A Christian case against torture

In the ongoing political discussions of torture, I’ve seen some Christians defend these acts (like waterboarding) as just under the criteria that anything effective is justified in times of war. Setting aside the question of whether torture is actually effective (I find it hard to believe that it would be predictably so; the one thing you can be sure of when you torture someone is not that they will tell you the truth, but that they will tell you whatever they have to to stop the torture), Oliver O’Donovan makes a case from the nature of torture and punishment which would universally prohibit it:

The relativity of penal languages should alert us to the danger of over-hasty disapproval of penal practices other than our own, whether historical or contemporary. In evaluating the practice of another society we must see it as a whole; it is not enough to feel a frisson at some feature which we find barbarous. But can we, then, disapprove of anything at all universally? May it not be that even torture is accommodated within the symbolism of some penal languages? And if we define torture purely anatomically, as performing certain painful acts upon the human body, perhaps it may be so; and perhaps it may be lack of imagination that makes it seem incompatible with respect for human dignity — we need only think of the measures used by admirers of the Japanese samurai culture to commit suicide! As things stand, however, the practices we condemn as torture are clearly not viewed in that light by the societies which practice them. They are performed in secret, without due process, without legal specifications as to duration or intensity; and they in no way seek to tell the truth about the crimes they punish. These features identify such practices as subversive of the norms by which those societies formally operate. Understood in this sense, as the infliction of “cruel and unusual” suffering outside prevailing norms, torture may be regarded as universally prohibited. (The Ways of Judgment [Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 2005], 122)

Torture used as a means of interrogation is not even pretended to be done to punish someone. Rather, it is done for the sake of getting someone suspected to be involved in a crime to reveal information.