Monday, December 15, 2014

John Brennan Gets Orwellian On Us

Photo Credit: Reuters
In light of the newly released Senate report on the CIA's "enhanced interrogation methods" (also known as torture, to us normal folks), documented liar and CIA chief John Brennan gave a rather interesting speech. I mean that not in the sense that it was actually interesting to listen to, because based on what I saw of it, Brennan makes Noam Chomsky's speeches sound bombastic in their energy. No, rather, it was interesting because of how shockingly Orwellian it was. I thought I'd take the opportunity here to look at it bit by bit.

"It was 8:46 a.m. on the morning of September 11th, 2001, when the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City was struck by an aircraft commandeered by al-Qa’ida terrorists. Seventeen minutes later, the clear blue skies over Manhattan were pierced yet again by another hijacked aircraft, this one tearing into the adjacent South Tower." Ah, good. Glad to see we're still using 9/11 to excuse everything we've done wrong for the last thirteen years. It hasn't gotten old or tired at all yet. And--no exaggeration--the first five paragraphs of Brennan's speech are basically just recounting 9/11. I'm not trying to be insensitive; I realize that, for every American old* enough to remember it (myself included), it's not something that will be forgotten, nor should it be. But it's downright disgusting to use it as a distraction from the wrongdoings of our own government, as Brennan does here.

These first five paragraphs expose a great deal already, as Brennan prattles on about how the Pentagon is "the proud symbol and heart of our Nation's military" and how the terrorist attacks would "plunge us into a seemingly never-ending war." Because, you know, it wasn't our choice to invade countries, or bomb them, or use drone strikes--we had to. The terrorists made us do it, so don't blame us.

Throughout the first dozen paragraphs of Brennan's speech, he goes to great pain to reinforce the simple, black-and-white narrative that al-Qaeda are the bad guys and the CIA are the good guys, going so far as to call al-Qaeda "an evil we couldn't fathom." It's amazing that any public official can use this sort of hyperbole without being laughed at. Killing innocent civilians as a means of achieving your goals? Oh, yeah, God knows the US, and the CIA in particular, could never fathom that level of evil.

Finally launching into the discussion of the detention program and the torture employed against some of the detainees, Brennan states that "EITs" (quite the cozy little acronym, isn't it?) were "determined at the time to be lawful [by the Department of Justice] and...duly authorized by the Bush Administration." Yes, "determined" to be lawful. Because, of course, the DOJ doesn't just "determine" anything lawful whenever it's convenient for it. Oh, and the Bush administration authorized it. So don't blame us, guys.

Brennan, while claiming to agree with Obama's stance against torture, argues that "the previous administration faced agonizing choices about how to pursue al Qa’ida and prevent additional terrorist attacks" and that "whatever your views are on EITs, our Nation – and in particular this Agency – did a lot of things right during this difficult time to keep the country strong and secure." Sure. That's it. That's why we're so safe now, right? Oh wait, I forgot, we're supposedly in grave danger of a terrorist attack at any time, which is why we need those NSA programs, and the PATRIOT Act, and the new war against ISIS. Funny how that works, isn't it?

Finally arriving at the point in his speech where he addresses the report he's supposedly responding to, Brennan states that "we gave the effort our full support, providing an unprecedented amount of sensitive CIA documents to the [Senate] Committee and devoting considerable resources to help it with its review." Right, and, you know, spying on their computers, but why mention that ugly little detail? Claiming that the Committee's methods were "flawed," Brennan nonetheless says much of it is line with what the CIA itself has concluded, and that "[a]cknowledging our mistakes and absorbing the lessons of the past is fundamental to our ability to succeed in our mission and is one of the great strengths of our organization." Right. "Mistakes." The CIA doesn't commit crimes against humanity or act with utter disregard to human life, it just makes "mistakes" every once in a while.

The use of this euphemism becomes particularly comical right after, as Brennan tells us that "[i]n a limited number of cases, Agency officers used interrogation techniques that had not been authorized, were abhorrent, and rightly should be repudiated by all. And we fell short when it came to holding some officers accountable for their mistakes." Even when CIA officers take unauthorized and "abhorrent" actions, they're still just mistakes. This is like if the pope gave a speech about the "mistakes" some priests made when they were alone with little boys.

Brennan goes on, "It is vitally important to recognize, however, that the overwhelming majority of officers involved in the program carried out their responsibilities faithfully and in accordance with the legal and policy guidance they were provided. They did what they were asked to do in the service of our Nation...those officers’ actions should neither be criticized nor conflated with the actions of the few who did not follow the guidance issued." That's right, CIA officers are now beyond criticism as long as their following the agency's "guidance." Hey, who can blame ya when you're just following orders, after all?

And, again, when "representations about the program that were used or approved by Agency officers were inaccurate, imprecise, or fell short of our tradecraft standards" that was just another instance of "mistakes" the CIA made--certainly not deliberately misleading the public, as the Senate report concluded the CIA had done. In any case, "[w]e have acknowledged such mistakes, and I have been firm in declaring that they were unacceptable for an Agency whose reputation and value to the policymaker rests on the precision of the language it uses every day in intelligence reporting and analysis." Right. The agency whose head refers to torture as "enhanced interrogation techniques" relies on precision of language.

"One of the most frustrating aspects of the Study," says Brennan, "is that it conveys a broader view of the CIA and its officers as untrustworthy." Yeah, geez, guys, how could you portray a secretive agency that recently spied on members of Congress and has supported numerous dictators and human rights violations as being untrustworthy? What's next--we'll be accusing the KKK of being racist?

After a few final paragraphs of sickeningly self-laudatory statements about the CIA ("Most CIA successes will never be known, as we are an intelligence service that carries out its mission without fanfare and without seeking praise." Riiiiiggght, that's why the agency is so unwillingly to talk about its "accomplishments."), Brennan's speech finally comes to a close. Never have I read a better example of the way in which public officials lie, distort the truth,  and cloak the most despicable policies with sophisticated language and euphemisms. As George Orwell himself put it, "Political designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind." I'll close on that note, as I don't think any quote could better respond to this speech.

*NOTE: This post originally said "everyone American enough" where it was intended to say "every American old enough;" the first version was a typo.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Wilson's Non-Indictment: An Engineered Failure

I guess I’m a bit late in talking about Ferguson, but it doesn’t seem to be an issue that’s disappearing in any hurry (nor should it), so I’ll address it, or at least one aspect of it. Darren Wilson, as we all know by now, was not indicted for his killing of Michael Brown. I don’t think this came as a surprise for too many people (it didn’t for me), nor should it have. It’s the result that’s entirely predictable—the system protected one of its own. Darren Wilson’s resigned now—can’t keep around someone who causes that sort of controversy—but we’ll have no criminal trial, at least not by the state of Missouri. He walks away a free man, albeit one who’ll have to look over his shoulder for a long time.

I’ll be blunt: based on what I’ve heard and seen, I think Wilson should have been indicted. Of course, that doesn’t mean an intelligent couldn’t disagree with my assessment, and it’s certainly true that I haven’t gone through every bit of evidence that was presented to the grand jury, but from the substantial amount I have heard, it seems like there should have been an indictment unless there was some piece of evidence that clearly exonerates Wilson (and I think we would have heard about it if there were). But that’s not really the point. The point, this whole process was obviously engineered to get Wilson off the hook while everyone else pretended they did their job.

Bob McCulloch, the prosecutor, defied the norm of how to handle a grand jury in numerous ways. Instead of just making the case for a certain charge and presenting the relevant evidence—you know, like you’re supposed to do—he allowed a huge evidence dump and essentially told the grand jury to make their own decision. He barely did anything to insinuate the idea that Wilson could be a murderer (thus failing completely to do his job as a prosecutor), and basically let Wilson get away with a story that was inconsistent with what he’d originally claimed, and not very believable to begin with.

And why not? McCulloch was a local prosecutor. As the attorney for Michael Brown’s family puts it, his relationship with the police department is “symbiotic,” not adversarial. Why would he want to expose wrongdoing on the part of a criminal justice system he was part of? McCulloch was never on the side of Michael Brown’s family, or those who wanted justice. His speech after the grand jury’s decision largely complained about how much the media focused on the case.

Why was someone like McCulloch allowed to be prosecutor for this case, rather than being replaced by a special prosecutor, as one might expect he should be? Because Governor Jay Nixon decided not to do so. This is the same governor who was blatantly more concerned with the violence of the protestors rather than the violence of the police, yet another shameless servant of the blatantly corrupt establishment. What would Nixon have had to gain from Wilson’s indictment? A police officer who served in an area where the police are infamously disproportionately white, while the residents are largely black, being charged with manslaughter, or even murder? It would just be another mess he would be expected to take care of as governor. Why not just sweep it under the rug?

And should we be surprised at all that the grand jury was seventy-five percent white? Indictment already requires nine votes in favor, and, in a racially charged case, even if all the black jurors and a majority of white had voted in favor, that still wouldn’t have been sufficient. And these are jurors selected from St. Louis county, home of a major city almost half of whose population is black. Could a more even balance really not have been achieved? I’m not by any means trying to say you can’t be white and have an unbiased view of this case (I’m white myself, so that would be pretty absurd), but nearly half of white Missourians voted for Todd “Legitimate Rape” Akin in 2012 (based on exit polling); it’s hard for me to believe, given the complete (and probably deliberate) incompetence of the prosecution, that at least a few backwoods, cop-worshipping people (the type who also tend to associate young black men with being dangerous and violent) didn’t end up on the grand jury, and a few is really all it would take.

One question remains: why would McCulloch release all the evidence shown to the grand jury? It basically shows what an awful job he did, and what a joke the proceedings were, and it’s not standard to released that evidence, so why do it? Admittedly, this is pure speculation on my part, but maybe he hoped it would provoke a reaction. If we can hear about angry, violent, frequently black protestors, it makes it all the easier to distract from the issue of corruption in police forces across the country, and the continuing unfairness of police toward blacks in America. As long as Middle America feels uneasy, questions about police brutality and militarization can be pushed aside for the time being.

The entire proceeding was a joke, and was designed not to indict Darren Wilson. Wilson has been forced to resign; McCulloch and Nixon should be, too. Their disgusting and almost certainly deliberate mishandling of this case should earn them ostracization by the rest of the country. In a fairer country, it would. But we’ve just been reminded that our country is nothing resembling fair. Too bad the only people who believed it was are too deluded to change their mind at this point.