Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Torturing the Terrorists

Today's first column:

“A world which has to create its own justice is a world without hope.” - Pope Benedict XVI

Papal encyclicals excite me even more than the latest celebrity gossip. I know, I'm weird. When the present Pope produced the second letter of his pontificate, Spe Salvi—Latin for Saved by Hope—I hesitated little in reading it. Therein, His Holiness writes, “the capacity to accept suffering for the sake of goodness, truth and justice is an essential criterion of humanity, because if my own well-being and safety are ultimately more important than truth and justice, then the power of the stronger prevails, then violence and untruth reign supreme. Truth and justice must stand above my comfort and physical well-being, or else my life itself becomes a lie.”

His letters are intended for the one billion Roman Catholics worldwide, but non-Catholics would be prudent to listen carefully to the Bishop of Rome. For Benedict's words have been turned precisely on their head by our President, George W. Bush. To defeat the nebulous ideology of Islamofascism, the Bush administration has explained that certain procedures, such as waterboarding, are not torture; and anyway, they are necessary to prevent the terrorists from winning. To Bush, the safety and well-being of American citizens—or at least his perception thereof—are paramount. Waterboarding a would-be-terrorist is a measure of precaution, probably an evil one, but one that would, according to the tenants of an implausible hypothetical, prevent a still greater evil.

But torture should be rejected for two reasons. First, although it is effective in the sense that it delivers results, the results themselves are ultimately unsound. The Communists of Russia, our old enemies, were tremendously good torturers. A confession could be procured by disallowing the penitent from sleeping; after several days, the victim invariably confessed his sins against the Party; but only a fool would suppose that everyone who was tortured was guilty of the crimes to which he eventually confessed. Sending all and sundry to the gulag provided Stalin and his successors with the slave labor he needed to fuel the economy, but one wonders what it will avail the Bush administration to collect untruths from non-terrorists—or how one would justify torturing the innocent.

There is a better objection to torture—and yes, as even John McCain admits, waterboarding is torture—and that is that it is immoral. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, which was compiled by the current Pope when he was known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, has this to say, “Torture which uses physical or moral violence to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred is contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity.”

Advocating torture furnishes the maxim that the end always justifies the means. Using this rational, it would be inconsistent to oppose any act that would eliminate any threat posed to America. Such acts must not be restrained by traditional morality; thus there is no reason why the jailing of the innocent, the murder of the disreputable, or—to take the flawed principle to its logical extreme—rape and cannibalism may not, at times, be deemed likewise morally acceptable.

It is of especial disappointment that Christians like George W. Bush would advocate such egregious acts. That he is perpetuating evil in order to prevent non-existent threats only adds to the tragedy. Benedict writes, “We can try to limit suffering, to fight against it, but we cannot eliminate it.”

Our attempts to eliminate suffering will fail as they always do. Heaven belongs in the clouds. All attempts to create one on earth fail; worse, they end up creating Hell. If we are to be saved, it will not be through torture. It is far more likely that its use will play a pivotal role in our undoing.


hoosiertoo said...

According to your profile you're 22?

Harrumph. There may be hope after all...

A Wiser Man Than I said...

That's true.

It's a little early for a beer, so I'll raise my tea to hope for the both of us.