- More than one third support torture for gathering information.
- 40 percent support torture to save the life of a fellow soldier.
- Two-thirds would turn a blind eye to mistreating civilians or wantonly destroying property.
- Less than half think that non-combatants are worthy of respect and dignity.
- 10 percent have actually mistreated civilians.
I find these statistics staggering. And yet, as in any organization, the ethical standards are set by the top. If Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld say torture is OK, is it any wonder that the soldiers on the ground feel they have a green light, and that this kind of treatment is legitimate?
Let's break this down yet again. Torture is condemned unequivocally in the conciliar document Gaudium Et Spes. Specifically, it condemns ""physical and mental torture and attempts to coerce the spirit". The encyclical Veritatis Splendour went even further and said it was intrinsically evil, meaning it cannot be legitimated by intent or consequence. That rules out saving lives, ticking bomb scenarios, and all other sorry excuses for violating the God-given dignity and integrity (the intrinsic worth) of a person. You cannot use human beings as a means to an end, treating them as a mere object. Consequentialism is wrong. Note that this applies to psychological as well as physical torture, which experts believe is actually more harmful. Lest there is any remaining doubt, the Compendium of Social Doctrine declares that "international juridical instruments concerning human rights correctly indicate a prohibition against torture as a principle which cannot be contravened under any circumstances."
And yet, we have arrived at the situation whereby a president who flaunts his Christianity actively supports and implements a policy that is evil. Note that the proximity of Bush and Cheney to each specific act of torture is far closer than an average Democrat's proximity to each specific incidence of abortion. And yet this is something you will not hear from the right. Nor will you hear it from Catholic apologists like Jimmy Akin, who actually come dangerously close to defending torture.
I've talked about this many times, but it bears repeating. Akin errs when he defined torture as "the disproportionate infliction of pain". If not disproportionate, then not torture, then not evil. This is not much different than Bush official John Yoo defining torture as "death, organ failure or the permanent impairment of a significant body function". Coming up with a quantitative definition always means that something falling just below the standard does not constitute torture. Obviously, psychological torture is not torture. Akin also posits that waterboarding may not be torture under his definition if there is "no, less painful way, to save lives". This is a truly appalling exercise in naked consequentialism, no different from justifying the use of nuclear weapons during the second world war.
Let us remember the words of the martyr Oscar Romero: "There is no dichotomy between man and God’s image. Whoever tortures a human being,whoever abuses a human being,Whoever outrages a human being, abuses God’s image."