The Best Of The Dish This Weekend

Christmas Past and Christmas Present

I hope to be doing some more torture blogging this week (and a Merry Christmas to you too!) but a couple of quick notes for tonight. The first is that, of course, no one at the CIA will suffer any consequences for their astonishing attempt to spy on their Senate overseers:

The five C.I.A. officials who were singled out by the agency’s inspector general this year for improperly ordering and carrying out the computer searches staunchly defended their actions, saying that they were lawful and in some cases done at the behest of CIA director John Brennan.

So we discover that it was Brennan himself who directed that the CIA spy on the Senate staffers! And it’s worth recalling why he resorted to that violation of the basic constitutional order. He did so because the staffers had come upon the CIA’s own internal report on the torture program, and it came to the exact same conclusions as the Senate Report, i.e. that the progam was obviously torture and completely ineffective. The so-called “Panetta Report” utterly devastated Brennan’s continuing view that torture provided good intelligence and all but proved that the CIA had no utilitarian defense of their barbarism whatsoever. And so Brennan panicked.

He needn’t have. It’s clear that the CIA’s place in our “democracy” will not be dislodged any time soon. President Obama has not the slightest qualms about employing war criminals and working closely with them. He never has. Opponents of torture are, for the president, “self-righteous.” And the system, in any case, ensures that the CIA always polices itself and will therefore always exonerate itself:

A panel investigating the Central Intelligence Agency’s search of a computer network used by staff members of the Senate Intelligence Committee who were looking into the C.I.A.’s use of torture will recommend against punishing anyone involved in the episode, according to current and former government officials … While effectively rejecting the most significant conclusions of the inspector general’s report, the panel, appointed by Mr. Brennan and composed of three C.I.A. officers and two members from outside the agency, is still expected to criticize agency missteps that contributed to the fight with Congress.

Notice that the “panel” has a built-in CIA majority. And the CIA will never allow anyone in its employ to be held accountable for his or her actions – least of all the chief conspirator in this attack on the Senate, Brennan himself.

There is one person missing in all this: the president. He has allowed his own CIA director to violate the constitution and to lie to the public in defending the torture program’s effectiveness. After a report proved that American torture was sadistic and useless, the president allowed his CIA director to stand up and say the answer to the latter question is “unknowable”. This is not a neutral stance, and never has been. It is a classic example of truthiness versus the truth. It is a stance that reaffirms that we live in only the appearance of a democracy, but that the deep state of the US is a law unto itself. It is a position that one agency in government is beyond any accountability. It is a recognition that this president, like all the others, reports to the CIA and not the other way round.

Watching this truth unfold in front of my eyes these past ten years has been a revelation to me and a bitter rebuke to whatever naivete about American democracy and decency I once held. I don’t think anyone can truly believe in either American decency or democracy as long as the worst war criminals are not just left unpunished, but celebrated, defended and even promoted. And what the CIA will learn from this is surely that it can get away with anything. It can allow 9/11 to happen and war crimes to be committed and have nary a single soul so much as fired. The greatest intelligence failure in modern times and the greatest moral failure in modern times … and no one will ever be so much as demoted.

That’s absolute power. And it corrupts absolutely.

Some posts worth revisiting from the weekend: the Internet hoax of Pope Francis’ endorsement of animals in heaven; the existential life of an acorn; Wilkinson on how Santa is “an exercise in losing your religion“; and Dean on being a writer on the web today.

The most popular post of the weekend was Glenn Beck: Better Than Marina Abramovic, followed by Santa Is A Lie I Will Tell My Son.

I’d like to thank Michelle and Will for filling in for me last week, and all the Dish staff for their hard work while I was on a listening tour of new media experiences in NYC. If you were not fully aware of how deeply a group effort this blogazine is, I hope you are now. Or as this new subscriber artfully puts it:

I fucking love you. I fucking love your website. I fucking love what your staff does. You’re all fucking invaluable. Great fucking year, and keep up the good fucking work.

Which leads me to one Christmas request: we exist on subscriptions alone. So if you are a constant reader but haven’t yet subscribed, this is your moment. You can also give a Dish subscription as your last-minute gift, timed to arrive by email on Christmas Day.

And see you in the morning.

(Photo:  In this digital composite image a comparison has been made of London at Clapham Junction in 1926 (Archive, Topical Press Agency) and Modern Day 2014 (Peter Macdiarmid) at Christmas time.)