Aquinas on Torture

(This is Neil) As we consider the issue of torture, we might find ourselves hesitating when we recall the not insignificant place of torture in the history of the Catholic Church. After Mark Shea composed an article for Crisis arguing that no Catholic could accept torture, a correspondent then wrote, “The huge elephant in our Catholic living room that everyone politely refrains from mentioning is the massive, trimillennial Judeo-Christian tradition that legitimized torture right up until Vatican II” as a means of punishment or extracting information.

I’ve already posted on the inadmissibility of torture, because, very practically, torture seems rather ineffective for information gathering and nearly always entangled with a dark and sadistic strategy of repression through unspeakable cruelty. As William Pfaff has told us, “Torture is intended to produce what, in the military assault on Iraq was called ‘shock and awe.’ It is meant as intimidation. We will do these terrible things to demonstrate that nothing will stop us from conquering our enemies.” Torture is also the expression that “enemies are not simply to be defeated; they are to be annihilated morally as well as physically.” And this is plainly immoral. Since I put together that post, I really haven’t read anything to change my estimation. Eric Haney, a retired command sergeant major of the U.S. Army, and a founding member of Delta Force, recently told the LA Daily News, “The only reason anyone tortures is because they like to do it. It’s about vengeance, it’s about revenge, or it’s about cover-up. You don’t gain intelligence that way. Everyone in the world knows that.” That said, please read Bishop John H. Ricard, SSJ’s letter to the Senate on the prohibition of torture.

Let us try looking at the “huge elephant in our Catholic living room.” I will be drawing from an article by Jordan Bishop in the most recent New Blackfriars, a publication from which I have learned a great deal over the years. Dr Bishop begins by quoting “Law 25” of Pope Innocent IV’s bull Ad extirpanda (1252), which regulated the conduct of the Inquisition in Lombardy, Romagna, and the Marches:

The Podestà or Rector has the authority to oblige all heretics that he may have in his power, without breaking limbs or endangering their lives, to confess their errors and to accuse other heretics whom they may know, as true assassins of souls and thieves of the Sacraments of God and of the Christian faith, and their worldly goods, and believers in their doctrines, those who receive them and defend them, just as robbers and thieves of temporal goods are obliged to accuse their accomplices and confess the evil that they have done.

This would become accepted practice, so that the Italian jurist Passerinus would write in 1677, “In the event that witnesses who are clerics are to be tortured, they must not be tortured under the supervision of a lay judge, but under that of an ecclesiastical judge.”

What happened in 1252? Roman law had been rediscovered in the preceding centuries, and Pope Innocent, as seems evident, was merely allowing the Inquisition to adopt existing secular practice, which involved torturing not only accused persons but also witnesses for the purpose of gathering information. In Roman law, Dr Bishop reminds us, the testimony of those of low status (gladiators, for instance) was actually only accepted if it had first been confirmed by torture. This reliance on torture, strange to us, came in part from the Roman law’s reluctance to convict anyone on the sole basis of circumstantial evidence. As the jurist Passerinus would say, the finding of a naked man in the same bed with a naked woman was not itself grounds for conviction, but could result in the naked parties being reasonably subjected to the torture that would likely result in the confessions that would then lead to a secure conviction.

Torture was, we can say, a well-defined procedure subject to rules. Records were even kept. Torture was also a widely accepted secular practice that was subsequently adopted by the Church. Although I suspect that everyone will agree that Ad extirpanda was lamentable, the present use of torture differs because it is a hidden, secret, and often lawless practice that occurs at a climate of theoretical and official disapproval. And so, the University of Wisconsin history professor Alfred W. McCoy has written,

As we learned from France’s battle for Algiers in the 1950s, Argentina’s dirty war in the 1970s, and Britain’s Northern Ireland conflict in the 1970s, a nation that harbors torture in defiance of its democratic principles pays a terrible price. Its officials must spin an ever more complex web of lies that, in the end, weakens the bonds of trust that are the sine qua non of any modern society.

That twentieth century story is also our story, even as it does not necessary implicate the medieval Church. Jordan Bishop also cannot say that sadism did not occur during the Middle Ages, but the explicit and legalistic focus on securing evidence might have served to at least somewhat prevent what torture seems to have largely become in our time, a matter of repression through cruelty, or what Naomi Klein has called “a machine designed to break the will to resist – the individual prisoner’s will and the collective will.” As bad as medieval torture was, we can distinguish it from Abu Ghraib.

St Thomas Aquinas is infamous for defending capital punishment for heretics (for a degree of contextualization, see Michael Novak here.) But he says nothing about torture, nor does he cite Ad extirpanda. He does mention Aristotle’s Rhetoric elsewhere, so we can trust that he had read “the Philosopher’s” contention that “evidence under torture is not trustworthy, the fact being that many men whether thick-witted, tough-skinned, or stout of heart endure their ordeal nobly, while cowards and timid men are full of boldness till they see the ordeal of these others: so that no trust can be placed in evidence under torture” (1377a). But Aquinas does give a hint of what he might have said.

St Thomas pronounces that “it is in no way lawful to slay the innocent.” While he does not raise the question of merely injuring the innocent, one can speculate that the answer would be similarly negative. And Dr Bishop writes, “Here, as with Aristotle, there is no question of ‘justifying’ actions otherwise reprehensible on the basis of some greater good.” Very bluntly, then, in the ethics of Aristotle and Aquinas, only the guilty can be subject to punishment, and nothing changes that. Thus, despite what Roman law might allow, witnesses should not be tortured. Nor should the accused be tortured for a confession, because, at the time of torture, there is no real proof of guilt. Even if the judge were privately convinced of the guilt of the accused, he must not treat the accused as already guilty and suitable for punishment, for “his judgment should be based on information acquired by him, not from his knowledge as a private individual, but from what he knows as a public person.”

It is entirely possible that Aquinas did not entertain the question of torture because the Summa, as the late Fr Leonard Boyle, OP, informed us, was written for working friars in St Dominic’s Priory in Orvieto to deal with practical issues that might realistically come up in the course of their pastoral work. Aquinas had complained about the “multiplication of useless question, articles, and arguments.” It is possible that his students would not be inquisitors or in any sort of position to challenge a universally accepted practice, so the question was simply irrelevant.

Dr Bishop wonders, “Was this a ‘copout’ on Aquinas’ part? Or was it simply the sad recognition of the impossibility of applying his ethics to this question? One could of course say, qui tacet, consentire videtur – silence indicates consent.” But, whatever the case, it should not be so for us. And, as Dr Bishop also wisely tells us, “both Aristotle and Aquinas provide an ethical infrastructure that is quite clear,” and we should be grateful to them for that. Torture must not be accepted. And if it is a part of our past, we must remember the moving example of the late Pope John Paul II during the Lent of 2000 when he asked pardon for “the violence some have used in the service of the truth.” Perhaps this “elephant in our Catholic living room” is not as large as we might think.

Well, what do you think?

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Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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12 Responses to Aquinas on Torture

  1. W. Harter says:

    Please see S.T. II-II, 10, 8. Concerning whether unbelievers ought to be compelled to the faith, Aquinas accepts (in the case of heretics) even the use of bodily compulsion, i.e. torture: “On the other hand, there are unbelievers who at some time have accepted the faith, and professed it, such as heretics and all apostates: such should be submitted even to bodily compulsion, that they may fulfill what they have promised, and hold what they, at one time, received.”

  2. Neil says:

    It is true that Aquinas accepts physical punishment for heretics, since he regards them as criminals who have willfully violated a promise. (He does not support the same sort of “bodily compulsion” for Jews.) But this, though really unfortunate, doesn’t violate the principle “only the guilty can be subject to punishment.”

    Obviously, we can define torture in different ways, but that principle would seem to rule out most forms of what we would call torture – torturing witnesses, torturing the accused for a confession.

    Does that sound right?


    • W. Harter says:

      I certainly agree that torture used to elicit confession when the subject is not known, only suspected, of crime is contrary to moral principles affirmed by Aquinas. On the other hand, a captured leader of a terrorist group is known to be in possession of information that can prevent harm to innocent civilians. It is contrary to right reason, that he refuse to divulge the information, and thereby prevent a grave evil. So, if we are agreed that bodily compulsion is not always and everywhere wrong (I’m not sure you would accept this)–say in the case of a parent who uses corporal punishment, to encourage their child to do the right thing–what in the case of captured terrorists makes violent interrogation objectively evil?

  3. Neil says:

    I’m sorry for my late response – I was away this weekend. We can agree that a terrorist leader should divulge information that could save lives. The question is whether he should be tortured to obtain the information. There are clear problems with the use of torture here.

    1. Can we be certain that he has the information? Could torture be used in a “fishing expedition?” (Won’t it still end up violating the principle that only the guity can be subject to punishment?)
    2. Can we be certain that the information he will provide will be reliable?
    (Might torture be used simply, as Alfred McCoy says, to “salve fears and insecurities?”)
    3. What are the limits to bodily compulsion? Even if we limit the torture to the person of the terrorist, can we gouge out his eyes? Castrate him?
    4. What do we do with the damaged terrorist after torture? Will this inevitably lead to extrajudicial killings?
    5. How do we claim to be committed to legality if we are willing to selectively use bodily compulsion, despite international law?
    6. Should we be willing to bring discredit upon our nation in the eyes of much of the world and the national public through the use of torture?
    7. Can we be committed, as just war theory insists, to the reconciliation of our enemies if we are willing to psychologically and physically violate them in the most horrific of ways?

    1-6 implicitly argue that such bodily compulsion is practically unwise. 7, I think, suggests why violent interrogation is objectively evil.

    Thank you – and sorry again.


  4. W. Harter says:

    No problem on waiting to respond; I appreciate your willingness to work through a problem I have only begun to think about. As to your questions, I would say this:
    1. It depends on what you mean by “certain he has the information”. If you have served as a juror in a felony case, you know how difficult it is, sometimes, to be certain “beyond a reasonable doubt”. Nevertheless, the degree of certainty in torture would not need to exceed (but certainly should meet) that required in felony conviction. As to disregarding the standard, I think it is less likely to happen from “fishing expeditions” than from failure to understand the intent behind any formulation, such as “reasonable doubt”. The jury deliberations I took part in were frustrated by the notion of one juror who thought “I’m reasonable, and I have no doubt he is guilty; therefore his guilt is beyond a reasonable doubt.” When I explained to her, that I thought a man with diagnosed mental disorder, with a measured I.Q. of 58, and acting under the influence of crack cocaine doesn’t obviously meet the standard of mental capacity needed for “specific intent”, she answered by reaffirming her confidence in believing him guilty. Now, I doubt CIA interrogators suffer from such deficiencies, but it is the nature of such circumstances, that generality of language added to more or less prudent zeal to get information makes possible the wrongful use of police powers. Sometimes innocent people are imprisoned and even executed. But I think it is always important to distinguish intention from failure resulting by reason of human frailty or other circumstances beyond our control.
    2. I am not as inclined, as McCoy seems to be, to suspect evil intentions on the part of officials or citizens. Given my age (56) and Catholic faith, that certainly doesn’t mean I have a sanguine belief in the indefectibile will of humans. On the other hand, I think the sort of craven propensities referred to by McCoy are more likely to operate in the course of “normal” life. I teach at a Catholic college, and it never ceases to amaze me, how academics, well-fed and and relatively secure in their place, are prone to avoid confronting even the most flagrant of abuses (especially involving faith and morals); but how young men and women facing extraordinary danger in situations, like war, are often able to persevere to an heroic degree. I guess my point here is something akin to St. Augustine’s when he claims that very few people are capable of either great virtue or great vice, but perhaps (I would add) extraordinary circumstances work to bring out of us virtue we “don’t need” when well-fed and at leisure.
    3. My short answer here is: the limits of torture would be determined by weighing the value of the information against the limitations of physically compelling the will, along with the those political concerns, domestic and international, which no state can afford to disregard.
    4. This is a question I am not competent to address. If I understand it, you are referring to legal disposition, and that is an area I have no particular knowledge of.
    5. This, too, is a very difficult problem, given the reference to international law. I have spent some time these past two weeks, trying to understand the international accords governing treatment of prisoners. Certainly these treaties, to which the U.S. is obliged by becoming a ratifying party, and by common law, do not provide any circumstances under which prisoners can be tortured for the purpose of extracting information. Maybe more decisive against the case for torture (at least for Catholics) is the statement by Pope Benedict XVI (speech given on 09/06/2007 to Catholics engaged in prison ministry) that the prohibition against torture “cannot be contravened under any circumstances”. I don’t know the exact intent of this doctrine (is it equal to asserting torture is evil per se? If so, does it apply to water-boarding?), but I have to say, it appears to contravene any argument for the use of torture, no matter that it may prevent the unjust death of tens or hundreds of thousand civilians.
    6. If it is true that no use of “enhanced interrogation” escapes being torture, and if torture is always and everywhere evil; then we should not engage in the practice, and are doing so would rightly be condemned by all civilized people.
    7. I do not think that just war doctrine aims at restoring peace between states and criminals, such as bin-Laden

  5. Neil says:

    Thanks for writing. I appreciate this discussion.

    1. You set a very high bar for torture: guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. I see two problems with this.

    A. I think that this makes the ticking time bomb scenario even more unreal – we are now in a situation in which a bomb is ticking, a captured terrorist knows about the bomb, and some sort of jury or tribunal has found that it is beyond a reasonable doubt that the terrorist really does know about this bomb.

    B. Your standard seems arbitrary. The problem with any use of torture is that it opens the door to consequentialism. And, as David Luban has written, “Now that the prohibitionist has admitted that her moral principles can be breached, all that is left is haggling about the price.” Why should the price remain so high?

    2. You claim that “extraordinary circumstances,” here war, might lead to the emergence of virtue, so that torture will not be abused. I find this unlikely. As David Luban has also argued, any permission for torture means the creation of a torture culture, including the formation of interrogators specially trained in waterboarding, etc. There are historical examples that suggest that the creation of such a culture leads to escalation – Algeria, the Israeli treatment of Palestinian captives, the Argentine Dirty War. (One reason for this is the increase of aggression famously observed in the Stanford Prison Experiment.)

    We can find other examples of abuse in warfare. One would be the use of obliteration bombing in World War II. Justus George Lawler has written about this and the “uncontrollable momentum based on the mere fact of national investment of men, effort, and materiel in a given military program,” as well as the momentum arising from “fear, revenge, lust for victory, and other base instincts that often arise in any prolonged conflict.”

    3. Again, we find ourselves in a dangerous world of consequentialism. Luban again: “Once you accept that only the numbers count, then anything, no matter how gruesome, becomes possible.”

    4. While one has to be cautious about slippery-slope arguments, I think that, as Alfred McCoy suggests, a torture regime will end up committing extrajudicial killings. What to do with psychologically and physically damaged terrorists who may no longer be able to be brought to trial? Lifetime incarceration (and counseling)? McCoy: “The ideal solution to this conundrum from an agency perspective is pump and dump, as in Vietnam—pump the terrorists for information, and then dump the bodies.” This happened in both Algeria and Vietnam (the Phoenix Program).

    5. In Catholic teaching, torture is “always seriously wrong by reason of its object,” or intrinsically evil. See Veritatis Splendor 80. Obviously, we can ask about the specific definition of “torture” here.

    6. This would be my position.

    7. Of course, Bin Laden was a criminal. But, as far as I can tell, the post-9/11 Authorization to Use Military Force effectively turned him into a combatant – something like an enemy general.

    Just war theory says that right intent in war means what Daniel Bell has called “complete justice.” “Indeed, in waging war, the right intent is not to destroy the enemy but to bring the benefits of a just peace to the enemy.” (Both Aquinas and Augustine say somethin similar.) Often, tragically, this is impossible and the enemy is killed in the course of protecting the innocent.

    The problem is that right intent cannot be maintained during torture. Torture attempts to break the “spirit” of the tortured by removing the qualities of human dignity. (For example, Romanian torturers would make Romanian Orthodox priests commit blasphemy.)

    Thanks again.


  6. W. Harter says:

    Thanks for pointing out some problems in my last response. I need to clarify a few things on the way to responding:
    1a. I didn’t mean to imply by “reasonable doubt” a finding only by jury or tribunal. By reason of his position in al Qaeda, his own admissions (prior to torture), and intelligence gathered from various sources, it seems to me that Khalid Sheikh Mohammad’s possession of other information that would prevent harm to innocent civilians was “beyond reasonable doubt”. It is impossible to say in the case of the hypothetical “ticking bomb”, whether such knowledge exists, because it proposes a fictional person who cannot be the subject of “but, do we really know he has done what he claims?”
    b. If by consequentialism you mean the willingness to violate moral precept for the sake of some end, then I would agree with your argument. The problem is that this begs the question of whether torture is evil per se.
    2. I’m not sure what to make of reference to “torture culture”. Young men and women in the military are taught use of lethal force against enemies. Does this lead to a “killing culture” that now can be equated with said culture amongst various armies, paramilitary organizations, etc.? My point was rather, that the men and women in the military show remarkable restraint in situations where rules of engagement prohibit actions that easily understandable when suffering extreme fear or anger.
    3. My position was unclear. Not all information that could be acquired by torture ought to be. I’m thinking of information that can be attained by other means, or does not involve the sort of imminent danger supposed by the “ticking bomb”. Not all subjects can be broken by techniques like water-boarding. Some, by reason of medical condition, etc., would die; some, by constitution or training could withstand the pain (although I don’t know with any particular method the likelihood of this). In any event, sometimes torture would be ineffectual for the purpose of extracting necessary information and should not be used. Continued use would amount to cruelty.
    4. As I said, this is territory I have no particular knowledge of. But, I imagine that KSM, once determined to have provided whatever information we know he possesses, would then face trial by military tribunal and probably execution. Appeal to “ideal solution to this conundrum from an agency perspective” is argument ad hominem. This does not mean it is wholly false; it just means I cannot argue against putative character faults in “agencies”.
    5. I am not a theologian, and therefore cannot answer my next question. Pope John Paul II includes in his citing of acts determined to be intrinsically evil: “subhuman living conditions … deportation … degrading conditions of work”. Only deportation is an act, and one that cannot be evil per se (the INS is not a criminal organization) , and subhuman or degrading conditions, although evil and sometimes caused by inexcusable acts by humans, are not always so. So what does this mean for the other items referred to by the Pope? If deportation is sometimes evil per accidens, sometimes justice, can the same be said for torture?
    6. Perhaps it will be mine. But I am still looking for a reason to hold that position.
    7. I would not want to argue for the right intention behind any particular governmental act (which would require much more knowledge than I have). But I can say this. Just war theory in the Catholic tradition developed within the consideration of charity. The problem for Augustine and Aquinas was whether the Greatest Commandment precluded participation in war by Christians. They believed it did not. What this means, in short, is that the Christian soldier can kill his enemy as an act commanded by love. If torture, or whatever form of bodily compulsion we care to consider, cannot be done as an act intending the love of God above all things, and our neighbor as our self, then it must be evil per se. But, just as war seeks to compel the will of an enemy by violence and does not amount to destroying the spirit, can the same be said for water-boarding, etc?

  7. Neil says:

    Thanks again for writing.

    1. A. I’m not sure that I understand what “reasonable doubt” would mean outside of an adversarial legal system.
    B. If we assume that torture is not evil in se, but merely “unpleasant” or “best avoided” or something like that, we still need to place it in a moral framework that will allow us to make prudential decisions. Your earlier post, which spoke of “weighing the value of the information” against the “limitations of physically compelling the will” and “political concerns,” struck me as a consequentialist framework.

    2. I agree that, at times, men and women in the military do show remarkable restraint. But why is that? David Luban writes:

    “Only one thing prevents [interrogation] from turning into abuse, and that is a clear set of bright-line rules, drummed into the interrogator with the intensity of a religious indoctrination, complete with warnings of fire and brimstone. American interrogator Chris Mackey reports that warnings about the dire consequences of violating the Geneva Conventions ‘were repeated so often that by the end of our time at [training school] the three syllables “Leavenworth” were ringing in our ears.’”

    So, the restraint is, at least in large part, because of bright-line rules.

    3. Perhaps I’m misreading you, but, again, this strikes me as a consequentialist framework.

    4. You suggest that terrorists, after torture, could “then face trial by military tribunal and probably execution.” This might not be the case. Which tribunal? The Military Commissions Act of 2009 specifically excludes statements obtained by “torture or by cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.” Obviously, this can make the successful prosecution of certain terrorists impossible or at least uncertain. And this raises the question of what to do with them. (They are also painful reminders of what we had to do …)

    I would not have raised the specter of extrajudicial killings if they had not already occurred in history (e.g., Algeria, Vietnam).

    5. I agree that that paragraph of Veritatis Splendor is vague, presumably because it reappropriates Gaudium et Spes. But, regarding the act of deportation, we can say that there are types of deportation that have different objects. We might say that the type of deportation practiced by the INS is not “offensive to human dignity” because it clearly has a different object than the “individual or mass forcible transfers” during wartime presumably targeted by the pope (see Article 49, Fourth Geneva Convention).

    Can we suggest that there are types of torture with different objects? Or are we left saying only that some acts of torture are more useful than others?

    6. OK

    7. This isn’t an easy question. And I am very sympathetic to the Eastern Orthodox position that even a just war requires penance. But let’s look at it this way. During war, one can have respect for one’s enemy. In the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, Joshua Chamberlain ordered his men to raise their rifles to their shoulders as the defeated Confederates processed before them – a gesture of respect. Is it possible to imagine a torturer showing such respect to his victim?

    I would think it is impossible because torture works by stripping of the victim of his dignity, so that he would be unworthy of respect, and with a complete tyrannizing of the victim, so that there is no possibility left for friendship between the torturer and victim.

    I hope this makes sense. Thanks again.


  8. W. Harter says:

    I do not believe I am appealing to consequentialist reasoning. If cosequentialism can defined (for our purpose) as moral theory which rejects the notion that certain acts are intrinsically evil, then I, too, reject consequentialist ethics. Sometimes, however, it is described as “ends justify the means” reasoning, and that is more difficult to respond to. Means are always relative to some end, and so, if the ends didn’t justify (determine right) means, I don’t know what would.

    We appear to agree that persons are themselves ends (things good in themselves, not good only in relation to something else). Can we not then ask whether torture can be a good means, i.e. justified by its relation to intending the good proper to human persons? If we want to employ cause-effect descriptions, we could put it this way: either torture is an act, like praise, caused by our desire to be just towards the excellence of another (has even Nietzsche ever claimed this?), or it is an act caused by our desire to aid some person–”person” naming (as St. Thomas says) that which is most perfect in creation–to aid some person in attaining that good which they deserve, but have rejected. The good they have rejected is preventing the harm to innocents. Or, torture is incommensurable to any desire to be just in acting towards the nature and dignity of the human person because it is either (a) lacking common measure (as when we attempt to physically coerce someone to accept truth), or (b) a denial of the intrinsic worth of persons (like when we eat them or reduce them to instruments of material production). Any argument that torture is an evil per se must suppose the latter.

    If you can explain why torture is incapable of being a means equal to the dignity of the human person (and I am not too dense to follow the argument), I would gladly call your position my own, and would be, moreover, grateful for the instruction.

  9. Neil says:

    OK. The question is whether we can justify some use of torture as a means to “aid some person in attaining that good which they deserve.” Can we imagine torture to be a way of using bodily compulsion to remind a terrorist of his responsibility to his neighbors? If so, torture would still be coercive – a form of hard bargaining that works by providing stronger incentive to do what is right. But we could see it as analogous to corporal punishment and permissible, if “unpleasant” and “best avoided.”

    My answer to the question is no.

    Obviously, we can redefine torture, but torture – as we presently see it – is not merely a form of strong coercion. (This is also true of torture that does not leave marks on the body – “torture lite.”)

    The distinguishing feature of torture, as David Sussman has written, is that “torture forces its victim into the position of colluding against himself through his own affects and emotions, so that he experiences himself as simultaneously powerless and yet actively complicit in his own violation.” It is a denial of rational self-governance, and thus a denial of the “intrinsic worth of persons.” (For the importance of rational self-governance, see ST 1.93.4 and 6).

    For instance, torture very often focuses on pain because pain is, at once, “not a part of ourselves” but also something in which we participate because “its very nature calls for a response from us.” When a torturer inflicts pain on a victim, because the victim must participate in “his pain,” the torturer has made the victim complicit. The torturer has engineered a “self-betrayal.”

    As Sussman writes, “It is perhaps not accidental that many of the most common forms of torture involve somehow pitting the victim against himself, making him an active participant in his own abuse.” In stress positions, the victim is complicit in his own torture. In waterboarding, the victim “also finds himself to be the one hurting his body as well, in some way pushing it against itself.” In sexual forms of torture, the victim’s intimate desires and fantasies are used against him.

    Thus, torture is more similar to sexual assault than other forms of coercion, or even the killing and maiming that goes on in war. As Susan Brisson wrote after being attacked, “My body was now perceived as an enemy, having betrayed my newfound trust and interestn it.”

    Thus, torture denies the intrinsic worth of a person as a rational self-governing agent.



  10. W. Harter says:

    Thank you, Neil, for your willingness to work through this problem with me. Your responses have been respectful, charitable and your comments serious and insightful. I think, however, we have reached an impasse. If one believes the acts of terrorists to be evil, without possibility of being justified, by avenging prior offenses committed by those they target (and this I do believe), then it follows that whatever part of the soul can be said to “collude” with his tormentor is that part which conspires in bringing him to justice. Sussman and Brisson appear to invoke a version of Cartesian dualism, perhaps only as a kind of psychological metaphor … but I am not familiar with their work.

    In any event, I should say in closing, that I think whatever might pass under the terms “enhanced interrogation” or “torture” is something best eliminated from human practice, to the degree possible for justice. I shall continue to think my way through the problem of the moral value of physical compulsion during interrogation.


  11. Neil says:

    Dear Wayne,

    Thanks for writing. If you reach any further conclusions or read anything of interest, please don’t hesitate to comment again here.


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