Why A Catholic Despises Torture

Here is a passage from the encyclical Gaudium Et Spes:

Furthermore, whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia or wilful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where men are treated as mere tools for profit, rather than as free and responsible persons; 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.

I do not refer to my religious convictions very often in the torture debate precisely because I want to make an argument for secular society, on secular and moral grounds, and want to persuade more than Catholics.

But I do want to say that the Church gets to the core of the issue - the true definition of torture here:

whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself;

The point here is not to make some deranged distinction between waterboarding a human being with a cloth rather than cellophane, for twenty seconds rather than forty, or, God help us, 183 times in a row rather than 100 times in a row. People who define torture by these absurd qualifications are missing the forest for a stack of twigs. The point of torture is to violate the integrity of the human person and to coerce the will itself.

So when Cliff May writes the following paragraph, he is explicitly describing the very infamy the church understands as torture:

We now know that Islamists believe their religion forbids them to cooperate with infidels until they have reached the limit of their ability to endure the hardships the infidel is inflicting on them.* In other words: Imagine an al-Qaeda member who would like to give his interrogators information, who does not want continue fighting, who would prefer not to see more innocent people slaughtered. He would need his interrogators to press him hard so he can feel that he has met his religious obligations only then could he cooperate.

How else can you interpret what was done to Qahtani, Zubaydah or KSM other than "attempts to coerce the will itself." You will also note how high up the list of atrocities torture is. This was not just a crime; it was a sin.