NO, THIS POST IS NOT ABOUT THE KNUCKLE DRAGGER FROM TEXAS.
PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID STRICK
I have long advocated abolishing the Central Intelligence Agency, or as President Kennedy put it after the CIA played an integral role in the Bay of Pigs debacle, smashing it into a thousand pieces and scattering it to the winds.
The CIA survives and prospers, of course, because despite its decades-long history of monumental screw-ups, it has friends in high places: President George H.W. Bush was once CIA director, and we know all about his prodigal son. These forces were hard at work in watering down and pushing back against the Senate Intelligence Committee's just-released report on the agency's depravities at its system of "black sites," prisons overseas where terror suspects were routinely tortured and sometimes murdered.
The CIA has had some successes: It accurately predicted the 1967 Six-Day War in the Middle East, waged a successful cyber warfare campaign against a Soviet espionage team in the mid-1980s, and precipitated the exit of the Soviets from Afghanistan, which it then botched by failing to anticipate the rise of the Taliban.
A brief list of the CIA's nonpareil record in compromising national security, something it is supposed to protect:
* The 1950 Chinese invasion of Korea.
* The 1959 takeover of Cuba by Fidel Castro.
* The 1963 Cuban missile crisis.
* The strength of and support for the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong in the 1960s.
* The 1979 ouster of the Shah, Iranian revolution and rise of the ayatollahs.
* The 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
* The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union.
* Denying in 1990 that Saddam Hussein planned to invade Kuwait.
* The coming of Osama bin Laden, Al Qaeda and the global Islamic jihad in the mid-1990s.
* The 1998 explosion of a nuclear bomb by India, which remade the balance of power.
* The 9/11 attacks.
* That the pre-2003 invasion claims of Saddam Hussein that he had WMD were false.
As I noted in this post, the terrific biopic Kill The Messenger has not exactly been a box office hit although its subject is worthy -- and timely as well because of the just-released Senate Intelligence Committee's report on CIA torture abuses -- and has sunk like a stone.
"This movie starts a conversation about racism, government abuse, and attempts to silence whistleblowers -- a conversation that everyone should be having in our country, and that could not be more relevant and critical to our current society," says one advocate for the film.
There's now a petition drive to get Kill The Messenger back in theaters. Sign it, okay?
The release today of the executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee's report on the CIA's network of secret prisons where terrorism suspects were tortured with the approval of President Bush and his henchmen in violation of American law and the Geneva Conventions is surely one of the greatest anticlimaxes in American history, as well as the last hope of accountability for what I have come to call the Bush Torture Regime.
Virtually nothing in the 524-page summary, while scathing, is new. Its impact is blunted because it is heavily redacted so as not to identify individual CIA officers and agents, embarrass foreign governments who rolled out the red carpet for Uncle Sam's torturers, as well as a juicy detail here and there.
As shocking as the revelations that Americans routinely used Nazi torture techniques may have been at one time, and in the absence of evidence that torturing suspects produced valuable information, let alone lead the U.S. to Osama bin Laden, something that the Senate report notes, the steady drip-drip of magazine and newspaper articles, blog posts, International Red Cross reports, lawsuits and the occasional if rare statement by a fearless public official has blunted its impact some 13 years after the 9/11 attacks unleashed these horrors. Remember Abu Ghraib? Still revolted by it? I didn't think so.
Nevertheless, the report still was stomach turning, especially in detailing the CIA's interrogation techniques, which were approved by the agency's medical staff.
Beyond waterboarding, to which many more detainees were subjected than the mere three the CIA claimed, detainees were imprisoned in small boxes, slapped and punched, deprived of sleep for as long as a week and were sometimes told that they would be killed, their children maimed and their mothers sexually assaulted. Some were subjected to medically unnecessary "rectal feeding" -- a technique that the C.I.A.'s chief of interrogations described as a way to exert "total control over the detainee."
The report, which was compiled by Democratic staff members of the Intelligence Committee with no Republican help after its initial stages, further confirms that the CIA was beset by infighting, dysfunction and deception. The torture was so extreme at times that some CIA personnel tried to put a halt to the techniques, but were told by senior agency officials to mind their own business and carry on even after one detainee was murdered.
Forget about Bush, Vice President Cheney and the government minions who sought to put a veneer of respectability on the use of brutal interrogation techniques when, the report notes, they were completely out of the loop, then denied their use and scrambled to distance themselves from the legal jabberwocky they concocted to justify these techniques, being called to account.
As recently as Monday, Cheney defended torture as "absolutely, totally justified." Republicans with a few exceptions, notably Senator John McCain, who himself was tortured for years in a North Vietnamese prison, say the report is a partisan hack job while the right-wing media machine swung into action, acting as though the report and not the torture itself was bad for America, as well as claims that the report would "alienate" America's much-needed allies.
Bush was roused from his post-presidential somnambulance to join former intelligence officials in challenging the report's conclusions even before it was released although those conclusions are beyond reasonable dispute. And if they and Cheney had no problem with torture and actually believed it to be "humane," as the former president famously put it, why do they now have a problem with releasing the report? Of what are they so afraid?
Meanwhile, Attorney General Holder was instructed by President Obama to consider prosecuting only those who actually tortured since its use had been approved by CIA leaders and the Bush administration. No criminal charges were brought.
Why have I and everyone else who has closely followed the torture regime and its fallout correctly assumed that no one of consequence would be held accountable for this darkest of eras?
Because anyone who thought that Obama, having said boo about torture while campaigning for president in 2008, would denounce it after taking office was engaging in fuzzy-wuzzy liberal thinking. For one thing, the new president understood that denouncing, let alone going after Bush and his enablers for their crimes, would scuttle any chance he had of forging a bipartisan consensus for his ambitious first-term agenda. But even this Obama supporter is deeply disappointed at how unwilling the president has been to lay bare the regime's excesses even if stopping short of even suggesting its architects should be prosecuted.
Obama's endorsement, by his silence, of the CIA's lengthy obstruction of the Senate Intelligence Committee's release of a report without redactions is nothing less than protecting the perpetrators and legitimization of that agency's vile practices. His defense of CIA Director John Brennan, who led the campaign to stymie release of the report while tacitly approving the rogue agency's own spying on the Senate committee, makes farcical the president's statements that he believes that the U.S. should hew to international law, including the Geneva Conventions.
America's moral standing in the world community was squandered during the Bush interregnum. That Obama has allowed the release of a report that has been watered down by some of the perps themselves, puts that standing beyond repair. Yes, some of the men tortured by the CIA were dangerous -- very dangerous -- but the CIA's gruesome tactics have provided a ready recruiting tool for terrorists and further exposed American soldiers, journalists and others to the enmity that our refusal to come to terms with these depravities will provoke.
"How do you get the money, boy? If you run 'em for office and they win, you charge 'em a year's wages. Keep taxes low, but if you have to raise 'em, call it something else. The city can't do without vice, so pinch the pimps and milk the madams. Anybody that sells the flesh, tax 'em. If anybody wants city business,, thirty percent back to us. Maintain the streets and sewers, but don't overdo it. Well-lit streets discourage sin, but don't overdo it. If they play craps, poker, or blackjack, cut the game. If they play faro or roulette, cut it double. Opium is the opiate of the depraved, but if they want it, see that they get it, and tax those lowlife bastards. If they keep their dance halls open twenty-four hours, tax 'em twice. If they run a gyp joint, tax 'em triple. If they send prisoners to our jail, charge 'em rent, at hotel prices. Keep the cops happy and let 'em have a piece of the pie. A small piece. Never buy anything that you can rent forever. If you pave a street, a three-cent brick should be worth thirty cents to the city. Pave every street with a church on it. Cultivate priests and acquire the bishop. Encourage parents to send their kids to Catholic schools, it lowers the public-school budget. When in doubt, appoint another judge, and pay him enough so's he don't have to shake down the lawyers. Cultivate lawyers. They know how its done and will do it. Control the district attorney and never let him go; for he controls the grand juries. Make friend with millionaires and give 'em what they need. Any traction company is a good traction company, and the same goes for electricity. If you build a viaduct, make the contractor your partner. Whenever you confront a monopoly, acquire it. Open an insurance company and make sure anybody doing city business buys a nice policy. If you don't know diddle about insurance, open a brewery and make 'em buy your beer. Give your friends jobs, but at a price, and make new friends every day. Let the sheriff buy anything he wants for the jail. Never stop a ward leader from stealing; it's what keeps him honest. Keep your plumbers and electricians working, and remember it takes three men to change a wire. Republicans are all right as long as they're on our payroll. A city job should raise a man's dignity but not his wages. Anybody on our payroll pays us dues, three percent of the yearly salary, which is nice. But if they're on that new civil service and won't pay and you can't fire 'em, transfer 'em to the dump. If you find people who like to vote, let 'em. Don't be afraid to spend money for votes on Election Day. It's a godsend to the poor, and good for business; but make it old bills, ones and twos, or they get suspicious. And only give 'em out in the river wards, never uptown. If an uptown voter won't register Democrat, raise his taxes. If he fights the raise, make him hire one of our lawyers to reduce it in court. Once it's lowered, raise it again next year. Knock on every door and find out if they're sick or pregnant or simpleminded, and vote 'em. If they're breathing, take 'em to the polls. If they won't go, threaten 'em. Find out who's dead and who's dying, which is as good as dead, and vote 'em. There's a hell of a lot of dead and they never complain. The opposition might cry fraud but let 'em prove it after the election. People say voting the dead is immoral, but what the hell, if they're alive they'd all be Democrats. Just because they're dead don't mean they're Republicans."Do you think things have really changed all that much?