Two significant things happened early this week. Confirmation that Gina Haspel would go before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday, to testify about her fitness to be Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, coincided roughly with Attorney General Sessions’ speech to law enforcement officials in Scottsdale, Arizona. For the first time in the history of our republic, the nation’s chief law enforcement officer advocated cruelty against children to deter adults from crossing the border. Not one member of the Justice Department, or any other law enforcement agency, has objected to this malicious proposal.
When torture first came to light with the Abu Ghraib photographs, most people were indignant and appalled. Then Cheney and his apologists joined the debate about ‘enhanced interrogation required to obtain actionable intelligence’, and we gradually became used to the idea. The more we learned about a worldwide torture regime, scattered across black sites and other prisons, connected by air routes and procedures called ‘extraordinary rendition’, the more we thought, “Well, if the operation is that big, there must be something to it. After all, who am I to question the Central Intelligence Agency?”
Even the new president, Barack Obama, could not find words to condemn the practice. First he says to his agencies, in private, “We have to dial this torture stuff back enough that we don’t get criticized for it anymore. Turn it over to the Afghanis at Bagram, shut down the sites people know about. Let people know how few prisoners we have at Guantanamo now. And that forced feeding shit for hunger strikers? Don’t you think the visuals for that practice cause us a few problems?” After the Senate Intelligence Committee submitted its report on torture in 2014, and reporters pressed Obama to say something about it in public, his strongest words were, “Yeah, we tortured some folks.”
Obama clearly wanted to put Bush-Cheney’s torture regime behind us. A political calculator top to bottom, he could see no advantage to pursuit of what had become one more partisan debate. If we have to have partisan debates, he thought, let them be about future directions and policies, not unwise practices of the past.
These snakes do not slither back into their bag, though. If we can’t have our black site in Bangkok, they figure, at least we have citizens insensible to cruelty at home. They seem to accept whatever cruelty the nascent police state brings their way, including solitary confinement, wild over-use of service weapons and tasers, SWAT teams everywhere, as well as deportation and detainment of immigrants. When you consider what has happened during the last fifteen years, you could say Sessions’ remarks about cruelty to children are not even noteworthy. What do you expect? Yet that is the point.
Torture critics have argued from the start that once cruelty takes root, you cannot exterminate it so easily. It makes you myopic, accepting and weak, until you actually do get used to the idea that Homeland Security ought to take children from their parents, ‘as the law requires.’ If that sounds like 1984 to you, credit Orwell once more with prescience. President Trump said during his campaign that he wants to bring back waterboarding, and ‘much worse’, and the country elected him. I suppose we should be thankful Obama did not condemn torture in a pointed directive. If he had, Trump would definitely want to overturn it.
To end with a last observation about Gina Haspel. I expect that if I had lunch with her, I would leave with the impression she is a kind, dedicated, and thoughtful woman. She soldiered through over thirty years with the Agency, and gave every assignment her best. Why should Congress deny the Agency good leadership because one of those assignments took her to a black site in Thailand shortly after 9/11? She acted her part there, as she did everywhere else. She has more knowledge about the Agency than almost anyone else Trump might nominate. Should her role as a cog in the torture regime block her from a promotion her colleagues say she deserves?
Ask Jeff Sessions what he thinks about her nomination. Ask Dick Cheney. If you listen to endorsements from officials who claim to wear white hats, you ought to listen to cruel people as well. See how they regard her nomination.
Terrorist state wants your children
Masha Gessen has an article in The New Yorker about the meaning of Sessions’ speech in Arizona:
Quotes from the article:
“Hostage-taking is an instrument of terror. Capturing family members, especially children, is a tried-and-true instrument of totalitarian terror.”
“The practice, and Sessions’s speech, are explicitly intended as messages to parents who may consider seeking asylum in the United States. The American government has unleashed terror on immigrants, and in doing so has naturally reached for the most effective tools.”
Families who arrive at our borders come to seek help from us. If our government responds to families who need help in this way, how will it treat people who already live in the United States? Families travel a couple of thousand miles overland to reach the border, because murderous violence in their own countries has reached their neighborhood. When they arrive here, our government says, “Not only will we deny you help, we will prosecute you, and take away your children.” We will not turn you away: we will break up your family before we send you to prison. Write home about that.
“The other thing with the terrorists is you have to take out their families.” That was Donald Trump near the end of 2015, setting his own tone as his campaign approached the Iowa caucuses. Trump and Sessions may not think of immigrants as terrorists, yet, but they do think of them as criminals. For these two, the act of crossing the border to ask for help makes them criminals. How do we deal with criminals in this country? Well Sessions made that quite clear in his speech. First we take your children hostage. Then we deal with you.
Below you’ll find short posts and links on these subjects.
Children, cruelty, and insanity
With Gina Haspel’s nomination to head the CIA, I find myself writing about torture again. Torture is wrong and illegal because it is cruel. A cruel act intentionally inflicts pain on another person or animal. People who inflict pain normally have their victims under direct physical control. That is, victims do not have any ability to prevent the crime, to reduce or escape the pain.
Torture is not the only form of cruelty. Another form of cruelty removes children from their parents. You could say children are the most vulnerable of all groups. Given their state, children have the strongest claim to protection, from people who have power or authority to guard them. Under normal circumstances, those people are their parents.
When you remove children from their parents, young people become ill and depressed, get injured, and fail to thrive. More often than we care to think, they are raped, assaulted, beaten, and exploited. Often they die. When governments remove children from their families, they say it is for their own good, a phrase that always signals mendacity. When non-governmental actors remove children from their families, government charges them with the crime of kidnapping.
Now Attorney General Jeff Sessions gives a speech where he says the Department of Homeland Security will remove children from their families in order to prevent their parents from seeking asylum in the United States. He does not even bother with the usual lies. He simply declares, we will practice cruelty on children in order to affect their parents’ behavior. I can’t even conceive how a human being could think that way.
I wonder if another country has ever even suggested a policy that cruel. Of course, every country contains people who mistreat children, but has any leader stated that, as a matter of policy, government agencies would remove children from their families in order to deter border crossings? I cannot think of any. I believe our country’s leaders have gone mad, for to practice deliberate cruelty on children is in fact insane.
Attorney General’s speech
Here are the remarks Sessions delivered in Scottsdale, Arizona, on Monday, May 7:
I cannot imagine how we have sunk this low. The more you think about it, the more sick and disturbing it becomes:
If you cross this border unlawfully, then we will prosecute you. It’s that simple.
If you smuggle illegal aliens across our border, then we will prosecute you.
If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you and that child will be separated from you as required by law. If you don’t like that, then don’t smuggle children over our border.
If you make false statements to an immigration officer or commit fraud in our system to obtain an immigration benefit, that’s a felony. We will put you in jail.
If you help others to do so, that’s a felony, too.
… Everything we do at the Department of Justice is dedicated to reducing crime in America. Perhaps the most important thing we can do toward that end is to improve our relationships with state and local partners like you.
We want to be a force-multiplier for you. We can help you—because we can reach defendants across state lines, across national borders, and even across oceans.
The work that you do – that you have dedicated your lives to – is essential. I believe it. The Department of Justice believes it. And President Trump believes it.
And so I want to close by thanking each of you once again for your service.
You can be certain about this: we have your back and you have our thanks.
The Justice Department is so proud of this speech, it posted these words on its own website!
Interesting Melania rolls out ‘Be Best’ campaign to reach children, while Sessions urges Border Patrol and Homeland Security to kidnap children from immigrant families. Note his language as well: parents who bring their children with them ‘smuggle’ their charges. Therefore Homeland Security must remove the children ‘as required by law’.
No law requires the state to break up families, and Sessions knows that. He states clearly why he wants to break up families:
“If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you and that child will be separated from you as required by law. If you don’t like that, then don’t smuggle children over our border.”
You could not be more candid in your threat: we will kidnap your children for a deterrent.
Also interesting is how often Sessions appeals to the strongman he works for to justify his derangement. He even says, “This is not business as usual. This is the Trump era.” Wicked is as wicked does.
What’s at Stake in the Attack on Haspel
The responsibility for CIA policy belongs to the president and Congress, not agents.
By David B. Rivkin Jr. and Lee A. Casey
May 7, 2018 6:23 p.m. ET
Gina Haspel reportedly offered last week to withdraw her nomination as director of the Central Intelligence Agency. The White House declined and now must stand behind her as she faces an unjustified assault involving the Bush administration’s enhanced-interrogation program.
Shortly after 9/11, the administration concluded that it needed to obtain as much actionable intelligence as possible to avert future attacks. It decided to explore, and ultimately adopted, the use of interrogation methods against some al Qaeda operatives…
No, no, no, and again, no. Congress never authorized torture. It never passed a statute authorized torture, or that directed the CIA or anyone else to torture people. Neither did the president issue an executive order that said, “Torture people.” The Justice Department, in the president’s name, said, “It’s okay to torture people.” That meant you won’t get in trouble with us if you do it. The people who ordered Haspel to supervise black sites were her own supervisors in the CIA. As a human being, she was responsible to refuse the order.
Many in the military, and the FBI, did resist this policy. Only the CIA, in secret, developed the torture policy to its fullest extent. Haspel was a senior official in the organization, who helped to create the machinery that implemented a worldwide torture regime. How can you relieve her of responsibility for that? Sometimes you can escape responsibility when you work in a bureaucracy, but for torture?
No historian relieves Himmler of responsibility for Auschwitz because the dictator above him set the policy he carried out at the camp.
Attorney General Sessions Delivers Remarks to the Association of State Criminal Investigative Agencies 2018 Spring Conference
Scottsdale, AZ – Monday, May 7, 2018