Sunday, February 24, 2008

Memories of Dirty Tricks and The C.I.A

In 1960, C.I.A officer Larry Devlin was told to kill a Congolese politician, an episode that resonates with today’s debate about the limits of covert actions to counter a different global threat.Today, Mr. Devlin’s story has new resonance amid a renewed debate about the proper limits of C.I.A. actions to counter a different global threat and their cost to the United States’ standing. The C.I.A.’s destruction of videotapes of harsh interrogations is under criminal investigation. Congress has been reviewing the C.I.A.’s secret detention program and the transfer of terrorist suspects to countries that practice torture, though so far no inquiry has approached the sweep of the Church Committee in the Senate in the 1970s, whose reports quote Mr. Devlin under a pseudonym, Victor S. Hedgeman.


Bethany said...

The first interesting thing that jumped out at me in this story was the poisoned toothpaste. I always thought that gadgets like that were reserved for Hollywood versions of spies; I didn’t realize they were used in real life. I’m glad Devlin didn’t use it, but the idea of poisoned toothpaste does appeal to my inner James Bond.

On a more serious note, this story brought up some interesting issues that I haven’t heard discussed before. There has been plenty in the news about the morality of waterboarding and other interrogation techniques, but I hadn’t really seen the issue from a strategic point of view before. Devlin said he not only did not want to assassinate Lumumba for personal moral reasons, but because he thought it would do more harm than good to America. The fears about mass retaliation against Americans in Africa and the potential loss of American influence in Africa were real concerns that go beyond the initial moral considerations of assassinations.

Another point of view addressed in the article was that of the actual government-mandated interrogators or assassins. While the official stance of the United States might support the use of such techniques in certain situations, it is very different to be the person making these laws in your office in Washington D.C. than it is to actually be faced with a tortured human being. Torture might be effective in gaining information, but at what cost? How does this affect America’s foreign relations, the prisoners and the enforcing officials? I am not naïve enough to believe that other countries don’t use similar methods, but what kind of a message is the United States sending if it condemns in others the very same thing it does itself?

Ashlee said...

This post reminds me of those spy movies I've seen and always taken as half-truth. I never thought it could actually be possible that a government would set up a plot to assassinate another world leader this way. Spiked toothpaste seems so cartoonish and unrealistic. It makes me wonder what the Bush administration is up to, and does remind me of Abu Graihb and the waterboarding debate.

I would like to think that only the "bad" military leaders would orchestrate such a twisted way to get information out of someone, or that in "this day and age" no one would do anything like the things in this New York Times article. But after watching a video via The New York Times of someone demonstrating what it's like to be waterboarded, and and understanding that the consequence is humiliation, mental trauma, injury and maybe even death, I wonder why the U.S. would consider this as acceptable under the Geneva Convention.

There is no way waterboarding escapes the label of torture. And reading the testimonial of a (then) young man who was ordered to kill someone covertly by the U.S. government baffles me. Wasn't murder illegal in this country the last time I checked?

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