Today the Senate Intelligence Committee (hmm.. just saw that… a bit of an oxymoron, isn’t it?) released its report on CIA torture from 2002 – 2006 to gather intel from detainees regarding planned threats like 9/11. You can read more detail from any of the networks and cable news but the essence of the report focuses on torture methods allegedly used that allegedly could be illegal, or in the least could be against our moral convictions as lovers of the U.S. Constitution. You know… lately I’ve been getting a tad fatigued with the seemingly sensational way all the news agencies and networks report breaking news.
I swear they could make headlines out of the fact that on September 12 I forgot to put the cover on my trash can after I took out the trash.
CNN – “CHICAGO RESIDENT SUSPECTED OF ENVIRONMENTAL VIOLATIONS LINKED TO MILITARY-STYLE GROUP”
(yeah.. The Boy Scouts)
FOX NEWS – “SELF-PROCLAIMED LIBERAL CONSERVATIVE , IN POSSESSION OF A COPY OF MEIN KAMPF, DEFIES LOCAL MORAL ENVIRONMENTAL CODES”
(yeah… I’m a history nut and have a copy on the same shelf as the King James Bible and The Collected Papers Of Abraham Lincoln)
NETWORKS – “TONIGHT WE INTERVIEW THE NEIGHBORS OF THAT SENIOR CITIZEN WHO WENT ON AN ENVIRONMENTAL RAMPAGE”
I think you get my point. So now this news comes out about a Senate report that the CIA used to torture people… and people are reported to be appalled. Appalled? Not too sure that’s big news; the CIA does that all the time in the movies… and people are always appalled with Washington one way or the other. But, ok, let’s forget for a moment about any political agendas here regarding the report containing no interviews with living people in the intelligence community, or that the report coming out just before the democrats release control of the Senate to the republicans, or that there might be an issue with the report’s public release at a time when the world’s radical Muslims are ganging up on us and want to kidnap military people and lop off their heads on the internet. Let’s take a critical common sense eye to some of the issues and think about this a bit before we jump on yet another this-is-the-end-of-the-world news trip.
CIA torturing people is a surprise. Well, not to me. But the word here is “torture”. How does one define it? It’s usually attached to some physical or emotional harm toward someone that you want information from that he/she is unwilling to provide by simply asking them. So since all the waterboarding days a few years ago we now have legal ways to torture, which we call “enhanced interrogation techniques” (ETI in the biz). “Torture” is the word reserved for nasty governments and dictators. So the CIA is supposed to stay within those ETI guidelines.. to be legal. The question the report brings out is whether or not the CIA further “enhanced” their already enhanced techniques, thus creeping into the range of “torture”. A) Who was responsible, B) who gave the orders, and C) was there oversight? Here are the likely answers because this is the CIA… A) Agent X, but he no longer works for the agency. B) Agent Y but she no longer works for the agency. C) Agents X and Y were deep cover rogue agents and never reported to their handlers so that the oversight committee could be informed. Frankly, to me torture means everything the Nazis did just for the hell of it, everything the Japanese did to POW’s just for the hell of it, everything the North Vietnamese Army did to John McCain and other POW’s just for the hell of it. Cutting, slicing, dicing, maiming, whipping, disfiguring, disemboweling, slicing off appendages, electric shocks to genitals, beatings with fists and clubs, skinning, stabbing with needles and knives and bayonets, poking eyes out, and every other damned thing I can’t think of. THAT’s torture… and all that has been done by nations just for the fun of it; no motive. That list of alleged torture by the CIA was directed to get information and to get it as quickly as possible in order to avoid disaster to Americans. Compared to that list I just made the CIA torture looks like kindergarten play. BUT… I’d surely be screaming my lungs out or trying to kill myself if I were on the CIA’s EIT table. Torture means just that if you are the one going through it, even if on the surface it looks like kindergarten play compared to other methods. Torture can be horrifying or less horrifying to people not being tortured… but in the end torture IS torture and whether it’s just a water drop on the forehead for umpteen days or being slowly skinned alive, if YOU are the victim, it’s torture. Was the CIA EIT humane or was it full-fledged torture? Remember how you felt on 9/11 and you decide. Maybe it boils down to not “what” was done or “why” it was done; that’s almost irrelevant now. What matters is how we might want it done in the future. With the medical and psychological advances we should be able to conjure up ways to retrieve information from people without messing them up physically or mentally. But for sure some lawyer sometime in the future will call that torture.
- People have forgotten 9/11. Remember when all the Japanese-Americans were sent to those internment camps during WW2? I’ve posted on this before. We can’t judge on this twenty, forty, seventy years later using current social standards. After Pearl Harbor the nation, the American public, was damned scared that with the Pacific Fleet nearly destroyed the Japanese would be landing in Malibu by the end of the month. Fast forward to 9/11. That event scared the crap out of the nation. It was open knowledge that our intelligence community was caught with their pants down and we had nothing in place to gather intel about any future attacks. We, the people, screamed and yelled about being safe and getting prepared and mustering resources to not only find the culprits but to also kick ass somewhere, anywhere. That was the mood of the country back then. Remember? So when the news spews out all the sensational aspects of torture after 9/11, and all the talking head interviews opinionate about some moral obligation we have as a nation to stop torture within our ranks, just remember that the day after 9/11 our morality got tainted a bit and that feeling was felt in Washington. If you are “appalled” at the Senate report then look in the mirror for the person responsible. . I’m not defending the CIA one bit here… I am presenting another aspect to consider so that YOU can make an informed decision one way or the other, and not be swayed by the 11 o’clock news. If we are getting that proverbial moral reflection of history past and starting to feel guilty for those not-so-American ways we sometimes do things as Americans, just remember what pushed us over that edge to begin with. Temper reform with the understanding that history will repeat itself because we are only human and can only do the best we can when someone assaults us.
I have a moral affinity against torture myself. Yet I’d like to think I’d torture someone in the worst way to get information on where my kidnapped loved one was located. We all have triggers because we are human (for a very dark film that illustrates this check out Hugh Jackman in Prisoners; his daughter and her friend vanish and he suspects a neighborhood retarded boy; he kidnaps the boy and tortures him to get him to confess the their location). But here’s a bit of common sense that makes me question some of the CIA’s reported techniques. I have a behavioral science degree so I have a little slant on some of the psych processes. If a prisoner reaches a psychological depression point where he’s trying to kill himself by biting his wrists or something similar, he’s likely doing it to relieve himself of the suffering he perceives as being unending, and NOT to hide information from you. He likely knows nothing. In fact… if the CIA’s defense of all this was to get prisoners to reveal information about future attacks quickly then everything they did didn’t do that. All that sleep deprivation, shackling to various positions for long terms, diapers, no toilet access, rectal rehydration… is it me here or does it seem like all slow ways to interrogate? It seems these guys were being tortured for information not overly time sensitive.. like Bin Laden’s travel plans, terrorist organization network stuff, names of people in the command structure, etc. This wasn’t Jack Bauer offing a prisoner’s wife to get a quick confession. While valuable information for sure, those reported CIA tortures are not going to give a heads up on the next target to be blown up in a couple days. I’m wondering if this report is just the surface of what the CIA must have done in those very early months following 9/11. Do I really wanna know? Do you?
- Maybe this is a lesson to the world. We hold our values, be they human rights or Constitutional rights, quite high and we try to use that to illustrate to the world our way of life being, not perfect, but certainly a viable alternative for peace and harmony and freedom. But get us pissed and you risk us not being so nice, and forcing us to be that which we don’t want to be. Yet we quickly forgive when we win.. and win we will if you put us to the test. We don’t settle old scores; we settle them up front. Don’t be fooled by our open society; it’s not our Achilles heel but rather our strength. We will likely do the human thing.. strike back and strike hard. We may have our moral regrets later down the line but we can, and will, always clean ourselves up. In the meantime you, personally, will be barely a footnote in the cesspool of history. …slam that into someone’s head 24/7 in some form or another and you might get somewhere. In fact here’s another “torture”… take one of those Islamic radical suspects on a tour of the U.S. to places that illustrate who we are. Our natural resources, yes, our material excesses, our factories, our schools, our way of life. Make it a two week tour escorted by security, of course. Appeal to HIS common sense. Then toss his ass back into incarceration… help him think about it. If he still stalls, then do the bamboo-under-the-fingernails thing. If the suspect is some Western educated radical or home-grown disgruntled college dropout he’s likely already familiar and disenchanted with life here… and was likely a looser anyway. Go straight to the bamboo.
- For those of you convinced that no matter what the CIA will always be a slipshod organization, defiant of human rights and run by demagogues with their own world agendas, here’s a solution just for you. When convicts on death row are executed they always have a select bevy of witnesses to watch the event; from family, to the media, etc. So…. Why don’t we torture by committee? Such a committee would sit in a room adjacent to the torture “chamber”, behind one-way glass. They could be that level of assurance and ultimate judge that torture is humane (“humane” torture??) and that the torturer himself (or herself?) is not enjoying themselves too much and gets too carried away with the work. This committee could be made up of people represented by us everyday folk. Let’s see………. We have to have one republican and one democrat, one representative from the clergy for each of the world’s major religions, one person representing each race to assure the torture will be an equal opportunity event, of course one male and one female to monitor anything aimed at genitalia, and a representative from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (if electricity is used). Each member of this select group will have in their hand one of those button control gizmos TV networks use to gauge audience satisfaction of a particular part of a TV show. The members just press a button when a particular part of the torture is acceptable to them or not. In the end the members get to determine if the value of information divulged (if any)was worth all the effort or not. The members’ results, along with a video, is shared with the media for the public to scrutiny. Great idea!
Sarcasm aside (and not all of that was sarcasm), understand all this public bugaboo for what it is.. a return to our national consciousness. But here’s the bottom line in all this. I believe without question that our greatness as a nation is possible because of our intelligence services, be they the CIA, NSA, FBI, or any other secret organization spin-off. Their staffs and agents are as patriotic and dedicated to their work as much as any American, and many of them are doing jobs that put them at extreme risk. I firmly believe that over the years that many of the ills allegedly credited to the CIA, like toppling governments, political assassinations, secret medical experiments, torture, etc. had their roots in whatever public opinion reflected at the time, conveyed to their elected officials, and overtly or covertly conveyed to the CIA, officially or over a wink at lunchtime. No great power can stay great unless it has the ability to also handle those little “dirty” things that might go counter to that nation’s philosophy. Our enemies do not play by the rules WE want to make. The world cannot be nice-nice just because we want to believe we can make it so. Yet this does NOT mean that through our elected officials we should not keep tabs on what the CIA does… to the extent that national security can be shared with our elected officials with oversight. That’s why we have a President and his directors to watch over things when oversight can’t. We need to trust someone. But we are only human and humans make mistakes. Also… you might consider what the CIA has done as abhorrent, while others may think the CIA was doing the right thing; that maybe the torture they used was far less terrible and more humane than what history has shown could have been done.
The CIA’s greatest challenge is working within an open society, and a society dedicated to human rights and freedom for all. The CIA exists to do our nation’s dirty work because that dirty work is an ongoing clandestine war against people and governments who want to destroy us and our way of life. Forget what you see from Hollywood and use your common sense when trying to find some reason to this Senate report.
A Note On The Pic At The Top Of This Post – For those of you who are not baby boomers and don’t recognize that photo, it’s from the 1950’s TV show, Superman (starring George Reeves). I’m not using it here to cast a shadow on our national ignorance that everyone in the world should conform to the “American Way” (whatever that is). But I am using it to illustrate that at various times in our nation’s history our public opinion has been swayed to reflect thoughts and feelings of current events of the day. Back when this show was on TV we were reveling in having beat Japan and European fascism and now we were confronting the world Communist threat as the Cold War started. It was a battle of ideologies and we thought our way was the best and you’d be nuts not to want it. It was during this time that the CIA came into being, charged with seeking out clandestinely those who wanted to tear down our way of life.