Thursday, May 24, 2007

Mark Shea Needs a Vacation

He's been a lot more irritable than usual lately, and he took some of it out on me today.

The original post is about a prisoner who died during CIA interrogation of asphyxiation after being covered with a plastic bag. There's also a picture of the man in a body bag which includes blood-soaked gauze on his right eye. Shea's post talks about information "beaten out of him." Commenter Jeff asks for clarification, since he (and I) got the impression that the man was beaten during interrogation. Shea belittles Jeff, I defend Jeff, and Shea belittles me as well. Shea then goes on to ask Jeff "You do grasp, don't you, that 'homicide' is wrong, don't you?" to which I use Old Testament examples of God-sanctioned homicide to question Shea as to whether homicide is always wrong, resulting in the first post I linked above.

Here's the thing: Mark Shea had a post which seemed to be confusing. At least two people made the assumption that "beaten out of him" actually referred to the dead guy shown in the picture who was the subject of the post, and I think this was a fair assumption to make. It makes it seem as though the man was beaten to death (his injuries came while he was resisting capture) when in fact it was an interrogation gone wrong.

Was it torture to put a bag of air over the man's head? That's a good question, as it could be well-argued that the interrogators are guilty of negligently committing manslaughter because they were wrong to torture him. In Crisis magazine Mark Shea argues that torture is prohibited by Roman Catholic teaching according to section 27 (last paragraph) of the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, quoting:
"Furthermore...whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as...torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself...all these things and others of their like are infamies indeed. They poison human society, but they do more harm to those who practice them than those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are supreme dishonor to the Creator."

What I want to know is where the line is. Do the police tactics of playing two suspects off against each other or of talking up the accused's prison time if they don't turn state's evidence count as inflicting torments on the mind? If so, then this is torture. In fact, any attempt to coerce the will, such as offering cable television to inmates who behave themselves, would seem to fit this very overbroad definition. How can we condemn torture if we can't even agree on what it is?

That's part of the problem I've had with Mark Shea's coverage of the treatment of captives. He condemns those who don't agree with his views on what the administration calls "enhanced interrogation techniques" as being the "Rubber Hose Right." The admonition to love our neighbor would seem to say to me that we should send captives home and give them money, as that's certainly what I would like to have happen to me if I were ever to be arrested. I'd probably like for my captors to give me a foot massage as well. Are these techniques effective? I don't know, but someone in power must believe that they can be, and I don't think arguing from results is a very good way to figure out what's ethical. When we can't even define "torture" (or, apparently, "homicide") without including things which it isn't then how can we be upset with folks who disagree with us?