Torture Logic

More light having been shed on the subhuman treatment to which detainees of the Central Intelligence Agency were subjected, an examination of the subject of torture in these pages is warranted. As it turns out, there is no ambiguity to be had on the issue. Torture is an un-immitigable evil. It is illegal, immoral, ineffective, and anti-Christ. On no account should the citizens of the United States accept torture by its government, nor is there any basis for a Catholic to endorse it.


Treaties aren’t just suggestions. They have the force of law in the United States. [1] One treaty to which the United States is a party is the UN’s Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. [2] 

Under the treaty, “the term ‘torture’ means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.” The Senate’s Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency’s
Detention and Interrogation Program [3], commonly referred to as the “Torture Report,” reveals the following actions by the CIA to detainees in its custody:

—“Interrogation techniques such as slaps and ‘wallings’ (slamming detainees against a wall) were used in combination, frequently concurrent with sleep deprivation and nudity.”

 —Waterboarding. This “technique was physically harmful, inducing convulsions and vomiting. Abu Zubaydah, for example, became ‘completely unresponsive, with bubbles rising through his open, full mouth.’ Internal CIA records describe the waterboarding of Khalid Shaykh Mohammad as evolving into a ‘series of near drownings.’” 

—“Sleep deprivation involved keeping detainees awake for up to 180 hours, usually standing or in stress positions, at times with their hands shackled above their heads. At least five detainees experienced disturbing hallucinations during prolonged sleep deprivation and, in at least two of those cases, the CIA nonetheless continued the sleep deprivation.” 

—The “CIA instructed personnel that the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah would take ‘precedence’ over his medical care, resulting in the deterioration of a bullet wound Abu Zubaydah incurred during his capture.” 

—“CIA medical personnel treated at least one detainee for swelling in order to allow the continued use of standing sleep deprivation.” 

—“At least five CIA detainees were subjected to ‘rectal rehydration’ or rectal feeding without documented medical necessity.” 

—“The CIA placed detainees in ice water ‘baths.’”

—CIA officers “threatened at least three detainees with harm to their families—to include threats to harm the children of a detainee, threats to sexually abuse the mother of a detainee, and a threat to ‘cut [a detainee’s] mother's throat.’” 

—“CIA detainees at the COBALT detention facility were kept in complete darkness and constantly shackled in isolated cells with loud noise or music and only a bucket to use for human waste. Lack of heat at the facility likely contributed to the death of a detainee.”

—“At times, the detainees at COBALT were walked around naked or were shackled with their hands above their heads for extended periods of time. Other times, the detainees at COBALT were subjected to what was described as a "rough takedown," in which approximately five CIA officers would scream at a detainee, drag him outside of his cell, cut his clothes off, and secure him with Mylar tape. The detainee would then be hooded and dragged up and down a long corridor while being slapped and punched.” 

The impact on the detainees was severe. “Throughout the program, multiple CIA detainees who were subjected to the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques and extended isolation exhibited psychological and behavioral issues, including hallucinations, paranoia, insomnia, and attempts at self-harm and self-mutilation.” It is plain that what was intentionally inflicted on the detainees constituted severe physical and mental pain and suffering brought about for the purpose of getting information from them. Clearly, the actions of the CIA amounted to torture as defined by the UN treaty, and thus were illegal. 

The perceived necessity in taking these actions due to terrorist activity are of no moment. Article 2, Section 2 of the treaty provides that no “exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.” Under international law, there simply is no exigency sufficient to justify torture.

Torture is also prohibited under the domestic law of the United States. Under 18 U.S. Code §2340A torture outside the United States by a U.S. national, or by anyone who later enters the country, is punishable by up to 20 years imprisonment, or, if the torture resulted in the death of the victim, by capital punishment. [4] Torture within the United States will be provided for under state law. For example, in Michigan torture is a felony punishable by life or any term of years. [5]  

There is no reasonable doubt that the actions of the CIA against the detainees in its custody was illegal. As will now be discussed, that is as it should be.


The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that 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.” [6] Thus the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church provides: 

“In carrying out investigations, the regulation against the use of torture, even in the case of serious crimes, must be strictly observed: ‘Christ's disciple refuses every recourse to such methods, which nothing could justify and in which the dignity of man is as much debased in his torturer as in the torturer's victim’. International juridical instruments concerning human rights correctly indicate a prohibition against torture as a principle which cannot be contravened under any circumstances.” [7] 

Here also there is no exigency that will permit torture. There is simply no circumstance where Catholic teaching will justify its use. A Catholic who tries to advocate, or even excuse, the actions of the CIA against its detainees as described in the Torture Report has run far afoul of the teachings of his religion. As Stephen M. Colecchi, the director of the Office of International Justice and Peace of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, wrote in America: 

“The church views torture as an ‘intrinsic evil’ that can never be justified. The inevitable harm it does to individuals and to society as a whole allows no exceptions. To those who would advance arguments for the exceptional use of torture to protect public safety, the Catholic Church argues that we cannot do something intrinsically evil and expect good to come of it. In 2007 Pope Benedict reiterated the teaching found in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church ‘that the prohibition against torture “cannot be contravened under any circumstances.”’” [7]   

Here opponents will avail themselves of the tu quoque fallacy, and point out that history provides examples of those who utilized torture in the service of the Church. Indeed, it is true, and it is “blasphemous to make use of God’s name…to torture persons or put them to death.” [8] To this the Catechism responds: 

“In times past, cruel practices were commonly used by legitimate governments to maintain law and order, often without protest from the Pastors of the Church, who themselves adopted in their own tribunals the prescriptions of Roman law concerning torture. Regrettable as these facts are, the Church always taught the duty of clemency and mercy. She forbade clerics to shed blood. In recent times it has become evident that these cruel practices were neither necessary for public order, nor in conformity with the legitimate rights of the human person. On the contrary, these practices led to ones even more degrading. It is necessary to work for their abolition. We must pray for the victims and their tormentors.” [9]


It doesn’t require a great deal of insight to understand that people suffering intense pain will be sorely tempted to do whatever is necessary to make the pain stop, even if that means giving false information that the torturer wants to hear. This point, which should be obvious, was made by Mark A. Costanzo and Ellen Gerrity in their paper in Social Issues and Policy Review, entitled “The Effects and Effectiveness of Using Torture as an Interrogation Device: Using Research to Inform the Policy Debate,” wherein they wrote the following:

“As early as the third century A.D., the great Roman Jurist Ulpian noted that information obtained through torture was not to be trusted because some people are ‘so susceptible to pain that they will tell any lie rather than suffer it’. This warning about the unreliability of information extracted through the use of torture has echoed across the centuries. As one CIA operative who participated in torture during the Vietnam War put it, ‘We had people who were willing to confess to anything if we would just stop torturing them’. Indeed, the Army Field Manual explains that strategically useful information is best obtained from prisoners who are treated humanely, and that information obtained through torture has produced faulty intelligence. 

“It is important to acknowledge that torture may sometimes lead to the disclosure of accurate information. That is, confronted with excruciating pain, some people tell what they know. However, many survivors of torture report that the truthful information they revealed was intentionally incomplete or mixed with false information. The goal was to appease the torturer, not to reveal the truth. And, because the interrogators were not omniscient, they could not discern which bits of information were true and which were false. Misreading their victims, torturers often failed to recognize the truth and continued to inflict pain. Victims continued to disclose, often fabricating information to in an effort to stop the pain. Many survivors of torture report that they would have said anything to ‘make the torture stop’. And, even in cases where torture may have preceded the disclosure of useful information, it is impossible to know whether less coercive forms of interrogation might have yielded the same or even better results.” [citations omitted] [10]  

It should not be surprising, then, that the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence found that the torture used by the CIA against its detainees was ineffective. “For example, according to CIA records, seven of the 39 CIA detainees known to have been subjected to the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques produced no intelligence while in CIA custody,” while other “detainees provided significant accurate intelligence prior to, or without having been subjected to these techniques.” Worse, while “being subjected to the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques and afterwards, multiple CIA detainees fabricated information, resulting in faulty intelligence.” Indeed, those detainees “provided fabricated information on critical intelligence issues, including the terrorist threats which the CIA identified as its highest priorities.”  All the while, there was a better way for the CIA to get the information it wanted. “At numerous times throughout the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program, CIA personnel assessed that the most effective method for acquiring intelligence from detainees, including from detainees the CIA considered to be the most ‘high-value,’ was to confront the detainees with information already acquired by the Intelligence Community.”

Casting aside morality and legality (which was obviously done here), torture cannot be justified on even utilitarian grounds. There is simply no reason to do it. It is an act of pure evil, without any purpose.


There were two things at work in the Passion of Christ: the love of God, and the savagery of man. No theologian is your humble servant, but, perhaps, there was something necessary in the atonement being effected through the actions of a humanity at its worst. That worst was manifested through extrajudicial pummeling, brutal scourging, and crucifixion. Simply put, Jesus Christ was tortured to death. 

How would the apologists for torture attempt to justify what was done to Christ? They would have said that it was necessary to make an example of him, to deter others from engaging in similar conduct, and to keep order. In this way those who held such values in high esteem would have been persuaded, and we can see how proponents of “the greatest moral evil ever committed” [11] would have had their reasons.   

That’s the thing about evil: it can often give reasons for itself. But the teaching is clear: “One may not do evil so that good may result from it.” [12] There are no extenuating circumstances that justify evil. And torture is evil. It is the way Christ was killed. To be for torture is to be against Christ, and it really is that simple. 


Catholics are called to be engaged in society, and to contribute to its good. [13] This never involves acquiescence to evil. When it comes to torture by our government, we contribute to the good of society, of our country, only if we firmly oppose it, and make plain the source of spiritual evil from which it derives. 

Jack Quirk