Letter From New York Dec 10, 2014 Beacon on the hill?

Writing this, I am headed back north after having spent the evening in the city, going to the Downton Abbey event and then having a late night dinner with my friend Robert. While I was riding down into the city yesterday, Senator Dianne Feinstein of California was unveiling the Senate Report on the CIA’s use of torture in the years following 9/11. By the time I arrived at the Acela Club at Penn Station to wait until it was time to go to the event, the airwaves were alight with the reactions to the Executive Summary of the Report, which runs in itself 525 pages. The actual Report, which remains top secret, is over 6,000 pages. Even Tolstoy would be amazed.

There are varied reactions to the Report, mostly down party lines. Republican Senator John McCain came out with a thoughtful, I thought, statement on the facts as outlined by the Senate Committee. As I read his statement, he said he understands the reasons that caused the use of these methods and that the folks both approving and performing the acts outlined in the Report thought they were doing what was necessary, he disputes the methods and that “we are always Americans, and different, and stronger, and better than those who would destroy us.”

The “acts” outlined in the Report were harsh and brutal and, according to the Report, both unnecessary and not fruitful. They included waterboarding; sleep deprivation, and something called “rectal rehydration,” which sounds pretty disgusting.

While waiting for the Downton event, I went online from my phone and absorbed what I could about the news breaking around the Report. As I was going to sleep, I thought about it and when I woke this morning and was having my morning coffee, I felt sobered.

It is one thing to suspect something has happened and it is another to be forced to confront the reality of it. As far as I can tell, no one is denying that things happened. What is being debated is the efficacy of the acts. The Senate Committee Report says they weren’t effective and the CIA is saying, yes, they were.

It is a debate that is raging and one that we should have. There are those who think the Report should never have been made public and there are those who are hailing its release as a sign that though we make mistakes [and even the CIA says “mistakes” were made], we can, as a country, admit those mistakes and work to ensure they never happen again.

It is sobering to me perhaps because I was born in that time after WWII when we presented to the world and to ourselves, a vision of ourselves, of this country, as the beacon of liberty and that we did things differently than other countries.

As an adult, now, I am not sure that was true. I have, after all, lived through Viet Nam, Bhopal, Afghanistan, Iraq and other sundry events that have left me wondering about the role of the United States in international events. But I always believed – and, in fact – still do, that we, for all our many mistakes, do our best to do the right thing.

But it is still sobering, this Senate Committee Report. If true, it means we have made some serious mistakes. Good that we are admitting them and working to see them righted.

I agree with Senator McCain’s assessment. I can understand how these decisions were made but am disturbed that they were. It is my hope – and prayer – that we do our best to prevent more “mistakes” and that we continue striving to be the beacon on the hill of freedom.

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