by Alan Goodman | revcom.us
I know you’re workin’ for the CIA / They wouldn’t have you in the Ma-fi-a… ”
In 1975, the band War had a hit single with that line. It pretty much summed up what anyone who claimed to have any consciousness, and anyone who had a conscience, had to say about the CIA. If the Mafia wouldn’t have you, if you were so amoral, so enmeshed in sadistic violence, so willing to carry out the most barbaric crimes in the service of the most debased ends… if you were the kind of person who would kill babies and torture people without losing sleep, if you were so devoid of a conscience that they wouldn’t let you work for the Mafia as a hit man… then you were a good candidate for the CIA.
Of course that was true.
Today, self-proclaimed liberals make movies and television shows celebrating the CIA and torture. In the buildup to the Oscars, Kathryn PIGelow’s movie Zero Dark Thirty, justifying CIA torture, is being massively promoted. Ben Affleck’s Argo is winning award after award. And then there is the television show, Homeland and its star Claire Danes, who plays a “flawed but heroic” CIA agent, winning the Golden Globes. And on and on. It’s important to understand that these cultural undertakings are being promoted not just or mainly by those who make them, but by the powers-that-be who control what movies and shows are funded, what gets mainstream distribution, and who define the terms for what is celebrated and awarded in this society.
Think about that line from War—and now think about what Ben Affleck said (quoting Tony Mendez, the real-life CIA agent Affleck plays in Argo): “…[the CIA] is not a place of deranged assassins, it’s a place of people who’ve come in to work, work really hard, care about life, care about their country.” This is the message of Argo. A point from Annie Day’s “Zero Dark Thirty, or How a People Lose Their Humanity” (Revolution, January 13, 2013) comes to mind: “A friend I saw it with said they were afraid of what this movie [and we might add—all these movies and television shows] could turn people into. And they are right to be afraid.”
The Re-branded CIA: Still Cold-blooded Imperialist Assassins
Ali Shalal, above, was tortured as a prisoner by U.S. military and CIA interrogators at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, Iraq, in 2003. He was told his hands were attached to electrical wires and that he would be electrocuted if he moved. Even more sadistic and gruesome abuse, including murder, sexual abuse, waterboardings, beatings, sleep deprivation, humiliation, and dog attacks were shown to have been perpretrated by the CIA at Abu Ghraib; Bagram, Afghanistan; and Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Photo: AP
This is still the CIA. The U.S.-run Abu Ghraib prison during the Iraq war was a horror chamber of human rights violations, with rampant and physical, psychological, and sexual abuse, including torture, rape, and murder of prisoners sanctioned from the highest levels of the U.S. government. Photos from Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison stunned the world and are deeply embedded in the minds of people everywhere—a searing image of the impact of CIA torture techniques developed over decades.
In the aftermath of September 11, 2001, people abducted by the CIA ended up in the U.S. prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, where the International Committee of the Red Cross accused the U.S. military of employing “humiliating acts, solitary confinement, temperature extremes, use of forced positions” against prisoners and instituting an “intentional system of cruel, unusual and degrading treatment and a form of torture.” The details that emerged of CIA torture at Guantánamo are horrific, and much of the story of what went on there, and what goes on there now, continues to be kept secret. The New York Times quoted an FBI agent who witnessed “interrogations” at Guantánamo: “On a couple of occasions, I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food or water. Most times, they had urinated or defecated on themselves and had been left there for 18, 24 hours or more.”
Today, CIA unmanned drone operations begun under Bush have been greatly expanded under Obama. During his administration, more than 300 of these drone attacks have been launched against Pakistan alone, as well as dozens more against Yemen, Somalia, and perhaps other countries in the region. More than 2,500 people have been murdered in these attacks over the past decade, and hundreds of millions live in fear that they will be targets or accidental victims.
So what the fuck is going on? How did the CIA and torture become something to celebrate?
The Lie, and the Devil’s Bargain: “Keeping Americans Safe”
In the last issue of Revolution, we outlined just some of the crimes the CIA has committed since its inception—from orchestrating the assassination of popularly elected Patrice Lumumba in the Congo to coordinating the overthrow of Salvador Allende in Chile to funding terrorist activity by the Contras in Nicaragua with profits from drug smuggling that flooded the inner cities of the U.S. with crack cocaine.
Between that time and now, what has changed? The role of the CIA evolved to take on new challenges to the U.S. empire. But if anything, the CIA has become more overt, more open in carrying out its crimes. A key turning point was the aftermath of 9/11. The rulers of the U.S. unleashed unrestrained chauvinism and military aggression, and shredded civil liberties within the U.S. Out the window went pretensions that “the U.S. doesn’t engage in torture.” Systematic, widespread torture of the most depraved nature was unleashed, from CIA sites throughout Europe to Guantánamo to Abu Ghraib.
The CIA is now something to celebrate, not keep under cover. Torture is no longer something to be denied and covered up, but something, we are told, is necessary to “Keep Americans safe.” And it is in this context that the powers-that-be (again, not just Hollywood studios, but the ruling class) “green lighted” a slew of movies and TV shows that portray the CIA—which is “a place of deranged assassins,” as “a place of people who’ve come in to work, work really hard, care about life, care about their country.”
Justifying torture as “keeping Americans safe” is both a lie and—for those who buy into it—a pact with the devil. It is a lie because the rulers of this country do what they do in the interests of a global system of capitalism-imperialism. That system, and maintaining the position of the USA on top of it, requires their military domination of key regions of the world—including the oil-rich and geo-strategic Middle East. That, not “the safety of Americans,” is what drives them in what they do—including moving to legalize and legitimize the open use of torture.
And buying into a pact with torturers that supposedly keeps you, or “Americans,” safe is a morality that degrades everyone who signs on to it. It is complicity with a system of exploitation, oppression and environmental devastation—enforced by the most extreme violence.
The Clash of Two Outmodeds
A prisoner is dragged into the U.S. torture center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba in 2002. Photo: AP
The world has changed since the end of the Cold War, and the clash between “the West” and Islamic fundamentalist forces has emerged. But the nature of U.S. imperialism has not changed. Three points that should restore some sanity to how this is understood:
First, the rise of Islamic fundamentalism is in large part a product of the workings of imperialism (including specific policies of the CIA in Afghanistan, where it backed and funded Islamic fundamentalists going up against the Soviet Union).
Second, the crimes of U.S. imperialism—from the Foxconn sweatshops in China to the environmental emergency, from mass incarceration in the USA to the ongoing genocide against indigenous peoples in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, dwarf even the aspirations of these reactionary Islamic forces.
Third, if you don’t oppose, but instead fall into active or passive complicity with either “the West” (U.S. imperialism and other imperialists) or Islamic Jihad, you strengthen them both—in the vicious cycle where every drone attack that wipes out a wedding party in Pakistan (with far, far too little protest in the U.S.) serves to recruit more jihadists, and on and on.
Bob Avakian’s analysis of “the two outmodeds”—two clashing reactionary forces that represent ways of thinking and organizing society that belong in the past—provides a concise and powerful tool for understanding this conflict and acting to change the terms of things:
What we see in contention here with Jihad on the one hand and McWorld/McCrusade on the other hand, are historically outmoded strata among colonized and oppressed humanity up against historically outmoded ruling strata of the imperialist system. These two reactionary poles reinforce each other, even while opposing each other. If you side with either of these “outmodeds,” you end up strengthening both.
While this is a very important formulation and is crucial to understanding much of the dynamics driving things in the world in this period, at the same time we do have to be clear about which of these “historically outmodeds” has done the greater damage and poses the greater threat to humanity: It is the historically outmoded ruling strata of the imperialist system, and in particular the U.S. imperialist
Starting From the Interests of Humanity
When you start from the interests of humanity, then instead of aligning with “our government” and celebrating and defending its immoral and criminal actions around the world, the challenge is to break out of the terms of these “two outmodeds” and be part of what Bob Avakian has posed as “bringing forward another way.” There is a different way the world can be, and a real alternative to capitalism and all forms of oppression in the new synthesis of communism that BA has developed, and in his ongoing revolutionary leadership.
Attention anyone with a conscience: Let’s stop having any tolerance for all this obscene bullshit about how “complicated” it is to figure out whether or not it’s right for the CIA to overthrow governments, install puppet dictators, torture people, subject people living in a huge section of the planet to the nightmare of drone strikes, and operate a global network of torture centers… all in service of an oppressive world order.
Here’s the reality:
CIA Stands for Cold-blooded Imperialist Assassins!