Torture and the Pledge and the Meaning of America


"God bless America? No, god damn America!" - Jeremiah Wright

“God bless America? No, god damn America!” – Jeremiah Wright

Given what we now know of our government using torture, primarily through the CIA, and approved of by the White House, can someone still ethically consider themselves to be a proud American? And is it ethically correct to continue to say the Pledge of Allegiance?

Now I don’t say the Pledge anyhow. I consider it an odious little loyalty oath with religious overtones, and as an American, I’m happy to assert my freedom to not say it. But I know I’m an outlier here, so let’s consider this through the eyes of two Christian writers talking about our country and it great national shame.

Consider this from writer Benjamin L. Corey:

Still, even with the biblical arguments that I feel are straight forward (“I pledge allegiance to the flag” vs “…but I tell you, do not take a pledge”), some Christians are hesitant to let go of this tradition that as children we were indoctrinated to engage in– and I understand that. When you’ve had nationalism and tradition drilled into your head for years on end it can be hard to step back and realize that maybe we’ve been wrong– that’s how indoctrination works and why it’s so hard to break free from it. We grow up being taught that America is the greatest nation that has ever existed, that we are exceptional compared to others, that we are a “Christian” nation, and that whatever we do is good, right, and justified. And so, pledging to give our allegiance to such an entity is an easy sell, as the narrative we are given doesn’t seem on the surface to conflict with some basic understandings of following Jesus.

However, the release of the now infamous CIA Torture Report should be the final blow that closes the case on Christians reciting the pledge of allegiance. From reading the report, it should now be crystal clear to anyone who has read the teachings of Jesus as found in scripture that one cannot swear their allegiance to America while simultaneously giving our allegiance to the alternate way of Jesus. Absolutely, positively, impossible.

The contents of the report reveal what the US has done, and what has been done is anti-Christ– pure, absolute evil.

How a Jesus person could continue to swear allegiance to an entity that engages in behaviors that are so unarguably anti-Christ, sins against God, and crimes against humanity, is beyond me.

And:

Personally, I can think of no more of a compelling reason to close the case on Christians reciting the pledge of allegiance: we can pledge our allegiance to Jesus and his way of enemy love (which he said was a requirement to become God’s children), or we can pledge our allegiance to the empire who tortures and kills its enemies (the opposite of what Christ tells us to do, thus being an “anti-Christ” nation). But, I don’t see how one could do both, as they are complete opposites. As much as I hate lines, I don’t see how this isn’t one: we can follow Jesus, or follow America, but we cannot follow both Jesus and America at the same time as they are busy doing opposite things.

We also have the following from Kyle Cupp, writing in response to Corey:

Fidelity to any organization will at times mean aligning oneself with institutional evil, remotely and materially if not formally. If you belong to an organization, you will have to tolerate evil, sometimes very grave evil. No organization is exempt from structural sin–not the state, not the church. Nevertheless, some evils are so intolerable, so embedded in an institution, that you cannot in good conscience pledge allegiance to that institution.

And:

The United States of America receives no special graces or blessings that keep it mostly on the side of Christ. It’s not and never has been a “Christian nation.” It is not the world’s savior. American Christians do not owe their nation permanent loyalty.

It’s really an interesting question. Can you be a good and decent Christian (or Jew, or Muslim, or Hindu, or whatever), and still pledge loyalty to a country that has engaged in such ruthless, beyond-the-pale evil as the United States? If you do, can you pledge equal loyalty? Which is more important, your god or your country? Can one man effectively serve two masters?

The religious aspects of this aren’t important to me, really, since I’m an atheist. But the moral arguments remain. I don’t say the Pledge, but I do participate in other aspects of American life. I quite happily pay my taxes, for example, and I would serve on a jury if asked.

But…can I continue to do those things, thus supporting my country, while at the same time, that country has engaged in something so hideously evil and immoral?

I think I can, but only under certain circumstances. If we eventually bring to justice those involved in torture, and punish the guilty as they deserve, then, yes, I absolutely can continue to support my country and do so with a clear conscience. In fact, I’d be quite happy, because it would show that the self-correcting mechanisms we have in our country are working.

But what if we don’t prosecute? What if we just shrug, and let the international community do it for us? Well, in that case, if we at least extradite for trial those involved (up to and including Bush and Cheney, and even Obama if he participated in a cover-up), then I’ll be less happy than I would be if we handled it ourselves, but least we would have allowed others to take up the responsibility. A valid argument could be made that perhaps that’s what we should do.

Suppose, though, that we fight war crimes trials every step of the way, and don’t allow the international bodies to bring to justice those who so richly deserve it? What do I do then?

I don’t really know. I think the answer might be that I’d have to step away from supporting this country. I’m not entirely sure what that would mean. It might mean, for example, refusing to pay my taxes, knowing full-well that I’d go to prison for doing so. It might mean making it clear that I won’t serve on a jury, or ever vote again.

I don’t know what I’ll do. Hopefully I won’t have to find out. It’s been only six days since the torture report was released. Let’s see where I’m at when it’s been 60 days, or 600. Then I might have some idea of what I’ll do.

“These CIA representations were inaccurate…”


510px-CIA.svg

The CIA lied. They straight-up lied. They lied to Congress, they lied to the White House, they lied to the American people, and they lied to themselves. They’ve proven themselves beyond the pale, and they’ve proven that they are a deeply untrustworthy, rogue agency.

The quote in the headline comes from the torture report, where there was an analysis on the “usefulness” of the information that torture extracted from people. Time and again the conclusion of the report is that “These CIA representations were inaccurate”.

To sum up, the CIA tortured people with, at the very least, the tacit approval of George W Bush and Dick Cheney. They lied about it to Congress, to the White House (mostly Obama), the American public, and to other parts of the CIA. They lied, lied, lied.

It is time, I think, to end the CIA. They have been very useful at various points in our past, but they missed the fall of the Soviet Union, toppled democratically-elected governments in various countries (notably Chile and Iran, where we still feel the aftereffects of what they did in the 1950s), and may have engaged in assassination. They certainly engaged in torture.

We need to get rid of the CIA and replace it. I’m not sure with what. I don’t really want the NSA to get expanded powers, for example. Perhaps we could broaden the FBI’s charter. They do excellent work, after all, and since Hoover died, have proven to be a way better agency than the CIA. Or perhaps we could simply create something new with very clearly defined powers and boundaries.

But it’s time for the CIA to die the death it should have died in 1991.

The Next Step


So we continue to discuss the torture report. *sigh* I’d like to think that we’ll be taking steps to do something about this, but we won’t; certainly not in a court of law. But allow me to discuss what I’d like to see in the next few years.

First off, if we don’t already have an independent, special prosecutor/team of such people investigating this with an eye toward filing charges, then we should.

Second, assuming there is enough evidence to go forward (and with Cheney bragging on TV about how we tortured people, I think this is likely), then charges need to be filed against everyone who was involved in this at all levels. Everyone from the CIA personnel who carried out the torture (and no, “I was just following orders” still isn’t a valid defense), on up to anyone who approved it being used to anyone who participated in covering-up it’s use. This would certainly include Cheney, probably Bush, and maybe Condeleeza Rice and Donald Rumsfeld, among others.

Now I do want to emphasize that these people stand accused of, and in Cheney’s case have admitted to, breaking American laws. I’m not even looking at the international aspect of this.

It is also worth remembering that we don’t actually have a choice, legally, about prosecuting them. We signed several treaties about things like torture, and under the guidelines of those treaties (which carry the force of law in the USA), we are legally required to prosecute.

Once that’s all done, and we’ve finished with the trials, we then should turn over any evidence and suspects to an international war crimes tribunal. Yes, this in theory means that an ex-American President would be facing trial in a foreign court. If we don’t do this voluntarily, then I suggest the various national courts of other countries start going after those involved. This means things like extradition requests and the like.

Lest this come off as something partisan (and how being against torture can be a partisan issue is beyond me), allow me to state clearly that I think everyone involved in the torture and cover-up should face criminal charges. This means that if there is evidence Obama helped in the cover-up, then Obama should also face charges.

I’m completely in favor of a scorched earth policy here. It’s terrible, but so is what we did. We need to own up to that, and we need to face the consequences, otherwise this country we all love will be one of the nastier things on Earth: a rogue nation outside international laws.

Not a Valid Reason


Fallout is continuing over the release yesterday of the torture report. Predictably, it is falling along party lines, which is kind of horrific. I mean, if you’re a Republican, do you really want to be on the side of torture, or are you just having a knee-jerk “if the Dems are fer it, I’m agin it!” kind of reaction?

Anyhow, I saw a man on CNN yesterday. I believe he was a former FBI agent. He seemed to believe that the release of this report puts American lives in danger. The implication is that we therefore shouldn’t have released it.

I agree with part of this. It does indeed put American lives at risk. Americans in Iraq, Afghanistan, and a number of other countries are now less safe than they were last week. It is not, however, a good reason to have not released the report.

No, instead it’s a good reason to not have tortured anyone in the first place.

But we did, and now we have to pay for that, and it’s a shame that part of that payment is likely to be in blood. I’ll say this, though. The sooner we get trials going and really show the world we’re not going to take this sitting down, the better off everyone will be.

When We Fail…


…we fail big. The torture report has been released (also here, where Sully is live-blogging his reactions to the report, and bringing up some delightful highlights), and, yeah, we used the sort of tactics that twenty years ago we would have loudly, and rightly, condemned other nations for using. These include things like sexually violating suspects.

With the approval of the C.I.A.’s medical staff, some C.I.A. prisoners were subjected to medically unnecessary “rectal feeding” or “rectal hydration” — a technique that the C.I.A.’s chief of interrogations described as a way to exert “total control over the detainee.”

There were also victims with broken limbs who were forced to stand in “stress positions”. Those are positions that put particular stresses on…well, various limbs. If those limbs are already broken, it’s a pretty terrible experience.

Oh, and apparently we liked telling people they if they didn’t cooperate, we’d rape their mothers in front of them.

People were tortured to death, innocent people were tortured, and we didn’t even get any useful information about bin Laden out of all this.

If you support these tactics, then you are a fundamentally immoral person.

Let me be very blunt here. The United States government, working through the CIA (a now completely rogue agency who has lied to the White House and Congress), engaged in massive amounts of torture and then tried to cover it up. This torture was approved of by Dick Cheney at least, and probably by then-President Bush. This torture was a clear violation of United States law and international law.

The Department of Justice needs to, at this point, assign some special prosecutors. Even if (especially if), the current President, the CIA and Congress don’t want that to happen, it still should. Even if the American public doesn’t want it to happen, it still should. Bush, Cheney, and everyone involved needs to be brought to justice and, yes, if found guilty, even go to prison for what was done.

These people destroyed about 225 years of goodwill that we’d built up with the world. People could say we were arrogant and obnoxious, and they’d be right. They could say we were bullies, and they’d be right about that, too. They could say we’d be hypocrites, who toppled democracies we didn’t like in order to install dicatorships that we did like. They could say all of those things, and be absolutely, 100% correct.

But until Bush/Cheney and the CIA came along, they couldn’t say we tortured people. Now they can.

So what are we going to do about it?

About the Other Night


I was working Tuesday and Wednesday, so I haven’t had a chance to really chime in with my opinions on what happened on election night. Let’s go over a few things.

– Marijuana legalization moved forward
– Minimum wages were increased by four states
– Abortion access was protected
– The Republicans got a majority in the Senate

During the time Obama has been in office, we’ve seen unemployment cut nearly in half, from a height of 10% during the mid-point of his first year in office down to the current rate of 5.9%. The stock market has, and continues to have, record highs. Bin Laden is dead, GM is alive. The GDP is up. The deficit is down. We’re out of Afghanistan, for the most part, and barely in Iraq (though stay tuned). Syria’s chemical weapons are gone. We’re engaging in talks with Iran. Russia is reeling from the economic sanctions imposed upon them. Millions of Americans have health insurance who did not (myself, two of my friends), and millions of others are paying way less for their medical coverage (my mom). That’s all coverage that can’t be denied for pre-existing conditions and can’t be cancelled when you’re sick.

So, yes, a litany of failures, and extremely poor poll numbers, as the Republicans would have us believe (though the poll numbers aren’t bad and have actually been steady). The sad part is that for some reason, the Democrats believed it, too. If you’re a Democrat, whether you voted or not, you share some of the blame for the fact that the GOP somehow won in the Senate.

For those of you who did vote Republican, let me ask you this: if there had been a president who accomplished all of those things, but was a Republican, would you have voted for him? Don’t lie. You would have. You know you would. You know this because Reagan did way less than that and still managed to get re-elected.

Though, to be fair, Reagan was white and not a Democrat.

Let me address the second part of that sentence first. The Democratic party is full of a bunch of pussies. They absolutely refuse to stand up for the things they believe in, and do so loudly and with passion. We finally have something approximating universal health care, something that was in the works for one-hundred years, and the Democrats couldn’t run from it fast enough. We have a president who stood up for gay marriage and eliminated Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Yet someone like Clay Aiken, who now one presumes is on his way back to whatever he has left of a musical career, had the temerity to claim that he, Aiken, wasn’t interested in same-sex marriage rights, and turned down a chance for the President to come and campaign for him.

Let me restate that: an openly gay, first time politician was running for office, and refused to speak up for gay rights and let the President come campaign for him. Aiken did this in a cynical ploy to somehow get get votes from the sort of people who wouldn’t vote for him if you held a gun to their heads. He lost, by the way.

But that’s just the start. Here in Arizona, I got to watch all sorts of unpleasant campaign ads. The Republican ones were generally awful, but the Democratic ones were just as bad, though in a different way. They were bad because it was the Democrats running rapidly away from their party and their president. They couldn’t distance themselves fast enough.

They won handily, by the way, but thanks to the huge advantage incumbents have, mixed in with massive levels of gerrymandering, they were going to win no matter what.

Democrats were almost certain to lose control of the Senate regardless. That’s what usually happens in off-year elections; the party of the President loses seats in Congress (especially in a year like this, where it was mostly red states voting for Senators). There are a bunch of reasons for this, most of which center around the reality of governing verses the promises of the campaign. I know there are many, many liberals out there who didn’t vote this time around because they’re disappointed in various aspects of Obama’s presidency, like the NSA spying on Americans, the drone strikes, the fact that the ACA is a big blowjob to the insurance industry, and other things.

Hey, those are all valid reasons to not vote. I’m sure the Republicans will be waaaay better on those issues anyhow.

To be fair this is not a new thing for Democrats. We’re very, very good at running from ourselves. This started back in the day when we allowed the Republicans to turn “liberal” into a dirty word. I am a liberal, a Socialist to be exact. Even I instinctively cringe a bit from the phrase, “latte-sipping liberal” and want to try and make excuses. What I should be doing, what we should all be doing, is standing up and saying, “Yeah, so?”

We have a thirty-plus year legacy of rolling over and ignoring our positions. We need to knock that shit off and be proud of who we are. We need to stop being a slightly left centrist party and embrace our liberalness.

Now to the racial issue. Don’t even pretend there isn’t one. You know there is. It might get dismissed, but it is there. Bill Maher once observed that not all Republicans are racist, which is very true, but that if you are racist, you’re more likely to vote Republicans. The Republicans never, ever, express this openly, but it’s a fact, and they campaign on those points. Why else do you think there was all this stuff about Obama as an outsider? A Muslim, a Kenyan, an anti-colonialist (that being against colonialism is a negative in this of all countries makes me laugh and weep), and basically everything except a red-blooded American. Muslims, Kenyans, and people who were against British colonization in recent years have all been, you know, not white. So even if the Republicans are too cowardly to openly cater to the racist vote, they’re happy to do so in various non-subtle ways.

Now…on a practical level, what does all this mean? Well, I expect either more gridlock, since now the Democrats can prevent things from exiting the Senate with a mere 51% of the vote, or just possibly some sort of detente where the Republicans realize that now they have to govern. Maybe they’ll give up on their impossible quest to kill Obamacare and get into the much more reasonable quest of fixing it, because there are some problems with it that need fixing.

I’d like to hope that’s the case. I’d like to hope that now they have some power, the Republicans will actually be allowed to govern. But that’s not up to me, the Democrats, or the President. It’s up to the Tea Party Republicans. It’s up to those people who have been elected on a pledge to never compromise, and to fight to destroy everything Obama has touched, no matter the consequences.

If the Republicans can successfully stifle that wing of the party, well…things might happen. Maybe even some good things. If they don’t, well, there’s a solution coming up in 2016. Maybe we on the left can, as a group, go back to embracing what makes us great. Maybe we can retake the House and the Senate. The White House is…well, I don’t want to say it’s a given, but it’s pretty likely we’ll have that, too.

And if we fail, and if we lose in the elections, let’s fail by standing up for who we are, and not pretending we’re something we aren’t.

A Modest Proposal


We really do need to reform our electoral system. The current version (winner-takes-all), is kind of a mess and doesn’t really work that well. CGP Grey has an interesting series of videos about reforming the electoral process. Here’s the latest.

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