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Hullabaloo


Saturday, June 09, 2007

 
TV Politics

by digby

So, even though we know for a fact that it takes more skill than being a grade B TV actor or a good beer drinking partner to be president, it looks as though we are entering another presidential campaign in which manufactured, irrelevant personality characteristics are the primary means of making the decision. It's not as though I don't believe that presidents should have some skills in those areas. They should have good speaking skills and be able to articulate their policies in ways that people can understand them and be someone you believe understands the concerns of the average person. But ever since the press tried to sell that petulant, incoherent cretin Junior Bush as Winston Churchill, it's clear their judgments in this regard are untrustworthy. Not that it will stop them.

But it isn't just the press. Apparently, the government and the military are likewise infected with a TV version of reality, in which whatever experts or common sense say are to be rejected, and TV dramas and dark, science fiction fantasies are to be used in their place.

Here's a stomach churning example buried on page 7 of the NY Times today that made me want to turn off the computer, go to the beach ... and just keep walking:


In a report on Friday, the lead investigator for the Council of Europe gave a bleak description of secret prisons run by the Central Intelligence Agency in Eastern Europe, with information he said was gleaned from anonymous intelligence agents.

Prisoners guarded by silent men in black masks and dark visors were held naked in cramped cells and shackled to walls, according to the report, which was prepared by Dick Marty, a Swiss senator investigating C.I.A. operations for the Council of Europe, a 46-nation rights group.

Ventilation holes in the cells released bursts of hot or freezing air, with temperature used as a form of extreme pressure to wear down prisoners, the investigators found. Prisoners were also subjected to water-boarding, a form of simulated drowning, and relentless blasts of music and sound, from rap to cackling laughter and screams, the report says.

The report, which runs more than 100 pages, says the prisons were operated exclusively by Americans in Poland and Romania from 2003 to 2006. It relies heavily on testimony from C.I.A. agents.


That prison is right out of dystopian science fiction.

It is not as if the United States government doesn't have access to the mountains of information that shows these techniques are incredibly unreliable and counterproductive. It's not as if they don't know that there are much better ways of extracting information. It's not as if over the course of centuries we developed a set of moral guidelines that define what it means to be a decent society. They know all these things. They just chose to use television shows and movies as their guideline instead of real information, real morality or the rule of law.

And then, there is the assault on reason itself:

The details of prison life were given by retired and current American intelligence agents who had been promised confidentiality, the report says.

Their motives were varied, Mr. Marty said. “For 15 years, I have interviewed people as an investigating magistrate and I have always noticed that at a certain point, people with secrets need to talk,” he said.

Others justified the grim treatment, the reports said, saying, in one instance: “Here’s my question. Was the guy a terrorist? ’Cause if he’s a terrorist, then I figure he got what was coming to him.”


Well, that is an excellent question, isn't it --- the very reason due process was conceived in the first place. It is, of course, unacceptable to torture anyone, even if they are terrorists. But this argument is especially specious coming from a country that picked up a bunch of innocent people and then tortured them and confined them indefinitely. (Not to mention started a war based on false evidence.) Let's just say they aren't the greatest at unilaterally discerning who's guilty and who's not. Which, again, is the fucking reason for due process in the first place.

So, they adopted a torture first, ask questions later approach based upon ... what? Season 1 of "24"?

Yes:



"24" and America’s Image in Fighting Terrorism: Fact, Fiction, or Does it Matter?
The distinguished panel and Heritage Foundation officials pose in the green room.

Left to Right: Joel Surnow, David Heyman, James Carafano, Phillip Truluck, America's Anchorman,
Michael Chertoff, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Robert Cochran, Greg Itzin, Kay Coles James, Diana Spencer,
Howard Gordon, Abby Moffat, Carlos Bernard, Lee Klinetobe.

SECRETARY CHERTOFF: ...In reflecting a little bit about the popularity of the show "24" -- and it is popular, and there are a number of senior political and military officials around the country who are fans, and I won't identify them, because they may not want me to do that (laughter) I was trying to analyze why it's caught such public attention. Obviously, it's a very well-made and very well-acted show, and very exciting. And the premise of a 24-hour period is a novel and, I think, very intriguing premise. But I thought that there was one element of the shows that at least I found very thought-provoking, and I suspect, from talking to people, others do as well.

Typically, in the course of the show, although in a very condensed time period, the actors and the characters are presented with very difficult choices -- choices about whether to take drastic and even violent action against a threat, and weighing that against the consequence of not taking the action and the destruction that might otherwise ensue.

In simple terms, whether it's the president in the show or Jack Bauer or the other characters, they're always trying to make the best choice with a series of bad options, where there is no clear magic bullet to solve the problem, and you have to weigh the costs and benefits of a series of unpalatable alternatives. And I think people are attracted to that because, frankly, it reflects real life. That is what we do every day. That is what we do in the government, that's what we do in private life when we evaluate risks. We recognize that there isn't necessarily a magic bullet that's going to solve the problem easily and without a cost, and that sometimes acting on very imperfect information and running the risk of making a serious mistake, we still have to make a decision because not to make a decision is the worst of all outcomes.

And so I think when people watch the show, it provokes a lot of thinking about what would you do if you were faced with this set of unpalatable alternatives, and what do you do when you make a choice and it turns out to be a mistake because there was something you didn't know. I think that, the lesson there, I think is an important one we need to take to heart. It's very easy in hindsight to go back after a decision and inspect it and examine why the decision should have been taken in the other direction. But when you are in the middle of the event, as the characters in "24" are, with very imperfect information and with very little time to make a decision, and with the consequences very high on a wrong decision, you have to be willing to make a decision recognizing that there is a risk of mistake.

This man was in the Justice Department when they were churning out memos saying that it wasn't torture unless it equalled the pain of major organ failure. And he's the head of our Homeland Security Department (the name of which also sounds like it comes out of dystopian science fiction.) Senior political official Dick Cheney tried to run the first Gulf War based upon Ken Burns' civil war documentary and a rousing game of Risk he won back in 1967. His tastes naturally run more toward Fox these days. (He insists their Republican"news" division be on at all times.) Bush is still parroting the lines from Hopalong Cassidy he heard back in '57, when his mind stopped absorbing new information.

So, I suppose it isn't surprising they adopted the rather shopworn, action flick plotlines of the 80's to run the GWOT. They are obsessed by the primitive archetypal notions of masculinity, leadership and strength :

The analogy between the war on terror and the death struggle of ancient Greece with Persia has not been lost on some high administration officials either, especially Vice President Dick Cheney. (A White House spokesman declined to comment about the film.) In the months after 9/11, a classics scholar named Victor Davis Hanson wrote a series of powerful pieces for the National Review Online, later collected and published as a book, "An Autumn of War." Moved by Hanson's evocative essays, Cheney invited Hanson to dine with him and talk about the wars the Greeks waged against the Asian hordes, in defense of justice and reason, two and a half millennia ago.


But we already knew all this. One thing I didn't realize before was that they apparently are recruiting CIA agents out of Pat Robertson U, judging by the puerile logic of the person quoted above. They used to hire assholes from the Ivy league who had few morals and no conscience, so that's not much change there. But they weren't stupid. I'm not sure if that's better or worse, frankly.



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