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Issue Date:  December 10, 2004

Fully Catholic, American

Given the cultural tenor of church and society today, it is unlikely that the annual gatherings to protest the School of the Americas will receive much official recognition in either sphere. But this is a thoroughly Catholic and American activity, an action growing out of the best instincts of both communities.

For those wondering, in the wake of all the religion and politics talk of recent months, whether and how religion should mix it up in the wider culture, SOA Watch is a perfect example.

Our Nov. 5 cover story on “The U.S. and Torture” contained disturbing documentation of a 50-year history of official instruction in torture conducted by the United States, much of it linked to CIA training manuals and taught through facilities such as the School of the Americas (renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation) in Columbus, Ga.

Our alliances in Latin America, the dictators we propped up and the bloody forces we helped train have left a trail of gross human rights abuses for which we have never accounted.

Today, the abuses continue at Abu Ghraib, known only because the hubris with which we conduct ourselves has reached a level that inspired the abusers to photograph themselves in the act.

The International Red Cross, known for its measured assessments of situations and its careful public criticism, complained privately to the Bush administration this week that interrogation methods used at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, were “tantamount to torture.”

According to a report in The New York Times, the Red Cross “believed that doctors and other medical personnel at Guantánamo were assisting in the planning of interrogations in what was described as ‘a flagrant violation of medical ethics.’ ”

The torture manuals, the classes taught at School of the Americas, the sexual humiliation and other torture techniques at Abu Ghraib, the use of medical professionals to plan what the Red Cross termed comparable to torture -- all of these begin to fill out a larger picture, one that is unflattering and deeply at odds with the image we have of ourselves as a people.

If the public debates of late were any indication, then we are caught up in a cultural frenzy over personal sexual issues and practices, none of which fall under state auspices. The cost of feeding that frenzy, of maintaining the concentration on individuals and their behavior, is our blindness to the larger picture, to what really is being spent and done in our name.

One can only presume we have become numb to the effects of our militarism and the violence that is perpetrated by the government in our name. We have become numb to the hundreds of billions spent on our war pursuits. We have become numb to the militarization of our youth, to the pursuit of our young in their schools by the military.

The small but growing band of people who gather annually in the streets outside Fort Benning are not numb. They call us to attention. They raise the questions about who we are in America and what is being done in our names. They may not get feted at the White House or honored at a papal ceremony, but they bring the full force of their U.S. heritage, their Catholic lives and the church’s social teachings to those questions.

National Catholic Reporter, December 10, 2004

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