Tuesday, November 13, 2007

On Torture and Keith Olbermann

I don't have cable TV, so I wasn't able to watch Keith Olbermann until I got high-speed internet and could watch YouTube videos. At first I was really into YouTube and feared that my attention span was going to be reduced to 6:20. But I got over that and now only watch them when there's a link to YouTube on a site where I actually have to read something. Olbermann first came to my attention in September, when he trashed Bush for all of Bush's obvious failings. We needn't dwell on those here. But I'd assumed that all cable news was like FoxNews and was only interested in it as a source of entertainment.

So I checked out Olbermann and discovered that he really doesn't like Bush, was very upset at the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame (something that doesn't upset me at all, as I suspect all CIA agents of plotting against governments I like and supporting governments I detest) and had a one-night stand with a woman who later blogged on the horror of it all.

Anyway, a new Olbermann YouTube has come to my attention. It's a hissy-fit denunciation of our new Attorney General and the Congresspersons who voted for his confirmation over the AG's apparent support for what are now known as "enhanced interrogation techniques." And specifically the "enhanced interrogation technique" known as waterboarding. For the four people in the world who may not know what waterboarding is, it's a torture technique designed to make the victim believe that she or he is drowning.

What was most disturbing, though, in Olbermann' s presentation was the apparent belief that the practice of torture was something new in the US repertoire. Had he not seen State of Siege when it was shown on a double bill at half of all the benefits I attended in the 1970s, with either Battle of Algiers or Salt of the Earth? Had he not heard of Dan Mitrione, the School of the Americas or the various congressional reports detailing our bad behavior in various Third World countries? It is certainly embarrassing to have one's government outlaw various methods of torture, given that we shouldn't be practicing them in the first place, but the actual practice of torture by our government is nothing new.

(I went off to Wikipedia to learn the history of waterboarding and discovered that an early form dates from the Spanish Inquisition, then to the modern version used by both the Germans and the Japanese during World War II, and the adoption of the technique by the French in the Algerian conflict. On reading this, I was sure that--and I don't know why--the United States must have used it in the Philippines. I was right, as William Loren Katz details in a recent Counterpunch article, which is at:


I don't know why these things pop into my head; they just do.) While once upon a time, our government didn't admit to torture and certainly didn't claim a "right" to torture people, our government most certainly did torture people in practice.

I suppose it's better to have Keith Olbermann opposing torture than FoxNews supporting it, but it doesn't give Americans a clue that this might not be our first experiment with electric shock and the hood.

(A note on a barely related topic: Olbermann's latest video is a denunciation of smut on FoxNews. Apparently they've been showing a lot of skimpy bikinis on their newscasts and Olbermann is incensed! Frankly, the more smut, the less time spent convincing people that there really were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. More Smut, Less Talk.)

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