Traditional Christians oppose torture based on their understanding of Divine Revelation and centuries of experience learning the corrosive effects torture has on the society that justifies its use.
Traditional conservatives should oppose torture because giving the government power to torture is dangerous. War is a public act and can be judged by the public. There is some level of accountability.
Torture is done in secret and the agency empowered to torture will find itself bound by less accountability.
Only angels could be trusted with the power to torture men in secret, but angels would not do the job of devils.
It might seem odd at first glance, but combat can be moral (under certain circumstances), but torture is not. Killing a man honors his choice to be our foe. Torturing him strips him of his choices and denies him the right to be a man. The man shot in battle dies our foe, which is why we can kill him. The man broken by torture has become our slave and so becomes our concern and an object of a Christian man’s pity.
You can kill a foe, but must be gentle to the broken.
Recently some conservatives have made the argument that torture (including water boarding) can be moral, because in some cases the good that will come of the torture (“saving LA”) outweighs the harm. These conservatives suggest that those opposed to torture argue like pacifists, but such conservatives have missed a critical point.
One cannot torture morally, because civilized men know that torture is an inherently base act.
Aristotle frames this issue well. In his Ethics, he posits his famous “golden mean.” A man should act with moderation, acting neither excessively or defectively. Aristotle knows community living, or politics, is an art and not a science. You cannot be sure most of the time about what is right and so you make your best guess about the outcome of your actions and do the best you can.
Somethings, however, don’t get measure by the golden mean. This actions are so wicked that no man can even consider doing them.
Aristotle does not believe that there is a “moderate” amount of adultery that would be acceptable. With perhaps more faith in education than a modern man can have, the philosopher believes that civilized men will simply know that some actions are inherently base.
A moral man cannot do an inherently base or wicked action under any circumstance and remain moral.
Let me give an extreme example. Suppose intentionally massacring non-combatants would end a war. No moral government would propose such a policy, because intentionally massacring non-combatants would make the cause evil. One cannot save the nation’s soul by first damning it!
My point is simple: everyone (I hope) agrees that there are somethings that cannot be done regardless of the cost. We cannot commit genocide. We cannot condone brutalizing non-combatents.
Torture is one of those actions.
One thing that separates a civilized man from a terrorist is that the cultured man will not do anything to win. Martyrdom would make no sense otherwise. A faith that would not condone a lie to the Romans (“Caesar is Lord!”) to save our mortal lives at the cost of our souls cannot tolerate easy morality that would save our nation at the cost of our innocence.
If torture is inherently base, then prudential arguments in its favor are useless. Unlike war, which can be moral under certain circumstances, torture cannot be moral.
Here is a simple argument for the inherent immorality of torture from a Christian perspective. First, men are created in the image of God. Second, the image of God entails that men must be allowed freedom in their own minds (“soul liberty”) from coercion from other men. Human civilization can control the actions of a man, but he must be allowed personal integrity.
Not for Christians, the Soviet experience of forcing the guilty to proclaim their guilt.
In a war we can honor our foes humanity and free choice by opposing him, but we cannot “break his will.” We can imprison him, but not fill him with drugs or torture him to destroy his mental integrity.
He has the right to defy us right to fire squad.
Torture takes away his human right to be our enemy by breaking his humanity. I believe waterboarding is torture, because it is designed to destroy the integrity of a man’s choice.
We can bribe a man, we can trick him, we can even kill him, but we must not breach the wall of his personal integrity. In his mind, we must let him remain free to serve his gods as he sees fit.
If this argument is correct, torture is an inherently base act and any “goods” that come of it are irrelevant.
Sadly, Christians learned this the hard way. We were tempted to think some great goods (salvation of souls, saving a kingdom) justified torture. It is blot on our history and a stink in our nostrils to this day. Men who meant well did more harm to the reputation of the church in the eyes of history than any good that might have come of their actions.
Thank God the Church has rejected torture and repented of its use.
Those of us who love America do not wish to see her lower herself to the same error. Patriots hope to see the flag wave for another hundred years and may we do nothing in our time to make future patriots ashamed of our actions.