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Hullabaloo


Thursday, July 16, 2009

 
Daft

by digby

The latest round of "What Was Cheney Up To" has this from TPM:

Since the news broke (sub. req.) at the start of the week that CIA director Leon Panetta had pulled the plug on a secret program to assassinate or capture al Qaeda leaders, we've been raising questions about one key aspect of the story. In particular, what was it about the program that was so shocking that Dick Cheney reportedly ordered it kept secret from Congress, Panetta quashed it as soon as he heard about it, and Congressional Democrats risked being painted as soft on terror by shrieking about being kept in the dark?

We may have gotten a good piece of the answer here: The Washington Post reports today on how the program had been revived and then put on hold several times since 2001. But it also says, referring to the "presidential finding" with which President Bush authorized the program in 2001:

The finding imposed no geographical limitations on the agency's actions, and intelligence officials have said that they were not obliged to notify Congress of each operation envisaged under the directive.
"No geographical limitations" presumably means that operations could potentially be carried out in countries, friendly or unfriendly, that are far from any war zone -- including even the US itself.


The Wapo also reports that the thing was just about to be operational before the plug was pulled last month. The plot thickens.

The LA Times says that the "CIA Was A Long Way From Jason Bourne" but when I read that description of a secret hit squad with no limits, I was reminded of something else, which I wrote a year ago:
Fanboy Interrogations

Dahlia Lithwick has a great column in this week's Newsweek about the biggest influence on the thinking of members of the Bush administration in regards to its "interrogation" policies: Jack Bauer.

I've written a ton about this shocking phenomenon over the years, but even I didn't know that John Yoo actually cited the show in his book:

"What if, as the Fox television program '24' recently portrayed, a high-level terrorist leader is caught who knows the location of a nuclear weapon?"


... And we know for sure he knows and he knows we know he knows and we know he knows we know he knows and he STILL won't give it up even if we give him ice cream? Then what, huh? Will you be willing to waterboard him then, you lily livered terrorist symps?


I honestly don't know if this is some Straussian ruse to try to pull one over on the rubes or if these people actually believe the things they see on television. Scalia cited Bauer too. They held a seminar at the Heritage Foundation with the shows actors and producers featuring Chertoff and Limbaugh in which Chertoff said:


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.


Here's Rush at the same seminar:

RUSH: I asked Mary Matalin, by the way, on this trip to Afghanistan, we were watching this, and I asked her -- she worked for Vice President Cheney at the time -- I said, "Do we have anything like this?"

SURNOW: (Laughter.)

RUSH: She said, "Not that I know of." What about the possibility of government officials -- back to the scholars -- government officials watching this program (we know they do) can they get ideas, creative ideas on dealing with these problems from this show, or are they strictly fans, do you think?

[...]

Speaking just as an American citizen, you mentioned the operation in Canada. This is why the show has an impact on people. We have a political party trying to shut down the program that enabled that operation in Canada to be a success. It's being called "domestic spying," when it's not. These guys put the same kind of conflict in the program. Jack Bauer, who never fails, always is the target of the government, somebody, being put in jail. It's amazing how close it is.

Rush was actually asking the right question. I laughed at him at the time,thinking he was an embarrassing torture fanboy. But it turns out that the military really was getting ideas from the show:

According to British lawyer and writer Philippe Sands, Jack Bauer—played by Kiefer Sutherland—was an inspiration at early "brainstorming meetings" of military officials at Guantanamo in September of 2002. Diane Beaver, the staff judge advocate general who gave legal approval to 18 controversial new interrogation techniques including water-boarding, sexual humiliation, and terrorizing prisoners with dogs, told Sands that Bauer "gave people lots of ideas."


This probably worries me as much as anything I've heard about the antics of the Bush administration. These people are so fundamentally unserious that they found inspiration in a television show when the stakes were about as high as they could possibly be. It's horrifying to think these powerful people were this daft. But they were.

It seems it was actually worse than I thought.

.

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