The banality of evil is a common way of explaining why non-descript bureaucrats let their careerism and cowardice lead them into the practice of torture and other human rights crimes endorsed by their superiors. Yet, if these banal operatives are American, they don’t expect to get punished, as David Swanson notes in this guest essay.
By David Swanson
June 29, 2011
On Sept. 18, 2009, seven former heads of the CIA publicly told President Barack Obama not to prosecute CIA torturers. Obama had already told Attorney General Eric Holder not to prosecute CIA torturers on April 16, 2009. On Sept. 18, Holder publicly reassured the CIA.
Thus, the coast was clear. The books started flowing. George W. Bush and John Yoo put their books out in 2010, Donald Rumsfeld in 2011, and Dick Cheney’s later this summer.
Just as the torture techniques drifted down the chain of command from these dealers in death to the rank-and-file, so too the book contracts. The cogs in the machine are now documenting their bit parts in the past decade’s torture epidemic with pride and publishing deals.
Witness The Interrogator: An Education by Glenn L. Carle, the story of how a none-too-bright, self-centered, insecure, careerist bureaucrat with weak principles, a fragile ego, a troubled marriage, and no interrogation experience, but the ability to actually speak Arabic, was chosen to lead the interrogating (or “interviewing”) of an innocent man the CIA bone-headedly believed to be a “top al Qaeda terrorist” when they kidnapped him off a street and flew him to an undisclosed location outside any rule of law.
As to who got an education in the process of living, writing or reading this book, your guess is as good as mine.
You may have spotted the author in the media last week, since he managed to get James Risen at the New York Times to print his revelation that the Bush White House had asked the CIA to investigate American blogger Juan Cole.
That story is not in the book, but was apparently timed to boost the book’s sales. Who knows what other nasty anecdotes Carle is sitting on in hopes of productively producing them when and if he writes a sequel. Even with that prospect, let’s hope fervently that he does not.
What an awful book! What an awful example of how to live!
Yes, Carle asserts what all of the experts agree on: torture and abuse are not useful interrogation techniques. The most effective tools for eliciting useful information are the legal ones. But Carle simply asserts this. He provides no new evidence to back it up — not that there was a shortage.
Carle is like a veteran soldier joining in demonstrations against the war he was part of but still talking about how he “served” his country.
“I made it possible for American children to sleep safe at night,” he brags. How exactly did he do this? Why, by participating in criminal operations that enraged billions of people against the United States of America. Good going, Glenn!
Carle discusses, by way of background, the “victims of the Iran-Contra scandal,” by which he means not the men, women and children illegally killed, but the criminals prosecuted or otherwise inconvenienced.
When Carle was yanked out of his cubicle to employ his linguistic skills in interrogating a kidnapping victim, he was not long in coming to view himself as the victim of most concern to the reader. He had concerns about what he was being sent into, but he “was not about to question the apparent basis for my involvement in a very important case.”
“Suppose our partners do something to CAPTUS [the kidnapped man] that I consider unacceptable?” he asked a superior.
“Well, then, you just walk out of the room, if you feel you should. Then you won’t have to see anything, will you? You will not have been party to anything.”
Wow, with that defense, get-away drivers aren’t guilty of robberies anymore. And that defense was plenty good enough for Carle. He was largely interested in venting his own emotions, he tells us, just as he must have been when composing the book:
“Every American — and perhaps we in the CIA more than anyone — was outraged and determined to destroy the jihadists who had killed our countrymen [on 9-11] and had been attacking our countrymen for years. I was being sent to the front lines, as it were. I was going to be part of the avenging and protective hidden hand of the CIA, striking al Qaeda for us all. I WANTED to interrogate the S.O.B. and play a key role in our counter-terrorism operations.”
I for one would prefer he had settled for tweeting a photo of his penis.
Carle presented himself with the important moral dilemma of whether to screw up this immoral operation or do it right:
“This conversation — this case — was clearly one of the key moments in my career; I needed to GET IT RIGHT, to exercise refined judgment, to see and act clearly where values and goals conflicted, in the murky areas where there might be no right choice, but one had to choose and act nonetheless.”
Why was resigning and going public at any moment not always an available option?
Carle read one of John Yoo’s torture memos, thought it was illegal, and went along anyway:
“I recall thinking when I read it (a view shared by many colleagues at the time [yet, not a one of whom said a damn word to the American people about it]) that it was tendentious and intellectually shoddy, an obvious bit of hack work, a bit of legal sophistry to justify what the administration wanted done, not a guideline and interpretation of the spirit and intention of the laws and statutes that had guided the Agency for decades. . . .
“Challenging a finding, though, was, as the expression goes, way beyond my pay grade, and in any event, would be viewed as presumptuous and out of place at the moment.”
“We were talking about what some, what I, might consider the torture of a helpless man,” Carle recalls.
“What about the Geneva Convention?” he asked his superior.
“Which flag do you serve?” was the reply.
“I flew out of Dulles two days later,” Carle recounts. He had chosen knowingly and inexcusably to become a cog in a machine of kidnapping, torture and death.
Was it really rage over 9-11 that drove Carle onward? He tells us that when the planes hit the towers, he was too busy being petty and self-centered on the telephone to be bothered to watch. He then tried to go shopping and couldn’t get clerks in stores to stop obsessing over 9-11 long enough to help him.
Carle’s wife inexplicably became an alcoholic, resulting in this touching scene:
“One evening I was working on the computer in the bedroom, not wanting to think about work, or home; I just wanted to turn off my brain [how would one tell?]. Sally was cooking in the kitchen. I heard a plate crash. I paid no attention and was barely aware of it.
“Ten minutes later I wandered into the kitchen to get a soda from the refrigerator. Sally lay unconscious on the floor. I was angry, disdainful. I decided to leave her there to sleep it off. I stepped over her into a huge and growing pool of blood. It covered half the kitchen floor. ‘Oh no! Sally! What have you done?'”
Carle describes his interrogation of “CAPTUS,” whom he knew to have been kidnapped and who he knew was being held outside of any legal system. Carle repeatedly threatened him with harsh treatment by others.
The interrogation was helped by Carle’s preference for humane tactics, even while threatening others, as well as by his openness to recognizing the man’s innocence. But it was hampered by the CIA’s incredibly incompetent failure to get Carle access to the documents that had been seized along with his victim, and by the CIA’s refusal to consider the possibility that CAPTUS was not who they thought he was.
Carle took a “don’t ask/don’t tell” approach to the question of whether CAPTUS was being tortured in between periods of interrogation at the first location where Carle interrogated him. Carle did ask, but the CIA blacked out in the book whatever he tried to tell us, about what was done to CAPTUS upon relocating him to a different lawless prison.
When Bush gave a speech pretending to oppose torture, Carle “found this speech infuriating. I knew what we were doing; our actions soiled what it meant to be an American, perverted our oath, and betrayed our flag. Lawyers could argue our actions were legal. But I had lived what we were doing. I knew otherwise.”
Did Carle quit and go public? Of course not.
Did any of his colleagues? Of course not.
Carle sat in on meetings discussing blatantly false propaganda aimed at launching the 2003 invasion of Iraq. He saw through the lies.
Did he then, in that moment when a million lives could be spared, quit and go public? Of course not.
Carle concludes his book by opposing prosecuting anyone involved in the crimes he was involved in. “Punishment metes out no justice,” he claims.
Justice, these days, is presumably measured in book sales.
David Swanson is the author of War Is A Lie at http://warisalie.org