BY JEFF MACKLER
While mass murder via “legally approved” wars remains the weapon of choice of today’s imperial conquerors—especially the United States—torture, conducted properly and legally and with the help of modern science, does have its advantages. Or so we are given to understand.
The forme moderne now practiced by the CIA and defined as “enhanced interrogation techniques” (EIT), leaves no marks, no evidence of wrongdoing or sadistic intent. Its legality is recommended and approved by well-known political scientists like John Woo, former Deputy Assistant U.S. Attorney General, whose “Torture Memos” included a set of rules adopted by the government to ensure that questionable deeds were fully in accord with U.S. law. Woo, a “respected scholar,” now teachers at the University of California at Berkeley.
Further, legalized torture is said to actually save lives—according to the CIA and its bipartisan defenders—by extracting information from terrorists without which monstrous deeds would have inevitably been committed! Torture is certainly cost effective and more precise, much more so than spending $1 trillion yearly on traditional wars that indiscriminately, or better, inadvertently, target civilians, as with the 1.5 million killed in Iraq by U.S. forces since 2003 or the four million slaughtered by the U.S. in Vietnam in the previous century.
But then again, there are advantages and disadvantages to both. A wise imperialism never excludes either!
However, once in a rare while, someone steps in and blows the whisper of a whistle questioning “some” forms of torture. Such an event took place with the over 6000-page Dec. 7, 2014, report of Diane Feinstein’s Senate Intelligence Committee, revealing that CIA torturers had perhaps committed some heinous deeds. For “national security” reasons, of course, 5500 pages of Feinstein’s committee report, conducted at a cost of $40 million, were “redacted,” (edited) and thus we have only some 500 pages from which to make judgments.
No doubt some skeptics are still wondering what hidden horrors lay in the original report. But as we know, “national security” requirements include protecting the guilty, lest some angry victims or outraged citizens “mistakenly” seek revenge against the modern-day Adolph Eichmanns. Indeed, not a single torturer has been brought to the “bar of justice,” not to mention the CIA tops who approved what Obama officials essentially deem “moral” lapses. This “bar” has been so elevated as to permanently protect all transgressors.
Feinstein noted that CIA torture “regularly resulted in fabricated information” and that the CIA program was “a stain on our values and on our history.” These are harsh words from senior Senator Feinstein, a proud supporter of every U.S. war since she was first elected to local office in San Francisco in 1970.
Her conclusion that the CIA torture was a “stain” on our values and history seemed a bit understated. “Stain” is a modest term, especially when such torture has always been accompanied by endless wars of mass destruction and murder in seven countries, where millions have been slaughtered under Bush and Obama.
It is one thing to condemn a bit of torture, “a stain,” as Feinstein puts it; it is quite another to condemn the systematic terror and murderous wars undertaken by Republicans and Democrats alike.
“During the brutal interrogations,” Feinstein stated, “the CIA was often unaware the information was fabricated.” It was, she stated, “morally and administratively misguided” and “far more brutal than people were led to believe.” One might ask how the CIA torturers were ever to know beforehand whether their victims were lying or fabricating information! Assuming that even a few did provide accurate or “useful” information, one can only wonder whether she would have come to a different conclusion or whether her report would have been published at all.
“Administratively misguided,” says Feinstein. It seems like the CIA needs instruction on how to torture better, that is, within the guidelines of “legally” adopted policy.
The president’s comments on the Feinstein report were similarly moderated, with Obama stating that despite whatever problems it might have revealed, the U.S. owed “a profound debt” to the CIA even though “some” of its techniques were “contrary to our values” [emphasis added].
The Democratic Party Senate majority released the redacted version shortly before the new Republican majority took over the Senate. This lame duck shot at the Republicans, as with Obama’s recent image-burnishing “legacy” policies implemented through executive orders, amounted to little more than a presidential slap on the wrist. And could it be otherwise? Could Obama’s presidential war crimes against millions in Libya, Iraq, Sudan, Congo, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Syria, Egypt Yemen, etc., be any less immoral?
For the record, it would be useful to list just a few of the modern atrocities revealed by Feinstein’s committee. All were designed to crawl under the “bar of justice” that Woo’s Torture Memo outlined.
• Detainees were told that their children would be harmed and that their mothers would be sexually assaulted or have their throats cut.
• They were waterboarded, that is, subjected to repeated near-drowning techniques.
• Their rectums were infused with “pureed” food in a process called “rectal re-hydration.”
• They were held for long periods on freezing floors or doused with nearly freezing water while held in “stress positions.”
• They were subjected to extreme “sleep deprivation.”
Needless to say, a few died during these procedures, according to the redacted report. Twenty-six of the 119 detainees were “wrongfully held,” a term still undefined. In most cases, however, they were either innocent, and/or denied recourse to any legal counsel and always held without formal charges levied against them.
Most of the above torture techniques were designed by “contractor psychologists” James Mitchell and Bruce Jensen in 2002. They were paid $81 million by the CIA for their efforts.
In the days and weeks before Feinstein’s report was released, a ruling-class debate of sorts ensued with Feinstein and her Senate Intelligence Committee allies pitted against not only the Republicans and the CIA but also against President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry. Obama and Kerry joined the chorus in insisting that the report be severely redacted—that is, watered down sufficiently to portray the torture as essentially limited to lapses in administration, poor coordination, and essentially unintended consequences.
Feinstein, in a rare flair of disagreement, initially stuck by the report, apparently still outraged by the CIA’s successful efforts several months earlier, to surreptitiously and illegally break into her committee’s files in an effort to alter some of the more heinous findings.
Feinstein temporarily suffered under the illusion that the nation’s historic separation of powers—the executive and legislative in this case—guaranteed that her committee’s work could proceed without interference. She was soon disabused of this legal fiction and dropped the matter, only to insist months later, for appearances’ sake perhaps, that the redacted version was insufficient to expose the CIA’s activities.
CIA director John Brennan, commenting on “The Agency’s” internal investigation of itself, in turn admitted to “shortcomings” and “mistakes,” attributing them to the CIA’s “unpreparedness for massive interrogation and detention programs.” But Brennan, contrary to the report’s findings and all other such data, insisted the EIT did produce intelligence that “thwarted attack plans and saved lives.” He declined to provide examples.
Stressing the need for the nation to “look forward, not backward” and pledging U.S. fealty to democracy and human rights, President Obama’s final mid-December press conference on the matter aimed at closing the debate.
Obama granted similar, if not more blatant absolution to the NSA’s surveillance operations employed against the cell phone, computer, and virtually all other means of communications of nearly everyone on earth. In the name of “national security” the green light was handed to the National Security Agency (NSA) to continue its massive surveillance with impunity.
No serious social or political activist can believe for a moment that CIA torture, even in its new genteel EIT expression, has been limited. Not a single perpetrator has been punished.
“The horror, the horror,” in the final words of Joseph Conrad’s deranged colonial-era mass murderer, Kurtz, in the epic 1899 novel “Heart of Darkness,” continues. Little did the world know then that Conrad’s reference was to Belgian King Leopold II’s genocide of 12 million Congolese in the course of that nation’s colonization and the extraction of incredible quantities of ivory.
In the past 20 years only six million Congolese have been murdered in the course of that nation’s re-colonization, today for the purpose of stealing the Congo’s vast mineral resources. This time around it is the U.S. imperial power at work, assisted by the kept corporate media for whom coverage, not to mention exposure, of the modern rape of the Congo is off limits.
U.S. imperialism’s unceasing citation of its “national security interests” is nothing less than the putrid justification of plunder and murder by any means necessary. Until this behemoth is defeated by the world’s working masses, we can only expect “the horror” to worsen.
Photo: Larry Downing / Reuters