On Friday, Charlie Pierce posted an interesting article titled The CIA’s Willingness to Lie about Our Torture Regime: The Architecture of Unbelief on his Politics Blog at Esquire. Pierce wrote about an interview with journalist Mark Danner that appeared in The New York Review of Books recently. Pierce noted that the interview was “about the now-largely-forgotten report from the Senate about how the United States government’s regime of torture was developed, and about how it was operated…”
Along with Marcy Wheeler, Jane Mayer, Charlie Savage and very few other reporters, Danner was one of the people who thought that this country’s decision to torture people — in contravention of treaties, American law, and over 200 years of military custom — was worthy of extended acts of journalism. In one of the more striking passages in the interview, Danner explains how a complicated infrastructure of mendacity was constructed and how it became equally as vital to the torture program as were the waterboard and the rectal feeding tube. Not only did the CIA arrange this infrastructure in order to lie to the American people about what was done in their name, but also the CIA built this infrastructure to provide an institutional basis for the American government to lie to itself.
Pierce added that Danner’s interview “comes at the exact moment in which events around the world guaranteed the Senate report a swift trip down the memory hole, expedited by an administration that doesn’t want any part of the report’s conclusions, and a congressional ‘oversight’ process that’s gone back to being unworthy of the name, what with everyone accepting the results of the CIA’s exoneration of itself in regards to having spied on the staff of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Dianne Feinstein’s conclusion that poor, embattled David Petraeus has suffered enough. (And, as it turns out, what may have been the complicity of the White House in the CIA’s campaign against the committee staff.)” Pierce continued by saying that the recent terror attacks in Paris, “and the ensuing ‘terror sweeps’ throughout Europe…has brought things back to the new normal again, especially within our 24-hour news cycle.”
Pierce said that the “infrastructure of unreality” has worked so well since 2001 that he is “now predisposed not to believe anything attributed to anonymous ‘intelligence sources’ that is fed to their pet reporters.” He added, “If the CIA is willing to arrange that the government lies to itself, if it is willing to hack the Congress, I choose to believe that it will feed the public anything that suits its immediate needs. By creating within a free country a culture of credulous fear, the CIA has managed to create that culture’s functional doppelganger — an architecture of unbelief. Because, in creating the culture of credulous fear, the CIA has lied so often and so well and to so many different audiences, there no longer is any prima facie reason to believe anything that the American intelligence community says, especially not what it says anonymously.”
Excerpt from Our New Politics of Torture: Mark Danner, interviewed by Hugh Eakins
Hugh Eakin: Nearly six years ago, you published the secret report by the International Committee of the Red Cross documenting the CIA’s torture of more than a dozen “high value” detainees. And now we have the Senate’s extensive investigation of the torture program itself. What are some of the most revealing findings of the Senate report?
Mark Danner: There is a lot in the executive summary that we already knew but that is now told in appalling detail that we hadn’t seen before. The relentlessness, day in day out, of these techniques—walling, close-confinement, water-dousing, waterboarding, the newly revealed “rectal rehydration,” and various other disgusting and depraved things— and the totality of their effect when taken together is recounted in numbing, revolting detail. The effect can only be conveyed by a full reading, through page after awful page of this five-hundred-page document, which is after all less than 10 percent of the report itself.
What I think is strictly speaking new is, first, how amateurish the torture program was. It was really amateur hour, beginning with the techniques themselves, which were devised and run by a couple of retired Air Force psychologists who were hired by the CIA and put in charge though they had never conducted an interrogation before. They had no expertise in terrorism or counterterrorism, had never interrogated al-Qaeda members or anyone else for that matter. When it came to actually working with detained terrorists and suspected terrorists they were essentially without any relevant experience. Eventually, the CIA paid them more than $80 million.
The second revelation is the degree to which the CIA claimed great results, and did so mendaciously. Sometimes the attacks they said they had prevented were not serious in the first place. Sometimes the information that actually might have led to averting attacks came not from the enhanced interrogation techniques but from other traditional forms of interrogation or other information entirely. But what the report methodically demonstrates is that the claims about having obtained essential, lifesaving intelligence thanks to these techniques that had been repeated for years and years and years are simply not true. And the case is devastating.
Eakin: This was a central question the Senate investigation was looking at, wasn’t it? The issue of whether actual intelligence was gained from torture. In essence, “Was it worth it?”
Danner: From the beginning the CIA had claimed that these techniques were absolutely essential to saving the lives of tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of people. Those claims have been made by many people and it is another revelation of the report that we see CIA people, notably the lawyers, raising these claims before the program even existed. The lawyers seemed to be thinking, “This is the only way we’re going to get away with this.” There is a quote in the report that people would look more kindly on torture—that is the word used—if it was used to stop imminent attacks. This was the so-called “necessity defense,” which, as the CIA lawyers put it, could be invoked to protect from prosecution “US officials who tortured to obtain information that saved many lives.” This idea was there right from the inception of the program.
Click here to read the full text of Hugh Eakin’s interview with Mark Danner.
Our New Politics of Torture: Mark Danner, interviewed by Hugh Eakin (The New York Review of Books)