The CIA, Torture, and American “Democracy”
Sun 11th Jan 2015
First came Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange, with sickening revelations of US war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan, and of the cynical conduct of US diplomacy. Then Edward Snowden exposed the full extent of NSA information gathering: anything and everything you have read, written, or spoken on the phone or internet in the last decade or more has been recorded and archived and can be retrieved at will. Branded as enemies of the state, traitors, and threatened with the death penalty, all three of them are either in prison or enforced hiding and exile. Now, the US government itself is hypocritically airing its dirty laundry in a cynical preelection maneuver, fully corroborating these whistle blowers’ tales, and revealing even greater depths of government depravity.
The Senate report on CIA torture reads like a Stephen King novel, a transcript from the Nuremberg trials, or Josef Mengele’s notes from Auschwitz. The most hair-raising villainies have been committed in tae name of the country that gave the world the Declaration of Independence. If anyone had any remaining doubts about the degenerate rottenness of US capitalism and imperialism, this report should exorcise them immediately. These are not “commie lies and propaganda,” but come straight from the horse’s mouth.
Profits and politics by other means
In the name of the “war on terror,” GW Bush unleashed a get-rich-quick, anything-goes, free-for-all for contractors of military and other services. Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld’s private and public partners in crime and business made a literal killing off of fat, no-bid, profit-drenched federal contracts, all in the name of “small government.” Even torture was outsourced. According to the New York Times:
“The chief of interrogations, who is not named in the report, was given the job in fall 2002 even though the agency’s inspector general had urged that he be ‘orally admonished for inappropriate use of interrogation techniques’ in a training program in Latin America in the 1980s.
“And Dr. Mitchell and Dr. Jessen, identified by the pseudonyms Grayson Swigert and Hammond Dunbar in the report, had not conducted a single real interrogation. They had helped run a Cold War-era training program for the Air Force in which personnel were given a taste of the harsh treatment they might face if captured by Communist enemies. The program—called SERE, for Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape—had never been intended for use in American interrogations, and involved methods that had produced false confessions when used on American airmen held by the Chinese in the Korean War.
“The program allowed the psychologists to assess their own work—they gave it excellent grades—and to charge a daily rate of $1,800 each, four times the pay of other interrogators, to waterboard detainees. Dr. Mitchell and Dr. Jessen later started a company that took over the C.I.A. program from 2005 until it was closed in 2009. The C.I.A. paid it $81 million, plus $1 million to protect the company from legal liability.
“Early in the program, the report says, ‘a junior officer on his first overseas assignment,’ who had no experience with prisons or interrogations, was placed in charge of a C.I.A. detention site in Afghanistan known as the Salt Pit. Other C.I.A. officers had previously proposed that he be stripped of access to classified information because of a ‘lack of honesty, judgment and maturity.’
“At the Salt Pit, the junior officer ordered a prisoner, Gul Rahman, shackled to the wall of his cell and stripped of most of his clothing. Mr. Rahman was found dead of hypothermia the next morning, lying on the bare concrete floor. Four months later, the junior officer was recommended for a cash award of $2,500 for his ‘consistently superior work.’
“. . . The interrogation teams included people with ‘notable derogatory information’ in their records, including one with ‘workplace anger management issues’ and another who ‘had reportedly admitted to sexual assault.’”
This is just the tip of the iceberg. At secret locations referred to as “dungeons,” with ominous names such as “COBALT” and “The Salt Pit,” a litany of veritable crimes against humanity were perpetrated. Many of the suspects were entirely innocent. One was “waterboarded” 183 times in a “series of near-drownings.” Nudity and humiliation, forced stress positions, being tackled violently or repeatedly slammed against a wall, prolonged ice water baths, cold concrete cells, dietary manipulation and deprivation, glaring lights and blaring music, tight hand and ankle cuffs leading to blisters and swollen legs, lack of medical care, placing pressure on detainees’ arteries, blowing cigarette or cigar smoke into detainees’ faces, solitary confinement, and enforced sleep deprivation—in some cases for as long as 180 hours—were the norm.
Prisoners were forced to wear diapers and defecate on themselves, stripped naked and run through gauntlets of people beating and dragging them through the dirt. They were told their family members would be raped or have their throats cut, and were menaced with sexual abuse themselves. At least one was left naked in a freezing cell, only to die of hypothermia.
Several prisoners were subjected to forced “rectal feedings,” in which “hummus, pasta with sauce, nuts, and raisins [were] ‘pureed’ and rectally infused.” Unsure of the best techniques to use, the torturers debated among themselves: “[r]egarding the rectal tube, if you place it and open up the IV tubing, the flow will self regulate, sloshing up the large intestines.” Another opined: “[w]hat I infer is that you get a tube up as far as you can, then open the IV wide. No need to squeeze the bag—let gravity do the work.”
This abject barbarism was not carried out by ISIS in Iraq, or by the Taliban in remote, primitive parts of Pakistan or Afghanistan. It was funded and encouraged by the richest country on earth in the name of its citizens. Perhaps more Americans will now understand why many people around the world see the US flag as something to be hated and burned. Even the former military chief prosecutor for terrorism trials at Guantanamo says it will take decades to undo the harm done to America’s image and security.
These horrors were conceived on the basis of blatant lies and distortions. None of the 9/11 hijackers came from Afghanistan, yet that country was almost immediately invaded. There was absolutely no connection between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, and intelligence clearly showed he had no weapons of mass destruction, yet Iraq was steamrolled and plunged into misery and mayhem. Over a million Iraqis and Afghanis have been killed, with millions more displaced. Several thousand US soldiers have also died, with ten of thousands more maimed and traumatized for life. We can rest assured that most ordinary Iraqis, Afghanis, Yemenis, and Pakistanis, whose lives have been ruined by imperialism, would prefer less US-style “freedom, civilization, and democracy,” and more food, infrastructure, jobs, housing, education, and healthcare! The same can be said for ordinary Americans, who have had to foot the bill for these wars through vicious cuts, austerity, and deprivation.
Many of the “liberal” politicians now wringing their hands at the findings were fully aware of what was going on years ago. They turned a blind eye to it at the time and fell into lock step behind Bush and Cheney, yet now they feign horror and outrage. Former CIA chief Michael Hayden, who is now collecting generous checks as a member of the board of the Chertoff Group, headed by the former chief of the US Department of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff, had this to say in 2009: “Let me remind you that every member of our intelligence committees, House and Senate, Republican and Democrat, is now fully briefed on the detention and interrogation program. This is not CIA's program. This is not the President's program. This is America's program.”
Plenty of people in positions of power knew this was unconscionable. According to the New York Times: “In January 2003, 10 months into the Central Intelligence Agency’s secret prison program, the agency’s chief of interrogations sent an email to colleagues saying that the relentlessly brutal treatment of prisoners was a train wreck ‘waiting to happen and I intend to get the hell off the train before it happens.’ He said he had told his bosses he had ‘serious reservations’ about the program and no longer wanted to be associated with it ‘in any way.’
“The bitter infighting in the C.I.A. interrogation program was only one symptom of the dysfunction, disorganization, incompetence, greed and deception described in a summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report. In more than 500 pages, the summary, released on Tuesday, paints a devastating picture of an agency that was ill equipped to take on the task of questioning Al Qaeda suspects, bungled the job and then misrepresented the results.”
All of this was done, not by the Nazis or the medieval Spanish Inquisition, but by the bloodhounds of US imperialism in the first decade of the 21st century. This was not just a few “bad apples,” but was carried out with the full knowledge of the most powerful decision-makers in the US intelligence services, the Senate, and the executive branch.
And the icing on the cake? None of these “coercive interrogation” techniques yielded any actionable intelligence in the search for Osama Bin Laden, the ostensible excuse for the program. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Even when lower-level operatives reported that there was no more intelligence to be gained from these individuals through torture, they were told by their superiors to “keep going.”
Even the Republican right-wing hawk John McCain has made it abundantly clear that the torture program achieved nothing—although big profits were indeed made. Other Republicans, such as Orrin Hatch, have called it “a pure political piece of crap.” Former Vice President Dick Cheney called it “a bunch of hooey” and a “crock.” In fact, according to him, the entire program was legal and above board, and “[the torturers] deserve a lot of praise. As far as I’m concerned, they ought to be decorated, not criticized.”
Republicrats vs. Democrans
Senate Democrats released the long-delayed 6,000-page report, compiled over a period of five years, just weeks before officially losing control of that house of Congress to Republicans. After the beating they took in the midterm elections, they wanted to get one last jab in and position themselves better in advance of the 2016 elections. Their message will likely be that the Democrats may not have achieved much in the way of “hope and change,” but at least it’s better than the “bad old days” under Bush and Cheney.
The ruling class is so unsure how to proceed, and so greedy for the spoils of office, that some politicians are willing to undermine the credibility of the entire state edifice in order to get a few points on their “rivals.” However, we should be clear that the divide is not at all between “left and right,” but between which sector of the capitalist class gets to loot and control the country. Faced with an intractable crisis of capitalism—and don’t for a moment let the sky-high stock market prices fool you into thinking that any real economic recovery or permanent stability has been achieved—they are unable to rule in the old way and are tearing each other apart in search of a nonexistent magic key.
Both parties defend the same fundamental interests, but prefer slightly different methods. And though they will inevitably try to jockey for position and attempt take each other down a notch or two through cheap political showmanship, scandals, and lies, in the final analysis, they will unfailingly join together to defend the US capitalist system and class. Despite the differences among the capitalists and their politicians, they will always close ranks to defend each other when their essential interests are at stake.
As he is somewhat more prescient than the average bourgeois politician, President Obama knows he cannot let this situation get out of hand—otherwise the very institution of the presidency may be threatened. To avoid further incriminating the Bush White House, he personally prevented the release of several documents that would have otherwise made their way into the report. In addition, he says he will not seek to prosecute those involved. According to an official statement by the President, “One of the strengths that makes America exceptional is our willingness to openly confront our past, face our imperfections, make changes and do better. Rather than another reason to refight old arguments, I hope that today's report can help us leave these techniques where they belong—in the past.”
In other words, the torturers and those who instigated and paid them millions will get away scot free. And although Obama formally banned such interrogation methods in 2009, we should not be so naïve as to believe that similar abuses do not continue in one form or another. The President has failed to deliver on what many believed to be a “no-brainer” 2008 campaign promise: the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention center, which to this day houses nearly 150 prisoners. He also signed an extension of the Patriot Act and refused to shut down the NSA spying program revealed by Edward Snowden. In addition, he has vastly expanded Bush’s drone program, and has authorized the extrajudicial murder of US citizens by this form of technological terror. This is the “kinder, gentler” face of US imperialism.
We often cite Gore Vidal’s observation that, “There is only one party in the United States, the Property Party . . . and it has two right wings: Republican and Democrat.” This is truly no exaggeration. Since 1853, the US has been ruled by one or the other of these two parties. In any other country, this dictatorship would be decried as tyranny. In the US it passes as the height of democracy and freedom.
To say that the US is dominated by a tiny clique of wealthy and well-connected extended families and individuals is not a conspiracy theory. Let us not forget that Bill Clinton continued Bush Sr.’s murderous wars and sanctions, Bush Jr. continued Clinton’s, and Obama picked up where GW left off. Their top-level staff and advisors often overlap, with many of them having served as far back as the Nixon and Ford presidencies, not to mention the constantly revolving door between major corporations, Wall Street, and the highest levels of government. Now Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton are among the frontrunners for the presidency in 2016.
In anticipation of his brother’s attempt at a “threepeat” for the Bush dynasty, there is an ongoing media campaign to rehabilitate the image of GW Bush. As an individual he is presented as harmless, fun, and down-to-earth, and his presidency as underrated and misunderstood. He is said to have retired to a quiet life of clearing brush, doing the ice bucket challenge, and painting child-like art on his ranch in Texas (although to refer to his body of work in that way is a gross insult to both children and art). When asked in a recent interview who he would support in 2016, he referred to Bill Clinton as his “brother from another mother,” and Hillary Clinton as his “sister-in-law”—but obviously sided with his biological brother Jeb. This is just an anecdote, but it goes a long way towards showing just how intimately connected the Republicans and Democrats are.
“The whole damn system is guilty”
Following the decision of two separate grand juries not to indict the police officers involved in the murders of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, these revelations will further shake Americans’ confidence in the institutions of capitalist rule. Just as the police in Ferguson and Staten Island acted with impunity, the CIA torturers and their cabinet-level handlers will also literally get away with murder.
Obama says that such methods of torture have “nothing to do with US values.” But we should state plainly that there is no such thing as “US values” in the abstract. There are the values and interests of the workers, and those of the capitalists. The workers are driven by a desire for safe homes, secure jobs and pensions, access to quality health care and education, and time for leisure with friends and family. The capitalists are driven by the pursuit of the almighty dollar, no matter what the collateral damage to humanity and the planet.
This is why we have always explained that there are in fact two Americas: the America of the ruling class minority, and that of the working class majority. The stark reality is that this country is run by a small handful of people. They own the key levers of the economy and use their wealth to ensure their political domination. No matter which major party is in power, their basic interests will be looked after. Three consecutive CIA directors blatantly lied about the extent of the torture for a reason: it’s their job as guard dogs of the system to do whatever it takes to defend it. Congress and the White House pretended nothing was amiss for a decade for precisely the same reason.
Foreign policy is merely an extension of domestic policy. “Legality” means little when the interests of the bourgeoisie and their state are concerned, both at home and abroad. Like the proverbial leopard, a socio-economic system that gave us Hitler’s SS and Bush’s CIA cannot change its spots.
So although it disgusts us, none of this comes as a surprise to the Marxists. We have no illusions in the bourgeois state or its form of democracy, and know all too well to what lengths a desperate ruling class will go to maintain its interests and power. Their grotesque newspeak cannot hide the reality for those who have learned to read between the lines.
In the future, a workers’ government will throw the archives wide open. What has been revealed so far will seem like a children’s book in comparison to the monstrosities yet to be unveiled. However, for millions of ordinary Americans, this report will come as a major shock. They have long believed the myth of the American dream, of alleged American exceptionalism, and that they truly live in the greatest, most free and democratic society on the planet. They will be deeply disturbed by what has been done in their name. The illusion that “the US doesn’t do that kind of thing” and “that doesn’t happen here” has been shattered.
Nonetheless, this process of awakening consciousness is only in its early beginnings. Despite this sordid report, many will continue to tightly press the blinders to their temples, for fear of seeing what is really going on. But even they will not be able to keep their heads in the sand forever. Events, events, events will eventually smash them out of their self-imposed lethargy, and those who are apparently the most apathetic today, could well be on the front lines of mass movements to change society in the future.
To end imperialism, war, torture, and discrimination—end capitalism!
This article first appeared at http://www.socialistappeal.org/analysis/us-politics/1470-the-cia-torture-and-american-democracy