People in prison


A number of people throughout the world have expressed concern about the treatment of the men our government captured in Afghanistan and are now holding as prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Some in the United States have taken their concern to a federal court in California seeking to ensure that the civil and human rights of the men being detained are being respected.

From what I have heard and read in the media, a great number of Americans are outraged that anyone, particularly another American, would dare to question how our government is treating these prisoners whom they are convinced must be held personally responsible for what happened in the United States on Sept. 11. As a matter of fact, some of these “outraged Americans” would really be upset if they thought the government wasn’t being as cruel as they could to these men.

Their outrage and anger would not be mitigated if they were told that these men had not been charged with anything, much less convicted of any crimes. After all, the administration has said these are terrorists and any friends of terrorists are our enemies, not our friends, to be hated, not loved.

The truth is that if we, as a nation, do not respect the civil and human rights of prisoners, we are wrong. We are certainly wrong to treat them cruelly if they are innocent of any crime, but we would also be wrong to treat them cruelly if they are proven guilty of committing horrible crimes against us. It is the realization of this truth that has resulted in laws in most civilized societies that demand that convicted criminals be treated as the human beings they are.

The citizens of most nations in the world have rejected state-sponsored killings, like capital punishment, to solve social problems. Our nation is not one of them. Most nations, including ours, have legalized the killing of the most innocent, that is, children in their mothers’ wombs to solve not only serious social problems but in the name of freedom of choice for the mothers. The life of the unborn by law cannot be protected. This is an unjust law.

Thank God there are still laws that demand humane treatment for those who have been born. Unfortunately, many people out of fear of criminals are not as concerned as we should be about those in prison. Hopefully, debate on how to treat “prisoners of war” will demand that we take another look at prisoners within out own prisons.

For too many years, because of our fear of crime, we as citizens have not only allowed but encouraged our political leaders to solve crime by treating those not only convicted of crimes but accused of crimes in cruel and inhuman ways. Such treatment not only causes criminals to become hardened but makes our society hardened.

The Scripture has often warned us of being hardened of heart and Jesus came to teach us the power, not of hatred but of love. We need to stop identifying people by their crimes, calling them murderers, terrorists and above all, inhuman and even satanic. We need to identify all people as God does, that is, as his children, our brothers and sisters whom we are called to love, not hate.

When we fail to do this, we, in the words of the Catholic bishops of the world at the Second Vatican Council, “poison human society,” and do more harm to ourselves and to our society than to those who suffer injury by our lack of love because we are guilty of “a supreme dishonor to our creator.”

Msgr. Thomas R. Duffy is pastor of St. Michael Church in Garden City and Pee Dee Deanery dean.