Dianne Feinstein, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and long-time-until-recently NSA apologist, claims to be shocked by an internal CIA report that documents the agency’s grisly record of torture after 9/11. “The report exposes brutality that stands in stark contrast to our values as a nation,” Feinstein said April 3rd. “It chronicles a stain on our history that must never again be allowed to happen.”
Among the “stunning revelations” that have leaked out of the still-classified 6,600-page CIA torture report are stories that long-time followers of my writing have long been aware of, having read about them in my column during the Bush years. Guantánamo isn’t just a concentration camp; it’s also a CIA “black site”/torture dungeon, as was a joint US-UK “extraordinary rendition” depot on the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia. The CIA outsourced torture to Third World shitholes/U.S. allies, knowing/expecting/hoping that they would be murdered.
Disgusting stuff. For sure. Yet there’s something even more nauseating — and infinitely more dangerous — than a country that tortures:
A nation in denial about its true values.
Feinstein speaks for most Americans when she characterizes War on Terror-related torture as an aberration. But she’s mistaken. Conventional wisdom is wrong.
Torture is as American as red, white and blue.
Like the citizens of Nazi-occupied Europe during World War II who had a pretty good idea that those eastbound trains were a one-way ticket to hell, Americans have known since the beginning of the War on Terror that their government was going to torture, was torturing and had tortured. It is still torturing today. Yet hardly anyone complains.
Five days after 9/11, on September 16, 2001, Dick Cheney told Tim Russert on “Meet the Press”: “We also have to work, though, sort of the dark side, if you will. We’ve got to spend time in the shadows in the intelligence world. A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies, if we’re going to be successful. That’s the world these folks operate in, and so it’s going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal, basically, to achieve our objective.”
At the time, everyone knew what that meant.
The Vice President of the United States, speaking on behalf of the President, had announced to the world that the gloves were off, that the “quaint” Geneva Conventions were history. That the U.S. would torture.
Had Cheney’s endorsement of “brutality” been “in stark contrast to our values as a nation,” as Feinstein puts it, there would have been political blowback. Imagine if the president of, say, Sweden, had said the same thing. The dude would’ve been out of a job.
Au contraire — Cheney’s siren call to the “dark side” drew mainstream political approval, even from self-identified “liberals” in the corporate media.
In October and November of 2001, Newsweek‘s Jonathan Alter, FoxNews’ Shepard Smith (usually the network’s calm voice of reason), and CNN’s Tucker Carlson jumped on the torture bandwagon. All three reporter-pundits called torture a necessary, lesser evil in the fight against Islamist terrorists. Carlson (he’s the one with the bowtie): “Torture is bad. Keep in mind, some things are worse. And under certain circumstances, it may be the lesser of two evils. Because some evils are pretty evil.”
“Mr. Alter said he was surprised that his column did not provoke a significant flood of e-mail messages or letters,” reported The New York Times. “And perhaps even more surprising, he said, was that he had been approached by ‘people who might be described as being on the left whispering, I agree with you.’” (Or, more precisely, by people who were formerly on the left.)
If torture were repugnant to Americans, Cheney — and his pet pundits like Alter — would have met with a firestorm of criticism. They would have been fired. They were not.
By January 2002, the United States had defeated the Taliban and installed Hamid Karzai as the leader of a U.S. puppet regime in Afghanistan. Still, public tolerance/approval of torture continued. A famous legal scholar, Alan Dershowitz, published an op/ed calling for the creation of “torture warrants”: “The warrant would limit the torture to nonlethal means, such as sterile needles, being inserted beneath the nails to cause excruciating pain without endangering life.”
These are the words of a madman.
By objective standards, if the U.S. were a nation where torture stood “in stark contrast to our values,” Dershowitz would have been shouted down and ridiculed. It would be hard to imagine Harvard Law — Harvard Law! — keeping such a raging nut on its payroll. But they did.
Because torture is not at against our values. Not in the least.
Dick Cheney: not forced to resign.
Jonathan Alter, Shepard Smith, Tucker Carlson: all still legit, all still capable of landing big book deals and big speaking fees. They run in circles where real lefties like me — who bitched about CIA torture and kidnapping in countless cartoons and columns — are blackballed.
Which makes perfect sense. Because Americans love torture. A dozen and a half years after 9/11, 68% of Americans still tell pollsters — even though it’s been proven ineffectual — that torture is A-OK.
A polarized nation? When it comes to anally raping young men with flashlights and broomsticks — that happened at Gitmo and the U.S.-run Bagram torture center, and may be continuing — we’re still United, We Stand.
So when newly-minted President Barack Obama told Americans in 2009 that he planned to “look forward, not back“— i.e., not holding anyone accountable for Bush-era torture — and visited Langley to assure nervous torturers that they could chillax, no one cared.
When government-sanctioned torture continued under Obama, no one cared.
Even when Americans rose up in 2011 to protest their government, as part of the Occupy Wall Street movement, torture was less than an afterthought on the activists’ menu of complaints.
Torture against American values? Hardly. From American troops who mutilated the genitals of Native Americans to waterboarding Filipino independence fighters in the early 20th century to organized rape gangs in Vietnam, torture has been all-American.
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