Jun 6th: Rev Katherine Ragsdale, Episcopalian Divinity School
Jun 6th, 2009 by Sam

The Samantha Clemens Show: Rev Katherine Ragsdale; Craig Sandler

This is the infamous Curveball?? You have got to be kidding!!
Jun 18th, 2008 by Sam

We went into Iraq largely due to representations on the part of an ‘operative’ codenamed Curveball that Saddam Hussein was in possession of weapons of mass destruction – the mushroom cloud possibility.  Right?  That’s the story.

Now I understand that intelligence is rarely cut and tried.  You gather a lot of information and try to connect the dots.  You find people who are credible.  Many of them might have ulterior motives, checkered pasts, hidden agendas.  I acknowledge these problems.  However, to read this article about the person that is Curveball, one Rafid Ahmed Alwan, is to sit with your jaw dropped to the ground in amazement thinking “our government risked everything on the word of this bozo?”  I’m not kidding.  Some excerpts from the article:

“He was corrupt,” said a family friend who once employed him.

“He always lied,” said a fellow Burger King worker.

And records reveal that when Alwan fled to Germany, one step ahead of the Iraq Justice Ministry, an arrest warrant had been issued alleging that he sold filched camera equipment on the Baghdad black market.


Alwan didn’t share all his secrets. He didn’t disclose that he had been fired at least twice for dishonesty, or that he fled Iraq to avoid arrest. But he did tell some whoppers that should have raised warnings about his credibility.

He claimed, for example, that the son of his former boss, Basil Latif, secretly headed a vast weapons of mass destruction procurement and smuggling scheme from England. British investigators found, however, that Latif’s son was a 16-year-old exchange student, not a criminal mastermind.

Oh my.  Oh my.

Moral failure on our watch
May 21st, 2008 by Sam

As a child of German heritage growing up in the United States, the most significant moral question for me was, had I been an adult in Germany under Hitler, would I have had the courage to hide Jews in my attic?  Clearly, most Germans simply went on with their lives, ignoring signs of the horror going on in their country.  While there were a few brave souls, the majority of people just shut their eyes, even if they didn’t agree with what they may have suspected was going on, because they feared becoming a target.

Also having Norwegian heritage, I wondered if I would have been brave enough to defy the Nazis in Norway, helping, for example, to transport Norwegian gold to ships waiting on the coast for safekeeping in U.S.  My family had a children’s book about this effort which actually involved children and mothers putting bricks hiding the gold on their sleds as they moved the gold, brick by brick, from a cave in the mountains to the coast.  How brave of the Norwegians, we thought!  How heroic, especially compared to the Swedes, who capitulated all too swiftly, we thought, smugly.

But now, it is clear that on our watch in this country, torture took place.  And we will have to answer for our lack of moral spine for generations to come.  While it is comforting to know that some law enforcement officials objected to the practices, it is disturbing to know that it took this long for the objections to take place:

“FBI agents assigned to interview key terrorism suspects repeatedly objected to harsh — and possibly illegal — interrogation tactics used by other U.S. officials two years before abuse of detainees at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison became public in 2004, a Justice Department review found.”  USA Today, May 21
So where did the pressure come from?
“It says the controversial treatment of detainees by the military and U.S. intelligence officers persisted because of a view ‘at a very high level that this was a military situation and the military approach should prevail.’ The CIA has acknowledged using waterboarding.”
Of course, there are those who believe that the torture was not only justified, but strategically important.  They, of course, would likely have believed that to be the case if they were royalists in Europe before the American revolution, or supporters of fascism in Spain, or supporters of apartheid in South Africa.
But, if you believe that torture is wrong both morally and strategically, the moral question remains:  if you saw torture in action, or knew about it, would you have had the moral courage to object?  privately?  in public?
We don’t do stuff like that
Feb 29th, 2008 by Sam

Boy, did that resonate with me when I read those words in the New York Times op-ed by Morris Davis, an Air Force colonel and the chief prosecutor for the military commissions at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, from 2005 to 2007.

“We don’t do stuff like that.”

Morris Davis was writing about Tom Ahern, an American held hostage by Iran twenty-seven years ago.  The last time that Ahern faced the principal interrogator for the last time, the interrogator said:

“…the abuse Mr. Ahern had suffered was inconsistent with his own personal values and with the values of Islam and, as if to wipe the slate clean, he offered Mr. Ahern a chance to abuse him just as he had abused the hostages. Mr. Ahern looked the interrogator in the eyes and said, ‘We don’t do stuff like that.'”

YES.  That’s MY country.  WE are the good guys!  We DONT’T do that.  Which is what gives us the moral authority and relative safety when WE travel around the world – people know that we’re the good guys.

Until recently.  Yuck.

Davis goes to say that now that we’d have to say,

“‘We don’t do stuff like that very often.’ Or, ‘We generally don’t do stuff like that.’  That is a shame. Virtues requiring caveats are not virtues. Saying a man is honest is a compliment. Saying a man is ‘generally’ honest or honest ‘quite often’ means he lies. The mistreatment of detainees, like honesty, is all or nothing: We either do stuff like that or we do not.”

And then he makes the point that,

“It is in our national interest to restore our reputation for the latter.

What a relief to see that it’s a military guy who is saying these words!  Note – it’s not one of the Blackwater mercenaries, which I believe is one of the big differences between the military and the mercenaries – principles vs pay.

So, morally speaking, the use of torture, in-person or out-sourced, was the wrong way to go.

But even practically speaking, the torture they’ve been practicing in Abu Graib or outsourced to Egypt and other locations, has not been worth it. Even if they got some actionable information, they’ve put so many other people at risk by losing the high ground, it’s been a harmful strategy.

Plus the humiliation strategy is just short-sighted.  How long will it take for those people and their families to get over it?  How long would it take for you?

So here’s a military guy, former chief prosecutor, saying that any evidence obtained using torture should be inadmissable.

It was disappointing to learn that McCain caved in on the bill which curtailed the CIA’s use of harsh interrogation techniques (uh, would that be torture?).  McCain says that he thinks waterboarding should be illegal for all, including the CIA.  But he wants to leave open the possibility for the CIA to use other approved techniques that are not enumerated in the Field Service Manual.  Why does the CIA use techniques that military personnel can’t?  It can’t be a training issue?  What is it.

And this brings us back to the election.  I heard on conservative talk radio that they think Democrats are fired-up about this election because of the woman/black thing.  They are missing the point.  Sure, democrats are glad about it.

But what’s got us all fired up is that we sense the possiblility that this shameful period in our history, which happened on our watch, will finally be over.  The redemption of America will begin with this election.

This is not to say that we stop being vigilant.  There are people in the world who want to harm us and yes, of course, we have to defend ourselves, just as we do against our own home-grown criminals.

But the world doesn’t end, and the constitution isn’t suspended, because of crime.

We don’t do stuff like that.

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