"It works, is the bottom line," conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh exclaimed on his radio show the day after Kiriakou's ABC interview.
A cascade of similar acclamations followed, muffling -- to this day -- the later revelation that Zubaydah had in fact been waterboarded at least 83 times.
"he claims that the disinformation he helped spread was a CIA dirty trick"
"He learned about it only by reading accounts from the field." ... ABC's Ross had glossed over the glaring fact in its broadcast
Kiriakou himself "never carried out any of the waterboarding" -- which got lost in the telling, in light of the main story line picked up by the rest of the media.
The phrase "banality of evil" was born out of Arendt's remarkable naïveté as a journalist. Few would dispute her eminence as a philosopher, the importance of her attempt to define, in The Origins of Totalitarianism , just what makes totalitarianism so insidious and destructive. But she was the world's worst court reporter, someone who could be put to shame by any veteran courthouse scribe from a New York tabloid. It somehow didn't occur to her that a defendant like Eichmann, facing execution if convicted, might actually lie on the stand about his crimes and his motives. She actually took Eichmann at his word. What did she expect him to say to the Israeli court that had life and death power over him: "Yes, I really hated Jews and loved killing them"? But when Eichmann took the stand and testified that he really didn't harbor any special animosity toward Jews, that when it came to this little business of exterminating the Jews, he was just a harried bureaucrat, a paper shuffler "just following orders" from above, Arendt took him at his word. She treated Eichmann's lies as if they were a kind of philosophical position paper, a text to analyze rather than a cowardly alibi by a genocidal murderer. She was completely conned by Eichmann, by his mild-mannered demeanor on the stand during his trial; she bought his act of being a nebbishy schnook. Arendt then proceeded to make Eichmann's disingenuous self-portrait the basis for a sweeping generalization about the nature of evil whose unfounded assumptions one still finds tossed off as sophisticated aperçus today.
To my mind, the use of the phrase banality of evil is an almost infallible sign of shallow thinkers attempting to seem intellectually sophisticated. Come on, people: It's a bankrupt phrase, a subprime phrase, a Dr. Phil-level phrase masquerading as a profound contrarianism. Oooh, so daring! Evil comes not only in the form of mustache-twirling Snidely Whiplash types, but in the form of paper pushers who followed evil orders. And when applied—as she originally did to Adolf Eichmann, Hitler's eager executioner, responsible for the logistics of the Final Solution—the phrase was utterly fraudulent.
Adolf Eichmann was, of course, in no way a banal bureaucrat: He just portrayed himself as one while on trial for his life. Eichmann was a vicious and loathsome Jew-hater and -hunter who, among other things, personally intervened after the war was effectively lost, to insist on and ensure the mass murder of the last intact Jewish group in Europe, those of Hungary. So the phrase was wrong in its origin, as applied to Eichmann, and wrong in almost all subsequent cases when applied generally. Wrong and self-contradictory, linguistically, philosophically, and metaphorically. Either one knows what one is doing is evil or one does not. If one knows and does it anyway, one is evil, not some special subcategory of evil. If one doesn't know, one is ignorant, and not evil. But genuine ignorance is rare when evil is going on.
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