Iraq War: Out With a Whisper

Iraq War: Out With a Whisper

Earlier this month, Edward Wasserman, Knight Foundation Professor of Journalism at Washington and Lee University and writer for the McClatchy Newspapers, published the most important piece of analysis I have read in the New Year. The article appeared in the Maine Sunday Telegram under the evocative heading, Media AWOl in Exposing Iraq War’s Many Follies. The original article was published on Wasserman’s Blog on New Years Day under the title Remember Iraq?. He asks why the ending of the Iraq War has been neglected by the media in contrast with its beginning, which got off the ground with blanket coverage of foot-stomping, earth-shaking, “shock and awe.” Remember how every media source had to have a reporter embedded with the troops in the Invasion? Remember the coverage when victory was celebrated, “Mission Accomplished” announced, on the Abraham Lincoln in 2003? Remember when Saddam Hussein was caught? Remember the card deck of evildoers? Remember how surprised we all were to find ourselves in the middle of an insurgency and a religious civil war? Remember Abu Ghraib? Remember how important success was to the presidential candidates in the 2004 and 2008 elections? Remember the importance of the “surge?”

Do you know how many American (4484) and Coalition (318) military lost their lives? Do you know how many American military were wounded (31827)? Do you know how many Iraqis died and how many more were forced to leave their homes and became refugees? Do you remember that in those prosperous times we could afford to run the war “off budget?” Could that have had anything to do with our present economic malaise? Do you remember how many weapons of mass destruction were found?

Where are the media when the country needs them to lead it through a comprehensive assessment of the war? I fear they’re embedded with the presidential candidates as they cross the country seeking votes. Should the outcome of the war be brought up as an issue in the fall election? I hope so. President Obama’s administration did not cause our budget woes by itself, without the Wars’ and the Bush administration’s massive contribution.

I’ll leave it to you to read what Wasserman has to say in his blog essay. I hope to read what you have to say as well? Please comment on the topic if you have the chance.

We’re war weary. We surely remember much too much about this war on some slumbering level of consciousness. We’re glad it’s over. There’s another one, we try not to forget, that also must be ended. We’re happy our service men and women are home. But we’re not likely to conduct a systematic national review of this war anytime soon, and probably not at all. I see no sign that Congress is anxious to conduct hearings. While good books will be written about the war, and some will read them, most of us are headed earnestly into the future. The Japanese haven’t been able to face up to their conduct in China and in World War II. The great powers show little sign of having learned anything from their colonial adventures, or from the two world wars they insisted upon fighting? Have we learned anything from the debacle in Vietnam? Have we even come to terms with our own Civil War? I think not.

All of this is a shame, of course. We are an animal that can learn from our mistakes, and we should.  We’re a nation that possesses the institutions and personal freedom to face up to our failures and to learn from them. That remains our challenge. We need a media devoted to thoughtful, depth journalism. But how are we to entice the media back from the limelight and away from the shimmering celebrities to do journalism again?

Let us not be guilty of intellectual cowardice as we welcome our returning heroes home. For their sake and ours, let’s carry out a fair examination of what happened in this war, noting bluntly its gains and horrific costs, and ask ourselves, in the name of the God for whom it was so fiercely fought, what should be taken as its lasting worth.

Will Callender

January 22, 2012©

Torture Redux

Torture Redux

Cullen Murphy’s article, Torturer’s Apprentice, (The Atlantic, January/February 2012, pp. 72-77) is an exquisitely researched mind popper, and a must read. It turns out that official records of the Inquisition’s chief torturers in the 14th century are sufficiently detailed and abundant as to allow a comparison of types and theories of torture between inquisitors then and interrogators now. What we have here are instances of independent invention 650 or so years apart.

The article draws upon the interrogation manuals of two fourteenth century Dominican priests. First, Bernard Gui, the model for the interrogator in The Name of the Rose, the unforgettable character played by F. Murray Abraham in the movie version of Umberto Eco’s novel. Gui was  appointed Inquisitor of Toulouse by Pope Clement V in 1307 to prosecute heretics, Jews, assorted blasphemers, and stray Cathars in the Languedoc region of France after a century of Crusade had been set in motion against them by Pope Innocent III 1n 1208. It is estimated that half a million people died in the Cathar extermination. Gui, whose work was mostly after the Crusade, is credited with the deaths of between 600 and 900 people. His book Practica inquisitionis heretice pravitatis or “Conduct of the Inquisition into Heretical Wickedness” is now available as The Inquisitors Guide from Ravenhall Books (2006). It will cost you close to $130 to buy a copy though.

The second inquisitor was Nicholas Eymerich, a theologian appointed Inquisitor General of the Crown of Aragon in 1357, and later appointed, as an honorific for his outstanding work prosecuting heretics, Chaplain to the Pope. His Dictorium inquisitorum, building upon Gui’s writings, codified the state of the art in interrogation. Enhanced interrogation was by this time a virtual science after a century and a half of experience to draw upon. Both were prolific writers. Gui had written down all of his cases in a book Liber sententiarum, the “Book of Sentences.” The point Murphy would have us keep in mind is that torture was carried out in the fourteenth century by a corporate foreshadow of the ‘modern’ organization. The Office of the Inquisition had buildings, offices, positions, plans, strategies, tools, files, and good records. Given the extensive data available from such records and manuals, Murphy is able to make something close to a side-by-side comparison of their theories and practices with those described in the Human Intelligence Collector Operations, the official U.S. Army interrogation manual for HUMMINT collectors. The Office of the Inquisition, in short, had a well organized system of records not unlike those one would expect to find in the Department of Defense, the CIA, or the national security archives.

Murphy doesn’t tell us whether the two Dominican Priests made personal use of the Belgian disemboweling tool whose picture graces the whole of the second page of the article, but I would guess, given the experience and sophistication of Gui and Eymerich, that neither would have needed to depend much upon this tool in their personal work. The author does point out that the inquisition drew on a large number of instruments of torture, each with a colorful name, but they were only occasionally used. In general, Inquisitors had other approaches to prosecution that they preferred. But someone used that terrifying disemboweling machine.

Cullen Murphy’s article is adapted from a book he has written on the subject, God’s Jury: The Inquisition and the Making of the Modern World, due out for sale this month. I gather from the book title, and also from the article, that Murphy’s point of emphasis is not: shame on you George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and other supporters of “enhanced interrogation” for bringing us Abu Grahib, extraordinary rendition, offshore prisons, Guantanamo, and waterboarding, or in Cheney’s case, for defending torture to the extent of claiming Osama bin Laden’s body as redeeming compensation.

No, I think Murphy’s point, stated more balding than he might prefer, is: here we go again, what happened in the Inquisition and in the Bush administration is just the start. Torture has appeal in the modern world—to the Catholic Church early and to the United States government late—and, be forewarned, to others to come. So, good people, be wary, steel yourself, study your history, watch out! Maybe this language is more my paranoia talking than the author’s thoughts. Murphy does say this though about the Office of the Inquisition:

 But it’s a mistake to think of the Inquisition as just a metaphor, or as relegated to the past. For one thing, within the Church, it has never quite ended; the office charged today with safeguarding doctrine and meting out discipline occupies the Inquisition’s old palazzo at the Vatican. More to the point, the Inquisition had all the hallmarks of a modern institution—with a bureaucracy, a memory, a procedure, a set of tools, a staff of technocrats, and an all-encompassing ideology that brooked no dissent. It was not a relic but a harbinger. (p.74)

A harbinger? Of what? More torture, I presume. Perhaps Murphy is trying to save us from the shame of allowing torture to further contribute to the decline of Western Civilization. He’s clear that two of the greatest sources of philosophical and moral strength in our civilization and country, Christianity and the Enlightenment, have contributed to the rise and use of torture. And that’s without saying anything about torture everywhere else.  Shouldn’t we talk about torture in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Russia, China, Egypt, Libya, Iran, Pakistan, South Africa, Congo, Yemen, Bahrain, Syria, and elsewhere? Where shouldn’t we talk of torture? England’s Inquisition paralleled the mother of all Inquisitions in Spain. Perhaps we should make a list of the countries and people who have never used torture and commit ourselves to learn from them.

The most shocking finding to an American reader is that the standard for cessation of a bout of torture in the 14th century Inquisition was more ‘humane’ than the one approved by the “Bybee Memo” issued by George W. Bush’s Justice Department in 2002.

In it, the Bush administration put forth a very narrow definition, arguing that for an action to be deemed torture, it must produce suffering “equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.” To place this in perspective: the administration’s threshold for when an act of torture begins was the point at which the Inquisition stated it must stop. (pp. 76-77)

The article can best be summarized by the abstract presented as its preface:

The new science of interrogation is not, in fact, so new at all: “extraordinary rendition” and “enhanced interrogation” and “waterboarding” all spring directly from the practices of the medieval Roman Catholic Church. The distance, in both technique and ideology, between the Inquisition’s interrogation regime and 21st-century America’s is uncomfortably short—and provides a chilling harbinger of what can happen when moral certainty gets yoked to the machinery of torture. (p. 72)

In the first debate between Republican Presidential candidates on May 5, 2011, Chris Wallace of Fox News conducted a straw vote on the question of who would support waterboarding under “any conditions” or “any conditions the candidate might imagine?” Three candidates, Tim Pawlenty, Herman Cain, and Rick Santorum raised their hands affirmatively. Audience applause was heard. At the November 12, 2011 debate in South Carolina, when the question was again raised, Michelle Bachmann added her assent, and affirmed it afterwards, even against Senator McCain’s strong objections. Rick Perry is also a supporter of waterboarding. All are fervent Christians who have claimed an advanced moral standing as a reason to vote for them. Is such zeal a harbinger of things to come?

If it is  true, as George Santayana has said, that “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” then we are so condemned, because we have repeated it, and we are prone to do so again.

Will Callender

January 13, 2012©

The Man Nobody Knew – A Must See Documentary Film

The Man Nobody Knew – A Must See Documentary Film

I recently had the opportunity to see Carl Colby’s documentary film  THE MAN NOBODY KNEW: In Search of My Father, CIA Spymaster William Colby. The trailer, available through the filmmaker”s website, portrays the storyline faithfully. William Colby’s service to the United States is laid out in sympathetic detail in his biography in Wikipedia. Another useful source is William Colby and the CIA: The Secret Wars of a Controversial Spymaster, by John Prados, published first in 2003 and again in 2009, by the University of Kansas Press. Also, the CIA’s official internal history of Colby, a history that CIA historians are charged to complete of every former Director, has just been released by the archives this past October.

Colby’s espionage work started in his days as a paratrooper behind enemy lines in Europe for the Office of Special Services (OSS) in World War II, continued in the CIA after the formation of the agency in 1948, included his involvement in Vietnam and Asia during the Vietnam war, and ended with his retirement from the position of Director of Central Intelligence in January of 1976. In short, his service as an intelligence officer exceeded in length the existence of the CIA! He would have known most everything to be known about the CIA and national security intelligence activities at that point in time.

William Colby was appointed Director of Central Intelligence—in agency shorthand, DCI of the CIA—in September 1973 by President Richard Nixon and, following Nixon’s impeachment, he continued in that capacity in the administration of President Gerald Ford. In this later period, Colby is best remembered for his testimony before Congressional committees charged with investigating the government’s intelligence activities. These hearings were in response to Seymour Hersh‘s reports that the intelligence agencies had been surreptitiously investigating citizens protesting the Vietnam War. The special select committees chosen to carry out the investigations were headed by Senator Frank Church (D) of Idaho, in the Senate, and by Otis Pike (D) of New York, in the House. After the hearings, when Colby was ousted from the CIA directorship, apparently for his willingness to disclose too much, hinting at the so called “family jewels,” he was succeeded in that position in January 1976 by George H. W. Bush, the future 41st President of the United States. Colby died mysteriously on April 27, 1996, by drowning while canoeing near his home in Rock Point, Maryland.

The description of the film given on its website is worth quoting:

A son’s riveting look at a father whose life seemed straight out of a spy thriller, THE MAN NOBODY KNEW: IN SEARCH OF MY FATHER, CIA SPYMASTER WILLIAM COLBY uncovers the secret world of a legendary CIA spymaster. Told by William Colby’s son Carl, the story is at once a probing history of the CIA, a personal memoir of a family living in clandestine shadows, and an inquiry into the hard costs of a nation’s most cloaked actions.

From the beginning of his career as an OSS officer parachuting into Nazi-occupied Europe, William Colby rose through the ranks of “The Company,” and soon was involved in covert operations in hot spots around the globe. He swayed elections against the Communists in Italy, oversaw the coup against President Diem in Saigon, and ran the controversial Phoenix Program in Vietnam, which sparked today’s legacy of counter-insurgency. But after decades of obediently taking on the White House’s toughest and dirtiest assignments, and rising to become Director of CIA, Colby defied the President. Braving intense controversy, he opened up to Congress some of the agency’s darkest, most tightly held secrets and extra-legal operations.

Now, his son asks a series of powerful and relevant questions about the father who was a ghost-like presence in the family home – and the intelligence officer who became a major force in American history, paving the way for today’s provocative questions about security and secrecy vs. liberty and morality. The film forges a fascinating mix of rare archival footage, never-before-seen photos, and interviews with the “who’s who” of American intelligence, including former National Security Advisers Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, former Secretary of Defense and Director of CIA James Schlesinger, as well Pulitzer Prize journalists Bob Woodward, Seymour Hersh and Tim Weiner. Through it all, Carl Colby searches for an authentic portrait of the man who remained masked even to those who loved him most.

Carl admits at the end of the film that he still doesn’t know who his father was, and neither do we. We are honored to have been given an insider’s portrait of a family doing all the important things together as its head works in the shadows on national security matters. We get to examine the competing claims of family and country, religion and duty, morality and national interest. How can such an intertwined family life and work life be joined harmoniously under such circumstances? How can a person and a family escape from the labyrinth of double identity? What is friendship to a spy? Can a spy have true friends? When his son hears his father call someone a friend, he reports that ‘friend’ is a word reserved for a work contact; the use of the word is strategic. In his line of work, it is not possible to have fully trusted friends.

Family pictures are supplemented by interviews with Barbara Heinzen Colby, William’s first wife, Carl’s mother, and the mother of the four other Colby children. She shows herself to be a  strong, admirable, ethical, and straightforward person who tells the family story with clarity and empathy for all involved. The Colbys, lead by William and Barbara, are devoted Roman Catholics. Clearly, her concern is to protect the family, maintain ethical behavior, and raise her children. It is a credit to Carl Colby that the story is told straight, without rancor, hurt feelings, requests for understanding, or claims of victimage. As the football coaches like to say, it is what it is, and Colby tells it that way. He pursues the truth of his film, edited concisely, much the way William Colby must have pursued an intelligence objective. There’s a family trait at work here.

The power of the film is in its meaning for the nation, “the hard costs of a nation’s most cloaked actions” that the filmmaker refers to in his summary. Many of the famous figures in the national security ‘establishment,’—all male—appear in the pictures and interviews: Kissinger, Schlesinger, Snowcroft, MacFarlane, Brzezinski, and others. Donald Rumsfield and Dick Cheney are among them, serving at the time in President Ford’s administration. A palpable feeling comes over the viewer that the nation’s intelligence agencies and covert action programs grew up with Colby and the men we see in the pictures; perhaps they were the inventors.  Is this a fraternity we’re hearing from? Can it be that patterns of counter-insurgency developed in the OSS, repeated in Italy, in Guatamala, in Vietnam, in Chile, and in many other places, are to be repeated in enhanced form in all future administrations? By the time of the Nixon and Ford administrations, an internal security culture seems to have developed with the power to unduly influence, perhaps mislead even the president.  There seems to be unstated agreement that Congressional oversight, while  constitutionally mandated, must not be allowed to subvert national secrecy by the release of discrediting secrets to the public. National security requires  secrets, from the public as well as enemies. But should citizens allow covert actions in a democracy in the first place? If so, how can the security agencies be checked by the President, how can the executive branch be checked by the legislative branch, and how can the citizenry check both? Most important, how can citizens take responsibility for the actions that governments secretly take in their name?

With the passage of the Homeland Security Act of 2002 and the Patriot Act, as amended and renewed in subsequent years, the nation has institutionalized the covert operation culture created by Colby and his peers in the OSS and CIA. We’ve become a national security state. Since watching the film, I’ve been laying awake at night counting our nation’s covert operations, much the way others are rumored to count sheep. The list is extensive and the actions frequent. Take a look at the list Wikepedia has compiled to date. Yes, the choice to go to War in Iraq appears to have been influenced by the national security culture. it was preceded not only by the earlier Gulf War but by covert operations in Iran, Iraq, and Nicaragua, during what is now known as the Iran-Contra affair.

Covert activities are seemingly increasing in number right now, are they not? What’s does it mean when a General becomes CIA director and a CIA director becomes Secretary of Defense? And what does it mean that some of these office holders have been Chiefs of Staff to Presidents. Under what constitutional auspices are drones dropping in and shooting at people in countries we are not at war with, and without congressional approval? Where is the drumbeat to bomb or invade Iran coming from? Is it only to my ear that the drumbeat is getting louder?

I hope millions of people get to see this film. If it doesn’t make you a little paranoid, it could make you a lot more thoughtful and realistic. It’s an important film for Americans to see in educating themselves for the responsibilities of citizenship.

Will Callender ©

January 3, 2012