If you haven’t watched the PBS Frontline segment on “Secrets, Politics and Lies,” you should but be prepared to get really angry. It is a painful indictment of the war crimes committed by the CIA since September 11, 2001, under the guise of legality, that will leave you wondering if we truly have a democracy left in the country. Not only are the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Hussein Obama responsible for the crimes that were committed, they were, and are, responsible for the cover up. And so is the media.
The program opens with the critique of the CIA propaganda film “Zero Dark Thirty” that the agency used as a means to sell the lie that tortured worked and was crucial in finding Osama bin Laden. We know now, it wasn’t and didn’t. Watching men like former CIA lawyer John Rizzo and the agency’s former Deputy Director John McLaughlin coldly rationalize their crimes will make you wonder why they aren’t in prison. That’s easily answered. President Barack Obama wanted it swept under the rug and his Attorney General Eric Holder’s justice department put little to no effort in making the case for war crimes.
This is the first five minutes of the show. Warning, some of it is graphic.
America on evil: Stunning PBS Frontline doc reveals the depths of CIA propaganda
By Heather Digby Parton, Salon
“Secrets, Politics and Torture” tells the deeply disturbing story of an intelligence community’s craven lies
according to the Frontline documentary “Secrets, Politics and Torture,” the official story the film depicted was a lie, so perhaps the classified information Panetta and company shared with the “Zero Dark Thirty” production was false as well. It’s not a crime to spread government propaganda. If it were, the entire leadership of the U.S. intelligence services and a fair number of top White House officials would be legally exposed.
The Frontline film, takes a detailed look at the torture program and the saga of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Torture Report, the summary of which was finally released last December. (The 6,000 page report remains classified.) We know about the waterboarding and confining of prisoners in a tiny box for days, the sleep deprivation, the beatings and the grotesque depravities like “rectal feeding” from the Senate report. It reads like a bureaucratic version of the Marquis de Sade’s “20 days of Sodom.” Seeing all that put in context with the lies and the coverup lends it a new layer of horror.
Of particular interest in this film are the interviews with top CIA officials John Rizzo, the agency’s legal counsel, and John McLaughlin, the deputy CIA director at the time, both of whom excuse any alleged shortcomings in the torture regime as a result of the agency being tasked with something it wasn’t trained to do. The film does make it clear that the members of the interrogation team, in the beginning at least, were sickened by what they were doing, but were told to continue by the people in Washington who insisted they keep doing it.
Rizzo is a complicated character who explains that he didn’t see his duty as one requiring him to question the morality of the program, but simply to find ways to protect the agency from legal exposure. And he cleverly did that by getting buy-in from the Department of Justice, members of Congress and the White House. He is a creature of the CIA, and is loyal to the agency. But he admits to being shaken when he went to John McCain, after the program had been revealed, to try to convince him that it was highly controlled and effective – and Mccain simply said, “it all sounds like torture to me.” Rizzo was also obviously upset that CIA Director of Operations Jose Rodriguez took it upon himself to destroy tapes of the first horrific interrogation, the revelation of which served as the catalyst for the Senate Torture Investigation.
But if Rizzo comes off as at least somewhat ambiguous about the whole thing, John McLaughlin reveals himself as one of the most chilling characters in recent American history. You wouldn’t assume that this rather bland looking fellow would look menacingly into the camera and hiss, “We were at war. Bad things happen in war,” as if he were in a Clint Eastwood movie. But he does just that.
He also specializes in fatuous nonsense like this:
The CIA faced a real dilemma here: On the one hand, we knew this program would be contentious. On the other hand, we asked ourselves: Wouldn’t it be equally immoral if we failed to get this information and thousands of Americans died? If there was another 9/11? How immoral would that be? That’s the dilemma we were up against. And we felt a moral commitment to protect the United States.
That’s very stirringly heroic, but it ignores the fact that despite his insistence otherwise, there’s simply no evidence that their program was effective at all, much less any more effective than other means that didn’t require the United States of America to twist itself into a pretzel to try to justify its immoral behavior. And you have to wonder: With that kind of logic are there any limits to what we can do? It doesn’t sound like there are. [..]
This is reminiscent of one of those congressional investigations that came out of Seymour Hersh’s exposé of CIA activity mentioned earlier. The 1975 Pike Committee Investigation report into abuses by the agency (along with the FBI and the NSA) was never published because the Republicans opposed it. But it was leaked to Daniel Schorr, who finally managed to get some excerpts published in the Village Voice; and it was later published in its entirety in England. Maybe somebody will leak the full Torture Report as well.
But the damage is already done, unfortunately. Torture was once a taboo, illegal and unthinkable, but it is now officially on the menu. John Brennan, the current CIA chief, would not rule out using it again in the future, saying it would be policy decision by our leaders. Bad things happen in wars, you know.
Esquire‘s Charles Pierce makes note of a recent article in the New York Times by investigative reporter Charles Savage who asks the only question worth asking:
But the open debate and vote was also striking because national security programs have so often been created in secret over the past 14 years – from the C.I.A.’s now-defunct torture program to sweeping surveillance activities to the use of drones to kill terrorism suspects away from combat zones. Secrecy has always been traditional and accepted in wartime, but traditional wars have an end. Under two administrations now, as the United States has remained on a permanent war footing against Al Qaeda and its splintering, morphing progeny, tensions over fighting battles in the shadows have steadily escalated. If this is a forever war, can a democracy wage it in secret?
And what Charlie said:
Secrecy is addictive. It deforms and mutates political institutions the way that alcohol and heroin deforms and mutates individual lives. It forces those institutions to take secrecy itself as their primary constituency. It forces the imperatives of secrets onto institutions designed to be free and open and democratically accountable. This is really what you’re being asked to debate when Chris Christie bellows about your not having civil liberties when you’re dead, or when Marco Rubio talks tough about what has to be done to maintain our values. The answer to Savage’s question is a definitive “no,” but that doesn’t really mean much any more.
Some of us will not give up the fight to bring these crimes to light and seek justice for the victims of these war criminals. There is no statute of limitation on war crimes, just ask Germany.