Honoring a ‘Terror War’ Architect

Exclusive: In this season of graduations and the rush to bestow honorary degrees on the “great and powerful” one ironic moment will play out at Fordham University, where Jesuits are giving top billing among its honorees to White House counterterrorism chief John Brennan, notes Fordham grad (and ex-CIA analyst) Ray McGovern.

By Ray McGovern

Since even readers of the New York Times are aware of deputy national security adviser John Brennan’s open identification with torture, secret prisons and other abuses of national and international law, Fordham University’s invitation to him to give the commencement address on May 19 brought, well, shock and awe to many Fordham students, faculty and alumni.

It now turns out we didn’t know the half of it. Piling outrage upon indignity, Fordham announced this week that Brennan will enjoy pride of place among the “eight notables” on whom it will confer honorary degrees at commencement. The others receiving a Doctorate in Humane Letters, honoris causa, include Timothy Cardinal Dolan (Archbishop of New York), and Brooklyn congressman Edolphus Towns.

White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan

Unlike his co-recipients, Brennan is widely known for his advocacy of kidnapping-for-torture (aka “extraordinary rendition”) and killing “militants” (including U.S. citizens) with “Hellfire” missiles fired by “Predator” and “Reaper” drone aircraft.

These practices and “Special Forces” operations guarantee an indefinite supply of anti-U.S. militants for what is now known as the “new normal” in the kind of wars that former Gen. and now CIA Director David Petraeus has said our grandchildren will still be fighting.

The endless supply of “insurgents” engendered by the violent tactics so beloved of Brennan makes Americans less secure. But there is no sign that Brennan recognizes that, or cares. Not that some of Brennan’s co-honorees are all that great, either.

Cardinal Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, is best known for his outspokenness on pelvic issues, his stalwart defense of the first nine months of life, and his deafening silence on the taking of life in war. Since by all evidence he is far more interested in birth control than death control, it is impossible to know where Dolan or his fellow bishops stand on the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan. He abjures any attempt to offer moral guidance on issues like war, preferring to defer, as the Fordham Jesuits do, to a good Jesuit-trained Catholic like Brennan to make decisions on such issues.

Edolphus Towns’s claim to distinction, in Fordham’s pre-commencement publicity, relates to his bringing “millions of dollars” to his district. Unmentioned is Towns’s membership in the Congressional Unmanned Systems (Drone) Caucus, which serves as a lobbying arm for drones, a new cash cow for the defense-industrial-congressional complex.

O Tempora, O Mores!

Since John Brennan has been accorded the dual honor of commencement speaker cum Doctorate of Humane Letters honoris causa, let’s try to piece together why Fordham’s Trustees decided to single him out for such glory. What, in other words, is the causa behind the honores? Why does George Orwell have a smirk on his face; and why are many past and present Jesuits holding their noses, Justice Jesuits like Rupert Mayer, Pedro Arupe, Dean Brackley and Dan Berrigan?

Could it be that Brennan is being honored for his role in serving up fraudulent intelligence to “justify” attacking Iraq in 2003? Or is it perhaps his open advocacy of kidnapping Muslim clerics off the streets of Milan (he calls it “extraordinary rendition”) and rendering them to “friendly” intelligence services more practiced at torture techniques than the CIA?

Is it the secret prisons he favored for “enhanced” interrogation techniques; or maybe his role in promoting illegal eavesdropping on Americans? Or could it be his stalwart defense of the intentional drone killing of American citizens without charge or judicial process? Or is it the aggregate set of abuses. And could intelligent Jesuits actually believe these approaches are okay because they are “keeping us safe?”

This would mean the teaching of moral theology at Fordham has changed markedly. Five decades ago, torture was very clearly put in the same category as slavery and rape, always “intrinsically evil”, no gray areas. I wonder where Fordham’s moral theologians now put remote-control drone killings of people on the hunch they are “militants.”

The causa of the honores could have a simpler explanation, one that risks damage to the mystique of Jesuit sophistication, no, not sophistry. Maybe the Fordham Jesuits and Trustees get their news from Fox. Perhaps their thought process was simply this: Brennan is a Fordham alumnus; he works in the White House; isn’t that enough?

Earlier Indignities

This is hardly the first time a Jesuit university has succumbed to the “prestige virus” and given a proven scoundrel high honors at a commencement. There are, sad to say, numerous examples, but one comes immediately to mind.

It is George W. Bush’s national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, who, according to ABC News, chaired White House deliberations in 2002 and 2003 at which CIA torture techniques were “almost choreographed” by the most senior national security officials. The objective was to determine which particular technique, or combination, might be most effectively applied to which “high-value detainee.”

Rice gave the commencement address at Boston College on May 22, 2006, and was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws (yes, George Orwell, that is ironic.).

An onlooker would be permitted the reasonable inference that one causa of the honores must be the promoting of torture that Rice and Brennan held in common. Maybe an objective history of the Inquisition, and the Jesuit role in it, was not included in the books available at Jesuit seminaries.

Or, worse still, maybe it is the case that ingrained habits, like jesuitically justifying torture, can apply for renewal after several centuries. Habits die slowly. Has torture and killing of innocents now entered some sort of gray area in moral theology because a Jesuit-trained, White House functionary now says these things are necessary to “keep us safe?”

O Tempora, O Morons!

It remains to be seen whether what happened when the hapless Jesuits of Boston College invited Rice turns out to be a harbinger of what is in store at Fordham next Saturday. Ten days before the commencement at BC, Steve Almond, adjunct professor of English, resigned in protest. Here are excerpts from his letter to BC’s president, Rev. William P. Leahy, S.J.:

“I am writing to resign as a direct result of your decision to invite Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to be the commencement speaker at this year’s graduation.

“Many members of the faculty and student body already have voiced their objection to the invitation, arguing that Rice’s actions as secretary of state are inconsistent with the broader humanistic values of the university and the Catholic and Jesuit traditions from which those values derive.

“But I am not writing this letter simply because of an objection to the war against Iraq. My concern is more fundamental. Simply put, Rice is a liar. She has lied to the American people knowingly, repeatedly, often extravagantly over the past five years, in an effort to justify a pathologically misguided foreign policy.

“This is the woman to whom you will be bestowing an honorary degree, along with the privilege of addressing the graduating class of 2006. Honestly, Father Leahy, what lessons do you expect her to impart to impressionable seniors? that it is acceptable to lie to the American people for political gain?

“I cannot, in good conscience, exhort my students to pursue truth and knowledge, then collect a paycheck from an institution that displays such flagrant disregard for both. I would like to apologize to my students and prospective students. I would also urge them to investigate the words and actions of Rice, and to exercise their own First Amendment rights at her speech.”

Professor Almond was hardly alone. About a third of Boston College’s faculty members signed a letter objecting to Rice’s appearance. And here is how the New York Times reported the commencement event:

“Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice delivered the commencement address on Monday at Boston College to an audience that included dozens of students and professors who stood, turned their backs and held up signs to protest the war in Iraq.

“A small plane flew overhead twice, pulling a sign that said, in red letters, ‘Your War Brings Dishonor.’ Outside Alumni Stadium, where 3,234 students received diplomas, protesters marched up Beacon Street holding signs reading ‘No Blood For Oil’ and ‘We’re Patriotic Too.’”

“Inside, however, Ms. Rice received a standing ovation when she was introduced, and she drew applause throughout her address.”

Daniel Berrigan, S.J.’s Sad Prophecy

In his autobiography, To Dwell in Peace, Daniel Berrigan wrote of “the fall of a great enterprise”, the Jesuit university. He recorded his “hunch” that the university would end up “among those structures whose moral decline and political servitude signalize a larger falling away of the culture itself.”

Berrigan lamented “highly placed” churchmen and their approval of war, “uttered with sublime confidence, from on high, from highly placed friendships, and White House connections.”

“Thus compromised,” warned Berrigan, “the Christian tradition of nonviolence, as well as the secular boast of disinterested pursuit of truth, these are reduced to bombast, hauled out for formal occasions, believed by no one, practiced by no one.”

The good news is that, despite an out-of-touch president, Rev. Joseph M. McShane, S.J., and his trustees, there remain people of strong conscience at Fordham, people immunized against the “prestige virus” infecting what some have come to call the Vichy Jesuits. There are students and alumni with a good sense of history; people aware not only of the Inquisition, but also of more recent history in Nazi Germany during the 1930s, when the Catholic and Lutheran churches could not find their voice.

Many Fordham people know they cannot in good conscience remain silent on such matters; they know that what is at stake is the very soul of our country. Justice-oriented students are now finalizing plans for specific actions at commencement.  A new Facebook page briefly outlining the planning to date has already drawn intense interest, negative as well as positive. It appears that many students abhor the unpleasantness inevitably attached to witnessing to the abuses in which the main commencement speaker has had such a key role.

One post read: “I just wanted to say that as a recent Fordham graduate studying Islam and American foreign policy concerning Islam in graduate school, I am so proud of the people … who will stage this protest at commencement. I cannot overstate how much of an uphill battle it is to have kind, sensible and ethical voices like yours heard in this world, where monied and political interests stifle this kind of informed and humane dissent, in the public realm and in academia as well.”
Another read: “For the people complaining about their graduation being ‘ruined,’ it is as much your right to have a graduation free from protest as it is our right to have a graduation free of one of the most despicable propagators of violence in our era. I do not condone torture, I do not condone the indiscriminate use of drones, why should MY graduation be tainted with political ideology I do not support.”

In addition, many of the faculty are signing on to a letter to President McShane requesting a sit-down with Brennan before commencement. They want to ask him how he justifies his support for the kind of cruel, inhuman and degrading interrogation techniques (aka, torture) that are banned by domestic and international law.

Meanwhile, many supporters of justice-oriented students are also planning appropriate protest actions. One activity is “Stop the Drone Week at Fordham.”

It may not be an exaggeration to suggest that, as Saturday goes, so goes Fordham.

Ray McGovern received a B.A. summa cum laude (Phi Beta Kappa) and M.A. in Russian from Fordham University. He was also, briefly, an adjunct instructor there, but was deprived of the opportunity to resign in protest since it was not the practice, in those years, to honor scoundrels at commencement. McGovern was a CIA and Army Intelligence analyst for 30 years and now works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington.

20 comments for “Honoring a ‘Terror War’ Architect

  1. Hillary
    May 15, 2012 at 22:49

    John Brennan graduated from the Immaculate Heart of Mary elementary school & Fordham University.

    To neocon Brennan civilian collateral murders is the price “we have” to pay.

    Perhaps as in previous crusades this Christian Crusader’s sins both past & future have been forgiven?


  2. Vic Anderson
    May 15, 2012 at 18:21

    Doctor Medea, INSTEAD!

  3. robert harrington
    May 14, 2012 at 23:35

    perhaps a Jesuit could recite the Sermon on the Mount prior to Brennan’s address. then ‘both sides’ could be represented.

  4. William T. Paccone
    May 14, 2012 at 17:12

    Terrorist John Brennan and pelvic-focused Cardinal Dolan? Well, I guess Brennan’s worse, but what a terrible choice these two make. I had been a proud graduate of Fordham, class or ’56. Now, however, I’m ashamed.

    How could my university sink so low?

  5. Thomas
    May 13, 2012 at 21:24

    The Mission of the University

    Fordham University, the Jesuit University of New York, is committed to the discovery of Wisdom and the transmission of Learning, through research and through undergraduate, graduate and professional education of the highest quality. Guided by its Catholic and Jesuit traditions, Fordham fosters the intellectual, moral and religious development of its students and prepares them for leadership in a global society.

    • Frances in California
      May 14, 2012 at 16:06

      Unfortunately, Fordham seems to consider things like the Milgram experiment “eduction of the highest quality”.

  6. Kenny Fowler
    May 13, 2012 at 14:47

    “But I am not writing this letter simply because of an objection to the war against Iraq. My concern is more fundamental. Simply put, Rice is a liar. She has lied to the American people knowingly, repeatedly, often extravagantly over the past five years, in an effort to justify a pathologically misguided foreign policy. …

    Yeah, Condi lied, told some whoppers. People have gone to jail for less. She certainly deserved some slammer time for the lies she told. She had as much credibility as the Iraqi information minister broadcasting from Baghdad during the invasion.

  7. Thomas
    May 13, 2012 at 11:11

    A group of Pakistanis met in Islamabad late last month to discuss the impact of U.S. drone strikes in their communities. One of the attendees was a 16-year-old boy named Tariq Aziz, who had volunteered to learn photography to begin documenting drone strikes near his home. Within 72 hours of the meeting, Aziz was killed in a U.S. drone strike. His 12-year-old cousin was also killed in the Oct. 31 attack. “People were aware of the threat to them. Yet they volunteered—Tariq, in particular, because he, at his age in that remote community, was familiar with computers, was excited about the idea of being able to document the civilian casualties,” says reporter Pratap Chatterjee, who met Aziz days before he was killed. As part of a larger investigation on the CIA-led U.S. covert drone war, Chatterjee and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism reports that drone strikes in Pakistan have killed at least 392 civilians, including 175 children. “I question as to whether the CIA is really attempting to identify people before they kill them,” he says. “It would have been so easy for the CIA, the ISI, to come question these kids, to have taken them aside, even put them in jail or interrogated them… But instead they chose to kill them.” [includes rush transcript]

    A week ago I joined a group of elders and dozens of other young men who had travelled from Waziristan, in northern Pakistan, to Islamabad to discuss the impact of US drone strikes in their communities.

    Among the group was Tariq Aziz, a quiet 16-year-old, who had come after he received a phone call from a lawyer in Islamabad offering him an opportunity to learn basic photography to help document these strikes.

    We met for a grand dinner in the conference hall of a luxury hotel. And the next day we all met again at an official meeting – a ‘Waziristan Grand Jirga’. I filmed Tariq Aziz as he walked in with his friends. Each of them pressed their right palms on the chest of each of the elders who lined up to meet them.

    Tariq was proud to be part of this meeting. About 18 months earlier, in April 2010, his cousin Aswar Ullah was killed by a missile fired from a drone as he rode a motorcycle near Norak.

    Tariq, like all of us, listened intently to the speakers, who included the politician and former cricketer Imran Khan.

    What none of us could have imagined was that 72 hours later, this football-loving teenager would himself be killed by a CIA drone, along with his 12-year-old cousin Waheed Khan.

  8. Thomas
    May 13, 2012 at 11:03

    With their moral compass spinning like a roulette wheel and the church being found in complicity with child molesters not only in America, but world wide, why not honor other abusers? The church has routinely abused the moral authority of Christ’s words to cow their victims into silence. Rather than make common cause with the powerless and the abused, they sideline the victims and those who represent the powerless to bask in the limelight of power and control. Rejecting the very essence of Christian piety… They honor the worst monsters and abusers of the downtrodden and powerless. Their abuse of the children resides confortably next to these murders of children… Sixteen year old Tarek Aziz and his twelve year old cousin were targeted and blown to bits as they rode their motorbike by Brenin…. Now, the Jesuits honor not only child molesters, but unapologetic child murderers too. Next year Lt. William Calley..??

  9. drew
    May 13, 2012 at 09:59

    In terms of protecting the Americans from foreign terrorists, I believe that there were about 97 Al Qaeda operatives in Afghan, 5 years ago. Has this number decreased, to lets say about 96, since we’ve spent hundreds of billions of dollars on the war?

    Thank god people like Brennan are protecting us.

    • Frances in California
      May 14, 2012 at 16:04

      Protecting your bottom line is all Brennan is protecting. You sound completely Orwellian.

      • F. G. Sanford
        May 14, 2012 at 23:16

        Frances, I think drew was being facetious. (I hope I spelled that right.) We’ve spent billions fighting an enemy that statistically doesn’t exist. Philip Giraldi, ex CIA analyst, points out that in 2010, there were 14,000 murders in USA. None of them was committed by an Islamic terrorist. TSA, NDAA, the Patriot act, and H.R. 347 were not implemented to protect us from terrorism. They were implemented to protect the government from domestic dissent. In the ten years we’ve been fighting the “war on terror”, the only suspects arrested have been the patsies of entrapment stings. Brennan and like-minded ideologues have insured that there will be millions of people overseas who have had innocent friends, relatives and children killed to protect us from ten years of terrorism that never happened. Terrorism directed against USA is definitely a possibility when one considers the animosity we are generating with drone strikes, depleted uranium, entire populations reduced to refugee status and no chance for peace in sight. Now, THAT’S what I call Orwellian. Your chances of being murdered are 14,000 times greater than being killed by a terrorist. But that doesn’t get any votes or supply defense contractors with billions of dollars in profits.

  10. rosemerry
    May 13, 2012 at 01:42

    Thanks for continuing this theme, Ray. Christopher (ironic that name!) shows the uphill battle you have. I often think of the wonderful Kathy Kelly of Voices for Creative Non-violence, who would be a marvellous speaker to inspire the students. She is passionately antiwar, and has paid for her “crimes” with imprisonment in the US “justice system. She visited Iraq in solidarity with the people there twenty times in the 1990’s.Not as a bomber, or to plan attacks or poison water or destroy infrastructure, but, horror of horrors, to go against US policy which she believed, as a TRUE Christian, to be wrong. Brennan, Paul Ryan, Boehner, SCOTUS “Justices” are not what I would accept as Catholics at all.

  11. Christopher
    May 12, 2012 at 21:37

    Ray McGovern must have nothing better to do; this is the third editorial I have read written by him in protest of John Brennan as Commencement speaker. John Brennan has dedicated his life to protecting our country from terrorists, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Instead of being vilified, Mr. Brennan should be treated with the respect that he deserves. I can guarantee you that as terrorists are plotting ways to murder more Americans, they do not give any thought at all to human rights. As American citizens, it does not make sense for us to fret over the thought of bringing some discomfort to people who spend every waking moment hating us. As a current Fordham student, I am proud that our school has chosen to honor a man who has made a lot of personal sacrifices in order to help prevent another attack on US soil.

    • incontinent reader
      May 13, 2012 at 02:16

      Christopher- It is a tragedy you are so misinformed and uneducated about these issues, especially when you have had a prime opportunity here to learn from Ray McGovern and Paul Pillar, both of whom had decades of experience in the CIA, including in the Middle East, as well as from other experts, who are telling you what is happening there, rather than what John Brennan and the Agency want you to hear. If Ray were a tenured professor at Fordham, and you had the opportunity to speak at length with him, maybe you would treat his comments with more respect. And, of course, the same with Paul, who is a distinguished professor at Georgetown.

    • Thomas
      May 13, 2012 at 20:55

      “As American citizens, it does not make sense for us to fret over the thought of bringing some discomfort to people who spend every waking moment hating us”

      Yaa, Christopher… “bringing some discomfort” would mean different things to different people… but rest assured, killing innocent women and children exceeds your discomfort euphemism, so euphemistic un fact that it’s intellectually dishonest…

      and….. “people who spend every waking moment hating us” More exaggeration and sophmoric propaganda… Even histories worst monsters like Adolf Eichmann didn’t “spend every waking moment hating”… But if you or someone else WANTED a person to “spend every waking moment hating” US… Killing their innocent loved ones, especially their children, would work as well as anything I can contemplate!!!

      Honoring monsters that slaughter the innocent, especially women and children is no affront when it is Stormfront or the “One Shot Two kills” IDF snipers who like to shoot pregnant Palestinian women in the stomach. See it here: http://news.sky.com/home/world-news/article/15245946 or google “one shot two kills”

      However it IS an outrage when those claiming to be Christians or FAR WORSE the Church or Church supported and or affiliated institutions perpetuate honor for genocide and racial supremacists who do the wet work of the murder and mayhem. Wasn’t the silence and complicity of the Catholic Church in Nazi times enough:

      “Re ”Holocaust Writer in Storm Over Role of Catholic Church” (news article, Nov. 14):

      In a vast documentation of the culpability of the Roman Catholic Church in the Nazi genocide of the Jews, the archdiocese of Munich has caught Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, the author of ”A Moral Reckoning,” in one tiny mistake. It has gone to court to get an injunction against the sale of the book, reviving the index of what it does not want people to read.

      Mr. Goldhagen misidentified a cleric marching at a Nazi rally in a photograph included in his text. Relying on the authority of a responsible scholarly archive, he indicated that the priest was Cardinal Michael Faulhaber. It wasn’t.

      Still, several incidents involving the cardinal, cited in the book and not challenged by anyone, are devastating. They support the author’s argument that the church was not a passive witness to the Holocaust but an active collaborator in it.

      And who was the mysterious father in the photograph? Alas, the papal nuncio, Cesare Orsenigo, the personal diplomatic representative of Pius XI.”

      Time for Jesuits to embrace the values Christ died for, Not the values of those who instigated his crucifixion…
      us from, the Church and the Church from their leaders who seek the wages of sin..

      • Frances in California
        May 14, 2012 at 16:02

        Thomas on May, you must be a college prof., or do you just think like one? I wish my son could do grad. work with you.

    • robert harrington
      May 14, 2012 at 14:44

      so torture is ‘bringing some discomfort’. evidently you agree that torture is permissible. I am sure Christ and St Ignatius Loyola are on your side.
      College Class of ’69

  12. F. G. Sanford
    May 12, 2012 at 21:29

    In Nazi Germany, when the Catholic and Lutheran churches could not find their voices, a courageous young woman found it for them. Her name was Sophie Scholl. She stoically went to Germany’s guillotine for her humanity. To think of her in the same moment that I am reminded of Condoleeza Rice’s…let’s face it, treachery, literally brings tears to my eyes. Have these people no shame? Thanks for your continued efforts to keep us alongside the better angels.

  13. Morton Kurzweil
    May 12, 2012 at 19:38

    Jesuits believe that Faith is a source of Knowledge. All arguments begin with supposition that Truth is the ultimate conclusion based on Faith. It is to be expected that any philosophical exercise will find support for whatever policy favors the political hierarchy. Since Law is the sincerest form of behavior control, it is to be expected that praise is given to those who represent the orthodox.

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