Americans Confuse the CIA with the Boy Scouts

abuIt’s easy to understand the general public outrage directed at the CIA now that the summary Senate report has come out debunking claims the agency made about their “enhanced interrogation techniques,” but is really there anyone out there who considers the findings new news? Regardless of whether or not you think the CIA was justified in using techniques that amounted to or were damn close to torture, does it surprise you that the agency would implement them, try to hide evidence of the behavior, and seek to excoriate anyone who called them out on it? Why all the sudden hand wringing?

During the period of the mid-2000s after 9/11 when the first clues of torture began to surface, the administration at the time bent over backwards to assure people that the U.S. didn’t resort to such illegal tactics. It really was Sophism at its finest: the U.S. doesn’t perform torture because whatever it is we do that looks like torture isn’t on our recognized list of torturous activities. Just like purple isn’t a color because it’s not on our list of recognized colors.


Bush speaks the troof.

Anyone alive at the time who was paying attention knew the U.S. had been engaging in torture. After all, why would so many detainees languishing for years in Guantanamo prison without charges still be there if solid cases could be made to prosecute them? Obviously, prosecutors know their cases are losers because guilt is based on evidence extracted from torture – evidence that would be deemed inadmissible in court. And to those who claim water-boarding, mock execution, “rectal feeding” and going without sleep for 59 consecutive hours doesn’t cross the line – man up and give one of them a try. Sean Hannity famously offered himself up to be water-boarded for charity on April 2, 2009; the world still awaits this coward’s moment under the bucket.

Furthermore, it was not a stretch of imagination at the time to suspect that many if not most of the detainees had little or nothing of value to share about secret terrorist plots or the whereabouts of key insurgent leaders. Many of these miscreants were rounded up in the fog of war, indiscriminately netted like a stray dolphin in a tuna hunt; some had no business being in custody as they didn’t know a goddamned thing of value. Nonetheless, these insurgents were forced to disgorge volumes of worthless “intelligence.” I wouldn’t be surprised if the CIA chased after a pistachio vendor in Qatar because a water-boarded Gitmo detainee ratted him out for shooting Kennedy from the grassy knoll in 1963.

Sad, really. Billions spent for such shit.

I’ve read no reports identifying what I believe is the underlying cause of all this: revenge. Immediately after 9/11 – after the shock had partially subsided – there was widespread agitation for some sort of retaliation. I bet if a poll had been taken on 9/12, half the nation would have approved a nuclear attack on Afghanistan. Unlike Pearl Harbor though, in which a sovereign nation was the clear perpetrator, the stateless Al Qaeda attacks defied simple counter-attack. The fact that the world’s most vaunted military took a whole fucking month to respond led Americans to feel short-changed. We wanted revenge.

So, I figure the CIA and the military (think Abu Ghraib) –absent the ability to deliver a swift, fatal blow to Al Qaeda – took on an unstated obligation to at least offer a salve of sorts. Imagine having the architect of 9/11 whimpering like a child in a cold, brightly-lit cell. Easy to see how that situation could spin off the rails. And so it began. Totally predictable in my view – which is why I think the “I’m shocked, shocked!” response to the Senate report is bogus.

Now consider how, in the 2000s, art imitated life in the form of the TV show “24” in which season after season the hero, Jack Bauer moved the plot forward by treating an evil-doer to “enhanced interrogation techniques.” And luckily for Jack, his perpetrators met a very high-bar.

1. There was an imminent threat of mass-destruction
2. The perpetrator in custody knew intimate details of said threat
3. And the perp had special knowledge that could stop the threat
4. Jack somehow knew for certain that the perp in custody possessed the special knowledge
5. And somehow the perp knew that Jack knew that he possessed the special knowledge
6. Finally, the perp understood that Jack had been granted unimpeded permission to shove his nuts down his throat, after first roasting them on an open fire.

As anyone with half a brain understands, these scenarios simply do not exist in real life. Yet the public still expects its intelligence community to save the day just like Jack Bauer (preferably inside 24 hours.)

Considering some of Jack’s best torture performances, it’s easy to see why this is so:

Jack confronts former CTU agent Nina Myers who conveniently knows exactly how to stop a nuclear bomb from detonating.

Jack interrogates his own brother while his father watches. Gruesome.

In the “Day 5” season, Jack interrogates a husband and wife as they sit terrified on the sofa. The husband, Henderson, is dirty, but he won’t talk – even faced with Jack’s threats. Jack suddenly shoots the wife above the kneecap. She screams in pain, and when Henderson refuses to cooperate Jack informs him that the next shot will put his wife in a wheelchair for the rest of her life.

jack

Jack Bauer also staged the mock execution of a terrorist’s family, cut open the stomach of a bad guy to retrieve a smart card with secret data, and in the “Day 1” season threatened to shove a long, twisted towel down the throat of a man suspected of financing Serbian terrorism. Hell, in the “Day 2” season, the President of the United States himself authorizes the Secret Service to torture answers out of his own head of the NSA. Watching the black president interrogate the suffering old white guy was surreal at best.

Any wonder why torture and its tacit acceptance flourished in the greatest democracy in history?

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