Monday, December 04, 2006

"A Piece of Furniture"

While Jimmy Akin over at Catholic Answers tries to make Jack Bauer a model of virtue and morality, the horrible implications of the Bush administration's torture policy continue to manifest themselves. Today, both Deborah Sontag of the New York Times and Michael Isakoff of Newsweek address the issue of Jose Padilla, locked up without charge or access to a lawyer for three and a half years. The implication is that the treatment of Padilla-- complete isolation and sensory denial-- has made him mentally ill. His lawyers accuse the government of torture, including "sleep deprivation, extreme cold, injecting noxious fumes into his cell and giving him mind-altering drugs". It is alleged that he now suffers from post traumatic stress disorder, facial tics, and "bodily contortions". Or more technically: "neuropsychiatric effects of prolonged isolation." The one time they let him out for a dental visit, it featured "noise-blocking headphones over his ears and blacked-out goggles over his eyes." As one of his lawyers claimed, he was treated like a piece of furniture.

They've utterly broken the man's spirit. They have violated his God-given human dignity and treated him as a mere object, a means to an end. As noted in the post from last week, this is makes torture intrinsically evil in Catholic moral theology. To be sure, many will point out that (i) what happened to him could be justified in the event of a ticking bomb scenario; (ii) what happened was not really torture, as there was no severe pain. As for (i), the intent and circumstances make no difference when an act is intrinsically evil. As for (ii), only by the twisted logic of the Bush administration (which defines torture as "death, organ failure or the permanent impairment of a significant body function") would that exception be valid. But, as noted earlier, some Catholic apologists are creating space for this Bushite definition, arguing that torture is only torture when it entails "the disproportionate infliction of pain." As for the case of Padilla in particular, note that both Gaudium Et Spes and Veritatis Splendour condemn "physical and mental torture and attempts to coerce the spirit." There's really no debate, at least among those not motivated by the need to defend the Bush administration and the amorphous "war on terror."

By the despite the valiant attempts of a small number of Catholic bloggers, this issue is not receiving much traction in the religious sphere. Last month, Peter Steinfels tackled this topic in the New York Times with a column discussing a recent debate in Theology Today. Steinfels addresses the silence head-on:
"It [torture] is such a stain on personal and national character that nothing but appalling photographs could force it to the fore. No stack of equivocating documents can have such force. In a season of shameless attack ads, torture is still too shameful to be debated."
One of the religious contributors to the debate noted that the same was true for the religious sphere: "in my lifetime, I do not remember any major public question being so studiously ignored as this one.'' The appropriate questions are: why? and how will this be judged by future generations?

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