Wednesday, August 6, 2014

My Head Exploded When Obama Sanctimoniously Said, "We Tortured Some Folks"

With all the awesome things that have happened in the past week, a small bit of positivity may be found in the news that the US Senate will finally be releasing its report on CIA torture. It's been a long strange trip in getting to this point, complete with a Diane Feinstein freakout that the CIA had dared to shift its surveillance focus from ordinary folk to Real Important People. But now it's on its way, and President Obomber had a few thoughts on the upcoming report.

"We tortured some folks"

Full stop, as head explodes from cognitive dissonance.

Let's break this sentence down, shall we?

"We" No problems there. The usage of first person plural is a good move. It acknowledges a sort of collective responsibility. We're all guilty. Actually, I don't feel all that guilty, since I've managed to go 33 years without ever torturing anyone or anything, but moving right along.

"Tortured" Also good. No Newspeak terms like enhanced interrogation techniques. Just tortured. Blunt and to the point. The past tense is slightly troubling. Some of the activities currently going on in Guantanamo are, at best, questionable. But that's outside the scope of this report.

So far, so good...

"Some" Starting to lose me here. Things are getting vague. What is "some?" Five? Ten? A hundred? Yes, I'm sure an exact number would be gross violation of national security and enable the 'terrorists' to win by default, but surely there are better, less vague words that could have been used.

"Folks" Head explodes again.

It's not simply that "folks" manages to conflate the man who had a major role in planning the September 11th attacks with a guy unlucky enough to get scooped off a street. And it's not simply that "folks" builds on the foundation of vagueness laid by "some." I mean, "folks" just seems like a small number of people. You wouldn't think "look at all those folks" if you saw a stadium filled with people. Both of those points are troubling, but they don't quite get at the skin-crawling creepiness of the phrase.

It's the juxtaposition of the starkness of the first two words with this middle Americanised jolliness that I find hard to stomach. It tries to soften the blow in an utterly tone-deaf fashion. It doesn't work. It doesn't sound like anything an actual human being would ever say, unless it was immediately followed by said human being unhinging its jaw and swallowing you whole.

But hey – at least that wasn't the whole speech, right? Surely that was just a minor glitch. Well, sort of. There was the acknowledgement that, what with torturing folks and all, a line was crossed. Not really the sort of statement that should be necessary; once torture is on the table, any lines there may be have pretty much been carpet bombed out of existence. Never mind that, Obomber saying that a line had been crossed was a nice gesture.

So what are we going to do about it? Start with what's been done in the past. "[O]ne of the first things I did was to ban some of the extraordinary interrogation techniques that are the subject of that report." Hmm. "Some." Neat. But never mind the past, the past is dead. What about the future. I mean, torture, right? Prosecutions, jail terms, further investigations – all of those are surely in the works?


And then this: "And it's important for us not to feel too sanctimonious about the tough job that those folks had. And a lot of those folks were working hard under enormous pressure and were real patriots." This is the point where my exploded head bursts into flames of rage. Let me get this straight. We tortured. A line was crossed. But we shouldn't be all sanctimonious because the people that did it were patriots and under a lot of pressure. Really?

OK. I get that, given that the droolers in Congress would probably object to Obomber declaring Ronald Reagan a national saint, even pushing for prosecutions would be a tricky political sell. Understood. And I'm sure that Obomber would rather not blow his political capital on the fight that would ensue, since I just know he's saving all that capital up for something super special that will totally knock our socks off. But, after taking prosecutions or any other meaningful response off the table, was there really any need to make excuses for the people who carried out torture? Or, by extension, for those higher up who ordered and justified it?

Don't get sanctimonious? They were under pressure? They're all good patriots? Are you kidding me?

Go ahead, violate the Geneva Convention. You're under stress and you're all just wonderful, patriotic people. And after it's all over, acknowledge what you did in a way that does its damnedest to minimize the stark horror of what we have become.

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