The big topic of the day is John Brennan’s unusual press conference given this afternoon. I don’t get the impression that the CIA (or just CIA for those people in the know, apparently) likes to have much sunlight on its activities, so this was a bit of a rare opportunity. It was made stranger by Senator Dianne Feinstein live-Tweeting rebuttals to some of Brennan’s statements as he was making them.
I can only imagine having the Senate Intelligence Chair and CIA Director at odds does not bode particularly well for either intelligence-gathering or intelligence oversight.
The press conference itself seemed rather unremarkable to me. John Brennan is a career CIA officer, and his job is basically to defend his organization and the President. That he prefers to label torture as “EITs,” that he tried to minimize the problem to a handful of problem individuals, that he insisted on the general legality of those CIA officers’ actions, was all unsurprising to me.
I was more surprised how willing the journalists present were to go along with Brennan’s judgments. I understand Brennan has to do his job, but surely the reporters have to do theirs as well? Brennan has to do damage control, but does the press have to basically accept all of his conclusions? The lack of honestly challenging questions WAS surprising to me. I understand that reporters in Washington politics often show a lot of deference to high-ranking officials, but come on now.
I never thought I’d say this, but I miss Dick Cheney’s handling of this kind of stuff. His approach is basically: yes, we tortured, it worked, and we’d do it again if similar circumstances arose.
Are his views abhorrent and wrong? Sure. Can you argue directly with them instead of spending hours arguing over what “stress positions” are legal, or exactly how many agents did what, or how many detainees were involved, or what Bush knew when? Yes. This mealy-mouthed shit about EITS just obfuscates the real debate, which should be whether this is the sort of stuff America wants its government doing. I see the torture scandal as a real challenge to America’s values–if we’re torturing people, how are we different from ISIS? Are we?
- The Cheney view is: we’re on Team USA, and if you fuck with us we’re going to torture and kill you, regardless of the cost in money, lives, and time.
- My view is: we’re all humans, members of one species and one planet, and there are certain ethical limits we as a country shouldn’t cross if we want to aspire to be any better than any other nation. Torture is profoundly unethical and our government shouldn’t engage in it. And it’s a fucking terrible method of gathering intelligence.
- The EITS view is: Well we were briefed originally in 2007 maybe or was it 2009 and we had either 101 or 129 detainees but maybe it was more and um we had sites in Poland and Thailand maybe and Egypt? oh gosh what was the question um so President Bush knew what was going on and so did Congress and the American people really were OK with this anyway even if we didn’t tell them everything and 9/11 was bad and…