SATIRE AND THE CIA
The CIA was angry, full of righteous indignation
They never practiced torture, just enhanced interrogation.
A little waterboarding, a week-long sleep suspension:
Forget it, said Dick Cheney, they are hardly worth a mention.
In December 2014 Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein issued a report of her
Intelligence Committee on the CIA’s methods of interrogating terror suspects. The
report charged that the CIA had used torture; that this was immoral; that it was
ineffective; that other, more acceptable methods were more reliable; and that the CIA
had withheld information from her committee. These charges provoked a firestorm of
controversy and an avalanche of satire.
Conservatives, including the Republican minority of her committee were furious (though John McCain, the only Senator who had actually been tortured, defended Feinstein) The methods in question, the report’s critics claimed, were used only in a few cases, were far short of a Geneva Convention definition of torture., and had produced vital information which had saved many American lives. Moreover, the release of the report provided propaganda material to out enemies and damaged our image abroad.
Conservative cartoonists weighed in. Dana Summers depicted a Russian spy saying “You don’t need me to spy any more – We have Dianne Feinstein.” Michael Ramirez had the report saying: “We don’t need to interview senior CIA staff – just cherry-pick the information.” Gary Varvel saw a double standard in judgments on the Bush and Obama policies, and wondered “if the torture report will criticize us for killing people with drones.”
But satire is always drawn to abuses of power; and the CIA, secretive as well as powerful, has long been a target of satirists, So the cartoons poured out. Jim Morin has Dick Cheney insisting: “Sometimes torture is necessary to protect the interests of our country” and ISIL replies “We’re with you, brother.” Inevitably the Statue of Liberty appears: Mike Luckovich has her holding up a flaming torch under a suspect; Steve Breen shows her raised arm with a “Torture” tattoo; and Marshall Ramsey depicts her holding her hand over her mouth, horrified by the report. The CIA shield is another popular cartoon theme: Billiby draws it with a bloody smear and “Bush-Cheney torture” at its center; and Steve Bell changes the lettering to “Central Lack of Intelligence”. Inevitably a saddened Uncle Sam appears: Scott Santis has him reading the rule of law to a torturer who responds: “Seriously? I thought they were more like suggestions’; and Joe Heller shows Uncle Sam taking a “selfie” of himself in the mirror, which reveals a torturer mocking the “US image”.
On TV Saturday Night Live mocked the two psychologists who had been hired by the CIA to master-mind many of the tortures, showing them as hopeless bumblers, and wondering if they had also been responsible for most of the recent government and corporate foul-ups. Jon Stewart declared that the “deluge of depravity” revealed by the report made him want to puke – which he illustrated with shots of the vomiting scene from Monty Python’s Meaning of Life”. And Stephen Colbert, ending his run as a spurious right-winger on Comedy Central, intoned: “As journalists, it is our sacred duty to face those in authority and ask: ‘Should we really know this?’”
On line The Onion reported revelations from the Senate report that “tortured detainees often provided information vital to national security such as groans and hallucinatory shrieks”; “interrogators were poorly trained with many barely acquainted with proper humane techniques for dragging people up and down stairs until they passed out”; and “CIA physicians subjected many prisoners to a process known as ‘rectal hydration’ or ‘rectal feeding’ which really isn‘t as bad as you’re imagining unless you happen to be picturing the most humiliating and invasive scenario conceivable.” And Andy Borowitz cited Dick Cheney calling on the nations of the world to “once and for all ban the despicable and heinous practice of publishing torture reports.” Such publication “is a crime against all of us. Not just those of us who have tortured in the past, but every one of us who might want to torture in the future.”
New York Times columnist Gail Collins’ headline was “It’s Cruel. It’s Useless. It’s C.I.A.” And she cited an actual precedent from World War II: “An American pilot was shot down over Japan and was tortured repeatedly for information about the atomic bomb, about which he knew nothing. Threatened with beheading , the pilot told his captors that the U.S. had 100 atomic bombs and that Tokyo was next on the target list. The bogus information was immediately shared with the war minister and the Japanese cabinet.”