Letters to the editor

Enemy Combatants

I enjoyed Benjamin Wittes’s article (“Justice Delayed,” March Atlantic), but he did not address a key issue: What if we simply decide to hold all of our prisoners as irregular combatants for the duration of the “War on Terror,” regardless of whether they go before some form of tribunal? Nations have often held prisoners for the duration of a conflict. Even if this conflict goes on for decades, why should we release them, considering that many of them might return to fighting against the United States?

Michael Barron
Oak Park, Ill.

Benjamin Wittes replies:

Mr. Barron is quite correct that holding enemy combatants without trial for the duration of hostilities is the historical norm. Then again, the historical norm is predicated on the notion that countries fight with each other, not with the individual soldiers they capture, and that they eventually negotiate the end of the conflict. Nobody truly believes that America now has no fight individually with Osama bin Laden or Khalid Sheikh Muhammad. Moreover, our war with al-Qaeda may be a permanent state of affairs; certainly a negotiated end is unthinkable. Given all of this, it seems to me untenable to have no predictable and viable means of trying accused war criminals.

Taiwan’s Future

In her article on the upcoming Beijing Olympics (“Dangerous Games,” March Atlantic), Jennifer Lind asserts that “Taiwanese leaders may gamble that the 2008 Olympics will provide them with their best chance to declare formal independence from [the People’s Republic of China].” This is the same sort of dire prediction one often hears from Beijing’s state-sanctioned media about the inherent dangers of Taiwan’s representative government, and it omits a number of key facts. For instance, while much has been made about the ruling Democratic Progressive Party’s pro-independence stance, President Chen Shui-bian has steadfastly adhered to the “Five No’s” of his 2000 inaugural speech, in which he proclaimed that absent direct PRC aggression, there would be no unilateral moves toward a formal declaration of independence during his term. And he has kept this promise despite a massive buildup in the number of PRC missiles aimed at Taiwan, and Beijing’s unrelenting quest to deny Taiwan any sort of international recognition. It also bears mentioning that according to Taiwanese law, any move toward formal independence or unification must first pass the Legislative Yuan (currently controlled by opposition parties) before being put to a referendum in which over half of Taiwan’s registered voters must take part for the results to be valid. In short, any change in the status quo cannot and will not be made without the consent of the people of Taiwan, a fact that is glossed over in Lind’s article.

Eddy Tsai
Director, Press Division
Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office
Washington, D.C.

Jennifer Lind replies:

Mr. Tsai emphasizes the institutional and political obstacles to a formal declaration of independence. But it’s far more likely that Taiwanese leaders would employ “salami tactics”—a series of subtle shifts toward autonomy—that require Beijing to choose between greater Taiwanese independence and the use of military force. And it is ironic that Mr. Tsai claims that Chen has “steadfastly adhered” to the “Five No’s,” his promise to avoid making various moves toward independence. In February, the Taiwanese president unilaterally rescinded one of the “Five No’s,” abolishing the National Unification Council, despite polls registering overwhelming support to maintain the status quo. When Beijing and Washington protested this step, Chen said the council was not being “abolished” but, rather, would “cease to function.” These are the sort of word games and subtle measures that political leaders use when they wish to bypass institutional constraints. Caution may still prevail in Taipei, but now we’re at “Four No’s” and counting.

The Year of Two Popes

In his article “The Year of Two Popes” (January/February Atlantic), Paul Elie incorrectly asserts that “when John Paul seemed to declare the restriction of the ordained ministry to men an infallible teaching, for example, [Joseph] Ratzinger, though no supporter of a more open priesthood, made clear that this was not permissible.” I would point Mr. Elie to then-Cardinal Ratzinger’s 1995 response to Ordinatio Sacerdotalis (the papal document reaffirming that only men could be validly ordained), in which he wrote the following:

This teaching requires definitive assent, since, founded on the written Word of God, and from the beginning constantly preserved and applied in the Tradition of the Church, it has been set forth infallibly by the ordinary and universal Magisterium (cf. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium 25, 2). Thus, in the present circumstances, the Roman Pontiff, exercising his proper office of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32), has handed on this same teaching by a formal declaration, explicitly stating what is to be held always, everywhere, and by all, as belonging to the deposit of the faith.

Despite the various forms of revisionist history applied to Cardinal Ratzinger’s tenure as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith since his election as pope, the record should be clear: Cardinal Ratzinger did not declare that the pope’s assertion was not permissible. On the contrary, one rather suspects that he authored the original text of Ordinatio Sacerdotalis as well.

Catharine A. Henningsen
Rye Brook, N.Y.

Paul Elie responds:

It is hard to tell whether Ms. Henningsen read the passage in question too closely or not closely enough. As she points out, Cardinal Ratzinger wrote in support of John Paul’s declaration in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis that the ordained ministry is restricted to men, and as she suggests, in all likelihood Ratzinger had a hand in the drafting of Ordinatio Sacerdotalis itself. The story my sources tell (not an uncommon one) is that John Paul wished to define the restriction of the ordained ministry to men through an “ex cathedra” pronouncement—the kind of pronouncement considered infallible by its very nature—but that Ratzinger warned him off this approach for theological reasons. Instead, Ratzinger devised the approach taken in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, in which all the “ordinary and universal” teachings of the Catholic Church are affirmed to be infallible in a general way. This method of finessing the issue drew the charge of “creeping infallibilism.” In any case, the documents support the point I made in the article: that John Paul, aware of Ratzinger’s skills as a theologian, made “heavy use of him,” trusting him to attend to the details and even to correct him when necessary.

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