Thursday, December 15, 2005

The torture debate and the Vatican

From the Chicago Tribune :

Pope Benedict XVI's top official for justice issues said Tuesday that torture is unacceptable for extracting information that might thwart a terrorist attack.

In analyzing what causes terrorism, the pope said in the Vatican's annual review of world conflicts that "consideration should be given not only to its political and social causes but also to its deeper cultural, religious and ideological motivations."

The pope also issued a warning about fundamentalism.

"Religious fanaticism, today often labeled fundamentalism, can inspire and encourage terrorist thinking and activity."

His message, which was issued for the approaching new year, also lamented that international diplomacy aimed at eliminating nuclear menace had become "bogged down."

The pontiff paid tribute to his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, who vigorously opposed the war in Iraq, and said the church would continue "serving the cause of peace."

At a news conference about the peace message, Cardinal Renato Martino, head of the Vatican's pontifical council on peace and justice, was asked whether torture could be a legitimate tool to gain information that might prevent terror attacks.

The prelate replied that there was no justification for using torture, which is the "humiliation of the human person, whoever he is."

OK. I hate it when I have to raise flags over Vatican octrine, but I will here. Please feel free to contribute to this--I could use other thoughts. My feeling is that, obviously, we don't want to torture people for no reason. Humane behavior should always be the basic norm. Prisoners are people, after all. But some of these prisoners have information that could save lives. If a prisoner, for example, knows where a bomb is hidden in London, or Paris, or New York, or on a submarine, don't the captors have a duty to extract this information to save hundreds, or thousands, of innocent lives? Isn't that the ultimate goal? I know this sounds a little utiliarian, but I can't believe that the Vatican would support letting many people die for the sake of keeping one person's human rights in tact. Warfare isn't pretty. I'm not saying that we should unilaterally use torture, but I do feel there are some cases where some is justitified. We have to be able to get information to save people and stop terrorism and other acts of war. I haven't followed the US torture debate very closely, but I just don't think it's right to say torture is never permissible. If our enemies know we won't do it to them, won't that cause them to be more brazen, try to push the envelope even more?

Please contribute to this--I could use some additional thoughts.

1 comment:

rover said...

Interesting post. Martin Luther had an interesting theory about the two earthly realms that may be of use here. According to Luther, there are two realms of authority, political and religous. Members of the religious realm should always disapprove of things like war and toture, while members of the political realm will probably realize that these things are pretty much unavoidable. My point is that the Pope can feel free to say that torture should never be used because its a decision that he will never have to make. It is therefore essential for him to speak out about these things. It isn't proper for our political leaders to unilaterally condemn these actions, because they could easily be placed in a situation, as you described in your post, where they don't have any choice. This isn't to say that they ever feel that torture/war is "good," but at times is necessary. It is here that Luther's dual realms play a key role. The theory allows us to support the notion that torture is a horrible thing while still asserting that it is an unavoidable side effect of the flawed world in which we live. As Christians I feel that it is essential to embrace both realms. We should support the statements of religious leaders because torture/war is a horrible thing, but also support our political leaders because they are the ones who have to live with themselves if they decide to, or not to, use torture/war. In the end, we live in a imperfect world with the hope of future perfection through no work of our own. Until that time torture and war will exist whether we like it or not. I am a bit amazed that the torture debate has even popped up in the US. From the CIA interviews I've heard, we don't even use torture anymore, but I guess they want to keep the option around just in case.