January 30, 2013

Morning Line: Echoes of Wannsee


Sam Smith – While driving yesterday I happened to turn on a CSPAN program that discouraged me more about my country and its future than anything in recent times.

It was a conference at the conservative American Enterprise Institute featuring three former CIA officials commenting on the movie “Zero Dark Thirty" a film that depicts the capture  of Osama bin Laden as well as the torture that preceded it.

The ex CIA officials spoke in a bland, technocratic manner that eerily brought to mind another conference whose minutes the Review published some years back. As a preface to these minutes I wrote:

John Ralston Saul gives a devastating example of the limits of technocracy: "The Holocaust was the result of a perfectly rational argument - given what reason had become - that was self-justifying and hermetically sealed. There is, therefore, nothing surprising about the fact that the meeting called to decide on 'the final solution' was a gathering mainly of senior ministerial representatives. Technocrats. Nor is it surprising that [the] Wannsee Conference lasted only an hour -- one meeting among many for those present -- and turned entirely on the modalities for administering the solutions . . . The massacre was indeed 'managed,' even 'well managed.' It had the clean efficiency of a Harvard case study."

Marshall Rosenberg, who teaches non-violent communication, was struck in reading psychological interviews with Nazi war criminals not by their abnormality, but that they used a language denying choice: "should," "one must," "have to." For example, Adolph Eichmann was asked, "Was it difficult for you to send these tens of thousands of people their death?" Eichmann replied, "To tell you the truth, it was easy. Our language made it easy." Asked to explain, Eichmann said, "My fellow officers and I coined our own name for our language. We called it amtssprache -- 'office talk.'" In office talk "you deny responsibility for your actions. So if anybody says, 'Why did you do it?' you say, 'I had to.' 'Why did you have to?' 'Superiors' orders. Company policy. It's the law.'"

The three former CIA officials likewise spoke of their illegal, inhuman and disgusting behavior as though it was just another Harvard case study. Reported the WashingtonExaminer:

The three, including a former CIA director and his top spy, said that without so-called "enhanced interrogation," which President Obama killed in his third day in office, the nation's security is at risk.

"I fear for the safety of our national security because of that," said Jose Rodriguez, a 31-year CIA veteran who headed the National Clandestine Service from 2004-2008.

At an American Enterprise Institute forum to discuss the movie about the hunt for Osama bin Laden, former CIA Director Michael Hayden added that the administration has made capturing terrorists for interrogation such a "third rail" that it's better for soldiers and CIA operatives to kill their targets rather than face a "legally difficult and politically dangerous" climate.

"It's a ridiculous assertion when a report says that enhanced interrogation program had no value or produced nothing. Frankly it's disturbing. Because in my view it is an attempt to rewrite history. The narrative of this administration is that the enhanced interrogation program was torture and nothing came out of it, but in fact we were able to destroy al Qaeda because of it," said Rodriguez, who added that the committee never interviewed any of the three ex-CIA officials about their program.

Yet, even if you ignore the overwhelming immorality of their approach, not even their justifications hold water. The agents had only killed a symbol but not a movement.  Two of the most establishment institutions you can find said as much last year:

Rand Corporation - Even as they debate the appropriate U.S. military role in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the presidential candidates need to address the fact that al Qaeda has expanded its global presence. Since its establishment in 1988, al Qaeda’s strength has risen and fallen in a series of waves. Despite the death of Osama bin Laden, the Arab Spring has ushered in a fourth wave as al Qaeda has tried to push into North Africa and the Middle East.
One significant trend is the expansion of al Qaeda’s global network. The leaders of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, al Shabaab in Somalia, al Qaeda in Iraq, and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (in North Africa) have sworn bayat, or loyalty, to al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri and provided him with funding, global influence, and a cadre of trained fighters. None of these affiliate organizations existed a decade ago. But, over the past several years, attacks by these affiliates have increased.
In Yemen, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has established control over some areas in the south as the central government faces a leadership crisis and multiple insurgencies. From this sanctuary, al Qaeda plots attacks against the U.S. homeland. In Somalia, militants of the al Qaeda affiliate al Shabaab are trying to expand their foothold. With a growing number of American citizens from cities such as Minneapolis and Phoenix traveling to — and from — Somalia to fight alongside al Shabaab, there is a possibility that radicalized operatives could perpetrate an attack in the United States.
Al Qaeda has also established relationships with a growing number of allied groups, such as the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, Pakistan’s Lashkar-e-Taiba, and Nigeria’s Boko Haram. While these are not formal affiliates of al Qaeda, a loose arrangement allows them to cooperate with al Qaeda for specific operations or training when their interests converge. Several of these groups have been actively recruiting in the United States.


Seth G Jones, Foreign Policy, April 2012 - Qaeda's bloody fingerprints are increasingly evident in the Middle East. In Iraq, where the United States has withdrawn its military forces, al Qaeda operatives staged a brazen wave of bombings in January, killing at least 132 Shiite pilgrims and wounding hundreds more. The following week in Yemen, fighters from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula seized the town of Radda, while expanding al Qaeda's control in several southern provinces. "Al Qaeda has raised its flag over the citadel," a resident told Reuters.

Beyond these anecdotes, several indicators suggest that al Qaeda is growing stronger. First, the size of al Qaeda's global network has dramatically expanded since the 9/11 attacks. Al Qaeda in Iraq, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and Somalia's al-Shabab have formally joined al Qaeda, and their leaders have all sworn bayat -- an oath of loyalty -- to bin Laden's successor, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

These al Qaeda affiliates are increasingly capable of holding territory. In Yemen, for example, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has exploited a government leadership crisis and multiple insurgencies to cement control in several provinces along the Gulf of Aden. Al Qaeda's affiliates in Somalia and Iraq also appear to be maintaining a foothold where there are weak governments, with al-Shabab in Kismayo and southern parts of Somalia, and al Qaeda in Iraq in Baghdad, Diyala, and Salah ad Din provinces, among others.

The number of attacks by al Qaeda and its affiliates is also on the rise, even since bin Laden's death. Al Qaeda in Iraq, for instance, has conducted more than 200 attacks and killed more than a thousand Iraqis since the bin Laden raid, a jump from the previous year. And despite the group's violent legacy, popular support for al Qaeda remains fairly high in countries such as Nigeria and Egypt, though it has steadily declined in others. If this is what the brink of defeat looks like, I'd hate to see success.

One thing that is not clear about all this is the extent to which the movie was directly influenced by the agency. In August 2011, Maureen Dowd of the NY Times suggested the effort was not minor:
While Obama takes the high road, his aides have made sure there are proxies to exuberantly brag on him.

The White House clearly blessed the dramatic reconstruction of the mission by Nicholas Schmidle in The New Yorker — so vividly descriptive of the Seals’ looks, quotes and thoughts that Schmidle had to clarify after the piece was published that he had not actually talked to any of them.

“I’ll just say that the 23 Seals on the mission that evening were not the only ones who were listening to their radio communications,” Schmidle said, answering readers’ questions in a live chat, after taking flak for leaving some with the impression that he had interviewed the heroes when he wrote in his account that it was based on “some of their recollections.”

The White House is also counting on the Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal big-screen version of the killing of Bin Laden to counter Obama’s growing reputation as ineffectual. The Sony film … will no doubt reflect the president’s cool, gutsy decision against shaky odds. Just as Obamaland was hoping, the movie is scheduled to open on Oct. 12, 2012 — perfectly timed to give a home-stretch boost to a campaign that has grown tougher.

The moviemakers are getting top-level access to the most classified mission in history from an administration that has tried to throw more people in jail for leaking classified information than the Bush administration.

It was clear that the White House had outsourced the job of manning up the president’s image to Hollywood when Boal got welcomed to the upper echelons of the White House and the Pentagon and showed up recently — to the surprise of some military officers — at a C.I.A. ceremony celebrating the hero Seals.
And that same month, Politico reported:

Dylan Byers, Politico - Newly available CIA records obtained by Judicial Watch, the conservative watchdog group, reveal that New York Times reporter Mark Mazzetti forwarded an advance copy of a Maureen Dowd column to a CIA spokesperson — a practice that is widely frowned upon within the industry.

Mazzetti's correspondence with CIA spokeswoman Marie Harf, on Aug. 5, 2011, pertained to the Kathryn Bigelow-Mark Boal film "Zero Dark Thirty," about the killing of Osama bin Laden, and a Times op-ed column by Dowd set to be published two days later that criticized the White House for having "outsourced the job of manning up the president’s image to Hollywood."

According to Judicial Watch, Mazzetti sent Harf an advance copy of Dowd's column, and wrote: “this didn’t come from me… and please delete after you read. See, nothing to worry about!”

More recently – as CIA criminals are getting over an hour on CSPAN and an CIA manipulated movie gets broad critical praise, an agency official who told the truth is off to prison.

Charleston Gazette, WV - A former CIA officer was sentenced Friday to 30 months in federal prison for disclosing classified information to journalists in a case that underscored the Obama administration's harsh crackdown on national security leaks.

John Kiriakou, a 14-year CIA veteran, pleaded guilty in October to identifying an undercover operative who was involved in the use of severe interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, on terrorism suspects during the George W. Bush administration.
While the Justice Department has said it won't prosecute CIA officials who approved or conducted those interrogations, Kiriakou becomes the sixth current or former government official charged with revealing classified information since 2009.

Kiriakou's lawyers and civil rights advocates portrayed the 48-year-old former counterterrorism officer as a whistle blower who helped expose CIA torture of detainees then held in secret prisons. The CIA and its defenders denied using torture, which is illegal, referring instead to enhanced interrogation techniques.

U.S. District Court Judge Leonie M. Brinkema said Kiriakou had damaged the agency. She called the 2 1/2-year sentence, the result of a plea arrangement with prosecutors, "way too light."

Kiriakou helped lead the CIA team that captured Abu Zubaydah, believed to a senior al-Qaida facilitator, in Pakistan in 2002. Five years later, after he had left the agency, Kiriakou said in media interviews that Abu Zubaydah and other detainees were waterboarded while in CIA custody, offering among the first insider accounts of the agency's use of simulated drowning.

Abu Zubaydah, who was waterboarded 83 times, divulged valuable intelligence on key al-Qaida figures, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. But he was also subjected to conventional questioning, making it difficult to determine if the harsher techniques were effective.

Kiriakou initially defended the use of waterboarding and said it persuaded Abu Zubaydah to reveal important details. But his views "evolved," he said, and eventually he decided the technique constituted torture.

So Kiriakou is off to prison, while three federal torturers go free, a federal judge covers for them, and major media help to glorify it all.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

The CIA also helped Nazis who had been part of the "final solution" discussed at Wannsee.

"Operation Paperclip"

I never found any discussion of a secret spy agency that commits atrocities both foreign and domestic anywhere in the Constitution.

And it's worth remembering Obama's own connection with the Agency via his employment by "Business International" after Columbia college.

Anonymous said...

Next: Hollywood does a prequel on Stone's JFK, as a caper flick like Ocean's Eleven.