NPR profiles Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, a Washington veteran who has served in Congress and who was most recently head of the CIA. Panetta cites his Catholic faith as something that helps to inform his life-and-death decisions:
For the past two years, Leon Panetta was at the center of the U.S. fight against the terrorist network that carried out those attacks. As the director of the CIA, he oversaw the secret operations targeting al-Qaida operatives.
"I suddenly found myself in a situation where I was getting calls in the middle of the night dealing with operations that involved life and death. That was significant for me, and you know as someone who was raised as a Catholic and is faithful to my religion, I take those decisions not very lightly. And so ... not only do you have to make a decision — go, no go — but then those decisions stay with you for a while," he says.
Panetta helped lead the operation last spring that killed Osama bin Laden. He had come into the CIA as an outsider, charged with leading an organization still licking its wounds after the intelligence failures of Sept. 11.
I once had the privilege of hearing Panetta speak to a room of Catholic lay leaders shortly after assuming responsibility at the CIA about the role his faith plays in his professional life, and he articulated that no decision that could end somone else's life is ever taken lightly. I remember being especially impressed with his thoughtfulness on the subject, and awed that someone who held such a powerful national security position was able to speak so candidly about the gravity of such decisions.
When I shared this story with a friend earlier this week, he observed how Panetta's word stood in stark contrast to Gov. Rick Perry's claim that he never felt a shred of anxiety over the hundreds of executions he signed off as governor of Texas.
Read and listen to the NPR interview here.