The CIA’s Willingness to Lie about Our Torture Regime: The Architecture of Unbelief

ANGLO AMERICA, 19 Jan 2015

Charles P. Pierce - Esquire

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

16 Jan 2015 – In the most recent New York Review of Books, there’s an excellent interview about the now-largely-forgotten report from the Senate about how the United States government’s regime of torture was developed, and about how it was operated, with Mark Danner. Along with Marcy Wheeler, Jane Mayer, Charlie Savage and very few other reporters, Danner was one of the people who thought that this country’s decision to torture people — in contravention of treaties, American law, and over 200 years of military custom — was worthy of extended acts of journalism. In one of the more striking passages in the interview, Danner explains how a complicated infrastructure of mendacity was constructed and how it became equally as vital to the torture program as were the waterboard and the rectal feeding tube. Not only did the CIA arrange this infrastructure in order to lie to the American people about what was done in their name, but also the CIA built this infrastructure to provide an institutional basis for the American government to lie to itself.

“The CIA,” says Danner, “was actually misleading the Department of Justice. The report shows that the information given to the DOJ by the CUA in order for the DOJ to make its determination in the summer of 2002 that these techniques were legal were misleading and wrong; notably, that the techniques were not applied as described, but much more brutally, especially waterboarding. John Yoo, the author of the original torture memo, already told the Office of Professional Responsibility during its investigation that if waterboarding was performed as it was described in the press he would not have judged it legal. And the report shows that indeed the CIA performed the technique in a much more brutal manner than it admitted to the Department of Justice lawyers.”

(I pause for a moment here to catch my breath at the possibility of the inexcusable John Yoo’s being let even partway off the hook.)

This interview comes at the exact moment in which events around the world guaranteed the Senate report a swift trip down the memory hole, expedited by an administration that doesn’t want any part of the report’s conclusions, and a congressional “oversight” process that’s gone back to being unworthy of the name, what with everyone accepting the results of the CIA’s exoneration of itself in regards to having spied on the staff of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Dianne Feinstein’s conclusion that poor, embattled David Petraeus has suffered enough.  (And, as it turns out, what may have been the complicity of the White House in the CIA’s campaign against the committee staff.) The terror attacks in Paris, and the ensuing “terror sweeps” throughout Europe, to say nothing of the arrest of a misfit teenager in Cincinnati, has brought things back to the new normal again, especially within our 24-hour news cycle. (Last night on CNN, Peter Bergen spent about five minutes vainly trying to convince Wolf Blitzer that the United States is not honeycombed with sleeper cells waiting to kill Blitzer in his bed.) Once again, we are hearing reports from “Western intelligence sources” about “imminent attacks” that have been thwarted by the slimmest of margins.

But the infrastructure of unreality has worked so splendidly since 2001 that I am now predisposed not to believe anything attributed to anonymous “intelligence sources” that is fed to their pet reporters. If the CIA is willing to arrange that the government lies to itself, if it is willing to hack the Congress, I choose to believe that it will feed the public anything that suits its immediate needs. By creating within a free country a culture of credulous fear, the CIA has managed to create that culture’s functional doppelganger — an architecture of unbelief. Because, in creating the culture of credulous fear, the CIA has lied so often and so well and to so many different audiences, there no longer is any prima facie reason to believe anything that the American intelligence community says, especially not what it says anonymously. Whether this is dangerous to the country or not is not for me to say, but neither is it for the people who profit from deceit to say, either. The existence of a deep intelligence state within a self-governing political commonwealth never has been tenable. But, for a brief moment, a cultivated, credulous fear was replaced by a modicum of natural democratic skepticism, but that died in the offices of Charlie Hebdo along with the magazine’s staff. We are back in the hands of the spooks again. In all of our institutions, secrecy and the magical thinking of the intelligence priesthood inflitrates itself like foul water after a storm, bringing rot we cannot see until it brings everything down. Then the members of the priesthood put on their most glittering robes and blame the heretics out there who did not believe, the infrastructure of disbelief that the priesthood’s own mendacity constructed within the incense-clouded cathedral it has made of our fears.


This blog is about politics, which, according to Aristotle, a truly veteran scribe, is the result of humans being the only herd animals capable of speaking to one another. It is written by Charles P. Pierce, a writer at large of Esquire magazine.

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