Current Comment

Sudanese Smoke Screen

Victims in Darfur of rape, murder and the burning of villages by government-sanctioned janjaweed militia have yet to see perpetrators brought to justice. Nor is it likely that this will happen, given the Sudanese government’s reluctance to hold them accountable. A day after the Inter-national Criminal Court in the Hague said, in June 2005, that it would open an investigation into the atrocities committed in Darfur, the Sudanese government announced the creation of its own special criminal court to investigate the crimes. Sudan’s chief justice claimed that this new court would serve as a valid substitute to the I.C.C., a claim not borne out in the events of the past year.

Only a handful of petty crimes have so far been brought before the special court. In a recent report, Human Rights Watch asserts that the Sudan’s new court has demonstrated no real commitment to seeking justice for the thousands of atrocities committed in Darfur. The court, in fact, is seen by rights advocates as little more than a ploy to circumvent the I.C.C. Broad immunity provisions, for example, raise obstacles to the prosecution of members of the armed forces. In rape cases, the burden of proof makes it especially difficult for women to bring their accusations to the attention of the police. Without genuine commitment on the part of the government to prosecute the perpetrators of the crimes in Darfur, the special court is likely to remain simply a smoke screen to hide the government’s failure to seek real accountability. The world community must not allow itself to be fooled by this miscarriage of justice.

Al Gore’s New Mission

"I’m Al Gore, says the distinguished-looking man on screen, and I used to be the next president of the United States." That polished sally begins one of the summer’s surprise hits - the documentary film An Inconvenient Truth, which is in essence a filmed version of Mr. Gore’s popular lecture on global warming.

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s observation that there are "no second acts in American lives" has been handily disproven by such public servants as Jimmy Carter, who many would agree has been more effective as a former president than he was as an actual president, and now Mr. Gore. Freed from the requirement to be all things to all voters, Mr. Gore has found a new and urgent mission: to act as a well-informed Cassandra warning against the very real perils of global warming.

The movie is sobering stuff. There is little chance that one can emerge from the theater doubting the reality of the environmental threat. It is laid out in detail: rising temperatures over the last few decades (or, for the doubtful, centuries), increasing sea levels (illustrated by photos of drastically shrinking glaciers) and migrating and diminishing wildlife. Happily, Mr. Gore suggests achievable ways to prevent and even reverse the threat, including following the goals laid out by the Kyoto agreement. Some have charged that this movie is a thinly disguised preparation for Mr. Gore’s candidacy in the 2008 presidential election, which seems doubtful. Even if this is true, with this new venture the former next president has shown himself to be a genuinely dedicated public servant.

The 'Little Ease'

The description of a method of torture that U.S. soldiers inflicted on Iraqi prisoners may have sounded familiar to Catholics. "Other detainees were locked for as many as seven days in cells so small that they could neither stand nor lie down...." wrote Eric Schmitt in The New York Times about a practice of the U.S. Special Operations troops in Iraq.

In the 16th century, some of the Jesuits martyred in England were subjected to the same deprivation. It even had a name, "little ease." St. Edmund Campion and two other priests were captured by the English government and charged with treason. Before being tortured and hanged in 1581, they were dragged to the Tower of London, and Campion was placed in "a cell in which a grown man could neither stand upright nor lie flat."

The "little ease" symbolizes the captor’s unwillingness to see the enemy as human. It therefore offends Christian morality. As the National Religious Campaign Against Torture declared last month, "Torture violates the basic dignity of the human person that all religions...hold dear."

National security has become a foil to deflect criticism of the U. S. government’s degrading treatment of so-called "enemy combatants" and alleged terrorists. As Justice Stephen Breyer has said, the war on terror does not give the president "a carte blanche for the abrogation of individual rights." As Congress sets new rules for detention, it should explicitly ban the use of torture and abusive treatment as inconsistent with human dignity. It should likewise place limits on detention without trial, a gross violation of individual liberty fundamentally at variance with the founding values of this nation that previous generations of Americans taught the civilized world.

10 years 2 months ago
“FIRE, FIRE, HOUSE ON FIRE” would have been a better title for your Current Comment “Al Gore’s New Mission” (7/17). You state that this “documentary” (I use the term loosely) “An Inconvenient Truth,” which deals with Gore’s version of global warming, is “sobering stuff.”

More sobering to me is your illustrious Jesuit magazine buying into the movie hook, line and sinker, and passing your gullibility off to your readers. “An Inconvenient Truth” is nothing more than an infomercial and propaganda blitz portraying Al Gore as so much more intelligent than us mere mortals.

If Al Gore were selling a product in this movie, the Federal Trade Commission could charge him with false and deceptive advertising. Maybe your magazine could have done some fact checking before presenting the movie to your readers as glowingly as you did, and bestowing on Al Gore the mantle of a “genuinely dedicated public servant.”

Unfortunately, America lost an opportunity to shed light on this important topic or add anything of substance to the conversation. You have only allowed the uninformed minority to frame the global warming discussion. How unfortunate.

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