America’s Tortured Logic
There are a lot of funny things about that Senate Intelligence Committee report on the CIA torture program. Before you ask what kind of sick bastard would joke about torture, I’m using the 2nd and 3rd meanings of my two Webster dictionaries; strange or peculiar, queer, unexpected, underhanded, involving trickery or deception. Don’t worry, though, there are plenty of sick bastards just ahead.
First a little background. After the 9/11 attacks the CIA was assigned the interrogation of terrorist suspects. The FBI is trained in this, but their jurisdiction is domestic. The CIA’s area of expertise is foreign intelligence, when they’re not toppling democratically elected governments in favor of more “business friendly” brutal dictators, that is. They’d never done interrogation, and had no training or facilities. They contracted two military psychologists, James E. Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, who had been involved in the military SERE program, teaching soldiers about escape, evasion, and withstanding torture. The Senate report read: “Neither had any experience as interrogators or had any specialized knowledge of terrorism, or any relevant regional, cultural, or linguistic expertise.” So they re-engineered the SERE program to be more, uh, coercively inquisitional. In other words, they had no idea what the hell they were doing.
Meanwhile, the White House had to be able to justify what they were about to do. You may recall the Dark Lord himself, Dick Cheney, saying we’d “have to go to the dark side, as it were.” They got some White House attorneys to draft legal memos stating the black was in fact white, and began using the term “enhanced interrogation techniques,” a term first used by the Nazis. Here are some of the things the White House and CIA insisted were not torture: walling (throwing someone against a wall), simulated drowning (waterboarding), sleep deprivation for up to 180 hours, being forced to wear women’s underwear, being forced to wear and soil diapers, anal rape (which was called “rectal feeding”), crushing or threatening to crush the testicles of a detainee’s child in front of him, and being shackled and hung from the ceiling with chains for up to 22 hours. Some personnel at Guantanamo Bay admitted they got a lot of their ideas from watching the TV series, “24.”
The Senate report took over five years and examined over six million documents. The full report is some 6000 pages, with a 524 page summary. This spring the CIA was caught hacking into the computers of staffers working on the report, and of course denied it. They had also taped many of the interrogations, then somehow about ninety-some hours of tapes got destroyed. The report concluded that not only was torture used, but that the CIA repeatedly lied about what they were doing. They weren’t the only ones. In 2006 George W. Bush told us emphatically that “The United States does not torture!”
What is torture? One can find many definitions, but I’ll give the one in the U.S. Code, Title XVIII, Section 2340: “Torture means an act committed by a person under the color of law, specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering upon another person within his custody or control.” It expands on all the terms. Penalties can be up to twenty years in prison, or in the event of death of the subject, the death penalty. You can call torture enhanced interrogation, skydiving, or taking a bubble bath. It’s still torture, not only in U.S. law, but in the UN and the Geneva Conventions, to which we are signatories. We executed Japanese soldiers after WWII for waterboarding our troops.
What’s funny, as in “differing from the ordinary in a suspicious way,” is how many people in the media and elsewhere keep defending these practices. They’re not defending torture; only a madman would do that, right? They’re defending enhanced interrogation techniques, which is what’s called a distinction without a difference. Here’s what Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia had to say about it: “While there are U.S. laws against torture, nothing in the Constitution appears to prohibit harsh treatment of suspected terrorists.” Well, if he’s going to be that specific, there’s nothing in the Constitution that appears to prohibit citizens from owning fighter jets, either. He goes on: “I don’t know what article of the Constitution that would contravene.” Very clever. No article would, but perhaps the 8th Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment, would contravene. Is he perhaps arguing that torture isn’t punishment, since it’s not inflicted as a penalty for some crime? This is how lawyers think and twist language. Back to my dog-eared Websters, where one definition of punishment is “severe, rough, or disastrous treatment.”
Last April at an NRA rally, Sarah Palin said if she were president, “Waterboarding is how we’d baptize terrorists.” That’s pretty cute, if you have an IQ that’s room temperature. Never mind that you may not know at that point if the person is a terrorist or not. On Fox (alleged) News Andrea Tantaros was pretty outspoken: “The United States of America is awesome, we are awesome! We’ve closed the book on it, and we’ve stopped doing it. This administration wants to have this discussion to show us how we’re not awesome.” Well said, Andrea, but I think countries that torture people in the first place fall short of “awesome.”
Of course the biggest defender is Dick Cheney, who said the Senate report “is full of crap,” before admitting he hadn’t read all of it. He insisted that the Department of Justice “told us where the line was, legally.” On MSNBC’s “Meet the Press,” Chuck Todd asked him about Gul Rahman, the Afghan man who was sprayed with water and placed in an unheated cell, froze to death, and was later found to be the victim of mistaken identity. Cheney said “I’m more concerned with bad guys who got out and [were] released than I am with a few that, in fact, were innocent.” Todd pressed him on the point that 25% of detainees were found to be innocent, and he replied: “I have no problem as long as we achieve our objective . . . to get the guys who did 9/11,” adding “Torture is what Al-Qaeda did to 3000 Americans on 9/11. There is no comparison between that and what we did with respect to enhanced interrogation. I would do it again in a minute.” I’m sure he would. I don’t think he’s lying or in denial. He’s psychotic enough to actually believe what he’s saying.
Most people on the Right feel the same. They don’t have a problem. What really outrages them is Obamacare, and the idea that millions of Americans who need affordable health care might finally be covered. It’s ironic that conservatives like the term moral compass. It’s not just conservatives who seem to be okay with torture. A recent Pew research poll showed that 51% overall thought CIA treatment of detainees was justified, and white evangelicals came in at 69%. Some of that is the way the question is put, but in poll after poll, Christians were more likely to be in favor. WWJT — who would Jesus torture? I wonder how they’d feel if they experienced a little “rectal dining” for themselves. Both Cheney and former CIA Director and NSA Director Michael Hayden publicly stated that rectal feeding is a medical procedure (like Cheney, Hayden is a certifiable psychopath). It’s true, though, and has been used to rehydrate the body with fluids and electrolytes. The practice goes back to ancient Egypt. But not when they stuff ground up hummus and pureed food up there. They were dealing with Middle Eastern Arab Muslims, whose men have an exaggerated sense of their own masculinity. This, along with making them wear panties or diapers, has only one purpose — to emasculate or humiliate them.
The other big debate is whether torture works or not. Defenders and deniers, to a person, say yes. The Senate report says not at all, as do people experience in interrogation. They’ll tell you more and better information is gotten by forming a bond of trust with the subject. I don’t care how many ticking-time-bomb scenarios you see in TV or movies; that is pure horse pucky. People being tortured will tell you anything you want to hear in order to stop the pain. That is and always has been the purpose of torture. But just for the sake of argument, let’s say it does work. Hello — it’s still torture! Are we going to stoop to the level of barbarians? Then how can we think we’re any better than them? How can we still be awesome?
There’s another question hardly anyone seems to be asking: Where are the indictments for these crimes? Do you mean no one has gone to jail for this? The UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights has called the program “a criminal conspiracy,” and strongly asserted that President Bush and the accomplices must face criminal penalties. General Secretary Ban Ki-moon said he hopes the report is the start of a process towards prosecution, because “the prohibition against torture is absolute.” Well, yes, one man has been held accountable — John Kiriakou, the CIA insider who exposed the torture, who was the first to publicly confirm it. And you know what happens to whistle-blowers in this country. He’s currently serving a 30-month sentence in prison. This administration is much more concerned with shutting up those who expose the crimes than they are holding the criminals responsible. And as for those destroyed torture tapes, I wouldn’t be surprised if Cheney got hold of them, so he’d have something to masturbate to in the darkness.
A subject for a lengthy discussion in itself is about the kind of people who could do this to other human beings. Surprise — they’re just like us! Look up the 1962 Stanley Milgram study at Yale and the 1971 Philip Zimbardo experiment at Stanford, and you’ll learn that most people under a strong authority will, you know, follow orders. The bitter irony in all this is that America lowered itself to the level of the barbarian, and we didn’t even get anything out of it.