Zero Dark Thirty: Does killing Osama bin Laden make torture OK?

By Bryan Cones| comments | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare
blog Ethic of Life Social Justice War and Peace

Next month's release of Zero Dark Thirty, Kathryn Bigelow's fictionalized account of the operation that killed Osama bin Laden, is likely to once again open the debate about the use of torture in the "war on terror." Opening with scenes that suggest the CIA derived useful information from practices such as waterboarding, critics have suggested the film posits a simple cause-and-effect. In other words, the use of torture led directly to the killing of bin Laden. (A soon-to-be released report of the Senate Intelligence Committee calls that connection into question, but it's not likely to be released until next spring, according to the New York Times, and in any event, I'm sure more people will see Bigelow's film.)

Regardless of the alleged "success" of the U.S. torture regime, can the ends justify the means? Setting aside how many people were tortured "unjustly"--because, for example, they were detained for no reason or were simply innocent of involvement in terrorism--I can see no way a Catholic--or a Christian for that matter--can tolerate the deliberate infliction of pain on another human being for the sole purpose of extracting information--not even to save other people, much less kill someone else. On one level, this is a simple matter of church teaching--the U.S. bishops have a study guide on the topic simply titled, "Torture is an instrinsic evil." Even more, given the fact that Jesus himself was a victim of state torture, and that the Eucharist is the memorial of Christ's--and therefore God's--broken body, I do not see how torture isn't a profound sin against Christ's body and, for that matter, a contradiction to the mystery of the Eucharist itself, as theologian Bill Cavanaugh has argued in a U.S. Catholic interview.

Frankly, if anything, since Christians were once victims of torture and later its perpetrators, we should be jumping up and down demanding that its use never again be considered.