Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Dave Armstrong has questions ...

And while I can't speak for Victor, I have my own answers.
I continue to await Mark's proofs as to whether you guys state that [1] torture is intrinsically immoral yet grant loopholes according to circumstance and relative ethics, or whether you [2] deliberately intend to dissent against what you know to be JPII's teaching.

Can you confirm whether you agree or disagree with [1] and [2]? I assume not, but I want to hear it from you (and also, do I have permission to post this with your answers, on Mark's blog?).

You can post my material anywhere that you like. I personally believe that Mark has reached a point rhetorically on this issue where he is unwilling to back down, but I am more than willing to listen to what he has to say.

As to the specific questions:

1. If I believed that torture was intrisically immoral, I would not advocate practicing it. Nor do I advocate practicing it now (as I said, I supported the McCain amendment), I simply object to the premises under which Mark operates for arguing that we should not. My own view on torture (or if torture is defined as intrisically evil then interrogation techniques that many would classify as torture) in general is fairly akin to how the Church currently views the practice of the death penalty as formulated by Mark Shea: that it is far more defensible in primitive societies than it is currently and that in the latter case it should only be used in the most extraordinary circumstances such as those represented by Rashid Rauf or Abdul Hakim Murad. I say this with the caveat that I am able to revise it later as much of what I have been writing here has been based around critiquing Mark's bad arguments on the subject rather than developing my own.

2. I do not believe Mark's views on torture or the relevent Gaudium et Spes quotation in general to be consistent with John Paul II's teaching, as can be seen from the fact that as a practical matter he did not view the act of deportation as an intrinsic evil even though it is listed on par with torture in the document. The reason we have a living Magisterium is to guard against such errors when interpreting these types of documents, which is why I have referred to Mark's reading as being akin to a fundamentalist. It's akin to the argument that Catholics are breaking Jesus's commandment of "call no man father" to view Magisterial documents within this kind of historical disconnect.
To use one widely-discussed concrete example, what do you think, e.g., about waterboarding? Is it intrinsically immoral? If so, you agree with Mark (and myself). If not, why?

As I understand it, waterboarding or something very close to it is also used in certain specialized military training situations, so I think that the intent needs to be discussed or at least explained. There would also seem to be (at least to me) the issue that if waterboarding is forbidden and some form of physical coercion as practiced in the past is licit, why is it preferable to damage the body and not the mind? To be perfectly honest, as noted before I have been focused far less on specific techniques and more on my general objections to Mark's mode of argumentation in making his case. In general, as I have stated repeatedly, I supported the McCain Amendment as a model for interrogation and think that narco-interrogation techniques are the way to go as far as interrogation is concerned from a purely practical matter.
Also, would you consider yourselves "traditionalists" (another thing I've asked Mark about that he has ignored)? If so, how do you define that term (as it is another one of those that has quite variable definitions)? For that matyter, what do you think about John Paul II in general?

I am a "traditionalist" in the sense that I am a "small o" orthodox Catholic, but not one who believes himself to be more Catholic than the Pope. I am a firm supporter of the policies of Pope John Paul II and am of the opinion that he will be remembered as one of the great popes of the last 200 years.
Also, another reader stated the following:
Akin is a prominent figure within the Catholic apologetics movement, so Shea can't attack him with impunity. It only occurs to Shea to attack people who appear weak and vulnerable-- this is how he feeds his massive ego. He's a bully, plain and simple.

It's ironic that Shea declares himself so adamantly opposed to torture, when it's quite clear that he gets off on abusing others. In addition to being a bully, he's also a hypocrite.

Look, I get mad enough when Mark tries to tell me about what I'm really thinking that I'm not going to return the favor. But I am getting annoyed with his increasingly escalating rhetoric towards me and Victor while remaining completely respectful and civil towards those who hold seemingly identical views on this issue. Now my respect for Mark as a person is at an all-time low for a lot of reasons that have nothing to do with torture that have come about because of this discussion (namely his frequent personal attacks and refusal to engage our arguments), but I care little about what he thinks about me. My whole goal here is to correct what I see as a horridly bad method of Magisterial document interpretation (Gaudium et Spes) and application (Geneva Conventions are now sacrosanct - and I like the Conventions just fine, but they are secular political documents, not revealed moral truth) that when combined with Mark's not-so-creeping paleoconservatism (which I oppose for secular political reasons) provide a rather explosive cocktail that I would just as soon not see detonated by a Catholic apologist to other members of my faith.


Tom McKenna said...

Bravo on all counts. I would only take issue with the view of Mark being a creeping Paleo. Paleos are ordinarily tradtional Catholics, and Mark is anything but, given his feverish one-mindedness with respect to a single theological source, VS #80.

I sense he is more akin to the "neo-Catholic" current, which tends to absolutize the post-conciliar revolution, disdainfully discarding whatever in the Church's past that contradicts the conciliar outlook, be it ecumenism, the Mass, the death penalty, or, of course, torture.

It seems converts from Evangelical Protestantism are unusually susceptible to this syndrome, witness Scott Hahn.

Shea himself has actually begun to sound more like an outright leftist, in his position that the Republicans are somehow morally equivalent to the Democrats and that voting for any of them is an a vote for evil.

His view on that score subordinates a host of issues like homosexual marriage, abortion, and national defense to his one all-domitating issue: the supposed intrinsic evil of torture.

Tom McKenna said...

"dominating" issue...

Christopher said...

Both Jimmy Akin and Fr. Harrison bring up the context of a 'ticking bomb' plot as a context for aggressive interrogation measures (Akin has curiously done so and used the '24' Jack Bauer example and managed to yet escape the label of "torture apologist").

Reading up on Abdul Hakim Ali Hashim Murad -- co-conspirator with Ramzi Youssef on a number of plots -- it seems the "Bojinka" plot is a real-life example of such a context:

According to a CNN article on the trial and conviction of Abdul Hakim Ali Hashim Murad:

Each man was charged with seven counts of conspiring and attempting to bomb the 12 planes in 1995. The bombings could have killed 4,000 people aboard the planes.

and according to globalsecurity.org:

Yousef's primary target was up a dozen transpacific airliners. Plotters would sneak bomb parts and liquid explosives onto planes and assemble the bombs while on board. They would get off at an intermediate stop and leave the bombs to explode via timers while en route to their final destination in the United States. This appears to be the most mature part of Bojinka: Specific flights were targeted, and Yousef himself performed a "test run" on a Philippines Airlines flight to Tokyo that left one man dead. This aspect of the plot is similar to the transatlantic airliners plot disrupted by British authorities in 2006.

Other targets included Pope John Paul II and President Clinton during separate visits to Manila; the U.S. Consular Office in Karachi, Pakistan; nuclear power plants in the United Kingdom, France and the United States; U.S. cargo planes; and CIA headquarters in McLean, Virginia.

Murad proposed crashing a hijacked airliner into the building. It is thought this may be the inspiration for Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and 9-11.

According to a Wikipedia entry:

[Abdul Hakim Ali Hashim Murad] was sent to Camp Crame, a military installation outside of Manila. Murad at first taunted investigators. For 67 days, he was subjected to "tactical interrogation", what Manila authorities called his torture. According to journalists Marites Vitug and Glenda Gloria, both of whom wrote the book Under the Crescent Moon, agents hit Murad with a chair or a long piece of wood when he didn't talk. They forced water down his throat and pressed cigarette lights on his genitals. His ribs had completely been cracked, and agents were surprised that he survived.

If the authors of Under the Crescent Moon are correct, I think the "tactical interrogative" techniques used would qualify as torture. I find such techniques morally repulsive. At the same time, I think it is legitimate to inquire what techniques should be employed in such a context, where a terrorist is captured with concrete evidence of a plot (plans for the attack were discovered on a laptop, after police investigated a fire in Yousef's apartment).

I don't have any pat or snappy answers.

torquemada05 said...

I didn't say that I condoned what happened to Abdul Hakim Murad, but that cases such as his would seem to fall within the "extraordinary circumstances" that Akin and others have discussed as far as when it would be licit to employ coercion methods that many would consider illicit under other circumstances. Rashid Rauf is another example.

The idea that the ticking time bomb scenario is a figment of Hollywood screenwriters' imagination is simply not factually true.

Anonymous said...


I agree with what you say about the use of torture to uncover the Bojinka plot. It was immoral. That said, two things:

(1) It's not something I'll lose any sleep over;


(2) Necessity knows no law. In a true "ticking bomb" scenario (such as this one), any laws against torture (or anything else) will be ignored.

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