Out, Damned Spot!
It is time for an objective look at America’s use of torture. Shortly after Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. announced that no one will be prosecuted for the deaths of two prisoners held in C.I.A. custody—one shackled to a wall in Afghanistan in 2002, the other in Abu Ghraib in Iraq in 2003—news broke of other yet undisclosed cases. According to a new report by Human Rights Watch, C.I.A.-endorsed torture during the Bush administration was more widespread than first believed.
The report is based on documents recovered from Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s government after its fall and on interviews with 14 former Libyan rebels who opposed Qaddafi before the war, were arrested and detained after Sept. 11, 2011 (when Libya was our ally) and eventually rendered to Libya.
Five of the men now testify that they were abused and tortured at a U.S.-run detention center in Afghanistan, being waterboarded, chained to the wall naked in pitch-black, windowless cells for weeks or months, slammed into walls, enclosed for five months without a bath and denied sleep. The accusation of waterboarding is especially disconcerting; it counters the official U.S. story that only three men had been waterboarded while in U.S. custody.
What else don’t we know? Human Rights Watch has called for an independent, nonpartisan commission to investigate all aspects of detainee treatment. They are right. Today some of these victims hold responsible positions in the free Libyan government; and the United States government keeps washing its hands—“Out, out damned spot”—as if it can escape responsibility for its role.
The case that led to the conviction of Bishop Robert W. Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph on a misdemeanor count for failing to report suspected child abuse is a grim one. The Rev. Shawn Ratigan, a parish priest who had been previously suspected of inappropriate behavior around children, downloaded pornographic photos of young girls onto his laptop and created some himself, which was discovered when he brought his computer in for repair. Several people tried to alert the bishop to this and other incidents, but, as The New York Times reported, Bishop Finn resisted removing him from ministry in order to, as he told some priests, “save Father Ratigan’s priesthood.”
The U.S. bishops’ “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People,” adopted in 2002, outlines the default response when a credible accusation is made about sexual abuse involving a priest. The details are reported to the police, and the priest is removed from ministry while an investigation takes place. If found guilty, he is removed permanently and is, in some cases, laicized. But what happens when his supervising bishop is found guilty of negligence or malfeasance? Catholics may wonder who determines whether the bishop will be removed, whether and how he is punished or does penance and whether the U.S. bishops’ conference or the papal nuncio has any say. So far it seems that any response is left up to the offending bishop himself. The initial response from Bishop Finn’s diocese was a statement saying he “looks forward to continuing to perform his duties.” But he may be unable to perform those duties if he is under a cloud. As there are clear directives regarding a priest (or a deacon, brother or sister) who has committed a crime related to sexual abuse, there must be equally clear directives about their bishops.
While swing states are expected to determine the outcome of the presidential election, states with variegated shades of red or blue are making other important choices that may augur future political changes. Take Arizona, a red state known for its extreme conservatism on certain issues. In a recall election last year, Arizona voters ousted from office the former president of the state legislature, Russell Pearce, author of the controversial immigration law S.B. 1070. In August Mr. Pearce entered the Republican primary hoping to make a comeback. But the state’s voters spoke again, only this time it was his fellow Republicans who defeated him. Color him redder (and the state a lighter shade of red).
In the U.S. Congress, Ron Barber, who completed the term of Representative Gabrielle Giffords, won the Democratic primary for her seat. He will face Martha McSally, a Republican. With both parties seeking a majority in the House, this race is important.
The biggest gains in Arizona will go to the candidate who replaces retiring Senator Jon Kyl, the minority whip. Jeff Flake, a popular six-term Republican congressman, appears strong. But the Democrats are betting on Richard H. Carmona, a Latino physician and decorated Vietnam War veteran who was appointed U.S. surgeon general by President George W. Bush. Should Dr. Carmona win, he would be Arizona’s first Democratic senator since 1988. Call him their great blue hope.
These races in Arizona illustrate a larger point: even in states that appear solidly red or blue, political change takes place one local race at a time, regardless of who wins the White House.