Moral Low Ground


The Debate with a Guantánamo Prosecutor I Wish I Hadn’t Won

One of the millions of innocent victims of US military aggression (Photo: D. Myles Cullen)

One of the millions of innocent victims of US military aggression (Photo: D. Myles Cullen)

I recently got into an intense, yet respectful, Facebook debate with a US military attorney who has prosecuted Guantánamo Bay terrorism suspects. He also happens to be an old high school classmate.

I won’t mention his name here, because I don’t think he’d like that, and I respect him as a human being. He doesn’t even use his real full name on Facebook. He’s a decent, honest family man who lived a couple blocks from me growing up in the Jersey ‘burbs. My dad and his dad used to hang out when they were in high school.

Like I said, my old friend– let’s call him Creighton– is a good guy. But as a GITMO prosecutor, he’s been placed in a position where he’s been forced to defend the indefensible; namely, the deliberate wrongful imprisonment of innocent men and boystorture and a system of military ‘justice’ that is anything but just. I know he’s involved in these cases because I read all about it in charge sheets for alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Mohammed al-Qahtani, the alleged would-be 20th 9/11 hijacker whose case was thrown out of court because the convening authority for the Guantánamo military commissions admitted that he’d been tortured.

Creighton is probably the perfect choice to try terrorism suspects. He’s unconditionally wedded to the notion that the United States is the greatest earthly force for good the world has ever known. His hyperpatriotism and his defense of America’s atrocities is the stuff of legend on my Facebook wall– people who read his posts often ask me, “who is this monster and why are you friends with him?”

I’m friends with Creighton because as I’ve already said twice, he’s a stand-up guy. Back in the day, I viewed him as the very embodiment of honor, and I suspect nothing much has changed. He’s not the only member of Jonathan Dayton Regional High School’s Class of 1992 to achieve success in patriotic endeavors; my best buddy (and fierce running rival, although he always beat me in those days) from our state sectional championship track team is a naval doctor and another old pal shocked the hell out of me when I saw him on a Fox News panel a few years back bashing President Obama’s pitching ineptitude. We used to have long conversations about the Mets (they were really good back then); now he pals around with Sarah Palin and won’t even acknowledge my existence. To reason is treason for some folks, apparently.

These guys all defend, if not support, US war crimes and atrocities around the world. They also know I have dedicated my life to exposing and fighting said crimes. But with the exception of the Palin-loving Fox panelist, we still get along just fine. Saw both of them at our 20-year reunion last year. Nary a word on politics slipped our lips.

But earlier this week, on Pearl Harbor Day, Creighton posted the following Facebook status:

“Remember the 2,402 who were killed at Pearl Harbor. Remember the 2,976 who were killed on 9/11. Remember there is evil in this world, and the United States has always sent its best sons and daughters to fight it. Remember our mere presence around the world keeps millions of people safe in their homes. If you ever hear someone talking badly about the United States, punch them right in the mouth.”

Strange words, that last part, coming from the mouth of someone who claims he’d die to protect my right to dissent… But I took the bait. I responded:

“Let us also remember the more than 800,000 Japanese civilians slaughtered by indiscriminate US bombing, including the unnecessary waging of the world’s only nuclear war, or the more than 100,000 innocent Afghans, Iraqis, Pakistanis, Yemenis (add 15 more to that tragic toll), Somali and Libyan men, women and children who have died” as the US has lashed out in retaliation for 9/11.

And then I wrote this, the central assertion of my argument about the United States and its role in the world:

“Over the past half century, no other force on earth has killed more innocent foreign people than the United States government, and by extension, its military.”

Always the consummate prosecutor, Creighton then wrote that he “rejects my factual supposition.”

Being that “we don’t do body counts” or “waste our beautiful minds” with the ghastly realities of war and empire, proving this assertion with precise numbers is all but a mission impossible. But there’s always deduction. I’ve engaged in this debate enough times to know the speediest way to end it is to simply ask, “well then tell me a country or force that’s killed more civilians over the past half century?”

Crieghton answered Germany and the USSR. Germany, which was blasted more or less into everlasting pacifism in World War II, hasn’t shed any blood in the decades since. The Soviets were involved in two foreign bloodbaths during the period in question, the 1968 Warsaw Pact invasion of freedom-seeking Czechoslovakia (around 100 killed) and the 1979-89 Afghan war, in which hundreds of thousands of civilians were killed by all sides.

Over the past 50 years, the United States has attacked, invaded or occupied the following sovereign nations: Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Grenada, Libya, Panama, Haiti, Somalia, Iraq, Serbia, Sudan, Afghanistan, Iraq again, Haiti again, Pakistan, Yemen, Syria, Somalia again, and Libya again.

Millions of innocent men, women and children have been killed, maimed, orphaned, widowed, horrifically poisoned (sometimes for generations yet to be born) or rendered homeless by US bombs, bullets and bombast. Tens of millions, if you count proxies– the US has supported nearly every single right-wing dictatorship (including the monsters Franco, Saddam Hussein and Pol Pot), has bankrolled and armed the armies of genocide and ethnic cleansing in Guatemala, Pakistan, Indonesia, East Timor, Argentina, Iraq, West Papua, Croatia, Palestine and elsewhere. Washington has also overthrown or helped to overthrow democratically elected governments in numerous nations including Guatemala, Iran, Indonesia, Brazil, Chile and Venezuela.

On this last point, Creighton questioned the legitimacy of the democratically elected governments overthrown by the CIA or other US instruments.

“Saddam Hussein won 100 percent of the vote in his elections. Was he democratically elected?” he pointed out, surely the low point of the entire debate. I tried to explain to him that Sukarno was the hero of Indonesia’s independence movement, that Jacobo Arbenz and Salvador Allende were beloved reformers in Guatemala and Chile, respectively, and that Mohammad Mossadegh was the most popular leader in Iranian history before a CIA coup ousted him so America and Britain could continue plundering that proud nation’s oil wealth. But trying to get Americans like Creighton to see the error of their country’s ways is a Herculean task akin to getting a deaf man to understand a Beethoven symphony.

It was time to move on to genocide, about which Creighton wrote that he “100 percent unequivocally rejects” the assertion that the conflicts I listed were, in fact, genocides or that the US is culpable in any of them.

I asserted that a nation which produces manuals teaching foreign military officers how to kidnap, torture, kill innocent civilians and subvert democracy (see: US Army School of the Americas, aka ‘School of Assassins’) is certainly capable of backing genocide.

“I reject your characterization of the manuals,” retorted Creighton, “but there’s nothing wrong with training our allies.”

I then proceeded to post links to US-authored torture and murder manuals, including KUBARK and Psychological Operations in Guerrilla Warfare, which advocate, among other nastiness, the deliberate torture and murder of innocent civilians. I also posted the story of Dan Mitrione, a CIA operative who taught officials from Uruguay’s dictatorship how to torture dissidents by demonstrating on kidnapped homeless people. “A premature death means failure by the technician,” Mitrione wrote, foreshadowing the Bush-era CIA attorney Jonathan “if the detainee dies you’re doing it wrong” Fredman.

Creighton had nothing to say about that.

After a thread of more than 60 back-and-forth comments, I once again challenged Creighton, or anyone else who might be observing our debate:

“So, can you name a country or force that has killed more civilians outside its borders than the United States in the past 50 years?”


I imagine Creighton knows I’m right about this. I wish I wasn’t, but there’s no denying it.

I know the truth– that his beloved United States military has more foreign blood on its hands than any other organization on earth– can be difficult, even painful, to swallow. But swallow it we must. We must digest it and let it nourish our national psyche so that future generations of Americans might choose more peaceful tomorrows.

I’m not holding my breath, but there’s always hope, even for the Creightons of the world. For in the final cut, Creighton is a good man, a Christian man with young children of his own. Does he ever stop and wonder, I wonder, how it feels to watch your own beloved flesh and blood blown to bits of bloody flesh by a ‘precision’ airstrike?

It isn’t outside the realm of possibility to imagine Creighton might one day come to his senses and join the ranks of Col. Morris Davis, Maj. Robert Preston, Capt. John Carr and Capt. Carrie Wolf, all of whom resigned or requested transfers over concerns about “rigged” military commission trials and torture at GITMO. A resignation would probably be career suicide, although it would go a long way towards “saving” his “everlasting soul,” to borrow from his spiritual vernacular.

“Creighton,” if you’re reading this, and I suspect you are, here’s some inspiration to guide you towards the light.

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  1. Rachael C. BlackDecember 12, 2013 at 8:27 pmReply

    EXCELLENT piece Brett. Having observed some of the back and forth on your FB wall I’m always surprised at how often you don’t take the bait.
    As always, your pesky intrusion of the facts seems to quiet even the loudest wanna-be demagogue.

    There is absolutely nothing wrong with being a patriot.
    I do find it horrifying that a self proclaimed patriot and US government attorney could actually utter ‘If you ever hear someone talking badly about the United States, punch them right in the mouth.’

    I got your constitution right here baby

  2. melissaJanuary 23, 2014 at 1:55 pmReply

    not often, but on occasion, I’ll catch one of your blogs. I generally end the read with my head shaking and questioning you as to why you live in this country Brett? I really don’t want to know, don’t care. Recently, I read your back and forth about Lockhart – the man who killed the Auburn student. Again, I questioned why you live in the country you so obviously hate. I did post a question on that one though – but really don’t care for your answer as I can imagine if you told the truth what it would be. You claim that it is just “wrong” to kill another person… yet, should your life or the life of someone you love be threatened, would you stand in defense? Of course you would. And, if that defense resulted in the death of the one trying to do you or your loved one harm… you’ve done exactly what the death penalty does – you’ve implemented a form of lethal injection called self defense. you’ve killed a killer. but, if the state or someone else kills that killer – you think it’s wrong. let’s reposition it in an elementary way… you and your loved ones are carjacked, the killer says “I’m going to kill you, take your beautiful loved ones and have fun with them and then kill them.” If one of your beautiful loved ones kills the bad guy/gal – they too have implemented the death penalty. we could go on and on – but you get my point – you’re smart. I had a loved one who survived a brutal attack. Another young person was not so lucky. The attacker was put to death for the murder of the not so lucky one. He tried to kill two – thought he did, but one survived. Someone else killed the bad guy …. because the one who survived was too weak to do so… but the state did it for her. you don’t get that – but those of us who do believe in the bible, who do believe it justice – we get it. the death penalty is nothing more, nothing less than what the innocent victim would have done could she/he ….

    • Brett WilkinsJanuary 23, 2014 at 2:26 pmReplyAuthor

      First of all, thank you for reading Moral Low Ground.

      Now I will attempt to answer all your questions as best as I can.

      Why do I live in this country? Because I was born here and it’s my home. ‘Love it or leave it,’ which is what you seem to be advocating, is such an intellectually purile statement to make. How about love it so much that you want to change it and stop it from going down a self-destructive path? Also, I live in San Francisco, California, a city and state that represent my values. Especially my city. And you know, how goes California, so goes America after a while. History is, by its very nature, progressive. With patience and persistence, and by raising awareness (what I strive to do on Moral Low Ground), positive change will occur. Take capital punishment, for example, which you seem to approve. No other Western nation still practices it, and it’s only a matter of time before it is abolished state-by-state here in the USA. You claim I do not love my country; I love it enough to know that on a long enough timeline, justice almost always prevails in this great nation.

      About killing in self defense: No one can be blamed for killing another human being in self defense if all other options were exhausted or if one’s life is in imminent danger. But there’s a difference between revenge killing — which is really what the death penalty is, since it has been proven time and again that capital punishment does NOT deter murder– and self defense in a dangerous moment. Have you never stopped to think how absurd the notion is that we kill people who kill people to teach people that killing people is wrong? If someone killed my partner in the most horrific manner, I still would not wish death upon that person. I believe she feels the same way. I certainly would NOT want someone who killed me to be executed. Never.

      Again, I’ll quote the Bible since you say you believe in it: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” -Jesus Christ, Matthew 5:38-42.

      LOVE YOUR ENEMIES. That’s what Jesus would have done…

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