Stephen W. Browne Rants and Raves

December 19, 2014


Filed under: Op-eds — Stephen W. Browne @ 1:26 am

“I decapitated with my blessed right hand the head of the American Jew Daniel Pearl, in the City of Karachi, Pakistan.”
– Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, under interrogation by waterboarding

Well the torture report is out and it’s déjà vu all over again. Haven’t we been through this before?

I looked up a column of mine dated May, 2009, about the controversy surrounding Obama’s plan to release actual photos of “enhanced interrogation.”

“President Obama, announced he would authorize release of photos showing prisoners undergoing ‘enhanced interrogation.’ Right-wingers announced the imminent downfall of the American republic. Then he changed position and said he wouldn’t. Left-wingers announced the imminent downfall of the American republic. Reportedly, top US commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan personally told the President they opposed release, arguing it would make the US mission more difficult.”

What’s different about this time? Well for one, it goes into considerable detail.

The report is available online, and it’s pretty grim reading. Waterboarding we knew about. The report has details about cold water baths, extreme enemas, sleep deprivation, stress positions and hints at worse.

For another, the timing is suspicious. What does it accomplish now, what purpose does it serve?

What does it accomplish domestically?

It may be intended to discredit Republicans after their huge gains in the midterm election. If so, it’s going to take a lot of spin to accomplish that

From my 2009 column.
“Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said the CIA didn’t tell her they would actually go out and do what they described in the briefings she attended. The minutes of the meetings show, to put it bluntly, that she’s lying her head off.”

There were an awful lot of Democrats on board with this after 9/11, and “renditions” (handing over captured terrorists to countries far less squeamish than we are) continued unabated during the Obama administration.

What it accomplished abroad was to allow an awful lot of countries to announce they are shocked, shocked that the U.S. would do such a thing! Including a few countries like France who are not known for being overly squeamish when it’s their own national interest at stake.

But perhaps this will force us to have a conversation we should have had a long time ago about a subject we don’t want to talk about.

Those of an idealistic bent claim we are losing the soul of our country.

Terry Strada, speaking for a group of 9/11 widows, said basically to hell with them. Her children are growing up without a father.

Sen. John McCain knows the reality of torture first hand, and is equally passionate that we should never torture under any circumstances.

Strada and McCain definitely have moral standing in the court of public opinion, but statesmen make or should make decisions based on our interests, not our emotions.

Journalist Michael Yon, former Special Forces vet of Iraq and Afghanistan, is concerned the fear of being tortured will make jihadists reluctant to surrender.

His argument has practical merit. However the jihadists do not reciprocate. They torture and kill American captives, not for information but from sheer sadistic glee and to send the message to us about how ruthless they are.

Another practical objection in the report claims torture is ineffective and has not resulted in useful intelligence, but only false leads given by subjects desperate to make it stop by saying anything.

Please, that’s been known forever and skillful interrogators take that into account. And if the interrogations are not producing useful intelligence, why didn’t somebody say, “We’re getting nothing from this, let’s try something else”?

A group of six former CIA directors and deputy directors claimed in a Wall Street Journal editorial that the report is politicized, error ridden, and that information from enhanced interrogations has saved lives and prevented further attacks.

They say they had leads on plans for further attacks, even the horrible possibility that the jidhadists were planning to acquire a nuke and sneak it into the country.

We really have to have that discussion, and we really have to be tough-minded about it beyond what we are comfortable with.

Those who say torture is a necessary tool to fight a ruthless enemy really need to explain how this is going to be limited to an emergency measure used only in extreme cases.

Those who say torture is never justified need to face the “ticking bomb” scenario realistically. So far they have evaded or ridiculed the issue.

Because the bottom line is this, in an age of loose nukes and cheap bioweapons, sooner or later circumstances will arise in which we may have to throw aside all of our scruples and act with utter ruthlessness.

When that day comes, and I believe it’s a “when” not an “if,” it would be best if we’d considered our options beforehand rather than flying blind into an unimaginable horror.

December 12, 2014

Rape accusation shows danger of issue-driven journalism

Filed under: Media bias,News commentary,Op-eds — Stephen W. Browne @ 12:56 pm

Many years ago I had a vindictive ex.

I believe I can sense the rolling eyes and hear the impatient groans among male readers.

“Oh you think you had it bad!”

Bear with me please, it gets better. I hadn’t seen anything of my ex for a while and I first found out exactly how vindictive she was when two police detectives showed up at my front door.

“Is there a problem officers?” I said, or something equally witty.

It’s unnerving at best when detectives show up at your door, no matter how clear your conscience is.

“We had a report that someone answering your description robbed (the local strip joint) and shot the bartender in the knee,” said one. “You know anything about this?”

My jaw literally dropped open.

“Well is that a yes or are you catching flies?” he asked.

I have to say, under most circumstances I admire the ability to banter like this, in classic tough-cop style. I briefly considered bantering back about how this was typical ethnic stereotyping on my Irish heritage. Why does everyone assume when someone gets knee-capped there must be an Irishman behind it? But it didn’t seem like a good idea at the time.

“I guess I’m catching flies,” I said (which was pretty good you must admit). “I’ve never been in the place.”

So they asked, did I know anyone who worked there?

As it happened I did, and as I was going down the (short) list it broke on me like a flash.

“Oh,” I said. “I have an ex who makes rounds there selling flowers, and she’s just crazy and vindictive enough to say something like this.”

I will never forget to my dying day the look of disgust on the face of that cop as he actually managed to slam his notebook shut.

I offered to come downtown for a lineup but they obviously felt they’d wasted enough time on this lead.

Reaction around town was universally sympathetic, and the proprietors of the strip joint I believe made it plain to my ex she wasn’t welcome to vend in their establishment anymore.

Thank God it wasn’t a rape accusation!

Last month Rolling Stone magazine published a truly horrifying description of one young lady’s gang rape at the hands of a group of fraternity boys at a frat party at the University of
Virginia. I defy anyone to read it without being overcome with a sick feeling of horror, and rage.

And immediately after that, if one has a brain in their head, the thought of, “Wait a minute, this is bogus!”

To summarize, Rolling Stone writer Sabrina Erdely wrote a story using precisely one source. Moreover she was deliberately misleading as to whether she was quoting the alleged victim or her friends.

She made no attempt to contact any of the five or seven alleged rapists “at Jackie’s request”, even though details the alleged victim “Jackie” supplied should have made it easy. When other journalists tried to, they could find no members of the fraternity that matched the details she supplied. Nor was there a party at the fraternity on that date.

Being gang-raped on shards of broken glass should have left trauma enough for a visit to the emergency room. Erdely evidently couldn’t be bothered to check, or even ask.

Jackie’s friends are now walking back from their previous support of her after reading unflattering details about themselves that in no way match their memory of conversations with Jackie.

Erdely admitted in an interview that she went shopping for a spectacular rape story on several university campuses, but most were too “prosaic” for her purposes.

Bottom line, not a single detail could be corroborated. Rolling Stone apologized – and has since revised their apology. They at first said their trust in Jackie was “misplaced,” then backtracked and said it was entirely their fault.

No, it’s their fault for believing a serial fabricator. But Jackie, whoever she is, has to take some of the responsibility too.

This was not a harmless thing. Campus fraternities were suspended and the fraternity in question’s building has been vandalized.

And yet there are those who are defending this as a good thing because it draws attention to the “rape culture on campus.”

So referring to my story above, how do you think they’d like it if any accusation against them, however improbably, was given the same kind of credence in a major publication as this?

December 3, 2014

Signs of hope amid the ruins

Filed under: Op-eds — Stephen W. Browne @ 3:36 am

Well much of Ferguson, Missouri was reduced to smoking ruins as heavily armed police and National Guard stood by and did… not much.

Days of rioting after the grand jury no-billed Officer Darren Wilson for the fatal shooting of Michael Brown have left Ferguson businesses burnt, looted, vandalized.

Brown is invariably described as “unarmed,” as if that translates into “helpless.” Six-feet four inches 300 pounds is never “unarmed” in that sense.

CNN laments he was “days away from starting college.” He was also minutes away from having walked into a minority-owned business, taking what he fancied and shoving a man half his size out of the way when he tried to protest.

Cries of “institutionalized racism” filled the air after Wilson’s acquittal. Never mind that the acquittal was handed down by a grand jury about a third African-American, based on forensics and the testimony of several African-American eyewitnesses.

One young African-American man was murdered during the riot and there is speculation he was, or was thought to have been one of the witnesses.

People in the streets are described by media as “demonstrators.” While there are people demonstrating peacefully against a decision they think was wrong, I wonder how they feel about being lumped in with rioters and looters as if there were no difference?

President Obama stepped in with words of reconciliation, but while the words are all right the music is all wrong. He made it pretty plain where his sympathy lies, and it’s evidently not entirely on the side of law and order.

He has plenty of company among privileged white folks getting a heady fix of what one observer called “riot porn.”

Darlena Cunha wrote in Time magazine, “Ferguson: In Defense of Rioting” that, “Rioting is part of the evolution of society” and described rioters as “change agents.”

Cunha and company ignore the fact that rioters made no, as in zero, distinction between minority-owned small businesses and the big corporate chain store outlets.

Tell Natalie Dubose, an African-American woman who poured her life into a small bakery business, that the rioters who destroyed it are “change agents” working for social justice.

So were the looters expressing their rage against a society that holds them down, or just hatred of those among their own community who built something of their own, like crabs in a bucket pulling down anyone who rises above the common herd?

But there are signs of hope.

While white social justice warriors are making excuses for the destruction from their lofty perch, people of all races committed to building rather than destroying are pouring withering scorn upon the rioters and their enablers. And it’s not racism, it’s not hatred, it’s not fear. It’s utter contempt for those who cannot build, only destroy what others have built.

And they’re putting their money where their mouths are and their backsides on the frontline where the government was too scared to go.

White and black business owners got together, organized and armed themselves to mount guard over their property.

Several young black men showed up at the gas station owned by their former (white) employer with guns, and told the looters to back off.

A GoFundMe project to raise money to rebuild DuBose’s bakery raised more than $260 thousand within five days. The goal was only $20 thousand!

DuBose is now directing the appeal to rebuild other small businesses destroyed in the riot.

And perhaps the most hopeful sign of all was, agree or disagree with the grand jury’s decision, a group of men and women, all of whom admitted fear for their personal safety, did not allow the mob to make that decision for them.

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