carson (The Examined Life) – a provocative philosophical analysis of torture and the conventional, utilitarian motivations of those who advocate it.
  • Update Tom Kreitzberg @ Disputations has at my request compiled roundup of his extensive posts on torture & coercion.
  • The Ugly Side, by Daniel Nichols. Caelum Et Terra Sept. 7, 2006.

  • Toying with Evil, by Amy Welborn. Amy links to this article by Mark Shea in the March 2005 article of Crisis magazine. The exchanges in her combox are on the whole fruitful reading, especially some back-and-forth btw/ Patrick Sweeney (Extreme Catholic) and Shea on the questionable historical record of various popes in condoning activities which we would judge today to be torture.

For the record, I join Rich Leonardi and others who categorically reject “waterboarding.” On one hand, I’ve read FrontPageMag’s The Case for Waterboarding (the author reveals its utilitarian premises with the inquiry: “Are a few moments of a terrorist’s discomfort more important than the lives of the innocents he seeks to destroy?”).

I am also aware that, according to one military blogger (WSJ tortures logic with editorial Sept. 26, 2006), waterboarding is visited upon members of our very own Special Forces and Navy during the Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE). But the latter argument can easily be turned upon itself: does training our troops to endures such practices (with the expectation that they would be subjected to them by the enemy) legitimize our use of them?

For those with the stomach to look, here is video footage of a former serviceman undergoing “waterboarding” by trained Army interrogators. (Like the military blogger cited previously, he mentions he also underwent the procedure in training).

But I suspect that, with very few exceptions, those weighing in on this debate oppose the practice of waterboarding (something we appear to have lifted from the Khymer Rouge).

The question remains: is every measure of “alternative” or “aggressive interrogation” procedures advocated by the Bush administration in dealing with particularly resistant terrorist-suspects to be condemned outright?

Are ZippyCatholic and Mark Shea correct, in that any moral deliberation as to their applicability — and consequent attempts to codify and regulate their use by interrogators — simply an engagement in “consequentialism”?

Is the very usage of “alternative interrogation techniques” simply a euphemism for “torture”?

The Army Field Manual

The question was once posed to ZippyCatholic (and, subsequently, to Mark Shea): “In your opinion, is it ever licit to use any interrogation technique that would cause a prisoner any physical or psychological discomfort?” — both Shea and Zippy have responded in the affirmative.

To my knowlege, both refer to the Army Field Manual‘s codification of inhumane treatment of prisoners:

Army regs have defined inhumane treatment for ever so long. Nothing has changed in human nature that requires redefinition of inhumane treatment. If it’s not broken, don’t fix it. And if it was inhumane and therefore intrinsically immoral on 9/10/01, it still is.

The testimony of a number of former U.S. Army interrogators appears to support Mark & Zippy’s position. For reference purposes I’ve posted a link to the current edition of the field manual, released this year.

I have not touched on this topic on this blog at any great length until now, in part because of my personal ignorance, in part because I did not want to venture anything without having read as much as I could obtain (from the ‘net, although a visit to the public library is in order). I hope what little I’ve offered here contributes to a reasonably informed discussion.

Following is a roundup of what I’ve found to be helpful resources on this subject.


  • What is Torture? A Primer on American Interrogation, by Phillip Carter (Slate):

    What is torture? Euphemisms like “stress position” cover a wide range of practices, from the merely uncomfortable to the wickedly cruel and painful. At Slate, we have wrestled with the definitions of abuse and torture and how best to present these morally and legally complicated terms. The taxonomy follows the legal maxim of res ipsa loquiturlet the thing speak for itself. The tactics below are listed in order from least to most severe.

  • Fr. Neuhaus has spoken on this topic several times. In Drawing the Line Against Torture, by Fr. Richard J. Neuhaus (First Things 146. October 2004):

    Torture as defined in international agreements to which the U.S. is party—outrages against human dignity, humiliation, degradation, mutilation, the threat of death—is never morally permissible. Admittedly, a measure of coercion, both physical and mental, is inevitably involved in most interrogation. The very fact of being in custody and under threat of punishment is a form of coercion. The task is to draw as bright a line as possible between such coercion and torture, and to forbid the latter absolutely. The uncompromisable principle is that it is always wrong to do evil in order that good may result. This principle is taught in numerous foundational texts of our civilization and is magisterially elaborated in the 1993 encyclical of John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor. We cannot ask God’s blessing upon a course of action that entails the deliberate doing of evil. When something like Abu Ghraib happens, the appropriate response of patriotic Americans is one of deep sorrow, clear condemnation, and a firm resolution that it not happen again.

    In The Truth About Torture: A Christian Ethics Symposium, Neuhaus engaged in a discussion of Charles Krauthaummer’s “The Truth about Torture” (Weekly Standard Dec. 5, 2005) with Darrell Cole, Robert Vischer, and many others.

    Finally, in Speaking about the Unspeakable (First Things 151 March 2005), Neuhaus, “struck by the paucity of serious discussions by Christian moral theologians and ethicists” about torture, calls for Jewish and Christian theologians to remedy the issue:

    The instance of hijacked planes is relatively rare; the instance of torture is common, and, it would seem, becoming more common. Christian ethicists have in recent years moved away from “quandary ethics” to “virtue ethics,” and that is in many ways a good thing. But quandaries persist. Casuistry has a bad reputation, but the careful study of cases and the moral rules that apply to them is inevitably part of serious moral reflection. I, too, earnestly wish that we could not talk about torture. But the reality and the discussion of the reality will not go away. One cannot help but think that the discussion would benefit from the contributions of Christian and Jewish thinkers informed by the wisdom of biblical sources and their own traditions.

  • The Torture Question PBS Frontline Report. “In fighting the war on terror, how far should the United States go to protect itself?”
  • Two prominent cases discussed in the “torture debate” are the interrogations of Abu Zubaydah, the first Osama bin Laden henchman captured by the United States after 9/11, and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, dubbed “the principal architect of the 9/11 attacks” by the 9/11 Commission and responsible for a good number of terrorist plots including the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the Operation Bojinka plot, an aborted 2002 attack on Los Angeles’ U.S. Bank Tower, the Bali nightclub bombings, the failed bombing of American Airlines Flight 63, and the murder of Daniel Pearl. [Source: Wikipedia entry].

    On the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, see At a Secret Interrogation, Dispute Flared Over Tactics, by David Johnston. New York Times Sept. 10, 2006.

    On the interrogation techniques of KSM, see CIA’s Harsh Interrogation Techniques Described, by Brian Ross and Richard Esposito. ABC News Nov. 18, 2005.

    By contrast, in How to Interrogate Terrorists City Journal Winter 2005, Heather MacDonald dispels some false arguments of those associating the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib with the actual interrogation techniques employed by military interrogators in Afghanistan and Gitmo:

    It is worth scrutinizing the final 24 techniques Rumsfeld approved for terrorists at Gitmo in April 2003, since these are the techniques that the media presents as the source of “torture” at Abu Ghraib. The torture narrative holds that illegal methods used at Guantánamo migrated to Iraq and resulted in the abuse of prisoners there.

    MacDonald’s article challenges this very “narrative.”

  • 5 Reasons Torture is Always Wrong, by David Gushee. Christianity Today January 27, 2006. (A longer version of this essay can be accessed at According to Gushee:

    Long ago, German philosopher Immanuel Kant wrote about the perennial human tendency to find exceptions to binding moral rules when those obligations bind just a bit too tightly on us. . . .

    I believe that this is the best explanation for what is happening on the issue of torture in our nation. Our current crisis represents our succumbing to the temptation to waive moral rules that we have every reason to know are applicable to us. They are part of international law, military law, and moral law. We would certainly not want our troops or our “detainees” or ourselves to be tortured were the shoe on the other foot. We know that torture is wrong, but just not now, not in our exceptional case, not in this global war on terror. We are tempted to follow the logic of a Time magazine article when it says, “In the war on terrorism, the personal dignity of a fanatic trained for mass murder may be an inevitable casualty.”

  • The Truth about Torture, by Victor Davis Hanson. Dec. 5, 2005:

    The United States can win this global war without employing torture. That we will not resort to what comes so naturally to Islamic terrorists also defines the nobility of our cause, reminding us that we need not and will not become anything like our enemies.

  • We Have Ways… Contributing editor John Derbyshire, on torture. National Review Nov. 16, 2001.
  • Outsourcing Torture: The secret history of America’s “extraordinary rendition” program, by Jane Mayer. New Yorker February 14, 2005. In May 2005 Reuel Marc Gerecht published Against Rendition: Why the CIA shouldn’t outsource interrogations to countries that torture (which I wholeheartedly agree with, by the way); and in One Code To Rule Them All (October 4, 2005), Tom Donnelly and Vance Serchuk spoke in defense of the U.S. Army Field Manual. Given as both of these articles were published in Bill Kristol’s The Weekly Standard, people should think twice before an indiscriminate lambasting the “neocons.”
  • Inasmuch as discussion on this topic usually references either Abu Ghraib or the treatment of detainees at Camp Guantanamo, it might be worthwhile to look at what actually happens. In Soft Cell: The reality of Guantanamo, by Rich Lowry. National Review Sept. 28, 2006:

    . . . The facility here has been used, of course, to smear the United States. The press still uses photos from Camp X-Ray — the Spartan, temporary facility used for just four months in 2002 to house detainees — in its Gitmo stories, although it has been overgrown with weeds for years and replaced by modern facilities. The detainees are aware of the power of the media, so they time their suicide attempts and disturbances for maximum attention. The principle among the guards is to respond to any provocation with minimal possible force to avoid giving critics any new propaganda. . . .

    A blogger by the name of Patterico is also publishing exclusive, five-part interview with an Army Major who worked with detainees at Guantanamo Bay. The series will cover “Hunger strikes, suicides and suicide attempts, and mental illness”; “Treatment of the detainees” and “reactions to Big Media pieces about GTMO.”

Update 10-8-06

  • A common protest concerning the MCA 2006 is that, in the words of Senator Arlen Specter, the bill “take[s] our civilization back 900 years,” to before the adoption of the writ of habeas corpus in medieval England” (Habeas Corpus R.I.P. Andrew Sullivan Sept. 28, 2006. Two articles in the conservative journals this week have challenged that interpretation:
  • The New Detainee Law Does Not Deny Habeas Corpus, by Andrew C. McCarthy National Review October 3, 2006. (See also Hamdan and the Sunset of Sovereignty National Review September 25, 2006.)

  • The Constitution, Writ or Wrong, by Adam J. White. Weekly Standard October 5, 2006: “Of the MCA’s various controversial provisions, the most mischaracterized was its amendment of 28 U.S.C. 2241, limiting the right of detainees to petition the federal courts for the “writ of habeas corpus”–i.e., to challenge the legality of their detention.”

Resources for Reference / Discussion Purposes [Updated 10/15/06]

See also the extensive list of links provided in Ethics of Torture: A Survey of Internet Resources on the Ethics of Torture August 28, 2006. University of San Diego, CA. Including the following bibliography:

Note: I make no personal endorsement other than to recognize that these are popularly cited works on the subject — as law and just war theory blogger Kenneth Anderson reminds us, in reading on this subject be cautious about

institutions with institutional interests – Human Rights Watch and NYU’s Center on Law and Security – not even semi-neutral edited collections. Their positions are important ones, of course, but they are not exactly the best positioned to present a fair range of views, and they don’t.

Anderson also recommends Protecting Liberty in an Age of Terror, by Philip B. Heymann and Juliette N. Kayyem (MIT Press Sept. 2005). Table of contents and sample chapters available here.