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Saturday, April 28, 2018

Big cheers for torture

by digby

This is a good piece by Mike Lofgren at the Washington Monthly sorting out the various "deep state" threads as they apply to Gina Haspel, Trump's nominee to head the CIA, who is implicated in the Bush administration's torture regime. An excerpt:

Shortly after inauguration, the president’s supporters, egged on by Steve Bannon and his minions at Breitbart, started to decry how permanent government bureaucrats constituting a deep state were insidiously undercutting poor, put-upon Donald. Another of the president’s acolytes, Devin Nunes, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, has been pulling all manner of political stunts during the past year on Trump’s behalf...

A glance at just about any aspect of the Trump administration shows the sketchiness of their theory. As I’ve written, the tell-tale hallmarks of the deep state are the accumulation of personal wealth via the revolving door, influence-peddling, and the more genteel forms of corruption. Ironically, then, Trump’s self-dealing kitchen cabinet pals, the constant revelations of the administration’s ethics problems, and its blatant public-be-damned attitude are indicative of a deep state on steroids.

Trump’s nomination of Gina Haspel comes all the while he has incessantly denounced the purported swamp of professionally incestuous career bureaucrats. While there should have been dozens of other qualified candidates for the job, the president went out of his way to select someone who has been implicated not only in torture, but in the destruction of evidence in order to evade constitutional oversight by Congress. It would seem in this case that Trump overcame his preference for nominating grossly unqualified political groupies in favor of a career official in order to dog-whistle to the Republican base that Bush-era torture is back and oversight is extinct.

Haspel’s prospects are complicated, however, by the fact that 109 retired generals and admirals have written a letter in opposition to her confirmation. According to the common belief of many on the right as well as the left, general officers constitute a core constituency of the deep state, the military-industrial complex, or whatever the phrase of the moment is.

It is certainly true that retired generals and admirals are heavily represented on the boards of military contractors, engage in influential lucrative media consultancies, and even hold prestigious positions at elite (and supposedly liberal) institutions like Harvard and Tufts. Alas, the days of generals like George C. Marshall refraining from cashing in on their service have receded into a quasi-mythical past that recalls Cincinnatus returning to his plow.

But there is another side to the story. Conspiracy mongers desperately need a clear-cut narrative consisting of pure heroes and villains when they are talking about the Washington Swamp, but reality has a way of being more ambiguous. These 109 retired officers, like their active-duty counterparts—who are of course obliged to hold their tongues regarding the administration’s political choices—know one thing by heart: torture is proscribed by the Geneva Convention, the U.S. Code, and the military’s own Uniform Code.

Aside from the strictures of law, they have a very pragmatic reason for opposing those who would advocate or practice torture being placed in command positions in our government. An America that tortures its enemies would not have a moral or practical leg to stand on if in the future a hostile nation or group declares U.S. personnel to be “unlawful combatants” and waterboards them. Our outrage would ring rather hollow to the rest of the world.

Haspel’s excuse for recommending the destruction of documentary evidence of torture—that she was just following orders—sounds similarly unconvincing to the officers signing the letter. They know it is just as wrong (and illegal according to the Uniform Code) to follow such orders as it is to issue them.

That's just an excerpt, read the whole thing.

I would just add that organizing the world into pure heroes and pure villains is a really great way to be both totally self-righteous and smug while being wrong at least half the time. The world is complicated. So are people. So are institutions.

In this case, Haspel was directly and personally involved in a despicable act that anyone with a conscience should have walked away from. Something went deeply wrong with all of our institutions after 9/11 and a lot of people failed tests during that period. Some people have learned, others haven't, and many of us on all sides are trying to navigate the world that is now run by a cretinous imbecile and god-knows-what epistemology is at work on any given day. It's exhausting and difficult. But we have to try to see the forest for the trees as best we can.

Nonetheless, among all of the flawed humans on all sides flailing about these days some are worse than others and Haspel is one of them.

I was going to say "if we don't draw the line at torturers, where will we draw the line" and then I remembered that Donald Trump got huge cheers when he said:
Would I approve waterboarding? You bet your ass I would. In a heartbeat. I would approve more than that. It works. And if it doesn’t work, they deserve it anyway for what they do to us.

60 million people voted for that violent psycho so it's pretty clear there is no line.