This morning, the New York Times printed a rather important, in my opinion, editorial about a debate that has in recent days begun to gain renewed attention: the legitimacy, or not, of torture. I will say from the outset that this is not my area of specialty and I leave it to my brother Franciscans, Fr. Kenneth Himes, OFM of Boston College (a leading expert on this area of Christian ethics today) and my classmate, Br. Stephen DeWitt, OFM, (blogger at www.afranciscanabroad.com, who has followed these discussions since 2001 more closely than I have) to provide what might be better proffered as expert and insightful analysis. Nevertheless, this doesn’t mean that I do not have a view on the matter at hand.
The NYT editorial, “The Torture Apologists,” highlights what the editors see as the most disturbing reaction to the Osama bin Laden killing: the revitalization of the defense of torture by some in the United States. The argument, as it is proposed, is that bin Laden’s assassination would not have been possible without the CIA’s use of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” the latest and most used euphemism for torture. The editors write:
There are many arguments against torture. It is immoral and illegal and counterproductive. The Bush administration’s abuses — and ends justify the means arguments — did huge damage to this country’s standing and gave its enemies succor and comfort. If that isn’t enough, there is also the pragmatic argument that most experienced interrogators think that the same information, or better, can be obtained through legal and humane means.
I agree entirely with this statement. However, what the editors of the NYT do not name, and perhaps it is beyond the horizon of their qualifications, is the ethical or moral prohibitions. Yes, what the Bush Administration’s abuses revealed was the illegality of such behavior as criminal, yet the question of utility and its counter argument need not even be spoken to a Christian. As the Catholic Church has made clear, torture is always and everywhere wrong, it is — like abortion — intrinsically evil. There is no post hoc or ends-justify-means argument that will ever work. Torture is a violation of the dignity of the human person. Period.
I hope that Christians and all people of good will might recall what it is we are talking about in coming days when this debate likely envelopes the media for the requisite news-cycle length and the talking heads shout this, that and the other thing. Torture is never OK, no matter its ostensible utility or legal status in a given jurisdiction. It is always wrong.