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Render to Caesar, Extraordinarily

John Brennan, who championed kidnapping, torture and illegal eavesdropping, has been invited to give the commencement address at Fordham University.
 
 
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John Brennan, chief counterterrorism advisor to President Obama.
Photo Credit: Pete Souza/White House

 
 
 
 

Some of us pause on Good Friday to mark the torture and death of a high-value detainee rendered, extraordinarily, to Roman occupiers.

Although the charges against Jesus of Nazareth were trumped up, the Romans decided to err on the safe side by going to the “dark side.” They applied enhanced torture techniques with the ultimate hanging.

I try my best to follow the example set by that fellow from Nazareth. I do get beat up on occasion for “knowing where I stand and standing there,” as Dan Berrigan has told us. But I don’t expect to be tortured — much less hung up to die. Those things just happen to folks who don’t look like me.

In my worst nightmares I never dreamed that my country of birth, the country I love, would resort to torturing prisoners. Still less, did I expect my alma mater, Fordham University, to honor a person known to have championed kidnapping and torture (as well as illegal eavesdropping on Americans),  by inviting him to give the commencement address.

What’s the big deal? I have been asked. Aren’t you proud to have a fellow Fordham alumnus at the right hand of the President as deputy national security adviser? When I answer, “Not proud, but shamed,” I am met with a quizzical look.

When the shock wears off, I realize this should come as no surprise. The findings of a Pew poll conducted three years ago should have accustomed me to the shame. Those polled were white non-Hispanic Catholics, white Evangelicals, and white mainline Protestants. A majority of those who attend church regularly (54 percent) said torture could be “justified,” while a majority of those not attending church regularly responded that torture was rarely or never justified.

I let myself wonder whether similar results might obtain, if a similar poll were conducted today at Fordham. And then I remembered that most of the college students at Fordham had not yet reached their teens, when President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney decided to resort to techniques developed for the Spanish Inquisition and honed by the Nazis — “enhanced” methods to use on suspected terrorists.

Here’s some background for those just coming of age — and a refresher for others — with particular attention to what you should know about John Brennan (College, 1977).

Brennan’s Role in Torture

John Brennan had been CIA Director George Tenet’s chief of staff for two years when Tenet promoted him to be CIA’s Deputy Executive Director in March 2001. In that post he continued to function as one of Tenet’s closest aides – after the 9/11 attacks – as President Bush and Vice President Cheney ordered the CIA onto what Cheney (and later Brennan himself) came to call the “dark side.”

A Bush Executive Order of Feb. 7, 2002, made the highly dubious claim that al-Qaeda and Taliban detainees were not covered by Geneva Convention protections. And the order had consequences.

On Dec. 11, 2008, Sen. John McCain and Sen. Carl Levin released the summary of a Senate Armed Services Committee report, issued without dissent, indicating that Bush’s Feb. 7, 2002, Memorandum, had “opened the way to considering aggressive techniques.” And a report of the International Committee of the Red Cross, published in the spring of 2009, recounted in gory detail the torture of so-called “high-value” detainees.

However, back in the early days of the “war on terror,” Bush had to choose between rivals for “jurisdiction” and interrogation of such detainees. Tenet was able to use his daily sessions with Bush to win the battle over whether the CIA or the FBI should control the “dark-side” handling of “high-value” detainees. (To be absolutely clear, Tenet wanted it; he got it.)

 
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