Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.
So it turns out interrogation experts from every branch of the military and intelligence services agree: Torture doesn’t work.
That’s good news for Catholics, because it confirms one of the basic realities forgotten over the last decade: that Catholic moral teaching is rooted in practical reality and not simply Ivory Tower Cloud Cuckoo Land theory.
Indeed, if there is anybody laboring to live in Cloud Cuckoo Land (and to snooker as many unwary Christians into that fantasy world as well) it is the politicians and Media Talking Heads of the Thing that Used to be Conservatism, who have fanned out over the airwaves since May 1 to try to get you to ignore the teaching of Holy Church on torture and cheer for the lie that
torture is what bagged bin Laden. Instead of acknowledging the testimony of actual experts in interrogation, our deeply self-serving spin doctors for the Right’s ongoing legacy of support for torture lie and say the Bush/Cheney torture policies saved us and got bin Laden. Why, only the other day, Rick Santorum was making a spectacle of himself and illustrating everything that is wrong with the pro-torture Right by telling John McCain (JOHN McCAIN!!!!) that he just didn’t understand how torture works. Can’t beat Meghan McCain’s response to this pontification from one of the GOP’s damp-handed proponents of grave, intrinsic evil: “Rick Santorum telling my father doesn’t know about torture is like Carrot Top telling Lebron James he doesn’t know about basketball.” But Rick Santorum is simply doing his bit to spread the ongoing message of the bulk of the GOP: that they are the real heroes because their wise torture policies are what bagged bin Laden.
Nonetheless, that is, indeed, a lie, as McCain himself pointed out:
“It was not torture, or cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment of detainees that got us the major leads that ultimately enabled our intelligence community to find Osama Bin Laden.”
These spin doctors well know this because, as we see above, their own interrogation experts have endlessly told them so. But the apologists trot that lie out now in order to muscle in on some Bin Laden Slayer Luv—and in order to fend off the fact that the policies they urged were not only immoral, but dangerous and stupid, too.
Note the breathtaking selfishness and unpatriotism of this latest attempt at self-justification by the Torture Apologists. The sudden resurgence of the torture meme on the Right since bin Laden’s death has nothing whatever to do with what’s good for keeping America safe from terrorists and everything to do with what’s good for the people who authorized, excused, pushed—and are now afraid of being condemned—for torture. As the interrogators above point out, torture is actually harmful to our intelligence gathering capabilities in a host of ways. And, as has been abundantly documented, torture had nothing to do with nailing bin Laden. And yet, the torture meme is trotted out by Right Wing talking heads anyway because they are now unpatriotically and dangerously putting exonerating themselves above the good of the country.
It is customary at this point for torture defenders to trot out the normal round of foggifying excuses, evasions and untruths. There’s the ever-popular “Oh sure, torture is wrong but waterboarding is not torture” bunkum. There’s the “We only tortured three high value targets” lie (something you should really check with all these dead detainees, some of whom our own government describes as murder victims). There’s the “We only did it to the worst of the worst” lie (which will come as a surprise to the completely innocent Maher Arar and the beaten-to-death innocent cabbie Dilawar). And there’s the “We never used any other torture besides waterboarding” lie, which will be news to the detainees who were beaten, suffocated, and frozen to death. All these, in addition to being lies about the past, are also lies being used to fuel the very present and future trajectory of the Right back into power as the Torture and Proud of It Party.
That matters, because we are talking about what is best for America, for our safety, and for our eternal destiny as Christians. What got bin Laden was good old-fashioned meticulous investigative work and traditional humane interrogation. The Let’s Reclaim our Proud Heritage of Torture guys, who are playing for some Me Too Love in the wake of the bin Laden killing, want us to turn our back on these productive methods because they are all about excusing their own failures. If that means pushing failed policies that harvest worthless and misleading intel and send us on wild goose chases costing millions of dollars and thousands of man hours, well, better America suffer another 9/11 by doing lousy intelligence work than that these self-serving party hacks in the media face the consequences of their incompetence and lies.
That’s the thing about consequentialism: It’s not just wrong, it’s stupid, too. Consequentialism is always, in the end, a Faustian Bargain. You sell your soul and get nothing in return. Much smarter to just listen to Holy Mother Church when she says, “Treat prisoners humanely and don’t abuse them.” It’s not only the right thing to do. It’s the smart thing to do. Heck, it’s what the Greatest Generation did when they were fighting the Nazis. And guess what? It worked!