Fred Karno’s Thugs

The Feinstein report on the torture programme run by the CIA is horrific but also blackly comic.
The Agency:

  • took crucial advice from two crank psychologists, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, who were paid $81m for their services, including taking part in interrogations (NYT);
  • appointed as chief of interrogations in the renditions programme an oldtimer who had been responsible for abusive interrogation training in Latin America from 1983 (JW: possibly at the infamous School of the Americas) and later censured (executive summary, page 19);
  • carried out no research on the effectiveness of coercive methods of interrogation before applying them systematically (ibid., page 20);
  • waterboarded Abu Zubaydah 83 times after he had already cooperated fully with FBI interrogators (ibid., pages 24 ff);
  • had no complete record of the number of prisoners held in the programme (ibid., page 14) or in particular locations (page 51);
  • detained at least 21 prisoners that did not meet its own subjectively assessed criteria (ibid., page 16);
  • subcontracted 85% of the jobs in a top-secret programme of the utmost importance and sensitivity;
  • failed to brief President George Bush on its interrogation methods until 2006 (executive summary, page 6);
  • committed a war crime all for nothing; the torture “was not an effective means of acquiring intelligence or gaining cooperation from detainees” (ibid., page 2).

You have to think that none of those involved would have lasted long in the more efficient operations of Felix Dzerzhinsky, Heinrich Himmler, Tomás de Torquemada, or Francis Walsingham.

But I wonder. Feinstein’s narrative is one of bunglers talking themselves into a crime. In her Chairman’s introduction (page 2), she writes (my emphasis):

.. CIA personnel, aided by two outside contractors, decided to initiate a program of indefinite secret detention and the use of brutal interrogation techniques in violation of U.S. law, treaty obligations, and our values.

The White House, it seems, was a passive victim of CIA deception, like Congress. The report even paints Bush’s deliberate decision in February 2002 that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to future al-Qaeda and even Taliban prisoners as being taken on the sole recommendation of the CIA (page 20).

There is a similar theory about the Holocaust, and it’s about about as convincing. (No, I’m not suggesting the crimes were equivalent.) High-ranking Nazis sort of talked themselves into genocide, and the Wannsee conference was an important step in the decision rather than a briefing of underlings to receive orders. In a state guided by the Führerprinzip? In the disciplined Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld Administration?

The prime beneficiary of this considerate incuriosity does not want anything of it:

What I keep hearing out there is they portray this as a rogue operation, and the agency was way out of bounds and then they lied about it,” Cheney said in a telephone interview with the New York Times on Monday. “I think that’s all a bunch of hooey. The program was authorized.”

For once, I believe Cheney. He and Bush wanted the detainees tortured, and they were.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]