George Santayana famously said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
According to the New York Times this week, Bush era torture was being authorized by officials who hadn’t even bothered to investigate, historically, the methods they were signing off on:
George J. Tenet, the C.I.A. director who insisted that the agency had thoroughly researched its proposal and pressed it on other officials, did not examine the history of the most shocking method, the near-drowning technique known as waterboarding.
The top officials he briefed did not learn that waterboarding had been prosecuted by the United States in war-crimes trials after World War II and was a well-documented favorite of despotic governments since the Spanish Inquisition; one waterboard used under Pol Pot was even on display at the genocide museum in Cambodia.
They did not know that some veteran trainers from the SERE program itself had warned in internal memorandums that, morality aside, the methods were ineffective.
I say bullshit. They knew what they were doing. And they did it anyway. I think that to profess to be flying blind is a safer position, legally for them, than to admit to knowing that the techniques had been used in the past by the Inquisition, the Nazis, the Soviet secret police, and Pol Pot. I think that the quotes that George Tenent fed to the Times are those of a man covering his ass, and those of the officials that he briefed—including Bush and Cheney.
And if they really, really didn’t know, it’s because they chose not to know. They could have easily discovered where these torture techniques had come from, historically. It means that they never brought academic historians into the room to offer advice and perspective on what they were doing. I think that they didn’t care. It’s the self-righteous authoritarian personality on display.