Since even readers of the New York Times are aware of deputy national security adviser John Brennan's open identification with torture, secret prisons and other abuses of national and international law, Fordham University's invitation to him to give the commencement address on May 19 brought, well, shock and awe to many Fordham students, faculty and alumni.
It now turns out we didn't know the half of it. Piling outrage upon indignity, Fordham announced this week that Brennan will enjoy pride of place among the "eight notables" on whom it will confer honorary degrees at commencement. The others receiving a Doctorate in Humane Letters, honoris causa, include Timothy Cardinal Dolan (Archbishop of New York), and Brooklyn congressman Edolphus Towns.
Unlike his co-recipients, Brennan is widely known for his advocacy of kidnapping-for-torture (aka "extraordinary rendition") and killing "militants" (including U.S. citizens) with "Hellfire" missiles fired by "Predator" and "Reaper" drone aircraft.
These practices and "Special Forces" operations guarantee an indefinite supply of anti-U.S. militants for what is now known as the "new normal" in the kind of wars that former Gen. and now CIA Director David Petraeus has said our grandchildren will still be fighting.
The endless supply of "insurgents" engendered by the violent tactics so beloved of Brennan makes Americans less secure. But there is no sign that Brennan recognizes that -- or cares. Not that some of Brennan's co-honorees are all that great, either.
Cardinal Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, is best known for his outspokenness on pelvic issues, his stalwart defense of the first nine months of life, and his deafening silence on the taking of life in war. Since by all evidence he is far more interested in birth control than death control, it is impossible to know where Dolan or his fellow bishops stand on the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan. He abjures any attempt to offer moral guidance on issues like war, preferring to defer -- as the Fordham Jesuits do -- to a good Jesuit-trained Catholic like Brennan to make decisions on such issues.
Edolphus Towns' claim to distinction, in Fordham's pre-commencement publicity, relates to his bringing "millions of dollars" to his district. Unmentioned is Towns' membership in the Congressional Unmanned Systems (Drone) Caucus, which serves as a lobbying arm for drones -- a new cash cow for the defense-industrial-congressional complex.
O Tempora, O Mores!
Since John Brennan has been accorded the dual honor of commencement speaker cum Doctorate of Humane Letters honoris causa, let's try to piece together why Fordham's Trustees decided to single him out for such glory. What, in other words, is the causa behind the honores? Why does George Orwell have a smirk on his face; and why are many past and present Jesuits holding their noses -- Justice Jesuits like Rupert Mayer, Pedro Arupe, Dean Brackley and Dan Berrigan?
Could it be that Brennan is being honored for his role in serving up fraudulent intelligence to "justify" attacking Iraq in 2003? Or is it perhaps his open advocacy of kidnapping Muslim clerics off the streets of Milan (he calls it "extraordinary rendition") and rendering them to "friendly" intelligence services more practiced at torture techniques than the CIA?
Is it the secret prisons he favored for "enhanced" interrogation techniques; or maybe his role in promoting illegal eavesdropping on Americans? Or could it be his stalwart defense of the intentional drone killing of American citizens without charge or judicial process? Or is it the aggregate set of abuses. And could intelligent Jesuits actually believe these approaches are okay because they are "keeping us safe?"
This would mean the teaching of moral theology at Fordham has changed markedly. Five decades ago, torture was very clearly put in the same category as slavery and rape -- always "intrinsically evil" -- no gray areas. I wonder where Fordham's moral theologians now put remote-control drone killings of people on the hunch they are "militants."
The causa of the honores could have a simpler explanation, one that risks damage to the mystique of Jesuit sophistication -- no, not sophistry. Maybe the Fordham Jesuits and Trustees get their news from Fox. Perhaps their thought process was simply this: Brennan is a Fordham alumnus; he works in the White House; isn't that enough?
This is hardly the first time a Jesuit university has succumbed to the "prestige virus" and given a proven scoundrel high honors at a commencement. There are, sad to say, numerous examples, but one comes immediately to mind.
It is George W. Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, who, according to ABC News, chaired White House deliberations in 2002 and 2003 at which CIA torture techniques were "almost choreographed" by the most senior national security officials. The objective was to determine which particular technique, or combination, might be most effectively applied to which "high-value detainee."