Brian McClaren rejects American exceptionalism, calls for closing of Gitmo

“Nowhere is an ugly version of American exceptionalism more obvious — and embarrassing — than in relation to Guantanamo Bay and the network of secret prisons it has come to represent. Since Jan. 11, 2002, when the first inmates arrived, the United States has dared to declare itself ‘exceptional’ in regards to the Geneva Conventions…” Opinion: America shall not be exceptional

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Aaron Blumer's picture


McClaren is being a bit sloppy here.
The Geneva Conventions have been amended several times, and the most recent revisions are problematic.
Some helpful reading on that:

More on Geneva Conventions' history...
Wikipedia has a decent summary, too.

As for "torture"... only if you include water boarding.

DavidO's picture

My understanding is that the only people who wouldn't include water boarding in the torture category are people who have never been water boarded.

Mike Harding's picture

These terrorists are not prisoners of war. They are ruthless murderers of innocent women and children for a religiously fanatical cause. These enemy combatants are not an army representing a country, but are murderous thugs who respect no laws of any country, follow no rules of war, and wear no uniforms. At best they should be subject to a military court and if found guilty of terrorism should be executed summarily. They are not entitled to all the rights inherit in the Geneva Conventions. Even the radically liberal Obama Administration who once preached the naive propaganda of Brian McClaren has retreated on this position.

Pastor Mike Harding

DavidO's picture

Mike Harding wrote:
These terrorists are . . . ruthless murderers of innocent women and children for

Were this legally demonstrable they would no longer be in Gitmo or would at least be scheduled for trial/tribunal (I'll grant some may be).

Sort of an a priori problem there.

Alex Guggenheim's picture

McClaren sadly speaks from a vacuum but even those who speak like him and have had exposure to this reality of life are simply unable to live with reality. They are philosophical fools, frankly.

A movie for adults that is worth watching that depicts what is forced upon us with terrorists when they are captured is one with Samuel L. Jackson titled Unthinkable. Clearly it is a fictional account but it calls into question many real considerations.

The real shame is McClaren who is a paper Pope where his world is one of words in which he can construct any fantasy he wishes but he wouldn't have the stomach to deal 5 minutes with what is required in interrogating real terrorists.

Aaron Blumer's picture


I guess I'd rather focus on where BM's facts are in error and where his reasoning is faulty.
More persuasive.

I think Mike has a point to the degree that these detainees are in a somewhat ambiguous niche. Are they criminals, POWs or something else?

McClaren's argument rests in part on:
- no distinction between historic Geneva Conference stipulations and more recent expansions of them (it is possible to violate the latter without violating the former)
- the status of detainees as prisoners of war (though I suspect he'd take the view that they are entitled to the Geneva particulars just because they are human... but this is not what Geneva was about)
- the notion that America is exceptional in not adhering to all of the later Geneva requirements (off hand, can't prove he's wrong on that, but the idea is suspect. I'm sure we are not alone in seeing problems)
- an expansive definition of "torture"

So it would be an interesting debate to see him go head to head with, say Charles Krauthammer or Stephen Hayes or someone equally knowledgeable of the historical, legal and political factors. I'm prepared to believe that Gitmo is a bad idea but I haven't seen a solid argument yet.

But when even Obama is not liberal enough for them, that's got to be a clue that the reasons for using the facility (and others) this way are more compelling than they may seem to idealists who are not charged with keeping a nation safe.

Alex Guggenheim's picture


You are right in terms of qualifying an argument. Thanks. Obviously I was not even accepting his premise because of his lack of qualifications. But I agree, if he dared allowed such scripted temerity to undergo the scrutiny of a CK, I believe the ink would prove to be the disappearing kind.

Greg Long's picture

DavidO wrote:
My understanding is that the only people who wouldn't include water boarding in the torture category are people who have never been water boarded.

That's a non sequitur. That's like saying, "The only people who think it's fair to give someone a lifetime prison sentence for murder are those who've never been sentenced to a lifetime in prison."

Plus, I thought I had read somewhere that those who conduct waterboarding are required to undergo it first.

Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

DavidO's picture

My comment wasn't that kind of appeal. My point is that knowing we will never likely face such treatment does not allow us to be be less than careful in categorizing such treatment.

Nor did I raise the issue of fairness.

jimfrank's picture

The primary duty of the Government of the United States is to protect its citizens and keep them safe. That's why the Armed Forces exist and why there are laws and its enforcement, so everyone can live together in peace. Most reasonable people agree this is true, and this is what makes America "exceptional." But even "peace" is now a theoretical argument. Is it "an absence of conflict" or "no opposition to the Government"? These are two very different ideas. My guess is Brian McLaren sees "peace" as "no oppositon."

Aaron Blumer's picture


It's probably not disputed that there must be some limits on what governments may do to foreigners in the process of protecting their citizens.
Nobody wants to see the US gov. start using the rack, iron maiden, thumbscrew and other nasty torture tools.

So we probably have to accept the fact that wherever the lines are drawn, they're going to look like very fine/murky lines in some situations and depending on how you look at them.

One avenue of inquiry that might help shed some light on it all (or not) is to look at where the more modern ideas of how to treat "enemy combatants" and "terrorists" and "alleged terrorists" and the like are coming from and what sort of philosophical/ethical systems are behind them.
It's not a coincidence that these ideas seem to be strongest where notions of multiculturalism, globalism, moral equivalence, etc. are very strong themes (John McCain being a notable exception... and a good reason not too quickly dismissive of that point of view)

Interesting article on ]waterboarding ... its bias is pretty obvious but there may be some solid facts there as far as whether WB'ing should be categorized as torture or not.

(Interestingly, by the end of the article 'waterboarding' is being used as term for pretty much all forms of simulated drowning... even though the piece describes a wide variety of actual procedures)

Aaron Blumer's picture


Found this part especially interesting. Seems to be well documented, though it would take some legwork to verify it all.

Wikipedia wrote:
On 20 July 2007, U.S. President George W. Bush signed an executive order banning torture during interrogation of terror suspects.[138 ] While the guidelines for interrogation do not specifically ban waterboarding, the executive order refers to torture as defined by 18 USC 2340, which includes "the threat of imminent death," as well as the U.S. Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.[139 ] Reaction to the order was mixed, with the CIA satisfied that it "clearly defined" the agency's authorities, but Human Rights Watch saying that answers about what specific techniques had been banned lay in the classified companion document and that "the people in charge of interpreting [that ] document don't have a particularly good track record of reasonable legal analysis".[140 ]

On 14 September 2007, ABC News reported that sometime in 2006 CIA Director Michael Hayden asked for and received permission from the Bush administration to ban the use of waterboarding in CIA interrogations, although a CIA spokesperson declined to discuss interrogation techniques, which he or she said "have been and continue to be lawful." The sources of this information were current and former CIA officials. ABC reported that waterboarding had been authorized by a 2002 Presidential finding.[141 ] On 5 November 2007, The Wall Street Journal reported that its "sources confirm... that the CIA has only used this interrogation method against three terrorist detainees and not since 2003."[142 ] John Kiriakou, a former CIA officer, is the first official within the U.S. government to openly admit to the use of waterboarding as an interrogation technique, as of 10 December 2007.[143 ][144 ]

It appears that waterboarding (of some sort) is the worst thing the US gov't does to detainees and even the use of that is quite rare.
McClaren, and those of his persuasion, have to use a very expansive definition of "torture" to argue that this is a widespread problem.