Center for Strategic Communication

By Patricia Lee Sharpe

Pinch me!

Wake me from this nightmare!

Am I really stuck in an America awash in arguments pro torture put forth by fellow Americans proudly proclaiming they’d do it again?  Waterboarding.  Rectal rapes.  Chaining.  Hanging. Agonizing stress positions. Sleeplessness.  Nakedness. Hypothermia.  

Just typing such words makes me want to retch, to squirm with shame.

Once upon a time Dick Cheney merely hinted of the need to go on the “dark side.”  Now, though he’s unhappy with that nasty word torture, he’s all in favor of the whole gamut of abuses that went under the name of—ahem!—enhanced interrogation techniques.

As was said during the McCarthy hearings, “Have you no shame, sir?”

No, McCarthy did not.  He maintained his power by ruthless Red-baiting, stoking the fear of Communism to such levels that countless innocent Americans lost their jobs—and their access to new jobs—on the grounds that they just might harbor subversive tendencies (or be a present or former member of a minuscule American Communist party—or a “fellow traveler,” which was very flexibly defined).  Eventually the emptiness of McCarthy’s accusations was exposed, but not before many many people were hurt or humiliated.  

Today the American demagogue’s route to political power is through stoking fears of terrorism, thereby justifying the  horrendous physical and psychological brutalizing of potential informants.  As with the Red scare,  the rare to non-existent extreme case is used to gain permission to inflict indiscriminate abuse.  Here are two beauts:  the ticking time bomb argument; the baby (your baby!) in imminent danger argument.   

So you’d torture, too, wouldn’t you? Confess!  Be honest! 

No, honestly, I wouldn’t.  

Why?  Because I know too much.  In seeking permission to torture, it helps if the hold-out  believes that torture is a guaranteed route to timely and accurate information.  It isn’t.  And no one has to be ignorant of its general inefficacy anymore, at least not in the case of America’s torturing of terrorist suspects.  No one has to be a victim of fear-mongering by sadistic operatives and their political enablers.  

Why not?  Please read the Report which has finally been issued by the Senate thanks to the persistence and courage of Diane Feinstein of California.   Feisty Feinstein faced down the phalanx of self-serving current and former directors of the CIA, as well as fellow Democrat President Barack Obama, to give us some 500 pages of documents that reveal many horrors and shockingly little actionable intelligence.

But! but! but! argue the spy meisters and their mostly Republican backers, the  report as published is selective, incomplete, biased.  

Is it?  Well, there’s a way to correct that.  Issue  the full report, reputedly some 5000 pages of documents—and also eliminate the redactions, for which I would prefer the more accurate term—the censored bits, mostly names and phrases blacked out to protect individuals and cooperative countries.  The blanks were quickly filled in, by the way, from information that was already public knowledge.  

Actually the release of the report was an anti-climax, a public admission to what was already an open secret, so much so that the U.S. was recently called on the carpet internationally. Making the best of an awkward situation, President Obama conceded that the  U.S. had indeed stooped to torture—but those bad days were over, he said.  Re the latter, in fact, he’d said it before.  Shortly after his first inaugural he declared he’d put a stop to torture in America’s name.

And yet, not only did President Obama recently appoint as CIA director a man who had held a high position in the Agency during the high point of the torture regime, he plans to retain him even now, post Senate report, although John Brennan refuses to condemn the use of torture past, present or future.  So which Obama should we believe in?  The one who renounces torture? Or the one  who retains confidence in the man who doesn’t?

Speaking of Presidents, we now know beyond a doubt that Mr. Obama’s predecessor was informed of the torture sufficiently clearly to have had an opportunity to issue a simple order:  don’t do that on my watch.  As for his Vice President Dick Cheney, the original dark lord of the dark side, he declares he’d do it again in an eye blink.  

So much revelation!  And so little accountability.   Those who tortured, those who supervised and sub-contracted the torture program, the chain of command running up to President George W. Bush—no one will be made accountable.  “Let’s move on,” says the current President, signaling that, in the future, too, it will be safe to torture in America’s name.  Meanwhile, those admirable Americans who followed conscience and tried to alert us of the unnecessary atrocities committed in our name languish in jail.

“Oh! but what we did was legal,” insist the operatives and their managers.  “We made sure of that.”  Right.  The in-house lawyers said it was legal to do what the bosses wanted.  But there was a lot of bait and switch here. Justice Department lawyers didn’t call it torture.  They okayed “enhanced interrogation techniques.”  That’s right.  To get away with brutality you define the brutality away.  You give it a bland bureaucratic name.  Ah! the joys of euphemism.

And yet, if it was all so legal, why did it have to be done in far away places—and in secret?  Why was the practice denied long beyond the time when denial was anything but laughable?   The  secrecy is the fatal clue that these guys  weren’t proud of what they were doing.  They knew it was shameful.  They cowered under a flimsy legal cover—think of wet tee shirt contests—and then, in many cases, they didn’t even do it themselves.  They gave the dirty work to sub-contractors.  Maybe they thought that not being in the torture chamber themselves would shield them from culpability should anyone have the courage, eventually, to prosecute them for crimes against humanity.

Shades of Adolf Eichman!   I’m just an insignificant cog obeying orders. The whole bunch of them should be brought up before the International Criminal Court, and that probably includes President George W. Bush.  

Meanwhile, kudos to then Secretary of the Defense Donald Rumsfeld.  When the CIA asked him to junk the Army Field Manual and let the Army do the dirty work, he declined.  Maybe that’s what he was referring to, years ago, when he spoke of the “unknown unknowns” that could really hurt us.