Torture Supporters have Better PR and Marketing People

On the most beautiful sunny day of the year in San Francisco I took a train to the East Bay then walked up a hill into a windowless room to listen to five experts talk about torture.  This was my idea of a good time, and possibly the reason I’m a laugh riot at parties.

It was a symposium titled:

Torture, Security, and Law
The Senate intelligence committee report
The involvement of psychologists and lawyers
Holding ourselves accountability

It was held at Boalt Hall at UC Berkeley School of Law which is the current home of distinguished scholar John Yoo.

I went to hear the progress of bringing accountability to the people who encouraged, legalized and normalized torture in America. I was also hoping for a path to accountability for those who tortured.

I was very disappointed

I was not alone in my feeling. The panel members expressed their own disappointment with their progress. ACLU lawyer Jameel Jaffer talked about his problems getting documents out of the government or getting the voices of the people tortured to be heard by the public. He was fighting to get images of their torture seen but keeps getting blocked.

What was especially frustrating was hearing the failed attempts of facility, law professors and alumni at Bolt trying to figure out a way to deal with Yoo’s continued presence.

On the way home my scholar friend and I discussed what it would take to bring protest of torture to the front of people’s minds. He pointed out that during the Berkeley protests war wasn’t abstract, it was personal. Killing others is a big moral issue, but personally being killed is a practical issue. Ending the war would mean keeping you or your loved ones safe and alive. It can raise the question:

Why protest torture when it has been sold as an effective means to keep Americans safe and alive?

As I thought about accountability or changing the acceptability of torture and war in America, I kept coming back to something my Canadian friend Interrobang said to me.

“When Americans talk about torture they always see themselves in the power position asking the question. ‘Should I torture?’  They ask themselves

‘Is it justified? Will it keep me safe? Does it work?’ But Americans never see themselves in the position of the person being tortured unjustly.”

CIA Sold Media The Lie, “Torture Works!” 

At the end of the symposium I made a point and asked a question.

“You know why the public thinks torture works and is justified? They have a better PR and marketing team. “

I asked the audience if they were aware that since 2004 the CIA had developed a campaign specifically for the media that pushed the “effectiveness” of using torture techniques on detainees. Following the release of the Senate Report we now know the examples fed to the media on effective torture were blatant calculated, intentional lies.

I asked the panel, “How can we help you push back against this lie?”

Mark Danner, the excellent journalist and author of books on torture, took on my burning question. I was looking for a snappy response, but he gave me a thoughtful, nuanced answer about the powerful CIA lobby.  Damn you Danner!

Another panelist pointed out how the current preferred method of warfare, drones, is squarely in the CIA’s control. Any attempts to get the administration to “look backward” at the CIA folks who tortured could be a problem, especially since some players were taken off the table legally.

So what of the people who encouraged, legalized and normalized torture? What of the players who aren’t protected legally? The former CIA analyst and whistleblower John Kiriako wants them prosecuted, Who’s supporting him in that? Who’s booking him on Meet The Press opposite Dick Cheney?

Here’s the thing, the CIA’s strategic lying leaks were wildly successful.
    58% all adults now see torture as often or somewhat justified.

—Jan, 3 2015 Washington Post poll

I wonder what it would take to change the perception of effectiveness of torture. I have a few ideas that I’ll share tomorrow. I know they will be ignored and not funded for implementation by anyone. Unlike psychologists James E. Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, who got $81 million for developing torture programs, there isn’t a lot of money pushing against torture. But there are people doing it anyway.

Tomorrow, “Why people don’t change their minds when it comes to torture, even when they have “all the facts.'”

It’s a nice day here, I’m going out for a walk.


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