When reporting my story from Friday about civil libertarian reaction to the anticipated Holder torture probe, a recurring fear came up in my interviews. What if the baroque and horrifying examples from the CIA inspector general’s report, scheduled for release on Monday, have the same effect on the public discourse as the Abu Ghraib photos? That is, what if the lurid tales of Black and Decker drills placed menacingly at al-Nashiri’s temple cause a media reaction that distracts from the series of policy decisions that led an interrogator to think such a thing was acceptable?
I don’t really know if this will actually happen and CIA Interrogator Jim will be the new Lynddie England — condemned as a monster (I think Tina Fey called her a "retarded redneck Peppermint Patty"), culpable for his/her actions, certainly, but with condemnation coming at the expense of recognizing, as Bruce once told us about Johnny 99, that it was moren’ all this that put that power drill in his hand.
For one thing — and for better or for worse — troops get all kinds of sympathy that CIA operatives never do, and therefore there’s an expectation of moral virtue that England, in the eyes of many, tacitly violated; by contrast, CIA operatives are expected to do bad things in our name that we’d rather not hear about. It’s easier, in other words, to hang them out to dry. Furthermore, the CIA’s interrogation program has been vouched for by George W. Bush personally, so the few-bad-apples argument is much harder for apologists to make, even if Interrogator Jim used 8 oz. of water to waterboard when the rules clearly told him to use 4 oz. or whatever. But we’ll see.