The Moral Torment of Leon Panetta

Exclusive: Leon Panetta returned to government in 2009 amid hopes he could cleanse the CIA where torture and politicized intelligence had brought the U.S. to new lows in world respect. Yet, after four years at CIA and Defense, it is Panetta who departs morally compromised, says ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern.

By Ray McGovern

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, a practicing Catholic, sought a blessing on Wednesday from Pope Benedict XVI. Afterward Panetta reported that the Pope said, “Thank you for helping to keep the world safe” to which Panetta replied, “Pray for me.”

In seeking those prayers, Panetta knows better than the Pope what moral compromises have surrounded him during his four years inside the Obama administration, as CIA director overseeing the covert war against al-Qaeda and as Defense Secretary deploying the largest military on earth.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta speaks with Pope Benedict XVI during an audience at the Vatican on Jan. 16, 2013. (Photo credit: Defense Department, Wikimedia Commons)

For me and others who initially had high hopes for Panetta, his performance in both jobs has been a bitter disappointment. Before accepting the CIA post, Panetta had criticized the moral and constitutional violations in George W. Bush’s “war on terror,” especially the use of torture.

Taking note of Panetta’s outspoken comments, I hailed Panetta’s selection on Jan. 8, 2009, writing: “At long last. Change we can believe in. In choosing Leon Panetta to take charge of the CIA, President-elect Barack Obama has shown he is determined to put an abrupt end to the lawlessness and deceit with which the administration of George W. Bush has corrupted intelligence operations and analysis.

“Character counts. And so does integrity. With those qualities, and the backing of a new President, Panetta is equipped to lead the CIA out of the wilderness into which it was taken by sycophantic directors with very flexible attitudes toward truth, honesty and the law, directors who deemed it their duty to do the President’s bidding, legal or illegal; honest or dishonest.

“In a city in which lapel-flags have been seen as adequate substitutes for the Constitution, Panetta will bring a rigid adherence to the rule of law. For Panetta this is no battlefield conversion. On torture, for example, this is what he wrote a year ago:

“‘We cannot simply suspend [American ideals of human rights] in the name of national security. Those who support torture may believe that we can abuse captives in certain select circumstances and still be true to our values. But that is a false compromise. We either believe in the dignity of the individual, the rule of law, and the prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment, or we don’t. There is no middle ground. We cannot and we must not use torture under any circumstances. We are better than that.’”

While it may be true that Panetta did end the CIA’s torture of detainees, he didn’t exactly live up to his broader commitment to observe higher standards of human rights. At the CIA, Panetta presided over an expansion of a lethal drone program that targeted al-Qaeda operatives (and whoever happened to be near them at the time) with sudden, violent death.

Even some neocons from the Bush administration their own hands stained with blood from Bush’s unprovoked invasion of Iraq and their consciences untouched by their rationalizations for waterboarding and other forms of torture chided the Obama administration for replacing “enhanced interrogation techniques” with expanded drone strikes.

Panetta’s Defense

Of course, we may not know for many years exactly what Panetta’s private counsel to Obama was in connection with the drones and other counterterrorism strategies. He may have been in the classic predicament of a person who has accepted a position of extraordinary power and then faced the need to compromise on moral principles for what he might justify as the greater good.

None of us who have been in or close to such situations take those choices lightly. As easy as it is to be cynical, I have known many dedicated public servants who have tried to steer policies toward less destructive ends, something they only could do by working inside the government. Others have struggled over balancing the choice of resigning in protest against staying and continuing to fight the good fight.

Some Panetta defenders say that he saw his role as ratcheting down the levels of violence from the indiscriminate slaughter associated with Bush’s invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and has tried to steer the United States away from a new possibly even more destructive war with Iran. As CIA director, he did stand by the brave analysts regarding their assessment that Iran had discarded its nuclear weapons program.

According to this favorable view of Panetta, his tradeoff to avoid the mass killings from general warfare has been to support targeted killings of suspected terrorists. In other words, Panetta has been in the camp generally associated with Vice President Joe Biden, urging narrower counterterrorism operations rather than broader counterinsurgency war.

Yet, this idea of tallying up possible large-scale civilian deaths like the hundreds of thousands who died in Bush’s Iraq War versus the smaller but still significant deaths from drone strikes makes for a difficult moral equation. It may explain why Leon Panetta was so eager to have Pope Benedict “pray for me.”

So, while it’s possible that historians will discover in decades to come that Panetta gave President Obama sage advice and tried to bend the arc of U.S. military violence downward, I, for one, remain deeply disappointed with Panetta and regretful of my earlier optimism.

I had the preconceived and, it turns out, misguided notion that Panetta, who a year earlier had denounced torture, and who brought with him a wealth of experience and innumerable contacts on Capitol Hill and in the federal bureaucracy, would be not only determined but also able clean up the mess at the CIA.

Moreover, I persuaded myself that I could expect from Panetta, a contemporary with the same education I received at the hands of the Jesuits including moral theology/ethics, might wear some insulation from power that corrupts.

I have learned, though, that no one is immune from the sirens of power, which is an alternative way to explain Panetta’s actions over the past four years. As for Jesuits, there are justice Jesuits like Dan Berrigan and others like the ones that now run my alma mater Fordham.

The latter brand either knowingly, or out of what Church theologians call “invincible ignorance” seem to be happy riding shotgun for the system, including aggressive war, kidnapping, torture, the whole nine yards.  (For a recent, insightful essay on this issue, see “Sticks and Drones, and Company Men: The Selective Outrage of the Liberal Caste,” by Jim Kavanagh.)

To me, it was painful to watch Panetta make the decision to become the CIA’s defense lawyer, rather than take charge as its director. He left in place virtually all those responsible for the “dark-side” abuses of the Cheney/Bush administration, and bent flexibly with the prevailing wind toward holding no one accountable.

Long forgotten is the fact that Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder initially gave some lip service to the concept of no one being above the law. Rhetoric is one thing, though; action another.

Counterattack on Torture

When Obama’s timid Attorney General, Eric Holder, gathered the courage to begin an investigation of torture and other war crimes implicating CIA officials past and present, he ran into a buzz saw operated by those inside the CIA and in key media outlets, like the neocon-dominated Washington Post. Those forces pulled out all the stops to quash the Department of Justice’s preliminary investigation.

This effort reached bizarre proportions when seven previous CIA directors, including three who were themselves implicated in planning and conducting torture and other abuses, wrote to the President in September 2009, asking him to call off Holder. The letter and the motivation behind it could not have been more transparent or inappropriate.

Obama and Holder caved. By all accounts, Panetta supported the former directors who, in my view, deserve the sobriquet “the seven moral dwarfs.”

Leon Panetta, like me, was commissioned in the U.S. Army when he graduated from college he from the University of Santa Clara (I from Fordham). Entering the Army may have been the first time each of us swore a solemn oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” but it was hardly the last time.

Panetta, however, has displayed a willingness to disrespect the Constitution when it encumbers what the Obama administration wishes to do. Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution reserves to Congress the power to declare or authorize war.

Granted, an unprecedentedly craven Congress has shown itself all too willing to abnegate that responsibility in recent years. Only a few members of the House and Senate seem to care very much when presidents act like kings and send off troops drawn largely from a poverty draft to wars not authorized (or simply rubber-stamped) by Congress. This sad state of affairs, however, does not absolve the Executive Branch from its duty to abide by Article 1, Section 8.

This matters and matters very much. At a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 7, Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama, pursued this issue with Panetta and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey. Chafing belatedly over the unauthorized nature of the war in Libya, Sessions asked repeatedly what “legal basis” would the Obama administration rely on to do in Syria what it did in Libya.

Watching that part of the testimony it seemed to me that Sessions, a conservative Southern lawyer, was not at all faking it when he pronounced himself “almost breathless” as Panetta stonewalled time after time. Panetta made it explicitly clear that the administration does not believe it needs to seek congressional approval for wars like the one in Libya in which the United States contributed air power and intelligence support, though not ground troops.

Sessions: “I am really baffled. The only legal authority that’s required to deploy the U.S. military [in combat] is the Congress and the President and the law and the Constitution.”

Panetta: “Let me just for the record be clear again, Senator, so there is no misunderstanding. When it comes to national defense, the President has the authority under the Constitution to act to defend this country, and we will, Sir.” (Here is the entire 7-minute video clip.) 

Panetta was also the first senior Obama official to assert that American citizens who are branded “terrorists” and are suspected of “trying to kill our people” can be targeted for death on Executive power alone.

In an interview with CBS 60 Minutes‘ Scott Pelley, Panetta was asked about the secret process the Obama administration uses to kill American citizens suspected of terrorism. He explained that the President himself approves the decision based on recommendations from top national security officials.

Panetta said, “if someone is a citizen of the United States, and is a terrorist, who wants to attack our people and kill Americans, in my book that person is a terrorist. And the reality is that under our laws, that person is a terrorist. And we’re required under a process of law, to be able to justify, that despite the fact that person may be a citizen, he is first and foremost a terrorist who threatens our people, and for that reason, we can establish a legal basis on which we oughta go after that individual, just as we go after bin Laden, just as we go after other terrorists. Why? Because their goal is to kill our people, and for that reason we have to defend ourselves.”

Now, after four years in this swamp of moral and legal relativism, Panetta has turned to Pope Benedict for prayers and blessings, an ironic choice since Benedict himself has shown a high tolerance for sloshing around in this muck.

In April 2008, Benedict visited the United States amid sordid disclosures about the Bush administration’s practices of torture and worldwide recognition that Bush had ordered the invasion and occupation of Iraq based on false claims about WMD and ties to al-Qaeda.

On torture, reporting by ABC depicted George W. Bush’s most senior aides (Cheney, Powell, Rumsfeld, Ashcroft, Rice and Tenet) meeting multiple times in the White House during 2002-03 to sort out complete with practical demonstrations the most efficient mix of torture techniques for captured “terrorists.” When initially ABC attempted to insulate the President from this sordid activity, Bush responded that he knew all about it and had approved.

But Benedict maintained a discreet silence, placing feel-good scenes of happy Catholics cheering his presence over a moral obligation to condemn wrongdoing, a pattern that has recurred far too frequently in the history of the Vatican.

When I visited Yad VaShem, the Holocaust museum in West Jerusalem a few years ago, I experienced painful reminders of what happens when the Church allows itself to be captured by Empire. An acquiescent church loses whatever residual moral authority it may have had.

At the entrance to the museum, a quotation by German essayist Kurt Tucholsky set a universally applicable tone: “A country is not just what it does it is also what it tolerates.”

Still more compelling words came from Imre Bathory, a Hungarian who put his own life at grave risk by helping to save Jews from the concentration camps: “I know that when I stand before God on Judgment Day, I shall not be asked the question posed to Cain: ‘Where were you when your brother’s blood was crying out to God?’”

It is a question that Leon Panetta may want to ask himself as he retires from government service at age 74 and retreats to his walnut farm in California. For Panetta’s sake, let’s hope papal prayer will help him sort it all out.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He served as an Army Infantry/Intelligence officer in the early 60s, and then for 27 years as a CIA analyst. He serves on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

20 comments for “The Moral Torment of Leon Panetta

  1. Frances in California
    January 23, 2013 at 18:02

    You actually believe that? No, no . . . I can detect in your style, yes, you do actually believe that. The insidious enemy we combat lives in our MIRRORS, Mr. Rooney; never doubt that. And instead of hectoring McGovern, go look in yours and attempt to own your own evil. We should all do the same. ~ Unitarian/Universalist Growing Impatient.

  2. incontinent reader
    January 21, 2013 at 18:02

    Larry Fritz: I am baffled by your comments. Leon Panetta was DCIA and the Secretary of Defense- i.e., he had the top operational responsibility at both agencies, so he must be accountable for the policies he formulated and the actions he took, and what the public has seen is not pretty at all. Panetta may have been an able Congressman, though his legislative service was not without its flaws and mistakes, but it seems as if your friendship with Panetta has blinded you to his record with the Administration.

    You’ve also seemed to misconstrue Ray’s role and record. Managing the team that prepared the daily briefings for President Reagan and Vice President Bush, e.g., assembling, assessing, interpreting, and prioritizing the massive amount of information that the Agency had at its disposal, to create an intelligible daily narrative of the facts on the ground- the primary document that informed the President and V-P of what was happening in the world, and of the risks, dangers and opportunities facing the nation, as well as using his specific expertise as a Soviet specialist to help assess the Soviet Union’s military strength and strategic objectives, is something very different from perpetuating or initiating illegal wars, or approving drone attacks in violation of another nation’s sovereignty, or turning the other way to ignore past CIA practice of torture and present CIA complicity in torture by our allies, etc., etc.

    Ray McGovern’s work met a critical intelligence need, and, from what I’ve heard, Ray was one of the very best at what he did- and this was intelligence, not operations.

    In evaluating what that means, let’s assume as a basic postulate that people and governments cannot make rational decisions without a clear understanding of the facts, or at least without a fair approximation of them- and, that the CIA’s primary mandate under its charter was as an intelligence agency to gather and interpret foreign intelligence. Yet one of the big issues at the Agency was, and is, the compromising of the intelligence function and the fabrication of intelligence to support unrealistic and sometimes highly destructive policy agendas. In the 1980’s, it included an attempt by the Team B neocons and DCIA Casey to distort our view of the Soviet Union and its military capability and intentions, in order to reignite the nuclear arms race- and it went so far as to allege that the Soviets were running an international terror network (a precursor to their claim in 2001 of an Al Qaeda “global terror network”, something the Bush Administration tried to demonstrate through several ludicrous prosecutions, all of which they lost); at the same time, it was intelligence officers like Ray, Melvin Goodman, Paul Pillar, and Elizabeth Murray who fought to preserve the integrity of the Agency and provide a truthful narrative and realistic interpretation of the facts on the ground. They won some and lost some- my sense is that their major victory was reflected in the INF Treaty signed by Reagan-Gorbachev in 1987, despite many in the Administration who counseled against it- and who at that time did not feel safer that we had avoided the existential risk of nuclear war?- while their greatest defeat was the cancerous growth of the neocons into its own terrorist network that 14 years later was able to manufacture facts and create a “war on terror” that has since led us into dozens of unprovoked wars or conflicts of aggression. So, trying to discredit Ray because he worked at the Agency under Reagan and Bush Administrations that did “bad things”, when Ray and his colleagues were fighting to tell the truth and keep the Agency clean so that those “bad things” would not happen, or, gratuitously elevating Leon because you knew him as a “good guy” longer than you knew Ray as a “good guy”, in order to create some sort of moral equivalency, or, worse, an implication that Leon was somehow better than Ray, seems silly if not a little disingenuous and sleazy, no matter how you cut it. As for Leon and the Pope, I don’t care how many indulgences Leon buys, he will have a hard time climbing into Purgatory if he can reach that far.

    Liam Rooney: I don’t discount your experience, but Ray McGovern was in the eye of the storm and knew (and probably still knows) a helluva lot more than you or I will ever know as to what was and is really going on. As for “Al Qaeda”, I repeat, the notion peddled in 2001 that it was a “global network” allied to destroy the West was sheer fantasy, and the criminal cases that the Bush administration brought after 9/11 to prove it were laughable. And don’t forget that it was the CIA that funded and trained the jihadists, both directly and through proxies, not only in the 1980s, but throughout the 1990’s, including in madrassas we helped set up in the Balkans, Caucasus and Central Asia, or that it was the CIA (and Ambassador Stevens) that later used jihadists in Libya, and are now using them in Syria and throughout North Africa. That is, if there ever was a terror network, or if there is one now, we were the ones who created and nurtured it. So, if the U.S. were truly serious about controlling “Al Qaeda”, it could always cut off the spigot and lean on our allies, including the Saudis, GCC and Turks to do the same, and it could demand that the Israelis sit down to make peace with the Palestinians. Furthermore, it could change its policy of initiating and fighting unprovoked preemptive wars, if for no other reason than to stop breeding more “terrorists”. (Or, as Ray has stated elsewhere, “stop trying to shoot at the mosquitos and drain the swamp instead”).

  3. JymAllyn
    January 21, 2013 at 09:22

    Cara Anderson,

    Thank you for the affirmation and compliment.

    I am not an alcoholic, but I had the unfortunate experience of working for alcoholics on two different occasions because I did not recognize at the time that alcoholics don’t know when they are lying. (Although having a dependency does seem to be a job requirement to be a broadcaster on Faux Noose.)

    However, dealing with problems, regardless of being an alcoholic, requires the application of the serenity prayer, and knowing what you can, and cannot control.

    I don’t watch Faux Noose because I don’t want to loose control and throw a heavy object at my TV set, as if destroying MY TV would stop the fecal material coming from Faux.

    I am a firm believer that if you can’t find at least two solutions to a problem, then complaining about it becomes as disruptive as the problem itself.

    Obsessively thinking about, let alone reading about, the intellectual, moral, and legal corruption hidden in our society would drive me crazier than I already am.

    I bought Bob’s latest book “America’s Stolen Narrative” so that I could rationalize that I was supporting his courageous efforts in my small way. However, I am confident that I already know what is in the book, and confident in the integrity of his words.

    What I am not ready to do at the moment is read the book because I am not, at this moment, ready to emotionally or rationally deal with the truth of his details.

    But thank you for your encouragement.

  4. Cara Anderson
    January 21, 2013 at 02:48

    JymAllen, when I read your comment, “The rampant documentation of that moral corruption (in the name of “protecting the U.S.”) is why I cannot deny the irrational and terrifying possibility of our CIA being involved with the assassination of President John Kennedy,” I felt compelled to BEG you to read “JFK–The Unspeakable” and share it with others. You will no longer see C.I.A. involvement in the JFK assassination as a mere possibility, but rather as a probability, if not a certainty.

  5. BillB
    January 21, 2013 at 00:00

    Re: Should Ray McGovern have left the CIA?:

    There is no one-size-fits-all solution for such a situation as described above. If McGovern had left the CIA, Bush and Cheney would probably have been delighted to have one person fewer telling them the truth. By sticking around and telling them the truth, McGovern became a very valuable witness to history if not the war crimes trial that should have taken but probably never will take place.

    Re: The United States being like Nazi Germany:

    For openers, there are two events that are similar. On September 1, 1939 Nazi Germany initiated a devastating unprovoked attack on Poland. On March 19, 2003 the United States initiated a devastating unprovoked attack on Iraq. The differences were that the Nazis called their style of attack blitzkrieg – we called ours shock and awe.

    The other event is the way the “good Germans” went into denial about the crimes against humanity committed by their government – just like the “good Americans” are now into denial about the crimes against humanity committed in their name.

  6. JymAllyn
    January 20, 2013 at 12:00


    Despite the truth of your essay and opinions, your Catholic background is an impediment as to really understanding the behavior and motivations of both Panetta and Obama.

    There is an applicable term to describe their behavior that is also used to describe religious traditions and concepts, whether they are the “written word of God” of Jewish Orthodoxy, the “virgin birth” and “resurrection” of Fundamentalist Christianity, or the “Mohammed is the all-knowing Prophet” of Fundamentalist Islam (including the foolishness and fanaticism of Rehmat).

    The term is called Pious Fraud.

    And despite the good intentions of such belief and behavior, use of such lies leads to Authoritarian “leadership” and fanatical Jews, pedophile Priests, and Islamic terrorists. To avoid being discriminatory, it also leads to the Xenophobia of WW 2 Japan, Nazism, and the isolationist attitude of 15th Century China that banned further global exploration since it upset the Authoritarian intellect of the Emperor and his associates.

    The major motivation of most Atheists is likely NOT the inability to “find God” but rather their revulsion to the inanities and lies of religious Pious Fraud. Unlike, most “religious people” at least most Atheists have thought about the existence and questioned it.

    So what does THIS have to do with the CIA?

    Not everyone can be loving and trusting, and have that type of relationship with everyone. It is part of the mechanics of Evolution that in every successful society you need some callous, cynical people to serve as eyes and protectors for the rest of society.

    Our police, our military, and our CIA serve that function. That callousness, cynicism, and desire to be strong in enforcing the protection of society are the personal reasons for people to go into the police, the military, and the CIA in the first place.

    It is also partly why Obama is so effusive in (justifiably) praising the actions and sacrifices of our military. There is one thing worse for a soldier that survives warfare than losing that war. That worse thing is a feelings of loss that, because of the lies that got us into Iraq in 2003 (as well as the Vietnam War), the sacrifices of our military were in vain.

    However, while we have controls over the police and military, due to their international and multicultural activities, the question and challenge is whether we, the followers of the US Constitution, really have control over the CIA?

    Ray McGovern is far more qualified to answer that question than I do.

    From the stories of CIA dealings in Cuba, and Vietnam, and Central America, and Iraq, and elsewhere, the possibility that our CIA may the world’s biggest danger to our U.S. society scares me. There is an inherent moral corruption of authority when your influence comes from heroin sales as much as it does from weapons sales.

    The rampant documentation of that moral corruption (in the name of “protecting the U.S.”) is why I cannot deny the irrational and terrifying possibility of our CIA being involved with the assassination of President John Kennedy.

    Despite the obsession with rationality and practicality that President Obama has, and Ray McGovern’s hopes for Leon Panetta, there is still another possibility as to a reasons for their disappointing him that scares me even more.

    With the depth of influence that our CIA has, and their ability to act with ruthless invisibility, is the “caution” that infuriates Ray a result of Obama and Panetta trying to preserve the Pious Fraud of US self-righteousness? Or more terrifying yet, is the “caution” of Obama and Panetta because they actually know who killed Kennedy and are terrified of our CIA?

    (I envision a CIA version of the movie “Seven Days in May.”)

    While Ray is theologically correct in his views of Obama and Panetta, I am more tempted to “cut them some slack” and see what President Obama does in the next four years.

    My prayer is for Obama’s (and Ray’s) feelings of satisfaction on January 20, 2017, in watching when President Obama observes the swearing-in of his successor.

    And that our CIA is not a ruthless and callous as they might be.

    • Liam Rooney
      January 21, 2013 at 03:03

      I would not want to underestimate the ruthlessness of government employees with high level security clearances, but I seriously doubt the network is keeping the President and his cabinet in line with the spector of a Kennedey style assassination. From ten years of government contracting experience I am confident that career officers, dozens of them at that, could not keep secret such an explosive conspiracy. I remember after seeing Oliver Stone’s “JFK” that I might want to spruce up my own alibi for 11/22/63, and I was only 13 at the time. But I do believe that a strong CYA survival instinct, the number one priority of nearly every government worker, could prevent the truth from coming out for decades. More likely the real culprit is simply media incuriosity. Consider how few Americans know anything about Iran/Contra to the point that some of the bad actors were able to draw paychecks during the Bush administration (Abrams, Poindextor, Negreponte, et al.). That and the Dems lack of backbone in bringing these scoundrels to account after the power shifts in Washington. So, the CIA and the National Security Agency and even the military can continue to be excessive and at times murderous because when you get right down to it, Americans are ill-informed, misinformed, and ultimately apathetic about our countries excesses.

  7. Peter Loeb
    January 20, 2013 at 06:19

    At least he denounced torture, slaughter etc. and was a Catholic. After that,
    my eyes seem tohave no more tears. It’s like a murderer who claims a “moral”
    difficulty because after all he HAD to do it!

  8. rosemerry
    January 20, 2013 at 04:24

    Most of the Congress profess to be Christians, the SCOTUS has Catholic scoundrels like Roberts; to me, brought up as a Catholic but now a nonbeliever for 50 years,the interpretation these people manage to give in order to do the terrible things they do, makes it all a mockery. In 1945 the bomb on Nagasaki, from “Christian” US bombers, killed most of the Christians of the city as it landed on the Catholic cathedral. All the brutalityin interfering in Latin America over the centuries; in the “Homeland” the use of slavery, the lynching of black people, showed how much the “Christian” USA cared about moral values. Now that “terrorists” are the latest enemy, anyone can be targeted on the pretence that they are a threat to “Americans”, who of course are the only ones of value.

  9. Neil Farbstein
    January 20, 2013 at 02:19

    what acts of brutality are you talking about?
    what are you saying is being covered up by the media or the administration?
    what can you point to in particular?
    theres a lot of extravagant lies and innuendo going on around here you know and I know

  10. Liam Rooney
    January 20, 2013 at 02:02

    Mr. McGovern,

    While it is critical that we make every attempt to be a consistently peaceful and human-rights-respecting nation, we are currently combatting the most insidious adversary in terrorism. The front lines are on our doorsteps, the enemy has melted into various populations worldwide, including here at home, and he is very patient. Incredibly patient. I too am uncomfortable, and at times grieved, by the results of the drone war. And yes, we are being sloppy about constitutional protocol (I bristle to even use the word “protocol” here) but sometimes reality sucks. It sucks when an American citizen can hide out in the Yemeni desert and via the Internet rouse militants within our borders, even within our own military, with devastating effect. We might be outraged, but we have all enjoyed a level of security as our intelligence and military networks have kept the enemy compromised with our own effective brand of terror. It’s nasty and ugly and on an idealistic level immoral. But until we can effectively shift our complex and hamhanded foreign policy regarding Israel and the rest of the world, we’re going to have engage those who are planning our destruction this very moment. Regarding parallels between our actions and those of Nazi Germany, such claims are too silly to even be offensive. That is the sort of drivel I would expect from Iran’s leadership, not from thoughtful observers like yourself.

    • harry shade
      January 20, 2013 at 16:23

      It is your nasty version of terrorism that started it all. If you really want to live in peace why don’t you stop bombing others? The US has bombed 45 countries since “peace” was restored at the end of WWII; and yet there are sheeple in America who feel “unsafe” because of “foreign terrorists”! This is despite that more Americans killed every day by fellow Americans than by foreigners.Your mental process beggars belief.

      • Liam Rooney
        January 21, 2013 at 02:47

        Yes it’s a mess. But it’s simplistic to think we can turn our predicament around by not responding to, or proactively striking for that matter, the various terrorist threats. We did ignore them for a time and that didn’t work out very well. But in the long term, yes we do need to engage in productive ways. Close Gitmo, rein Israel in with sanctions of them if need be (they’ve always been a horrible ally), and make inroads to the developing world in ways we never have before. But we absolutely cannot ignore the threat of well-financed terror networks that have the single goal of destroying us.

  11. Larry Piltz
    January 19, 2013 at 22:00

    I find myself in a moral dilemma of my own. I’ve admired McGovern’s writing for about 12 years and have admired Panetta first as a congressperson and later as an Obama appointee for even longer. I do have great empathy for both of them having been caught in the trap of working for powerful people, having some degree of power themselves, and not being able to do much or anything about the harm their superiors, and themselves by direct extension, have caused, Panetta as CIA director and Defense Secretary and McGovern earlier as a CIA analyst but later moreso as a daily briefer of President George H.W. Bush, a leader responsible for decades in various capacities, overt and covert, for horrible atrocities. McGovern may have tried in subtle or less so ways to sway Bush from his evil ways, but he continued working for Bush even as he carried out atrocities of commission and omission. McGovern wonders if Panetta couldn’t have done ‘better’. I ask that same question of both Panetta and McGovern. I’m not saying I would be immune to the extreme pressure to conform that they both agreed to in order to continue their own work. I am saying though that McGovern, again, whom I admire, should be careful when casting stones and reveal fuller disclosure. My moral dilemma? Having to decide whether to speak truth to McGovern’s power. I made my choice, though it wasn’t pleasant to act on.

    • Larry Piltz
      January 19, 2013 at 22:06

      Actually, I’m sure that if McGovern wrote a first-person piece about the battle going on inside himself as he served daily under George H.W. Bush, it would be an honest, soul-searching and illuminating account, and I would really like to read it. It’d be an important read for anyone in any position of power of any extent to examine and perhaps would help lead to better decisionmaking regarding altering the banal evil that good people do every day in government and elsewhere including mundane daily lives.

    • Bill
      January 19, 2013 at 22:16

      What’s the dilemma ? The Pope,Panetta and McGovern all believe in a sky spook passing judgement on which acts of brutality are justifiable.They’re all insane.

  12. Regina Schulte
    January 19, 2013 at 21:34

    Thank you, Mr. McGovern. I am in full agreement with your criticism. You have
    provided a clear picture of this sorry and sordid mess. What our nation has
    been doing is anything but “keeping the world safe.” And, our slaughtering
    of others can, in no way be termed “defending our people.”

  13. Kolokol
    January 19, 2013 at 21:23

    Interestingly, visiting Yad Vashem in Israel also starkly illustrates religion captured by empire.

  14. Rosemary Molloy
    January 19, 2013 at 20:14

    The pope’s inane remark illustrates so well the many reasons I abandoned the faith I was born to.

    • Anselm
      January 20, 2013 at 23:18

      I don’t blame you. I grew up in India where the practice of the Catholic religion is completely different from the US.
      If I had grown up in America I would be a committed atheist.
      From what I have read (in “The Nation”), when John Kerry was running for president, Benedict (then Cardinal Ratzinger) met with Karl Rove (Bush’s Brain),
      to undermine Kerry. Just because of abortion.

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