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January 28, 2010 3:03 PM   Subscribe

John Kiriakou, the former CIA operative who affirmed claims that waterboarding quickly unloosed the tongues of hard-core terrorists, says he didn't know what he was talking about.
posted by jtron (49 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
Once again, gasp of shock and surprise.
posted by Aversion Therapy at 3:05 PM on January 28, 2010


surely...
posted by eyeballkid at 3:09 PM on January 28, 2010


"It works, is the bottom line," conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh exclaimed on his radio show the day after Kiriakou's ABC interview. "Thirty to 35 seconds, and it works."

Know what else works after only 30 to 35 seconds?

Kicking an Oxycontin habit.

Wanna try it?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:10 PM on January 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


Limbaugh needs that Oxycontin to keep his conscience quiet.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 3:11 PM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


After Kiriakou repeated his waterboarding-efficiency claims to the Washington Post, the New York Times, National Public Radio, CBS, CNN, MSNBC, and other media organizations last year, a CNN anchor called him "the man of the hour."

That's going to be quite some front page breaking news retractions we can all be expecting any moment now.

Can you imagine how many careers will be broken by this? (be careful of any math you might want to perform with this number, else you might run into divide-by-zero errors).
posted by el io at 3:14 PM on January 28, 2010


Limbaugh needs that Oxycontin to keep his conscience quiet.

Limbaugh apologized for everything this week. I was as surprised as anyone.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:17 PM on January 28, 2010 [4 favorites]


I am shocked, SHOCKED, that a CIA goon would lie.

(OK, I am a little shocked that one would recant, but backpedalling seems to be getting pretty fashionable in this area...)
posted by pompomtom at 3:23 PM on January 28, 2010


The thing is, waterboarding _does_ "loosen the tongues" of whoever it's done to. It's torture, and victims of waterboarding will say whatever they need to say to get their torturers to stop. Veracity is irrelevant; stopping the waterboarding is all that matters.

That's why, like all torture, it's so effective at it's traditional use by third-world despots: extracting false confessions from political prisoners.
posted by mhoye at 3:24 PM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Because of course he did
posted by Senor Cardgage at 3:37 PM on January 28, 2010


What a fucking asshole. I think when government employees defraud the American people with their lies and politicking, it should be viewed as terrorism.

Yeah...his LIES terrorized people.

Fucking terrorist.
posted by hal_c_on at 3:45 PM on January 28, 2010 [6 favorites]


Well, the good news is that the people we're imprisoning indefinitely without trial will never be waterboarded again.
posted by Joe Beese at 3:47 PM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is exactly what the phrase 'Banality of evil' refers to:
"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.
At each of these points someone either lied or didn't do their job. They chose to either ignore or minimize the fact that people could or definitely would suffer because of their choice. In the end it boils down to people making cold calculations that the potential harm at the other end is worth - what? A good news story? How petty; how horrible.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 3:51 PM on January 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


The ethics aside - why would anyone listen to Joe Fuckface Sportsbar desk jockey here who overheard something some guy said one time and predicate national security policy on it while ignoring every expert who says otherwise?
I don't know who's worse the dangerously stupid or the blind fanatics who enable them.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:54 PM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Funny how Brian Ross is so often a conduit for this stuff. Perhaps his 'official' sources on 'bentonite' anthrax will now come forward and say they made it all up.
posted by grounded at 3:55 PM on January 28, 2010


Blazecock Pileon:
Oh, well done. I almost believed he felt actual remorse for a moment until I saw the link.
posted by JHarris at 3:59 PM on January 28, 2010


Well, the good news is that the people we're imprisoning indefinitely without trial will never be waterboarded again.

Hey, come on now. Someone promised something about a review board forming sometime to check on these guys every once in a while to see if they are still dangerous. That's a de facto Geneva Convention right there, buddy.
posted by Burhanistan at 4:00 PM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


If only there were a hell. But there isn't, so I hope this guy suffers a miserable death.
posted by fourcheesemac at 4:05 PM on January 28, 2010


"I wasn't there when the interrogation took place; instead, I relied on what I'd heard and read inside the agency at the time."

Fuck you, douchebag.
posted by fourcheesemac at 4:06 PM on January 28, 2010


Sad how a man's conscience only seems to respond to book deals nowadays. I wish it would be a bit more proactive sometimes.
posted by Consonants Without Vowels at 4:09 PM on January 28, 2010 [5 favorites]


Smedleyman: The ethics aside - why would anyone listen to Joe Fuckface Sportsbar desk jockey here who overheard something some guy said one time and predicate national security policy on it while ignoring every expert who says otherwise?

I see it happen all the time among my local friends. There is fairly little real news that makes it out to the mainstream TV and radio outlets right now, and what does make it is couched in status-quo-protecting, he-said-she-said pundit banter, most of which are identified as experts by the program, or even outright advocacy of the Fox News stripe, that inhibits real understanding of the issues.

That makes people much more vulnerable to whatever garbage they hear that is forcefully presented unopposed by someone who sounds confident. And no one is so confident about what he knows as someone who has been deeply bathed in ideology possessing a woefully incomplete understanding of the nuances of his topic.
posted by JHarris at 4:15 PM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


"I wasn't there when the interrogation took place; instead, I relied on what I'd heard and read inside the agency at the time."

To be the devil's advocate for a moment, he was just following orders to the best of his ability. Aren't we at war against an enemy that wants to destroy us?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:19 PM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


"I wasn't there when the interrogation took place; instead, I relied on what I'd heard and read inside the agency at the time."

Pretty much standard human operating procedure. Sure, there's a few things we know more about because we spend time directly experiencing and experimenting with them, but all of us do exactly what he's admitting to here, because it's generally a useful heuristic for getting through life without getting bogged down in an astounding amount of detail.

I think he's still guilty of misrepresenting a pretty important moral issue, particularly at a moment when he had the stage in a national conversation, but if we're consigning people to damnation for spouting off on a topic based largely on what they've read and heard inside a culture they're invested in, I'd say it's a pretty good bet 99% of Metafilter deserves hell.
posted by weston at 4:20 PM on January 28, 2010


To be the devil's advocate for a moment, he was just following orders to the best of his ability. Aren't we at war against an enemy that wants to destroy us?

Principle IV calling on line one.
posted by The Hamms Bear at 4:24 PM on January 28, 2010


Who can get torturers off the hook?
Then say he lied in his tell-all book?

Fuckin' a Man!
CIA Man!
posted by gamera at 4:29 PM on January 28, 2010


This is exactly what the phrase 'Banality of evil' refers to

Yeah, no. See, that's how bad torture is. Covering it up, excusing it, passing it off as something it's not -- you don't get to file that away under "doing my job". This is banality of evil like muffling the screams of a victim is banality of evil. It's not.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 4:31 PM on January 28, 2010


"To be the devil's advocate for a moment, he was just following orders to the best of his ability. Aren't we at war against an enemy that wants to destroy us?"

As an exercise to entertain the notions there, last part last - no. Counterterrorism is different from counterinsurgency (and indeed COIN is different than it was) so 'war' doesn't apply. It's best left to policing efforts and federal organizations like GSG 9. At that, there are (as mentioned) pretty clear rules as to the treatment of prisoners during wartime - hence the 'whuthefuidunno' supposed eigenstate of the prisoners at Gitmo (and the ones Obama continues to hold).

First part, c'mon, following orders does not exempt anyone from war crimes. Torture has been long established as such no matter how many interpretive dances doofy lawyers have done.
posted by Smedleyman at 4:38 PM on January 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


I don't know how many of you listen to the Adam Carolla podcast, but he's one of those conservatives who likes to pretend that he isn't a conservative by tossing out a handful of areas where he disagrees with the GOP (birth control, abortion). His loudest area of agreement is on torture, and he's spent a lot of time yelling at liberals who oppose torture. His argument (such as it is) is that the anti-torture crowd should defer to the experts who say that it works.

Don't hold your breath waiting for a retraction and apology in the wake of this news.
posted by UrineSoakedRube at 4:40 PM on January 28, 2010


Waterboard him. See what else he admits.
posted by futureisunwritten at 4:43 PM on January 28, 2010 [5 favorites]


Oopsie!
posted by Legomancer at 4:52 PM on January 28, 2010


To be the devil's advocate for a moment, he was just following orders to the best of his ability. Aren't we at war against an enemy that wants to destroy us?

Is it safe to assume that you're attempting to make a sly point about this? If so, you might want to take a moment to ponder the difference between quickly killing an armed opponent who presents an active threat to your safety and the safety of those around you, and exerting as much pain as you can upon someone whose capture has rendered them harmless.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 4:57 PM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Here's a handy fact to keep in mind.

The CIA lies.
posted by mikelieman at 5:14 PM on January 28, 2010


I know the outrage is old at waterboarding and this outrage (justified) is about lies relating to it "he spilled the beans after 30 seconds", "it works" etc.

But they waterboarded a human being 83 times in a month...
posted by selton at 5:17 PM on January 28, 2010


but if we're consigning people to damnation for spouting off on a topic based largely on what they've read and heard inside a culture they're invested in, I'd say it's a pretty good bet 99% of Metafilter deserves hell.

Please, spare me the "we are all John Kiriakou" tendentiousness. This guy presented himself as a definitive authority on the subject of torture, and made himself indispensable to the mass media in enabling and justifying acts that are at odds with international law, human decency, and empirically validated interrogation techniques. Can you understand why that's a little different than an anonymous commenter complaining that the iPad is just an enlarged iPhone?
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 5:35 PM on January 28, 2010 [5 favorites]


Durn Bronzefist: "Yeah, no. See, that's how bad torture is. Covering it up, excusing it, passing it off as something it's not -- you don't get to file that away under "doing my job". This is banality of evil like muffling the screams of a victim is banality of evil. It's not."

The phrase was coined after the Holocaust, by Hannah Arendt, and is partly in reference to its horrors. Torture was one of the evils. The banality referred to was the everyday actions and the rationalizations of everyday people executing them thereof that resulted in those evils.

The thesis of the phrase 'Banality of evil' is that great evils "were not executed by fanatics or sociopaths but rather by ordinary people who accepted the premises of their state and therefore participated with the view that their actions were normal." It could well be argued that when the Kiriakou piece happened, Kiriakou and others in the CIA believed the premises of the state regarding imminent danger. The media believed the premises of the state that, as repugnant and evil torture is, it was somehow a necessary evil that needed its effectiveness discussed.

I'm willing to bet that not a single person in this chain of events felt like they were the ones actually 'muffling the screams of a victim,' as you put it. But their banal actions in what they believed was the service of the state surely led to it. And it wouldn't have taken much introspection for them to see how they helped this muffling happen. That lack of willingness to think about others' suffering is their culpability. It being banal does not make it any less evil. That's the point I was trying to make.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 5:47 PM on January 28, 2010 [4 favorites]


The thesis of the phrase 'Banality of evil' is that great evils "were not executed by fanatics or sociopaths but rather by ordinary people who accepted the premises of their state and therefore participated with the view that their actions were normal."

And that's where I take a different view. This is not working an assembly line in a bomb-making factory. This is a far cry from, say, the sniper thread, already referenced. There aren't many acts I could bring myself to do that I couldn't live with. This isn't one of them. If this guy can sleep at night, that is borderline sociopathy, and I sincerely doubt, as cynical as I get, that most people would be up for a lie of this magnitude on the subject at hand (as clearly authoritative as it would be).
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 6:07 PM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


why would anyone listen to Joe Fuckface Sportsbar desk jockey here who overheard something some guy said one time and predicate national security policy on it while ignoring every expert who says otherwise?

Because Mr Fuckface agrees with the position they wanted to take anyway?
posted by pompomtom at 6:12 PM on January 28, 2010


And "torture was one of its evils" is neatly eliding "banality of evil" from its central implication -- that one can unknowingly contribute. The census takers, the machine builders, everyone just doing their job -- don't have the full consequences of the chain of acts in which they are a part laid out before them. You don't cite the Birkenau guard as the poster boy for the "banality of evil".

This man was most certainly aware of what was at stake, what would be done, and how much his word would count in the debate over whether or not it should be.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 6:15 PM on January 28, 2010


Can you understand why that's a little different than an anonymous commenter complaining that the iPad is just an enlarged iPhone?

I do see differences, at least one of which I mentioned. But very nearly all of them are about opportunity rather than character.
posted by weston at 7:25 PM on January 28, 2010


DB, We're coming at this from different assumptions. When I read in the article that Kiriakou "wearily said he shared the anguish of millions of Americans, not to mention the rest of the world, over the CIA's application of the medieval confession technique" at the time of the interview, and that this sentiment wasn't relayed by the media, and then read his current statement that the incident "was a valuable lesson in how the CIA uses the fine arts of deception even among its own", I take it at face value and apply Occam's Razor (why would he admit to his 'watercooler gossip-passing' when it makes him look bad?) If you have a different take, so be it; Kiriakou's banality is not the only thing I was talking about. I'm also referring to the banality of TV stations choosing to run with only part of the story; about commentators cherry-picking the 'gets results' part to further their political agendas. It's banal because they are buying the state line in order to sell papers or ads.

Durn Bronzefist: "And "torture was one of its evils" is neatly eliding "banality of evil" from its central implication -- that one can unknowingly contribute."

I'm not consciously 'eliding' anything. I'm almost getting the impression that you're trying to correct something that I'm not saying. By listing the points at which the different players had moral choices to make, I'm not implying that 'they are all Eichmanns'. Nor am I trivializing the consequences of the choices made. I'm saying they were banal actions by people who should have known better, which in the end amounted to an evil thing (torture.) The phrase 'banality of evil' isn't all about the Eichmanns of the world.

Look. Arendt herself said that "For me, there is a very important difference: 'commonplace' is what frequently, commonly happens, but something can be banal even if it is not common." We're splitting hairs here.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 7:31 PM on January 28, 2010


This is a sidenote, but I think it's worth reposting Ron Rosenbaum's point about "the banality of evil": Arendt's observation which led her to coin the term was based on a major logical fallacy.

Ron Rosenbaum in The New York Observer:
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.
Ron Rosenbaum in Slate:
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.
posted by UrineSoakedRube at 7:45 PM on January 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Either one knows what one is doing is evil or one does not.

Ordinary people are certainly capable of evil.
posted by krinklyfig at 8:47 PM on January 28, 2010


To be the devil's advocate for a moment, he was just following orders to the best of his ability. Aren't we at war against an enemy that wants to destroy us?

Well, lets think about this logically. He informed us about the waterboarding tactics...and then informed us that the enemy wants to destroy us.

We've now found out that he lied about the waterboarding tactic to do some political maneuvering. Do you think some political maneuvering was involved when he told us the cave-dwellers want to destroy our society?
posted by hal_c_on at 10:29 PM on January 28, 2010


Ron Rosenbaum, from the NY Observer> Either one knows what one is doing is evil or one does not.

krinklyfig> Ordinary people are certainly capable of evil.

Rosenbaum isn't disputing that. His point is that Eichmann and ordinary people who felt the same way about the Jews as he did aren't banal in the sense that Arendt used the word. And when Eichmann was on trial, he was obviously going to come off as a meek, bland functionary. It was a meaningless exercise to try to intuit anything about the nature of evil based on how he came off in the witness box.
posted by UrineSoakedRube at 10:35 PM on January 28, 2010


they waterboarded a human being 83 times in a month

Betcha they all had stiffies every time. Just like Republicans get stiffies when they hear about it.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 10:57 PM on January 28, 2010


To my mind, the use of the phrase banality of evil is an almost infallible sign of shallow thinkers attempting to seem intellectually sophisticated.

Spoken like someone who has never been 'banalled evilly'.

People don't use the word "banal" as a defense of evil. It describes the method of evil. To execute millions you make the process banal. To use torture as an intelligence gathering technique, you make it banal. Water up someones nose is as banal as a silly sorority prank and it gets the results. Apparently.

Is waterboarding as banal as stacking naked dehumanised men into pyramids. It is now. How about the secret Seymour Hersh horrors of war unmentionables. Not banal enough to acknowledge yet.

The banality of evil is a condemnation and one of the most severe a critical thinker can offer.
posted by vicx at 11:22 PM on January 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


I mostly agree with Ron Rosenblum's takedown of the term "banality of evil", especially as it was used regarding Eichmann.

I do disagree with the following: But genuine ignorance is rare when evil is going on.

I think it's exactly the reverse; ignorance, especially willful ignorance is the most fertile ground for great evil. Nazi Germany is probably the gold standard. I believe the Iraq invasion, and outrages like waterboarding and Gitmo also qualify.
posted by Artful Codger at 8:19 AM on January 29, 2010


"I wasn't there when the interrogation took place; instead, I relied on what I'd heard and read inside the agency at the time."

So you, as an intelligence officer, presented information you had overheard without any kind of actual verification as fact?

Isn't that the same kind of crap that got us into Iraq?
posted by quin at 8:53 AM on January 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


"Isn't that the same kind of crap that got us into Iraq?"
No. The administration had proof there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq in the area around Tikrit... and Baghdad... and east... west... south... and north somewhat.
Plus I heard they called you guys dorks.
posted by Smedleyman at 10:48 AM on January 29, 2010


Is the US still torturing now?
Or have they stopped the waterboarding?
posted by sour cream at 1:58 PM on January 29, 2010


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