Sunday, August 30, 2009

CIA "torture" - let's tap the brakes a bit

I am surprised, somewhat pleasantly so, to see a reasonable and thought-thru op/ed in the NYT this morning regarding the politically-motivated and wrong-headed recent moves by our esteemed Attorney General. As you no doubt know, AG Holder is mulling the idea of investigating, and perhaps bringing charges against, some in the CIA who conducted or sanctioned "aggressive interrogation tactics".

This is a travesty, and it frankly pisses me off.

We've reminded ourselves, in these virtual pages, of the national mindset back in late 2001 and early 2002. The US had just been attacked and was, rightly or wrongly, staggered and very angry. It sure seemed like more attacks were inevitable, and potentially much more devastating. Suicide bombers in Times Square, dirty bombs in Washington, or pneumonic plague loosed in the nation's transportation system were all seemingly viable, and each was written and talked about by very serious people as very serious threats.

Just imagine you're a CIA operative working in a musty walled compound in eastern Afghanistan in March of 2002. A couple of Delta Force guys drag in what appears to be a high-ranking member of AQ, and it's your job to get real facts, or "actionable intelligence", out of this character. Maybe the CIA's internal grapevine is starting to heat up with talk of plans for the next "spectacular", and everyone from your direct supervisor to the DCI to your Aunt Gertrude in Cleveland is counting on you to turn up the one tidbit that blows the operation open.

You've got this AQ honcho sitting in front of you, maybe with a few cuts and bruises courtesy of the Delta guys, but mostly intact. He's grinning his toothy grin at you, because he's been told that you represent a sick and decadent society which does not have the stomach to fight back. Between smug smiles, he hints about some really juicy info he's got stuck up in his melon, and boy, wouldn't you like to know what it is.

You think about your wife, your daughter, your mom and dad, your first grade teacher, the kids in that third grade class in Topeka who recently sent a pallet of Mach III razor blades and Pop-Tarts to your buddies in the 10th Mountain Division, everyone back home who may be at risk.

Do you use the non-lethal tools you have arranged beside you? The Taser, the jumper cables attached to the Delco Marine battery, the tilty wooden table (aka the "waterboard"), the noisy power drill, etc? Or do you let Toothy the Terrorist continue to smile and say nothing?

Answer that question honestly. Would you really have moral qualms? Really? If yes, perhaps you're a better human than I am. Inflicting some fear, pain, and confusion on my friend Toothy seems a lot more morally defensible than not getting the plans for "Operation Black Death" out of the guy who, for all I know, cooked up the plan from the start.

So, here we are, eight or so years down the road. Nothing of consequence has occurred here in the US. Sure, AQ and their franchisees have spun up the scoreboard a bit in places like the UK, Spain, Bali, Iraq, Saudi, etc, but those places are far, far away. It's been quiet here. Why? Maybe its because AQ isn't as tough as we thought they were. Maybe it's because the 101st and the 10th Mountain Division did their bit in Anaconda back in 2002. Maybe it's because our fictional CIA operative gave ol' Toothy the good news with the business end of the Taser, or read him his horoscope while he was strapped to the tilty table.

I don't know why things have been quiet domestically since Sept 2001, and neither do you.

My point is this: We were all scared, some more than others - sure, and we were all pretty sure we had reason to be scared, back in the early Aughts. Our elected government (please, please, please don't bring up Florida and the 2000 popular vote - that got settled by our system, like it or not) reacted to the most devastating attack ever successfully mounted against American civilians in an American city by taking the gloves all the way off. Our fictional CIA operative had official sanction from the highest levels to do whatever necessary to get his subject talking.

To go back now, from the safety and holier-than-thou high ground of 2009, and threaten to prosecute our fictional CIA operative and his real-life counterparts, is so mind-bogglingly cynical, so transparently political, and so unfair as to simply take my breath away.

Look, I am a fan of Obama. I voted for the guy and would do so again tomorrow. But that does not mean I give him and his team a free pass, especially when they try something as disingenuous as this little stunt.

Dang, I'm madder than I thought I was!

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