My guess is that if one of the three men we waterboarded--in particular Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), whose drowning the CIA simulated 183 times--said something while choking on water, it was probably along the lines of "I can't breathe." No, KSM, who planned 9/11, is not a figure worthy of the sympathy engendered by the murder of Eric Garner by an illegal chokehold. In fact, I would have liked to waterboard KSM myself.
Which is why we have laws that are supposed to be sacrosanct, to check the passions of men and women granted guns and badges, special titles and responsibilities. Because, right after I witnessed the second plane hit from Delancey Street, God knows what I, and likely millions of others, would have been willing to do to the perpetrators of that sick and inhuman act.
But the problem is that just the opposite has happened in recent years. From out of control local cops in Ferguson and New York City, to an out of control global (secret) police force, if you want to call the CIA that, running roughshod over legal precedents and behavioral norms. Over rules that were put in place with the foreknowledge that, without them, torture and murder would inevitably become commonplace.
Of course, like just about everything these days, the issue has been politicized. The same people who portray themselves as the Avengers of constitutional rights of poor gun shoppers forced to submit to 2-minute background checks think the CIA should take a mulligan for questioning people for weeks on end while they were chained naked in a cell having their heads dunked under water.
Joe Walsh--not the cool one who sings "Life's Been Good," but the former Congressman from Illinois with the enlarged medulla oblongata who thinks paying child support is for chumps--probably does best to elucidate this ideological quackery in a Tweet he sent out upon release of the report.
Look, quit navel gazing on this CIA torture report, the Agency’s defenders say. Yeah, we engage in torture. Good. Big deal. Now go focus on defeating the Islamic enemy.
Walsh, not surprisingly, also showed similar insensitivity to Michael Brown's shooting in Ferguson, because why should a policeman go through any scrutiny just for shooting an unarmed black kid?
It should not be surprising that Walsh is far from the only right-winger to rub two brain cells together and defend the indefensible. With the-never-ending war, might-makes-right mentality that has become conventional, with everything from illegal invasions of sovereign nations to small-town police departments turned into counter-insurgency units replete with tanks, heavy artillery and body armor, we have created the culture that has allowed lawless behavior to occur – and, indeed, thrive.
Just as the CIA and former Bush Administration officials were never held to account (and almost definitely never will be) for their illegal actions, before we started paying attention to police shootings of African American males -- not a new thing, by any means -- they were similarly unaccountable. More than 99 percent of us regular people brought before a grand juries are indicted, while for police the number is closer to 3 percent. So, you know, a slight statistical difference.
When, in the case of the late Eric Garner, you are choked to death by NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the middle of broad daylight on a busy Staten Island street while the whole thing is videotaped and the victim is begging you to leave him alone and saying "I can't breathe," and there is no indictment, the system is obviously broken. Even the coroner determined that the cause of death was "homicide." Still not enough.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has asked Governor Andrew Cuomo for the ability to prosecute police brutality cases in the future. This certainly would be an improvement, and a great first step, as he does not work with local police departments on a day-to-day basis like the district attorney does, building prosecutions together and often sharing personnel and friendships.
But, ultimately, with abuses by local law enforcement as well as national agencies, the answer is independent prosecutors. Those who are by definition free of the biases that come with living near or working with those entrusted to protect us. There is a reason why the Obama Administration doesn’t want to prosecute the torturers: Because they are them, know them, or are friends with them. Of course this is also very true with district attorneys and police officers.
Beyond that, we are all ultimately responsible for our culture, whether it is shows like 24 that tell us torture is just awesome and works, or Cops, where it seemed like every commercial I saw featured police roughing up a shirtless African-American male. We have the power of the clicker and petition.
Americans are making their voices heard right now on the streets and social media. It is up to people of conscience to continue. Reform never comes easy.