Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Old News, Old Political Games in CIA Study


If waterboarding isn't torture, why did the CIA do it?

If stripping detainees naked and dragging them along the floor isn't torture, why bother?

Is the CIA run by a bunch of sadistic perverts who enjoy contriving agony from people simply because they can?  If that is the case, then we really have some deep problems in the United States of America.

If, on the other hand, our government was desperate to learn about other ways Muslim extremists intended to attack the "Free World" after 9-11, did former president Bush and his administration simply bend the rules a little too much?

Some pundits fear that the Senate Intelligence Committee's release today of its report on the CIA's use of torture could spark a new wave of extremist aggression against Americans and American interests abroad.  Yet the bar for terrorism was set mighty high on 9-11, without anybody knowing the depths to which Americans would go in torturing suspected Islamists.

Indeed, in the months and years immediately following that tragic day, the democratic world's combined intelligence community really didn't know what it was up against.  Their attack models, leads, informants, and operational knowledge of terrorist capabilities had been proven woefully inadequate by what the world witnessed in New York, Washington DC, and Pennsylvania.  What else didn't we know?  When might something else as bad - or worse - take place?

For the record, and for a country as obsessed with laws, the courts, and due process as the United States, there's little wiggle room when it comes to condoning torture.  As her committee unfurled its voluminous report this morning, California senator Dianne Feinstein rhapsodized that our country is big enough and powerful enough to absorb whatever repercussions there might be in declassifying such sensitive information, and she rightly said that torture should be something our country opposes, both here at home, and abroad.

But is today's grand reveal really about torture?  Is the "Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency's Detention and Interrogation Program" actually about the morality of what the Bush administration condoned in our name?  Or is all of the political and media fuss over today's release merely a re-hashing of aging partisan vendettas?

Read far enough into the study, and you'll realize there's little in it that you haven't heard before.  We've heard stories about how the CIA inflicted pain and humiliation on suspected terrorists.  We watched eight years ago as the CIA and the Bush administration squabbled between themselves - and amongst themselves - regarding who authorized what when it came to things like waterboarding.  Dick Cheney has been snarling for ages about how appropriate everything was.  Just about the only thing we didn't fully comprehend was how frustrated members of the Senate Intelligence Committee were with what they perceived to be a lack of inclusion in the CIA's agenda.

Which is really what this study is about, isn't it?  In a way, it's the Senate's opportunity to whine in public about feeling like they were only bit players in what America's secret intelligence operatives were doing - at the behest of a Republican presidential administration.

What makes things juicy is that they can wallow in the details of torture to titillate an audience who'd likely otherwise fall asleep while reading it.  And they don't have to take any responsibility for having possibly turned a blind eye at the time to interrogation methods that politicians of all political stripes may have condoned in the frantic season after 9-11.

Regular readers of my blog know that I'm no flag-waving fan of the Bush administration.  And that I'm even less enamored by Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and other right-wing hawks who kept their White House careening wildly along a narrow ledge of accountability over the threatening canyon of Muslim terrorism for two white-knuckle terms.

But what is there in this report that we didn't already know?  Other than the fact that "the CIA has actively avoided or impeded" the oversight that the Senate, the media, the White House, and other agencies and departments believed were rightfully theirs to assert?

For that, we need a 500-page "executive summary" for a 6,000-page report?

Here's a news flash for you, senators:  now you know how the American electorate feels about how Washington has been treating us for lo, these many years.

You want torture?  Try voting and paying taxes, election cycle after election cycle, only to see your dysfunction corrupt our political discourse.

Not to trivialize the inhumane degradation and physical harm that the CIA inflicted upon its dozens of prisoners, as recounted in this exhaustive Senate report.

But neither should we trivialize with petulant partisan gamesmanship the torture most of us should be able to recognize in the pages of this report.

Do you want this to instead be about America's turning away from torture?  That's fine.  Yet, from an altruistic human rights perspective, shouldn't we be able to discuss methods of acquiring sensitive information from enemy combatants without re-branding old news in new ways to buy face time on national television?

It's awfully hard to see the CIA as being the problem with so many senators ogling for the media spotlight.


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