"The Christian must discover in contemplation, and in the giving of his life, those symbolic actions which will ignite the people's faith to resist injustice with their whole lives, lives coming together as a united force of truth and thus releasing the liberating power of the God within them." - James Douglass, Contemplation and Resistance.

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Respecting Moslem Devotion

"Akeel said former detainees told him that upon arrival at a U.S.-run facility, they were each given a questionnaire asking them about their religious affiliation as well as their vices. In Akeel's words, the questions included: "Are you Sunni? Are you Shia? Do you drink? Do you not drink? Do you have a girlfriend?" Akeel said he found a consistent pattern among the cases: the stricter the religious observance a detainee reported to his captors, the more severe the treatment he would receive at their hands.

Akeel provided several examples of religious desecration, including stories of men who had purified themselves in an Islamic absolution ritual only to be subsequently doused with beer and alcohol by captors. At one prison, plaintiffs told Akeel, captors hung a picture of a pig on the wall toward which prisoners faced to worship and told them, 'Pray to your pig.'"
- "Iraqi Prison Horrors Pervasive, Says Attorney", The New Standard, August 31, 2004.

Vatican II, Nostra Aetate, 3: "The Church regards with esteem also the Moslems. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all- powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth,(5) who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God. Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere Him as a prophet. They also honor Mary, His virgin Mother; at times they even call on her with devotion. In addition, they await the day of judgment when God will render their deserts to all those who have been raised up from the dead. Finally, they value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting."

As Catholics, our first duty to our Moslem brothers is to strengthen their faith in the one God. We are called to immerse ourselves in prayer, to be always ready to kneel and abandon the world which presses down so hard. On the day of judgement, those who have built up the faith in others will receive their reward.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

Torture as Blasphemy

"Citing military documents, eyewitness accounts and news reports, Miles says medical personnel were involved in a range of violations. Acts he condemns include falsification of death certificates, tampering with Iraqi corpses and in one instance, reviving a man brutalized into unconsciousness so that soldiers could resume a torture regime."

"Miles’ article concluded: "Army investigations have looked at a small set of human rights abuses, but have not investigated reports from human rights organizations, nor have they focused on the role of medical personnel or examined detention centers that were not operated by the Army.… Reforms stemming from [a complete] inquiry could yet create a valuable legacy from the ruins of Abu Ghraib. 'Iraqis leaving Abu Ghraib have regularly insisted that torture and mistreatment continue inside the prison walls to this day.' -
"Top Brass to Evade Abu Ghraib Punishment; Medics Involved in Torture", Brian Dominick, The NewStandard, 20 August 2004

Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2148: "It is also blasphemous to make use of God's name to cover up criminal practices, to reduce peoples to servitude, to torture persons or put them to death. The misuse of God's name to commit a crime can provoke others to repudiate religion."

Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1756: "It is therefore an error to judge the morality of human acts by considering only the intention that inspires them or the circumstances (environment, social pressure, duress or emergency, etc.) which supply their context. There are acts which, in and of themselves, independently of circumstances and intentions, are always gravely illicit by reason of their object; such as blasphemy and perjury, murder and adultery. One may not do evil so that good may result from it."

Saturday, August 28, 2004

Protecting the Image of God

Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2273:
"The inalienable rights of the person must be recognized and respected by civil society and the political authority. These human rights depend neither on single individuals nor on parents; nor do they represent a concession made by society and the state; they belong to human nature and are inherent in the person by virtue of the creative act from which the person took his origin. Among such fundamental rights one should mention in this regard every human being's right to life and physical integrity from the moment of conception until death."

"The moment a positive law deprives a category of human beings of the protection which civil legislation ought to accord them, the state is denying the equality of all before the law. When the state does not place its power at the service of the rights of each citizen, and in particular of the more vulnerable, the very foundations of a state based on law are undermined."

According to Human Rights Watch "The Road to Abu Ghraib", June 2004:
"First, in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks on the United States, the Bush administration seemingly determined that winning the war on terror required that the United States circumvent international law. Senior administration lawyers in a series of internal memos argued over the objections of career military and State Department counsel that the new war against terrorism rendered “obsolete” long-standing legal restrictions on the treatment and interrogation of detainees."

These policies lead directly to confusion about the legal status of detainees that resulted in the following attitudes among the military charged with their detention:
"In May 2004, a member of the 377th Military Police Company told the New York Times that the labeling of prisoners in Afghanistan as “enemy combatants” not subject to the Geneva Conventions contributed to their abuse. “We were pretty much told that they were nobodies, that they were just enemy combatants,” he said. “I think that giving them the distinction of soldier would have changed our attitudes toward them.”

The United States declared a "category of human beings", namely "enemy combatants", to be without the protection which civil legislation ought to accord them.

From the same Human Rights Watch study:
"Second, the United States began to employ coercive methods designed to “soften up” detainees for interrogation. These methods included holding detainees in painful stress positions, depriving them of sleep and light for prolonged periods, exposing them to extremes of heat, cold, noise and light, hooding, and depriving them of all clothing. News reports describe a case where U.S. personnel with official approval tortured a detainee held in an “undisclosed location” by submerging him in water until he believed he would drown. These techniques, familiar to victims of torture in many of the world's most repressive dictatorships, are forbidden by prohibitions against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment not only by the Geneva Conventions, but by other international instruments to which the U.S. is a party and by the U.S. military’s own long-standing regulations."

Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph #1930: "Respect for the human person entails respect for the rights that flow from his dignity as a creature. These rights are prior to society and must be recognized by it. They are the basis of the moral legitimacy of every authority: by flouting them, or refusing to recognize them in its positive legislation, a society undermines its own moral legitimacy. If it does not respect them, authority can rely only on force or violence to obtain obedience from its subjects. It is the Church's role to remind men of good will of these rights and to distinguish them from unwarranted or false claims."

Gaudium et Spes, 27:
"...everyone must consider his every neighbor without exception as another self, taking into account first of all His life and the means necessary to living it with dignity, so as not to imitate the rich man who had no concern for the poor man Lazarus."

Catholic Teaching on Torture

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2313: "Non-combatants, wounded soldiers, and prisoners must be respected and treated humanely. Actions deliberately contrary to the law of nations and to its universal principles are crimes, as are orders that command such actions. Blind obedience does not suffice to excuse those who carry them out.”

The New York Times reported on Friday 27 August 2004 that "Classsified parts of the report by three Army generals on the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison say Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, the former top commander in Iraq, approved the use in Iraq of some severe interrogation practices intended to be limited to captives held in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and Afghanistan. "

The "severe interrogation practices" included the following:

"At Abu Ghraib, isolation conditions sometimes included being kept naked in very hot or very cold, small rooms, and/or completely darkened rooms, clearly in violation of the Geneva Conventions," a classified part of the report said. "

"That task force policy endorsed the use of stress positions during harsh interrogation procedures, the use of dogs, yelling, loud music, light control, isolation and other procedures used previously in Afghanistan and Iraq."

In a related story from the Washington Post for August 24, 2004: "Earlier reports and photographs from the prison have indicated that unmuzzled military police dogs were used to intimidate detainees at Abu Ghraib, something the dog handlers have told investigators was sanctioned by top military intelligence officers there. But the new report, according to Pentagon sources, will show that MPs were using their animals to make juveniles -- as young as 15 years old -- urinate on themselves as part of a competition."

The Catechism, paragraph #2297, says: "Torture, which uses physical or moral violence to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred is contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity."

Another passage from the Catechism, paragraph #2298, "In times past, cruel practices were commonly used by legitimate governments to maintain law and order, often without protest from the Pastors of the Church, who themselves adopted in their own tribunals the prescriptions of Roman law concerning torture. Regrettable as these facts are, the Church always taught the duty of clemency and mercy. She forbade clerics to shed blood. In recent times it has become evident that these cruel practices were neither necessary for public order, nor in conformity with the legitimate rights of the human person. On the contrary, these practices led to ones even more degrading. It is necessary to work for their abolition. We must pray for the victims and their tormentors."

The root of this teaching is in human dignity. As it was put recently in a speech by a prominent human rights activist, Arundhati Roy, "Each of the Iraqi children killed by the United States was our child. Each of the prisoners tortured in Abu Ghraib was our comrade. Each of their screams was ours. When they were humiliated, we were humiliated.” Transcript of full speech by Arundhati Roy in San Francisco, California on August 16th, 2004.

Let us pray for the Iraqi prisoners and for their tormentors. Let us also pray for those whose fear drives them to believe that by torturing our fellow human beings that we can become safer.