In The Inferno, the poet Dante illustrates the torments of Hell as punishments that fit the crime; those who were violent against their neighbor are immersed in the Plegethon, which in Dante's poem is a river of boiling blood. The bestial centaurs armed with bows and arrows keep the violent to their proper level of immersion. In writing his Comedy, Dante is not presuming to know what Hell is literally like or who are truly among its inhabitants. He is depicting the destructive spiritual consequences of sin upon the soul of the sinner.
The torture policy of the US government is in the news again today, with CIA Director Michael Hayden testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee about the destruction of videotapes showing harsh interrogation of terror suspects, and also with former CIA interrogator John Kiriakou admitting that waterboarding is torture and that it was performed in the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, who broke from the torture in less that 35 seconds. The Bush Administration won't comment on whether waterboarding is torture, stating once again the matter-of-fact and unexplained assertion that we don't torture.
When someone is waterboarded, they are actually drowning, contrary to the misleading language of the media: water fills the lungs and the person waterboarded believes he is dying. It's not that different from the mental torture of mock execution. Christians might also remember that the particular torture of crucifixion culminates with the crucified drowning on his own bodily fluids. If drowning someone is not torture, was Jesus' drowning on the cross not a part of his passion? Just a question to ponder.
In addition to the physical and mental harm done to those tortured, the violence of torturing also causes spiritual harm to those of practice it. Are we really willing to dive (metaphorically) into the boiling blood of the Plegethon, harming and perhaps even dooming our souls to damnation, in order to save lives?
Some Suggested Reading:
1. TPM's Timeline of the CIA's Torture Tapes
2. Andrew Sullivan on the definition of torture
3. Sullivan's response to the Kiriakou interview
4. Mark Shea's response to the Kiriakou interview
5. Charles Krauthammer's defense of torture (yes, by that name)