Joshua Casteel

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Joshua Casteel
Birth nameJoshua Eric Casteel
Born(1979-12-27)27 December 1979
Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Died(2012-08-25)25 August 2012 (aged 32)
New York, New York
Place of burial
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branch United States Army
Years of service2002–2005
Battles/warsIraq War

Joshua Casteel (27 December 1979 – 25 August 2012) was a United States Army soldier, conscientious objector, playwright, and divinity student.[1][2][3] He volunteered for the army in 2002 and conducted interrogations in Abu Ghraib prison.

In 2005 he received an honorable discharge as a conscientious objector. He was active in the anti-war movement before dying of lung cancer in 2012.

Early life[edit]

He was born in Sioux Falls, South Dakota and raised in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in a Christian evangelical family.[1][2] Casteel was active in the local community theatre, Theatre Cedar Rapids, where he had lead roles in Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat, and The Who's Tommy[4]

Army career[edit]

Casteel won an appointment to the US Military Academy at West Point but dropped out in his first term there.[1] He enlisted in the Army in May 2002 and was trained as an interrogator at Fort Huachuca and in the Arabic language at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California.[1] His unit arrived in Iraq in 2004, six weeks after revelation of prisoner abuses by US personnel at the prison.[1] Casteel served with the Army's 202nd Military Intelligence Battalion as an interrogator at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and claimed to have conducted over 130 prisoner interrogations.[1][5] After Casteel applied for conscientious objector status, he was assigned to non combat duty guarding a burn pit.[6]

Post-army career[edit]

Six months after applying, the Army approved his application as a conscientious objector and granted him an honorable discharge in 2005.[1] Casteel graduated from the University of Iowa in 2008 with a dual master of fine arts degree in playwriting and non-fiction writing.[4] He was an active member of Iraq Veterans Against the War and the author of several plays performed in the US and abroad, including Returns and The Interrogation Room.[1][2] As a public speaker on religious and political matters, Casteel addressed audiences in the US, Ireland, Sweden, Italy and the UK.[1] He was featured in the documentary films Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers and Soldiers of Conscience.[2][7] In 2008, excerpts of Casteel's emails from Iraq were published in Harper's Magazine and in book form by Essay Press.[1][8]


He died of lung cancer in New York City in New York-Presbyterian Hospital on August 25, 2012.[2][9] An oncologist told Casteel's mother that "Joshua died of lung cancer without having any of the conventional risk factors such as smoking, asbestos exposure or radiation ... I am quite sure we did not have anyone younger with lung cancer those five years I worked at the VA."[10] Casteel's family believes his cancer was the result of exposure to toxins released by a burn pit he slept near for six months in Iraq.[10] He was a University of Chicago Divinity School graduate student at the time of his death.[2] An article titled "The Priest of Abu Ghraib"[11], which analyzed his theological struggles while interrogating Muslim prisoners in Iraq c. 2004, appeared in the Jan.-Feb. 2019 "Smithsonian" magazine.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Casteel, Joshua. Letters from Abu Ghraib. (Ithaca, NY: Essay Pr., 2008). ISBN 978-0-9791189-3-7
  2. ^ a b c d e f Allen, Susie. "Divinity School student Joshua Casteel, 1979–2012". UChicagoNews. 18 September 2012. Accessed 21 June 2013.
  3. ^ Latchis, Rebekah. "The Big 3-2!". 16 December 2011. Accessed 14 August 2013.
  4. ^ a b "Obituaries: Casteel, Joshua Eric". The Gazette. 02 September 2012. Accessed 14 August 2013.
  5. ^ Lindsey, T. M. "A conscientious objector's journey". The Iowa Independent. 03 September 2008. Accessed 14 August 2013.
  6. ^
  7. ^ "Soldiers of Conscience". Luna Productions. Retrieved March 3, 2018.
  8. ^ Casteel, Joshua. "The Monk of Abu Ghraib". Harper's Magazine. Vol. 317, No. 1901. 1 October 2008. p. 22.
  9. ^ Erin Jordan. "Cedar Rapids family blames burn pit in Iraq for son's cancer death". The Gazette. 26 October 2012. Accessed 14 August 2013.
  10. ^ a b Erin Jordan. "Cedar Rapids family links ex-soldier's death to burn pit". The Gazette. 28 October 2012. Accessed 14 August 2013.
  11. ^ Percy, Jennifer. "The Priest of Abu Ghraib". Smithsonian Magazine. January 2019

External links[edit]