EWTN and torture

Andrew Sullivan has drawn attention to Catholic teaching on torture in this first week of Lent—prompted by former Bush speechwriter (and new Washington Post columnist) Mark Thiessen's appearance on EWTN's The World Over. (Sullivan's original, lengthy post is here; follow-ups, which link to other Catholic blogs' reactions, here, here, and here. You can see the whole interview at the Coalition for Clarity blog.) Raymond Arroyo's interview with Thiessen was a new low, but not a surprise. As Morning's Minion has recalled at Vox Nova, The World Over has long been carrying water for the Bush Administration's torture policies. In May I transcribed Arroyo's interview with Fr. Robert Sirico of the Acton Institute. (Sirico is a regular on The World Over, by the way; on the January 29 episode that featured Thiessen, he appeared to offer his analysis of recent news events. Here's a sample of his thoughts on the State of the Union address: "When President Obama was elected, I think a lot of people in the Democratic party took this as a mandate for socialism. And I don't think that's at all what it was. I think it was an affirmation of the dignity of all people and an attempt to bring, you know, build a bridge between races." To hear more, you can download the audio from EWTN's site.)

In that appearance last spring, cued by Arroyo, Sirico dismissed the torture issue with a string of distortions, all straight from the Bush-Cheney apologists' script: it's not clear that waterboarding is torture; it's only really torture if you kill or maim someone; it can't be torture if we do it to our own guys in SERE training; the "ticking time bomb" scenario makes it impossible to prohibit torture absolutely. All empty arguments, not merely but especially in the light of Catholic teaching. And no pushback from Arroyo. The charitable interpretation of all this is that the producers of The World Over badly need to do some research on the subject of torture and the law. For example, when Thiessen says, "It is not torture. We didn't torture anybody. The techniques do not cross the line into torture"—he's not telling the truth, even if you accept the (plainly self-serving) claim that the so-called torture memos were valid interpretations of U.S. law. Even then, we know that the U.S. has tortured; there's no reason to accept Thiessen's assertions to the contrary. In fact, I'd like to suggest that EWTN's producers also do a little more research on Thiessen before inviting him back. He's proven willing to say pretty much anything to attack President Obama and/or defend President Bush on the subject of national security (Jason Linkins has a helpful rundown of the highlights). That kind of record hasn't stopped EWTN from inviting other commentators to appear—witness the January 1 "year-in-review" discussion with Pat Buchanan and Laura Ingraham. But as the interview demonstrates, Thiessen is willing to quote selectively from the Catechism to misrepresent Catholic teaching, all as a means to his end of insisting that President Obama is endangering American lives. That he's been given a position at the Washington Post from which to do so is distressing. That EWTN is giving him a similar opportunity is appalling.

Mollie Wilson O’​Reilly is editor-at-large and columnist at Commonweal.

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