Former Officers Air Military Secrets at Discussion

The story below ran in the April 7, 2008 Daily Hampshire Gazette.

BOSTON - Christopher S. Pyle, a professor of politics at Mount Holyoke College, urged political dissent during a panel discussion last week organized by the Massachusetts chapter of the American Civic Liberties Union.

"How many of you are afraid of government reprisals for expressing dissent?" Pyle asked.

About a dozen of the 60 people present Wednesday raised their hands. Pyle then told about his time on President Richard Nixon's enemies list, the result of Pyle's work in exposing military surveillance of anti-war activists in 1970.

"Because I was on his list, the government audited my taxes," Pyle said. "And they found that my wife had overpaid by $154 and returned the money."

He let the laughter die down before continuing.

"Intelligence agencies are made up of normal people like you and me," Pyle said. "They're no better and no worse. You shouldn't be afraid of them. Just act like free people."

Pyle has firsthand knowledge of the American intelligence community, serving as a captain in an Army intelligence unit from 1967 to 1968.

He said that in the current conflict, higher-ups at the Defense Department have used coded messages to rubberstamp unlawful interrogations at the Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay prisons.

"These bureaucracies work by signaling," Pyle said. "When (former Defense Secretary Donald) Rumsfeld says, "Who authorized the cameras in that prison?" what more indication do you need (of his complicity)?"

Fellow panelist Andrew J. Bacevich, a retired Army colonel and a professor of international relations at Boston University, disputed Pyle's take on the influence high-ranking officers have over enlisted personnel.

"I would urge great caution in thinking Lynndie England is interpreting Donald Rumsfeld," Bacevich said of the National Guard soldier convicted of abuses at Abu Ghraib prison. "I don't think he's going "wink wink" and she's saying, "I get it, boss."

Bacevich called guards linked to prisoner abuse "sadistic individuals" with a possible racial bias against detainees in Iraq. Bush administration critics oversimplify matters by placing all of the blame for prisoner abuse on Rumsfeld"s inner circle, he said.

Bacevich and Pyle spoke as part of the "Revolutionary Ideals, Modern Debate" lecture series organized by the ACLU and sponsored by the Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities in Northampton. The fourth and final lecture in the series is scheduled for April 30 in Boston, featuring two voting rights activists.

Pyle said a Bush administration official declined an invitation to sit on Wednesday's panel. He said he was "not at liberty" to name the official.

He also declined to name the publisher of his coming book, "Disgracing America: the War Crimes of the Bush Administration." He said during his talk that several companies had passed on the book, because they didn't think "people cared about torture anymore."

Pyle is the author of three previous books on military history and civil liberties: "The President, Congress and the Constitution," published in 1984; "Military Surveillance of Civilian Politics," published in 1986; and "Extradition, Politics and Human Rights," published in 2001.

Related Link:

Christopher Pyle Faculty Profile