Three things strike me about the release of the Senate Committee’s report on torture by the CIA. First there is the limited extent of outrage by the general public at what the CIA was doing in our name. Partly this is about limited media coverage of the outrage and partly the timing of the release.  People are certainly caught up in the materialist consumer frenzy that is Christmas and with the unrelenting revelations of white police killing unarmed black people at will.  There is only so much outrage to go around. We are experiencing outrage fatigue. On a deeper level there are those who don’t care what the country does as long as the citizens feel safe. It doesn’t matter whether they are actually safer which is arguable, but torture made them feel safe. For example there is the Fox News correspondent who cried “awesome” when these acts were revealed because she was impressed at the lengths the government would go to to keep her safe. As I often told my students when people are scared they will give away anybody else’s rights and some of their own. The public acquiescence in these horrific acts is more terrifying to me than the awful acts themselves. To his credit John McCain bucked this trend by standing up on the floor of the Senate and expressing his opposition to these methods.  As a former POW who was tortured himself he could provide a unique perspective.  Some of those in power like Obama and Dianne Feinstein did express their outrage but it only leads me to my second point. Those in power should have made it their business to know and the current outrage faux or not is too little too late. We can and should blame Bush and Cheney and the intelligence apparatus, but some of this also happened on Obama’s watch.  If the most powerful man in the world couldn’t get straight answers from those who work for him, then we have a problem. Sure the CIA lied and misled but if there is no or at best belated presidential or congressional oversight of these people, they are allowed to run wild. There is also the wink and nod reality that as long as there is plausible deniability that those in power knew, the CIA could do what it wanted.  That what it wanted produced little in terms of actual actionable intelligence is proof of what happens when you let the inmates run the asylum.

The other thing that strikes me is the reaction to the report. Some have criticized the report for revealing covert actions or announced that the report itself will put more Americans in danger.  This seems to me a part of the pattern of magical thinking that pervades these folks.  A thing does not exist until someone acknowledges it.  Conservatives have long applied it to things like sex education believing that it is education that has put these naughty ideas in adolescent heads, not that they were already there. Mentioning racism or class warfare brings it into existence and it wouldn’t have existed otherwise. This is of course nonsense. The rest of the world especially the Arab world knew about these acts and has acted upon that knowledge for years. It is part of the reason that the United States is the big Satan to them and there have been so many acts of terrorism against us. Even Hollywood has guessed that such actions have happened and has featured them prominently as a trope in its mythology e.g. Zero Dark Thirty or Homeland just to name a couple. Our allies like the Israelis have known about it for what seems like forever and some have even helped us execute it. In some ways the Senate seems like the last to know.

The combination of a public that accepts our role as torturers with little more than a murmur of opposition, leadership that promotes or at least passively acquiesces in torture, and part of the majority political party that believes such things have actually helped, does not bode well for the moral health of the country. The CIA’s complaint is not that it is shown to have committed terrible and immoral acts, but that the report calls them ineffective. Of course many people are outraged by these revelations. However they seem to be swimming against the tide. Where are the public demonstrations?  It makes one wonder what has happened to the basic decency of our country? Was it too a casualty of 9/11?

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