The blame and shame for the continued existence of the U.S. prison in Guantánamo Bay must be widely shared. President Obama vowed to shut it down because the prison’s history of abuse was perceived as violating basic American principles. Postponing that closing to “someday” is a disappointment for human rights activists.
But a commander cannot lead without troops. According to a Gallup poll, 65 percent of Americans oppose shutting the prison. Congress blocked a proposal to transfer detainees to several prisons on the U.S. mainland. Even though no one escapes from the so-called Supermax facility, public fear of terrorism is so irrational that the mere thought of terrorists anywhere in the country, even in prison, petrifies people. The proposal to try Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, a planner of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, in a New York City civilian courtroom a stone’s throw from the crime site panicked otherwise tough Manhattan politicos and their constituents. Meanwhile, although the administration has found new homes for 38 detainees in 16 countries—including Bermuda, Bulgaria, Palau and Portugal—our “friends” in France, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and elsewhere balk. They say, Let America take some first.
After a two-year suspension, military trials will resume for 80 of the 172 remaining prisoners. Some might gain release. But the 47 prisoners who cannot be tried because evidence is classified information or was gained by torture are subject, under new guidelines, to indefinite preventive detention without trial. The stain remains.
The story is incomprehensible, particularly so many years after the U.S. bishops’ meeting in Dallas in 2002, during which the “zero tolerance” policy for sexually abusive priests was initiated. After a grand jury indicted three priests in Philadelphia last month and found “substantial evidence of abuse” in the cases of 37 more, Cardinal Justin Rigali, the archbishop, stated there were no priests in active ministry with “established” allegations against them. A few days later he removed three priests from ministry; three weeks after that, he suspended 21 more. Philadelphians were further outraged by the details: One priest still in ministry had been flagged earlier by the pastor of the parish, the parish school principal and the director of religious education.
How could this happen nine years after Dallas? How can priests facing credible accusations still be in active ministry almost a decade after the abuse crisis broke in Boston? After Pope John Paul II said there was “no place” in the priesthood for abusers, after agonizing testimony from victims, after millions of dollars of legal settlements and countless lawsuits, after the resignation of Cardinal Bernard Law, after the founding of the Office of Child and Youth Protection at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, after “safe environment” programs were instituted in every diocese and after Pope Benedict XVI met personally with abuse victims during his visit to this country in 2008—in short, after years of agony?
The disheartening news from Philadelphia shows that the church still has not fully faced the scourge of clerical sexual abuse, that victims and their families must still speak out, that lawsuits still seem insufficient to wake up some church officials—and that resignations are in order.
No More Death Penalty
Gov. Pat Quinn of Illinois may not have deliberately picked Ash Wednesday as the day to sign into law a bill that abolishes the death penalty in his state, but the state’s bishops’ conference liked his timing: “As we begin the Lenten season on this Ash Wednesday, and we reflect on the crucifixion of Jesus and the mystery of his death and resurrection,” the Illinois bishops said in a prepared statement, “there is no better time for this landmark law to be approved. The end of the use of the death penalty advances the development of a culture of life in our state.”
Illinois thus becomes the fourth state since 2004, after New York, New Jersey and New Mexico, to dispose of the death penalty. And none too soon. Plagued by revelations of prosecutorial and police misconduct, including confessions in capital cases extracted under torture, Illinois has had an especially poor record on capital punishment. Since 1977 the state has had to exonerate 20 death row inmates. “That is a record that should trouble us all,” Governor Quinn said. “To say that this is unacceptable does not even begin to express the profound regret and shame we, as a society, must bear for these failures of justice.”
Unfortunately Illinois’s performance cannot be described as an anomaly. In recent years it has become increasingly clear that injustice accompanies the process in virtually every state that still accepts capital punishment. Governor Quinn approved abolition after concluding that the system was “inherently flawed...that it is impossible to devise a system that is consistent, that is free of discrimination on the basis of race, geography or economic circumstance, and that always gets it right.”