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Excerpts from recent Minnesota editorials


Minneapolis Star Tribune, Dec. 10

Torture report: We are better than this

The long-overdue release of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report on the CIA's detention and interrogation program — the so-called torture report — has shown the world America at its best and worst.

The dark side is represented in the report's grim descriptions of a post-9/11 program that was more extensive, harsher, less truthful and less effective than the American people, and even the president, were told.

What Americans can be proud of is that despite intense pressure from powerful political and intelligence community leaders, the report was completed and released.

Critics, including some Senate Republicans and past and present CIA officials, contend that it's an incomplete assessment. Some of their arguments have merit. But the report is the best documentation yet of grave mistakes made by many at multiple levels. Ideally, its repercussions will result in the United States not repeating these mistakes.

Descriptions of detainee abuse in the report should finally and firmly end the euphemism of "enhanced interrogation." It was torture, and it was immoral. And that alone — not important but secondary considerations like effectiveness, strategic value, transparency and impact on international relations — should be enough to convince Americans that what happened was wrong.

Some of the brutal methods — such as waterboarding, which the report described as a "series of near drownings" — were widely known before Tuesday. Until the report's release, however, Americans were unaware that techniques including "rectal feeding" or "rectal dehydration" were used to have "total control over a detainee." In some cases, extreme sleep deprivation and death threats were also employed. At least one detainee was chained to the ceiling of his cell, clad in a diaper in his own waste.

Some detainees held in an Afghan prison commonly called the Salt Pit (described as a dungeon by a CIA officer) "literally looked like a dog that had been kenneled." One Salt Pit prisoner who was stripped and shackled to a wall died of hypothermia. Overall, 119 men were held by the CIA — not 98 as the agency had previously and consistently reported. At least 26 of these prisoners "were wrongfully held," according to the Senate report.

These and many other details should shock the nation. If American detainees were subjected to similar treatment, the U.S. public would be outraged. Americans should be equally enraged that this was done in their name.

To be sure, there are also efficacy considerations — "The CIA's use of its enhanced interrogation techniques was not an effective means of acquiring intelligence or garnering cooperation from detainees," the report stated. And there are concerns that it alienated allies — "The CIA's Detention and Interrogation Program damaged the United States' standing in the world, and resulted in other significant monetary and non-monetary costs," according to the report. What's more, there appears to have been a systemic misrepresentation of essential information to the media, the White House, the Justice Department and Congress.

But the central issue is morality. And it was summed up effectively by Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who was tortured while being held prisoner in Vietnam. Rebuffing some of his colleagues' criticism of the report, he said on the Senate floor: "Most of all, I know the use of torture compromises that which most distinguishes us from our enemies — our belief that all people, even captured enemies, possess basic human rights, which are protected by international conventions the U.S. not only joined, but for the most part authored."

Unfortunately, countering McCain's honorable defense of American values were unrepentant voices, including that of former Vice President Dick Cheney. The interrogation program was "the right thing to do, and if I had to do it over again, I would do it," Cheney told the New York Times.

That Cheney is closely associated with this stain on the nation's good character does not mean his view is unique. Others may be tempted, perhaps in response to future acts of terrorism, to again debase our standards.

Americans should not let that happen. Our national character — indeed, our morality — is what separates us from our enemies. Shame on us if we ignore that fundamental truth.

St. Cloud Times, Dec. 8

Full-time preschool should be required

Minnesota took too long — the better of a decade or more — to go from acknowledging the benefits of all-day kindergarten to helping school districts provide it.

A new University of Minnesota study about the benefits of preschool should motivate the state — from parents to policymakers — not to make the same mistake twice.

The study, done by a research collaborative at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey School of Public Affairs, found the more time low-income children spend in preschool the better prepared they are for kindergarten. It echoes similar U.S. studies done in 2006 and 2013.

Collectively, the message is clear: If the state is serious about improving overall academic performance, especially in closing its well-documented achievement gaps, Minnesota should begin plans now to create and fund all-day public preschool programs statewide.

Sure, that sounds ambitious. Yes, it will be complex. After all, there already are many preschool options, including none. And no doubt, it will require more public funding.

Really, though, can Minnesota afford not to do it?

As the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported, this study tracked 1,000 low-income, preschool-age children in 11 public schools in Chicago. Half attended preschool seven hours a day and half attended three hours a day. At the end of the program, 80 percent of the full-timers scored at or above being ready for kindergarten compared with 59 percent of the part-timers.

The biggest areas of difference were attendance, language and behavior development. Overall, the study's authors estimated the full-time students entered kindergarten with a 4- to 5-month head start on the part-timers, to say nothing of kids coming with no preschool experience.

The good news is Minnesota already is focused on helping low-income kids gain access to preschool. The Legislature last year increased funding for such scholarships, and Gov. Mark Dayton indicated that could happen again this session.

While increasing targeted aid certainly is welcome in the short term, why don't policymakers see the bigger picture and start now to develop mandatory, full-time preschool programs statewide?

Again, it won't be easy. The state will have to address everything from how to work with existing preschool programs (public and private) to making sure school districts have the facilities, educators, transportation and resources necessary to help these young learners.

Still, the lesson from all-day kindergarten should be clear. More preschool means more Minnesota kids will be better prepared for kindergarten and beyond.

The Free Press of Mankato, Dec. 8

Overdoses demand action now

Public information campaigns have taught us the importance of wearing seat belts, not drinking and driving, and not texting behind the wheel.

Most drug education, however, hasn't really hit the mainstream — especially when it comes to legal medication being illegally and dangerously used.

Consider this, though. In 2013 the state health department reported 507 Minnesotans died of drug overdoses. During the same year in Minnesota, 374 people died on the roads.

Synthetic drug and prescription pain reliever deaths are a serious threat to the lives of Minnesotans — and not exclusively, but too often, to our young people.

The Mankato community is well aware of the toll. Last spring Louis Folson, 22, and Chloe Moses, 17, died after taking a synthetic drug later identified as 25C-NBOMe.

And in August, 21-year-old Alex Ahl died after sucking on a patch containing the powerful narcotic fentanyl. A typical reaction by many adults to Ahl's death was that they had no idea that people would or could use the patches to get high — especially by sucking on them.

Parents who thought they were in the know about risky behavior suddenly realized how quickly that behavior can change.

The health department reports that 91 of last year's drug overdose deaths came from heroin, but even more — 200 — come from prescription pain drugs.

And the overdose trend continues. In the Duluth area last week three deaths from overdoses on opioids were confirmed.

Laws and ordinances are popping up to try to control the sale of synthetic drugs, which often come in colorful, shiny packaging, making them appear as harmless as collectible game cards.

But it's clear tackling the drug overdose issue needs a multi-pronged approach. Public education for both young people and adults needs to occur across the media and social media spectrum. Schools need to complement that education. The criminal justice system needs to keep tracking down suppliers and prosecute them seriously. The public health system can get involved. In Duluth public health workers are pressing to get anti-overdose medicine into the hands of drug users, saying its use has reversed overdoses, MPR News reports.

The judge at the recent sentencing of a teen involved in one of the fatal synthetic drug cases in Mankato took him to task for not being accountable and also assigned him to complete a task: Spread the word. The judge is requiring the teen to speak at numerous gatherings to share his experience about the consequences of risky behavior — in his case, the death of his 17-year-old girlfriend.

This teen unfortunately has that expertise because he was there. Perhaps his shared story, along with other community efforts and attention, can keep the speaking pool he belongs to as small as possible.

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