January 2015

(Past) time to start caring


By Katharhynn Heidelberg

“I don’t care.”

The phrase was being heard quite a bit, and in a number of ways in December, when the U.S. Senate released a long-hidden executive summary of the CIA’s use of torture.

A sampling of the “reasoning” on display:

“Here is why I don’t care” — accompanied by an image of a man falling from the Twin Towers on Sept. 11.

“I don’t care, because I would rather be dunked than beheaded, like ISIS does.” (Translation: At least we’re not as bad as a rogue terror state!)

“I don’t care, because they had it coming.”

“I don’t care, because it kept us safe.”

Well, I don’t care either — I don’t care who we tortured; why we did it; how vile those who were tortured happened to be, or if it produced any meaningful intelligence. It. Was. Wrong.

Astonishingly, that simple point is getting lost in the shuffle: We don’t have come up with reasons to oppose torture, because torture is simply immoral. (Even when you insist on calling it “enhanced interrogation.”)

The reaction is shades of the past, when Dana Priest exposed the CIA’s use of “black sites” — torture chambers in countries outside the reach of the Geneva Convention, to which the Bush/Cheney regime contracted the dirty work of “interrogating” prisoners. Then, as now, much of the outrage has been directed against the people who exposed the practice and/or objected to it, rather than at the practice itself. It’s as if the grown-ups are outnumbered by hordes of petulant footstampers whose idea of loving our country is to plug their ears and scream: “I love Mommy and Mommy can do no wrong! If you criticize Mommy, then you don’t love her and you are bad!”

People are welcome to be as puerile and morally lax as they wish; the problem arises when they are allowed to hijack the discussion and transform what should be national horror at the use of torture into a debate about when it is somehow OK. (Answer: Never.) Discussion then is replaced with noise, and energy that might be expended halting torture and holding people accountable is diverted.

But say you have been swayed by the talking heads who feel the urge to trot out Dick Cheney as if he is the moral yardstick of our nation and not, say, a soulless, vicious, protean opportunist.

Well, according to the torture report summary, the CIA didn’t just engage in “rectal feeding,” depriving prisoners of sleep, waterboarding and other horrors (including those that were once inflicted on American POWs in other countries).

The agency lied its tail off about what it was doing, and the extent of it. The torture program was “mismanaged and not subject to adequate oversight,” according to the New York Times; there was little accountability for officers who violated policy; the torturers had no experience in real interrogations; the CIA kept Congress itself in the dark and obstructed what oversight that did exist. More than a dozen prisoners were wrongfully held.

Oh — and it didn’t work. That didn’t stop the agency from falsely claiming that the tactics did work, or from leaking select information to the media in order to advance that falsehood. Torture did not keep us safe. So we’ve got a dark blot on our national conscience, and for what?

A sane person would at least take this as an opportunity to stop other abuses in their tracks. (Drone program, anyone?) At a minimum, we would roundly applaud the Senate for bringing the summary to light, and we would specifically praise outgoing Sen. Mark Udall, instead of debating whether it should have been released. We would at least be highly concerned by the CIA’s duplicity and manipulation. We wouldn’t give Dick Cheney a forum for his psychopathic worldview, let alone celebrate it.

We would listen to Sen. John McCain, who said the CIA “not only failed their purpose — to secure actionable intelligence to prevent future attacks on the U.S. and our allies — but actually damaged our security interests, as well as our reputation as a force for good in the world.”

He added: “I believe the American people have a right — indeed, a responsibility — to know what was done in their name and how they comported with our most important values.”

We are entitled to the truth, even if it causes us difficulties, McCain said.

“They (the American people) must know when the values that define our nation are intentionally disregarded by our security policies, even those policies that are conducted in secret.

“They must be able to make informed judgments about whether those policies and the personnel who supported them were justified in compromising our values; whether they served a greater good or whether, as I believe, they stained our national honor, did much harm and little practical good.”

I would add that we also must be willing to do so.

But we’re not.

Instead, we — more than half of us, according to one December poll — effectively say: “I don’t care.”

Katharhynn Heidelberg is an award-winning journalist in Montrose, Colo.