I have heard a few people voice that opinion recently. As for me, I am of two minds. On the one hand, I am an American citizen and on the other, I am a British citizen who has been resident in England for over 40 years. So, part of me is a patriotic, loyal American and another part has the perspective of one who is influenced by the British/European perspective. Does that make me unusually objective? Well, as you might imagine, I would like to think so.
Over the past few weeks, the American media has been focussed on a few discouraging incidents—first there was the Ferguson shooting and then the “I can’t breathe” incident in New York. Both of these served to magnify the racial and policing issues in the USA. They were both tragic, but neither one represents a true picture of American race relations. Americans of all races reacted with dismay, sympathy with the victims and their loved ones and a desire to know more about what really happened.
But that is not what I want to comment on today. Right now I am more concerned about the results of the Congressional Report on the CIA. The the release of the report, and the global publicity surrounding it, has put American lives at risk. The lives of those who might look like Americans and those from nations that are seen to be allied with America are also at risk. So, my immediate concern was to warn those whom I know and who fall into those categories, to give serious consideration to their personal security and the safety of their families. Let us hope and pray that the jihadist reaction will not be either widespread or effective. (By the way, let us also pray for the reasonable and moderate Muslim leaders who are dismayed at the rise and prominence of violent jihadist movements and are working hard to defuse them.)
So what should a “Resident Alien” think about these charges that the CIA used torture to obtain information from jihadist operatives they had captured? Firstly, we will want to agree with CIA Director, John Brennan’s statement today, that he thinks some of the methods used for extracting information were “abhorrent”. He acknowledged that these were used by agents who went beyond the authorized methods for interrogation. These include waterboarding and confinement in a coffin-like box. Surely no-one can accept such abuses of fellow human beings.
Then we want to be grateful for an open and reasonably transparent governmental system that scrutinizes the use of power, especially coercive or lethal power. I have to admit that, in the wake of the first few newspaper articles about the Congressional Report, I was beginning to think that the CIA was “off the leash and running wild”. But when I read the response by six former Directors and Deputy Directors, I was surprised to learn that there was considerable Congressional and Presidential oversight of the CIA with regular briefings to both branches of government and clear operational guidelines laid down by the elected officials. So there should be.
There is a bigger issue here for those of us who try to think and act consistently as Biblical Christians: What do we think about the use of coercive and lethal force to combat evil? And an obvious corollary of that question, is there a place for a spy agency? To be honest, I have gone back and forth over the years on that issue—sometimes I have leaned towards pacifism and at other times I have conceded that the use of such force is a necessary evil. That is where I stand today. I believe that, in the light of a world populated by sinful people, God has mandated government at its various levels to resist evil with force. The first epistle from Peter makes an important statement in chapter two and verse 14 when he writes that the Head of State and his officials are “sent to punish those who do wrong…”
But the use of force to corral evil is a tricky business. Those who are forced to “toe the line” against their will, can never be fully trusted, so issues of lawlessness are not really resolved by force. In addition, those who exercise the force to limit evil, are very often corrupted by the process—hence the policing problems we referred to briefly above and the atrocities a few years ago at the Abu Ghraib detention centre in Iraq where US troops used terribly degrading methods on prisoners. Undoubtedly some CIA agents have become warped by the business with which they are engaged.
However, my conclusion on this subject today is that the “sins” of the CIA area real and serious, but they have been used for party political purposes. As the letter from former CIA officers says, “The country and the CIA would have benefited from a more balanced study of these programs and a corresponding set of recommendations. The committee’s report is not that study. It offers not a single recommendation.”
So as Americans abroad and the citizens of allied nations run for cover in the wake of this highly publicised report, let us hope that the political posturing will give way to healthy examination of the issues and greater adherence to the values that make a nation great. There was an encouraging comment today and I close with that.
”David Petraeus , a retired Army general who served for more than a year as CIA director under Mr. Obama, said Thursday that, “If you want information from a detainee, you become his best friend, and that is what worked for us with our special operators as well as our conventional forces in both Iraq and in Afghanistan.””
If this subject has grabbed your attention, you can read the entire letter from the former CIA officers at: http://on.wsj.com/1wX7eHy Details of the report released by Senator Feinstein will receive widespread report in the days to come.