Resources & Updates

Letters From Abu Ghraib: Book Review by Jim Forest

Joshua Casteel is one of the most remarkable people I’ve known: writer, playwright, public speaker, an Army veteran and former West Point cadet who became a foe of war and a model Christian. He died five years ago, age 32, of cancer that was probably caused by breathing toxic smoke burned at his base in Iraq.

His one book, Letters from Abu Ghraib, has just been issued in a revised edition. It’s a collection of intimate letters sent by Joshua to friends and family in 2004-5 during his service as a US Army interrogator and Arabic linguist in the 202nd Military Intelligence Battalion stationed at the notorious Abu Ghraid Prison in Iraq.

A few weeks ago, at the Divinity School of the University of Chicago, I took part in a celebration of new, revised edition.

I think Letters from Abu Ghraib will come to be recognized as a classic of anti-war literature widely used in classes and discussion groups.

The letters reveal how, as a consequence of interrogating imprisoned Iraqis, Joshua undergoes a conversion to a deeper Christianity that brings with it the conviction “’that service in my current way is absolutely wrong, and totally outside the bounds of the witness of the New Testament. If people do not understand this uncompromising allegiance, and think me a deserter, so be it. … I will take deadly serious Christ’s call to Peter that he drop his nets and follow. I cannot continue as an American war fighter.”

In 2005 Joshua obtained an early discharge as a conscientious objector.

There are various YouTube videos of Joshua. In this one Joshua explains events that led him to conscientious objection:

Jim Forest

* * *

“What Joshua Casteel interrogates in Letters from Abu Ghraib is the very idea of liberty. For every enduring work of literature is an epistle from the prison of silence to the possibility of freedom.” —from the foreword by Christopher Merrill

“An astounding insider’s look at the war in Iraq. Joshua Casteel is an astute observer, a superb writer and a man of deeply held moral and religious conviction. Letters from Abu Ghraib gives us entry into his personal journey from dedicated soldier and interrogator to determined conscientious objector.” — Emily Mann, McCarter Theatre Artistic Director and Resident Playwright

“Letters from Abu Ghraib shows us that good and evil are not absolutes, but rather points along the spectrum of decisions that we, as individuals and participants in institutions, all must face.” — Kelly Dougherty, Executive Director of Iraq Veterans Against the War

Available from Amazon:

* * *

new book:

At Play in the Lions’ Den: a biography and memoir of Daniel Berrigan

winner of the International Thomas Merton Society’s “Louie” award:

The Root of War is Fear: Thomas Merton’s Advice to Peacemakers

books in print:

web site:


Amazon author page

Returns, the Opera: Soon to open in the UK
Military Times: Burn Pits

1 Comment

  1. So glad to see this book in print again! Given the backdrop of the common room, I think this photo is probably from when Jim Forest visited the Divinity School, while Josh was studying there. Jim was there on May 4, 2011 to speak on his then recently published book on Dorothy Day.

Leave a Reply