Thursday, August 27, 2009

The CIA is More Dubious Than That Faded M&M at the Bottom of Grandma's Candy Bowl

For today's post: Fun with trivia.

So here goes: Which domestic, publicly-subsidized institution kills terrorist suspects during interrogations, outsources torture to countries with disgraceful human rights records, and operates within the shadowy legal crevices of both the Geneva Convention and our nation's constitution? Give up?

Click here to find the answer!

From The New Yorker's "Outsourcing Torture," Jane Mayer's 2005 piece which focuses on the CIA's not-so-clandestine practice of extraordinary rendition.
What began as a program aimed at a small, discrete set of suspects - people against whom there were outstanding foreign arrest warrants - came to include a wide and ill-defined population that the Administration terms "illegal enemy combatants." Many of them have never been publicly charged with any crime.

It's disturbing to know that a large government organization, primarily responsible for information gathering, is given the tether to behave like a band of thugs whenever it sees fit - at least until now. If Eric Holder has any say, the CIA will be getting the scrutiny it's deserved for some time:
The inspector general's report, by contrast offers details of abusive methods. During one session, a C.I.A. interrogator told Abd al-Rahim al Nashiri, charged with plotting the 2000 bombing of the Navy destroyer Cole, that if he did not cooperate with his captors, "we could get your mother in here" and "we can bring your family in here."

According to the report, the interrogator wanted Mr. Nashiri to infer for "phsychological" reasons that his female relatives might be sexually abused.

Wait - Quick quiz: Who is Eric Holder (and no Wikipedia, damn you!)?

A.) The new Secretary of Health and Human Services
B.) Former NBA underachiever Ralph Sampson's separated-at-birth twin brother
C.) The new Attorney General for the Obama administration
D.) The New President of Kurdranistanjihadlabad
E.) The 78-year-old guy at my gym who insists on galavanting around the men's locker room with nothing on from the waist down. He holds conversations, talks about real estate, and flosses his teeth - all without the benefit of pants, shorts, or undergarments of any kind. And, once again, for the sake of an image: He's 78.

Answer: You damn well better have chosen C.

Whether or not Connecticut prosecutor John Durham's investigation can lead to any convictions is peripheral to the message this hopefully sends to the CIA and other tax-funded super-organizations. (That's right, town-hallers: The CIA is socialist organization!)

That I'm a staunch advocate of strong, publicly-funded organizations that provide essential services doesn't mean I think they should be shielded from constant scrutiny and stringent standards. To the contrary, if I'm paying for something, I need to know the exact context in which my money is being utilized. For instance, currently my tax dollars - and yours - are being earmarked for each of the following projects:
  • Nation-building in Iraq
  • Nation-building in Afghanistan*
  • A rescue package for automakers from whom I wouldn't even accept a free vehicle
  • Golden parachutes for these pricks.
*Four American solders were killed Tuesday when their patrol vehicle struck an improvised explosive device in southern Afghanistan, NATO said, making the 2009 death toll for foreign forces in Afghanistan the highest since the war began nearly eight years ago.

So if you ask me right now if I think it's okay for the CIA - an organization in which most of us have "invested" a great deal of money - to have legal immunity from torturing, maiming, humiliating and murdering individuals who have yet to receive due process in any sanctioned court of law, then my answer is a resounding "no." CIA employees should be held just as accountable for their actions as any other public servant, be they cops, public school principals, or postal workers.

And despite the fact that we've been admonished time and again to accept that we're in an interminable struggle with "evil-doers" for the safety and soul of our country - and therefore utilizing a panoply of harsh interrogation tactics are in the interest of national security - the fact remains that the CIA is not a crime fighting agency, nor are they a paramilitary organization. It's as much within their purview and expertise to strip down and waterboard a Guantanamo inmate as it is for a local firefighter to deliver your order.

Add that to the fact that the CIA has also been contracting out critical military operations to no-bid contract winner Blackwater - a private "firm" that somehow exists with even less oversight than the CIA (and, oh, by the way: they're tax-funded too) - and we find ourselves in some serious ethical gray areas. From The New York Times:
American spy agencies have in recent years outsourced some highly controversial work, including the interrogation of prisoners. But government officials said that bringing outsiders into a program with lethal authority raised deep concerns about accountability in covert operations.

It would be negligent on my part if I didn't note here that the name "Blackwater" has become synonymous with the no-bid outsourcing of the morass in Iraq, from branches of the U.S. military to private firms with notorious reputations:
Blackwater employees hired to guard American diplomats in Iraq were accused of using excessive force on several occasions, including shootings in Baghdad in 2007 in which 17 civilians were killed. Iraqi officials have since refused to give the company an operating license.

Also, when I think of a firm, I think Sterling Cooper from "Mad Men" or maybe even McKenzie Brackman from "L.A. Law." But a group of trained mercenaries who air drop into hostile territory, guns blazing, with little concern for civilian life? That's not a firm; not even close. Could you imagine one of these guys in your office having to deal with a jamming copy machine? I'm sure you'd see a lot of this.

Before I shut it down for the evening, let me just add that I have no delusions about the nefarious character of many of the detainees formerly or currently being held in U.S. custody. I presume many of them have profoundly hostile feelings toward the U.S. and mean America nothing but harm and ill-fortune. But if the U.S. is intent on regaining the role of moral beacon for the solar system, we must end these practices instantly. In addition to being unethical, torture is an ineffective and inefficient intelligence gathering technique. In other words, it doesn't work. John McCain, a former POW and torture victim, agrees.

And so maybe the CIA should stick with what it does best: Initiating coups against democratically elected governments.

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Stop the Inanity. by Brock Cohen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
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