Waterboards, Drones, and the Drones Who Love Them
This past weekend in our politics, it was look-how-far-over-to-the-dark-side-we've-crawled time. Just as the various celebrity journalists, celebrity politicians, and celebrity celebrities were about done yucking it up at the White House Correspondents Dinner — and can I just say, for the record, that this is the biggest circle-jerk for the largest circle of jerks that there ever has been, like Guinness-level? — we had an unrepentent torturer shilling for his new book, baring his fangs on 60 Minutes and daring someone to throw him into the clink at The Hague, and another drone strike on behalf of the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. If there is one thing that would possibly get me to vote for Buddy Roemer and/or the Hemp Party, it would be the dozens of ways, tacit and otherwise, that this administration made peace with the savagery of the previous one, and then proceeded to find ways to be savage itself that seem more capable of stroking the liberal-hawk G-spots.
We begin with Jose Rodriguez on 60 Minutes. Rodriguez once headed the CIA counter-terrorism office and was also its director of operations. Not to put too fine a point on it, but, based on his interview with Lesley Stahl, I'm pretty convinced that Rodriguez is both a sociopath and a maniac. (That he is obviously a war criminal is the least of my problems with him.) I once sat in a courtroom for a week and watched people debate whether Jeffrey Dahmer, who killed and ate people, was crazy enough to spend his life in a hospital rather than in a jail, and Dahmer was not half so frightening in his aspect as Rodriguez was on Sunday night. There were moments in that interview where Stahl seemed genuinely concerned that Rodriguez was going to leap from his chair and bite her on the neck.
The sociopath is touring a book, Hard Measures, wherein he explains that we all likely would be dead if a bunch of pet lawyers in the Bush Administration hadn't greenlighted his efforts to drag the country down to into the cellars of the Lubyanka. He will make a nice piece of change on this book, which, thanks in part to the efforts of this administration, he never will have to spend on lawyers. Hence, Jose Rodriguez is free to roam the landscape and say things like this:
We made some al Qaeda with American blood on their hands uncomfortable for a few days, but we did the right thing for the right reason. The right reason to protect the homeland and to protect American lives.
Or this, while practically giggling about knocking suspects around and the effectiveness of nudity as a psychological weapon:
"... We don't put our torturers on trial. We put them on book tours."
The objective is to let him know there's a new sheriff in town and he better pay attention.
Or this, about waterboarding Khalid Sheikh Mohammed 183 times:
I don't know what kind of man it takes to cut the throat of someone in front of a camera like that, but I can tell you this is probably someone who didn't give a rat's ass about having water poured on his face.
Rodriguez also compared sleep deprivation to "jet lag," which is probably why both the KGB and the South African security services were so fond of using it.
Of the use of "stress positions," he said this:
Forever and ever? I was thinkin' about this the other day. The objective was to induce muscle fatigue, and most people who work out do a lot more fatiguing of the muscles.
It's always good to find a guy who loves his work so much that he can find the humor in it.
And, as a big finish, Rodriguez confessed yet again to the crime of destroying evidence, in the form of 92 videotapes of interrogation sessions that Rodriguez ordered deep-sixed:
STAHL: That's ironic. You wanted to have a record that he was well-treated but in the end they became a record that he had been subjected to these harsh techniques.
RODRIGUEZ: Yeah, we weren't hiding anything.
STAHL: But, you then ordered these tapes destroyed?
RODRIGUEZ: Correct, 92 tapes.
STAHL: 92 tapes - Why did you order that they be destroyed?
RODRIGUEZ: To protect the people who work for me and who were at these black sites and whose faces were shown on the tape.
STAHL: Protect them from what?
RODRIGUEZ: Protect them from al Qaeda ever getting their hands on these tapes and using them to go after them and their families.
Oh, bullshit. Those tapes were never going to be made public, and I don't think al Qaeda's vast intelligence apparatus has penetrated the CIA's directorate of operations. (If it has, then maybe torture doesn't work real well.) Those tapes got buried because the CIA didn't want even the vaguest notion of what it had been doing to leak out to the people who were paying the bills for it. But we look forward, and not back, and we don't put our torturers on trial. We put them on book tours. What a great country we are.
(Here, by the way, is an account of an actual terrorist plot that was broken up by — horrors! — conventional American law-enforcement. The alleged perpetrators are being — horrors again! — tried and likely convicted in a conventional American courtroom. The investigators and prosecutors in this case used lessons they'd learned from prosecuting mob families. "As you apply a law enforcement model to these cases, people always cooperate," said Anthony S. Barkow, a former federal prosecutor who specialized in terrorism cases and now works in private practice. "It took a long time in organized crime; it is taking less time with national security." No book contracts for you, Mr. Barkow. And mobsters are tougher than terrorists? Who'd a thunk it?)
Then, on Sunday, we also heard of another "successful" drone strike into Pakistan. This time we hit a high school and killed three "militants." Right:
A suspected U.S. drone strike killed three people Sunday at a high school in northern Pakistan where militants were hiding, intelligence officials said. The drone fired two missiles at the school in the city of Miranshah, killing three suspected militants, the Pakistani intelligence officials said.
There is, of course, no good reason to believe anything any "intelligence official" from any government says anonymously about anything. While not all of them are puckish monsters like Jose Rodriguez, almost all of them are paid liars. It's entirely possible that the drone strike did what these anonymous hucksters say it did, although "there were bad guys hiding there" has been the default excuse for hitting schools and hospitals and day care centers going back to World War I. How, I wonder, do people live under the shadow of the drone? How does the average goat-herder or date farmer in Waziristan get up in the morning knowing that, somewhere thousands of miles away, somebody at a console is going to order up hell by remote control, and that it can happen at any time, and anywhere? What does he think about the country that rains down faceless death? What kind of country does he think we are? What kind of country do we think we are?
© 2012 Esquire