As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Darkest Of The Dark Sides

Keith Olbermann talks with Jane Mayer in this clip about the release of the CIA IG report and the preliminary investigation into some of the worst practices of the torture regime. She talks about how the IG report reads like "a crime scene," foregrounding the idea that the architects of the policy at CIA were warned in this 2004 report and repeatedly thereafter that their agency would be in deep legal trouble for continuing these actions, and yet they kept justifying them and/or actually engaging in them for years afterward. Nobody took the warnings seriously, knowing both the makeup of the Justice Department and the Presidency at that time, and perhaps banking on how Washington would view these efforts, as part of the past and best kept their, given the Establishment culpability for torture.

Here's just a few of the facts of what CIA interrogators did in our name, just the ones that come from this IG report, as masterfully summarized by Glenn Greenwald:

• Threats of execution, using semi-automatic handguns and power drills
• Threats to kill detainee and his children
• Threats to rape detainee's wife and children in front of him
• Restricting the detainee's carotid artery
• Hitting detainee with the butt end of a rifle
• Blowing smoke in detainee's face for five minutes
• Multiple instances of waterboarding detainees, of the type we prosecuted Japanese war criminals for using:
• Hanging detainee by their arms until interrogators thought their shoulders might be dislocated
• stepping on detainee's ankle shackles to cause severe bruising and pain
• choking detainee until they pass out
• dousing detainee with water on cold concrete floors in cold temperatures to induce hypothermia
• killing detainees through torture techniques, whether accidental or not
• putting detainee in a diaper for days at a time to live in their own filth

On that last point, Digby notes that this could have been used in tandem with another technique we know about, the use of forced enemas, a particularly degrading technique, part and parcel of the humiliations heaped on prisoners that were psycho-sexual in nature. A lot of these stem from misreadings of books like Raphael Patai's "The Arab Mind," which presumed a host of dubious generalizations about Muslims and their predispositions, all of it willingly lapped up by neoconservatives willing to believe that their opponents were somehow subhuman. As if anyone would react favorably to being made to live in their own shit. These stereotypical projections that manifested themselves in essentially an allowance for torturing brown-skinned people have dangerous and deadly repercussions.

But whatever Patai's intentions, the kind of thinking he engaged in does have real-world consequences, ones that reverberate far beyond the walls of Abu Ghraib. In their recent book "Occidentalism" (Penguin), Ian Buruma and Avishai Margalit argue that a reciprocal negative stereotype of the West has arisen in the Arab world, one that holds that the West is licentious, amoral, overly sexualized, aggressive, and engaged in a crusade against Islam. Buruma and Margalit trace this stereotype back to thinkers of the Western counter-Enlightenment, but events like the abuse at Abu Ghraib, in which soldiers reportedly not only raped prisoners but forced them to eat pork and drink alcohol, suggest that an Occidentalist worldview has sources much closer at hand, in the actual experience of domination.

In the wake of the Iraq war, mutually reinforcing Occidentalist and Orientalist stereotypes have contributed immeasurably to the fear and apprehension that divides Islam and the West. It should be observed that the human rights violations that took place in Abu Ghraib would have been no less horrific had they taken place in Madison, Wis. But the explosiveness of the situation makes them far more dangerous as we enter an era where each side defines the other only by its worst excesses. Rather than plumbing some mythical "Arab mind," we should affirm the shared humanity that transcends our differences and binds us all together.

Because of the reliance on stereotypes, the lack of factual information and the pressure from the top to come up with any information in the early post-9/11 period, this all led to "unauthorized, improvised, inhumane and undocumented" being used repeatedly and in violation of multiple federal laws and international conventions. None of them made Americans safer, in fact many of them probably made the country less safe, and all of them were decidedly illegal, debasing and severely damaging to our moral capability. We have made a mockery of the presumption that in America, the law is king. Now a generation of torture-loving conservatives believe that the ends justify any means, up to and including murder.

They don't. And as soon as you begin to have an argument over torture's effectiveness, the argument is immediately lost. But it's worth noting that Dick Cheney, the Great Dissembler, claimed for months that documents would show the how torture worked in saving lives, and yet, while those documents were released along with the IG report, as Mayer says none of the information contained in them prove Cheney's hypothesis.

OLBERMANN: What about Mr. Cheney's assessment that there would be documents that prove that torture worked where traditional and legal interrogation did not or would not. Is there anything in those documents that were released today that supports that contention?

MAYER: Well, the documents that I've seen, and maybe I'm missing something, but so far, I am amazed at how little support there is for the things that Vice President Cheney has been saying. There is nothing but a mass of claims that they got information from this individual and that individual, many from KSM, who apparently has been the greatest fount of information for them, but there's absolutely nothing saying that they had to beat them to get this information. In fact, as anybody knows who knows anything about Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, he was dying to tell the world, when he was interviewed by Al Jazeera before he was in US custody, about everything he knew and everything he did. He was proud of his role as the mastermind of 9/11. He loves to talk about it. So there's no evidence that I see in this that these things were necessary. I spoke to someone at the CIA who was an advisor to them who conceded to me that "We could have gotten the same information from tea and crumpets."

OLBERMANN: Or buying a copy of the Al Jazeera interview.

The Cheney documents were deliberately created at the time to rebut both this CIA Inspector General report recommending prosecutions, and the heat put on by Congress about allegations of torture. They were actually conceived to deceive people into believing that torture works, an irrelevant point at best. And yet these same memos do not support Cheney's claims. They say that certain individuals gave up information, but only after questioned through traditional means, which was happening contemporaneously to the torture. It is impossible to say definitively, therefore, which information came as a result of what techniques.

And yet, not only has traditional media largely ignored the fact that the documents do not support Cheney's claims (which were given tons of media attention previously), but an extremely carefully worded statement by Cheney, stating that "The documents released Monday clearly demonstrate that the individuals subjected to Enhanced Interrogation Techniques provided the bulk of intelligence we gained about al Qaeda" - which says nothing of WHAT techniques caused this intelligence to be gleaned - has been taken completely at face value by reporters, in particular CNN, which ran Cheney's comments as facts:

Cheney says documents show interrogations prevented attacks

Former Vice President Dick Cheney says documents released Monday support his view that harsh interrogation techniques used on terrorism suspects prevented attacks and yielded crucial information about al Qaeda.

A simple read of the documents shows this to be completely untrue. Jane Mayer, as expert a journalist on this subject as anyone, calls them unsupportable. But too many reporters just write down these things and run with them, the facts be damned. It's part of a disturbing pattern, as Digby says:

If you have followed the torture revelations over the years, you can't help but be just a tad disillusioned by the fact that the mainstream media acts over and over again as if they were born yesterday and each time these stories are validated it's as if it's the first time they've heard it.

We already know they tortured. We know that DOJ bureaucrats illegally approved the torture on Dick Cheney's request and we know that a bunch of unprofessional, untrained interrogators complied and then went beyond even what was approved. We know that innocent people were tortured and we know that prisoners were killed. We've known all this for a long time. The question is not what happened, it's whether anyone will be held accountable for it.

On that point, here's Jane Mayer talking about the Durham investigation, actually hopeful about what it may find:

MAYER: Well, my guess is that if they actually open some kind of serious investigation, and Durham is said to be a very serious prosecutor, that even if they start at the very bottom, it's going to keep leading up and up through the chain of command. Because, if nothing else, if they actually bring charges against anybody at the CIA who was at the bottom of the food chain, the first thing that person's going to do is say "I was authorized, let me tell you what my orders were." So they've begun a process that could lead to the top.

OLBERMANN: Well, if it works along the Archibald Cox lines, as I analogized last week, where they've supposedly circumscribed it, but people want to get out from the scapegoat for the whole operation, then I think your assessment is correct.

We know that none of the torture here happened by happenstance, but through a directed policy emanating from the top. Instead of prosecuting "bad apples" who were young MPs on the night shift in Baghdad, we're talking about mid-level career CIA. They aren't dupes, and they know how to shift the attention up the chain of command. I don't think these interrogators will live with being the scapegoats. It may take some time, but we really could see some legitimate accountability here. And I hope so - because otherwise this will remain a black mark that can never wash out.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,