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Sunday, October 15, 2006

"The Torture Debate" - Part III

This is a third post in a series, the first part being On Torture, "Aggressive Interrogation" and The Military Commissions Act of 2006 (10/02/06); the second The Torture Debate, Part II (10/08/06) on Against The Grain.

Readers will forgive me for dwelling once again on this disturbing topic, but I'd like to address to Mark Shea's response to my last post (A response (probably inadequate) to the Big Ol' Torture Roundup Post at Against the Grain Catholic and Enjoying It Oct. 10, 2006).

On Michael Ledeen

Mark revisits his Crisis magazine piece against Michael Ledeen and Linda Chavez (Toying with Evil Crisis March 2005) as grounds for adopting his particular approach

I got involved in this whole fracas when it became clear to me that some on the Right (namely Michael Ledeen and Linda Chavez, who inspired my "Toying With Evil" piece were advocating "entering into evil" and "doing things we know to be morally wrong" (Ledeen's words) and, more concretely, suggesting that we concretize these evil counsels by a) shooting unarmed wounded combatants and b) torturing people.
While I do not endorse Michael Ledeen's Machivellian reasoning, I will suggest that when Shea proclaims that "Michael Ledeen Reliably Suggests that our Troops Should Murder Surrendering Enemy Combatants", a closer look at Ledeen's words is probably warranted. This was demonstrated by the Coalition for Fog's "Torquemada" in an examination of the article in question. The point was likewise made by Christopher Rake* in January 2005, on Amy Welborn's Open Book, when he challenged Mark to square his characterization of the Michael-Ledeen-who-wants-to-shoot-unarmed-prisoners-in-cold-blood with Michael Ledeen on the matter of "abuses" of prisoners National Review March 21, 2004):
. . . Maybe the temperature of the rhetoric has cooled enough for us to address the most important aspect of the debacle: Torture and abuse are not only wrong and disgusting. They are stupid and counterproductive. A person under torture will provide whatever statements he believes will end the pain. Therefore, the "information" he provides is fundamentally unreliable. He is not responding to questions; 99 percent of the time, he's just trying to figure out what he has to say in order to end his suffering. All those who approved these methods should be fired, above all because they are incompetent to collect intelligence.

Torture, and the belief in its efficacy, are the way our enemies think. And remember that our enemies, the tyrants of the 20th century, and the jihadis we are fighting now, are the representatives of failed cultures. Our greatness derives from the superiority of our culture, and we should, as the sports metaphor goes, stick with what got us here.

The exchange between Shea and Rake took place on Amy Welborn's Open Book, with Rake contending that "I think you are cherry-picking to make [Ledeen] look as bad as humanly possible." Shea gave no inclination then of moderating his evaluation of Ledeen in light of his comments on torture, and hasn't since. However, in his response to me, he cites practical arguments from Richard W. Comerford that closely mirror Ledeen's own objections.

Mark then proceeds to offer an apology of sorts, but in the same breath excuses himself by insisting that

"I really do feel as strongly about this as I would if a group of people came on my blog (some of them no doubt well meaning) and pleaded with me to find every loophole, excuse, justification, and nuance in favor of partial birth abortion."
So much for the reasoned protests of Rich Leonardi, Victor Morton, Daniel Darling, and other erstwhile inhabitants of Shea's combox.
* From what I understand, Christopher Fotos was blogging under the pseudonym "Christopher Rake" at that period in time.

On the Church's Position on Torture Through the Ages

On Mark's challenge to whom he has on more than one occasion referred to as "some priest named Fr. Brian Harrison," I cede to Victor Morton, who has already made a sufficient rebuttal.

Likewise, in On Torture and General Norms of Theological Interpretation Contra Certain "Apologist" Fundamentalist Hermeneutics (Rerum Novarum Oct. 13, 2006 - Pt. II; Pt. III), I. Shawn McElhinney offers a substantial reflection on this matter. Stickler that he is for a coherent, rational argument (imagine that!), Shawn begins by emphasizing the need for a definition of terms:

. . . on the subject of torture we are asking those who have seized on this as a major agenda item of theirs to give the rest of us the most basic of courtesies and explain themselves. Define for us what in a workable sense constitutes "torture" and what does not. Notice we are not asking for an abstract manualist definition of the term but one which can be applied to real life situations with reasonable assurance that it provides a point of reference on the subject in question.
With that in mind, Shawn then undertakes an examination of Mark's position given his starting point with Gaudium et Spes ("whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself"). He demonstrates that those like Fr. Harrison, Victor Morton and company, who have questioned papal pronouncements and conciliar documents on this issue, are engaged in something more than what Shea casually dismisses as "looking for excuses, loopholes, apparent contradictions" or "attempting a direct assault on the Magisterial teaching of the Church."

This week, a reader by the name of Jeff (sorry, I don't know his last name) challenges Shea's approach with an appeal to Cardinal Avery Dulles, who has raised similar questions about the Church's prohibition of slavery (Development or Reversal? First Things 156 October 2005). (A partial CAEI combox discussion between Kevin Miller and Josiah of Cardinal Dulles' on slavery can be found here and here).

Commenting on my own blog, Jeff sums up the nature of the dispute:

I think one KEY component to understanding this discussion and the motivation of people like Mark is the question of levels of authority in Church teaching; how we give our assent to ALL Church teaching on a subject, old AND new; how we read Church documents "honestly" when they seem to conflict. . . .

There are those who think that the latest passage always trumps in every possible way: the Ultramontanists, if you will, for lack of any better term leaping to mind. Then there are those, who see an apparent contradiction between the latest thing from Rome and past teaching, i.e, the issue of "novelties", as Harrison calls them, and who simply discard or reject the latest teaching: the Traditionalists.

But there are also those who think that a harmonization is necessary and that involves substance, not just rhetoric. I.e, if Vatican Two's teaching on religious freedom seems to contradict earlier teaching, a harmonious understanding of its substance may be found in language which shifts the proper understanding back a bit toward earlier formulations, while preserving the essence of the new concerns.

This effort to "Harmonize" Church teaching, which Harrison represents fairly well, is not what Mark and others would have it be: a dishonest attempt to dissent from present teaching. But as long as he thinks it is, discussion on some of the foundational questions about this debate will remain difficult or impossible. . . .

I don't know how to sum all this up except to plead for this issue to be raised frankly and discussed charitably on blogs and in comments. And for there to be real charity on both sides in the discussion...however misled or wrong one of another party may be, the shared concern of most of us is to discover and hew to genuine Catholic teaching. That may result in distortions or mistakes along the way, but the way must be walked. Better if we can do it to some extent together. And certainly the discussion on torture will remain mired in invective and rhetoric unless it is put on the table.

I think that both Fr. Harrison, Victor Morton and I. Shawn McElhinney have demonstrated how one can approach this debate in a charitable manner. If they wish for a suitable response (one that rises above the imputation of dubious motives), they may find it in Michael Liccione (Sacramentum Vitae), who in two recent posts -- Torture and the Church (October 13, 2006) and "Why her condemning torture doesn't discredit the Catholic Church" (October 15, 2006) -- responds to an Anglican critic, on the proposition that

"If a Church or communion of Churches authorises, condones and engages in an activity with virtual unanimity through its official organs of authority over an extended period of time, this constitutes a definitive teaching affirming the moral goodness of that activity."
I for one am interested in the potential exchange.

Mark Shea's Characterization of the Bush Administration

I would like to address, once more, Shea's (mis)use of Abu Ghraib. But first, touching on his cynical approach to President Bush, she can't help but assume the worst:

This brings us back to the teaching of the Church, which has not only a negative but a positive formulation. The negative formulation is "Torture is intrinsically immoral." Endless electrons have been spent on the question, "What, exactly, is torture?" Our own President finds himself baffled by what on earth "outrages on human dignity" could possibly mean. It's all so murky and confusing!
Dr. Scott Carson (The Examined Life), has a different take:
So, while it may be salutary for a Christian to keep the prohibition from violence in mind while thinking about torture, as a philosophical starting point it is not going to be of much help. Nor may we begin to search for necessary and sufficient conditions by presupposing that what we are looking for are levels of violence that are "too great" or "morally unacceptable" since that again begs the question. George Bush made this same point in his notoriously colloquial way the other day, drawing derision from the likes of Jon Stewart and Mark Shea, but it is worth noting that the expression used in the Geneva Conventions--"outrages on human dignity"--is not a univocal expression. The Geneva Conventions do not bother to stipulate what an "outrage" is nor what "human dignity" is. As Christians, we believe we have some inkling as to what we mean by the latter, but we have no grounds for assuming that what we mean by "human dignity" is what everyone else means by it, or even that it is what the authors of the Geneva Convention meant by it. Mark Shea does a disservice to those who point this out in good faith by portraying them as making an obvious and outrageously stupid error. The implication is that George Bush is either a cynical sophist or an ignorant moron (or perhaps both); although he may be, his asking what an "outrage against human dignity" means is not evidence for the claim--it is a perfectly reasonable question to ask when one is trying to decide whether what one is doing is morally justifiable or not and folks are sticking Geneva Conventions under your nose in answer to your question. In short, pointing to the Geneva Conventions is not merely vague, it also begs the question, since the very point at issue is whether these actions are morally licit.
Defending his posting of images from Abu Ghraib, Mark asserts that
. . . the [Bush] Administration was all about more Abu Ghraib's and would have gotten their wish if they had succeeded in loosening the regulations on interrogation. However, the Army, to their great credit, defied Cheney's attempt to do this and instead made clear that prisoner abuse was not in keeping with the traditions of our honorable troops.
And, later on in the post:
It does not follow that what the experts say is always going to conform to Catholic teaching (how should I know?). But given that the Bush Administration tried hard recently to alter long-standing regulations for the Army to make the definition of prisoner abuse fuzzier and the Army responded by make it clearer what could not be done to prisoners, I'm inclined to trust the experts on the ground interrogating people rather than the meddling bureaucrats with a proven record of approval of torture and prisoner abuse.
The gist of Mark's argument and the impression he gives is that the Bush Administration is fighting "tooth and nail" to give the CIA the same freedom to commit the same atrocities that occurred at Abu Ghraib. But it seems to me that Abu Ghraib is rather a demonstration of the kind of abuse that can occur "on the ground" in an uncontrolled, unsupervised environment -- as when the specific responsibilities of interrogation and obtaining "actionable intelligence" are delegated to individuals lacking professional training in that area.

Here, then, is an exclusive interview Army Reserve Brigadier General Janis Karpinski (on -- by no means "Bush-friendly", so please, no accusations of stumping for the Administration) -- which supports this reading of events. Karpinski was in charge of Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq in the fall of 2003, when the abuses occurred. She was reprimanded and demoted to Colonel for her failure to properly supervise the prison guards, and is the highest ranking officer to be sanctioned for the mistreatment of prisoners.

When questioned on the specific involvement of the CIA in the detainee abuses, I found her response suprising:

MC: Do you think the CIA is involved? Did you have any contact with the CIA at all, in terms of their involvement with the interrogations?

JK: Marjorie, I have to tell you that from July onward, even up until December, I wouldn't say regularly, but it was often, that I encountered somebody from the Task Force, from the CIA, from Special Operations, and by and large, they were professionals. They were absolutely the consummate professionals.

Now I don't know if they ran separate facilities, and I don't know what techniques they use. I do know that when they determined that somebody they were holding in one of their facilities no longer had any value and they wanted to turn them over to us, at Abu Ghraib, most likely, they turned them over with full medical records. They turned them over with a whole file of interviews and interrogations, and they turned them over in relatively good health, particularly given the situation. So I think that - this is only my conclusion - but I think that techniques in the right and responsible hands are used appropriately. I mean, I never saw anybody under the control of the Task Force or under the control of the CIA who came in bruised, bloody, beaten, and, you know, stitched together. Occasionally we did see the aftermath of a gunshot wound, but these were higher-value detainees, if there was cross-fire or if there was a bullet, but they treated those kind of wounds. That would be my impression.

However, these same techniques or suggestions of aggressive techniques that were designed, in my opinion - again, I don't know this first-hand - but all of these reports now would indicate that these techniques were designed and tested and implemented down at Guantánamo Bay and in Afghanistan. And when you take those same techniques and put them in the hands of irresponsible and non-accountable people, like these civilian contractors were, you are combining lethal ingredients. And what happens? You get civilian contractors who have a playground, and they get out of control. And unfortunately, at Abu Ghraib they suck the military into that same playground. There's no doubt in my mind that they ordered these things to be done.

MC: Who is "they?"

JK: They being the civilian contractors - Titan, CACI. The majority of those contractors were either in Guantánamo Bay or Afghanistan prior to being sent to Abu Ghraib. There were a lot of translators who were working for Titan. Some of them were locally hired, some of them were brought in from the United States. And they were given an opportunity to upgrade their positions to be interrogators - without any kind of formal training whatsoever. So now you have a deadly mix. You have people who have been exposed and who have used these techniques first-hand in other locations. They know that there is no supervision or control. They have been directed, using whatever words, to get Saddam, get the information and get these prisoners to start talking, use more aggressive techniques. So you have allowed people who have no responsibility whatsoever to use techniques that were originally, perhaps originally designed and used by very experienced hands. And it got out of control. It clearly got out of control.

In my last post, I raised the issue of "independent contractors" (The Unaccountables American Prospect September 2006 ) who were placed in positions of responsibility for interrogation and who operate without accountability or under the jurisdiction of the army, such that while instances of abuse by the Army are routinely investigated, "instances of contractor abuse are vastly underreported by victims -- and underinvestigated by the military."

According to a article, "The use of civilian contractors is key to understanding Abu Ghraib" ("Contract to torture", by Osha Gray. August 9, 2004):

As the full Taguba report makes clear, private contractors held many sensitive positions at the prison. The wealth of classified documents suggests that once the administration decided to privatize military intelligence operations -- giving inexperienced contract workers nearly unlimited power over detainees -- with only a pretense of military oversight, the door to prisoner abuse was thrown open.

Among the individuals not qualified for sensitive interrogation positions at Abu Ghraib were many hired by CACI International, a Virginia company that provided intelligence services to the U.S. military, and Titan Corp., a San Diego company that supplied translators. According to an investigation released July 21 by the Army's inspector general, a third of contract interrogators at Abu Ghraib "had not received formal training in military interrogation techniques, policy, and doctrine."

The problem might not have been so serious if there had been only two or three contract workers on interrogation teams. But according to the Taguba report and an inside source, all 20 of the interpreters at Abu Ghraib worked for Titan. The classified documents contain an organizational chart that indicates that on Jan. 23, 2004, nearly half of all interrogators and analysts employed at Abu Ghraib were CACI employees.

On the problems presented by the use of non-military personnel for interrogation, see also the Amnesty International report, Outsourcing Warfare (Summer 2004).

Which, all in all leads me to suspect that the causes of Abu Ghraib are a little more complex than Mark lets on.

Based on the articles cited, one could argue that the presence of "independent contractors" delegated to oversee interrogations at Abu Ghraib, without adequate training and under minimal supervision, was a prevalent and unaddressed flaw in the Bush Administration's handling of the war on Iraq and the WoT.

One could discuss whether the later interrogations of Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Shaikh Muhammad meet the criteria for torture and whether they should be rightly rejected. (Q: Is it necessary for us to conclude that they are intrinsically evil, or that they must constitute torture before deeming them objectionable? -- Ed Graham argues, "whether it is 'torture,' . . . is not a simple, clear cut legal question. What seems clear to me about waterboarding is that it constitutes inhumane treatment of prisoners and is immoral under, e.g., Catechism of the Catholic Church # 2313.").

However, I maintain that to slap some shocking photos of detainee abuse from Abu Ghraib on a blog and suggest that "Dick Cheney wanted this," or that the Bush administration "wanted more Abu Ghraibs" -- does not accurately convey what happened at Abu Ghraib, but wrongfully conflates the CIA's interrogations of Abu Zubaydah and Kalid Shaikh Mohammad with the acts of pure sadistic cruelty at Abu Ghraib.

Here I am sympathetic to Sydney Carton's protest, that

"Far too many people are just too eager to mock people charged with serious responsibilties and hence endure enormous temptations. Every time I hear the word "torture apologist," "Bushie," etc, I think that it makes no sense to denounce an evil while engaged in the evil of character assassination. How many insults can support a moral argument? How many attacks on the character of a person can build a strong foundation?"
In his response to Krauthammer (Symposium: The Truth about Torture), Fr. Neuhaus likewise appears to argue for a similar distinction (or against such a conflation) when he asserts:
We are not talking here about the reckless indulgence of cruelty and sadism exhibited in, for instance, the much-publicized Abu Ghraib scandal. We are speaking, rather, of extraordinary circumstances in which senior officials, acting under perceived necessity, decide there is no moral alternative to making an exception to the rules, and accept responsibility for their decision. Please note that, in saying this, one does not condone the decision. It is simply a recognition that in the real world such decisions will be made.
Related readings:
* * *

Responding to the second roundup, a reader questioned my "impartiality" on this debate and wondered:

While we have the luxury of taking a careful, leisurely -- while still being academic -- approach to this issue, there are people suffering. Is enough being done or are we just giving lipservice?
I share that concern. As citizens, our capacity for doing something on this very issue is unfortunately limited -- we can draw attention to abuses when and where they occur, and support organizations that do the same. We can also exercise our vote, with the hope that those legislators we elect will make the right decision.

And as long as we're discussing these issues in the first place, we can do our best to have an informed discussion -- meaning an accurate presentation of each others' positions, supplemented by research, and a measure of civility and charity which I think are integral to this process. These posts are an attempt to provide a vehicle for such a discussion. Like other roundups, I do this for my own benefit. Like you, I'm in the process of thinking through (and educating myself on) this issue.

In the interest of sparing you the torture of another lengthy post, consider this my last on this particular subject, at least for a good long while. I will continue updating the first roundup ("On Torture, "Aggressive Interrogation" and The Military Commissions Act of 2006") with any relevant material on the subject that I think would advance the discussion.

God bless and thanks to those who participated (and did their best to keep it civil).

  • "Maybe I'm Naive But . . ." - Christopher P. Atwood (Three Hierarchies) suspects a "bait and switch" on part of the outcry over the MCA:
    Call me naive, but it seemed to me that a bait and switch was going on -- aided by the posturing of the White House. Up until the actual bill, the issue was specific "torture-lite" techniques: is waterboarding acceptable or not? Prolonged sleep-deprivation? Cold cells? But once the bill was passed, the word habeas corpus became the big thing.
  • Interrogators Beware, by Stephen Rickard. The Washington Post October 17, 2006:
    On rare occasions, President Bush and his toughest critics agree on something. That will happen today when Bush signs the Military Commissions Act, while claiming "clear" authorization from Congress for "enhanced" CIA interrogations. Many critics claim the bill authorizes torture. Fortunately, both sides are wrong.

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