Some background: My involvement in the whole torture discussion began with my being disturbed over two thoroughly dishonest apologias for murder and torture in the mainstream right wing press. The apologia for murder was written by Michael Ledeen and constituted a literally Machiavellian appeal to shoot unarmed wounded combatants (because you never know, one of them might grow up to be Hitler). The apologia for torture was an equally slick piece of rhetoric by Linda Chavez which began by saying we needed to define torture and ended by saying we needed to accept torture. My response to their snake oil is here. I found this phenomenon disturbing and was further disturbed as the right wing media continued (and still continues) to urge, excuse, justify, plead for, and satirize opponents of, torture.
For one thing, the fact that he once again labels (and mischaracterizes) Ledeen as a torture apologist for writing a column that has nothing to do with the torture is probably once again an indication that he doesn't know what he's talking about.
In short, my involvement in the torture question (and the involvement of my interlocutors in my comboxes) has been in the context of a real world situation: the use of torture by our government and the extraordinary lengths some of my readers have gone to in order to urge, excuse, justify, plead for, and satirize opponents of, torture. What bothered me from the outset of the conversation has been the spirit of... what? "resistance", I suppose might be a good word, to the simple proposition "Torture is wrong and you shouldn't do it. Our government is doing it now and it's wrong." Virtually ever word of that proposition has been resisted, explained away, and fought, often by multiple people at once, in my comboxes over the past year. Masochists can read over the archives if they don't believe me.
In the course of these discussions I have, more than once, lost my temper and, more than once, apologized. But a sort of urban legend has arisen (which some torture apologists have happily encouraged) that I cannot bear even to discuss the abstract question "What is torture?" This is somewhat ironic because, in fact, it is those who are making the case for fog who have been the most insistent that torture is essentially undefinable and therefore cannot, in any practical sense, be prohibited or condemned. Endless electrons perished in my repeated attempts to answer the question for people who were strangely uninterested in answering the question themselves. I suggested dictionaries. I suggested Army and police regs for interrogation. I suggested the Interrogator's Golden Rule. All these were summarily dismissed by people who truly did not want an answer to the question "What is torture?" because, if accepted, they would immediately show that "aggressive methods" which the Bushies had approved were, in fact, torture. And the goal, for many (though not all) of my interlocutors was to keep that shrouded in fog.
Here again, Mark ignores a number of points that were raised by his critics, namely that his entire response to the question of torture has been to appeal first the Catechism and when he discovered that this was not to his liking, the Gaudium et Spes citation contained in Veritas Splendor. That was his entire argument and any disagreement or questioning of it led to him attempting to establish a false equivalence between those who question his interpretation of the relevant papal documents and abortion supporters. Note that as he writes this, Mark believes, as he has routinely alleged, that the only reason that anyone could possibly argue with him on this is because of an all-subordinating political allegiance to the Bush administration.
He then writes:
However, I will add this: while there may be, in some other world, a way to get to something that looks an awful lot like torture but is not intrinsically immoral and therefore not necessarily condemned by Veritatis Splendor, I can't help but think that this is mighty far removed from reality. Moreover, in *this* world where torture is being conducted by the State and its apologists and advocates in the real world are not much troubled by such fine-tuned arguments and typically operate on the basis of pure consequentialism, I can't help but wonder if "What is torture" is still a profoundly wrong-headed question.
To which one might counter that by the definition Mark has just supplied above that Akin should now be counted as an apologist and advocate of torture for writing the following:
Take waterboarding as an example. I would say that waterboarding is torture if it is being used to get a person to confess to a crime (it is not proportionate to that end since it will promote false confessions). I would also say that it is torture if it is being used to get information out of a terrorist that could be gotten through traditional, less painful interrogation means (it is not proportionate to the end since there are better means available). I would not say that it is torture if it is being used in a ticking time bomb scenario and there is no other, less painful way to save lives (it is proportionate since there is not a better solution). And I would not say that it is torture if it is being used to train our own people how to resist waterboarding if it is used on them (this is apparently something we do, and it is proportionate on the understanding that there is no better way to help people learn to resist waterboarding).
I find it hard to think of particular physical acts that automatically count as torture irregardless of the circumstances. Even cutting off parts of a person's body is not torture if you're doing it to prevent them from dying of gangrene and there is no anesthetic available. But if the pain involved in that physical act is not automatically torture then I don't know what would be. Indeed, I don't know how to establish a maximum amount of pain that can be inflicted, even if it is for purposes of saving someone's life.
Recognizing that he will need to find some way to refrain from condemning Akin here while simultaneously holding all of us over at the Coalition completely beyond the pale and on par with dissenters of Humanae Vitae. He does so through the following rhetorical trick:
If Jimmy had been writing for a year, making every conceivable excuse for torture, starting up blogs devoted almost exclusively to attacking those who oppose torture, and endlessly expressing hopeless confusion over what is torture (while resolutely refusing to acknowledge any positive definition of torture) it would be a different story. I think he's making a first stab at trying to respond to a question he has not addressed a lot of thought to. He's welcome to give it a whack. I wish more people were trying to do it. It certainly beats pondering the meaning of the works of Eminem. And by the same token, I think Zippy has done a pretty good job of pointing out the weakenesses in the comboxes.
I'm sorry, but given that Akin's view is more or less identical to our own, I would be very interested in hearing why Mark regards him holding to it as acceptable and all of us here holding to the same damned thing as being so sick and depraved. Is it through the same telepathy that allows him to peer into our minds and learn that our only motivation for writing this is to shill for the Bush administration?
ADD BY VJM:
Actually it's even worse than that. "Others have been pulling this crap for a year," by definition, cannot be the reason for anything he said or did a year ago. Or two years ago. Like ... um, his libels against Ledeen.
Do understand, I have no desire to start a conflict between Akin and Mark, no more than I did to be in conflict with Mark to begin with. I do, however, have an obligation to call attention to what I view as moral hypocrisy (let alone fundamentalist readings of Church documents) on the part of a fellow Catholic. So my challenge to Papa Mark is this: if you are going to continue heaping scorn our way, please explain where Akin's position (or Dave Armstrong's for that matter) differs from our own beyond your telepathic insight into our true intentions.
Completing his rhetorical dance, Mark goes to the following:
Our task as Catholics is not to probe the bare minimum of what is ethically necessary and hug it like a limpet. Our task is not to try to get as close to torture as possible without crossing a line. Jimmy himself recognizes this, I think, in his Big Red Disclaimer. But I think the tidal pull of the "What is torture?" question in the context of current events makes it hard for a lot of people to make the paradigm shift.
The paradigm shift is this: "Do not torture and abuse prisoners" is not the only thing the Church says about our obligation in wartime. There is a positive command as well: Treat prisoners humanely and with respect for their human dignity. If we are seriously obeying that, we will not be asking whether there are things we can do to them that look like torture but are not intrinsically immoral. That, at the end of the day, is not the real issue. Therefore, the question "What is torture?" while interesting in an abstract way, is a question that has, for far too long, derailed the real discussion. For the real question is, "How do we conduct interrogations while being sure to treat prisoners humanely?" Until we start asking that, we are barking up the wrong tree.
This is possibly the beginning of a realization by Mark that he is losing the argument on torture among fellow apologists and hence needs to shift his strategy if he is going to continue to claim Magisterial fiat for his stated views on the evils of the administration. The fact that Akin, like a number of others, explicitly rejected Mark's fundamentalist view of Veritas Splendor is IMO a pretty definitive smackdown even if he didn't single Mark out directly for rebuke. I'll be interested in seeing where Mark goes from here, but I don't plan on holding my breath waiting for an apology for all the abuse he has hurled at myself, Victor, and others these last several years.