Casteel author of “Letters from Abu Ghraib”; speaks
February 12, 2009   By:    Abu Ghraib, Book Review   Comments are off   //   676 Views

Nancy C. Briscoe

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Joshua Casteel, author of “Letters from Abu Ghraib,” was named the 2009 Elizabethtown College Alumni Peace Fellow. He will speak about his book and experiences Feb. 16 and 17.

In the wake of George W. Bush’s eight-year presidency and the first 120 days of Barack Obama’s administration, many have contemplated where we stand in Iraq. It seems everyone has an opinion on whether troops should continue to occupy the country, what our motives are, and whether the war is morally justifiable.

Feb. 16 and 17, Joshua Casteel will visit Elizabethtown College to present a film and lecture on war, peace and power of the human conscience. Casteel, a former U.S. soldier, was named the 2009 Elizabethtown College Alumni Peace Fellow.

A native of Iowa, Casteel enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserves at the age of 17, following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather. At 18, he enrolled at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He trained as an interrogator and was later deployed to Iraq.

He served as a U.S. Army interrogator and Arabic linguist at Abu Ghraib. Abu Ghraib is the prison infamously known for its Iraqi prisoner abuse by U.S. soldiers in 2004. According to the Iraq Veterans Against the War’s Web site, Casteel served at the Joint Interrogation and Debriefing Center at Abu Ghraib. He was a part of the interrogation units sent to patch up the prison after the abuse scandal became public between June 2004 and January 2005.

At 25, Casteel was honorably discharged from active duty as a conscientious objector. Nancy Neiman-Hoffman, director of the Elizabethtown College Alumni Peace Fellowship (ECAPF), describes a conscientious objector as someone who believes war is wrong.

Monday, Feb. 16, at 7 p.m., Casteel will present the film “Soldiers of Conscience,” directed by Gary Weinberg and Catherine Ryan, in the Gibble Auditorium in Esbenshade Hall. This thought-provoking film examines U.S. soldiers’ concern for killing during active duty. It follows four soldiers who become conscientious objectors during their time in Iraq, Casteel included.

Flipping through the channels one night, Neiman-Hoffman stumbled upon “Soldiers of Conscience.”

“It was a moving piece,” Neiman-Hoffman said. “Joshua was particularly moving.”

Neiman-Hoffman graduated from Etown in 1955. She defines the ECAPF as a group of alumni held together by a concern for the peace identity of the College. Every year, they bring an advocate of peace to Etown.

She extended the honor and a three-day peace fellow residency to Casteel shortly after viewing the film.

Tuesday, Feb. 17, at 7:30 p.m., Casteel will lecture from his new book, “No Graven Image” in the Young Center.

According to the College News section of the Etown Web site, “The lecture will address the question of whether it is mere coincidence that a culture so far removed from material creativity (manufacturing, industries, patronage of the arts) is simultaneously so heavily invested in the materials which destroy cultures, and whether it is mere coincidence that a country founded on ‘concepts’ vs. blood or common heritage and culture finds itself producing the very tools which destroy those cultures?”

“No Graven Image” is the second book that Casteel has penned. The first, “Letters from Abu Ghraib,” is a collection of e-mails sent by Casteel to friends and family during active duty. It is a raw account of a soldier’s moral conflict with his duties.

“This book is a knock out, an incredible read,” Neiman-Hoffman said.

Casteel and the ECAPF are working toward educating Etown students on the values of peace and nonviolence. Attendants of the film and lecture can gain knowledgeable insight on the war in Iraq and the power of the human conscience.

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