Parish Diary

Fr. Peter Daly

December 20, 2005


            Everybody wants to be liked. So we often avoid topics that are controversial. But sometimes there are issues that must be confronted, even at the risk of alienating friends.

            One of those issues is torture.

            The church needs to speak out more forcefully and more directly on this topic, even at the risk of alienating some of our friends.

            The issue of torture has been very much in the news lately.

            There is no doubt that the terrorists use torture and the world justly condemns them for it. But now it is beyond dispute that the American government is also torturing people.

            It is now publicly admitted that U.S. runs secret “black” prisons, some in former Soviet prisons, in which “ghost prisoners” are kept. In those prisons we sometimes torture people.

            We do things like ‘water-boarding’ to make prisoners think they are drowning. We hook people up to electrodes to make them think they will be electrocuted.  We turn vicious dogs on them. We strip people naked and make them lie on a concrete floor until they talk or freeze to death.

            People have died from this torture.

            ABC news has reported that there are more than 100 confirmed deaths of prisoners in U.S. custody from such treatment. Twenty-six of these deaths are now being investigated as homicides. There are probably more deaths that are not reported.

            The U.S. government has done other things that violate basic principles of human rights and the rule of law.

            For example, it has kidnapped people in foreign countries and taken them to countries where they could be tortured. The CIA calls this process “rendering.”

            We have refused to honor the Geneva Conventions on the treatment of prisoners and we have refused to tell the Red Cross about some prisoners.

            These things come bring discredit on the American people. They undercut our ability to speak out as a defender of human rights.  We are all ashamed of the horrifying photos from Abu Grebe.

            This issue has been brewing for several years. 

            Congress has not been silent.

             On October 5, 2005, the U.S. Senate voted 90 to 9 to set limits on interrogation techniques for detainees in U. S. custody. Almost nothing passes the Senate 90 to 9. On December 14 the House of Representatives voted 308 to 122 to follow the Senate in condemning “cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment” of prisoners. This is a Republican congress.

            Two days later, President Bush reversed his position and accepted a ban on torturing of detainees in U.S. custody anywhere in the world. But the issue is not settled. There is still pressure to carve out exceptions to the torture ban for some officials.

            People who seek moral leadership in society cannot avoid this issue. So why hasn’t our church been more forceful in condemning acts that are clearly inhumane, degrading and cruel?

            Papal statements have been confined to a few oblique references for the “need to comply with international law.” What about the law of God?

            The U.S. Bishops have not spoken out as a group. A check of their web site reveals only a letter from Bishop John Ricard, the chairman of the International Policy Committee of the U.S. Bishops’ Conference to Senators and Representatives, favoring the McCain language. There have been statements by staff members but no statement by our Bishops as a group on the immorality of a policy of torture.       

            This is a moral issue. The Church should speak up.

            It is immoral to torture people. It is immoral to hold people indefinitely, without charge, without a hearing and without any possibility of proving their guilt or innocence.

            It is hard to talk about such things.

            Yes we face terrible enemies. But we cannot allow Al Qaeda to set the moral tone for our behavior. If we adopt the tactics of the terrorists, we become like them. The war on terror should not become a war of terror.

            And where is the church in this debate?