Robert Fisk on the CIA 'torture report': Once again language is distorted in order to hide US state wrongdoing

Perhaps Khalid Sheikh Mohammed told his torturers he could fly through the air

Robert Fisk
Sunday 14 December 2014 21:52 GMT
John Brennan admitted the CIA ‘fell short’ in holding some officers accountable – but it is clear no one is going to be held accountable
John Brennan admitted the CIA ‘fell short’ in holding some officers accountable – but it is clear no one is going to be held accountable (Reuters)

Thank God for Noam Chomsky. Not for his lifetime of eviscerating assaults on our political hypocrisy, but for his linguistics. Long before I knew him, undergraduate Fisk laboured at his university linguistics course, where Chomsky’s work first alerted me to the pernicious use of language. Hence I condemn at once the vile semantics of the Pentagon and the CIA. Not just that old, wolfish, obscene phrase “collateral damage”, but the language of torture.

Or, as the lads who torture on our behalf call it, “enhanced interrogation techniques”. Let’s take a closer look at that. “Enhanced” is a word of improvement. It suggests something better, more learned, even less costly. For example, “enhanced medicine” would presumably involve a more streamlined way of improving your health. Just as “enhanced schooling” would suggest a more worthy education for a child. “Interrogation” at least gives a hint of what this is all about. Asking questions and getting – or not getting – a reply. But “techniques” beats the lot. A technique is a technical skill, is it not? Usually, so my dictionary tells me, in artistic work.

So the “interrogators” have special skills – which implies training, learnt work, application, the product of brains. Which I suppose, in a way, is what torture is all about. It’s just not the way I would normally describe the process of slamming people into walls, half-drowning them in water and ramming hummus up their rectums. But in case that’s a bit too graphic, the US press lads and lasses have got round it in a familiar form. The whole process of “enhanced interrogation techniques” is now called “EIT”. Like WMD – another whopper in our political vocabulary – the whole filthy business is wrapped up in a three-letter abbreviation.

Dick “Dark Side” Cheney used the word “programme” when he condemned the US Senate report on CIA torture. Oddly, however, his description of the document as “full of crap” contained an unintended side effect of the process which he applauds. For those under torture often urinate and defecate, and – as we know from those who suffered these “programmes” – the CIA often let their victims stand naked and soil before them. Cheney wishes us to believe, of course, that these poor men gave important information to the vile creatures who were torturing them. That’s exactly what medieval inquisitions discovered when they accused the innocent of witchcraft. Almost to a man – and woman – the victims admitted that they had flown through the air. Perhaps that’s what Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, after being waterboarded 183 times, told his CIA torturers. He could fly through the air. A terrorist human drone. I suppose that must be the kind of “vital information” Cheney claims the victims gave the CIA.

Of course, it was left to the Gothic-faced CIA director, John Brennan, perhaps feeling the heat of some human-rights lawyers breathing down his neck, to say that some of the “techniques” – yes, that’s the word he used – were unauthorised and “abhorrent”. And thus he deftly provided a new version of the CIA’s crimes. AIT – the abhorrent torture – “should be repudiated by all” – but not, it seems, good old EIT. As Cheney said, torture was “something that we very carefully avoided”. I note the words “very carefully”. And I shudder.

The good Mr Brennan told us that “we fell short when it came to holding some officers [sic] accountable”. But it is perfectly clear that the torturers – or “officers” – are not going to be held accountable. Nor is Mr Brennan. Nor Dick Cheney. And nor, dare I mention this, are the Arab regimes where the CIA “rendered” those victims worthy of even viler treatment than could be meted out in its own secret prisons. One poor chap, Maher Arar, was a Canadian citizen, a truck driver seized by the CIA at JFK airport in New York and bundled off to pre-civil-war Syria for a little AIT – not EIT, mark you – at the request of Americans. Held in a hole little bigger than a coffin, his first introduction to AIT was being whipped with electric cables.

Thus did Cheney and his lads and lasses indulge their sadism by proxy – to the very state whose “interrogation techniques” now outrage the West so much that it is calling for the overthrow of the Syrian regime (along with the overthrow of Isis and Jabhat al-Nusra), in favour of newly armed “moderates” who will, presumably, engage only in EIT rather than in AIT.

But as my journalist colleague Rami Khouri has been pointing out, the 54 countries in the CIA’s “programme” of rendition included Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen. You can add Gaddafi’s Libya to that list. Indeed, the Italian secret police even helped the CIA to kidnap an imam off the streets of Milan and pack him off to Cairo for a little AIT at the hands of Mr Mubarak’s interrogators. Which probably accounts for why the Arab and Muslim world has been a bit quiet ever since the US Senate report – even in its highly censored form – was published last week.

It was the Egyptian journalist Mohamed Hassanein Heikal who first wrote of how the CIA circulated film of an Iranian woman being tortured by the Shah’s secret police so that other nations should learn how to make female prisoners talk. Not so the new and improved CIA of today, of course. It destroyed its own video tapes before the US Senate committee could get its hands on them. But the subservient nature of the Arab regimes should be studied at this time. For they also tortured – on our behalf. As Khouri asked last week, “Will we speak of, or try to repair, our own criminal and imperial collusions nearly as openly as the US addresses its own?” Don’t bother waiting for the answer.

Disputes are outlawed, only ‘conversations’ permitted

On the subject of Chomsky and words, I bought a fine new winter jacket before leaving Canada for Beirut. Made in China, of course. But the guarantee informed me that it met a high standard “for waterproofness and breathability”. These words now join that horrible expression which governments and companies now use for an argument.

They no longer tell us they are in a dispute with someone. They are “having a conversation” about “an issue”. Oh yes, and if I find another doctor who talks about “wellness”, I shall immediately apply AIT to the culprit.

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