Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Support the Troops?

An official Pentagon survey of US soldiers in Iraq throws up the following points:
  • 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."


Anonymous said...

I spent a few years listening to the inconsistent claptrap put out by Aikin and several others of that ilk. There was an almost surreal aspect to it--as if every ex-protestant fundamentalist with an authoritarian personality was suddenly styling himself a "Catholic Apologist". I found a certain entertainment value to hearing them attempting to defend the indefensible, something they did quite often once the Iraq war got underway and started going badly. I eventually grew bored with the steady Bush-is-God drumbeat and moved on. Needless to say, I don't miss them.

Antonio Manetti said...

Regardless of the policy at the top, the sad fact is the longer this war goes on and the longer the deployments, the greater will be the impulse on the part of combat troops to meet savagery with savagery.

As to Bush's accountability, I'm reminded of Shakespeare's "Henry V", when a common soldier unknowingly addressed the following speech to the king, himself on the eve of Agincourt:

But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath
a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and
arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join
together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at
such a place;' some swearing, some crying for a
surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind
them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their
children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die
well that die in a battle; for how can they
charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their
argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it
will be a black matter for the king that led them to
it; whom to disobey were against all proportion of

Unlike the king, however, our sovereign sits safely behind a desk in Washington.

Chris said...

Yes, and his daughters, nieces and nephews along with Cheney's kids are all safely tucked away with "other priorities". No blood and guts for them.

Antonio Manetti said...

Thanks to a comment in the Intel Dump blog, I came across the following piece by Mark Twain entitled "The Man Who Sits in Darkness". Although Twain is commenting on the imperial exploits of another day, the message is timeless.


A curmudgeon of Twain's stature is sorely missed.

Antonio Manetti said...

Sorry for the followup but this extract from the Twain piece was too good to pass up.

"[Those who Sit In Darkness] look doubtful, but in reality they are not. There have been lies; yes, but they were told in a good cause. We have been treacherous; but that was only in order that real good might come out of apparent evil....The Head of every State and Sovereignty in Christendom and ninety per cent. of every legislative body in Christendom, including our Congress and our fifty State Legislatures, are members not only of the church, but also of the Blessings-of-Civilization Trust. This world-girdling accumulation of trained morals, high principles, and justice, cannot do an unright thing, an unfair thing, an ungenerous thing, an unclean thing. It knows what it is about. Give yourself no uneasiness; it is all right."

Hollis said...

We have been treacherous; but that was only in order that real good might come out of apparent evil.

The End does not justify the Means---unless we say it does.