Why Should ‘Torture’ Be Any Different?

Of course the Obama Administration punted today and delayed yet again the oft promised public release of CIA’s [sic] own internal investigation into torture and abuse of detainees. Why should this play out any different than say, don’t ask, don’t tell (DADT), defense of marriage, state secrets or a host of other broken commitments?

Imagine the scene. A 47 year old self-professed ‘change agent’ and Commander-in-Chief meets at the White House a decorated war veteran facing career termination because he happens to be gay. He looks the war hero in the face. And says without blinking or apparent irony while shaking his hand that he, the Commander-in-Chief, is helpless to sign an executive order placing DADT on hold pending congressional review. He’s helpless doncha know before some ‘generational prejudices’ in his own armed forces. (Something, oddly, his Secretary for Homeland Security can surmount and has no qualms doing, btw).

The Illustrated President

Now imagine what this towering oak, this schwerpunkt of progressive achievement is gonna say when he is stampeded by a herd of terrified GS-15s et al. braying at him for releasing yet more ‘secrets’? All while a bureaucratically weak Panetta tries to ride his internal stampede by calling Rahm on the backside?

When we labelled Obama ‘Boy King’ last Fall we worried about ineptitude, inexperience and general Peanut Farmerisms. All while secretly nursing -dare we say it? — hope that he would be a principled, focused and consistently progressive president. As stabilizing antidote to the Warlord’s perhaps fatal corrosiveness. He is far and away a much more canny politician than we credited him. And far and away just as much a disappointment.

Catering To The Pride Of Dead Bureaucracies

First, on the report issue one should note there are not many meta-level secrets left in it anyway. The most damning is, of course, that CIA had no legitimate purpose for using *any* enhanced interrogation techniques at any time. Why? Because it was and remained completely blind about the enemy. It had no assets. There simply was no way to evaluate whether anything said to them was true or false. Torture or abuse can not be rationalized in this situation even in McCain’s Jack Bauer wet dreams. This is CIA’s real shame. A complete and utter failure as an institution. Among many others. So on first principles of intelligence, the practice was unfounded. And another reason why Tenet helped lead CIA to its tragically deserved destruction.

Second, the entire torture matter is — as we have noted before — merely a symptom of the alarming amebiasis between the Movement’s impulses and the Permanent National Security State’s darkest Id. A state of affairs that largely remains intact to this day, circumscribed really only at the margins. We see zero sign that the Duma or Obama has the will or intention to correct matters. Until that larger and still existent threat is addressed, chasing ‘torture’ remains in many ways shadow boxing.

Third, we obviously realize as someone not unfamiliar standing in a federal court room and making closing arguments to juries that details and facts are critical for both law and justice (not always the same thing, beyond the technical equity/legal dichotomy). The ACLU and others pressing this matter are serving not only as posterity’s conscience but the only apparent goad capable of even nudging the rhetorically intoxicated Obama.

The main reasons to hide the report are institutional pride and personal liability. The first should be a non-issue; CIA is dead. Why cater to a ghost’s pride? People going to work in the Old and New Buildings and elsewhere may call themselves CIA. They believe it. The building and letterhead may proclaim it. Lord knows the ads on Facebook, Craigslist, Burger King napkins and Comedy Central blare it. But that living institution, that culture, that ethos — all of it was dying by 2001 and utterly died conclusively by 2006/7. Kappes and a handful are in a way living apparitions, concrete ectoplasmic phenomena walking along corridors serenely amid a multitude of shuffling specters.

We say again that Obama and those individuals now serving would be better off in a greenfield situation. Shut the doors. Give a deserved memorial service for all that was (for good and ill). And start over. Fresh. Let the new Huge Unwieldly Bureaucracy That Is Supposed To Protect Consumers From Financial Manipulation But Will Get Captured And Controlled By Industry Anyway use the buildings. (And to our old acquaintance, Liz Warren, we say your heart is in the right place as always but your memory of what America was is blinding you to what America has become). It’s not like the Community isn’t constructing new buildings anyway today. Panetta still will be a captive of careerists in any event, regardless of address.

Malice In The Green Room

Without ‘CIA’ as Banquo’s ghost both those serving and the Nation will be better off. And we can begin the process of accountability amid the deceased’s wreckage. We wrote at the time we agreed with Obama’s initial declaration of pardon for those who relied on (the patently incompetent) OLC memoranda *while* acting within their four corners. Should someone – regardless of badge color – have gone off even that immoral and illegal reservation, woe be to them. If Obama has a spine.

We suspect what many assert. That the manifestly irrational number of torture applications was indeed Stalinist — i.e., what the OGPU and later NKVD did to prisoners for the purpose of eliciting broken, false testimony for either show trials or implicating predetermined others. We say this being more than a bit familiar with the Sovs, their operational techniques and history.

In our case, it wasn’t ‘darkness at noon’, but ‘malice in the green room’ — bureaucratic torture engineered to force out any shred, any tissue of lies, to link Bin Laden to Saddam and WMD. The regime knew what Wolfowitz conceded: WMD was the weakest excuse and lowest common denominator they could find to support a war of aggression. There are no Lynndie Englands this time. But does anyone really expect Obama to do other than he has done this far on every other issue?

What Will Cause An Awakening?

We wonder when Daily Kos and the others will wake up to all this. What exactly will it take before that gang looks to Obama for accountability rather than blame more convenient others? We can understand — in Kos’ own words, empathize — with the Lieberman mau mau over there. Although we have to say to that community laying down markers in the sand to the likes of hapless Harry Reid today is not a stretch. So he has 60 votes. Was he competent before with 59? (Editorial addition: Kos makes the point the next day we mistakenly thought was not front in center at DailyKos re Reid. Kudos. We need to read that community more thoroughly).

What we do hope openly is that Daily Kos and others in the netroots retain their edge, passion and organizational momentum. Obama may turn out to be a mere transitional figure. There’s no reason that the netroots still can’t take the future beyond him.


  1. Comment says

    btw what’s up with Liz Cheney and that childish “best ever” comment?

    we have a theory – people like Cheney and Newt do not really believe it is the national interest for America to talk that way – Rather, they do not regard foreigners who object to be their real enemey – Instead, they want those arrogant comments – ostensibly directed to foreigners – to be used as wedge against cosmopolitans and liberals at home – To generate gimmick-hate from rustics and talk radio types against Americans who prefer a more sophesticated way of talking to the world.

  2. Comment says

    Great post Leo – brilliant in many respects. We have to say we forgive Obama for hedging on many issues – Why? Well, because we’re totally in the tank and partisan for him, to be honest. Second, we think he is tactically adroit and is master at indirection and will ultimately bring about a conciliation on all these headache producing arguments in matter of time. He is moving ahead on so many fronts and quite franly, his priorties are his economic agenda and he sees his persona, more or less, as a catalyst for more change on in the political atmosphere –

  3. Anon says

    Well with the military firmly in the grasp of Xtian warriors I think it is obvious DADT is not gonna fly, Obama or no Obama. Need to clean house first.

    As for waking up, I think the right wing nuts are doing their best to wake us all up. Sometimes I even suspect Rush, Newt, Glenn Beck and Scheuer and others of being double agents on our side because they could not be better blatantly odious and full of hate and saying things horrible enough to make pretty much anyone with a brain to want to run away from their side. It’s like a Tom Tomorrow cartoon or a Colbert performance, with more spittle. They can’t possibly be that obtuse!

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