Allan C. Brownfeld
Allan C. Brownfeld is the author of five books, the latest of which is The Revolution Lobby (Council for Inter-American Security). He has been a staff aide to a U.S. vice president, members of Congress, and the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee. He is associate editor of The Lincoln Review, and a contributing editor to Human Events, The St. Croix Review, and The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.
When American Society Is Called "Racist" - to What Is It Being Compared?
In recent days, in the wake of a number of questionable interactions between the police and black men, there have been demonstrations, sometimes violent, proclaiming that "racism" is embedded in the American society. Addressing these protests, President Obama said that racism is "deeply rooted" in our country.
In an interview with BET early in December, Mr. Obama declared:
This is something that is deeply rooted in our history. When you're dealing with something as deeply rooted as racism or bias . . . you've got to have vigilance. . . .
Those who proclaim that America is a "racist" society do not tell us which other countries - either contemporary or historical - they are comparing it to. If they did look around the world - or through history - they would find that our society, although flawed as is every human endeavor, is unique - not for drawing lines between people but for embracing something quite different. American nationality is not based on common race, religion, or ethnic background, but on a commitment to live in a free and open society, with the fulfillment of the responsibilities of citizenship. Americans come in all colors, religions, and backgrounds. Japanese, Swedes, Nigerians and most other nations do not.
Those who proclaim the "racist society" thesis often go back to the question of slavery, as if this inhumane practice was an American invention. From the beginning of recorded history until the 19th century, slavery was the way of the world. Rather than some American uniqueness in practicing slavery, the fact is that in 1787, when the Constitution was being written, slavery was legal everyplace in the world. What stands out is that in the American colonies there was strenuous objection to slavery and that the most prominent framers of the Constitution wanted to eliminate it at the very start of the nation.
Slavery is as old as recorded history. Most people in the ancient world regarded slavery as a natural condition of life, one that could befall anyone at any time. It existed among nomadic pastoralists in Asia, hunting societies of North American Indians, and sea people such as the Norsemen. The legal codes of Sumeria provide documentary evidence that slavery existed there as early as the 4th millennium B.C. The Sumerian symbol for slaves in cuneiform writing suggests "foreign."
The poems of Homer supply evidence that slavery was an integral part of ancient Greek society, possibly as early as 1200 B.C. Plato opposed enslavement of Greeks by Greeks, regarding bondservants as essentially inferior beings. His pupil Aristotle considered slaves as mere tools, lucky to have the guidance of their masters. At the time of Pericles, Athens had 43,000 citizens, who alone were entitled to vote and discharge political functions, 28,500 metics, or resident aliens, and 115,000 slaves. A century and a half later, Demetrius of Phalerum took a census of the city and counted only 21,000 citizens, 10,000 metics and 400,000 slaves.
The Bible ratifies slavery, although it called for humane treatment of slaves. In England, 10 percent of the persons enumerated in the Domesday Book (A.D. 1086) were slaves, and these could be put to death with impunity. Portugal imported large numbers of African slaves to work her estates in the southern provinces and to do menial labor in the cities from 1444 on. By the middle of the 16th century, Lisbon had more black than white residents. In 1515, the Portugese king ordered that they be denied Christian burial and thrown into a "common ditch" called "Poco dos Negros."
When the Constitutional Convention met in Philadelphia in 1787, not a single nation had made slavery illegal. As they looked back through history, the framers saw slavery as an accepted and acceptable institution. It was not until 1792 that Denmark became the first Western nation to abolish the slave trade. What stands out historically is that so many of the leading men of the American colonies of that day wanted to eliminate it - and pressed vigorously to do so.
Benjamin Franklin and Alexander Hamilton were ardent abolitionists. John Jay, who would become the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, was president of the New York Anti-Slavery Society. Rufus King and Gouverneur Morris were in the forefront of the opposition to slavery and the slave trade. One of the great debates at the Constitutional Convention related to the African slave trade. George Mason of Virginia made an eloquent plea for making it illegal:
This infernal traffic originated in the avarice of British merchants. The British government constantly checked the attempt of Virginia to put a stop to it. . . . Slavery discourages arts and manufactures. The poor despise labor when performed by slaves. . . . Every master of slaves is born a petty tyrant. They bring the judgment of heaven on a country.
While many criticized the framers for not eliminating the slave trade immediately, others understood that they had set in motion an opposition to slavery that would bear fruit in the future. Oliver Ellsworth of Connecticut stated:
Slavery, in time, will not be a speck in our country. Provision is already made in Connecticut for abolishing it. And the abolition has already taken place in Massachusetts.
Professor Samuel Huntington points to the truly historic meaning of the Constitutional Convention and its product:
This is a new event in the history of mankind. Heretofore most governments have been formed by tyrants, and imposed on mankind by force. Never before did a people, in time of peace and tranquility, meet together by their representatives and, with calm deliberation, frame for themselves a system of government.
It took a Civil War, the Emancipation Proclamation, the civil rights movement, and legislation ending racial discrimination to move our society toward the goal of color-blindness, to judging each citizen, as Martin Luther King urged, on the content of his or her character, not the color of their skin. Today, black Americans face no glass ceilings. We have a black president and attorney general and have had two black Secretaries of State. Things are not perfect, and they never will be. But we should sometimes pause and remember how far we have come.
In a recent interview with New York Magazine, comedian Chris Rock, who is black, discussed his daughters:
I drop my kids off and watch them in the school with all these mostly white kids, and I got to tell you. I drill them every day: Did anything happen today? Did anybody say anything? They look at me like I am crazy. . . . My kids grew up not only with a black president but with a black Secretary of State, a black Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a black Attorney General. My children are going to be the first black children in the history of America to actually have the benefit of the doubt of just being moral, intelligent people. . . . The advantage that my children have is that my children are encountering the nicest white people that America has ever produced.
Ellis Close, who is black, wrote a book, The Rage of a Privileged Class, in 1993 in which he argued that many successful black Americans "were seething about what they saw as the nation's broken promise of equal opportunity." More recently, Close, a Newsweek columnist, wrote:
Now, Barack Obama sits in the highest office in the land and a series of high-powered African-Americans have soared to the uppermost realms of their professions. The idea of a glass ceiling is almost laughable. Serious thinkers are searching for a new vocabulary to explain an America where skin color is an unreliable marker of status. . . .
The history of the world, sadly, shows us people at war with one another over questions of race, religion, and ethnicity. Today, radical Islamists are killing people because they are of another religion. In Israel there are efforts to define the state as legally "Jewish," thereby making its 20 percent non-Jewish population less than full citizens. Russia has invaded and absorbed Crimea to absorb its ethnic Russian population. Anti-immigrant parties are gaining strength in Sweden, Denmark, England, Germany, and other European countries. When Britain left India, millions of Muslims were forced to leave Hindu-majority India and form Pakistan - at the cost of an untold number of lives. We have seen millions of Armenians slaughtered by Turks. We have witnessed genocide carried out by Nazi Germany, by Rwanda, by the Khmer Rouge. We could fill pages with a record of such horrors.
Those who glibly call America a "racist" society are not comparing it to anyplace in the real world, either historically or at the present time. They are comparing it to perfection and here, of course, we fail, as would any collection of human beings. But our collection of human beings includes men and women of every race and nation. There are problems and difficulties but the real story is our great success in molding a nation from people who have journeyed to our shores from every place on earth. As Herman Melville said many years ago, "If you shed a drop of American blood, you shed the blood of the whole world." This, not "racism," which, after all, is prevalent in one form or another, everywhere, is America's genuine achievement. Occasional eruptions of intolerance should not obscure this greater reality.
Anti-Police Rhetoric Misunderstands the Reality of Inner-city Life
The killings of two police officers in New York City has focused attention upon the anti-police rhetoric which, in the view of many, helped to create an atmosphere in which such an action could take place.
The New York gunman, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, wrote on social media that he intended to kill cops, and was angry about the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, who were killed by police officers in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York.
Police in New York believe that Mayor Bill de Blasio has helped create an anti-police atmosphere in the city. After two police lieutenants were attacked by protestors on the Brooklyn Bridge, de Blasio described them as having been "allegedly assaulted," terminology which many police officers found offensive.
There have been a number of instances in which the mayor's statements have antagonized the police. Earlier in December, de Blasio spoke to George Stephanopoulos of ABC News about his fears for his biracial son:
It's different for a white child. And with Dante, very early on with my son, we said, "Look, if a police officer stops you, do everything he tells you to do, don't move suddenly, don't reach for your cell phone," because we knew, sadly, there's a greater chance it might be misinterpreted if it was a young man of color.
This echoed previous statements the mayor had made, going back to a campaign ad in which he pointed to his Afro-wearing teenage son to explain his opposition to the New York Police Department's controversial "stop and frisk" tactic, which entailed stopping hundreds of thousands of people a year for what was deemed suspicious activity. The vast majority of those targeted were nonwhite and innocent of any wrongdoing.
The new mayor, the first Democrat to be elected in New York for twenty years, represents a sharp turn from the close alliance between his predecessors, Rudolf Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg, and law enforcement. Recriminations against de Blasio began within hours of the news that officers had been shot at point-blank range as they sat in their patrol car in the Bedford-Stuyvesant area of Brooklyn, and that the gunman had been motivated to kill them as retribution for the deaths of black men at the hands of police.
A video of the arrival of de Blasio and Police Commissioner William Bratton at the hospital, where officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos had been taken, showed dozens of police officers silently turning their backs. "There's blood on many hands . . ." said Patrick Lynch, president of the largest police union,
. . . those who incited violence on the street in the guise of protest, that tried to tear down what New York City police officers did every day. We tried to warn it must not go on, it shouldn't be tolerated. That blood on the hands starts at the steps of City Hall in the office of the mayor.
Former New York City officials are critical of what they call the "anti-cop" environment created by the White House, activists such as Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, as well as Mayor de Blasio and Attorney General Eric Holder. "We've had four months of propaganda starting with the president that everybody should hate the police," said former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani. "They have created an atmosphere of severe, strong, anti-police hatred in certain communities, and for that, they should be ashamed of themselves."
Former New York Governor George Pataki said that Mayor de Blasio and Attorney General Holder have frequently used divisive "anti-cop rhetoric." Relations between Mayor de Blasio and uniformed police officers have become so strained that "he probably needs an intermediary to go between himself and the unions, maybe a religious leader," said former New York police commissioner Ray Kelly. "I don't know how receptive the unions would be."
Steven Cohen, a professor at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs, says that:
The mayor needs to understand he's not an advocate anymore. He's an executive, and that means he has to act more as the mayor of the entire city than as the leader of a faction that helped him become mayor.
The fact is that the effort to stir hostility to the police, particularly in minority communities, is both divisive and based on a misunderstanding of reality. This does not mean, of course, that there are not occasional missteps by police officers, some of which have a racial element. These should be investigated and prosecuted, when appropriate. The larger picture, however, is quite different.
Neither of the police officers killed in New York was white. The officers in the patrol cars of New York City come from 50 countries and speak scores of languages. The Police Department, The New York Times reports:
. . . looks more like the city than ever. In two generations, as the city was becoming ever safer, the Police Department utterly changed its makeup.
Minorities make up the majority of the New York Police Department.
Heather MacDonald, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute. Writes in City Journal:
. . . a lie has overtaken significant parts of the country, resulting in growing mass hysteria. That lie holds that the police pose a mortal threat to black Americans - indeed that the police are the greatest threat facing black Americans today. . . . President Obama announced that blacks were right to believe that the criminal-justice system was often stacked against them. . . . Eric Holder escalated a long-running theme of his tenure as U.S. Attorney General - that the police routinely engaged in racial profiling and needed federal intervention to police properly. In an editorial justifying the Ferguson riots, The New York Times claimed that "The killing of young black men by police is a common feature of African American life, and a source of dread for black parents from coast to coast."
In fact, MacDonald points out:
Police killings of blacks are an extremely rare feature of black life and are a minute fraction of black homicide deaths. The police could end all killings of civilians tomorrow and it would have no effect on the black homicide risk, which comes overwhelmingly from other blacks. In 2013, there were 6,261 black homicide victims in the U.S. - almost all killed by black civilians - resulting in a death risk in inner cities that is ten times higher for blacks than for whites. None of those killings triggered mass protests; they are deemed normal and beneath notice. The police, by contrast, according to published reports, kill roughly 200 blacks a year, most of them armed and dangerous, out of about 40 million police-civilian contacts a year. Blacks are in fact killed by police at a lower rate than their threat to officers would predict. In 2013, blacks made up 42 percent of all cop-killers whose race was known, even though blacks are only 13 percent of the nation's population. The percentage of black suspects killed by the police nationally is 29 percent lower than the percentage of blacks mortally threatening them.
Prior to leaving New York to attend a White House summit on policing, Mayor de Blasio told the press that a "scourge" of killings by police is "based not just on decades but centuries of racism." After the Staten Island grand jury declined to indict an officer for homicide in Eric Garner's death, de Blasio declared:
People are saying black lives matter. It should be self-evident, but our history requires us to say "black lives matter." It was not years of racism, but centuries of racism.
He said he worries "every night" about the "dangers" (his biracial son Dante) may face from "officers who are paid to protect him."
The mayor seems to misunderstand the reality of today's New York City. There is no institution more committed to the idea that "black lives matter" than the New York City Police Department. Thousands of black men are alive today who would have been killed years ago had the data-driven policing under Mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg not brought down the homicide levels of the early 1990s. The police in New York fatally shot eight individuals last year, six of them black, all posing a risk to the police, compared with scores of blacks killed by black civilians.
Al Sharpton, who now is pictured standing as a key advisor beside both President Obama and Mayor de Blasio, first rose to fame by promoting the story that a black teenager, Tawana Brawley, was sexually assaulted by white law enforcement officials. There was not a word of truth to this story. Al Sharpton has never stopped his racially divisive agitation. Yet now he is welcome at the White House and at City Hall. At one New York protest, marchers chanted, "What do we want? Dead cops." Two public defenders from the Bronx participated in a rap video extolling cop killings. At a march across the Brooklyn Bridge, a group of people tried to throw trash cans onto the heads of officers on the level below them. Social media is filled with gloating at the deaths of the two New York officers. A student leader and a representative of the Afro-American Studies Department at Brandeis University tweeted that she has "no sympathy for the NYPD officers who were murdered today."
In Heather MacDonald's view:
The only good that can come out of this wrenching attack on civilization would be the delegitimation of the lie-based protest movement. Whether this will happen is uncertain. . . . The elites' investment in black victimology is probably too great to hope for an injection of truth in the dangerously counterfactual discourse about race, crime and policing.
Historically, contempt for those in uniform who protect us - and keep society safe - is nothing new. In his poem "Tommy," about the poor treatment encountered by British soldiers - except when "it comes to fightin'" - Rudyard Kipling wrote - as if he had contemporary police officers in mind:
O makin' mock o' uniforms that guard you while you sleep
Is cheaper than them uniforms, an' they're starvation cheap;
An' hustlin' drunken dodgers when they're goin' large a bit
Is five times better business than paradin' in full kit.
Then it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, ow's yer soul?"
But it's "Thin red lines of 'eroes" when the drums begin to roll,
The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,
O it's "Thin red lines of 'eroes" when the drums begin to roll.
Terror in Paris Raises the Question: Is the West Prepared for Jihadis Returning from Syria and Iraq?
The terror attacks in Paris raise many questions about how prepared the West, including our own country, is to confront Islamist terrorism, particularly in the face of thousands of young people holding French, British, American, and other Western passports who are now in the Middle East fighting with groups such as ISIS and al Qaeda. Before long, many of them will return, and events such as we have witnessed in Paris - and also at the Boston Marathon, the Madrid and London subways, and in Ottawa and Sydney - may proliferate.
In France, the assault on the journalists at Charlie Hebdo, the satirical journal, came at a time when tension was already growing between mainstream French society and its large Muslim immigrant community, the largest in Europe. The current best-selling book in France is the novel Submission by Michel Houellebecq who imagines France in 2022 with a Muslim president. Another best-seller at the present time is The French Suicide, in which journalist Eric Zemmour argues that the 1968 student uprisings and immigration, among other things, have set France on a path to ruin.
"I think this anxiety is the idea of seeing France give up on itself, of changing to the point of no longer being recognizable," said the philosopher Alain Finkielkraut, whose 2013 book, The Unhappy Identity, discussed the problems immigration poses for French identity and cultural integration. "People are homesick at home," he says.
Both Zemmour and Houellebecq approach the subject differently, but speak to the same anxiety. Christophe Barbier, the editor of L'Express, says, "It's the same book, in that both talk about the same subject: the irreversible rise of Islam in society and politics."
France has, it seems, failed to assimilate its immigrant population and transmit to them the Western values of, among other things, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of the press. In many neighborhoods, city officials have virtually ceded control to Islamists. Soeren Kern, an analyst at the Gatestone Institute and author of annual reports on The Islamization of France, declares that:
The situation is out of control, and it is not reversible. Islam is a permanent part of France now. It is not going away. I think the future looks very bleak. The problem is a lot of these younger-generation Muslims are not integrating into French society. Although they are French citizens, they don't really have a future in French society. They feel very alienated from France. This is why radical Islam is so attractive because it gives them a sense of meaning in their lives.
The Muslim population of France reached 6.5 million, or 10 percent of its 66 million people. Some Muslim activists predict that France will be a Muslim-majority country in the not too distant future. Gatestone reports that an intelligence document leaked to Le Figaro said that Muslims are creating a separate public school society "completely cut off from non-Muslim students." Over one thousand French supermarkets are selling Islamic books that call for jihad and the killing of non-Muslims. Last year, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said:
We are fighting terrorism outside of France, but we are also fighting an internal enemy since there are those French who fit into the process of radicalization. This enemy must be fought with the greatest determination.
One of the two brothers involved in the Charlie Hebdo killings traveled to Yemen in 2011 and received terrorist training from al Qaeda's affiliate there before returning to France. Said Kouachi, 34, spent several months training in small arms combat, marksmanship, and other skills. Both French and American officials were aware that Kouachi had trained in Yemen, inspired by Anwar Al-Awlaki, the American-born cleric who by 2011 had become a senior operational figure for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Before he was killed in an American drone strike in Sept. 2011, he repeatedly called for the killing of cartoonists who insulted the Prophet Muhammad.
France has struggled for years to keep track of extremists while avoiding measures that would alienate ordinary Muslims and increase the risk of a violent response. Jonathan Laurence, author of The Emancipation of Europe's Muslims, reports that intelligence services in European countries had so many residents with jihadist sympathies that it was very hard to separate those who merely offer verbal support for groups claiming to fight for Islam from those who are prepared to take up arms. "Mass surveillance of an entire community is not an option because civil liberties also need to be balanced with the potential benefit it will gain," said Laurence.
The Islamic State has attracted a large number of European-born Muslims, and some Americans, to Syria and Iraq in recent months and is seen to be encouraging blowback terrorist attacks in the countries from which they come and whose passports they carry. Targeting Charlie Hebdo was
. . . . deftly chosen: not a religious symbol, but a symbol of what democratic freedoms are, exactly where the Islamic State wants to drive a wedge between European Muslims and their fellow citizens. . . .
said Jean-Pierre Filiu, a French scholar who studies Islamic extremism.
In Filiu's view, the "plan backfired because of the unanimous condemnation of this heinous attack in France and throughout the Muslim world." He said that the widespread expressions of disdain toward the incident from Islamic leaders across Europe, several of who publicly called for tolerance, were underscored by the fact that one of the 12 people killed in the attack was a French policeman who was Muslim.
"As a Muslim, killing innocent people in the name of Islam is much, much more offensive to me than any cartoon can ever be," wrote pro-democracy activist Iyad El-Baghdadi in a statement that was re-tweeted more than 26,000 times in a single day.
It is important for Europe's long-term well being that all Muslims are not demonized, but that radical Islamists are isolated and carefully monitored. Muslims will clearly play an important role in Europe's future. In Germany, it is projected that there will be 4.8 million Muslims in 2020. The number will account for roughly 6 percent of the nation's total population, up from 4.5 percent in 2000. Even bigger surges are underway in Britain, Spain, and France, according to a Pew Research Center study. Muslims are projected to make up 6.5 percent of Britain's population by 2020, up from 2.7 percent in 2000.
The difference between traditional Islam and the radical religion promoted by the Islamic State, al Qaeda and other extremists is something non-Muslims often do not understand. The Koran, for example, does not anywhere forbid creating images of Muhammad, although there are later commentaries and traditions that do -"Hadith" - to guard against idol worship. This is hardly unique. The Old Testament forbids "graven images." The word "blasphemy" does not appear in the Koran. Islamic scholar Maulana Wahiduddin Khan points out that:
There are more than 200 verses in the Koran, which reveal that the contemporaries of the prophets repeatedly perpetrated the same act, which is now "blasphemy or abuse of the prophet.". . . but nowhere does the Koran prescribe the punishment of lashes, or death, or any other physical punishment. . . . In Islam, blasphemy is a subject of intellectual discussion rather than a subject of physical punishment.
Historically, Islam has not been an intolerant religion. In 1492, when the Catholic King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella expelled the Jews from Spain, they were welcomed into the Ottoman Empire and other Muslim countries. When the Spanish Inquisition was killing men and women for their religious beliefs, Jews and Christians found much more tolerance and religious freedom under Islam. Now, unfortunately, many Muslim majority countries look very much like medieval Spain. Pakistan, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Egypt, Turkey, and Sudan have all used blasphemy laws to jail and harass people, according to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. Saudi Arabia forbids the practice of any religion other than its own Wahhabi version of Islam.
Europe has a choice. It can try to assimilate its Muslim immigrants into Western society, transmitting the values of freedom, democracy, and tolerance of diverse views. It can, in doing so, use America as a model, in which immigrants from every part of the world, of every race, religion, and ethnic background have been transformed into Americans, Muslims included. Or it can isolate immigrants, telling them that they can never be "French," or "German," or "British," and alienate young people so that they are driven into the hands of Al Qaeda and the Islamic State.
If European countries did not intend to assimilate immigrants into their societies, they should not have permitted them to enter. Now that they are there, and appear increasingly alienated, it is essential that positive steps be taken to avoid future chaos. And it is important that Muslims themselves isolate the extremists in their community and become determined to become full citizens of the countries in which they live. As those engaged in jihad in the Middle East return to Europe, a perfect storm will be faced unless positive steps are taken. If those who rail against immigrants, and Islamic fundamentalists, come to dominate their respective communities, Europe's future will be bleak. This may be a lesson to take away from the Paris terror attacks.
Confronting Torture: A Violation of American Values
The heated debate over the Senate Intelligence Committee's report on our government's use of torture is often asking the wrong questions. The report is being criticized for not having interviewed CIA personnel involved in the program. This is a legitimate criticism. The report is criticized for categorically stating that no worthwhile information was obtained by such procedures. We have no way of knowing whether this is true. The CIA argues that it is not.
The real argument against the use of torture is not that it is ineffective in gaining worthwhile information, which most experts argue is the case, but that it is illegal, immoral, and in violation of American values. Both liberals and conservatives should be in agreement on this matter. Liberals object to inhumane treatment of prisoners, and conservatives are concerned about out-of-control big government, conducted in secret.
Senator John McCain (R-AZ), who was taken prisoner during the Vietnam War and suffered years of torture at the hands of the North Vietnamese, declared that America never engaged in torture against German and Japanese prisoners of war during World War II, against North Korean prisoners during the Korean War, or against North Vietnamese and Viet Cong prisoners during the Vietnam War. We put on trial those who were guilty of torturing Americans. Torture, McCain declared, is not the American way. Beyond this, he noted that, "I know from personal experience that the abuse of prisoners will produce more bad than good intelligence."
Ironically, one of the reasons repeatedly stated by President George W. Bush for the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 was the maintenance of "torture rooms" by Saddam Hussein. Andrew Napolitano, a former judge of the Superior Court of New Jersey, and an analyst for Fox News Channel, says of the Senate report that:
. . . it is damning in the extreme to the Bush administration and to the CIA leadership. It offers proof that the CIA engaged in physical and psychological torture, some of which was authorized - unlawfully, yet authorized - most of which was not. The report also demonstrates that CIA officials repeatedly lied to the White House and to Senate regulators about what they were doing and they lied about the effectiveness of the torture. If the allegations in the report are true, we have war criminals, perjurers, computer hackers and thugs on the government payroll.
The fact is, as Judge Napolitano points out:
All torture is criminal under all circumstances - under treaties to which the U.S. is a party, under the Constitution that governs the government wherever it goes, and under federal law. Torture degrades the victim and the perpetrator. It undermines the moral authority of a country whose government condones it. It destroys the rule of law. It exposes our own folks to the awful retaliatory beheadings we have all seen. . . . It is a recruiting tool for those who have come to cause us harm.
Historically, in wartime, we have done things we later regretted. Civil liberties have been abused. Abraham Lincoln suspended the writ of habeas corpus during the Civil War. During World War II, we imprisoned more than 127,000 Japanese-Americans. Similarly, after the attacks on 9/11, there was uncertainty and fear, which led to the actions recorded in the Senate report. "Still," The Washington Times noted editorially:
. . . it's difficult to argue with John McCain . . . a man who learned something about torture and its limits in the notorious North Vietnamese prison the American prisoners called, with grim irony, "the Hanoi Hilton."
Defending the release of the Senate report, which was opposed by many of his fellow Republicans, Sen. McCain said:
What might come as a surprise, not just to our enemies, but to many Americans is how little these practices did to aid our efforts to bring 9/11 culprits to justice and to find and prevent attacks today and tomorrow. That could be a real surprise since it contradicts the many assurances provided by intelligence officials on the record and in private that enhanced interrogation technique were indispensable in the war against terrorism. I suspect the objection of those same officials to the release of this report is really focused on that disclosure, torture's ineffectiveness, because we gave up much in the expectation that torture would make us safer. Too much.
We now know that 26 of those detained - and tortured - were held in error. One of these, Mohamed Bashmilah, was held in secret prisons for 19 months. He was kept shackled alone in freezing-cold cells in Afghanistan, subjected to loud music 24 hours a day. He attempted suicide at least three times, once by saving pills and swallowing them all at once; once by slashing his wrists; and once by trying to hang himself. Another time, he cut himself and used his own blood to write "this is unjust" on the wall.
Until 9/11, the U.S. had officially condemned secret imprisonment as a violation of basic international standards of human rights. But like the program on torture, it was set aside in an effort to prevent another attack. In one case, Laid Saidi, an Algerian identified in the Senate report as Abu Hudhaifa, was held in Afghanistan for 16 months. The Senate report says that he "was subjected to ice water baths and 66 hours of sleep deprivation before being released because the CIA discovered he was not the person he was believed to be."
John Sifton of Human Rights Watch notes that:
You have an agency that has been presenting itself to Congress and the public as very professional, on top of everything. The report shows that they were flying by the seat of their pants. They were making it up as they went along.
In a democratic society, non-elected government bureaucrats are responsible for carrying out the laws passed by our elected representatives in the Congress, which are thusly executed by the executive branch. In the instance of torture, we see something quite different - secret government with men and women who have not been elected by anyone, engaged in actions which are illegal, and keeping such action secret from elected officials. For four years, according to CIA records, no one from the agency ever came to the White House to give President George W. Bush a full briefing on what was happening in the dungeons of Afghanistan and Eastern Europe. For four years, interrogators stripped, slammed, soaked and otherwise abused their prisoners without informing the president - or the congressional oversight committees. Finally, in April 2006, the CIA director gave President Bush his first briefing about interrogation practices being used since 2002.
In that briefing, the president was told about one detainee being chained to the ceiling of his cell, clothed in a diaper and forced to urinate and defecate upon himself. The president is reported to have "expressed discomfort." According to the Senate report, "The CIA repeatedly provided incomplete and inaccurate information" to the White House. But it may be that the White House, and the congressional oversight committees, really didn't want to know exactly what was going on, in which case they are equally culpable.
We must, of course, recognize the fears that were widespread after 9/11 - as was the fear after Pearl Harbor. People fearful of another brutal attack often act in ways that, in a more tranquil time, would never be considered. As Sen. McCain said:
I understand the reasons that governed the decision to resort to these interrogation methods, and I know that those who approved them and those who used them were dedicated to securing justice for the victims of terrorist attacks and to protecting Americans from further harm. . . . But I dispute wholeheartedly that it was right for them to use these methods, which the report makes clear were neither in the best interests of justice nor our security nor the ideals we have sacrificed so much blood and treasure to defend.
Even in the worst of times, concluded McCain, "We are always Americans and different, stronger, and better than those who would destroy us." With the Senate report we are acknowledging before the world that in a moment of great tension and fear, we violated our own deeply held principles. We always used to say, "Americans don't torture." Hopefully, we can say this again and make certain that our government is not conducted in secret but in the light of day, as was intended by the Founding Fathers. *