Defining Torture: One More Thought

by Jimmy Akin

in Moral Theology

I had another thought that I’d like to add regarding the proposed definition of torture.

That definition, you will recall, is that the sin of torture consists in the disproportionate infliction of pain.

One of the things I mentioned in the course of developing this definition is that inflicting pain in order to satisfy hatred (as opposed to justified anger) is automatically disproportionate. This is because hatred is itself sinful, and so any application of pain in the service of something that is itself sinful is going to automatically be disproportionate.

What we have happening in that case is a separate sin (hatred) that is having the infliction of pain used in its service, causing the infliction of pain to become the sin of torture.

It occurs to me that the same thing may happen in other contexts, and this may play a role in the degredation cases.

For example, it strikes me that sexually degrading someone is automatically sinful on its own. The area of human reproduction is privileged in a way that other areas are not. You can (in principle) execute a criminal for a capital offense, but you cannot (in principle) have him sexually abused before the execution. That’s what my moral sense strongly tells me, though I can’t think of a Magisterial document that has treated this specific question.

If we take it as a given that sexual degredation is inherently evil then it follows that any application of pain in the service of sexual degradation would be disproportionate and thus create a situation of torture.

Using sexual degredation as a means to another end (like getting info) similarly would not be permitted because you cannot do something that is intrinsically evil as a means to a good end. The end does not justify the means.

So, in addition to satisfying hatred, I think there may be additional sins–like sexual degradation–that will also automatically render any application of pain a form of torture.

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{ 24 comments }

Honora November 27, 2006 at 4:07 pm

I’m not even going to read the comments on the torture posts here, because I cannot believe anyone would split hairs about what’s ok in torture. I most especially am horrified that Catholics would spend time thinking about it, or feel that they have to. Anyone who has suffered in body, mind and soul knows who the author of torture is.
Yes: Satan.
Those mortals who deliberately torture others do so in Satan’s name and spirit and cause. They know it, Satan knows it…and so does God, Who will judge by His rules of conduct for mankind.
O Heaven, turn Your Face from us until we get a clue. We have become the beasts of the Coliseum.

Paolo November 27, 2006 at 9:51 pm

As a parent to a very wilfull toddler, learning how to discipline a child is often forthright in my mind. And as an imperfect human being, I do catch myself sometimes mistaking a disproportionate punishment for a crime.
I do know that there is a certain mindset in today’s culture that wants to avoid causing any pain whatsoever, but as a parent, I know this is intrinsically wrong-thinking especially when I observe many roudy spoiled children (especially teenagers) who have no respect for a parent’s rightful authority.
Contemplating these posts on torture in light of “Crime and Punishment” make perfect sense to me, especially as a father.
Unlike the previous poster, I do not believe that suffering (mental, physical, or emotional anguish) in itself is Satan’s domain. Because of our fallen nature sin and death has entered the world and in the light of Christ suffering can be redemptive and salvific.
As a man who led a very decadent life in his youth, I am glad for the pain I suffered and the wounds I received in mind and soul, that through that pain I have come to know Christ.

Paul November 28, 2006 at 2:19 am

(More comment on my blog) I think Akin needs to ponder more about what kind of torture can be intrinsically wrong, and not come up with a proposed definition that can only be subjective.

David B. November 28, 2006 at 7:27 am

Jimmy,
I commend you for all your hard work.

Martin November 28, 2006 at 7:49 am

Though hatred can add icing to the cake of tourture it isn’t an essential ingredient. Consider the dispassionate “professional” who doesn’t take what he does personally. Maybe even simply feels pride at what he does.

Honora November 28, 2006 at 8:09 am

Yes, Martin. And to that, billions of Jews respond even decades later, “Never forget!”
Never forget what? Man’s inhumanity to man? (Oh, please, there is Christmas shopping to do — I still haven’t gotten Fido anything for his stocking.. Or, ‘What is truth?’)
Truly, I see an abomination standing in the place of desolation. It’s probably not the one the Bible refers to, but by God, it’s an antichrist of the first caliber, for it has fooled even the clergy, here.

Tim J. November 28, 2006 at 8:23 am

Honora, you seem to think that somebody here is advocating the use of torture.
Nobody has, that I know of, least of all Jimmy. He has said that torture is intrinsically evil.
I have seen people really advocating torture and this is not it. It might help if you actually took part in the discussion, rather than pontificating without addressing anything Jimmy has actually said.

Honora November 28, 2006 at 8:37 am

Paolo, somehow you have tried to link TORTURE with discipline? Ask my little RCIA catechumen the difference if you need to; she was strung up by her father and his cronies in satanic rites. And by the way, I never read of Mary (and/or Joseph, nor of Monica, etc.) whacking the snot out of their child for foolishly stepping in front of a goat cart. Children are taught with love, transformed by love. It’s doable.
But the point is, we CHRISTIANS are sanctioning satanic rites being perpetrated upon others, even tho’ we’ve already been told with what measure we measure, it shall be measured unto us. Maybe we, too, shall be detained with no light at the end of the tunnel, or perhaps sent into rendition.. Surely, what is waterboarding for the goose, is also waterboarding for the gander, yes?
YES.

Tim J. November 28, 2006 at 8:42 am

No one here has defended any kind of torture. Not waterboarding, not slapping the snot out of anyone… not anything.
Do you have Jimmy confused with someone else? have you read his posts?

Honora November 28, 2006 at 8:49 am

Tim, I appreciate your loyalty to Jimmy, but I wouldn’t be responding here at all if I didn’t see confusion over torture’s possible merits even in the post above!
But you’re right — I forgot for a sec that ‘pontificating’ is not for the laity.

Tim J. November 28, 2006 at 9:02 am

Honora, as much as I like Jimmy, I would not defend his arguments out of loyalty. I am merely pointing out that you have not addressed anything he actually said, and you don’t seem to have read his posts, yet you are very free in accusing him of advocating the use of torture.
Will you please tell me to which of his statements you are responding?

Esau November 28, 2006 at 9:25 am

Tim, I appreciate your loyalty to Jimmy, but I wouldn’t be responding here at all if I didn’t see confusion over torture’s possible merits even in the post above!
But you’re right — I forgot for a sec that ‘pontificating’ is not for the laity.

After the long restful Thanksgiving Holiday vacation, and having come to the posts here, I couldn’t believe it when the topic that shot up right before my very eyes just happened to be TORTURE!
Even though I was sick for the last days of the vacation, this topic was completely off my radar and totally unexpected after such a warm family holiday weekend!
But seriously, though –
HONORA:
I couldn’t help but take a gander on all your posts. It looks as though you may have personal issues that you seem to be projecting off of Jimmy Akin’s blog post.
Are you in any way a victim of torture yourself?
If so, I feel for you and hope you are getting help for whatever abuse you may have been the victim of.
I just can’t see how anything Jimmy has said in this blog posting of his could have possibly set off the extremely harsh comments you’ve spewed off in your posts.
It seems rather than responding to actual material in Jimmy’s post, that you’re actually responding to some personal issues of your own.
Hope you’re okay and that God heals you of whatever mental and physical torture you may have suffered.

Paolo November 28, 2006 at 11:02 am

Honora,
I think you’ve completely missed the subtleties of Mr. Akin’s post. He defines that torture is always wrong and he has done a marvellous job in doing so. When a parent mistreats a child with disproportionate pain, that constitutes torture and it is always wrong.
I don’t think spanking a child is wrong. But the punishment has to fit the crime. And there are certainly times when a parent makes the mistake of unduly punishing a child when the gravity of the crime does not fit. That is what constitutes torture and is always wrong.
In your example, if a child unknowingly walks in front of a cart (or a car for that matter) it would be considered torture to beat the child for his ignorance. In that case the crime does not fit the punishment and is considered torture. A mild scolding may be all that is needed.
Another example is more personal for me – my toddler son used to try and play with the electrical socket. To slap him in the face or dislocate his arm is completely disproportionate to the crime. A stern warning may all that is needed, but if the child persists, a mild slap on the wrist and a firm “No” is definitely proportionate.
I think by neglecting to read the entire article you have missed out on the subtleties of Mr. Akin’s argument as well as proving that “Torture is always wrong.”
God bless,
Paolo

Drusilla November 28, 2006 at 12:36 pm

There’s a huge difference between discipline and torture. Discipline comes from love. Parents are responsible to God to teach their children to be Christ like. Discomfort, even pain and suffering often come with the learning but causing suffering is not the goal. The goal is the child’s good.
Pain and suffering are the goals of torture. Torturers, including dispassionate professionals, hate their victims. Hatred peers out of many faces, not all of them twisted in rage. Where there is no love, there is hatred. In the case of torture, there is no love, not for human beings, not for God. We think of hatred as an active malevolence but often it’s coldly passive, a rock in the stream trying to dam the flow or at least discomfit travelers. And along with the hatred comes self-justification. Torturers tend to believe they have the right, even the responsibility to inflict harm on the victim; the victim has no value except what the torturer assigns. Torture is a sin of monstrous pride.
One other thing, the source of suffering is always sin, always evil. Suffering is never intrinsically good. But because Christ has repurposed it, when voluntarily accepted, suffering becomes immensely powerful for holiness, for healing, for participating in the Cross. Many can look back and be thankful for the wounds they have suffered but we must be very careful not to visit suffering on another person (or ourselves) in the name of making them better. That’s not discipline and it’s not love but it soon becomes torture. The victims of torture who are able to offer up their sufferings come out ahead but at a terrible cost. But what of those who do not know of uniting their suffering with Christ’s? Then torture also becomes a horrible offense against their souls.

Tim J. November 28, 2006 at 12:38 pm

“When a parent mistreats a child with disproportionate pain, that constitutes torture and it is always wrong.”
Actually, Paolo, that would probably be classed as abuse, though it could be torture if it were WAY out of proportion, that is, gratuitous.

Drusilla November 28, 2006 at 1:31 pm

Perhaps a bit of Honora’s confusion is that anyone would attempt to define torture. Given that it is intrinsically evil, a definition might seem unnecessary. Also, definitions are often used to skirt the rules.
But we always need to understand the parameters of sin. Not so as to know how badly we can harm another person before it becomes torture but because we need to be able to respond to others who would define torture as any discomfort or insist that under certain circumstances, torture is okay. And a definition can also help us know when our hearts are turning towards sin.
We live in fearful times. Fear is often the motivation to torture others or to wish torture upon them. Even though we may not personally engage in it, by wanting others to be tortured, by supporting those who torture – explicity or implicitly – we participate in the sin.
And too, there is the desire to know and love God better. A definiton can teach us more about what it means that we are each made in the image and likeness of God. The more we learn about that, the better we will know and love God.

Martin November 28, 2006 at 2:07 pm

Perhaps someone quicker than me can find Chestersons story of the people gathering to destroy the lightpost. A monk walks up and they askfor his help. He answers by starting with a discussion of light, it’s merits and if light is good in essence or from something else. The people ignorehim. Destroy the light and then wander in darkness arguing about where to put a new post.
His point: You need to understand the basics before you can make a judgement. Jimmy is trying to help define what torture is and is not. Then work on explaining why it is unjust

c matt November 28, 2006 at 3:09 pm

Using sexual degredation as a means to another end (like getting info) similarly would not be permitted because you cannot do something that is intrinsically evil as a means to a good end. The end does not justify the means.
I agree with this and would take it one step further – you cannot use people as a means to another end because people are not means (man is the only creature God willed for his own sake). Using people solely as a means to an end (eg, to get information, for sexual gratification, etc.) fails to respect their human dignity – that is, it fails to recognize that God created people as an end in themselves, not as a means to another end. Thus, regardless of whether you are employing sexual degradation, pain, incarceration, etc., you are sinning if you are using people solely as a means to your end, no matter how “good” that end may be.

Esau November 28, 2006 at 3:41 pm

…you are sinning if you are using people solely as a means to your end, no matter how “good” that end may be.
The sin only exists if it is done purely out of evil as evidenced in both the intention and the act.
If a police detective has to manipulate a kidnapper like the way cops do in interrogations in order to rescue a kidnapped child, isn’t that police detective actually using the kidnapper as a means to his end?
Wouldn’t the end (that is, to rescue the kidnapped child) be a noble enough cause for you in this case?

c matt November 29, 2006 at 8:26 am

If a police detective has to manipulate a kidnapper like the way cops do in interrogations
You mean torture him to cough up the info? Not sure what you are getting at by manipulate – are you trying to hide or soften the infliction of pain? If you mean can we torture him to get the info, then no – its a hard case, but then no one ever said doing the right thing was easy.

c matt November 29, 2006 at 8:29 am

Wouldn’t the end (that is, to rescue the kidnapped child) be a noble enough cause for you in this case?
Yes, if I believed the end could justify the means. But because I don’t believe that, then no. If you believe the end can justify the means, then we are operating from completely different premises and consensus is impossible until one of us changes our premise.

Esau November 29, 2006 at 8:50 am

Yes, if I believed the end could justify the means. But because I don’t believe that, then no. If you believe the end can justify the means, then we are operating from completely different premises and consensus is impossible until one of us changes our premise.
So, you’re saying even what police detectives do in interrogations such as manipulation through psychological means and the application of surreptitious tactics (not physical torture, mind you) which actually, all things considered, would fall into your “you are sinning if you are using people solely as a means to your end” since they are, in this instance, using the kidnapper as a means to their end (i.e., trying to rescue the kidnapped child); that even this is unacceptable and immoral to you?

Paolo November 29, 2006 at 10:05 am

Tim J.,
I think we agree and are saying the same thing. Abuse may or may not take the form of torture. But torture is always abuse. In Mr. Akin’s post, disproportionate pain that does not fit the crime is torture and therefore also abuse.
It’s just subtleties in the logical argument. But I agree with your sentiment.
Paolo

Esau December 1, 2006 at 10:10 am

JIMMY AKIN IS A TERRIBLE PERSON!
I had a terribly interesting evening last night when I happened to learn just how awful a person Jimmy Akin really was.
I encountered the following comments concerning Jimmy Akin in Mark Shea’s blog:

At this juncture, it is customary to complain about my unfairness and mischaracterization of the position of people like Jeff and the Coalition for Fog. “We’re *not* defending torture!” goes the protest. We are defending, er, aggressive interrogation. Totally different! Maybe, however, in this case what is being defended are acts which *would* be called torture if the circumstances were not desperate. For that is precisely what Jimmy argues for when he says, “I would not say that it [waterboarding] is torture if it is being used in a ticking time bomb scenario and there is no other, less painful way to save lives (it is proportionate since there is not a better solution).”
The logic of the argument is entirely understandable and even emotionally appealing. Some weirdo has kidnapped your kid and buried him alive in a box. He won’t talk. Why not use torture to make him talk? You can hardly fault the parent who would beat the living daylights out of the guy. As a parent myself, I am not immune to the persuasiveness of such arguments.
Nonetheless, I agree with Zippy that Jimmy’s argument is a bad one, both for Zippy’s reasons and reasons of my own. If an act is intrinsically evil, then it does not become proportional and just when circumstances change.

Okay, from this, had I not read Jimmy’s entire post on his website, by the way he’s painted here, that Jimmy is actually for the torture of terrorists, but the other following comments happen to paint an even darker picture of him:

Another problem with Jimmy’s argument is that it seems to me to be extremely subjective. How, precisely, is proportionalism to be determined? If it’s proportional to torture at all, then how do you measure the proportion? Waterboarding if 100 lives are at stake? Pliers to the testicles for 200? Blowtorch to the eyes for 1000? If a city is endangered, then in what sense can we be “proportional”? How can the suffering of one man *ever* match the suffering of a million? And since those millions have families, why not threaten the family of the suspect? Indeed, why stop with waterboarding when you can gouge eyes, castrate and pull fingernails and not even come close to the suffering your (assumed) terrorist will inflict (assuming he knows something, which you are torturing him to discover). Of course, if it turns out your suspect knows nothing, then what? It turns out you have committed an intrinsically immoral act against an innocent man and you could well go to hell for it.

And yet, here in cyberspace, no small effort, ranging from the Coalition for Fog, to Against the Grain, to (now) Jimmy’s blog has been put into figuring out some way to redefine it so that it’s not torture, or shout down those who oppose it as “Pharisees” or otherwise figure out a way to overlook the bleedin’ obvious in favor of the highly abstract and hypothetical. Virtually *no* effort has gone in to pursuing the question, “How do we treat prisoners humanely while still getting the intelligence we need?”.

So, here, it seems that Jimmy Akin is nothing more than a heartless hypocrite who lives to Catholic morals when it suits him, but, under certain desperate circumstances, Jimmy’s the kind of horrible person who would actually abandon his morals, his very Catholic identity – no wait, he’s more sinister than that! – Jimmy would redefine Catholicism itself in order to weave arguments that would actually suit his vengeful purpose in such circumstances!
What’s interesting to note is that my post happen to come up as well:

Of course, Zippy couldn’t care less that even if the hundreds of innocent victims of the 9/11 attacks could have been saved by the simple capture and rigid interrogation of terrorist(s) prior to the time of the attacks, the life of that terrorist is far more precious than those innocent people and shouldn’t even undergo a smidgen of psychological interrogation tactics since even these are considered “torture”.
See, it’s so easy when folks can simply reflect such issues in an ivory tower, with an “holier-than-thou” attitude, looking down from an almighty throne on those who should even dare cross what they’ve declared to be the moral threshold, without even being in the actual trenches.
Yet, there are those of us who suffered greatly from the tragic events of 9/11 and have, in fact, lost people close to us.
To actually witness folks giving such “preferred” treatment to terrorists, of all things (even ordinary criminals aren’t treated with such esteem and have to undergo a barrage of even the most rigid psychological tests), even at the cost of innocent lives, is just too repulsive.
Not to wish any harm on such folks, but it seems that the only way they could ever feel the pain of the tragic events of 9/11, is to suffer personal lost themselves. It’s sometimes about walking in someone else’s shoes until they come to terms with the other perspective.
In point of cool, rational fact much of this outburst has nothing to do with anything Zippy has ever said, or anything any opponent of torture has said. It has nothing to do with the reality of torture opponents. It has to do with pain and fear–pain and fear I readily acknowledge. But the fact remains, torture would not have stopped 9/11, except on “24″. Zippy is not the heartless bastard this commenter declares and he certainly does not think a terrorist’s life is *more* precious than an innocent man’s. He simply does not think a terrorist’s life is worthless. And he emphatically does not think Caesar will keep us safe by being granted the power to commit intrinsically immoral acts against those Caesar deems to be enemies. In this, at the end of the day, he has Veritatis Splendor to back him up

From what’s said here, I am made to appear as if I, myself, actually endorse torture – after all, I did know people who died on 9/11, and, therefore, I, myself, must be harboring some vengeful feelings toward such people! Yet, in fact, in much of the things I’ve said in other posts, I have made it clear that I do not endorse the actual torture of these terrorists, but that it *seemed* to me that there are those who would not even have these people go through even the same rigid interrogation tactics common criminals undergo since even this is considered “TORTURE” in their eyes – a point that would’ve been reached by readers actually interested in the truth had it not just been the *isolated* quote above.
Although, what had been said?
…*torture* would not have stopped 9/11, except on “24″.
If there was any misunderstanding on my part, wouldn’t Christian charity have been for them to simply clarify my misunderstanding? Further, perhaps to even clarify Jimmy’s misunderstanding, if there was actually any on his part as well? Or perhaps even actually dialogue with Jimmy should there even be (God forbid!) a misunderstanding on *their* part, too!
Instead, what was done was folks (fellow Catholics-those who actually profess such high Catholic ideals!) actually engaged in vicious back-stabbing rather than confront their assumed opponents and deal with this misunderstanding.
I would’ve expected such devoted Catholics to have done what Christian charity would have called for in this case!
Was there perhaps some trace of intellectual pride and the “high and mighty ways” on their end that may have played a part?
It is said in the Prayer of St. Francis:
“O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as *to understand*…”
But, I guess that’s all thrown out the window should such a noble cause arise!
Interestingly enough, isn’t that what’s being implied here about Jimmy? That he would actually throw out his Catholic morals for the *noble cause* of saving the lives of innocents from terrorists?
Though, those who actually know the full story, this is not the case at all!
SUMMARY:
Love Thy Enemies except if they are fellow Catholics and appear to oppose you.
Treat terrorists with human dignity because they’re in the image of God, but I guess this doesn’t apply to fellow Catholics.
Condemning innocent men? Well, suspected terrorists may end up being innocent people certainly, but those suspected to be against you, no way! In fact, when duty calls for it, engage in character assassinations by all means!
So, thank you Mark Shea et al, for confirming what some may have suspected all along, that this “Love Thy Enemies” routine might end up being all an act to flaunt that “Holier-than-Thou” attitude that some feel the need to pull over their fellow Catholics in such an underhanded way!
Could there be an ulterior political motive in this as well?
FOLLOW-UP:
I would not have gone ahead and posted the preceding message, but, obviously, Jimmy being the stand-up person that he is, I don’t think he would have retaliated the least on his blog since he actually *lives out* his Catholic beliefs rather than merely *leave it to words*.
I wished that in some cases, I could be the same kind of person, but I am still a “work-in-progress” (so-to-speak), entirely fallible and but human and can only rely on God’s mercy and goodness. In the end, I can only pray he guides me to do the right thing in life and that I can ultimately live out the Catholic Faith in all aspects of life.

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