Thursday, December 18, 2014

A Christmas Miracle

It’s mid December, and regardless of your religious affiliation – Christmas is upon us. The stores, the sales…the commercialism. There are some of us who approach the holiday through the liturgical season of Advent, but even with that the omnipresence of retail is hard to avoid. The Christmas Miracle story isn't just one narrative, but a nice morphing of the commercial aspect of the holiday and the spirit that its intended. The story has many variations – but the underlying message focuses on the importance of giving. Poverty, wealth, stinginess and extravagance are all examined through a variety of narratives both in books, stories and movies and TV shows. Imagine my surprise when last week the Government provided its own miracle – a moment of transparency if not humility.

The recently released summary of the Senate Intelligence Report on Torture cost $40 million to put together. It took 5 years and the bulk of the 6,000 page report remains classified. What the 525 page unclassified portion tells is some of the most important information to come out of the U.S. government in a long time. It’s not so much a gift or a mea-culpa, but rather an acknowledgement of what actually happened.

Per Wikipedia’s summary: 

“The report details actions by a number of CIA officials, including torturing prisoners and providing misleading or false information about CIA programs to government officials and the media. It also revealed the existence of previously unknown detainees, that more detainees were subjected to harsher treatment than was previously disclosed, and that more techniques were used than previously disclosed. Finally, it offers conclusions about the detention project, including that torturing prisoners did not help acquire actionable intelligence or gain cooperation from detainees.”
In short the report validates those who have long criticized the “War on Terror.” I’m one of them. I’m a pacifist. I’m anti-war. I’m extremely wary of the military industrial complex. I have family and friends who have served the country with distinction and honor and I'm proud of what they do and have done for America. These two statements do not negate each other nor are they in conflict.

The release of this report necessitates acknowledgements where usually I criticize. Let’s think of it in the spirit of A Christmas Carol and consider some past blog posts.

I have been sharply critical of President Barak Obama who came into office claiming that he’d have the “most transparent Presidency” in history only to criminalize journalists and be more opaque than his predecessor on a slew of issues. The creation and release of this report happened under his watch and with his buy-in. While there’s certainly a political element to the report and its release,  it still happened and he should get the credit.

The Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee – Diane Feinstein – even got her own blog some time ago. Her unwavering support of the FISA courts – those secret courts that rubber stamp anything the Government wants without any due process or opposition – got my wrath. Her committee spent an ungodly amount of money and time developing this tome that will never see the fullness of daylight. The summary, however, has shifted the needle and allowed America to see the truth if not to take responsibility for its actions. Kudos for seeing it through.

The media is often the brunt of my analysis. A predilection for gliz and simplicity crowds out nuance and important policy issues in most coverage. Many have continued their partisan coverage of the report, but it seems the majority of outlets reported the facts as outlined in the report. It's important that the public see and hear what happened. 

The content of what has been released is troubling. It’s likely criminal. It’s certainly inconsistent with the values America preaches. It infuriates me for what is done in my name with my tax dollars. The Washington Post's poll shows that a majority of Americans in every demographic believe torture can be justified. That's alarming and not whom I believe Americans to be.

Much of military action today is done to preserve the American way of life – which is a well-worn slogan. More often than not the War on Terror via misnomer “Patriot Act” and other laws like it have torn away at the Constitution that it’s intended to protect. The release of this report, however, is a moment of brightness, a moment of clarity and honesty even if what’s its reporting is contrary to every fiber of my being. It's proof that telling the truth is much better than not.

The real terror is what the other 5,475 pages say. What is there that can’t be released, that is too shameful to reveal? Would that change the poll results, or reinforce them? Before going down that road…let’s celebrate the Christmas miracle that we do have: 8.75% of a report critical of American actions was made public.

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