The Square Circuit

Academia, parenthood, living in a bankrupt city, and what I read in the process.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Hey, Luke: No Honors for Torturers, Please

It's not a great week for Luke Ravenstahl, probably. During the worst snowstorm in recent memory he's absent, skiing in the Laurel Highlands. And the snow removal in the city is abysmal. My East Side neighborhood is envying Wilkinsburg and Swissvale for, well, pretty much the first time ever, and South Siders are about to take up arms and storm Grant St. Because of the city's absolute failure to provide adequate snow removal, the public schools were out all week, causing countless parents to miss work. But while I'm enraged at Ravenstahl about the snow, that's not what's really got me going about him right now.

General Michael V. Hayden—a graduate of North Catholic High School and Duquesne University—reached the highest ranks of the American national-security establishment, heading the National Security Agency under Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush. In 2006, Pres. Bush elevated him to direct the Central Intelligence Agency. In 2008, to honor Hayden’s accomplishments, Mayor Ravenstahl posted a “name blade” honoring Hayden at North Shore Drive and Allegheny Avenue--home of Hayden's favorite team,, the Ironers or something like that.

Unfortunately, in so honoring Gen. Hayden, Mayor Ravenstahl has given our city’s approval to some of the most illegal and immoral governmental actions in living memory. General Hayden was one of the leading enablers of President Bush’s campaign to undermine Americans’ civil liberties. At NSA, Gen. Hayden ran Bush’s illegal warrantless-wiretapping program, and at CIA Hayden oversaw illegal kidnapping, detention, and torture. What’s more, Hayden continues to publicly defend such horrific actions. Because of this, the city should rescind this honor given to Hayden and take down his honorary “name blade.”

In 2006 the New York Times revealed that the Bush administration was illegally wiretapping Americans’ phone calls without warrants, and several subsequent investigations have uncovered the full and dramatic extent of Bush’s unlawful domestic spying. Hayden’s NSA ran the program.

In his position at CIA, Hayden presided over treatment of detainees that groups from the International Committee of the Red Cross to the U.S. Army have called torture. While he can’t be held responsible for the CIA’s notorious “waterboarding” of terrorist suspects, he has defended this torture method as effective and necessary.

Hayden also oversaw the “extraordinary rendition” program of kidnapping terrorist suspects, and the network of “black site” prisons where prisoners were held incommunicado for years and tortured, in violation of the UN Convention Against Torture signed by President Reagan.

One might argue that only “the worst of the worst,” the most hardened terrorists, were subject to this illegal spying, detention, and torture. However, even a casual examination of the evidence disproves this. Tens of thousands of Americans had their phonecalls tapped and taped, in violation of Fourth Amendment protections, and countless hundreds of thousands (including many Pittsburghers) were subject to other domestic-spying programs: is there anyone, even the most conspiratorial, who thinks that many terrorists lurk among us?

Hundreds of prisoners have been released from Guantanamo, Bagram, and the “black sites” by both the Bush and Obama administrations in recognition of the fact they had been captured, held, and tortured without cause for years. Even the “rendition” program has swept up the innocent: Canadian citizen Maher Arar was taken by the CIA and tortured, then transferred to the Syrian government for more torture before the CIA finally admitted they had the wrong man. Arar is by no means alone.

The public honor that Mayor Ravenstahl gave to Hayden should be about inspiring and motivating us, representing the values we hold as a city. And while the general certainly deserves our thanks for his long service to the nation, this very rare honor should be reserved for those with accomplishments we can all admire. It’s particularly ironic that we bill ourselves as a “City of Asylum,” a city where writers persecuted by their government and exiled from their homes can go for safe haven. In honoring Hayden, we tell these political refugees that in truth we side with the secret police.

Andrew Sullivan, the conservative writer, has argued that our gradual acceptance of kidnapping, perpetual detention, and torture is not just damaging our nation’s image abroad, but chipping away at our very souls. When we honor Hayden, we tacitly give our blessing to our government’s desire to kidnap and torture in the shadows. We tell ourselves that it only happens to “them,” the “terrorists,” the less-than-human, and we refuse to confront the evidence that not only have we kidnapped and tortured human beings, we have done so to innocent human beings. We let fear tell us that we must cede our liberties to the state, and we deny the humanity of those whom the government tells us are our enemies.

I know that’s not what Pittsburghers really want to honor, no matter what Mayor Ravenstahl may think. If you agree, please stand with me and register to speak at City Council’s hearing on this matter, which will take place Monday, March 1 at 9am.


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