July 27, 2009 Leave a comment
We’ve just passed through the CIA assassination flap, already fading from the news after less than two weeks of media attention. Broken in several major newspapers, here’s how the story goes: the Agency, evidently under Vice President Dick Cheney’s orders, didn’t inform Congress that, to assassinate al-Qaeda leaders, it was trying to develop and deploy global death squads. (Of course, just about no one is going to call them that, but the description fits.) Congress is now in high dudgeon. The CIA didn’t keep that body’s “Gang of Eight” informed. A House investigation is now underway.
We’re told that the CIA — being the president’s private army and part of the executive branch of our government — has committed a heinous dereliction of duty. In fact, not keeping key congressional figures up to date on the developing program could even “be illegal,” according to Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin. (Not that Congress, when informed of Bush administration extreme acts, ever did much of anything anyway.)
This story, however, has a largely unexplored strangeness to it that has only been discussed on the fringes of the mainstream media (or in the press of other countries). After all, during the eight years this CIA assassination program was supposedly in formation, U.S. military special ops death squads were, as far as we can tell, freely roaming the planet conducting (or botching) assassination missions, and the CIA’s own robot assassins, airborne death squads, were also launching operations — sometimes wiping out innocent civilians — from Yemen and Somalia to Pakistan. They continue to run such operations in the skies over the Pakistani tribal borderlands near Afghanistan. So we still await an explanation of just why the CIA spent close to eight years, under Vice Presidential oversight, getting its death squads almost operational, but never — we’re told — off the ground.
If there seems to be something odd about this latest flap, if there’s much that we don’t know yet, we do, at least, know one thing: This particular small splash from the previous administration’s deep dive into crime and folly will have its brief time in the media sun and then be swallowed up by oblivion, just as each of the previous flaps has been.
After all, can you honestly tell me that you think often about the CIA torture flap, the CIA-destruction-of-interrogation-video-tapes flap, the what-did-Congress/Nancy Pelosi-really-know-about-torture-methods flap, the Bush-administration-officials-(like-Condi-Rice)-signed-off-on-torture-methods-in-2002-even-before-the-Justice-Department-justified-them flap, the National-Security-Agency-(it-was-far-more-widespread-than-anyone-imagined)-electronic-surveillance flap, the should-the-NSA’s-telecom-spies-be-investigated-and-prosecuted-for-engaging-in-illegal-warrantless-wiretapping flap, the should-CIA-torturers-be-investigated-and-prosecuted-for-using-enhanced-interrogation-techniques flap, the Abu-Ghraib-photos-(round-two)-suppression flap, or various versions of the can-they-close-Guantanamo, will-they-keep-detainees-in-prison-forever flaps, among others that have already disappeared into my own personal oblivion file? Every flap its day, evidently. Each flap another problem (again we’re told) for a president with an ambitious program who is eager to “look forward, not backward.”
Of course, he’s not alone. Given the last eight years of disaster piled on catastrophe, who in our American world would want to look backward? The urge to turn the page in this country is palpable, but — just for a moment — let’s not.
Admittedly, we’re a people who don’t really believe in history — so messy, so discomforting, so old. Even the recent past is regularly wiped away as the media plunge us repeatedly into various overblown crises of the moment, a 24/7 cornucopia of news, non-news, rumor, punditry, gossip, and plain old blabbing, of which each of these flaps has been but a tiny example. In turn, any sense of the larger picture surrounding each one of them is, soon enough, lessened by a media focus on a fairly limited set of questions: Was Congress adequately informed? Should the president have suppressed those photos?
The flaps, in other words, never add up to a single Imax Flap-o-rama of a spectacle. We seldom see the full scope of the legacy that we — not just the Obama administration — have inherited. Though we all know that terrible things happened in recent years, the fact is that, these days, they are seldom to be found in a single place, no less the same paragraph. Connecting the dots, or even simply putting everything in the same vicinity, just hasn’t been part of the definitional role of the media in our era. So let me give it a little shot.
As a start, remind me: What didn’t we do? Let’s review for a moment.
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