Morality National Security Politics

Torture is worse than immoral: it’s tactically stupid

Former CIA operative and current thriller writer Barry Eisler as interviewed by Scott Horton:

[T]orture is also an excellent way to get the subject to confess to anything at all, which is why it was a wonderful tool for the Spanish Inquisition and for the secret police of assorted totalitarian regimes. But if the goal is to produce accurate, actionable intelligence, torture is madness, as Alexander argues in his book, How to Break a Terrorist: The U.S. Interrogators Who Used Brains, Not Brutality, to Take Down the Deadliest Man in Iraq. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, torture is worse than immoral: it’s tactically stupid. It produces false confessions, which can be used to confirm mistaken suspicions and even outright policy fantasies; it instills an insatiable thirst for vengeance in most people who are subjected to it, and so creates new, dedicated enemies; it permanently brutalizes its practitioners; and it cuts us off from intelligence from the local populace because so many people will refuse to inform on someone if they fear he’ll be tortured. [my emphasis]

Bush’s use of torture in the War on Terror demonstrated this amply – for example in the contrasting stories of Abu Jandal and Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi.

Foreign Policy Morality National Security

The Opposite of Counterinsurgency

Simon Romero in the New York Times:

Military officials chafe at the reports of abuses. “Human rights people say, ‘Some civilians have been killed, how horrible,’ ” Defense Minister Ántero Flores Aráoz said in an interview in Lima. As for Rosa Chávez Sihuincha, the pregnant woman killed in Río Seco, he suggested that she got what she deserved.

“What the hell was she doing in Vizcatán?” he said. “Was she praying the rosary? No way. Either she was transporting coca leaves for processing or she was taking chemical products or she was part of the logistics of this Shining Path group.”

It’s incredible what can be justified by war.


The Pope Is Lying To Us

[digg-reddit-me]1. What is a lie? According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

“A lie consists in speaking a falsehood with the intention of deceiving.” The Lord denounces lying as the work of the devil: “You are of your father the devil, . . . there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”

Lying is the most direct offense against the truth. To lie is to speak or act against the truth in order to lead someone into error. By injuring man’s relation to truth and to his neighbor, a lie offends against the fundamental relation of man and of his word to the Lord.

The gravity of a lie is measured against the nature of the truth it deforms, the circumstances, the intentions of the one who lies, and the harm suffered by its victims. If a lie in itself only constitutes a venial sin, it becomes mortal when it does grave injury to the virtues of justice and charity.

2. The Pope said that condoms “aggravate” the problem of AIDS.  Pope Benedict XVI in Africa today stated that the AIDS crisis is:

a tragedy that cannot be overcome by money alone, that cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which even aggravates the problems.

3. To “aggravate” means to “worsen” or “make worse.” 

4. Condoms are extremely effective in preventing the transmission of HIV/AIDS.  The Center for Disease Control:

Latex condoms, when used consistently and correctly, are highly effective in preventing heterosexual sexual transmission of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Research on the effectiveness of latex condoms in preventing heterosexual transmission is both comprehensive and conclusive. 

The CDC report continued:

even with repeated sexual contact, 98-100% of those people who used latex condoms correctly and consistently did not become infected.

5. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Conclusion: The Pope is lying – and rejecting truth.

Or he is willfully refusing to believe the facts – which is a form of lying. Given the measures of the gravity of a lie from the Catechism, this must be considered a very grave lie. People will surely get AIDS because of this statement.

I am sure for many this is no revelation – as they believe the Catholic Church is fundamentally corrupt. The Pope’s statement here is not much further than previous statements which emphasized that condoms are no 100% effective in preventing AIDS. But the brazenness and the irresponsibility of this statement is truly breathtaking. People will die because they trusted the Pope – who is lying to them for all the world to see.

As a Catholic…I don’t know how to react. But the conclusion – that the Pope is lying cannot really be disputed. That his lie is not the power-protecting lie that we are used to from the Vatican – but one that will cause deaths – makes it all the worse.

It’s hard to see anything at the moment short of the fact that a rigid ideology can warp a mind – so that clear falsehoods must be declared true in order to maintain the edifice of belief – no matter the cost. This is more than a moral failure. It is a crime. It is a grave sin. 

How does the Catholic Church respond to this? At what point must the Pope acknowledge the sense of the faithful that birth control is not a sin? How can there be accountability in a monarchic system such as the Church?

Baseball Morality Prose Reflections

The Latitude To Be Human

Former centerfielder and now occasional Times columnist Doug Glanville defends Alexander Rodriguez in the only way possible, asking that we not judge this man too harshly, or any of our fellow humankind, for despite the near perfection of A-Rod’s game, he, like all of us, needs the latitude to be human:

So whether you are A-Rod or the last guy to make the team out of spring training, you might not always be as forthcoming as some would like. It could be for fear of not living up to something, or to keep someone safe, or maybe it’s pure deception — all the ways we all use to avoid facing certain unpleasantries in our lives. It’s human nature to preserve and protect. And even though this game inspires magic, its magicians need the latitude to be human.



Earlier this week, the New York Times ran a story by Manny Fernandez that seems too perfect to be true. The story tells of a rabbi who, being threatened by the local head of the Ku Klux Klan, converted him to Judaism.

This is one of those stories that seems to perfectly encapsulate the sacramental nature of the world, as I understand it.

Morality National Security The War on Terrorism

Does Torture Work?

Lt-Col Vandeveld, a former military prosecutor at Guantanamo:

Torture may result in reliable information — no question about that. But is torture reconcilable with our basic humanity or with America’s desire to be an example to the rest of the world? The answer is no. Torture, however you define it, is wrong, appalling, immoral.

While the overall point Vandeveld is making – that America should not torture – is one I would expect, his initial hedging – “Torture may result in reliable information” surprised me. Aside from top-level political appointees, I’m not sure that I’ve seen anyone in the military in fields related to interrogation acknowledge that torture might work. And many spoke out against it.

What I’ve seen more of are comments like that of “Matthew Alexander” – a pseudonym used to protect the interrogator’s identity. He was one of the interrogators whose information led to the killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. He wrote:

I should have felt triumphant when I returned from Iraq in August 2006. Instead, I was worried and exhausted. My team of interrogators had successfully hunted down one of the most notorious mass murderers of our generation, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq and the mastermind of the campaign of suicide bombings that had helped plunge Iraq into civil war. But instead of celebrating our success, my mind was consumed with the unfinished business of our mission: fixing the deeply flawed, ineffective and un-American way the U.S. military conducts interrogations in Iraq. I’m still alarmed about that today.

I’m not some ivory-tower type; I served for 14 years in the U.S. Air Force, began my career as a Special Operations pilot flying helicopters, saw combat in Bosnia and Kosovo, became an Air Force counterintelligence agent, then volunteered to go to Iraq to work as a senior interrogator. What I saw in Iraq still rattles me – both because it betrays our traditions and because it just doesn’t work. [my emphasis]

This refrain comes up again and again among interrogators. Most of the public debate though has been driven by people like Senator John McCain and Captain Ian Fishback opposed torture for moral reasons.


The enemy we fight has no respect for human life or human rights. They don’t deserve our sympathy. But this isn’t about who they are. This is about who we are. These are the values that distinguish us from our enemies, and we can never, never allow our enemies to take those values away.


…the most important question that this generation will answer [is] Do we sacrifice our ideals in order to preserve security? Terrorism inspires fear and suppresses ideals like freedom and individual rights. Overcoming the fear posed by terrorist threats is a tremendous test of our courage. Will we confront danger and adversity in order to preserve our ideals, or will our courage and commitment to individual rights wither at the prospect of sacrifice? My response is simple. If we abandon our ideals in the face of adversity and aggression, then those ideals were never really in our possession. I would rather die fighting than give up even the smallest part of the idea that is ‘America.

This should be our primary reason for opposing torture. But a secondary reason is that most interrogators have stated that it simply doesn’t work if your goal is to get quality information from detainees. Most torture techniques were designed as punishment or to elicit confessions – not to get information. For example, the techniques we use were used by the Soviets to get confessions for show trials and the North Vietnamese for propaganda videos.

Most experts seem to acknowledge that torture is good for one thing – breaking down a person’s will, perhaps driving them insane, and forcing them to agree with the torturer. This is what has happened in America’s torture program – as detainees confessed to things they did not do and gave information about connections between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda that Americans wanted to know about but did not exist.

Whether or not torture works is a secondary question – but an important one nevertheless.

Morality National Security The War on Terrorism

Army of the Pure

It has seemed to me that the quest for purity often leads to exceptional evil. The Nazis wanted a pure Aryan race. Religious extremists of all sorts focus on various types of purity. In a sense, the belief that one can attain purity is to reject that most human of all statements: “Nothing human is alien to me.” Instead, purity by definition is about exclusion in contrast to messy humanity.

I was reminded of this when seeing the New York Times translate the name of the terrorist group that is believed to have been behind the Mumbai massacre: Lashkar-e-Taiba, “army of the pure.”

In the name of purity, there was another massacre. It will not be the last.

Catholicism Humor Morality

A Cartoon Rejoinder

Some people are unable to step out of themselves to see what how what they say looks to others.

Which is why this priest should take a minute to read this short cartoon.

It’s not as if the guy doesn’t have a point – but as the Deity once said, take care to remove the log from your own eye before attempting to remove specks from the eyes of others.

Barack Obama Catholicism Morality Reflections

Political Catholicism and the Obama Apocalpyse

[digg-reddit-me]Cardinal Stafford, a prominent American Catholic close to Pope Benedict XVI, launched into a vicious tirade against the newly elected President of the United States, Barack Obama, last week. He incorporated  some boilerplate conservative attack on the state power reminiscent of Ronald Reagan (implying socialist tendencies in the President-elect); he stated that America would be experiencing the Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane before it’s Crucifixion and destruction in the coming years, comparing America to Jesus and Barack Obama to Pontius Pilate; he stated that America as a nation was suicidal and has been “thrown upon the ruins;” and then, he used three curious words to describe Barack Obama: “aggressive, disruptive, and apocalyptic.”

As a Catholic I am offended by  Cardinal Stafford’s extreme politics delivered without distancing himself from his official capacity as a “prince of the church” or official rebuke from the church. It is not just what he said – but when and who he is. One thing that surprised me in the aftermath of this election was the number of Republicans, conservatives and other McCain supporters who came to me – as a person who had argued with them in favor of Obama – and expressed their cautious optimism about Obama and their pride in America for having elected him. Cardinal Stafford though seems to lack such common grace.

He joins the small cadre of movement conservatives who – rather than giving President-elect Barack Obama a chance to govern even for a few days before declaring the end of civilization – has decided to preemptively attack Barack Obama, the American people and our democratic choice. Rush Limbaugh has begun to call the financial crisis “the Obama recession” – because he clearly can see that Obama caused it by running for president. Steve Marlsburg, while talking to a prominent Israeli, encouraged her to press her leadership to launch a preemptive strike on Iran – so America would already be embroiled in yet another war in the Middle East before Obama comes into office. Michael Savage proclaimed that all competent white men would be fired from their jobs at fire and police departments and that America had been destroyed by this election. While most Americans, and many in the world, hope and pray that Barack Obama will have the strength and resolve to face the challenges that face us collectively, these men choose instead to fan the flames of fear and violence in uncertain times. They are demagogues whose latent anger at America has been unleashed by the election of a progressive in a time of crisis.

Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, and Steve Marlsburg are all radio shock jocks though – whose job it is to be outrageous. The fact that an Eminence has outstripped all of these men for sheer outrageousness and for blatant fear-mongering is telling. Pope John Paul II’s long reign had many legacies – but the most lasting may prove to be his politicization of the clergy, and especially the hierarchy of the Church. In America, he encouraged a culture that rewarded conservative ideology and encouraged a hierarchy-centered approach whose focus on minimizing scandals to protect the church’s power led to child abuse scandals. But the more direct result of this politicization has been the gradual movement of the church hierarchy away from the Body of the Church and its transformation into an arm of the Republican Party. Bishops, using their sacramental authority as a political public relations tool to aid the Republican Party, have publicly stated their desire to deny Communion to John Kerry (while he was running for president), to Kathleen Sebelius (after she endorsed Obama) to Republican lawyer Douglas Kmiec (after he endorsed Obama on pro-life grounds) to Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden (in the lead-up to the 2008 election). Now, post-election, some priests have begun to equate Catholicism with voting Republican so completely that they see any support for a Democrat as a mortal sin, and are denying Communion to anyone who voted for Barack Obama. And now we have a cardinal warning of the Obama apocalypse.

The Church – 54% of whom voted for Obama in America and a greater percentage who wished him to win abroad – sees it differently than the old cardinal and the politicized clergy.

For many years, the Catholic clergy have had their radical leftists and their reactionaries – but the great mass of priests have been moderates of various sorts. Today, we are seeing the fruits of thirty years of promotions of the most conservative ideologues, the fruits of a church hierarchy that no longer has any appeal except to the sexually repressed, morally corrupt, or fanatically certain, and the result of the gradual dying of the older generation of priests from a less ideological era and the emergence of the Baby Boom generation into leadership positions among the bishops – prolonging the 1960s culture war within the American Church. We are seeing the politicization of the church hierarchy. Sometimes it seems as if the more radical elements are deliberately attempting to provoke a schism, to sow disunity in the Church, so that they, with their monopoly on the institutional power of the church can declare themselves the uncorrupted Remnant.

I have never felt more distant from the Catholic church than I do now; yet I have rarely felt more one with the community of Catholics around the world and in America, more hopeful about the future, or more certain of my path and America’s path.

The Catholic Church has survived far worse men than Cardinal Stafford and the current hierarchy – it has survived popes and cardinals driven by an insatiable lust for power; it has survived warmongers and thieves who claimed their evil was done in the name of God; it has survived the greedy and corrupt, who used the institutions of the church to protect themselves; it has survived it’s war on reason and science in an age of reason and science – until it came to terms with these forces; it has survived it’s condemnation of democracy and freedom – until it came to terms with them; it has survived as popes and cardinals and bishops transparently used their moral authority to profit for themselves – until these rules promulgated for private purpose became enmeshed in tradition; it has survived it’s attempts to declare itself the sole source of Truth in the world; it has survived a plague of child molestation – enabled and covered up to the highest levels of the church. The Catholic church has survived – and it will survive this too.

The corrupt institution – through all of this – has survived because of the faith and good sense of the Church, the people and their sensus fidelium.

As Cardinal Stafford misuses his office to promote fear of apocalypse and as reactionary priests use the sacraments to provoke a schism, it should be remembered that this too will pass, and that as Christ challenged the Pharisees, so we too must challenge the corrupt institutions of our church. What we need to get past with Baby Boomer church politics is a new generation of leadership for the Catholic church, an Obama-like figure able to move past the debilitating culture wars and partisan politics to focus on the true business of the church.

It’s hard to see new leadership arising from the politicized clergy – but God does work in mysterious ways. Remember – just four years ago, it was almost inconceivable that a black man named Barack Hussein Obama could be President of the United States. Yet here we are. Know hope.

Election 2008 McCain Morality National Security Obama Politics

The World Is Blowing Up. We Can’t Be One-Issue Voters Today.

Chuck Hagel, a Republican, is quoted in the most recent New Yorker in a piece by Connie Bruck:

There was a political party in this country called the Know-Nothings. And we’re getting on the fringe of that, with these one-issue voters—pro-choice or pro-life. Important issue, I know that. But, my goodness. The world is blowing up everywhere, and I just don’t think that is a responsible way to see the world, on that one issue. And, interestingly enough, that is one issue that stopped John McCain from picking one of the people he really wanted, Joe Lieberman or Tom Ridge. [my emphasis]