Friday, December 12, 2014

The Senate Report On the CIA Reminds Me of A Movie

There's been a lot of debate about the use of the CIA's interrogation techniques, in the wake of the Senate Intelligence Committee's Report. It's been a chance for everyone to re-litigate the entire issue of whether we tortured detainees, and there's been some good debate on this.

It's certainly an open question, and anyone who conclusively comes down either way without acknowledging the other side may have a point is not a grown-up. This debate about torture is a debate about where you draw the line on what can and what cannot be done to captured combatants in war. Reasonable minds can disagree.

However, what really upsets me about this report has nothing to do with the issue of torture. What I find completely revolting about this report is the the fact that the main findings of the committee are essentially that the CIA didn't tell them about all this, and they are shocked, shocked to find out that gambling is going on in Rick's. But that's not the movie reference I thought of.

Essentially, this report is some Senators trying to avoid the fact that they asked the CIA to do whatever it took to avoid another 9/11. Do you remember how America was after 9/11? I do. 

Everyone was looking at the smoking rubble of the twin towers, a crater in Pennsylvania, and a hole in the side of the Pentagon and saying: We cannot let this happen again. You guys in the CIA need to take the gloves off and make sure this doesn't happen again. Keep the country safe. Stop playing nice - go after these people. Do everything you can.

People who weren't openly saying this were silently happy to go along with those who were. Not a single representative of the people rose up to say Well, wait. Maybe we don't need to change how we deal with the bad guys just because they did something bad to us.

Accordingly, the CIA started turning up the heat - as they were asked to do. They didn't do this on their own accord. We the people, through our elected representatives, asked them to do this. The Senate Intelligence Committee was briefed on exactly what the CIA was doing. And now, they're trying to say: Hey, I didn't intend for you to be mean to those poor souls! I wanted you to do everything possible to keep us safe while being perfect gentlemen! I have no culpability for these things that you did!

I know. Politicians evading their responsibility seems so farfetched. In any event, this whole thing reminded me of the end of Clear and Present Danger. In the movie, the President gets very upset when a Columbian drug cartel kills a personal friend of his who was laundering money for them (and stealing a little bit for himself). Therefore, the President tells his Chief of Staff to get the CIA to start really going after the drug cartel. The CIA basically does what it is told and starts really hurting the cartel - killing people and breaking things.

Eventually, the President decides he's had enough of the operation, simply says it should go away like "It never happened", and hangs all the men out to dry, who are then killed by the cartel. Ryan is neck deep in the whole thing and eventually goes to confront the President. Here's the scene:

The President tries to tell Ryan that he is "just becoming aware" of the certain things that happened, and that he "never ordered any" strike against the cartel. Ryan, having no patience for the cutesy little game of plausible deniability, tells the President: I will not have you dishonor their memories by pretending you had nothing to do with it.

That's the note that the Senate Report strikes for me. They're trying to pretend that they had nothing to do with the CIA's methods, when it's crystal clear that they asked the CIA to take the gloves off. Specifically, the WaPo had an editorial pointing this out:
On May 26, 2002, Feinstein was quoted in the New York Times saying that the attacks of 9/11 were a real awakening and that it would no longer be “business as usual.” The attacks, she said, let us know “that the threat is profound” and “that we have to do some things that historically we have not wanted to do to protect ourselves.”
This report is a purely political document, and its intent is to allow the authors to engage in some moral preening. They're simply engaging in a political act to curry favor with their constituents now that the existential threat from terrorism is a distant memory, and the people who swallow this report are doing the same thing.

I accept that we did some brutal things to people. We the people, asked the CIA to do exactly that. Maybe we made a decision in a moment of weakness that some of us regret. That's fine. However, it's just a damn lie for the Committee to say that they didn't know what was going on.

They all knew and approved. We The People all knew and approved. If you feel regret for what happened, that's fine. If you're ok with what we did, that's fine, too. But for goodness sake, take some responsibility for your actions.

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