Month: January 2009

A Brief Response to Mark Shea

Mark Shea hails my recent post on torture and Obama’s executive orders:

After years and years of incredible nuance on behalf of Bush Administration torture policies (“Golly, what *is* torture anyway! It’s all so confusing!”), after years of warm and sympathetic hearings for any and all arguments that, however tendentious, explain away the obvious teaching of the Church in a cloud of sophistry, after playing empathetic host all the usual suspect from the Ladies’ Gossip Sewing Circle–shazam! …

Having a day job (imagine that), I was initially going to compose a point-by-point rebuttal to Shea’s latest.

Re-reading his rant, however, I won’t even dignify it with that.

A sober perusal of my prior posts on the subject will discern the nature of my disagreement with Shea: that any legitimate disagreements with the Bush administration that could be mounted are obfuscated by his tendency to play fast and loose with the facts; imbue dubious motives to his critics, and substitute the virtual equivalent of sheer playground bullying for civil, rational and charitable debate — which has, over the course of the past three years, alienated a number of erstwhile friends and readers within the Catholic online community who would have otherwise supported him.

For a single-post summary of my dispute with Mark Shea, see: “Rewarding Bad Behavior” Against The Grain June 14, 2007.

Prior relevant posts on the “torture debate”

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Questions about President Obama’s executive orders on the incarceration and interrogation of detainees

The big news of this week: Obama’s first executive orders were not the reversal of the Mexico City Policy (as every major media source and not a few bloggers had predicted, and for which Obama waited until Friday) but the reversal of notable Bush administration’s policies on the incarceration and interrogation of detainees:

President Obama signed executive orders Thursday directing the Central Intelligence Agency to shut what remains of its network of secret prisons and ordering the closing of the Guantánamo detention camp within a year, government officials said.

The orders, which are the first steps in undoing detention policies of former President George W. Bush, rewrite American rules for the detention of terrorism suspects. They require an immediate review of the 245 detainees still held at the naval base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to determine if they should be transferred, released or prosecuted.

And the orders bring to an end a Central Intelligence Agency program that kept terrorism suspects in secret custody for months or years, a practice that has brought fierce criticism from foreign governments and human rights activists. They will also prohibit the C.I.A. from using coercive interrogation methods, requiring the agency to follow the same rules used by the military in interrogating terrorism suspects, government officials said.

However, while some cheerleaders for Obama are already hailing an end to the gestapo-inspired “enhanced interrogration [Sic] techniques”, a review of critical responses — from the political “right” AND “left” — suggests that the President’s gesture is more symbolic and an exercise in moral posturing than anything else. It appears that serious questions remain about what is actually accomplished by President Obama’s recent executive orders.

  • Josh Gerstein of Politico says that Obama’s pronouncements may sound “dramatic and unequivocal”; however, experts predict that American policy towards detainees could remain for months or even years pretty close to what it was as President Bush left office. He lists some of the delays, caveats and loopholes that could limit the impact of Obama’s orders. For instance, his orders on interrogation mandate the establishment of an interagency commission which will have six months to examine whether to create “additional or different guidance” for non-military agencies such as the CIA. Likewise,

    A section of Obama’s order on Guantanamo entitled “Humane Standards of Confinement” orders Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to spend the next thirty days reviewing the current conditions at the Caribbean prison to make sure they’re legal and follow the Geneva Convention. It seems doubtful that Gates, who has been atop the chain of command for Guantanamo for more than two years, will suddenly find conditions that were just fine on Monday of this week are now flagrant violations of the Geneva Convention.

  • The editors of the National Review also raise some serious objections, noting “reflect an emerging Obama style: What is said is more rhetorical than illuminating—and what is most important is left unsaid”:

    Take Guantanamo Bay, the oft-maligned subject of the first order. In announcing the closure of the prison there, the president forcefully asserted that he was following through on a campaign commitment. But the order only promises that the facility will be closed within a year—a nonbinding deadline Obama could extend simply by signing another order. That’s not exactly the immediate shuttering his antiwar base was clamoring for, and such delay would be intolerable if Obama really believed Gitmo were the travesty he has portrayed it as.

    Moreover, the physical facility itself is of only symbolic importance. The underlying question is what to do with the detainees held there. On that, the executive orders tell us precious little.

  • Likewise, Timothy Sandefur (Freespace) believes “What exactly [Obama’s Gitmo order] means really remains to be seen”:

    We obviously have to wait for further implementation of policies with regard to Guantanamo Bay, but it’s important to note just how limited this executive order really is. All that it promises to do is to close the particular facility at Guantanamo Bay. It does not in any way promise to end the policy of keeping detainees in prison camps for long periods of time without judicial review, habeas corpus, or opportunity to seek counsel. This Order sets up a two-step review process, by a committee entirely chosen by the President and subject only to his absolute authority, whose proceedings are not made public, at whose proceedings a detainee is not apparently entitled to counsel, and whose decisions appear to be subject to no appeal process whatsoever. Of course, the Order is quite explicit that it “does not create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by any party against the United States.”

    The committee is free to decide whether it is possible to transfer or release the individual, and, if not, whether it is “feasible” to prosecute such persons. If not, then the committee is not compelled to release such persons, or even to disclose what is to be done with such persons—instead, the committee will “select lawful means, consistent with the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States and the interests of justice, for the disposition of such individuals.” Of course, what does “lawful means” actually refer to? The previous administration, of course, considered all of its means to be “lawful” also.

  • In How the Press, the Pentagon, and Even Human Rights Groups Sold Us an Army Field Manual that (Still) Sanctions Torture, Jeffrey S. Kaye revisits an earlier controversy involving the actual content of the “new and improved” Army Field Manual itself (FM 2-22.3), and the existence of a certain “Appendix M” — reserved for use on “unlawful enemy combatants.” — and which

    includes instructions regarding solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, and, in combination with other procedures included in the Army Field Manual, amounted to a re-introduction of the psychological torture techniques practiced at Guantanamo, and taught by Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape, or SERE psychologists and other personnel at the Cuban base and elsewhere.

    A link to the Army Field Manual FM 2-22.3, “Human Intelligence Collector Operations.”, referenced by Obama’s Executive Order “ensuring lawful interrogations” as the standard criteria to be adhered to, is actually available online for your perusal. Circa September 6, 2006, it replaces Field Manual 34-52.

  • In other news, the New York Times publishes the news that one such detainee — released in 2007 and presumed “rehabilitated” — has taken up his former career:

    The emergence of a former Guantánamo Bay detainee as the deputy leader of Al Qaeda’s Yemeni branch has underscored the potential complications in carrying out the executive order President Obama signed Thursday that the detention center be shut down within a year.

    The militant, Said Ali al-Shihri, is suspected of involvement in a deadly bombing of the United States Embassy in Yemen’s capital, Sana, in September. He was released to Saudi Arabia in 2007 and passed through a Saudi rehabilitation program for former jihadists before resurfacing with Al Qaeda in Yemen.

    His status was announced in an Internet statement by the militant group and was confirmed by an American counterterrorism official.

    <!–

  • Update Obama preserves renditions as counter-terrorism tool, by Greg Miller. Los Angeles Times February 1, 2009:

    Under executive orders issued by Obama recently, the CIA still has authority to carry out what are known as renditions, secret abductions and transfers of prisoners to countries that cooperate with the United States.

    Current and former U.S. intelligence officials said that the rendition program might be poised to play an expanded role going forward because it was the main remaining mechanism — aside from Predator missile strikes — for taking suspected terrorists off the street. …

    “Obviously you need to preserve some tools — you still have to go after the bad guys,” said an Obama administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity when discussing the legal reasoning. “The legal advisors working on this looked at rendition. It is controversial in some circles and kicked up a big storm in Europe. But if done within certain parameters, it is an acceptable practice.”

    One provision in one of Obama’s orders appears to preserve the CIA’s ability to detain and interrogate terrorism suspects as long as they are not held long-term. The little-noticed provision states that the instructions to close the CIA’s secret prison sites “do not refer to facilities used only to hold people on a short-term, transitory basis.”

    Despite concern about rendition, Obama’s prohibition of many other counter-terrorism tools could prompt intelligence officers to resort more frequently to the “transitory” technique.

    –>

Update Thanks to Catholics and Enjoying It for the traffic to this post. See “A brief response to Mark Shea …

Vatican lifts excommunications on SSPX hierarchy; Bishop Bernard Fellay and District Superior for Germany apologize for Richard Williamson’s remarks

From Vatican Radio comes the news that Holy See today has lifted the excommunications of the four bishops of the SSPX by a decree of the Congregation for Bishops.

Amy Welborn offers a good assessment of the situation and a roundup of responses to the Vatican’s move — among them the helpful post from the clerical blog Rationabile Obsequium (What precisely has the Pope done?) and this analysis from Carlos Palad of Rorate Caeli; a good aid in discerning what this means (an invitation to reconciliation with the Catholic Church); and more importantly what it does not (“The lifting of the excommunications on the SSPX bishops does not signify that the SSPX is back in full communion with the Holy See”).

The ball is now in the SSPX’s court.

* * *

Earlier this month, SSPX Bishop Williamson gave an interview to the Swedish press, in which he espoused his oft-repeated view that none of [the Jews] died as a result of gas in gas chambers.”

Williamson has previously endorsed the anti-semitic forgery Protocols of the Elders of Zion (“God put into men’s hands the Protocols of the Sages of Sion… if men want to know the truth, but few do”) and has asserted that the Jews are fighting for world domination “to prepare the Anti-Christ’s throne in Jerusalem.”

In the past, he has also indulged in 9/11 conspiracy theorizing and denounced Vatican II as “the religion of man, of man put in the place of God … it’s a new religion, dressed up to look like the Catholic religion, but it’s not.” (See Catholic Herald March 5, 2008) and “The Politics of Bishop Richard Williamson” (Fringewatch January 25, 2006).

I fear that the Pope’s gesture will not go over well with the Jewish people or those sympathetic to the betterment of Christian-Jewish relations. Some will see the lifting of excommunication without a concurrent demand for a change of mind and heart on the part of avowed anti-semites like Williamson as a tacit acceptance.

Writing to Cardinal Kasper, President of the Pontifical Commission on Religious Relations With the Jews, Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation league expressed his concern that lifting Bishop Williamson’s excommunication “could become a source of great tension between Catholics and Jews.”:

“The re-admittance to full communion of a bishop who appears to publicly reject key teachings of the Second Vatican Council could provide succor to those whose views threaten the Jewish people and the Church’s desire to improve and deepen its relationship with us to benefit all mankind.”

From my understanding Williamson’s views have scandalized some within the SSPX; however, Bishop Fellay has taken a ‘hands off’ approach in his handling of the controversy. In a stern reply to the Swedish television studio, he castigated them for their “vile attempts” to question Williamson’s views on the Holocaust, stating:

It is obvious that a bishop can only speak about questions of faith and morals with any ecclesial authority. If he deals with secular issues he is personally responsible for his own private opinions. The Society I am governing has no authority to address such issues, or will it ever claim such authority.

No doubt that if the SSPX has any desire to reconcile with Rome, particularly after Pope Benedict’s significant gesture in their direction, they will have to confront the obstacle of Bishop Richard Williamson.

  • Papal reconciliation move will stir controversy, coverage by John Allen Jr. National Catholic Reporter
  • Where do we go from here? Creative Minority Report
  • Superior General of the SSPX: Bishop Williamson forbidden to speak on political or historical matters January 27, 2009:

    Communiqué of the Superior General of the Society of St. Pius X, Bishop Bernard Fellay

    It has come to our attention that Bishop Richard Williamson, a member of our Society, granted an interview to a Swedish network. In this interview, he also commented on historical issues, especially on the genocide of Jews by the National-Socialist regime. It is obvious that a bishop speaks with religious authority solely on matters of faith and morals. Our Society claims no authority over historical or other secular matters.

    The mission of the Society is the offering and restoration of authentic Catholic teaching, as handed down in the dogmas. We are known, accepted, and appreciated worldwide for this.

    We view this matter with great concern, as this exorbitance has caused severe damage to our religious mission. We apologize to the Holy Father and to all people of good will for the trouble it has caused.

    It must remain clear that those comments do not reflect in any way the attitude of our community. That is why I have forbidden Bishop Williamson to issue any public opinion on any political or historical matter until further notice.

    The constant accusations against the Society have also apparently served the purpose of discrediting our mission. We will not allow this, but will continue to preach Catholic doctrine and to offer the Sacraments in the ancient rite.

    Menzingen, January 27, 2009

    + Bishop Bernard Fellay
    Superior General

    Note of the District Superior for Germany of the SSPX:

    As District Superior of the Society [of Saint Pius X] in Germany, I am very troubled by the words pronounced by Bishop Williamson here in this country.

    The banalization of the genocide of the Jews by the Nazi regime and of its horror are unacceptable for us.

    The persecution and murder of an incalculable number of Jews under the Third Reich touches us painfully and they also violate the Christian commandment of love for neighbor which does not distinguish ethnicities.

    I must apologize for this behavior and dissociate myself from such a view.

    Such dissociation is also necessary for us because the father of Archbishop Lefebvre died in a KZ [concentration camp] and because numerous Catholic priests lost their lives in Hitler’s concentration camps.

    Stuttgart, January 27, 2009

    Father Franz Schmidberger

Richard John Neuhaus, 1936-2009

From Jody Bottum:

Fr. Richard John Neuhaus slipped away today, January 8, shortly before 10 o’clock, at the age of seventy-two. He never recovered from the weakness that sent him to the hospital the day after Christmas, caused by a series of side effects from the cancer he was suffering. He lost consciousness Tuesday evening after a collapse in his heart rate, and the next day, in the company of friends, he died.

My tears are not for him—for he knew, all his life, that his Redeemer lives, and he has now been gathered by the Lord in whom he trusted.

I weep, rather for all the rest of us. As a priest, as a writer, as a public leader in so many struggles, and as a friend, no one can take his place. The fabric of life has been torn by his death, and it will not be repaired, for those of us who knew him, until that time when everything is mended and all our tears are wiped away.

Funeral Arrangements

A Funeral Mass will be celebrated for Father Richard John Neuhaus at the Church of the Immaculate Conception—414 E. 14th Street, New York City—on Tuesday, January 13, 2009, at 10 a.m.

Bishops and priests who wish to attend are asked please to inform Nathaniel Peters (by email or phone 212-627-2288) by Sunday afternoon, January 11, at the latest.

A Christian wake service in the form of a Vigil for the Deceased will be celebrated at the Church of the Immaculate Conception on Monday evening, January 12, at 7:30 p.m. Clergy who plan to attend are asked to sit with the congregation.

In lieu of flowers, donations are requested for Fr. Neuhaus’ work, the Institute on Religion and Public Life, online at this page or by mail to:

Institute on Religion and Public Life
156 Fifth Avenue
Suite 400
New York, NY 10010

“When I come before the judgment throne, I will plead the promise of God in the shed blood of Jesus Christ. I will not plead any work that I have done, although I will thank God that he has enabled me to do some good. I will plead no merits other than the merits of Christ, knowing that the merits of Mary and the saints are all from him; and for their company, their example, and their prayers throughout my earthly life I will give everlasting thanks. I will not plead that I had faith, for sometimes I was unsure of my faith, and in any event that would be to turn faith into a meritorious work of my won. I will not plead that I held the correct understanding of “justification by faith alone,” although I will thank God that he led me to know ever more fully the great truth that much misunderstood formulation was intended to protect. Whatever little growth in holiness I have experienced, whatever strength I have received from the company of the saints, whatever understanding I have attained of God and his ways – these and all other gifts received I will bring gratefully to the throne. But in seeking entry to that heavenly kingdom, I will…look to Christ and Christ alone.”

Richard John Neuhaus. Death on a Friday Afternoon

Notices

Reflections

* * *

The story of the modern social conservative movement is all about activism and politics, petitions and court cases, but Father Neuhaus’s great testament was about something grander: through those he inspired, through his writings, through his organizing, and through something as simple as connecting people over lunch who may share nothing in terms of what they can eat on the table but share greatly in what is unseen, Father Neuhaus fundamentally changed religious life in America forever.

This is not an exaggeration. Nor by any means is it a dismissal of anyone else’s influence – but ultimately, the changes most other conservative thought leaders have helped achieve in the twentieth century were made at the hands of other men, elected to office. Father Neuhaus did not merely inspire the intellectual undergirding of change: with God’s help, he fashioned it himself, through hard work, a gift for eloquence, and always a wry smile at the end.

The world Father Neuhaus leaves is one where evangelicals and Catholics are more united than they are divided – where the old ethnic politics and arguments have faded, and where we worship and work together in harmony. My mother, never anything but a Protestant, upon learning of this Catholic convert priest’s passing, wrote to say she paused on learning the news to sing Faure’s Pie Jesu for him. I can think of nothing more fitting.

From Ben Domenech, RedState.com

* * *

His conviction that abortion was the great crime of the age and his disgust with the American system’s failure to expunge the crime led to the most controversial act of his editorship, the publication of a symposium entitled “The End of Democracy?” in which he and other participants flirted with the notion that the United States had lost its legitimacy. COMMENTARY’s editors responded in part with a symposium entitled “On the Future of Conservatism,” in which various contributors argued heatedly against what they perceived to be an unacceptable radicalization of conservative discourse.

The breach was never fully healed, and yet, through it all, there was Richard, a man of great personal good cheer and bonhomie, always in possession of a terrific piece of gossip he always knew exactly when and how to drop in order to cause the biggest commotion, who somehow found the time to crank out thousands of words a month while jetting back and forth from Rome, engaging in plots and subplots and side bets. He was an exemplar of the truism that a righteous man need not be or conduct himself as though he were holier-than-thou. But in the end, his work was his life, and whether he was ministering to fatherless youths in Brooklyn or offering his considered and always highly informed opinion on the matter of stem-cell research, Richard John Neuhaus did what he did and said what he said for the betterment of humankind and for the greater glory of God.

John Podhoretz, Commentary Magazine

For more tributes and articles on Fr. Neuhaus, see Richard John Neuhaus Online Archive.