The CIA Torture Report: We Did It, and We Won’t Do it Again

In 2008, I was delighted to know that, regardless of who won the presidency, my country would no longer be a state sponsor of torture. I’d been writing angrily against torture for years. To me it was a shameful, shameful chapter in our history. My country was better than that. I was glad to see torture end.

Jane Mayer’s excellent book “The Dark Side” told about the FBI’s effectiveness in questioning al-Qaeda detainees after we invaded Afghanistan. The Bad Guys were talking quite freely, and the FBI was following all the legal rules. But then the Bush administration, pushed by Cheney, turned everything over to the CIA. FBI agents stood aside as CIA operatives swooped in, took their prisoners, and sent them off to secret bases, or “rendered” them to countries like Egypt and Syria to be tortured. Suddenly, the prisoners all clammed up.

Even if we did gain valuable information from torture–and it’s highly questionable that we did–we were already getting it without using torture. It was totally gratuitous–even barbaric–on our part. A collapse of our moral authority as a nation.

Mayer pointed out that the FBI was interested in prosecutions, so they followed all the rules to build a case that would stand up in court. But the CIA had no interest in prosecution. All they cared about was gathering intelligence. As a result, we’re in a pickle, with some truly evil prisoners whom we can’t prosecute. Our very own laws, developed with great wisdom over 250 years, tie our hands.

As a Christian, I mourn that so many of my fellow evangelical Christians fully support torture of prisoners. Right now, I’m listening to FoxNews, and I want to vomit at how vigorously they are defending torture. I’m sad knowing that many Christians watching are shaking their heads in unquestioning agreement.

As a country, we are better than that. And as Christians, with the command to be Christ-like, we MUST be better than that.

The information in the CIA Torture Report has been in the public domain for years. I’ve read it all before in the many other reports which have bee done. But this one definitely carries more weight, and I’m glad it has been released.

I agree with John McCain, who said today, “I believe the American people have a right–indeed, a responsibility–to know what was done in their name.”

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The Mind of Chris Rock

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Frank Rich conducted a wonderful interview with Chris Rock for New York Magazine. It’s long, and it’s wide-ranging: Ferguson, comedy, race, Obama, Cosby, TV…a little of everything. Rock is a fascinating person. I loved reading his perspectives. A few excerpts:

“It’s been a weird year for comedy. We lost Robin, we lost Joan, and we kind of lost Cosby.”

“You can be in the most liberal places and there’s no black people.”

About the election of Barack Obama: “That’s not black progress. That’s white progress. There’s been black people qualified to be president for hundreds of years….My kids are smart, educated, beautiful, polite children. There have been smart, educated, beautiful, polite black children for hundreds of years. The advantage that my children have is that my children are encountering the nicest white people that America has ever produced. Let’s hope America keeps producing nicer white people.”

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The Blackbird at Cruising Speed

Brian Shul in front of an SR-71.

Brian Shul in front of an SR-71.

A flock of Blackbirds.

A flock of Blackbirds.

US Air Force Major Brian Shul flew the SR-71 spyplane, nicknamed the Blackbird.

The coolest plane ever. Hands down.

The SR-71 flew faster and higher than any other plane. How fast? Shul says in Vice magazine, “​The Blackbird easily flew at over 2,000 miles per hour. You were doing a mile every two seconds, or faster. The jet always wanted to go faster, so you had to hold it back. It was at three times the speed of sound when we were cruising.”

In 26 years, the nice folks in Russia, China, and elsewhere fired over 4,000 missiles at SR-71s. They never scored a hit.

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There are No Good Guys

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I knew this was a bad idea. Hardliners, especially on the conservative end, were continually berating Obama for not arming the Syrian rebels. As if there are “good guys” and “bad guys” in this fight, and we could clearly identify the “good” rebels. Obama finally gave in, and we’ve been sending lots of heavy weaponry to certain rebel groups.

Now the two main rebel groups have surrendered to ISIS. I wouldn’t doubt they accumulated weapons partly as a bargaining chip. I imagine part of the surrender included negotiations like this: “We have lots of weapons. We’ll let you have them all, if you don’t kill us.”

There are no “good guys” in this conflict. There are bad guys (fighters) and there are innocents (civilians and refugees). I say this: let’s help the innocents, but let the bad guys settle their grievances with each other without giving them more firepower. Even the most “pro-Western” rebels still hate the USA.

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Do I Really Want Diapers?

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Just on a whim, I began the day by going to Amazon and doing a search on “diapers.” I’m curious to see how many diaper ads appear on web pages I peruse during the day.

Sure enough, ads for diapers have been calling for my attention all day. Here’s what turned up on a BBC page.

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The Anonymous Missionaries

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Earlier this week, a very impressive young couple visited the UB National Office in Huntington, Ind. They are preparing for missionary service in an “undisclosed” (as we say) country on the other side of the world, where they will train church leaders to be more effective in their work. The husband is the son of a former United Brethren pastor. As a staff, we laid hands on them and prayed for them.

As the denominational communications director, I would love to tell our constituency more about this couple–what they will be doing and where. But for security reasons, they don’t want their names or photos appearing anywhere on the internet–websites, Twitter, Facebook, etc.

Such is the case with a growing number of United Brethren missionaries who serve in “restricted access” countries. Some of the most exciting stories I hear come from these missionaries…but frustratingly, I can’t report on them. The most I can do is say, these people are out there, they are dedicated, they serve in potentially hostile situations, and they could use your prayers. God knows who they are.

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The Messy Mind

Two bumper stickers on the 1970s-era wood paneling in my office.

Two bumper stickers on the 1970s-era wood paneling in my office.

New studies affirm that an untidy work environment can make people more creative. This is music to my ears.

In one study, people were put in a room and given some choices. People in a tidy room tended to make more conventional choices, while people in a messy room gravitated toward more novel choices.

In another study, people in these two different environments were asked to come up with unconventional uses for ping pong balls. The two groups came up with the same number of ideas, but the ideas from the messy-room people were deemed substantially more creative.

This sentence from an article helped explain how tidiness inhibits creativity: “If you keep all your tools in the tool shed and all your kitchen utensils in the kitchen, you might never think of using a kitchen utensil as a tool or vice-versa.”

My office is typically untidy, but there comes a point where even I can’t take it, and I spend much of a day cleaning up and pitching stuff. Like, three times a year. I consider this burst of orderliness more efficient than spending time every day maintaining order. At least, that’s what I tell myself.

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Worst Case

My new Durango displays my tire pressure. With the cold, my tires were under-inflated. The on-board computer told me to add a few pounds of pressure, so I did. But air hoses are not an exact science. Now, say the computer, I’m a couple pounds over. I’m not sure a couple pounds really matters. Nevertheless, I asked Google if over-inflating tires is a bad thing.

A couple persons gave “the worst that can happen” answers–uneven tire wear, a blow-out. Then someone gave this answer: “The worst that can happen: you die taking others with you.”

Okay, I’ll let out some air.

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Let the World Know

BusinessWeek has a fascinating article about the organization Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctos Without Borders). It says the organization was begun by doctors who served with the Red Cross in Nigeria during the Biafran war. Those doctors wanted to speak out about what they considered to be genocide, but the Red Cross wouldn’t let them. So they started their own organization which would make it a core value to speak out in such situation.

The article says, “If MSF members encountered violations of human rights, they were not, as the [Red Cross] encouraged in Nigeria in 1970, to exercise ‘discretion.’ They were to raise hell and make sure the world knew about it.”

I love that!

Kaci Hickox, the nurse who was quarantined after returning from Sierra Leone, where she treated Ebola patients, worked with Doctors Without Borders. Considering the ruckus she raised, sounds like she was a perfect fit.

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Rosetta vs. the Dallas Cowboys

Landing the Rosetta spacecraft on a speeding comet is a pretty extraordinary thing. Rosetta has been traveling for 10 years. Who figures this stuff out, getting Rosetta and the comet in the same place at the same time?

Rosetta cost $1.4 billion. The website Vox points out that that is less than half of what was spent on the midterm election. It’s just a little bit more than the cost of the Dallas Cowboys stadium.

India sent a craft on a 10-month, 420 million mile journey, which put it in orbit around Mars. The cost: $750 million. By comparison, the movie “Gravity” cost $100 million.

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