Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Dark Side

I just finished reading Jane Mayer's truly devastating book, The Dark Side, about the Bush administration's torture policy, and the legal machinations to give the CIA (and the Defense Department, to a lesser extent) a freer hand in interrogating suspects -- sometimes to the point of death.

Very chilling, horrible stuff. Everybody should read it (especially if you take a very hard line on terrorism -- as I often do). Also, a fascinating portrait of the way the administration works (apparently David Addington is possibly the most bullying, and arrogant man on the planet, and even crazier than his boss, Dick Cheney. If Mayer's book is to be believed, this youtube clip is probably Addington at his most polite.)

This book is not the kind of thing you can find funny anecdotes in.

That being said, there was one story which is sort of hilarious in illustrating the confounding stupidity of it all. It's the story of a guy named Khaled el-Masri, a German citizen of Lebanese descent, who had the misfortune of having a name very similar to that of a wanted terrorist. He was picked up by the Macedonian authorities and rendered to an American prison in Afghanistan. Right from the beginning he had a German Passport (as well as a family and employment history back in Germany which could fairly easily be checked to corroborate his story) and the authorities thought his arrest was extremely fishy. But one particularly zealous CIA officer had some sort of gut suspicion of Masri, and he was allowed to rot in prison for months before reason prevailed.

George Tenet was, apparently, terrified that he had been tortured in prison. ("Just tell me -- please -- we haven't used enhanced interrogation techniques on him, have we?" was the question to his underlings.) The CIA had no idea what to do to try to keep the situation as quiet as possible.

They finally decided that the smartest thing to do was release Masri with a shitload of cash, hope he kept relatively quiet and pretend the thing never happened. But Condoleezza Rice overruled them. "We can't put the President in the position of telling a lie to our allies," she piously replied.


So the US ambassador tells his German counterpart about this clusterfuck who replies: "Why are you telling me this? My secretary is here -- taking notes! Now there's a record! It will get out -- it will become a German political issue! I'll have to face investigations -- I'll have to testify in front of the Bundestag! Why didn't you just let him go, give him some money, and keep it quiet?"