Thursday, April 29, 2010

The dignity of the migrant

I had the opportunity, about a year ago, to have dinner with Bishop John Wester of Salt Lake City, the chair of the US Bishops' Committee on Migrants and Refugees. He was about to give a talk on the issue of "illegal" or "undocumented" immigrants, and our duties as Catholics.

What struck me about him was how clearly he saw the role of the Church in this very political matter.

The Church has the obligation to call government to pay attention to principles of morality, particularly the principle of the intrinsic dignity of every human person. She also has the obligation, through all her members, to show each person the care and respect due to him or her as a child of God.

The question of immigration is one that, from a Catholic point of view, is open to a great deal of debate. Erin cites the Catechism 2241, which says:
The more prosperous nations are obliged, to the extent they are able, to welcome the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin. Public authorities should see to it that the natural right is respected that places a guest under the protection of those who receive him.

Political authorities, for the sake of the common good for which they are responsible, may make the exercise of the right to immigrate subject to various juridical conditions, especially with regard to the immigrants' duties toward their country of adoption. Immigrants are obliged to respect with gratitude the material and spiritual heritage of the country that receives them, to obey its laws and to assist in carrying civic burdens.

So, what sort of "juridical conditions" are appropriate? What kinds of enforcement are valid for those who don't meet those "juridical conditions"?

In the interest of clarity - the main topic of this blog, after all - I would suggest a minimal starting point. First, any position that denies the basic human rights of any person, including those who have not met the U.S.'s "juridical conditions" for immigration, is beyond the pale of Catholic teaching. We have, both as individuals and as a society the privilege and obligation of recognizing and protecting their dignity as persons. No one ceases to be human just by crossing a border.

Second, any positions that denies the state the ability to regulate its borders or to impose "juridical conditions" of any kind also falls outside the realm of Catholic teaching. The government is charged with the common good of society, and each of us has a responsibility to care for our fellows as well as ourselves.

In our conversation, I agreed with Bishop Wester that the ideal would be for every immigrant to be properly processed and authorized; but that is not the situation we live in right now.

With regard to the new Arizona law, I must plead ignorance of the details. I'll look more into it and let you know what I find. But my first-glance impression is that it's probably an imprudent law, even if not strictly speaking an immoral law. What I've heard most is that it opens the way to racist mistreatment of Hispanic people. I'd be surprised if the law explicitly allows any such thing, but I would easily believe that it could make prosecution of racist law officers more difficult.

More to come, I'm sure.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Matters of human life and dignity

When this blog was first established, there were some people not associated with it who commented that they thought the title of the blog was unfortunate. Wouldn't "Catholics against Torture" or some similar name be better?

I didn't think so, for two reasons. First, I think that Catholics are morally obligated to oppose torture. Granted, the arguments are usually about what exactly constitutes torture, and whether so-called "enhanced interrogation" techniques qualify as torture, and how close to that line called "torture" we can get before we've violated the moral law, etc.--but there have been some Catholics who have responded to survey questions etc. claiming to be in favor of torture, not of any of the supposed gray areas.

So "Catholics against Torture" would be a name rather like "Catholics against Abortion" or "Catholics against Adultery;" there's a sort of, if you'll forgive the colloquialism, "Well, duh..." factor to those kinds of names.

But the second reason I didn't want to go with a name like "Catholics against Torture" was that I realized that the torture issue has a tendency to wax and wane in the public eye, so to speak; I fully expect it to be spoken about quite a bit in the lead-up to the November elections, for instance, but just now it does not seem to be a burning topic of conversation.

And, let's face it: torture is not the only issue on which clarity in light of Church teaching is a good thing to try to achieve.

Take, for instance, the present furor surrounding the new Arizona immigration law. On the one hand, some Catholics (like this one) applaud the law. On the other, several Catholic bishops are denouncing the law. How should a Catholic approach the issue of immigration? How do we read CCC 2241, and how do we apply it in practical reality?

I'm going to be writing about this in the near future, and my co-blogger, Robert King, will also be tackling some issues like this one, issues which impact matters of life and human dignity and on which we, as Catholics, seek moral clarity, with reference to the teaching and guidance of the Church. I have amended the blog's statement of purpose to reflect that we will be discussing issues other than torture, though the blog's main reason to exist is still to provide a place for Catholics to discuss the torture issue whenever that issue becomes prominent.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Wait and see...

Goings on at Gitmo, via the Washington Independent:
What happens this week at Guantanamo will determine whether Obama’s pledge that the new, revised military commissions can deliver internationally-recognized justice is meaningful: the pre-trial hearing in Khadr’s case will provide the first in-depth examination of whether Khadr’s treatment in U.S. custody amounts to torture; will determine whether prosecutors can use evidence against him acquired under abusive, coercive circumstances that civilian courts would never allow; and whether additional statements made by Khadr in subsequent and less-coercive circumstances are fair game or inextricable from his overall abuse.

I think it's a fair question to ask. President Obama claims to oppose torture, but has backpedaled on closing Gitmo, and his "reforms" of the military commissions have not proven themselves yet.

Coming from a Catholic perspective, it doesn't matter to me which party holds the White House; I care far more about their policies. President Obama has shown himself to be a friend of abortion providers and therefore an enemy of the human dignity of the unborn. He has promised to be an enemy of torture advocates and thus a friend of the human dignity of prisoners.

My prayer is twofold: first, that he will indeed follow through on his commitment to defend the rights of those we have taken prisoner; and second, that his commitment to human dignity in one case will lead him to recognize the dignity of all human beings - even those who are inconvenient to his political base.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Court grants habeas corpus to prisoners

This really should be a no-brainer: you can't break the law to enforce the law. When you try, you end up fighting yourself.

So it's no surprise that the courts are siding with the prisoners in these cases, since our military and intelligence community have disregarded the law in detaining and interrogating them.

For those (like me) who slept through high school civics, a writ of Habeas Corpus is essentially legal proof that an authority (e.g., the police) has the right to detain someone. The idea is that anyone can demand such a writ, and this places the burden of proof on the detaining authority rather than on the prisoner. It's similar to the "innocent until proven guilty" principle.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A credibility gap

Well, this is ironic--the author is Marc Thiessen:

Can an unborn child feel pain?

That question will dominate the abortion debate in America for the next several years thanks to Gov. Dave Heineman of Nebraska. Last week, Heineman signed the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act into law, banning abortions in Nebraska at and after 20 weeks based on growing scientific evidence that an unborn child at that age can feel pain.[...]

How did the pro-life position gain 18 percentage points in just 15 years? For one thing, scientific advances have allowed us to see inside the womb as never before. Once-experimental medical procedures, such as fetal surgery to repair spina bifida, have become increasingly common. And a 1999 photo of baby Samuel Armas, then at 21 weeks gestation, reaching out of his mother's womb and holding his doctor's finger touched millions of hearts around the world. People have been able to witness with their own eyes the humanity of the unborn child.

As this window into the womb was opening, the pro-choice movement was busy defending the gruesome practice of "partial birth" abortion. A ban on the practice was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2007. Now, thanks to the people of Nebraska, the national debate will shift to the topic of "fetal pain," which once again underscores the humanity of the unborn.

As this debate unfolds, science will continue to advance, allowing us to see -- and save -- babies at earlier and earlier periods of gestation. And the consensus will continue to grow that pre-born babies are indeed human beings, deserving of our love, our compassion and, most important, our protection.

I don't disagree with anything Mr. Thiessen writes here. I, too, think that opening our eyes to the reality of life in the womb is the best way to convince people of the value of these lives.

But the fact that Mr. Thiessen, who firmly believes that grown-up terrorists can feel pain and that we should inflict that pain on them to gain our own ends and that some of them are going to thank us for it, is the author of this piece illustrates the problems with being a pro-life, pro-terror Catholic. Frankly, there's a credibility gap when a man asks, "Can an unborn child feel pain?" but is eager to inflict pain on those humans who are already born.

I think human beings do deserve our love, our compassion, and our protection, especially via just laws. I just don't exclude "terrorists" from the category "human beings."

Friday, April 16, 2010

Torture, lies, and videotape

Did CIA officials lie about having permission to destroy torture tapes? Maybe:
Jose Rodriguez, then the CIA's top clandestine service official, ordered the destruction of the videotapes, which showed the waterboarding and interrogations of Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, alleged al Qaeda mastermind of the 2000 attack on the U.S.S. Cole. Rodriguez believed that if the tapes were ever viewed out of context, "they would make us look terrible, it would be 'devastating' to us," according to one of the emails released.

The email, which describes a meeting on Nov. 10, 2005, the day after Rodriguez ordered the tapes destroyed, seems to show then director Goss agreeing with Rodriguez's decision.

Sent to the CIA's number three official shortly after the meeting, the email suggested that Goss had approved of the destruction and "laughed" and acknowledged that he "would take the heat" for the decision. "All in the room agreed," said the email, that release of the tapes would be a major problem.

But a former intelligence official familiar with the meeting said Goss had not approved of the destruction.

Porter understood why Jose destroyed the tapes, but was against their destruction," the official told At the meeting, said the official, Goss told Rodriguez and other CIA officers that "destroying tapes of any kind is just a bad idea in Washington."
Read the whole thing here.

Now, why would the tapes "...make us look terrible...", I wonder? Surely all that was going on was a little perfectly legal enhanced interrogation, right? What could possible be wrong with that?

Friday, April 9, 2010

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

To protest or not to protest... (run by CQ-Roll Call) has an update on the groups that have been protesting the U.S. internment camp at Guantanamo Bay.

The main point of the article is that, since President Obama's inauguration, the protests have diminished to nearly nothing. Why?
When asked whether he felt it was important to step up the pressure against the Obama administration, Lane responded, "What business do I have thinking we ever put any pressure on them?"

So apathy is in the air. Another activist said, "Our big fear was that Americans would get used to Guantanamo, and that’s the direction in which we're headed."

But peppered through the article are hints that the liberal-conservative template of politics (and everything else) just isn't fitting as neatly as it did when Bush was president. Activists are described as "liberal" and they are "trying to hatch a plan of action for the new political climate." That is to say, for the political climate where a "liberal" and perceived ally holds the top office.

Seems to me that the difficulty of thinking clearly about the torture issue (as well as just war and other related issues, as Red points out,) is not confined to Catholic circles. Torture is seen as a "liberal" issue, and now that the "liberals" have "won" it's hard to keep up the enthusiasm for protesting.

Except that it's not a liberal issue. It's a moral issue. It's a human issue. And those who describe themselves as conservatives, whether politically or socially or economically, have many reasons in common with those who claim the liberal label.

I wonder if opposition to torture would have been labeled "liberal" had it been a Democrat in office when the techniques were authorized?

Intriguingly, the only specific group mentioned by name is Witness Against Torture, which was founded by "a few dozen Christians." The article doesn't go any further, and WAT's website refrains from any explicitly religious language, but I would love to know the link between the protesters' faith and their reasons for protesting.

Catholics and disarmament

I apologize for neglecting this blog somewhat over the last week. On the one hand, no news about torture is good news; on the other, there are issues worth discussing that relate to just war, military policies, and so on that would be a good fit to address here.

One problem I have in addressing these matters is that I was a late "convert" to the fullness of the Church's teaching in regards to just war theory, the incalculable evil of our use of nuclear weapons in World War II, and similar matters. I tended to dismiss serious concerns about these things as mere Catholic liberalism, which to me was identified with liturgical laxity, indifference to Church teaching about sexual morality, and the like.

It took reading some books and watching some movies about the devastation our use of nuclear weapons caused at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and going from there to explore the ideas the Church had developed about the parameters of a just war, before I realized that my positions on these issues were not at all in harmony with the Catholic faith. But because I came to this realization rather late, I have not done the amount of study necessary to be able to discuss these issues with good clarity.

Take, for instance, the recent news reports about President Obama's intention to enter a nuclear disarmament treaty with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. On the one hand, since the scenarios where it would ever be permissible, morally, to deploy a nuclear weapon are few if they even exist at all, it seems like having fewer of these frighteningly destructive weapons around would be a good thing.

But on the other hand, I'm quite sympathetic to the logic and reason of an opinion piece like this one:

A second lesson is that the NPT invites multiple opportunities to cheat by insisting that all states, including those suspected of violations, have a "right" to civilian nuclear technology.

As Henry Sokolski of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center reminds us, "so long as there is some conceivable civilian application [for a nuclear technology], and the offending activity or material is admitted to or declared to international inspectors, the international community ultimately presumes what it senses to be suspect must be treated as if it was peaceful and legitimate and, therefore, unactionable." This is one lesson of the Atoms for Peace folly of the 1950s.

To the extent that more states haven't gone nuclear, the reason has been U.S. power, not a treaty. Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and Canada could build a bomb in a week, but instead they have long relied on America's nuclear umbrella to deter aggressors. A credible U.S. nuclear deterrent is the world's greatest antiproliferation weapon.

As for New Start, its most striking trait is its Cold War mentality. The pact emphasizes the relative size of the U.S and Russian arsenals, as if a nuclear exchange between these two countries is the world's greatest current threat. The treaty is thus of little strategic consequence, though the Senate should ask why its ceiling on 800 U.S. launchers (many of which now carry conventional payloads) is below the 860 that the Pentagon prefers.

Is there any proper defensive reason to maintain a large nuclear arsenal? Is the creation of pacts and treaties just window-dressing, ignoring that the threat of a rogue nation's nuclear attack might be greater than any threat of a nuclear strike between larger countries? If Catholics think that we would likely be acting immorally to deploy nuclear weapons even defensively, is there any justification in retaining a large and aging arsenal of these weapons? Does the fact that the technology exists and is widespread and unlikely to disappear change the moral considerations at all, as concerns disarmament?

I have heard some Catholics say that disarmament, including unilateral disarmament, is the only morally correct approach to nuclear weapons. I would really like to hear from those better equipped to discuss the moral theology than I am as to whether that is true or not.