Tortured Morality

The apostle Paul had his detractors, and some of the worst were those who claimed he taught, “Why not do evil that good may come?” Paul’s verdict on these people was blunt: “Their condemnation is deserved” (Romans 3:8).  Few things were more contemptible to Paul than saying “good ends justify evil means”.  Such thinking–called “consequentialism” by the Church–is categorically condemned by biblical and Catholic teaching to this day.

Let’s recap briefly what the Congress of the overwhelmingly Christian population of the United States has just approved.  In September, Congress basically agreed to give President Bush the final authority to decide what does and does not constitute “torture” under Geneva.  From a dozen perspectives, this reckless move by the State is dangerous.

I say this, not as a disgruntled Democrat, but as a pro-life, run-of-the-mill conservative who voted twice for Bush.  I am, to boot, a committed Christian who confesses Jesus as Lord and Savior, and who believes as strongly as any American that Radical Islam is a dangerous foe that must be defeated.

But because I really do believe in Jesus, I cannot help but feel the strength of His warning: “What shall it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul?”  And in embracing torture as a legitimate tool of warfare, I cannot help but believe that what we have done is embrace precisely the consequentialist thinking that Paul warned us would damn our souls.

Some will question whether we have really done this.  Yes, we have.  The way we have done it is by giving the same man who denies we have ever tortured anybody–President George W. Bush–the final power to define what is and is not torture.  President Bush is a man who has repeatedly assured us that he has never authorized torture. 

Let me ask you: if your spouse or child were held for days in a 50 degree temperature room, naked, and repeatedly doused with cold water, would you call that “humane treatment”?  If they were stretched on a rack and submerged till they were at the point of drowning, would you say they had not been tortured?  How about simply being forced to stand without moving for a day?  These are but a few of the techniques the CIA has employed on prisoners under Bush’s authority: techniques which he insists were not torture.  Numerous other techniques have also been employed by the CIA which space forbids detailing here, but which you can read about in Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago–because they were perfected by the Soviet Union’s KGB.

With the possible exception of waterboarding, which the Administration simultaneously denied is torture and yet apparently agreed to forego–virtually all these totalitarian-approved techniques are now legal for these United States as “tools” in the War on Terror.  Indeed, according to Ron Suskind, author of The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America’s Pursuit of its Enemies since 9/11 the interrogation of Khalid Sheik Mohammed included not only torture, but a threat to murder his 7 and 9 year old son and daughter, who were in CIA custody.

As a Christian, I believe there is simply no way this is defensible.  The attempt to justify what Pope John Paul II has called the “intrinsically immoral” act of torture is precisely what Paul warns is damnable.  For a Christian, that alone should be enough to prohibit it.  But as an American too, I believe that to adopt the tactics of the enemy is to not only lose one’s soul, but to strike a Faustian bargain, just as much as if Old Scratch were to appear and say, “If you will blaspheme God, I promise to completely eliminate Radical Islam tomorrow.”  The thing about Faustian bargains is that they take your soul and give you nothing in return. 

The State promises us peace and safety if we will commit just this one grave sin.  But the State has also just granted itself power to declare pretty much any foreigner it likes an “enemy combatant” and indefinitely detain them.  And enemy combatants can be subjected to the “techniques” Congress legalized with one person deciding whether or not these techniques constitute torture: the President.

Not all are swayed by appeals to Christian morals, I know.  Still, prescinding from morality, think of your own skin.  If you think, as many people thought after Roe, this can never lead to unforeseen consequences such as the detention and torture of innocent people just as Roe has led to euthanasia, then I have a bridge to sell you.  Indeed, if you Google the name “Maher Arar” you will find it has already has happened.  These are but a few of the reasons torture is wrong always and everywhere.  May God consign it to the ash heap of history, along with the Soviet Union.


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