A familiar ring tone of an unexpected email on June 10, 2015, from British Broadcasting Corporation Television, brought an unanticipated opportunity. Andy Blackman, British born freelance journalist, representing the BBC, initially inquired if he could call your’s truly. Cautious and curious, the reply asked him, “I am curious how and why you contacted me. “ After exchanging numerous emails, we subsequently spoke three more times. Blackman’s email read, “We are planning on doing some filming when a crew pass through the area(Casper) and I was concerned that they should find a vox populi that are not the same kind of views we get when we film in the NY area. So I did a quick search and came across an article you wrote-and thought you might be the man to steer me in the right direction.” Any curious columnist would’ve had their interest piqued at that moment.
After googling Mr. Blackman, and Hilary Andersson, American born, award winning BBC war correspondent, who would lead the filming crew in Casper, it was apparent the contacts were legitimate. Subsequent conversations revealed the BBC planned to film a documentary on the opinions from Americans outside the D.C. Beltway, or large urban cities, regarding what “Cheneyville” thinks must be done to “win the war on terrorism,” and specifically, our view on the use of “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques.” Those used against detainees held in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.
BBC’s request seemed simple: invite five or six people to meet, sit down and discuss their perspectives for about two hours, while being filmed. It proved more daunting than imagined. An exhaustive list of conservative friends and colleagues produced warnings like, “I do not trust the liberal news outlets” and “I wonder if they could go any further to the left.” Another cautioned, “Choose your words carefully.” Others warned that the BBC would “edit your words and make you look foolish.” That’s hardly daunting to a columnist who can do that very well on his own. Conservatives lament liberals being content with “preaching to the choir.” When an opportunity to reach “non-choir members,” many conservatives reacted as if they had been invited to an Ebola treatment center at the CDC. Refusals were more common than gold on Solomon’s porch.
The assembled eight background’s were diverse. A plumber, podiatrist, columnist, radio station owner, pastor, former tea party activist, oil & gas land manager, and retired utility worker. Politically, most were likely conservative. However, there was no litmus test in forming the group. The BBC film crew were cordial, professional, and Hilary Andersson’s questions were straightforward. When respondents strayed, or failed to answer directly, she promptly restated the question, or asked them to be more succinct. In a variety of ways, she asked the group whether they supported torture, if it helped in the “war on terrorism.”
June 20th found us seated outside the Great Harvest Bakery in Casper. Owner Tony Skaf’s hospitality rendered his establishment a ready venue as a filming site. No paucity of opinions, with a vigorous exchange of ideas. As one would anticipate, some were more vociferous than others. Hilary Andersson served ably as a facilitator, enabling the more reticent to be heard. She introduced the discussion with some poll numbers, and references to a Senate Select Committee’s executive summary on the CIA’s detention and interrogation report, to include a brief summary of the EITs used in Abu Graib and Guantanamo.
The BBC documentary team recently filmed in New York City and the Hoosier Land. Reportedly, Wyoming is the sole Western location, selected primarily because it was the home of Dick Cheney, staunch supporter of the techniques used against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, reportedly water boarded nearly 180 times before relenting. To the skeptics, there wasn’t even a veiled hint of trashing or pillorying Cheney, or Bush 43, by the BBC crew.
Most of the eight members were conflicted over the degree of torture, not necessarily its use. Some confessed their personal stance, for example, to protect their loved ones, was in conflict with their moral repugnance of certain acts perpetrated against the terrorists. Two participants dismissed one attempt to invoke a biblical position from Matthew 5:43, where Jesus Christ brings the New Covenant to bear on the subject, “You have heard it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemies. But I say to you, ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.’” Sadly, a couple were strictly utilitarian in their view on torture. Most agreed torture represented a loss of moral high ground, but that the intelligence community and military have a role in protecting our safety and national security.
Some resisted Hilary Andersson’s call for a show of hands whether one supported torture if it were to save American lives. Nevertheless, she polled the eight participants. Five raised their hands indicating support for limited use of torture, with one abstaining. Two rejected it outright.
In 2005, the Detainee Treatment Act, known as the McCain Amendment, prohibited cruel, degrading or inhumane treatment of any prisoner of the U.S. Government. It required military interrogations to be conducted under the Army Field Manual. The Senate introduced the McCain-Feingold amendment to fill the gap where the McCain amendment left off, requiring the CIA to abide by the same standards as the military. Former Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, branded “EITs” torture.
The British invaded Casper absent fanfare or a rebellion. For those warning of distrust and distortions by the BBC documentary-time will tell. Participants doubt it. Under the Old Testament Covenant, meeting violence with violence seems to be justified. Scott Cooper, retired Marine Corps officer, wrote in the CST last week, “Our choice to torture wrought untold damages on America’s reputation and our national security.“ Patrick J. Buchanan, sees the terrorist battle differently, “Removing the recruiting issue of Islamic extremists, America’s imperial presence in the Islamic world.” What do you think?
Mike Pyatt is a Natrona County resident. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org