Tuesday, December 9, 2014

You did WHAT in my name?

For so long, we've been told that Team USA is the good guys, that we're fighting for freedom and democracy, that we respect the rule of law and hold firm to the values that make us great as a nation.

Yeah, well, talk is cheap. Team USA's actions speak much louder and paint a very different picture.
The CIA’s post-9/11 embrace of torture was brutal and ineffective – and the agency repeatedly lied and misled the White House, Congress and the public about its usefulness, a milestone report by the Senate intelligence committee released on Tuesday concludes.
The methods of torture carried out by the CIA were even more extreme than what it portrayed to the George W Bush administration and went beyond techniques already made public through a decade of leaks and lawsuits, which had revealed that agency interrogators subjected detainees to the quasi-drowning known as waterboarding, staged mock executions and revved power drills near their heads.
At least 39 detainees experienced techniques like “cold water dousing”, which the Justice Department never approved, the committee found. It also found cases of “rectal rehydration” and “rectal feeding” – the “lunch tray” for one detainee, which contained hummus, pasta with sauce, nuts and raisins, “was ‘pureed’ and rectally infused”, the report says – which in some instances led to anal fissures and rectal prolapse. Investigators also documented death threats made to detainees. And CIA interrogators, the committee charged, told detainees they would hurt detainees’ children and “sexually assault” or “cut a [detainee’s] mother’s throat”.
In case anyone had forgotten, 1) Yes, torture is still illegal under US law; 2) Yes, the United States ratified the UN Convention Against Torture back in 1994; 3) No, torture is not an effective method of acquiring reliable intelligence; 4) That tale spun by "Zero Dark Thirty", that torture produced the information that led to Osama bin Laden's capture, was, like most things coming out of Hollywood, utter fiction; and 5) Yes, false information extracted under torture was used to justify the US invasion of Iraq.

This is how the "good guys" behave? It's difficult to read the list of abuses performed by the CIA and pretend the United States still has anything resembling the moral high ground. The United States isn't cutting off people's heads, yes, but that doesn't make what the CIA did or the mental, moral and legal gymnastics of the US government to justify that behavior not evil. How far has the country fallen when not matching Islamic fundamentalists atrocity for atrocity is considered the baseline for "good"? Successive governments knew human rights abuses that could pass muster as war crimes were taking place at secret prisons overseas at the behest of the United States, yet they did nothing to stop it and seem determined to continue doing nothing. That's not evil? And this doesn't even include the CIA exploiting detainees for their own purposes.

What's even more galling is that all this is just what the White House and the CIA allowed to filter down to the public. According to the Guardian: "A tremendous amount of the Senate torture report remains unseen: the Senate on Tuesday released only 525 pages of a classified 6,000-word study. President Obama withheld even more from Senate viewing: 9,400 pages of relevant CIA documentation, according to a footnote." All this from the most transparent administration in history.

Speaking selfishly, as an American abroad, this is mortifying. You try to blend in, learn about the local culture, make use of the local language and do your best to subvert the stereotype of the fat, obnoxious American, then something like this drops and reaffirms people's worst fears about America and its people. That there are fully formed, supposedly educated adults in positions of authority in America honestly making the case that the country can and should torture people to protect its interests makes me wonder if Bin Laden's wish to destroy America didn't come true after all. It wasn't the planes that did it, though -- it was America's willingness to jettison the rights and freedoms it once held dear in order to respond to those planes.

The modern world's supposed font of freedom and democracy can kidnap, torture, bomb, wiretap, invade, overthrow, buy off and shut up anyone, anywhere at any time -- because it says so. No one is accountable, no one is to blame; this is just the way it is. And Americans wonder why people across the globe consider them arrogant. Are we the baddies? The answer used to be easy. Now, it's harder to tell.

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