Christians, at least, should be trained to see in every person the imprint of God’s grandeur. This should create in us a sense of reverence. Here, we say—and we say it even of detainees in the war on terror—is a human being sacred in God’s sight, made in God’s image, someone for whom Christ died.
Because they are human, people have rights to many things, including the right not to be tortured. Christians sometimes question the legitimacy of “rights talk,” correctly so. Just because someone claims a right does not mean that it really is a right. But among the most widely recognized rights in both legal and moral theory is the right to bodily integrity; that is, the right not to have intentional physical and psychological harm inflicted upon oneself by others. The ban on torture is one expression of this right.
Is this right absolute? Using Catholic moral reasoning, Robert G. Kennedy, professor of Catholic studies at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, has argued that even the most widely recognized human rights, such as the right to life or the right not to be tortured, can theoretically be qualified by other rights and by the requirements of justice. Kennedy argues that “defensive interrogatory torture” (and only this kind of torture) may be morally legitimate under carefully qualified conditions. Yet he goes on to argue that “it is quite likely that most instances in which interrogatory torture is employed would not conform to these principles and so would be immoral.”
Whether we open the door to torture just a crack, as Kennedy suggests, or keep it firmly shut as an absolute ban, as I advocate, the principle of human dignity and correlated rights remains a transcendently important reason to resist the turn toward torture.”