In March, Mariane Pearl, the widow of the murdered Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, received a phone call from Alberto Gonzales, the Attorney General. At the time, Gonzales’s role in the controversial dismissal of eight United States Attorneys had just been exposed, and the story was becoming a scandal in Washington. Gonzales informed Pearl that the Justice Department was about to announce some good news: a terrorist in U.S. custody—Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the Al Qaeda leader who was the primary architect of the September 11th attacks—had confessed to killing her husband.As Jane Mayer goes on to point out, Ms. Pearl had already received this information from Condoleeza Rice, in 2003; but then, it was a secret. Gonzales said they would release a transcript of the "confession" this time. It's a sign of the times that this is a lead-in, not to Administration mendacity and media manipulation as in the Pat Tillman case, but to an article about CIA "black sites," and the question of tortured confessions. Let's just say that Pakistan imprisoned another person for the murder of Daniel Pearl in 2002, and that no one who knows anything about Mr. Pearl's murder thinks the person the Administration has privately and publicly accused of the crime, is the guilty party. As Mariane Pearl says: “An intelligence agency is not supposed to be above the law.” But we are clearly so far beyond that side of the looking glass there's no reason to even pretend anymore that such sentiments are anything more than comforting lies for a high-school civics class. Why do I say that?
The [CIA black sites] program was effectively suspended last fall, when President Bush announced that he was emptying the C.I.A.’s prisons and transferring the detainees to military custody in Guantánamo. This move followed a Supreme Court ruling, Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, which found that all detainees—including those held by the C.I.A.—had to be treated in a manner consistent with the Geneva Conventions. In late July, the White House issued an executive order promising that the C.I.A. would adjust its methods in order to meet the Geneva standards. At the same time, Bush’s order pointedly did not disavow the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” that would likely be found illegal if used by officials inside the United States. The executive order means that the agency can once again hold foreign terror suspects indefinitely, and without charges, in black sites, without notifying their families or local authorities, or offering access to legal counsel.Most of those latter provisions, I'm guessing, would also violate the Geneva Convention as well as the Hamdan decision. And, of course, we have the President's assurances that We don't torture." So it's not like we're ignoring the Supreme Court, or anything. And even if we are, why is that a surprise? And why the CIA, again? Because even the Pentagon won't do it.
And when you get through thinking about all the implications of that, read the article in the "New Yorker," and ask yourself: When do we decide this really is as bad as it sounds?
UPDATE: That last, is, I know, a stupidly rhetorical question. I just happen to think Marty Kaplan is right, and looking for salvation in a political party is a fool's dream. The people who were supposed to change things in D.C. obviously don't have the power to do so, and the people who have the power to do so, really, really like the status quo, no matter how disgusting it is to the rest of us. Funny, I've just been watching a post-WWII movie on Turner Classic Movies (ah, it's The Best Years of Our Lives; hooray for the intertubes!), and a minor character tells a Navy veteran who's lost his hands that the war was fought by "Washington radicals," that the US fought the Nazis and the Japanese when they should have fought the "Reds." The roots of the Cold War and the McCarthy Era are right there in that time capsule of a movie scene: the pro-Fascists of England (the key plot point of The Remains of the Day, if you don't know your history that well) were obviously not confined to England before or after the war. When you look at it, you realize the roots of this problem are very, very deep indeed. This didn't start with Ronald Reagan or Dick Cheney in Nixon's White House, and it won't end in 2009.