Professionals and Patriots
Washington has rumbled for years with rumors of professional dissent at the Pentagon and C.I.A. from Bush administration policies in the war on terror and the invasion of Iraq. Occasionally the dissent has become public, as when Gen. Eric Shinseki, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was coaxed into admitting during a congressional hearing that to pacify Iraq hundreds of thousands more troops would be needed than the Pentagon planned. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz repudiated General Shinseki’s testimony, and the general had his wings clipped when Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld announced his replacement months in advance of his scheduled retirement date. Retired generals had Shinseki’s mistreatment for truth-telling in mind when they hit the airwaves and filled columns of newsprint last month in what Time magazine (4/24) described as the revolt of the generals, charging the defense secretary with arrogance and wrongheadedness in his conduct of the war in Iraq. Writing for Time.com, Lt. Gen. Greg Newbold called for Rumsfeld to be replaced.
Some questioned whether the generals should have gone public with their criticism during an ongoing war, but their statements only added authority to already well-aired complaints. The notion that retired military officers should continue to voice their opinions only in private is mistaken. The public requires the educated opinion of retired professionals, especially those who were required to implement a failed policy, to make informed judgments at the polls and otherwise to hold public officials accountable. The generals are rightly worried that the steely Rumsfeld is running the army into the ground. They gave their lives to military service, and in these dangerous times the military needs wiser leadership than Mr. Rumsfeld can provide.
The situation is somewhat more complicated at the C.I.A., where the veteran analyst Mary McCarthy was terminated days before her expected retirement. The grounds for firing her were that she had had unauthorized contact with reporters. Early reports suggested that Ms. McCarthy had been the source for prize-winning stories on secret C.I.A. prisons in Eastern Europe; but her lawyers denied the allegation, and the C.I.A. kept the charges general. Ms. McCarthy was duty-bound, like every agent, to keep state secrets. She may prove to be just a scapegoat in the efforts of C.I.A. director Porter Goss to plug leaks at the agency, but the case poses a larger question about conflicts between professional responsibilities and the duties of citizens.
Professional codes of conduct bind lawyers, psychiatrists, clergy and intelligence officers to secrecy, and society privileges secrets they obtain in the exercise of their profession. National security makes the burdens of intelligence secrecy especially weighty. But when an administration has abused the system of secrecy, leaking from the top but using secrecy to silence its critics, the situation becomes murky. When, moreover, the actions in question, like sending prisoners to secret prisons where torture is alleged to take place, are contrary to U.S. and international law, then it is reasonable to believe that the duty to secrecy cedes to the duty to prevent harm to persons and the common good. Like Socrates, who drank his hemlock, the leaker may have to pay a price. In due time, however, those who have authorized and carried out the alleged criminal activities ought to pay the much higher penalty they deserve.
When American Catholics hear about bishops breaking the law, what first comes to mind are those in the chancery who shuttled sexually abusive priests from parish to parish. But breaking the law to adhere to an even higher law, what theologians call epikeia, has a long tradition in the church. A few weeks ago, Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles indicated that he would support priests of his archdiocese who did not follow a law proposed in the U.S. House of Representatives that would penalize anyone who aided an undocumented immigrant. That bill has special import for the people of California, where last month hundreds of thousands of protesters marched in downtown Los Angeles in response to congressional efforts to crack down on illegal aliens.
In several interviews and an opinion piece in The New York Times, Cardinal Mahony pointed out that the church has long cared for the immigrant population in this country, and will continue to do so, legally or illegally. He follows in the footsteps of others, like Archbishop Oscar Romero, the martyred bishop of San Salvador, who defied government officials in El Salvador by speaking out against military repression, and, more famously, St. Thomas More, who died the king’s good servant, but God’s first. A few weeks ago Dennis Hamm, S.J., pointed out in these pages (3/27) that when it comes to the difficult Gospel passage about Caesar’s coin, Jesus probably did not mean that one should always defer to the state’s laws, but that God’s law is the foundation of all laws. In reminding us of this, Cardinal Mahony is God’s good servant. Insert text below the line. Do not remove this text. Do not remove the line.