I have a friend I haven't seen in 30 years. The last time I saw him was at my 10-year high school class reunion. I didn't recognize him at first. He was wearing glasses, and as opposed to the long, wild hair he had when he was younger, his hair was short, and it looked almost like each hair was screwed in place into his scalp. He said hello, and we chatted. I asked where he was working. He replied, “I work for the CIA.”
I turned on my heel and walked away.
Frankly I have felt guilty about my rude behavior for each of the last 30 years. But given that the year was 1989 and I had spent the last eight years watching CIA misdeeds all over Latin America, I certainly felt justified in not being nice-nice with my friend. And having studied history and journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I was well acquainted with the CIA’s history, including its role in overthrowing democratically elected regimes in Iran, Guatemala and Chile.
With the recent revelations of the CIA’s role in torture, I found myself thinking a great deal about my friend. I keep wondering what kind of role he played. Did he know anything? Was he involved? Did he maybe speak out against it?
I just don’t know, and I have no way of knowing.
I know that during the darkest days of the Bush Administration there were differences within the CIA. There certainly were those who made sincere attempts to provide useful intelligence only to either be ignored or have their work exploited and misinterpreted by those with a political agenda. And, I’m sure there had to be those who spoke out against torture.
But what of my friend?
Recently I had a bout of curiosity, so I looked him up on Facebook. I found that he no longer works for the CIA. For a brief moment, I felt hopeful.
Until I saw the name of his current place of work.
And then my heart sank.
I'm not going to say the name of the consulting firm where he holds a high-ranking post, but shall we say it’s big, scary and very well connected. Oh, and I should also mention that there is no reference to his previous employment with the CIA on his Facebook page.
As soon as I saw the name of the firm, two words came to mind: soft landing.
Well, I asked the question, so there’s my answer.
The CIA torture scandal is an American tragedy of epic proportions. It's a crime against humanity, which is so heinous, I fear even describing it because words almost make it trivial. The details released late last year were utterly shocking; more shocking is that much of what was revealed I already knew. Many of those details had been released through alternative media years ago. The truth had been out there for years, yet all too many Americans, and all too many members of the corporate media, acted surprised about something that was in fact a matter of public record.
I think of my friend and wonder exactly what kind of mental, emotional and spiritual calisthenics he goes through to be able to sleep at night. Does he justify the torture program? Does he try to block it out of his mind? Does he swear to himself that he had nothing to do with it?
Perhaps one of the saddest aspects of the CIA torture scandal is that there are those who will defend it to their dying breath, who say it was torture that prevented another 911, even though any honest interrogation expert will tell you that information extracted through torture is notoriously inaccurate and pretty much useless.
As for my friend, I have no way of knowing what he knew, what he didn’t know and what role he may or may not have played.
I think about whistleblower John Kiriakou, who worked for the CIA between 1990 and 2004. In 2007, he went public about CIA use of torture. For my money, he was a hero, but his reward was jail.
And again, I think of my friend, and all I can think is that silence is tantamount to consent.
But now the truth about torture is out there. We can deny it, we can defend it, but it is out there for the whole world to see.
I would like to think that we’re better than this. I would like to think that this revelation might mean that this will never happen again.
I would like to think that my friend was innocent and had no role, no knowledge of what the CIA had been doing.
I wish I could be sure that all of this would be true. But I can't.