The Moral Torment of Leon Panetta: Former CIA Head Leaves Legacy of Deaths by Drone
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Now, after four years in this swamp of moral and legal relativism, Panetta has turned to Pope Benedict for prayers and blessings, an ironic choice since Benedict himself has shown a high tolerance for sloshing around in this muck.
In April 2008, Benedict visited the United States amid sordid disclosures about the Bush administration’s practices of torture and worldwide recognition that Bush had ordered the invasion and occupation of Iraq based on false claims about WMD and ties to al-Qaeda.
On torture, reporting by ABC depicted George W. Bush’s most senior aides (Cheney, Powell, Rumsfeld, Ashcroft, Rice and Tenet) meeting multiple times in the White House during 2002-03 to sort out – complete with practical demonstrations – the most efficient mix of torture techniques for captured “terrorists.” When initially ABC attempted to insulate the President from this sordid activity, Bush responded that he knew all about it and had approved.
But Benedict maintained a discreet silence, placing feel-good scenes of happy Catholics cheering his presence over a moral obligation to condemn wrongdoing, a pattern that has recurred far too frequently in the history of the Vatican.
When I visited Yad VaShem, the Holocaust museum in West Jerusalem a few years ago, I experienced painful reminders of what happens when the Church allows itself to be captured by Empire. An acquiescent church loses whatever residual moral authority it may have had.
At the entrance to the museum, a quotation by German essayist Kurt Tucholsky set a universally applicable tone: “A country is not just what it does – it is also what it tolerates.”
Still more compelling words came from Imre Bathory, a Hungarian who put his own life at grave risk by helping to save Jews from the concentration camps: “I know that when I stand before God on Judgment Day, I shall not be asked the question posed to Cain: ‘Where were you when your brother’s blood was crying out to God?’”
It is a question that Leon Panetta may want to ask himself as he retires from government service at age 74 and retreats to his walnut farm in California. For Panetta’s sake, let’s hope papal prayer will help him sort it all out.