Saturday, October 13, 2007

Mark Shea on torture

The indefatigable Mark Shea was recently invited for a discussion on Relevant Radio (a Catholic radio station) regarding torture. He was utterly disgusted by what he felt was the attempt to justify torture that was the rhetorical heart, so to speak, of the interview. He wrote a long letter in reply (which I'm quoting in full after the jump). It's worth a read, especially in the way he (so rightly) identifies the rhetorical similarities between trying to justify torture, and trying to justify abortion.

He's taken the post down from his own blog, because Relevant Radio responded that the interview was just a demo, and will not be aired. However, it's absolutely worth reading!

Thank you for having me on your show. However (fair warning for the jeremiad that follows)....

I must say I was *appalled* at the excuses, euphemisms and evasions deployed on behalf of justifying torture in the interview today. I hope to see better from an allegedly Catholic radio show. Every trick in the book was tried from the non-existent ticking time bomb, to the reliable, "What *is* torture anyway?" strategy (despite the fact that the Presidential candidates quoted had themselves specifically called it "torture") to the attempt to enlist Fr. Brian Harrison as some sort of trump card to the extremely clear teaching of Veritatis Splendor to the desperate attempt to say that the Church has not *infallibly* spoken on the question of torture.

I felt a sense of deja vu, like listening to Catholics for a Free Choice making excuses for abortion ("What *is* a human person anyway? Thomas Aquinas said that ensoulment didn't happen for forty days after conception, you know. And besides the Church has never *infallibly* defined when a person comes into existence..."). The extremely clear agenda here was to provide a big loophole for dissent on torture in *exactly* the way CFFC labors to do the same thing for pro-choice Catholics. The whole goal of the conversation from the interviewer's side was to ask, "How close can we get to committing an intrinsically immoral act without, you know, technically, legally, precisely having to call it "torture". Sometimes it was even to suggest that only the Executive could decide what is and is not torture and so if the President (or, say, Stalin) said it isn't torture, it isn't (despite the fact that the candidates themselves had used the word "torture".)

I felt filthy when it was over and ashamed to see so-called "Catholic" radio participating in such a charade. When we reached the point where the host was trying to herd the listener toward saying, "Hey! Nobody dies during waterboarding, so it's okay." I felt ashamed for him. When we hit the moment where I was forbidden to discuss the two dozen documented cases of prisoners who *have* died during torture (because the interviewer wanted to maintain the rhetorical fog of "What is torture anyway?") I felt disgusted.

What was not approached within a hundred miles was the *real* question which anybody attempting to think with the Church *should* be asking: namely, "How do we treat prisoners humanely, as the Church *commands* us to do and still obtain the intelligence necessary to fight this war?" The assumption undergirding the whole discussion was "This is a war like no other and we must therefore be free to commit acts which, in previous generations, were called 'war crimes'." As though the Imperial Japanese, Nazis and Communists were not every bit as evil as the Radical Islamists we are fighting today. This is a war like every other: being fought by fallen men against wicked men. And since, they are men and not animals, we are obliged, as Christians, to advocate a conduct in war that is not simply the mirror of our foes. Today's show was one long attempt to urge the Men of Gondor to seize the One Ring for the greater good.


Fr. Andrew said...

Wow. Nice catch. I wish Shea still had it up.

One thing I don't understand. RR was trying to justify torture? Or were they only using a tease ad to lure listeners to a show where they show its immorality?

Sherry W said...

Fr. Andrew:

Mark described the interview in detail. It was the interviewer who kept pushing the issue. I asked if Mark thought he was just playing Devil's advocate to set the stage for Mark to articulate Church teaching in the area.

But Mark responded, if the topic had been abortion, no interviewer at RR would never dream of approaching it that way. They would ask Mark to articulate clearly the Church's teaching on abortion but the interviewer would not repeatedly give the listener the sense that they seriously questioned and/or rejected Catholic teaching on the subject.