The Moral Scandal Of Rick Santorum And “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques”


Here's Rich Lowry, defending Santorum yesterday:

Although his critics will never credit him for it, Santorum’s social conservatism brings with it an unstinting devotion to human dignity, a touchstone for the former senator. The latest position for which he’s taking incoming is his opposition to a government mandate for insurance coverage of prenatal testing often used to identify handicapped babies who are subsequently aborted.

Here are the torture techniques Santorum aggressively defends and told Senator John McCain he didn't understand:

Using dogs to terrorize prisoners; stripping detainees naked and hooding them; isolating people in windowless cells for weeks and even months on end; freezing prisoners to near-death and reviving them and repeating the hypothermia; contorting prisoners into stress positions that create unbearable pain in the muscles and joints; cramming prisoners into upright coffins in painful positions with minimal air; near-drowning, on a waterboard, of human beings—in one case 183 times—even after they have cooperated with interrogators.

Here is a specific case conducted at Camp Nama directly under the authority of Stanley McChrystal:

[One prisoner] was stripped naked, put in the mud and sprayed with the hose, with very cold hoses, in February. At night it was very cold. They sprayed the cold hose and he was completely naked in the mud, you know, and everything. [Then] he was taken out of the mud and put next to an air conditioner. It was extremely cold, freezing, and he was put back in the mud and sprayed. This happened all night. Everybody knew about it. People walked in, the sergeant major and so forth, everybody knew what was going on, and I was just one of them, kind of walking back and forth seeing [that] this is how they do things.

It seems to me that no politician who has aggressively defended these core violations of human dignity can be described as someone for whom human dignity is a "touchstone" of his worldview. The effrontery is not that of the media; the effrontery is from Santorum when he lectured John McCain that McCain

doesn’t understand how enhanced interrogation works. I mean, you break somebody, and after they’re broken, they become cooperative.

In that very defense – in Santorum's own description of what he is defending – he is defending the "breaking" of a human person, made in the image of God. He is defending a core, absolute evil. Let us concede for the sake of argument that these are "enhanced interrogation techniques" and not "torture", as Santorum insists. There is no meaningful difference between the two whatsoever from a Catholic perspective, and Santorum's public positioning as an avowedly Catholic politician, while defending and promoting an absolute evil, is a true and immense moral scandal – in the Church's sense of the word. No one should be giving the impression that the Catholic church defends "enhanced interrogation techniques". This is from the Catechism: 

Torture which uses physical or moral violence to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred is contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity…

Non-combatants, wounded soldiers, and prisoners must be respected and treated humanely. Actions deliberately contrary to the law of nations and to its universal principles are crimes, as are the orders that command such actions. 

Notice there is a bar even on "moral violence" on or "frightening" prisoners. Santorum's own moral distinction between "breaking" human beings by EITs and "torture" does not exist in international law or Catholic doctrine.

I conscientiously dissent from the Magisterium on marriage equality, contraception, and women and married priests. But I publicly acknowledge that I am dissenting and this is not the hierarchy's view and that I am not representing the Magisterium. Santorum, it seems to me, needs to be just as explicit in his statement that he dissents from his own church on the question of the inviolable dignity of the human person. He is advocating crimes "deliberately contrary to the law of nations and to its universal principles". He is proposing to "break" a human person, without even due process. He is standing as the publicly Catholic foe of human dignity.

And notice that, unlike, say, allowing contraception or gay marriage in a free society, the government that Santorum proposes to lead is directly involved in such activities. A lawmaker who allows free contraception in health insurance can only be accused of indirectly causing sin to occur; but a president who authorizes the abuse and torture of human beings is directly, intimately involved with that decision and bears full moral responsibility for it. 

It seems to me that Santorum can and should be free to defend this evil as he sees fit. But his defense of torture is far, far more scandalous to the Catholic church than any liberal Catholic politician's views on, say, same-sex marriage or contraception. It is he who has made his faith integral to his public life. Yet he defends the equivalent of crucifixion for prisoners under his potential command.

When, one wonders, will Catholics hear a letter from the pulpit on the vital question of torture – and the support for it from a leading Catholic candidate for the presidency?