It’s great to have Dick Cheney back. I so enjoyed his brutal honesty and curled lip as he referred as a “bunch of crap” to the report on CIA torture issued by the Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee. That is much more pleasing than the voices of supposedly “reasonable” men and women who seek nuance and end up obscuring hideous truths.
Last week, we were treated to “reasonable experts” explaining to us how the grand jury on Staten Island works (or doesn’t work). The week before, it was the mild mannered suits explaining to us why the Ferguson grand jury decided not to send the case of the man who shot Michael Brown to trial.
This week, it was CIA Director John Brennan’s turn to take on the role of the learned uncle, encouraging us to contain our passions and take a more nuanced view of what, to anyone with eyes, ears and a heart, appear to be crimes.
On Dec. 11, two days after the report was published, Brennan started his press briefing (unprecedented for a CIA director) sounding like a reasonable fellow.
First, he noted that “many aspects of (the committee Democrats’) conclusions are sound and consistent with our own prior findings.”
Second, he said that it was impossible to know whether the information elicited from the torture victims could have been obtained by other means. In other words, we don’t know if torture “works.”
Then Brennan went off the rails, as he sought to evoke sympathy for the torturers. After 9/11, says Brennan, “We were not prepared, and the individuals that were given the responsibility to carry out this work … were trying to do their best and at times came up short.”
In this case, “trying to do their best” involved, among other things, shoving pureed hummus up into a man’s rectum, letting another man freeze to death by leaving him tied up and nearly naked on a cold concrete floor and flooding the windpipes of other men with water until they were near death, the practice known as waterboarding.
Brennan alleges that the agency had been caught off guard, as if its members didn’t know much about this interrogation business and were just trying out a few things. As in, let’s throw some Arabs against the wall and see what sticks.
Either he is ignorant of his own agency’s history, or he is lying.
The CIA plainly knows quite a bit about torture. In fact, they wrote the book on it. The original CIA torture manual, referred to by its code name Kubark, was written in 1963 and disseminated widely among Latin American militaries.
In 1983, the CIA, relying heavily on the interrogation techniques described in Kubark, produced the Human Resource Exploitation Manual, used to help train the notorious Nicaraguan contras to gain intelligence. Many of these are the same techniques that we see the CIA practicing in its dark centers, which were replicas of what the Army did to Iraqi prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison. All this and more is in the report, and is well summarized by Jeff Stein.
Note: Neither Cheney nor Brennan have taken exception to this part of the report.
According to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the report “is the next step toward enacting major reforms to ensure something like this never happens again.”
To which any student of our recent history can only ask, “Is she kidding?”
Torture has been part and parcel of the American way ever since the creation of the Central Intelligence Agency. Vietnam, the Cold War, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua — torture went on in our name, either by our own personnel or by allies we were financing and training.
And each time it came to light, we shut down the inquiry, passed meaningless laws to prohibit it and then let secret agencies with little or no oversight do what they felt they needed to do — or what we wanted them to do.
The Wrong Question
“Does torture work?” is without a doubt the most morally repugnant question being asked in the wake of the report on CIA torture. Asking the question implies that answering it in the affirmative means we should continue the practice.
But does torture work?
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) says no. CIA Director John Brennan says that the answer is “unknowable.” How about we conduct a double blind study, using CIA volunteers? Split them into two groups, give them each the same classified secrets. Torture one group, while using conventional interrogation techniques on the control group, and measure the difference in the information obtained.
The idea is repugnant, you say. No, we don’t do experiments on human subjects, do we?