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A mass of contradictions

Lavinia Thompson tunes in to the news breaking in America

One of comedian Frankie Howard’s much-loved catch-phrases [used conspiratorially to his audience, whether it was in a theatre or at home watching on television] was “No, don’t laugh – it’s wicked to mock the afflicted …” and I’m somewhat reluctant to invoke it here when considering the subject of the extraordinary events in the USA yesterday as the Senate’s intelligence committee launched the publication of its report into the CIA’s interrogation and detention programmes in the wake of 9/11.

By chance I was tuned to Sky News at lunchtime yesterday when Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of said committee, was featured introducing the report’s 400 page summary to the Senate and (live on television) to the global audience.

To an extent, we had received advance notice of what was coming because earlier the US had effectively put out a warning that its embassies around the world might be at risk of attack -and that indeed its relationships with many countries, both friendly and not, might be adversely affected.

Today I am harbouring a range of mixed feelings, having read some of the media digests of what the report contains but (I admit) very little of the detail.

CIAThe truth is that I don’t care to learn too much about the CIA’s various nefarious torture practices and deceits that have been exposed to public view – just like I don’t enjoy horror television series or movies – though I accept they must be worryingly horrendous and shocking.

Instead I wish to confine myself today to some random thoughts in reaction to the events of yesterday.

The first is that the United States of America, the most powerful country in the world for the past 80 years, is a mass of contradictions.

Some say of both the Bible and the Quran that anyone looking hard enough can find within them passages in support of practically every side of every argument and issue – moral, ethical or spiritual – that has ever been concerned the human race.

Rather in the same manner, within the USA you can find supporters of practically political, religious (and non-religious), moral and other view ever conceived, all of them strongly convinced that they are 100% right and that ‘all the other guys’ are wrong.

The important aspect being, of course, that by definition not all of these ladies and gentlemen can be correct, indeed perhaps none of them may be.

The irony is that all of the above somehow manage to coexist in a vast country in which they all slavishly revere the founding fathers’ legendary Constitution (and its various amendments down the years) – seemingly considered a quasi-religious tract, if indeed not more significant than that – and yet still somehow manage to overlay their textual nuances upon its ‘tablets of stone’ in order to suit their own individual and often contradictory beliefs.

In consequence, the USA unconsciously presents itself to the world as a weird and contrary nation. On the one hand, it constantly vows devotion to time-honoured fundamental principles of human rights, equality and communality. Its people are intensely patriotic, proud of its role at the forefront of Western-style democracy, and instinctively collectively buy into the ‘American dream’ of Mom’s apple pie, America The Beautiful and the Star-Spangled Banner.

And yet.

On the other, simultaneously the USA is quite capable, in terms of its foreign and geo-political policy, of right-on irrationality and short-termism in its choice of the countries and regimes it supports, or indeed seeks to undermine.

Rampant U-turns can occur at any time.

In this regard, its decisions often seem to be based not at all on principles (morally high-minded or otherwise) but sheer naked pragmatism and commercial self-interest. It is just as likely to ladle out vast quantities of overseas development money – some might say bribes – to violent dictators as it is to any fledgling democracy, depending upon the circumstances at any particular time.

Plus, through the CIA and other agencies, it sees no problem in carrying out espionage and subterfuge against any nation – make that every nation –  whether they be friendly or foe.

And so back to yesterday’s events.

militaryThere could be few countries on earth which would ever be prepared to stand up and publicise such a damning report to the world.

We can give credit to America for that.

That said, inevitably, there have been those Americans (and factions) totally opposed to the report’s publication in this fashion or at all. Not because they challenged the facts or sought to deny some of the reports’ conclusions, but rather precisely because said publication exposed the USA’s dirty linen and the effect that it might have upon its relations with other nations.

Don’t forget, only 20% of Americans have passports. The average American’s knowledge of, or interest in, what happens in the the world outside North America is small. There are hordes of red-necked, gun-toting, right-wing loonies out there in the Bible Belt – and indeed in the American military – who, far from bending the knee to any principles rooted in the essence of basic human values – simply adhere to ‘my country, right or wrong’.

Disconcertingly, some of them appeared in the media yesterday, either defending the CIA generally and/or attacking the decision to publish the report in principle, not least because of the likely adverse impact upon the USA’s dealings with the rest of the world.

One American lady correspondent that I caught on Sky News, speaking from New York, even had the ‘front’ to deny that the CIA had acted outside the law and asserted that it had simply acted as directed by the Executive.

This was despite the fact that two of the report’s key findings were that the CIA was fully aware of its dodgy legal position (at one stage, as a precaution, it had systematically destroyed the routine videos it made of its interrogations) that it had repeatedly lied to both President Bush’s regime and Congress about what it was up to.

It was about this time that I began shouting at my television yesterday in frustration …

About Lavinia Thompson

A university lecturer for many years, both at home and abroad, Lavinia Thompson retired in 2008 and has since taken up freelance journalism. She is currently studying for a distant learning degree in geo-political science and lives in Norwich with her partner. More Posts