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The Moral Wounds the Torture Report Reveals

December 17, 2014

Last week, the Senate Intelligence Committee released a redacted version of the 500+ page  executive summary (in PDF) of its mammoth report on the CIA’s use of torture in the decade after 9/11.  My colleagues Matt and Nathan have already responded to this report, but  I want to add my own reaction and sketch what I see are some of its broader implications.  But to do that, I want to be clear about what the report said and the moral grounds for judging its contents.

According to the report, the CIA engaged in torture.  Period, end of discussion:  no prevarication is possible.  Though current and former members of the CIA continue to refer to “enhanced interrogation techniques”  (or use the doubly euphemistic acronym “EIT”) there can be no doubt that what was done constituted torture.  If you cannot take the time to read the whole report, there are endless bullet point summaries on line (see, for instance, here and here).  To briefly recapitulate:  the CIA conducted  waterboarding, anal rape (again euphemistically referred to as “rectal feeding”–a procedure with no medical justification), sleep deprivation, stress positions, mock executions, psychological intimidation and threats against family members, including threats of murder and rape.  For me, personally, amidst these grotesque tales of horror, one example ripped at my guts:  buried in a footnote on p. 16 of the report, listed among examples of innocent detainees, is

Nazir Ali, an “intellectually challenged” individual whose taped crying was used as leverage against his family member.

As many readers know, I have an adult son, Nicolas, with Down Syndrome.  The sadism on display here in this one, laconic comment, is incalculable.  Read more…

“The Truth Eventually Wins Out”

December 12, 2014

These were the words of Michael Hayden when he gave the commencement address at Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2012.  I wrote a little something on this issue over here.  A preview:

When granting the honorary degree to Hayden, Fr. Terence Henry explained that, “This year’s commencement speakers have distinguished themselves by defending our shores, protecting the sacredness of human life, and shaping our form of worship as Catholics.”  My concern is that Hayden was not concerned enough about protecting the sacredness of human life.  As he told Brian Williams: “We knew as bad as these people were, we were doing this to fellow human beings.”

“We were doing this to fellow human beings.”  With its long and courageous history of standing up for human life, I would not like to see my Alma Mater come out on the wrong side of this one.  I would like them to distance themselves from partisan politics and make a bold statement against torture.  I would like to see them carefully follow the evidence, and if necessary, rescind the honorary degree.  Just as the University erred on the side of moral caution when it dropped its requirement for student health insurance, an action that was surely not morally required, so I would hope that in this instance too it would err on the side of moral caution.  And I hope that it will be bold again in looking for every opportunity to protect the sacredness of human life.

Read more:

Happy and Blessed Feast of the Guadalupe, 2014

December 12, 2014

To all of our readers, I wish a most happy and blessed feast day of Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe, patronness of Mexico, patronness of the Americas.    For today’s feast I offer Las Mananitas from the Basilica in Mexico City, recorded in 2011 and a beautiful prayer, in Spanish, roughly translated into English.  (My Spanish is not great, if anyone spots an error, please let me know and I will correct.)

Oracion a la Virgen de Guadalupe

Oh Virgen de Guadalupe, madre del verdadero Dios y Madre de la Iglesia! Tu que te manifiestas siempre llena de gracia, de clemencia y de compasion, escucha la plegaria que con filial confianza te dirijo y presentasela a tu Hijo Jesus. Da la paz, la justicia y la prosperidad a nuestro pueblo. Que seamos totalmente tuyos y fieles a Jesucristo en su Iglesia. Virgen de Guadalupe, concedeme especialmented la gracia que hoy te pido y que espero conseguir de tu bondad y misericordia. Madre mia santisima, haz que recorra siempre contigo el camino de mi vida. No me dejes de tu mano. Ayudame. Amen.

Prayer to the Virgin of Guadalupe

O Virgin of Guadalupe, Mother of the true God and Mother of the Church!  You who reveal yourself always full of grace, clemency and compassion, listen to the prayer that with the confidence of a child I make to you and present it to your Son Jesus.  Grant peace, justice and prosperity to our people.  That we might be completely yours and faithful to Jesus Christ in His Church.  Virgin of Guadalupe, especially grant me the grace that I ask you for today and that I hope to obtain from your goodness and mercy.  Mother most holy, make me always travel with you on my life’s journey.  Do not let me abandon your hands.  Help me!  Amen. 

Update (12/13/2014):  translation corrected per comment below.  The original translation read “your Church” and “do not abandon me from your hands”.

Some Thoughts on the Torture Report

December 11, 2014

ON TUESDAY, SENATE DEMOCRATS RELEASED DETAILS of the torture program authorized at the highest levels of the Bush administration and perpetrated in the early years of last decade, in the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Washington, D.C. and New York in September 2001.

I downloaded the report from the Web and have not finished reading it — after a few pages, I felt sickened enough that I could not continue. I also felt very angry.

It used to be taken as axiomatic — a moral “given” — that torture is always and everywhere wrong, and can never be used for any purpose. That door was firmly marked by a consensus of civilized opinion, “Do not enter.” But the actions of the Bush administration opened that particular door.

Rather than present detailed arguments against torture, let me quote directly from the report:

Read more…

On Divorce: Ratzinger Then and Benedict Now

December 9, 2014

It seems that Pope Emeritus Benedict has changed his mind, and wants to make it  known that he is repudiating an argument he made forty years ago.   Six years ago the Pope asked Gerhard Mueller, then Bishop of Regensberg, to oversee the publication of his collected theological works.  Benedict was  a prolific theologian, and his opera omnia  are being published in German in a 16 volume set.    (The first(?) volume of an English translation has been published by Ignatius Press.)   Three weeks ago, Vatican Insider, the Vaticanista column at the Italian paper La Stampa, called attention to the fact that in the republished version of his writings, Benedict had made major revisions to an article then Fr. Ratzinger had written back in 1972 on divorce and remarriage.

In this article, Ratzinger sketched out an argument in favor, in certain limited circumstances, of allowing the divorced and civilly remarried to receive communion without either an annulment or the promise of living as “brother and sister” in their new marriage.  The argument bears some similarity to the Orthodox justification for allowing remarriage and was referred to by Cardinal Kasper in his now famous speech last February.  (An English transcript of parts of that speech can be found here.)  Il Stampa argued that the original article was published at a critical time in Ratzinger’s theological evolution, after he had broken with the “progressive camp” (with whom he had been aligned) at Vatican II.

One of my favorite Vaticanistas, Sandro Magister, has published the text of the conclusion of the original article and the revised version.   They are worth reading in full as I think they encapsulate two major perspectives on the question of communion for the divorced and remarried.   Here I will extract a couple key passages to highlight the change in tone and argument.

Read more…

Prayer for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception

December 8, 2014

In honor of this feast of our Blessed Mother, below is a prayer composed by Pope Francis and recited by him last year to mark the feast.   I wish you all a happy and grace filled feast day.

Holy and Immaculate Virgin,

to You, who are the honor of our people

and the solicitous custodian of our city,

we turn with confidence and love.

You are the All Beautiful, O Mary!

Sin is not in You.

Awaken in all of us a renewed desire of holiness:

may the splendor of truth shine in our word,

may the song of charity resound in our works,

may purity and chastity inhabit our body and our heart,

may all the beauty of the Gospel be present in our life.

You are the All Beautiful, O Mary!

The Word of God was made flesh in You.

Help us to remain in attentive listening to the voice of the Lord:

may the cry of the poor not leave us indifferent,

may the suffering of the sick and of those in need not find us distracted,

may the loneliness of the elderly and the fragility of children move us,

may every human life be always loved and venerated by us all.

You are the All Beautiful, O Mary!

In You is the full joy of the blessed life with God.

Makes us not lose the meaning of our earthly journey:

may the gentle light of faith illumine our days,

may the consoling strength of hope orientate our steps,

may the infectious warmth of love animate our heart,

may the eyes of all of us remain well fixed there, in God, where true joy is.

You are the All Beautiful, O Mary!

Hear our prayer, answer our supplication:

may the beauty of the merciful love of God in Jesus be in us,

may this divine beauty save us, our city, the whole world.


Blessed are the Peacemakers: The 25th SOA Watch Vigil Seeks Peace Through Justice

December 7, 2014

Vox Nova is pleased to present a guest post by Jeannine M. Pitas.  Her previous guest post on Oscar Romero can be found here.

I stared out the bus window as the traffic inched forward and thick flakes of snow kept on falling. It was the third week of November – remember, that week when pretty much all of North America was engulfed in an early onset of winter cold? As our charter bus crossed the border from Sarnia, Ontario into Port Huron, Michigan, I took comfort in the knowledge that my Canadian companions and I were bound for warmer climes. But, this motley crew of high school and university students, educators and activists was not taking a trip to Miami Beach. We were headed to Columbus, Georgia for a protest outside the gates of Fort Benning, home of one of the US military’s most notorious institutions: the School of the Americas.

Founded in 1946 with the explicit goal of “communist counter-insurgency training,” this military institution notoriously trained some of the worst Latin American human rights offenders of the twentieth century. Nicknamed “the School of the Assassins,” its graduates are perhaps best known for their crimes in El Salvador in the 1980’s; they killed Archbishop Oscar Romero and four American churchwomen in 1980 as well as six Jesuit priests in 1989. Although the School no longer includes torture techniques in its curriculum and since 2001 has changed its name to the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), its graduates continue to commit horrific wrongs, such as the 2009 Honduran coup which overthrew a democratically elected government and the ongoing human rights abuses in Colombia and Mexico.

Distraught by the horrors wrought by the US military in the name of peacekeeping, former Maryknoll priest Roy Bourgeois founded SOA Watch, a nonprofit organization dedicated to closing the school and protesting US-backed militarism in Latin America. In addition to lobbying the US government to close the school and urging Latin American leaders to withdraw their troops (at the moment, Venezuela, Argentina, Bolivia and Ecuador no longer send military personnel to WHINSEC), the organization holds an annual vigil at the gates of Fort Benning. Ever since 1990, activists have gathered to cry out “Presente” as the names of victims of SOA graduates are solemnly sung. And every year, a few daring souls cross the wall into Fort Benning and become prisoners of conscience, typically serving six months in US federal prisons.

For the thousands of activists (many of them from Catholic and other Christian organizations) who travel to Georgia each November, the vigil offers inspiration and the impetus to continue working on social justice issues throughout the year. It is particularly inspiring to the many youth who attend, particularly as the weekend involves a series of workshops on various issues related to peace and justice in the Americas. According to Joyce Crone, an indigenous studies teacher at St. Mary’s Catholic High School in Kitchener, Ontario, this experience allows students to “walk the talk” and put ideals into action. “This is the best way to learn,” says Crone, who collaborated with religion teacher Nancy Arruda DeMarco to bring thirteen students to this year’s vigil. “These students will be so much the richer for this experience. They’re not just talking about social justice; they’re actually doing it.”

“It’s fantastic to participate in popular democracy,” states Arruda DeMarco, who teaches religion at St. Mary’s. “It was nice to meet Americans, Mexicans and Colombians who said, ‘Do not judge us based on our governments’ actions.’ It’s important for us to learn that a government often does not represent the will of a people, even though it should.”

One way that this year’s Vigil differed from those of previous years was its effort to make a connection between US-backed militarism in Latin America and a pressing domestic issue: illegal immigration. Ironically, it is US policy that is partially responsible for the conditions that propel so many Latin Americans to migrate. This year, the SOA Watch team collaborated with a group of activists fighting to shut down the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin Georgia. Run by a private corporation, the Corrections Corporation of America, this center holds 1800 inmates whose only crime is being in the US without correct documentation. Some of these inmates complain of abuse and have staged hunger strikes in protest.

“I was born on this land,” says Kevin Caron, a Georgia-based peace activist who illegally crossed the line into Stewart in an act of civil disobedience after a group of 1,000 demonstrators held a brief vigil outside the facility. “My ancestors had no claim to this land, but I have a piece of paper saying that I can live here. Why am I entitled to this just I was born here and because of the color of my skin? What have the people in that facility done other than not having a piece of paper?”

Rebekah Dejong, a student at Conrad Grable University College in Waterloo, Ontario found that the visit to Stewart left an impression. Although she did not cross the line, she concurs with Caron’s sentiment. “One of the most powerful things about visiting Stewart was learning that so many Americans and Canadians feel a strong sense of ownership of our land and are not willing to share what we’ve taken with others. This happens in such obvious ways.”

One of the most striking aspects of our visit to this detention centre was our walk from Lumpkin’s town center to the facility’s gates. We walked by trailers and many dilapidated houses. “Don’t close Stewart until I have a job,” one neighbor told us as we marched past.  When we reached Stewart, I couldn’t help but notice that all but one of the guards were African-American. It seems a brutal irony that one historically oppressed group has now been enlisted to oppress others.

“Stewart County is the poorest in Georgia,” says Caron. “For many people in this community, working at Stewart is the only option. I once overheard a police officer say, ‘I just shut my brain off for the past five days.’ It’s not easy for the ones who work here. As much as we want to see this place shut down, we try to respect the fact that people need jobs.”

For me, SOAW’s efforts to build peace in Latin America and shed light on harsh realities closer to home is a testament to the power of faith put into action. While it’s certainly not easy to learn about the displacement of people in Colombia and the abuses perpetrated by Canadian mining companies in El Salvador, the idealism of the people I met at this year’s Vigil – wheelchair-bound students who refuse to let physical limitations stop them from doing amazing activist work, women religious who have travelled by bus across the US to discuss social justice issues, and a small group of organizers working to build intentional communities in some of Detroit’s poorest neighborhoods – fills me with hope. I am honored to be a part of this movement, and I am proud to share SOAW’s message of peace with others.


Jeannine Pitas is a Ph.D. candidate at University of Toronto’s Centre for Comparative Literature. Jeannine is completing her dissertation on Latin American women poets of resistance.


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