Tag Archives: Michael Hayden

ANewDomain.net Essay: Why America Is So Over

Originally published at ANewDomain.net:

Republicans spent the weekend in a full-court press defending CIA torturers and the Bush administration that authorized them.

Many of the arguments fell apart upon little reflection.

Former VP Dick Cheney, the architect of post-9/11 torture policy for the White House who personally signed off on individual “enhanced interrogation techniques” used on Muslim prisoners kidnapped and held at Guantánamo and other concentration camps, spat:

“Torture is what the Al Qaeda terrorists did to 3,000 Americans on 9/11,” Mr. Cheney said in his latest interview defending the C.I.A. program. “There is no comparison between that and what we did with respect to enhanced interrogation.”

On that second point, he is right. Murder is what the terrorists did on 9/11. On the first, no: it was definitely torture.

Another nonstarter talking point for the far far right – how else to describe people who support torture, which was abolished by most Western nations by the late 1700s? – was the complaint that the Senate intelligence committee’s report on torture imperils America’s relationship with other nations.

“We do a lot of things with friends,” said former CIA chief Michael Hayden.

He wasn’t talking about fantasy football. He continued:

“A lot of these things are edgy, not illegal, but they have a pretty high political risk quotient attached. When you get into a relationship with a partner and you ask them to do something on your behalf or to cooperate with you, you’re giving them a really powerful commitment of your discretion. Now, this report is going to come out and although it is not going to name the countries that were involved with us in this program, there are those people who think they know what countries were involved that will then use the data in this report you and I have already discussed is not accurate, but they will treat it as accurate, treat it as the historical record and cause great problems for countries who are friends of the U.S.”

I love this argument.

Hayden is literally saying that a future CIA or NSA or NKVD or whatever might want to convince some future counterpart intelligence agency in a foreign country to break the law – do something “edgy” – and that in order to preserve that possible future cooperation in lawbreaking, neither the US government nor the CIA itself should ever second-guess itself, much less prosecute wrongdoers. At the risk of violating Godwin’s law, this is kind of like Germany refusing to apologize for the Holocaust because what if they wanted to do something like that again in the future, perhaps with the help of Japan and Italy?

America is done. Certainly America as a nation of laws is done. But not Michael Hayden. He’s anything but done:

Hayden muses: “What CIA officer in the future, after this and after having been indicted and convicted in absentia, is going to raise his hand in the future and say, ‘This is an odd idea, might be a little edgy, but I’ve been thinking…?’”

Oddly, Hayden seems to believe that this is a bad thing. “The final outcome of this report is going to be an American espionage service that is timid and friendless and that really is a danger to the U.S.”

Given the dismal history of the CIA, from its role in overthrowing the democratically elected governments of Iran and countless Latin American countries, to arming and supporting regimes that torture and murder political dissidents, to spying on opponents of the White House here in the United States, to – most recently – kidnap, torture and murder of innocent people – turning the CIA into a “timid” outfit doesn’t seem so terrible.

But let’s get back to that edgy, leaning-in, go-getter Jack Bauer CIA agent.

Whatever happened to personal responsibility?

The Republican Party, after all, is the party of conservatism. Conservatives say that it’s every man for himself, that we’re all responsible for our own actions, and that if we make a mistake we have to be willing to pay the price for it.

That goes double for the man’s men who work on the dark side in covert ops. In the intelligence community, at least as we see it represented on TV and in the movies, torture is the tool of the rogue CIA agent willing to take the risk of breaking the rules. What are the Geneva Conventions compared to the lives of millions of Americans? There are covert operations the US government stands behind and then there are many others that, if they go bad, leave the agent dead or otherwise twisting in the wind, perhaps locked away in some foreign prison.

Those are some cold egg noodles, but for the patriots who keep us safe, it’s a bargain they’re willing to accept.

But not anymore. Just like the banks that are too big to fail, so-called conservatives are upping the moral hazard ante by declaring CIA operatives to patriotic to be prosecuted.

“They were successful. That’s historical fact,” Hayden says, counterfactually. “Do I support them? With regard to waterboarding, I’ve made it very clear that I thank God I didn’t have to make that decision. I had easier circumstances when I was director [from 2006 to 2009].”

Cheney says John Yoo’s “torture memos” —  legal opinions issued by the White House Office of Legal Counsel under Bush –  inoculate CIA agents who committed torture from legal repercussions. “All of the techniques that were authorized by the president were in effect blessed by the Justice Department opinion that we could go forward with those [EITs] without in fact committing torture,” Cheney claims.

But legal memos, no matter how well argued, are simply the opinion of a random lawyer. They don’t carry the force of law, even when they’re issued by a lawyer who works for the White House. What they attempt to do is to reassure the lawyer’s client that their actions are probably in compliance with the law and, in this case, international treaty obligations such as the Convention Against Torture. Lawyers can be and often are wrong. The only way to settle disputes over what is legal and what is the legal is to bring the case before a court of law.

The torture memos, however, were leaked early during the so-called global war on terror. Reaction from the mainstream legal establishment was swift and severe: they were crap. “They not only took extreme positions; they were legally incompetent, failing to consider many of the most obvious counterarguments,” Bruce Ackerman wrote.

In other words, any CIA operative wondering whether he enjoyed legal cover for torture, had only to open a newspaper or conduct a cursory Google search to learn that the answer was no. The law had not changed. As far as the American judiciary was concerned, interpretation of the law hadn’t changed either.

Every CIA torturer knew that he was breaking the law.

            So here you have it: a collision between conservative politics and reality. Officially, conservatives hold people responsible for their actions, especially when they break the law. But when those people are goons beating and killing those they deem to be enemies of the state, they deserve the utmost leniency.

SYNDICATED COLUMN: People Who Think Torture is OK Need to Die and Go Away

 

I am tolerant.

I have Republican friends.

When racists speak in my presence, I don’t smash them in the jaw. I try to change their minds.

Many of my close friends and relatives believe in God, which is wrong and therefore stupid, yet I don’t consider them stupid — just mistaken. America, I believe, must create and maintain the space where a multitude of points of view can thrive.

But there are limits. Not every opinion should be tolerated.

If you think torture is OK — under any circumstance, for any reason — you are dangerous.

Pro-torture? You should not be tolerated.

If you believe that “they” had torture coming because “they” attacked “us” on 9/11, or because “they” chop off “our” heads, you are psychotic and sociopathic and should not be free to walk the streets, much less sit on juries or vote or drive a car or hold a job that a perfectly sane unemployed person needs.

If you diminish the exquisite horror of torture — if you think sleep deprivation and blasting loud music into victims’ ears and solitary confinement and stress positions and mock executions and beatings are not “really” torture — I want you locked up, the key thrown away, never to be heard from again. You are not fit to be near children or animals.

If you saw the Abu Ghraib torture photos and then voted for George W. Bush in 2004 anyway, you are Charles Manson crazy and there is no place in society, in America, on this planet, where you ought to be allowed.

If you’re a politician, a reporter or a pundit, and you’ve ever said anything in favor of torture, you should be fired and never heard from in public again.

I did not feel this way before the Senate Intelligence Committee released its report on torture under the Bush Administration.

Over the last week, however, I have read thousands of pro-torture, right-wing loons post their monstrous ravings on Internet content boards. I have watched a parade of torture advocates go on television to defend CIA torturers, some with impressive-sounding titles, all treated respectfully by so-called journalists. I have seen Dick Cheney, Grand Inquisitor of the War Against Muslims, lie through his crooked teeth while scoffing at the most basic values of Western civ.

Now, already, I am watching torture fade from the headlines.

We have been too tolerant.

Anti-torture Americans ­— which is to say, sane, normal people — have been wayyyyyyy too polite over the past 12 years. We ought to have been rude. We should have shouted down the torturers and their supporters and apologists, ridiculed them, locked them away, fired them from their jobs, taken away their kids.

We debated torture; we didn’t reject it. Now torture is normalized — and so is the stupid meanness that goes with it.

A senior Supreme Court Justice not only thinks torture is OK, but gives credit to the thoroughly debunked “ticking time bomb” scenario.

In the mainstream media, the debate is not over whether torture is immoral or illegal, but whether it is effective.

We tolerate scum like ex-CIA director Michael Hayden, who justifies so-called “rectal feeding” — grinding a prisoner’s food into mush and shoving it up his ass — with rhetoric that is not only vile on its face, but insults our intelligence to the point that he ought to be banned from public life: “It’s a medical procedure is what it is,” Hayden told CNN. “I have learned that in some instances, one way that you can get nourishment into a person is through this procedure as opposed to intravenous feeding, which of course involves needles and a whole bunch of other dangerous things.”

Hayden is a liar. Victims of “rectal feeding” had not refused to eat normally.

Torture memo author John Yoo called them “aggressive interrogation methods that did not cause any long-term or permanent injury.”

Isn’t death permanent?

John Yoo ought to be in prison. Instead, he draws a six-figure salary teaching law (!) at UC Berkeley.

Jonah Goldberg is trying to pass himself off as a “reasonable conservative” by arguing for ambiguity: “One of the great problems with the word ‘torture’ is that it tolerates no ambiguity. It is a taboo word, like racism or incest. Once you call something torture, the conversation is supposed to end.”

Enough!

In the West, civilized countries banned torture in the 18th century. In 1798, for example, Napoleon wrote that the “barbarous custom of whipping men suspected of having important secrets to reveal must be abolished. It has always been recognized that this method of interrogation, by putting men to the torture, is useless. The wretches say whatever comes into their heads and whatever they think one wants to believe.”

“Before the 9/11 attacks, torture was almost always depicted in television and movies as something that bad guys did. That’s not true anymore. The Bush administration may be over, but Bush-era terrorist torture and assassination policies are growing more popular,” Amy Zegart wrote in a 2012 Foreign Policy piece titled “Torture Creep.”

You need only look at the trend line to see how Americans are becoming increasingly morally depraved: At the height of the war on terror in 2004, when Bush was reelected despite everything, 32% of Americans said torture was never justifiable. By 2011, two years after Obama claimed to have banned torture, only 24% said the same thing.

Here’s some American exceptionalism for you: 59% of people in other countries have zero tolerance for torture. Steven Kull, director of the Program on International Policy Attitudes, says: “The dominant view around the world is that terrorism does not warrant bending the rules against torture.”

This is not a discussion Americans should have any more.

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and cartoonist, is the author of the new critically-acclaimed book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan.” Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

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