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Publico, Spain

On the CIA, Drones,
Torture and Other Stories

By Luis Matias Lopez

Translated By Jenny Westwell

11 January 2013

Edited by Rachel Smith

Spain - Publico - Original Article (Spanish)

Kathryn Bigelow’s “Zero Dark Thirty” is a cynical exercise that tries to justify the use of torture on suspects of terrorism. The first part of the film, based on information supplied by the CIA, depicts such ‘scientific’ techniques as simulated drowning, sleep deprivation, sexual humiliation and even confinement in a foul-smelling, coffin-shaped box. The message, not confirmed by the available facts, is that these ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ led the CIA to Bin Laden’s courier, allowing them to locate and eliminate the al-Qaida leader in an urban fortress in Pakistan where, according to the film, no attempt was made to take prisoners and the wounded were finished off in cold blood. The ‘heroine,’ a young CIA analyst, takes no active part in the tortures and even appears faintly troubled by their most brutal aspect, but she never questions their appropriateness. After all, she must be thinking, these guys are, or could be, responsible for the deaths of 3,000 Americans on 9/11.

Until at least 2006, and certainly before the changeover in the White House, these methods were first verbally engineered, then tolerated, then vaguely endorsed by law. Bush, Cheney and Co. weren’t going to let ‘their boys’ be punished for carrying out their patriotic duty with such enthusiasm. Having won the presidency promising to wipe the slate clean of this pernicious past, Obama disappointed the expectations of many when he affirmed the interrogators’ immunity through the ‘due obedience’ defense and failed to bring those responsible to justice.

To expect anything else would have been absurdly ingenuous. At least he eliminated the secret foreign detention facility program, banned the excesses he did not go so far as to describe as torture, and promised to end the legal limbo of Guantanamo Bay. If health care reform is to be Obama’s principal legacy, the jail of shame promises to symbolize the failure of his moral commitment. Nearly 800 Muslims have passed through it, nine have died there and 166 are still there. Many of those are no longer even suspects, but nobody knows what to do with them.

Obama blames Congress for blocking attempts to transfer detainees to the United States to be tried. But that is a weak excuse coming from a ‘leader of the free world’ who is supposed to have the leadership qualities to be able to impose his judgment in disputes with the legislature — Lincoln was able to, as Spielberg’s latest film biography illustrates. In any event, the most likely outcome is that Obama, to his eternal discredit, will leave the White House with Guantanamo Bay still open. And in the meantime, even without the excesses of the Bush era, Guantanamo detainees continue to be subjected to degrading treatment that could well be considered torture.

The president’s ambiguity is much in evidence lately in his choices of nominees for key appointments. On the one hand, his nomination for Pentagon chief is a Republican hated by a good number of his own fellow party members, Chuck Hagel. Hagel is remarkable for his controversial statements, from homophobic remarks against a gay ambassadorial nominee and his condemnation of the Iraq war, which initially he supported, to favoring a rapid pullout from Afghanistan and a conciliatory approach to the nuclear threat. Most significant is his reluctance to endorse the Jewish lobby, though as senator he has always voted in favor of military aid concessions to Israel. Hagel will direct defense cuts and a change in strategy to avoid costly, large-scale military deployments and will make increasing use of the controversial drones, control of which is expected to gradually pass from the CIA to the Pentagon.

But it is with the CIA that Obama has shown even more moral ambiguity. John Brennan, his nominee for CIA director, was Obama’s first choice in 2009, but had to be ruled out because of Brennan’s major role in turning torture into routine. Brennan even went so far as to defend his work in the interrogations, saying that it had facilitated getting "relevant information"* that "has saved lives." Today these transgressions do not seem so grievous to a desensitized public. Transformed into Obama’s leading counterterrorism advisor (there he was, alongside the president in the famous photo showing how the operation against Bin Laden was followed from the White House), he has taken care not to make the same mistakes, has publicly denounced the abuse of detainees and defended the closure of Guantanamo with the fervor of the converted. His confirmation is a safe bet.

Between them, Hagel and Brennan will coordinate the selective assassination program through the use of drones. Neither they nor Obama object to weapons that save American casualties at the cost of numerous ‘collateral victims,’ and they act as police, judge and executioner — but not defense counsel — rolled into one. They fail to respect the sovereignty of allies like Pakistan, whose air space they violate, as during the operation to eliminate Bin Laden depicted in Zero Dark Thirty. This is a clear example of the violation of the moral paradigm Obama promised to use to erase the shame of the dark years of the Bush administration and which prematurely and unjustly won him the Nobel Peace Prize.

*This quote, correctly translated, cannot be verified.



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