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.

No comments:

Post a Comment