Monday, March 23, 2009

A Postmodern Coverup

I can't believe I am writing this, but I really do feel sorry for the CIA, which is looking like it will be institutionally blamed for the torture policy which was initiated by the Bush White House and acquiesced to by the entire Washington establishment.

The bottom line is that Cheney, Bush, et al. ordered the CIA and other interrogators to "take the gloves off." The turn to torture was a political decision--and as such, it's one that the political decision-makers, not just the bureaucratic implementers, should be held ultimately responsible for. George Tenet was eager to please, to be sure, but there's no denying that the decision to torture was made by the highest politicians in the land, and that at the end of the day, it's those political decision-makers who should be indicted.

But that's not going to happen, as the Newsweek article inadvertently makes clear. Why? Because many of the politicians who participated in the decision to torture are still in power. To understand the political dynamic of these investigations of the CIA, it's crucial to understand that the spineless Democratic leadership, in the form of Feinstein, Rockefeller, etc, knowingly acquisced the decision to torture. They intentionally didn't ask too many questions -- precisely in order to give themselves the political wiggle room in which they are now self-righteously wiggling.

Feinstein's current posturing is merely designed deflect blame from herself and her class, positioning the CIA to take the political fall. Indeed, the CIA anticipated that this day would come, which was why they insisted that those infamous "torture memos" be written: to protect them when the political mood shifted. Alas, the Agency misunderestimated the profundity of the ethical corruption in Washington's political class.

What we're seeing is a political process analogous to holding Lubyanka interrogators responsible for Stalinism. The way that these hearings are trending, it's looking more and more like we'll end up with an Abu Ghraib-style "postmodern coverup" -- where a few underlings are brought into the docket, as the political class declares itself shocked, shocked that their underlings were following their orders. Such a process gives the appearance of justice being done, without it actually happening. This is to justice as truthiness is to truth. 

The litmus test for whether the process involves an actual ethical and legal accounting for the decision to torture, or in fact is a postmodern coverup, is whether the political decision-makers become the focus of the investigation.


Anonymous said...

Great post, but this sounds like an old-fashioned coverup. What makes it postmodern?

Nils said...

A traditional coverup would have been to deny that there was any wrongdoing ("I am not a crook"), or to claim that the situation is too complex for normal people to understand ("depends on what the definition of 'is' is").

The game the Dems are playing is something more subtle: admitting there was wrongdoing but suggesting that they could not have known about or attempted to control the situation.