• Thinking About Torture Ahead of the Senate Report

    December 9, 2014 // 19 Comments »

    torture



    The highly-redacted Senate Intelligence Committee report on post-9/11 torture is being released as you read this. It will likely contain few details on what actually happened by America’s hand.

    But details or not, at the most fundamental level the report does not matter. America will sidestep the most important lessons that could have emerged: we have left the door open to torture, and torture will ultimately harm the nation more profoundly than any terrorist could.

    Information already in circulation makes clear the report will reveal America’s regime was more horrific than what we already know and that torture did not generate any of the life-saving intelligence it was designed and tolerated to do.

    There will be articles and talk shows pulling out every grotesque detail, played as horror porn, a real-life Saw. There will be think pieces reflecting on the terribleness of war, likely quoting some scraps of ancient text (save us from more Wikipedian Herodotus and Thucydides.) A main theme will be that while wrong and repugnant, one must view torture through the lens of those post-9/11 days when our very America was at grave risk. Torture is always unpleasant but sometimes necessary, people will say.


    President Obama already staked out this position on behalf of the nation way back on August 1, saying “I understand why [torture] happened. I think it’s important when we look back to recall how afraid people were after the Twin Towers fell and the Pentagon had been hit and the plane in Pennsylvania had fallen, and people did not know whether more attacks were imminent, and there was enormous pressure on our law enforcement and our national security teams to try to deal with this. And it’s important for us not to feel too sanctimonious in retrospect about the tough job that those folks had. And a lot of those folks were working hard under enormous pressure and are real patriots.”

    The reality is, and was, different. The torture programs continued for years after 9/11, with most officially concluding (we are lead to believe) only after Obama took office in January 2009. Despite the fear-mongering, standard intelligence tools (including, we now know, blanket NSA surveillance) painted a clearer and clearer picture that there were no more imminent attacks coming. As for the “tough job” the “folks” responsible for the torture had, it is unclear that that job was any tougher than in other times of challenge for America– during the Civil War when the nation was truly at risk, after Pearl Harbor, during tense moments of the Cold War– when fear did not congeal into torture.

    No, no the idea that torture, as well as the other post-9/11 violations of acceptable human behavior such as renditions, indefinite detention without trial and the dilution of civil rights, held by American citizens for over two hundred years, can in any way be justified by their circumstances is simply wrong.

    The purposeful harming of prisoners has never in human history been considered acceptable or justified, except by the torturers themselves perhaps. Does the U.S. wish to stand in history among the Inquisition, Genghis Khan and the Stasi, all of whom felt torture was justified? Torture has otherwise been broadly held evil when done by frightened soldiers in the heat of battle, and it has been held evil when sanctioned by governments. It has been outlawed by international conventions and agreements.

    No U.S. president would find it acceptable if done to fellow citizens. Obama should be ashamed of himself for suggesting anything different about America’s own actions. He displays a lack of courage to confront his own national security apparatus by in any way leaving open the door that what was done was something he could “understand.” The horror was excusable once, and thus can be again. Pandora’s box has been left open.


    The second expected theme of the Senate report, that torture failed to produce results, bares similar shame.

    Leaving aside how unlikely a true 24 “ticking time bomb” scenario really is (no torture was needed after the Boston Marathon bombing when there might actually have been a ticking bomb), it does not matter whether torture produced “results.” If somehow one could cite an example of some useful intelligence, would that justify all that was done? Would it at that point be simply a math problem — if torture saved two lives it was still bad, but if it saved 54, or a 106, or 3,013, then it was justified and thus needed to be kept in America’s global toolbox for the “next time?”

    What matters more is that the long-term result of choosing expediency over morality has always resulted in great harm to a nation. Now, look to Thucydides, the ancient historian — the abandonment by Athens those centuries ago of its core principles in the destruction of innocents lead to the destruction of Athenian democracy. The lessons of history matter, especially for the first democracy founded since Athens.

    America, as national policy, tortured human beings. It did so out of fear, out of revenge, because it wanted to lash out and it could. Unless the president will step back from complicity on behalf of our nation and admit torture was simply wrong, and risked greater long-term harm to America than a terrorist could inflict, well ahead of the Senate report’s release we already know it doesn’t matter.



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    CIA, Senate and a Constitutional Crisis Resolved (not in favor of the Constitution)

    July 11, 2014 // 20 Comments »




    Chroniclers of the decline of the republic will recall March 2014. Speaking then in reference to revelations that the CIA searched computers being used by Senate staffers, and removed documents those staffers received from the CIA detailing its post-9/11 torture program, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein said:

    I have grave concerns that the CIA’s search may well have violated the separation of powers principles embodied in the United States Constitution, including the Speech and Debate Clause. It may have undermined the constitutional framework essential to effective congressional oversight of intelligence activities.

    [CIA actions] may also have violated the Fourth Amendment, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, as well as Executive Order 12333, which prohibits the CIA from conducting domestic searches or surveillance.

    Feinstein went on to say then “The interrogations and the conditions of confinement at the CIA detentions sites were far different and far more harsh than the way the CIA had described them to us” and emphasized that her committee’s report would detail “the horrible details of the CIA program that never, never, never should have existed.”

    It appears more than likely the files the CIA pulled out of the Senate’s hands would reveal two presidents lied to the world about the torture program, and that horrors beyond what we know were committed in our names.

    A classified 6,300-page Senate report on torture was prepared 19 months ago, before the details of the CIA spying became public. Calls were made, in March 2014, to declassify parts and release them to the public. Now, in July, we are still waiting.

    The Constitutional Crisis

    The bulk of the Constitution is a road map to the checks and balances the Founders created to ensure no one part of government would become so strong and powerful so as to negate the others. Chief among those checks and balances is the oversight role Congress plays over the Executive branch. Simply put, Congress investigates what the Executive does. That is what Dianne Feinstein and her Senate Intelligence Committee were doing looking into the truth behind the lies of CIA torture.

    When the Executive, using the CIA in this instance (and there are credible claims Obama personally knew of the CIA’s activities ahead of time), inserts itself wrongly in that process by spying on and manipulating evidence of the Committee, you have a Constitutional crisis. The essential checks and balances designed to sustain our democracy and rein in an out-of-control Executive are no longer functioning.

    The Obama administration declined to get involved. Then-White House spokesperson Jay Carney announced Obama administration lawyers were told about the CIA’s intentions to have the Department of Justice investigate Senate staffers for potentially stealing classified documents they sought to hold on to after the CIA tried to delete them by spying on and penetrating the records database, but did not approve or weigh in on the agency’s decision.

    With the White House choosing the sidelines, a DOJ investigation, no matter the motive, was the only check and balance to be applied to this crisis of power, and the only hope for public clarity about what really happened.

    The DOJ Declines Intervening on the Side of the Constitution

    On July 10, 2014, DOJ released a short statement: “The department carefully reviewed the matters referred to us and did not find sufficient evidence to warrant a criminal investigation.” There will be no reckoning of what the CIA did to conceal or influence the Senate report.

    Previously, in 2012, the Justice Department closed an inquiry into prosecuting low-level CIA practitioners of torture without bringing any charges.

    Post-Constitutional America, Again

    Dianne Feinstein appears to have made no comment on the DOJ decision despite her central role in all this and previous claims of unconstitutional actions by the Executive. As this is written, her most recent public remarks deal with immigration. The last reference found on her official website to the torture report is from April 2014.

    The CIA attacks on the Senate, designed to impede, alter or influence the outcome of a report on torture, coupled with a lack of concern from the White House and the Department of Justice, as well as apparently by the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee itself, are another example of our new world, a Post-Constitutional America where the old rules of an aging republic no longer apply.



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    CIA, Senate and a Constitutional Crisis (if you’ll keep it)

    March 12, 2014 // 20 Comments »




    Even for someone cynical and jaded, it is still possible to be gobsmacked by the news. We are witnessing extraordinary events in the history of our nation.

    Speaking in reference to revelations that the CIA searched computers being used by Senate staffers, and removed documents those staffers had received from the CIA detailing its post-9/11 torture program, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein said:

    I have grave concerns that the CIA’s search may well have violated the separation of powers principles embodied in the United States Constitution, including the Speech and Debate Clause. It may have undermined the constitutional framework essential to effective congressional oversight of intelligence activities.

    [CIA actions] may also have violated the Fourth Amendment, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, as well as Executive Order 12333, which prohibits the CIA from conducting domestic searches or surveillance.

    We will bypass for now the hypocrisy of Feinstein complaining that her own Fourth Amendment rights were trod upon, given that she has until now enthusiastically supported the government’s rape of our own rights through unwarranted surveillance. There are bigger fish to fry this round.

    Torture

    As almost a side note, it is very clear now that there are things in those deleted CIA files that the CIA and the White House are willing to go to extraordinary lengths to hide. Recall that the CIA destroyed without punishment or sanction video tapes of the torture sessions.

    Feinstein said “The interrogations and the conditions of confinement at the CIA detentions sites were far different and far more harsh than the way the CIA had described them to us” and emphasized that her committee’s report would detail “the horrible details of the CIA program that never, never, never should have existed.”

    It is likely the files the CIA pulled out of the Senate’s hands would reveal two presidents have lied to the world about the torture program, and that horrors beyond what we know were committed in our names. What did they do to other humans?


    Beyond Torture

    But we are past the question of torture. What is happening here is a Constitutional crisis. If Feinstein does not have CIA Director Brennan up before her Senate committee immediately, and if she does not call for his resignation and if the president remains silent (“We need to allow Justice to complete its investigation”) then we have witnessed the essential elements of a coup; at the very least, the collapse of the third of the government charged with oversight of the executive.

    That oversight– those Constitutional checks and balances– are the difference between a democracy and a monarchy. They are what contains executive power and makes it responsible to the People. But like Jenga, pull out the important one and the whole thing falls.

    A Last Question

    The only question remaining then is whether the president is part of the coup, or another victim of it. Is he in charge, or are the intelligence agencies? We may have an answer soon. CIA Director Brennan said:

    If I did something wrong, I will go to the president and I will explain to him what I did and what the findings were. And he is the one who can ask me to stay or to go.

    So far, the White House response has been to ignore the challenge:

    President Obama has “great confidence” in Brennan, Carney said during his daily briefing. He added that if there has been any “inappropriate activity,” the president “would want to get to the bottom of it.”

    Carney added later Obama administration lawyers were told about the CIA’s intentions to have the Department of Justice investigate Senate staffers for potentially stealing classified documents they sought to hold on to after the CIA tried to delete them but did not approve or weigh in on the agency’s decision. One must ask: why the f*ck not?

    Brennan has challenged the president to act. What the president does will tell us much about the future of our democracy. As radio host Guillermo Jimenez has said, “On this Grand Chessboard, it is We the People who are now in check. It’s our move.”




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    Feinstein, Rogers: War on Terror a Huge Failure

    December 7, 2013 // 9 Comments »

    The truth finds a way, whether you want to believe it or not.

    The terrorism threat against the United States is increasing and Americans are not as safe as they were a year or two ago, the leaders of the House and Senate intelligence committees, Senator Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Mike Rogers, said.

    Feinstein: “There are more terrorist groups than ever, with more sophisticated and hard-to-detect bombs. There is huge malevolence out there.”

    Rogers: “The job is getting more difficult because al-Qaeda is changing, with more affiliates around the world — groups that once operated independently but have now joined with al-Qaeda.”

    Now, to be clear, both Feinstein and Rogers were attempting to make the case that the U.S. needs more NSA spying to combat these threats. Rogers was blunt: “We’re fighting amongst ourselves here in this country about the role of our intelligence community… And so we’ve got to shake ourselves out of this pretty soon and understand that our intelligence services are not the bad guys.”

    But, but…

    Despite the lawmakers’ intention, the truth is more obvious. 9/11 happened twelve years ago. In between that day and this today, we have seen the dismantling of our Constitution via the Patriot Act and its secret interpretations by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court, the turning of companies like Google into tools of the national security state, the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, torture, rendition, secret prisons, global drone and special ops wars, indefinite imprisonment at Guantanamo, military intervention in Libya, bin Laden and a endless string of al Qaeda “leaders” killed, the failure to support the Arab Spring, creation of a stasis of grinding death in Syria and the rest of the horrors and abominations committed by these United States. Add in the incalculable deaths and costs, the domestic army of disabled veterans, the gutting of our economy and the entrenchment of the military-industrial monster, the elevation of security theatre at our airports, the irradiation of the mail, militarization of our police and the thousand daily cuts of a metastasized bureaucracy, all in the name of “fighting terror.”

    And none of that is enough.

    In fact, as stated by Feinstein and Rogers, somehow despite all that, things are actually worse. Al Qaeda, once a regional player, now is a global franchise. The fuel of terrorism– hatred, fear and opposition to the U.S. and its policies abroad– creates more terrorists. Indeed, as the two intelligence committee chairs are clear in pointing out, we are less safe now than then.

    Madness

    We are a stupid, violent people. America is indeed an exceptional nation, exceptional in that it exists in a bubble, emerging only to lash out at others. Inside the bubble, rational thought and reasoned discussion have ceased, the air sucked out of them. Any attempt at such actions is met either by deflection (“oh, let’s not talk politics here at the office/party/election debates”) or polemics. Finger pointing– it’s the Republicans! No, it’s the Democrats at fault! is both a convenient way to tamp down debate and to create the appearance of debate while having none. We have simply stopped thinking.

    Having stopped thinking, we fall into the comfort zone of repeating things like a mentally disabled child happy to spend hours walking in circles. Not quite for comfort, not quite for safety, just simply because it is what we were doing and so we keep doing it. We convince ourselves that the answer to failed policy is to keep repeating that policy. We ignore the empirical evidence of our failure– there it is people, the things done to make us safer have not made us safer– to twist logic into meaning we must keep doing what has already failed.

    Does that make sense? If it does, forget about a career in Washington.



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