The story of Joshua Casteel is one marked by courage, inspiration, and perhaps, sanctity. From young evangelical Republican to soldier, to Abu Ghraib interrogator to Catholic conscientious objector to crossbearing cancer victim, his tale cannot fail to move any but the hardest heart. This is from the website of The Alliance Catholic Worker, in Alliance, Ohio, who named their house of hospitality for him:
Joshua Casteel,the man for whom our house of hospitality is named, was a veteran and shining light in the Catholic Peace movement. He was born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in 1979. Raised in an evangelical household, Joshua was President of the Young Republicans and carried a copy of the Constitution around with him as a teenager. At seventeen years of age, he enlisted in the U.S Army reserves and a year later, received an appointed to West Point Military Academy. Joshua reflected, after his time in boot camp, that there was something about the drills which they learned, such as “Kill, Kill, Kill without mercy,” that did not quite sit right with someone who had learned about the gentle and humble Jesus at Sunday school. Joshua was trained as an Arabic translator and in 2004 was sent to Abu Ghraib prison as an interrogator.
One event in particular during his time in Abu Ghraib proved transforming for Joshua. After five months of interrogating innocent people such as schoolboys and Imams, Joshua finally got the opportunity to interrogate a Mujahideen Jihadist. The self- proclaimed Jihadist challenged Joshua’s beliefs as a Christian, stating that Joshua did not really believe in the words of Jesus “to love one’s enemy” and to not seek revenge. Realizing that he had lost all objectivity as an interrogator and was instead relating to the jihadist as a person, Joshua ceased the interrogation. This encounter with the enemy was also taking place alongside a deepening in Joshua’s spiritual life. During his time in Iraq, he had begun reading Dorothy Day, Blessed John Paul II and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI).Joshua was especially influenced by the thoughts of John Paul II. The encounter with the Jihadist lead Joshua to apply for conscientious objector status. In 2005, he was honorably discharged as a conscientious objector and converted to Catholicism.
Joshua went on to publish a book, Letters from Abu Ghraib and authored two plays: Returns and The Interrogation Room. He joined the board of Iraq Veterans Against the War and became a prolific speaker and advocate for peace while also pursuing postgraduate studies and receiving his MFA.
In late 2011, Joshua fell seriously ill. He was diagnosed with a rare cancer that he most likely got from working at the burn pits in Abu Ghraib. He spoke with gratitude – and a sense of relief – that in his own suffering he was, in some small way, able to share in the suffering of the Iraqi people. During this time he was awarded the 2012 Bishop Dingman Peace Award. Joshua passed onto his eternal reward in August 2012 at the age of 32. In October 2012, he was posthumously awarded the Saint Marcellus Award by The Catholic Peace Fellowship along with his mother Kirsti Casteel.