What About Waterboarding?

May 1, 2014 | 39 comments

Former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin caused a stir last weekend by telling an audience, as part of her get-tougher approach to terrorism, that “[I]f I were in charge, they would know that waterboarding is how we baptize terrorists.”

It was a stupid and flippant thing to say; however, I thought some of the reaction from the Christian blogosphere was overly indignant. (Was it blasphemous to invoke baptism? Mildly. The climax of The Godfather[1] was worse.) Part of the indignation stemmed from the presumption that waterboarding is intrinsically evil—making the allusion to baptism in the same breath particularly heinous. Church teaching clearly condemns torture, many said, and waterboarding is torture.

But I don’t know if it’s that simple. And so, given this occasion, I want to use this space to explore the question a little. All my musings are mine alone and do not purport to be the final interpretation of Church teaching or the official opinion of Catholic Answers.

First, a word about my approach. The practice of fine moral calculation in particular cases, which used to be called casuistry before that term became tainted, can sometimes resemble self-serving hair-splitting. But we mustn’t let that risk keep us from splitting hairs that require it.

For example, the Church condemns contraception. So, anything we do to prevent conception is immoral, right? Well, no. The Church specifically endorses periodic continence, in the right circumstances, as a means to regulate birth. Because not everything that looks like contraception, not everything that has the same end result as contraception, is in fact the sin of contraception.

If that seems obvious to you, it doesn’t to everyone. There are Catholics who reject the language of Humanae Vitae not because it’s too restrictive but because it's too permissive: to them, Natural Family Planning is just a euphemism for Catholic Contraception. Assisted reproductive technologies offer another area where small differences in the means make huge differences in the morality between superficially similar acts and outcomes.

In all such cases we must be careful not to be obtuse; or worse, to imagine that a failure to make distinctions is actually a sign of a purer faith.

So, on to waterboarding. This interrogation practice involves restraining a prisoner in a prone position and using water to simulate a drowning sensation. The aim is that this imposition of discomfort will motivate the prisoner to divulge important information. Catholics who oppose the practice frequently cite the Catechism’s definitive word:

Torture which uses physical or moral violence to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred is contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity (2298).

One thing that’s immediately unclear in this ambiguously worded and punctuated passage is whether torture is being defined (“torture, which we can identify by the following characteristics…”) or whether particular illicit forms of torture are being enumerated (“the kinds of torture that are contrary to human dignity are as follows…”), leaving room for licit forms. But either way, we can agree that Catechism unequivocally condemns physical or moral violence used to:

•  Extract confessions. I think of the trials of the Elizabethan Martyrs, or the electro-shock used by the Soviets on Fr. Walter Czisek: coercion of the will to elicit a (usually false) admission of wrongdoing. No one can justify this, and no one, to my knowledge, seriously tries.

•  Punish the guilty. This is an eccentric way to define “torture,” since we already have another term for this practice: corporal punishment. So is the Church saying that corporal punishment is intrinsically immoral? That would make ruler-wielding nuns, or my mom when she used to whack me with a wooden spoon, grave sinners. Scripture and Church history are likewise replete with the sanctioning of corporal punishment.[2] So let’s provisionally conclude that all kinds of physical correction aren’t being condemned here, but rather those of a “torturous” or extreme variety.

•  Frighten opponents. Physical violence for political intimidation is a hallmark of despots. Fear, as an end, seems hard to justify in most any case. It might be interesting to ponder whether these words applied to certain sporting events, in which intimidation through violence can sometimes be a tactic. But apart from that, we seem to be on solid and non-controversial ground here.

•  Satisfy hatred. This is the broadest and most classic sense of torture: an instrument of vengeance or sadism. There is no end sought through the torturous act other than suffering itself, for its own sake. Again, there is no controversy about the immorality of such an act.

But does waterboarding appear on this list—if not by name at least by definition? I don’t find it there. That waterboarding may resemble some of the words and concepts in that passage isn’t good enough.

Since the Church does not specifically address it, how should we morally evaluate something like waterboarding, which is the practice of imposing discomfort on someone with the intention of eliciting proportionately important (e.g., life-saving) information to which one has a right in justice? To put it concretely: You know where there’s a bomb that’s going to detonate and kill innocents. I have a right to know that information. What means can I use to get it from you?

Catholic principles of self-defense say that one may use even lethal means to protect one’s life or the lives of innocents in the face of an unjust aggressor (CCC 2263-2265). It seems to follow, then, that in the same circumstances non-lethal corporal means are at least in-bounds. For is not a person who intentionally withholds life-saving information an unjust aggressor? Even if his aggression is by omission.

As with credit card offers and end-user agreements, of course, terms and conditions apply. Care must be taken to ensure that the good being sought through the acquisition of information is proportional to the means used to get it. It is necessary to guard against secondary motives (vengeance, for example; the desire to kill or harm as an end) creeping into one’s intentions. And there has to be reasonable hope that the means will be effective. (Some waterboarding opponents claim the practice is not effective. If this is true then it would be impossible to justify it. But since opinion is at least divided among those who are knowledgeable, for our hypothetical purposes we’ll stipulate to effectiveness.) All these conditions likewise apply to other cases where the Church teaches that physical violence can be justifiable.

To bring us around to a conclusion: Let us be careful not to be ruled by words.

If we take as a principle that “torture” is immoral, then we must be precise about what torture is and isn’t—just as we are precise about what “contraception” is and isn’t. Let us not presume that precision is just a cover for consequentialism or Cafeteria Catholicism.

If we want to call the practice of waterboarding (and other practices, both actual and imaginable, that are like it in kind) “torture” then we should—as Church tradition suggests and the Catechism’s ambiguous language permits—be open to the possibility that not every practice that has ever fallen under that blanket term is intrinsically immoral. Just as the term “birth control,” though typically used to refer to immoral contraception, can also be used to describe morally licit Natural Family Planning.

Either way you slice it, I think it’s both reasonable and permissible for a Catholic to hold that the practice of waterboarding, whether or not you classify it as “torture,” is not intrinsically immoral. That doesn’t mean it’s a prudent thing to do in any particular instance, and it doesn’t excuse comments like Palin’s. But it should preserve such a Catholic from equally flippant charges of heterodoxy.

[1] If you haven’t seen The Godfather: Michael Corleone has the heads of the Five Families brutally assassinated while the baptismal rite plays in the background. Also, why haven’t you?

[2] For Fr. Brian Harrison’s invaluable survey on torture and corporal punishment in the Catholic tradition, which space prohibits me from quoting, see here and here.


Todd Aglialoro is the editor for Catholic Answers Press. He studied theology at Franciscan University, the University of Fribourg, and the International Theological Institute. A New York native and New England convert, Todd now lives in the San Diego area with his wife, seven children, and zero dogs.

Comments by Catholic.com Members

#1  Peter Laffin - Boulder, Colorado

Catholic Answers has stooped to the level of defending Sarah Palin's comments that water-boarding terrorists is the way we baptize them... Wow. Just, wow.

Perhaps we should call this the Catholic website for Republicans only? This is so far removed from reality, I'm just speechless. I wonder what our holy father would say on this topic compared to Ms. Palin?

May 1, 2014 at 11:58 am PST
#2  Todd Aglialoro - El Cajon, California - Catholic Answers Blogger

Peter, presuming that you actually read my post, you can see full well that I did the opposite of what you say I did. Your cyber-stalking of me is getting increasingly bizarre.

May 1, 2014 at 12:05 pm PST
#3  Michael Murphy - San Carlos, California

This is the sort of parsing of language and rationalization that allows good Catholics to do horrendous things in the name of national security? I'm sure Catholics in Nazi Germany who tried to justify what they did would have had similar discussions. Would Jesus stand by while people were waterboarded? Would Mother Teresa, Padre Pio, Pope John Paul II? I seriously doubt it. If something looks like a duck and smells like a duck, it's a duck. Waterboarding is torture, even if it's done with the best of intentions (and the road to hell, of course....) and torture is always wrong. I appreciate Todd's attempt to stimulate dialogue, but there is no way to justify torture/waterboarding.

May 1, 2014 at 12:24 pm PST
#4  Sean Ahern - Oak Ridge, Tennessee

(Your catechism range, "CCC 22643-2265," seems to have an extra digit. I think you mean "2264-2265.")

I would be careful here. Just as there is an important hair to be split about the action itself, there is a similar hair to be split about the justification for the action. If one knew unequivocally that there was a present threat to innocents, like your bomb example above, it's possible this argument could be made. But if the desire was to extract more nebulous information, the justification starts falling apart. For example, if people in a 'terrorist' camp were rounded up and all were waterboarded merely to extract what information they knew, I think that would be immoral. If we don't know that the information will be life saving, can it be justified to make a prisoner think he's drowning and will die? This would seem to land precisely into the "frighten opponents" category that is proscribed in the CCC.

May 1, 2014 at 12:30 pm PST
#5  James Scott - Sullivan, Missouri

Before you take the position of how wrong "waterboarding" is, what if your children's life depended on it? What if the information being sought could save many lives or an entire city?

Personally, I would do what it took to save innocent lives from those that don't value ours and let God be my judge.

And on your dislike for Sara Palin, would "Religious Liberty" have been taken away with her in office? And after 142 years (since 1872) would America have lost it's standing as the number one world economy to China? And would you rather have a pro-abortion president like Obama over a pro-life one?

May 1, 2014 at 1:01 pm PST
#6  Dick Martin - Frazeysburg, Ohio

Catholics, Democrats, Unions, always stick together. Pope Pius and Hitler were drinking buddies. Union and Planned parenthood are in it for all they can use each other for. Unions and Democrats are in Bed together. The Kennedys did not pay any attention to spiritual - moral side of any thing. Ted voted for all Left agenda; such as Abortion, Gay marriage, Gays as a life style not SIN. 9-11 twin towers terrorist's decision- what did Jesus think of that? Wonder what Jesus thought about cutting the head off on t.v.- one of infidel . Terrorist killing their own Wives and Daughters. could make a LONG list of terrorist not moved from reality. Now the Pope is trying to convince everyone that Islam's god is the same God of Christians. NOT! No, No, No. Allah is an ancient pagan moon God. Just look at all the building - Temples- mosques. Was same God before the big switch (Isaac and Ishmael). All of Islam and Terrorists are all one. They all follow the Koran and Mohammed - they can't be separated . Light has nothing to do with darkness. Their are some who act peaceful and live among us -Beware. Waterboarding has saved our Nation over and over again. Christianity Has a Savior. His name is Jesus. The word of God say's Jesus is the ONLY Way to Heaven, No other Name under Heaven by which We can be Saved. This is the Hope of all other Religions. The final Battle is going to be between Jesus and the rest of False Religions. I've Got good News -WE WIN.

May 1, 2014 at 1:26 pm PST
#7  Todd Aglialoro - El Cajon, California - Catholic Answers Blogger

Thanks for pointing out the extra digit, Sean.

I think your qualification with regard to the exact scenario in which waterboarding (or something like it) could be used is correct. That's the requirement of proportionality.

May 1, 2014 at 1:29 pm PST
#8  Debbie Douglas - Fraser, Michigan

Thumbs up to Dick Martin....

May 1, 2014 at 2:22 pm PST
#9  Chris Kennedy - Overland Park, Kansas

We've gone from "torture" to "enhanced interrogation techniques" to "imposition of discomfort". Replace "imposition of discomfort" with "simulation of drowning" and see if your argument holds up.

I think a simple condemnation of Palin's equating of waterboarding with baptism would have been sufficient, instead of descending into hair-splitting, much like Karl Keating's recent post about the sex abuse scandal.

May 1, 2014 at 2:38 pm PST
#10  Clinton Ufford - Sweet Home, Oregon

Thumbs down Dick. Boo. Get your assumptions straight.

May 1, 2014 at 2:44 pm PST
#11  Todd Aglialoro - El Cajon, California - Catholic Answers Blogger

Chris: I haven't gone from anything to anything. I'm trying to defend a kind of action in principle, and "imposition of discomfort" seems the most accurate and clinical a way to define it I can come up with. And I did say "simulate a drowning sensation" in my post.

If political language-spinners and propagandists have their own thing going on, I'm not part of it.

May 1, 2014 at 2:57 pm PST
#12  Jeff Stevens - Fairfax, Virginia

Very interesting argument, Todd. Would it be accurate to say that it is, in summary: "If the principle of double effect rightfully justifies premeditated acts of violence such as would occur in a Just War, does it likewise justify the act of torture to extract information to fight a Just War?"

An interesting question. I must ponder it. What first comes to mind is to consider whether the person is still a threat if they are captured. Has the Church taken a position on the torture of prisoners of war? On criminals captured and rendered harmless? It seems to me that they are no longer a direct threat. So it feels like a stretch to say that the moral principle that we are trying to defend life with the inevtable, unavoidable, and tragic secondary effect of killing another human being, would apply to someone who is no direct threat to anyone anymore. But "feels like a stretch" is not a valid argument in Catholic moral theology.

May 1, 2014 at 3:11 pm PST
#13  Everett Buyarski - American Canyon, California

@James Scott

Whether the life of your child or the life of an entire city depends on the information being obtained isn't really relevant. Under the principle of double effect, you can never do something that is intrinsically evil, even for a good purpose. If waterboarding is intrinsically evil, then it doesn't matter whose life is at stake, which is what this article is discussing.

----

I'd propose that standard to be applied in this instance would be that of the principle of double effect. In this case, the bad effect is the physical harm to the person being waterboarded, and the emotional harm of the fear of death they are undergoing. The good effect is the gaining of some sort of information from them, presumably to prevent harm or death to others. While I think there are arguments to be made for points 1 (the the act is at least morally neutral) and 4 (that the good effect proportionately outweighs the bad effect), I strongly question whether it'd meet points 2 & 3, that the good effect can't be caused by the bad effect, and that the agent does not directly will the bad effect, but only permits or foresees it.

May 1, 2014 at 3:26 pm PST
#14  Todd Aglialoro - El Cajon, California - Catholic Answers Blogger

Jeff:

Though they're related, I preferred to appeal to defense of self or innocents rather than just war—it's a closer and cleaner comparison.

So, yes, I think that since we know it can be licit to use physical violence up to capital force in defense of self or innocents, it follows a fortiori that we can use less severe violence for that same motive. The only differences are accidental: instead of physically assaulting a criminal brandishing a weapon, you are physically assaulting a criminal whose weapon is his unjust refusal to cooperate.

We can see that this is so by asking the question, "If I have information that can save the lives or welfare of innocents from being directly harmed, and unjustly refuse to give it, am I culpable for their harm?" Clearly I am.

As for your question about whether a prisoner has been rendered harmless, I appeal to my phrase "threat of omission." Even the otherwise neutralized prisoner, if his refusal to provide information immediately threatens lives, is an unjust aggressor.

May 1, 2014 at 4:02 pm PST
#15  Peter Laffin - Boulder, Colorado

Todd,

I hadn't even seen that you had written the post. I was just astonished that any Christian person would actually try to rationalize this rather than straight-up condemning it.

Well done!

May 1, 2014 at 4:12 pm PST
#16  Todd Aglialoro - El Cajon, California - Catholic Answers Blogger

Everett:

I think we can take care of the agent not directly willing the bad effect by being on guard against vengeance. Presumably this is a constant concern for law enforcement officers and anyone who works in criminal justice.

As for the good effect not coming as a result of the bad effect: do we not face this same problem, or the appearance of it, in other scenarios that we never question?

For example, a criminal engaged in a violent act can be made to cease his act through the use of physical violence against his person. If he is particularly determined, it could be necessary to apply enough violence to hurt, maim, or even kill him. In such cases the good effect unquestionably is brought about by his being hurt, incapacitated, or killed -- "bad" effects.

The only way around this, I think, is to drop the use of double effect in this kind of case. We don't merely tolerate physical violence against an unjust aggressor, we seek it. We intend it (proportionately, prudently, without hatred) as a means to an end. Or to take a parallel scenario, we don't merely tolerate a prisoner's loss of freedom because it's accidental to some good effect. Instead we say that it's licit to assault and licit to incarcerate not because there's a double effect, but because those things are circumstantially just.

May 1, 2014 at 4:14 pm PST
#17  Mark McKeon - Clovis, California

I don't think whether you can come up with a scenario where waterboarding would be permitted is the issue, but rather what should be our response to its use in general. The evidence I've read about is pretty clear both that the "ticking time" bomb scenario is rarely (if ever) the case, and even if it were, that waterboarding (whether it is called torture or not) does not lead to truthful statements. I think, therefore, that this is really analogous to the Church's position on capital punishment. While recognizing that there is no blanket condemnation of capital punishment, the Church teaches that the circumstances where it can appropriately be used are "very rare, if not pratically non-existent." CCC 2267. I know the analogy is not exact, since "torture" is not "punishment" (or at least it shouldn't be), but try reading section 2267 substituting waterboarding for the death penalty, and see what you think.

May 1, 2014 at 4:38 pm PST
#18  Jeff Stevens - Fairfax, Virginia

Todd,

Some have cited Gaudium Et Spes 27, Veritatas Splendor 80, The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church 404, and the ADDRESS OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI TO THE PARTICIPANTS IN THE TWELFTH WORLD CONGRESS OF THE INTERNATIONAL COMMISSION OF CATHOLIC PRISON PASTORAL CARE as indicating that the Church regards torture as intrinsically evil in every circumstance. How would you address those citations?

May 1, 2014 at 5:01 pm PST
#19  Peter Laffin - Boulder, Colorado

Todd,

I would love to see you, or anyone on Catholic Answers for that matter, write a blog post about the US Bishop's support of the Democrat's legislation to increase the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. Or would that go too far against your obvious biases? It would be quite Catholic of you, however.

Here's a starting point, a quote from Bishop Stephen Blaire of Stockton, CA, in his testimony to the US Senate:

"It is a scandal that the richest country in the world has allowed over 23 million children in working poor families to become the norm."

It would take some guts to put your religion above your politics; I think you can do it!

May 1, 2014 at 7:37 pm PST
#20  Tony Schuldt - Sioux City, Iowa

Peter, I'm sure Todd does have his biases (because we all do), but after reading your first comment I think it's fair to say that he isn't defending Palin. He suggests that what she said was inexcusable, and he also says it was stupid, flippant and mildly blasphemous. I don't think he's doing anything earth-shattering by asserting that "some" of the reactions to Palin's comments were a little overboard.
Not that I'm a Palin fan, on which, judging by your comments on this site, I'm sure we're in solid agreement!

May 1, 2014 at 9:16 pm PST
#21  Robyn Plaster - Huntington Beach, California

This did give me a lot to think on. I still think water boarding is wrong, but I can see where you are coming from. However, I see some flaws in the argument.

1. I have an issue with describing water boarding merely as "an imposition of discomfort." This sounds like sugar-coating it to me, no offense. Sitting in a wooden chair for hours is uncomfortable, being almost drowned is something else entirely. Especially since the person feels like they are being killed, and as such, it really amounts to a mock execution, and not a discomfort.

Yes, they are not literally being drowned, but their body thinks it is. I'm not sure if you have ever experienced almost drowning, but I have, and it's not uncomfortable, it's downright terrifying. Especially when the gag reflex kicks in. If I was being forced to endure that over and over, I would call that torture. It's certainly a far cry from an imposition of discomfort.

2. I also disagree when you say, "Does waterboarding appear on this list [in the Catechism]—if not by name at least by definition? I don’t find it there. That waterboarding may resemble some of the words and concepts in that passage isn’t good enough."

I argue water boarding actually does fit the definition in the Catechism perfectly. Water boarding uses physical violence (Yes, tying someone to a board upside-down, gagging them, and causing them to feel like they are drowning is physical violence) to extract a confession. That's torture.

Finally, I don't think it quite follows that we can use water boarding as self-defense. They don't seem equivalent to me. Self-defense, if I understand it correctly, falls under the principle of double effect, where we are doing a good action, with a good intent, but it has an unintended bad effect, right?

But with torture, there may be good intention, (saving lives) but the action itself is still intrinsically evil. We can't really say that the pain we cause in torture is an unintended consequence, since that's what makes it torture.

Maybe if water boarding were simply an imposition of discomfort, I might agree with you here. But as I argued above, that's not really an accurate portrayal, its much more than that. So as it is I don't see the similarity, and I just don't see a way to justify it. There are other means of extracting information that are more humane.

-Robyn

P.S. I also don't think invoking the hard cases is a very good way to argue for water boarding's morality or lack thereof. Most of the time, it's never as simple as innocents will die, unless we water board. Even if that was the only situation it was used in, it wouldn't prove that water boarding isn't therefore intrinsically immoral.

At most, a situation like that makes water boarding understandable, and would lessen the culpability for those who do it, but I don't think it can prove anything beyond that.

P.P.S. BTW, Even though I disagreed with it, I appreciated the level-headed way this article was written, which is usually absent on this topic. You may be wrong, but you write good. ;)

May 1, 2014 at 10:54 pm PST
#22  Christopher Spotswood - Valdosta, Georgia

From Wikipedia:

"Waterboarding is a form of torture, more specifically a type of water torture, in which water is poured over a cloth covering the face and breathing passages of an immobilized captive, causing the individual to experience the sensation of drowning. Waterboarding can cause extreme pain, dry drowning, damage to lungs, brain damage from oxygen deprivation, other physical injuries including broken bones due to struggling against restraints, lasting psychological damage, and death.[1] Adverse physical consequences can manifest themselves months after the event, while psychological effects can last for years.[2]
Waterboarding is a form of torture, more specifically a type of water torture, in which water is poured over a cloth covering the face and breathing passages of an immobilized captive, causing the individual to experience the sensation of drowning. Waterboarding can cause extreme pain, dry drowning, damage to lungs, brain damage from oxygen deprivation, other physical injuries including broken bones due to struggling against restraints, lasting psychological damage, and death.[1] Adverse physical consequences can manifest themselves months after the event, while psychological effects can last for years.[2]

In the most common method of waterboarding, the captive's face is covered with cloth or some other thin material, and the subject is immobilized on his/her back. Interrogators pour water onto the face over the breathing passages, causing an almost immediate gag reflex and creating the sensation for the captive that he is drowning.[3][4][5] Victims of waterboarding are at extreme risk of sudden death due to the aspiration of vomitus. Vomitus travels up the esophagus, which can then be inhaled (mostly into the right lung due to its more direct pathway)."

May 1, 2014 at 11:46 pm PST
#23  Todd Aglialoro - El Cajon, California - Catholic Answers Blogger

Mark:

I think your first point is very strong. My greatest worry as I was writing was that the best I could was carve out a merely hypothetical circumstance in which waterboarding (or something like it) could be employed. But I really don't think I have.

The "ticking bomb" scenario may be extreme, but is it impossible? I don't see why. Beyond that, one could imagine a range of scenarios—in wartime, in law enforcement or national security—in which there's a right to know information vital to life or welfare, and the imposition of discomfort is considered as a means of getting the information. You'd have to gauge the severity of the threat, the immediacy of the threat, and the value of the information sought, and make a calculation.

Could you use something like waterboarding if a suspected act of violence were a week away rather than more imminent? If the threat involved loss of property rather than life? If the information sought were not life-saving in itself, but an important step towards gaining life-saving information? These questions can make us suspicious of slippery slopes, I realize, but they're questions that have to be asked.

Capital punishment, and John Paul II's words about it, are a whole 'nother issue. I can only answer so much hate mail at a time...

May 2, 2014 at 7:57 am PST
#24  Todd Aglialoro - El Cajon, California - Catholic Answers Blogger

Robyn, thanks for your comment. A few replies to your enumerated points:

1. I have gotten a lot of flak for "imposition of discomfort," but I promise you that phrase isn't meant to downplay the severity of waterboarding or anything else. Remember that I'm trying to establish a principle, not to argue for just one kind of practice. Maybe instead we're talking about twisting someone's arm a little. Maybe we're talking about making a threat or causing psychological discomfort that doesn't involve any physical pain at all. Maybe we're indeed just talking about putting someone in an uncomfortable cell or chair. These are all forms of imposed discomfort, as waterboarding is.

Once you have established the principle that it's not intrinsically wrong to impose discomfort for certain reasons, then you can ask yourself how severe the discomfort may be, how lasting its effects, etc. Do people oppose waterboarding because it's too severe, or because they think it's wrong to impose *any* kind of discomfort in an interrogation scenario, no matter the circumstances? You see there are two different arguments.

2. I don't agree that eliciting a confession is the same thing as accessing information to which one has a right. People must not be coerced into confessing guilt for crimes -- this is how despotic regimes work. It destroys justice. I think this is clearly the context of that line from the Catechism. Moreover, your failure to confess guilt does not make you a threat; but your withholding life-saving information does.

Double-effect applies to the use of capital force in self-defense. We should not intend the killing of an unjust aggressor. However, we inevitably intend the violence we bring to bear on his person, even if it's not lethal or meant to be lethal. If I punch an unjust aggressor to make him cease his aggression, I intend the harm I'm doing to him (albeit not as an end in itself, but I do intend it). I intend that the cessation of his aggression result from that harm. I want him to be stunned, blinded, weakened, in too much pain to be a threat anymore. That blows away any hope of invoking double effect. See my similar reply on this question above.

May 2, 2014 at 8:16 am PST
#25  Mark McKeon - Clovis, California

Todd, I hope you didn't take my comment as hate mail. That was not my intent. I just wanted to continue the discussion.

May 2, 2014 at 8:19 am PST
#26  Peter Laffin - Boulder, Colorado

Great, Todd! Now let's see the article on the US Bishops supporting the Democrat's bill to raise the minimum wage!!

May 2, 2014 at 8:47 am PST
#27  Todd Aglialoro - El Cajon, California - Catholic Answers Blogger

Mark, not at all. Said with a smile.

May 2, 2014 at 9:00 am PST
#28  Todd Aglialoro - El Cajon, California - Catholic Answers Blogger

Jeff:

I make a habit of not replying to challenges that consist of invitations to look stuff up. In this case I'll make a brief exception.

All that those citations do is establish that the Church has moved towards a stance of calling immoral everything that is "torture." This is not its traditional stance -- things called "torture" were sanctioned and employed in the past. But that's okay: the way we use words changes over time.

But that still leaves us without a definition of what torture is and isn't. The Catechism passage I quoted comes closest to giving us definitive ideas -- "moral or psychological violence" done for certain motives that are listed.

I think there are problems with that list -- for example, the conflation of torture with corporal punishment. It doesn't anticipate my unjust-aggressor scenario, and it doesn't talk about severity of violence (no one thinks a slap on the hand from a ruler is "torture," right? So severity matters). But it's a start.

May 2, 2014 at 9:07 am PST
#29  Barbara Kurtz - Millstone Township, New Jersey

I didn't think Christians condoned torture. After reading this article, I clicked on your name to read about who you are. I wasn't surprised you don't have any dogs, and I thank God Almighty for that. Where is your compassion? I can't even imagine Jesus torturing anyone.

May 2, 2014 at 10:15 am PST
#30  Todd Aglialoro - El Cajon, California - Catholic Answers Blogger

Barbara, you may want to visit the links to Fr. Harrison's historical survey, found in the footnote above. You'll see that the Church has historically sanctioned, practiced, and regulated things we'd call torture, along with capital and corporal punishment.

I could never imagine Jesus going to war, or having marital relations, or doing many other things. Imagining whether Jesus would do something can't be our sole criterion for morality.

PS: I love cats.

May 2, 2014 at 10:29 am PST
#31  Barbara Kurtz - Millstone Township, New Jersey

I'm sorry for lashing out at you in a personal way; I never heard of you and you didn't deserve that. Your gracious reply to my comment makes me know that this is so. I will explore this torture thing further by reading the links you provided. Thank you very much. And I'm glad you love cats.

May 2, 2014 at 12:47 pm PST
#32  Benjamin Holmes - San Diego, California

It was a blasphemous comment from Mrs. Palin. And as far as l know, her denomination doesn't believe in the salvific necessity of baptism.

May 3, 2014 at 7:59 am PST
#33  Peter N - Columbia, South Carolina

I think it is important, in deciding whether waterboarding is torture, to take a look at the Justice Department guidelines for how it is to be done. These can be found, along with a lot of other information, at the following website:

http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2009/04/28/despite-reports-khalid-sheikh-mohammed-waterboarded-times/

Here is the gist of it:

-- Five days of use in one month, with no more than two "sessions" in a day;
-- Up to six applications (something like a dunk) lasting more than 10 seconds but less than 40 seconds per session;
-- 12 minutes of total "water application" in a 24-hour period

Waterboarding according to these guidelines is a far cry from other kinds of things commonly called 'waterboarding,' especially the Japanese variety used in World War II which was torture by any standards.

May 4, 2014 at 4:19 pm PST
#34  Todd Aglialoro - El Cajon, California - Catholic Answers Blogger

Thanks, Barbara, and peace to you.

Peter N: If there's a substantial difference between the interrogation-waterboarding practiced according to U.S. military guidelines and the waterboarding practiced by the Japanese in WWII -- which are often alleged to be the same thing by waterboarding opponents -- it's an important point of fact, indeed.

May 5, 2014 at 11:52 am PST
#35  Dick Martin - Frazeysburg, Ohio

Let's talk about something meaningful. Do you know Islam is taking over the U.S.A. With the help of our president and the democrats. Go to school on this before the next election. Most votes didn't ***** in the last election. No absentee ballots were *****ed, non of the military over seas was *****ed, Dead people voted,even mickey mouse.

Muslims lie not because they are liars by nature but by choice. Systematic lying as a religious policy is deadly, and if our politicians do not understand this, thousands could die.

It seems our President and his advisors are clueless as to the desires, doctrines, and distinctives of Islam. While I feel a little audacious in giving advice to national leaders, it is necessary since no one else is doing it. Muslims lie not because they are liars by nature but by choice. Systematic lying as a religious policy is deadly, and if our politicians do not understand this, thousands could die.

Muslims lie when it is in their interest to do so and “Allah” will not hold them ac*****able for lying when it is beneficial to the cause of Islam. They can lie without any guilt or fear of ac*****ability or retribution. A lie in the defense of Islam is approved even applauded in their “holy” books.

Muslims are permitted to lie: (1) to save their lives, (2) to reconcile a husband and wife, (3) to persuade a woman into a bedroom and (4) to facilitate one on his journey. Muslims are even permitted to disavow Islam and Mohammed if it is not a genuine heart-felt rejection. Muslims will tell you that concealment of a truth is not an abandonment of that truth if it benefits Islam

May 8, 2014 at 12:46 pm PST
#36  Jeremiah Wingerden - New Paltz, New York

End of debate: http://time.com/2909049/pope-seeks-an-end-to-all-kinds-of-torture/

June 28, 2014 at 7:24 pm PST
#37  Dick Martin - Frazeysburg, Ohio

You had better pray and hope that the debate is not over. When it's over and no one is paying any attention to what is going on in Islamic world domination. we will have our Christian church doors closed. We will have to go underground. We will be persecuted to the fullest degree. the Pope is siding with the Muslims in stating the they believe in the same God as the Christians do. Allah is a pagan moon God and worshipped even today. See all the crescent moons symbols atop their buildings and mosques. see c.c. 841. "No one comes to the Father but by Me." ( Jesus). They don't believe in the trinity. The Father, Son, And Holy Spirit is NOT Allah. Another brilliant statement by just a man.

July 4, 2014 at 1:08 pm PST
#38  Michael Rogala - Chicago, Illinois

Nice going Todd . . . you are another "convert" that is quickly establishing the validity of my unofficial poll on this site.

So far I can say that as "apologists" y'all are either raw intellects on a stick or smoking some great weed.

Casuistry is not to be confused with mental masturbation . . . which is what you are doing. Take it from one who has benefited for many years substantially from those Masters of Casuistry, the Jesuits, you are pretty much clueless.

You need to come to some sort of conclusion, son. One thing a good casuist has is a sense of moral conviction and is not satisfied to just spank-the-monkey without arriving at some denoument.

Where DO they get you guys?

August 11, 2014 at 5:00 pm PST
#39  Dick Martin - Frazeysburg, Ohio

Michael: Where do you get your Mastery of Morality? On the end of a stick. Most intellectuals use toilet paper. maybe from smoking weed to enhance your ability to think straight. Do you masturbate as the Jesuits Do. They are the S.S. of the Catholic Church.

August 13, 2014 at 10:04 am PST

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