In “Defining Torture” Gail H. Miller makes clear the necessity for a uniform Internationally agreed upon definition of torture.
She notes “In the absence of a universal definition, many
governments narrowly define torture, enabling their agents to act however
they see fit without crossing the definitional line.18 Governments
are able to continue to condemn torture publicly while employing horrific
methods of interrogation and punishment. For example, in 2002,
the U.S. Department of Justice defined torture to exclude even extreme
methods of interrogation so long as they did not result in impairment of
bodily function or pain similar in intensity to organ failure.19 A single,
clear definition of torture limited to the most severe acts, yet not diluted
in force, would rein in the manipulation on each side of the spectrum—
both the advocates who overuse the term and the governments who
define it too narrowly— creating a space in which claims of torture are
Catholic apologist Jimmy Akin, in his attempt to set the parameters for any future magisterial definition of torture, points out two basic ones:
Parameter 1: The definition should correspond as much as possible to our pre-reflective sense of what constitutes torture.
Parameter 2: The definition should point to something that is intrinsically evil.
He relays that Cardinal Avery Dulles pointed out that Guadium et Spes is missing important unstated qualifiers and thus some items on the list, such as deportation, do not in and of themselves appear to be intrinsically evil without further qualification.
Doesn’t what is perceived as psychologically distressing or harmful vary from individual to individual? Is it really possible for someone to determine what is psychologically harmful in an objective manner when the psychological is subjective? Would you say that each person has different psychological and physical strengths and weaknesses? Of the definitions of torture that I have seen they all define torture using the terms “pain” or “serious pain” and “anguish of body or mind” but these terms are subjective in that what one person considers to be painful may not be painful to another person. Now, there are some obvious instances such as when a person’s finger nails are pulled out or there is a blow torch burning someone’s skin where we can intuitively know that these are torture.
Just because something is named the same exact thing doesn’t necessarily mean it is the same thing. It depends on what methodologies are being used – whether they are different or the same. How do we *know* that when the U.S. and others classified waterboarding as “torture” that they were correct in doing so? Is it because some today have preconceived notions, follow secular Leftist definition of torture, and the past assertion fits into their narrative? There is a misconception that what some call “waterboarding” today is the same as the “waterboarding” which took place during WWII at the hands of the Japanese. They are not the same thing. There are morally relevant differences.
What the Japanese did to American POWs which some now conveniently classify under the contemporary term “waterboarding” was in reality one part of a larger torture regimen known as “the water cure”. During the “water cure” torture the Japanese did not place a cloth over the person’s mouth. They poured water over the person’s face which caused actual drowning. The water went down their victim’s throat after which some would go into the lungs and some into the stomach. It de-salinated the victim’s blood and often ended up drowning his intestines. In other words, there was often actual physical harm involved and always the very real danger of serious physical harm. That is a key morally relevant difference between the Japanese “waterboarding” technique and the way the CIA practiced waterboarding under the Bush administration. For the latter there was never any physical harm inflicted nor was there any real danger of serious physical harm. There was no actual drowning, only a psychologically convincing simulation of it.
The Justice Department under Bush had strict guidelines for the administration of waterboarding. There was a cloth placed over the terrorist’s mouth and nose. The individual does not take any water into his lungs, and it is never permitted that harmful amounts of water should be ingested by the terrorist. Also, while the Japanese had no moral scruples about how often to apply their water cure torture, the CIA was not permitted to apply their waterboarding technique more than once in a 30-day period.
A clear and concise definition of “torture” is sorely needed. Is it possible for the countries in the United Nations to agree on such a definition? I doubt it. There doesn’t seem much motivation to do so.
The concerns and examples I stated above is why I titled this post, the tortured definition of “torture”. Some people have butchered the definition of “torture” and twisted it up like a pretzel in order to fit the politically correct culture of today. This even departs from Church Tradition. Tony, a commentor, pointed out at his blog that my original last statement relayed a flawed understanding of infallibility so I am eliminating it. OTOH, it seems to me to be reckless and imprudently hasty to discard centuries of tradition and ecclesiastical understanding on the legitimate use of torture (e.g. in the punishment of heretics) and categorize it as intrinsically evil based on nothing but modern intuition.