Wednesday, 10 December 2014

THE CIA, TORTURE, HISTORY AND AMERICAN EXCEPTIONIALISM

This morning, discussing the report on American torture, my friend Michael Goldfarb quoted Senator Frank Church, when his Senate committee's report was issued, in the wake of the Rockefeller and Pike reports, the latter not released but leaked by Daniel Schorr in the Village Voice.  Lest we forget, Church was marginalized, lost his Senate seat to a well-funded campaign, and as we know the domestic surveillance by the CIA and NSA and whoever else continued unchecked, at least until the Snowden revelations. Church's committee was regularly lied to by its witnesses and obstructed by the Ford administration; this was a committee that included such radicals as Barry Goldwater, Richard Schweiker, John Tower, and Howard Baker.  

At the time Church said: 'I know the capacity that is there to make tyranny total in America, and we must see to it that this agency and all agencies that possess this technology operate within the law and under proper supervision so that we never cross over ...'

Remember, the US was coming out of Vietnam, and the protests of the Sixties, and Nixon and Watergate. It was headed into the Tehran Embassy crisis, a revolution the trillions of dollars of US intelligence never saw coming, and the fall of our buddy in democracy, the Shah. Jimmy Carter took the blame for that, and America launched itself into twenty years of living in a fairy-tale world, followed by ten years of fear happily stoked by the very people who'd sold America the fairy tale Kool-Aid.

When people talk about the legacy of the 'Vietnam Syndrome' which is supposedly a fear of using American power to pursue American ideals (sic), they continue to ignore reality, which is that the US has fought an almost continuous series of undeclared wars, but unlike Vietnam, it no longer asks its citizens to send their sons to do the fighting. Instead, professionals and mercenaries go to war. We stage more and more elaborate ceremonies of fealty to the military during our circuses, designed to entice the jobless young as much as comfort the affluent who will never get near combat, then we retreat into the placidity of entertainment while our heroes kill and torture and steal to enrich their masters on our behalf.

This Orwellian (and to an extent Heinleinian) reality was obvious from the first moments 911 turned into an invasion of Iraq, but it has been in the cards constantly in my lifetime: the Congressional oversight in the 70s led only to an October Surprise in 1980 and then the Iran-Contra abuses. Our current permanent War Of Terror has led to our losing the last shreds of our moral standing, pissed away when we had most of the world standing with us after 911.

Senator Feinstein may have got the report out into the public, but Senator Feinstein refuses to even call torture by its name. Senator Feinstein has fought for additional powers of surveillance for the intelligence establishment over us, and has fought to protect those already caught with the fingers in the digital cookie jar. 

This report may seem shocking if your head has been in the sand for the past 13, or 35 years, but it carefully avoids passing the blame upward where it belongs, to those who planned these wars, who sought or prepared the legal briefs for torture, for rendering, for imprisoning without charge. It leaves large swathes of the military and the intelligence establishment outside the CIA untouched: it's like this entire planet-sized sack of shit is finally going to land on the slick skull of George Tenet. It may not quite do its job fully, but its impact will pass, and just as they did after the reports of the 1970s, the intelligence establishment will continue to do as it damn well pleases. The torture report may absolve those who should carry the blame, but it can't absolve the rest of us.

2 comments :

Mr. Chester said...
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jamesreadsbooks.com said...


I'm still waiting to hear what Hilary Clinton, Rand Paul, Chris Christie and the rest of the 2016 presidential hopefuls have to say about this report. Last time all looked they were all maintaining the brave leadership position of silence.

Let's see if we get a special prosecutor.