Monday, 9 January 2012

tawr-cher? tor-ture? Torture!

Following on from my post regarding Rick Santorum and the debate as to whether waterboarding constitutes torture, I skidded over to an online dictionary to determine what, precisely it had to say regarding torture.

I chose the first definition (in order to be as even handed as possible).

Here it is:-

tor-tured, -tur·ing.
the act of inflicting excruciating pain, as punishment or revenge, as a means of getting a confession or information, or for sheer cruelty.
a method of inflicting such pain.
Often, tortures. the pain or suffering caused or undergone.
extreme anguish of body or mind; agony.
a cause of severe pain or anguish.
I also read on a blog somewhere that, if you feel up to experiencing the treatment yourself, it cannot be classified as torture.

Hmm.....a few kind comments from Daniel and Christine highlighted something that was very much in my mind when I originally posted - the end never justifies the means. I agree.

But let's re-visit the meaning of torture.
The dictionary emphasizes words such as excruciating, pain, and, even, severe pain.

Does that apply to waterboarding?

I think that one might suffer anguish, even severe anguish but that is not the same as excruciating pain.

Excruciating pain is being stretched on a rack so that all of your joints start popping out of their sockets; it is having electrical clips attached to one's nether regions and the current being switched on.

It's having your fingernails detached by a pair of pliers in strong hands.

I am sorry if all of this seems like dancing on the head of a pin but we do need to be precise about what we are debating here.

I would not like to defend waterboarding per se but, I do think that I could cope with 4 or 5 minutes of it whereas, 4 or 5 seconds of racking or fingernail pulling would have me reaching for the guilty confession statement.

And now, the point I made in my original post; would it be acceptable to waterboard a terrorist if it saved 10,000 lives by obtaining information regarding the whereabouts of a nuclear device in the centre of London or Madrid or Toronto?

If it is not torture then one could go ahead and get the information but, if you think it is....then you are sending a lot of children, women and men to a premature and painful death.

What about 9/11?

What if it could have been avoided by questioning a suspect using this technique?

Would you have been up for it?

Isn't torture a very subjective issue? If you were a sensitive soul then someone shouting in your ear might have you begging for mercy. Or, maybe a hood over your head so that you were cut off from the outside world, or, maybe, being subjected to darkness over a long period of time (or, the reverse).

I am new to this post voting lark but thought that it might be worth trying.

So, here it is; given the scenario that you could glean information by means of waterboarding a known terrorist that would prevent a 9/11 or a 7/7 would you go ahead and do it or.......not?

Please see the vote counter in the sidebar.


  1. Three cheers from here.

    Ask every onw who is waterboarded whether he wants to be really tortured (you have made some eloquent exaples; you can read "1948" for some others, even more shocking) or continue to be waterboarded and no one will answer "hey, it' s all the same".

    In my younger years ( I am not the youngest anymore) the Italian police used the useful and efficient method of salted water and kneeling on wheats, with the guest being allowed to choose the one or the other (and ending up getting both at alternate times). All with medical supervision of course, to avoid death of dehydration.

    This went on through the Seventies, and was used with the hardies on the mafia and terrorist camp.

    College girl methods? Nope.

    Torture? Come on...


  2. To quote the Catechism: "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"

    Physical violence is used in water boarding to extract confessions. No matter how once slices it, it cannot be moral. One can say that torture to a certain extent is subjective, but I doubt that anyone being water boarded during an interrogation is thinking "Nope, not physically unpleasant at all." What may affect people more than others, and make them break, may vary, but I think that few would not find water boarding unpleasant. Torture need not be twisting on the rack, or pulling out fingernails. A simple beating using your fists to get information out of someone is torture. It need not be incredibly agonizing. Take the Chinese water torture, which just drips water onto a person, yet is very effective. Water boarding is certainly far more painful. Come one, we're talking about a method of interrogation used by the likes of the Khmer Rouge. It's torture, plain and simple.

    As for whether or not I'd water board someone to prevent something like 9/11, that I can't truly know, but I'd like to think that I wouldn't. As I said before, the ends do not justify the means. There is no way around that, at all. I admit, the idea of thousands of people dying when I could have done something does not sit well with me, but the Gospel is worth more than any amount of human life. God is worth more. He comes first at all times, even the darkest ones.

  3. Sorry, Richard, can't go with you on this one. The argument, "Is harm X justified if by doing so you could save N lives?," is not only consequentialist thinking but verges on utilitarianism — the mistake of thinking that you can reach moral decisions by math. Granted that there will always be tough calls, and that there may be situations where one of the only two possible alternatives is only slightly less evil than the other. However, it doesn't do to create an extreme hypothetical situation in order to rationalize regular recourse to an intrinsic evil.

    BTW, just to take the curse off this, yesterday I posted a big thank you to bloggers who have helped me, and you're one of the first people I name.

  4. No problem Tony, I'm not even sure where I am going myself.
    More an attempt to smoke out some views and opinions.
    Yours are valued greatly, as always.

  5. One man's "terrorist" is another man's "freedom fighter".

    If the British had used waterboarding against the Continental Army, America/Hollywood would call it torture.

    Actual torture was used by the British and IRA in Northern Ireland. The conflict went on.

    Torture brutalises those doing it, and demeans their cause.

    I do not totally trust America when they say who is or isn't a terrorist. If I were born in Iraq I may well consider an illegaly invading army terrorists [and we would do well to remember that the WW2 German Army called the French Resistance "terrorists"]

    I do not believe the ends justify the means, especially when torture can often end with the suffering individual often saying whatever the torturer wants him to say.

    There is no guarantee you would save a single life. There's a good film in which Michael Sheen plays an American Muslim convert who is tortured. He feeds them false info and makes an interesting speech on the number of innocents killed in Iraq. he believes two wrongs make a right - he is wrong of course - but lots of silly people think that way, so torture will also create more terrorist cannon fodder.

    By the way, on the same note I do not think Kum By Ya style hymns should see the inside of a Catholic Church. Congregations here should be spared torture as much as any other.

  6. Interesting discussion. You know there was a right-leaning radio talk show host in America who didn't think water boarding was torture - until he agreed to subject himself to it and couldn't stand more than a few seconds.

    Now, given the choice of water boarding or having my fingernails slowly separated from their beds, I would gladly opt for the former! With that said, when a terrorist has frightened me so much I'm willing to abdicate my values and beliefs, he has won.

  7. Joyce - a good illustration, thank you.
    I still thinks it comes down to the age old question of balance when it comes to saving innocent lives. BTW, I am not advocating waterboarding, just trying to elicit views.

    1. Yes Richard, just as it does with wars, the death penalty and other forms of self defense for valid reasons

  8. Daniel, if you take the phrase you mention literally, then custody cannot be used during interrogations (say: for child rape), because it is in itself "physical and moral violence".

    Beside, the Church has condoned tough methods of interrogations for centuries. When in doubt, I am always with the Church of our forefathers in preference to a post VII catechism.


  9. Mundabor:

    1. How did the Church define "tough methods", and was this ever magisterial, or was it not infallible?

    2. Do I really need to defend the credibility of the Catechism?

    3. Speaking of our forefathers, here's what Pope St. Nicholas I had to say on the subject of torture (emphasis is mine):

    "If a thief or bandit is apprehended and denies the charges against him, you tell me your custom is for a judge to beat him with blows to the head and tear the sides of his body with other sharp iron goads until he confesses the truth. Such a procedure is totally unacceptable under both divine and human law, since a confession should be spontaneous, not forced. It should be proffered voluntarily, not violently extorted. After all, if it should happen that even after inflicting all these torments, you still fail to wrest from the sufferer any self-incrimination regarding the crime of which he is accused, will you not then at least blush for shame and acknowledge how impious is your judicial procedure? Likewise, suppose an accused man is unable to endure such torments and so confesses to a crime he never committed. Upon whom, pray tell, will now devolve the full brunt of responsibility for such an enormity, if not upon him who coerced the accused into confessing such lies about himself?"

    I especially point to " a confession should be spontaneous, not forced. It should be proffered voluntarily, not violently extorted." Now waterboarding is perhaps not as bad as tearing at a man's sides with iron, but that particular point still stands.