On the CIA Torture Report

Remember how I wrote yesterday about how important it is to approach feedback the right way? This post is a bit of a riff on that. Like many of you, I’ve been reading the Senate report on CIA torture since it was released yesterday, and my jaw is kind of just permanently left slack. For those of you who might have missed it, the basics are pretty terrible. Yes, the CIA and others dispute the facts, but one fact can’t be disputed: a governmental investigation into CIA practices claims our operatives did horrible, awful, despicable things to captives, all in the name of getting “actionable intelligence.”

Waterboarding was one thing. It sounded horrible, but people protested that it never put the people in any real danger. (Well, ignoring the fact that the report says some of the victims died in the middle of the process and had to be brought back by doctors). But even putting that argument aside, I don’t think anyone–anyone–is going to argue that “rectal feeding” is something the good guys ever resort to.

Americans like to think of ourselves as the good guys. The cowboys with the white hats, not the black ones. This report? It kills that myth with one blow, regardless of whether it’s true or not.

Because the flip side of feedback is that the people giving the feedback don’t ever have to return to your work again. If I don’t like a book by an author, I don’t read another book by him or her. If I dislike a movie by a director, I don’t typically seek out another one.

If people hear that the US is torturing people, they give up on thinking of the US in any sort of a knight in shining armor way. One strike and you’re out.

I’m going to switch metaphors, mainly because this whole Senate report is leaving my brain scrambling to try and make sense of it. To line up the country I live in and the people who live here with the actions described in this report. I want to think it’s a lie. I want to believe they’ve got it all wrong. But then I fall back on an argument I make watching sports–when close calls by the refs determine the outcome of the game. A good team doesn’t put itself into a position where a close call by the ref has any real effect on the outcome at all. A good team trounces its opponents through and through.

A good country doesn’t go anywhere in the same time zone as the accusations present in this report. A good country is so far away from these things that it’s never in any doubt. Argue about the details all you like, but the fact remains: we’re very far from where we like to think of ourselves as a country.

When I lived in Germany, I had the chance to talk to a lot of people who lived there during the Holocaust. Pop culture likes to portray WWII Germans as fanatics across the board. Nazis through and through. Evil everywhere you looked. My conversations helped me to see Germans during that time were just people. Not caricatures. People.

It’s easy to argue that those Germans didn’t stand up enough for the rights and the lives of the people their government was murdering. But I take a look at some of the actions of the US government and people in authority in this country the last while, and I start relating far too much to those Germans I spoke with almost 20 years ago.

I’m not a bad person. I live off in rural Maine. I have no connection to the CIA or to any of the cities where these racially-charged killings are happening. But I live in the same country. If I leave this country and go abroad, the people there won’t see me as anything other than an American. And believe you me when I say I’m confident that many of them would blame me for the actions of this country–or at least demand an accounting for why it’s happening.

It’s been years now since we’ve stopped using torture (I hope.) But the memory of this is going to stay with the world for a long time. For some people in the world, it’s never going to go away again. The saddest part is that I can understand where it came from. I know how much fear we were living in after 9/11, and how we wanted to look at the world in simple good guys/bad guys terms. These captives they were questioning–they were terrorists. Who cared what happened to them?

We should have cared. We should have demanded our leaders cared. And we didn’t. And that’s on us.

I’m shaken by this report. I keep thinking about it. There’ve been times in my life where I discovered that the things I had been doing were wrong. That I was messing up. And I had to face myself and admit that, and this report feels a lot like that to me. My hope is that we as a country can accept this–learn from it–and learn how not to repeat it. I hope in this two party us/them country we have at the moment that we can go beyond party lines and agree we don’t want to be doing these things. That we never want to be doing anything that could be seen as doing anything like these things.

And that’s all I’ve got in my at the moment.

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