Torture, priests, Amnesty International


The November 9 editorial (“Torture’s Enablers”) claims that “the Department of Defense has authorized waterboarding for use by U.S. personnel.”

In fact, the opposite is true. The Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 states, “No person in the custody or under effective control of the Department of Defense or under detention in a Department of Defense facility shall be subject to any treatment or technique of interrogation not authorized by and listed in the United States Army Field Manual on Intelligence Interrogation.” No Army Field Manual, including the current one, has ever authorized waterboarding.

And in public testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on August 6, 2006, the senior uniformed lawyers of the Air Force, the Army, the Marine Corps, and the Navy all testified that waterboarding is illegal, inhumane, inconsistent with Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, inconsistent with the Army Field Manual, and that its use by enemy forces against U.S. prisoners of war would violate international or U.S. law.

Alexandria, Va.
The writer is University Professor of Ethics and National Security at the National Defense University.



In December 2002 then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld signed a memo authorizing a list of “aggressive” interrogation methods, including “stress positions,” “using detainees’ individual phobias (including fear of dogs) to induce stress,” “exposure to cold weather or water,” and “use of a wet towel and dripping water to induce misperception of drowning.” The last item is a sanitized—and erroneous—description of waterboarding. The prisoner is not subjected to simulated drowning. He is actually drowning.

Albert Pierce is correct to point out that the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 and the Army Field Manual do not authorize waterboarding. Yet, even if things have changed in the Department of Defense, there remains the troubling issue of secret interrogation memos issued by the Department of Justice in 2005. As reported by the New York Times in October, the memos authorized the harshest interrogation methods ever used by the CIA. Apparently they remain in effect.

[See Letters, January 31, 2008, for a follow-up to this exchange.]



The sharp decline in Catholic practice that Rev. Paul Stanosz predicted in “The Other Heath Crisis” (November 23) is not inevitable. We must not be so depressed that we continue to do nothing to reinvigorate the church. The solutions are manifold and have been widely discussed. But every new suggestion is met with criticism and denunciation.

We need more clergy and a more empowered laity. Our clergy must be retrained to become pastoral men who truly and sincerely minister to their people. It is time to look at ordaining married priests. We need more manageably sized parishes and dioceses. We do not need a plethora of new programs or statutes that further isolate priests. In fact, most parish administration could be handled by an empowered local laity. Priests should be freed from mundane chores in order to visit their people and satisfy pastoral needs. A huge proportion of the laity has already been trained and is eager to help. They simply need encouragement and permission to do so.

Parishes that thrive do so under caring, dedicated leadership that truly collaborates and ministers with laypeople. There is a place for everyone, young and old, each called to become light for the kingdom of God. The potential is evident; all that seems lacking is the corporate will.

Anderson, Calif.



Although I left the active priesthood to marry fifteen years ago, a kind pastor recently permitted me to speak at a friend’s funeral Mass, which was celebrated at the parish I left twenty-eight years ago. Recounting stories from my time there, I looked out on the four hundred congregants—about half of whom I could name—and I again realized how blessed I was to have enjoyed ministry with them. I explained that while seminary had taught me theology well, it was the parishioners who had taught me how to be a priest and what ministry was about. After the funeral, I spent about two hours introducing many of them to my wife, and sharing the tears and laughter that are characteristic of such gatherings. Many still addressed me as “Father David” and seemed genuinely pleased to meet my wife—and several people said they wished I could still minister.

But more important than clerical celibacy is clerical intimacy with one’s parishioners—in its most chaste and healthy form. The opportunity for such love is the greatest loss for the overworked clergy of this era. That term “clerical intimacy” does not appear in Rev. Paul Stanosz’s excellent essay, but I believe that he is alluding to it in recognizing that the quickened schedule, the many parish responsibilities, the administrative details (even with the best staff), and the promotion of the sense that one should be “apart” or “above” this routine is the deepest cause of clerical alienation. Simply put, there is little time left for love of one’s people—for picnics with the young and the elderly, for sick visits, for giving blessings to new babies and new homes, for going out with the PTA for pizza after meetings, for stopping by a home before Midnight Mass for a toast, and for all the mundane moments in which intimacy naturally grows.

I wish that today’s clergy had more time, inclination, and encouragement to develop nourishing intimacy with those they serve. Neither that intimacy nor the deep and primary relationship with Christ compromises one’s priesthood. Rather, these opportunities for seeing Christ in parishioners animate the more formal sacramental and liturgical moments with a new vitality—and promote one’s own mental health in ways that only real love can.

Fayetteville, N.Y.



I am troubled by some bishops’ split with Amnesty International, as described in Cathleen Kaveny’s recent column (“Coopted by Evil?” November 23). Does that mean that when I receive the monthly Amnesty “Prisoners of Conscience” mailing, asking me to write letters on behalf of incarcerated people around the world (some jailed and tortured for religious reasons), bishops want me to demur? This is one of Amnesty’s greatest successes. I’ve been at Amnesty conventions where former prisoners have testified that the thousands of letters written on their behalf, which poured in from around the world, were solely responsible for their freedom today.

What alternatives do bishops suggest? They conduct no “Prisoners of Conscience” letter-writing campaigns—although it would be a powerful statement if they did. It was not the Catholic bishops in Mexico (or in Texas, for that matter) who elevated the horrific murders of more than four hundred women in Juárez onto the international stage. To the contrary, church officials in Juárez provided no moral leadership. Nor was it the Catholic hierarchy in Argentina that spoke out against the years of disappearances; as we now know, some actually collaborated with the junta’s extermination of political opponents. It was Amnesty that lent enormous help to those struggles, not the bishops.

It’s wrong to create an either/or situation in this context. Good Catholics can oppose abortion and still support the good work Amnesty does.

Austin, Tex.



When Lois Spear writes about the death of Timothy Joe Souders (“Our Gulag,” October 12), she says the autopsy report listed hypothermia as one of the causes. She probably meant hyperthermia (the opposite of hypothermia) since later in the same article she mentions that “the temperature was nearly 100 degrees for four days in a row.”

Cancun, Mexico

Published in the 2007-12-21 issue: 
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