Monday, November 21, 2005

Banality of Evil, U.S. style

It isn't the descriptions of the torture techniques that haunt me. It is this:

When properly used, the techniques appear to be closely monitored and are signed off on in writing on a case-by-case, technique-by-technique basis, according to highly placed current and former intelligence officers involved in the program. In this way, they say, enhanced interrogations have been authorized for about a dozen high value al Qaeda targets — Khalid Sheik Mohammed among them. According to the sources, all of these have confessed, none of them has died, and all of them remain incarcerated. ABC News report.

CIA sources apparently were troubled by allegations that their agency tortures prisoners wantonly. How unprofessional! So they shared with reporters a list of "approved techniques" (varieties of Slaps, "Long Time Standing,"the "Cold Cell," simulated drowning, etc.). They also wanted us to know that some agents refused training in "the techniques" and some doubt that "enhanced interrogation" produced reliable information. Apparently some of the main "evidence" for l Qaeda's presence in Saddam Hussein's Iraq was a tale was made up under torture.

So now we are offered a picture of a hate-free bureaucratic procedure, proudly ratified by "sign-offs" and the assurance that the subjects survived. This is the stuff of which the political philosopher Edward Herman, following on Hannah Arendt, wrote:

Normalizing the Unthinkable
Doing terrible things in an organized and systematic way rests on "normalization." This is the process whereby ugly, degrading, murderous, and unspeakable acts become routine and are accepted as "the way things are done."
Of course there is plenty of evidence that this picture of the clean, mean interrogation machine is a sham. The practice of brutality toward detainees has leaked out of the CIA's antiseptic confines. The U.S. has been shown to torture from Afghanistan, to Guantanamo, to Abu Ghraib, to gulags in Eastern Europe. Most of human beings caught up in that system didn't enjoy the dubious benefits of sign-off on techniques --and a good number of them are dead. Also dead is any plausible claim of innocence from those of us who are U.S. citizens.

What are we going to do about it?

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