President Trump has said in an ABC interview that he would revive the old program of torture called waterboarding. Against the advice of experts and even members of his own cabinet, he says it “absolutely works.” He must have skipped that intelligence meeting. Now, several members of his own party–unsurprisingly including Sen. John McCain, who was a victim of both torture and Trump’s ire–have spoken out against it. Yet, these denouncements and even Trump’s pronouncement miss the mark and obscure things.
In his confirmation hearing, Gen. Mattis stated that the current field manuals that exclude torture as an interrogation method would remain the standard. Sessions and Pompeo both said that they could not envision a world where torture was reintroduced. Since Trump is on record, stating this, then I do not see where they could have been led to believe that bring back torture would not be a priority for him. But again, the talk of Army Field Manuals is useless. It wasn’t the Army that was waterboarding people, but the CIA whose nominated director said that he could not envision Trump wanting to bring back torture. As disorganized and factionized the Obama administration was, I don’t think we have seen a cabinet that so disagrees with the priorities of their president, except maybe Lincoln’s but his was during a massive civil war so it isn’t that comparable.
What this really does besides highlight the inconsistencies of Trump’s secretaries is undermines his status as pro-life and undermines the pro-life movement as a whole. The only thing Donald Trump has going for him in terms of pro-life policy is that he might nominate a pro-life justice to the Supreme Court. He has not given any comment on DC’s euthanasia law; he has barred refugees based on religious biases; and he has formally supported torture in order to “fight fire with fire.”
First, the rationale that we should fight fire with fire against ISIS is absolutely absurd and flies in the face of American values. We are America. We are better than them. We, unlike them, do not need to use cruel methods to get our points across. Our courage, valor, and self-sacrifice says more about our goodness and justice to the world and to history than any act of torture. If the often repeated conservative maxim that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it then they would do well to remember every tyrant began his reign of blood by using the tools of his enemy. This is so much part of the Western experience, that Tolkien made it a major conflict in his Lord of the Rings trilogy. To use evil to fight evil only brings one a different evil. The wisest people–Gandalf, Galadriel, Elrond, Faramir–all resist the temptation to use the One Ring for noble purposes. They do so because any noble purpose achieved through the power of evil is necessarily corrupted. Imagine if Ronald Reagan believed that, in order to destroy the Soviet Union, he needed to collectivize the industries. I sincerely ask those Reaganites now who support Trump in this: when did you abandon reason for madness?
Second, Trump ignores the America moral center i.e. that all men are endowed with the inviolable right to life and all the dignity that implies. When we Americans speak of the dignity of the human person and the right they have to be free of torment as being basic to their humanity, we cannot turn around and say, “except those guys.” It undermines our core beliefs in inalienable rights. If the rights of another Divinely and naturally endowed person can be abrogated for the whim of an Oompa Loompa with a pain fetish, then who else is at risk?
Third, it forces the modern pro-life movement to really examine what they believe here. Is being pro-life solely about abortion and nothing else? Seeing as Fr. Pavone hasn’t given any statements on this recent move, we can safely say that those of his thinking are not bothered by the prospect. Yet, it should deeply trouble us and challenge us to challenge Trump to be more pro-life. We cannot merely be grateful he might appoint an anti-abortion justice and move on. We have to advocate for more, showing the world that life is more than reproduction, that it only starts in the womb, and that there are real dangers to it post-partum.
Call your representatives in both bodies, especially if they are on the Armed Services and Intelligence committees in either house. Tell them to denounce Trump’s revival of torture as the violation of basic humanity that it is.