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December 11, 2014

hey more torture!

I'm not used to the feeling, but this NYT explainer of the slapstick-but-not-funny road to torture and this look into the unqualified sociopaths who developed our torture techniques (why? because they were good with dogs) dovetails nicely with my brief thoughts on the matter from yesterday.  So I may or may not be losing my touch, but at least if I am I am doing so in a way that is consistent with the Paper of Record.

But one last sweeping generalization: am I imagining this, or is the thirst for torture nothing other than a total xenophobic disregard for brown people?  And not even in the sense of punishing wrongdoers or answering some perceived cultural moral shortcoming, but just in the sense that torture would work at all.  The simple idea that a person can be "broken" is predicated on a smug superiority over the person.  As in, we didn't resort to torture because it was the last option; we resorted to torture because we thought it would work, and we thought it would work because we thought the assumed perps were simpletons because of their national and religious background.

And I don't mean "we" you and me, of course, though we are complicit if for nothing because of the elections we lost.  It's pretty clear the "we" in this equation is the Bush Administration with Dick Cheney feverishly whispering in everyone's ear, making some unilateral decisions with total operational naivete.

Oh and when is someone gonna snag the exclusive with the two bozo psychologists, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen?  Seems like that might be a good case for journalism, there.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:04 AM

December 10, 2014


As usual there is an awful lot to unpack in reviewing the 600 declassified pages of the Senate Intelligence Committee Report on C.I.A. Torture, which was released yesterday and put everyone into hopefully the final major bummer of 2014.  It's something we're all going to talk about for a while (um, next day or two) and of course end up agreeing about nothing.

Agreement?  Yes, as with everything, what seems to be a glaring and obvious moral failure to some seems an attack on everything American and wonderful to others (John McCain honorably notwithstanding).  And the primary bone of contention (other than maladjusted instant hatred of the current administration) is the efficacy of torture.

Very few people would argue that torture is good or fun, and if there are such people, let's just say that their opinions are accordingly marginalized.  But those that excuse torture (or hide being flimsy neologisms like enhanced interrogation techniques) argue that torture is a necessary evil — that it produces results.  The thing is, I have no idea from where this sentiment arises.  Wishful thinking?  I have never seen a jot of research that supports this (unless you count an episode of 24 as research), and time and time again, torture just ends up being messy and useless.

And this is a dumb lesson that the C.I.A. keeps having to relearn again and again.  Forget about the lessons of yesterday's report (nicely broken down here by the NYT), check the story of Yuri Noshenko, a KGB agent who defected in early '64, offering, among other info, the locations of bugs in the U.S. Embassy in Moscow and background on Lee Harvey Oswald.  However, CIA counterintelligence chief James Jesus Angleton did not believe him!  So this happened:

In 1964, the C.I.A. put Mr. Nosenko in solitary confinement at Camp Peary, its training site near Williamsburg, Va., where he got "the treatment his fellow Russians received in the gulag," as [author Tim] Weiner wrote.

"There were scanty meals of weak tea and gruel, a single bare light burning twenty-four hours a day, no human companionship," he wrote.

In a statement declassified in 2001, according to Mr. Weiner, Mr. Nosenko said: "I had no contact with anyone to talk. I could not read. I could not smoke. I even could not have fresh air."

After numerous lie-detector tests and many interrogation sessions, the C.I.A. determined that Mr. Nosenko was telling the truth. He was released in 1967, given $80,000 and a new name and sent to spend the rest of his life somewhere in the South, with occasional trips to Langley, Va., to lecture American intelligence professionals at C.I.A. headquarters.

Who knows if these "interrogation sessions" were the same as more contemporaneous ones (developed by two renegade psychologists for a cool $80 million dollars, and reverse-engineered from Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape programs from the Cold War, which were basically What To Expect When You're Captured), but Nosenko was held in this state for a thousand freaking days.

The cold truth of it is, whatever the deranged torture-supporters believe, is that the White House demanded torture on a sub rosa level, and the smart guys at the CIA realized that if it was going to be pulled off, they would have to suborn some sickos to run it and bust ass to maintain plausible deniability.  Does that sound like the actions of a bunch of true believers cock-sure that torture works like it does on TV?

Posted by mrbrent at 10:27 AM

December 9, 2014

still not sure what to call this list

I decided that I'm going to keep a list of works that should be reread/rewatched/relistened to on an annual basis, a bunch of stuff that commemorates some milestone or is just plain super awesome.

The inaugural entry is this column by Jimmy Breslin, filed the morning after John Lennon was murdered.

As Moran started driving away, he heard people in the street shouting, "That's John Lennon!"

Moran was driving with Bill Gamble. As they went through the streets to Roosevelt Hospital, Moran looked in the backseat and said, "Are you John Lennon?" The guy in the back nodded and groaned.

Back on Seventy-second Street, somebody told Palma, "Take the woman." And a shaking woman, another victim's wife, crumpled into the backseat as Palma started for Roosevelt Hospital. She said nothing to the two cops and they said nothing to her. Homicide is not a talking matter.

Breslin is sort of an acquired taste, of course, but if you are at all enamored of the New Journalists, that is some grade A shit.  Though if you think about it, they really are Old Journalists now, and even though they were flashy and thought they were upending the news, they fit so linearly with the newspaper tradition, don't they?  Ah, history.

And remember, John Lennon was shot in the nighttime, and Breslin this wrote for the next day's paper, on deadline.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:34 AM