Calhoun's Cannons for January 11th, 2013
" When I use a word, "Humpty Dumpty said," in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less."
Alice in Wonderland's Through the Looking-Glass
The new movie, "Zero Dark Thirty" has opened in theatres near you and certain folks in Washington are having a cow. Seems that the movie, a retelling of the hunt for, finding and killing of Osama bin Laden suggests that it was "torture" that gave the CIA the needed information that led to bin Laden; No waterboarding, no bin Laden.
That had been the Republican storyline from Creepy Veep Cheney who, you could just tell, was all a-tingle when he growlingly announced, like some cheap-suited gunsel, that sometimes it was necessary to go to the "dark side." Heh-heh. He and his PNAC NeoCon cronies were all thrilled with the Jack Bauer "24" macho-man idea of torture and had their own manicured, soft handed Justice Department lawyers parsing out and approving each and every "medically supervised" turn of the screw. And, now, like very bad pennies, and despite having history proved them so wrong on so many levels, this same gang of Zombies are still turning up on the Sunday Yak-Yak Shows to defend their appalling record on torture and again flog their old, failed PNAC (Bomb, Bomb, Bomb Iran) schemes. Which always prompts my hollered query, "Can't talk-TV find anyone else but these wrong-headed dinosaurs?"
Well, apparently not. As far as the media is concerned, even Republican idea men who stopped evolving in the 10th century and are stuck in re-run mode are apparently the only guest on the right they can find. So we keep getting one endless rerun of out-of-date Republican Pax Americana with a gun. And a waterboard.
Meanwhile, Democrats are also having a cow. Senate Intelligence Committee Democrats have always contended that torture didn't work, that "no significant information" about the courier, the key link to bin Laden, came from detainees after they were subjected to torture. Oh, excuse me, "coercive techniques." They maintain that information about bin-Laden's courier came from a detainee before he was tortured. Pardon, I meant to say, "subjected to coercive interrogation techniques." And that the movie gives a totally false picture of what really happened. Furthermore, Senator Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee, is demanding that senior CIA official, Michael Morell, who acted as a consultant on the film, 'splain himself for a message he sent to CIA employees that "some information" leading to the Al Qaeda chief "came from detainees subjected to enhanced techniques."
Because, lurking in the middle of all this is an interesting, unarguable fact: One unknown man, one unknown name -- bin Laden's courier -- turned out to be the one tiny key that lay in plain sight for years, yet turned out to be the one who unlocked the door to bin Laden's compound.
Which allows Feinstein and others on the Intelligence Committee to claim that "no significant information about the courier came from detainees after they were subjected to coercive techniques" because "the detainee who provided crucial information about the courier in 2004, identified by U.S. officials as Hassan Ghul, did so before he was subjected to coercive interrogation techniques. He was never waterboarded." All of which lands Mr. Morell in hot water and the defenders of torture on the hot seat.
So there we sit. Did torture work? Or did it hinder and delay? No? Yes? And in the middle of it all, weasel-wording Humpty Dumpty and the meaning of the word "torture" and "enhanced interrogation techniques." And what, if anything, does "significant" mean, anyway?
In his extraordinary book, "The Looming Tower; al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11," Lawrence Wright made one heartbreaking, furious, frustrating fact very clear: In tracking bin-Laden and al-Qaeda, everything was both significant and insignificant at the same time. Information is information. And whether information that is obtained by torture will turn out to be "significant" or "insignificant' can't be known until after the fact.
Which means that spook-hunters have to be jigsaw puzzle experts, tapestry-weavers, psychics, psychologists, sly and subtle master interrogators and time-travelers, moving magically into the future on a thread from the past.
Or they rely hard slogging grunt-work, or on sheer dumb luck, or both -- one needle stumbled upon in a painstakingly sifted haystack. Or not found, and because not found, the twin towers fall and thousands die.
And so we're left with war crimes on America's books, with only low level prosecutions completed, thereby assuring that no one in high office will be held to account because America is always conveniently in need of "moving on." And the only question left is, are we still enhancing our interrogations?
In a drone and spook-filled world engaged in limitless war-by-any-other-name, who knows? I certainly don't, do you?