How torture gets mainstreamed

As noted in the previous post, Gallup suggests that the general public is soft on torture (er, “harsh interrogation techniques“).  Which is to say, most think that the torture we did was justified, and only a bare majority favor investigations.  As someone who thought he lived in a good Christian nation (Who Would Jesus Torture?), I am dumbfounded by these poll results.  How can this be?

The New York Times has a clue:

In late 2007, there was the first crack of daylight into the government’s use of waterboarding during interrogations of Al Qaeda detainees. On Dec. 10, John Kiriakou, a former C.I.A. officer who had participated in the capture of the suspected terrorist Abu Zubaydah in Pakistan in 2002, appeared on ABC News to say that while he considered waterboarding a form of torture, the technique worked and yielded results very quickly.

Mr. Zubaydah started to cooperate after being waterboarded for “probably 30, 35 seconds,” Mr. Kiriakou told the ABC reporter Brian Ross. “From that day on he answered every question.”

His claims — unverified at the time, but repeated by dozens of broadcasts, blogs and newspapers — have been sharply contradicted by a newly declassified Justice Department memo that said waterboarding had been used on Mr. Zubaydah “at least 83 times.”

In other words, the CIA knew this was a hugely damaging story.  That “crack of daylight” is most likley refering to Ron Suskind’s The One Percent Doctrine, which hit shelves right about that time and remains the definitive source of much of what we actually know about the CIA torture regime.  So they get out in front of the damage by letting one of their boys paint a picture of a relatively harmless and effective “technique”.  Let the moral algebra begin!

On “World News,” ABC included only a caveat that Mr. Kiriakou himself “never carried out any of the waterboarding.” Still, he told ABC that the actions had “disrupted a number of attacks, maybe dozens of attacks.” A video of the interview was no longer on ABC’s website.

So on the one hand, we have “30, 35 seconds” worth of unpleasantry in exchange for dozens of disrupted terrorist attacks.  Honestly, what rational person among us could argue with that?  

If only it weren’t complete and utter bullshit.  So now you’ve got well-meaning torture opponents who I’m sure went to the wall to denounce those 30, 35 seconds, and in the process lent credence to the fantasy.  As the arm-chair Jack Bauers of the nation solemnly nod and think, “had to be done”. (Now about those other 82+ drownings of Zubayda…)

It’s easy to point to this hack, Kiriakou, and say “he lied to us”.  Like any aspiring media whore, he used his initial ABC interview as springboard for a media blitz, and “subsequently granted interviews to The Washington Post, The New York Times, National Public Radio, CBS, CNN, MSNBC and other media organizations. A CNN anchor called him ‘the man of the hour.’”  And when it was all over?

Eight months after the interview, Mr. Kiriakou was hired as a paid consultant for ABC News. He resigned last month and now works for the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

(Hmm, paid consultant, where have we heard that before?)

And the intrepid reporter useful idiot who got the scoop, Brian Ross?  Turns out that wasn’t the first time he carried water for the torture regime.  Glenn Greenwald reminds us that two years prior to the 30, 35 seconds nonsense, Ross gave birth to the “Khalid Sheik Mohammed, won the admiration of interrogators when he was able to last between two and two-and-a-half minutes before begging to confess” discussion.  Glenn goes on to document case after case where the mainstream media used this anonymously sourced “fact” (and Kiriakou’s unsubstantiated bullshit) to rationalize our descent into barbarism.

I’ll leave the closing note to Glenn:

The ways in which these false Mohammed and Zubaydah claims were widely disseminated are important not only in their own right, but because they illustrate how so many of these absolute falsehoods are routinely injected into our debates, not only by the government but by their indispensable conspirators in the establishment media.  There are few things more common than reporters mindlessly reciting what their anonymous government sources tell them to say, and no matter how many times that dynamic results in pure fiction being “reported,” that slothful, propagandistic practice continues to be the staple of our modern press corps.

Using that method, Brian Ross, of course, was responsible for the widespread and completely false reports in October and November, 2001 that government tests on anthrax resulted in a finding of bentoninte, which — Ross breathlessy said over and over — was a key sign that the anthrax attacks came from Saddam Hussein.  That same method — uncritically reciting what anonymous government sources told them — is what led The Washington Post to spread absolute lies about the inspiring firefight Jessica Lynch waged against her evil Iraqi captors and the circumstances surrounding Pat Tillman’s death.  And most of the myths and lies about Iraq — both before and during the war — were the by-product of this same joint government/media effort. 

6 thoughts on “How torture gets mainstreamed

  1. Dick Vinegar

    Re: “As someone who thought he lived in a good Christian nation…”

    not sure what the word Christian adds to that sentence. it’s really the modifier (good vs. bad) that matters. Are BAD christian nations pro-torture (and then presumably anti-pedophile)? I guarantee the Christians who carried out the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the Salem Witch trials, etc. all considered themself “good” Christians. That’s the problem with how religion is applied in our world – when it gets used as a basis to separate people (be it for good or bad), it results in problems.

    I don’t think religion is really pertinent to this discussion, let alone the “reason” to be against torture.

    Reply
  2. M.Uila Post author

    Quite right on all counts, of course.

    What can I tell you – I love me some Jesus. That his teachings have for centuries been abused, twisted and otherwise ignored for political gain and control is a source of deep bitterness to me. In fact, it’s probably my least favorite form of hypocrisy. I just can’t help taking a slap at the pious hypocrites of this country, who are more accurately termed “christianists”.

    At any rate, your point is well taken. Andrew Sullivan has more.

    Reply
  3. Jimmy Reefercake

    Matthew 23:11-15 But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself be abased; and he that shall humble himself be exalted. But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the Kingdom of heaven against men; for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, Hypocrites! for ye devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye campass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.

    Reply

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