Un-American Activities

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The CIA doesn't say "torture." The agency insists on using the euphemism, "enhanced interrogation techniques" or sometimes the even more distancing abbreviation "E.I.T." They can't bring themselves to say "torture," to admit that that's what they did.

We've been told that torture is "un-American." We are exceptional among nations, so we don't do the bad things. Except that we did. The report released this week covered activities through 2008. President Obama shut down the torture program in 2009, but CIA Director John Brennan -- an Obama appointee -- continues to defend the agency's actions and the supposed value of the intelligence those actions gathered.

Effective or not, what the CIA did -- torture -- was inhumane, immoral and illegal. But as we've had several opportunities to see lately, we're not really big on policing the police in this country. Maybe that's "un-American," too.

Many people, including the president, are fond of saying that "We are a nation of laws." It's true that we are a nation with laws, many thousands of pages of them. But those laws are implemented and enforced by people who are, like all of us, prone to all sorts of imperfections and failures. We are a nation of flawed people.

The corrosive, destructive human impulses that lead to torture or, say, the police killing of unarmed people of color, those impulses seem distressingly common, regardless of what flag is flying over them.


Torture, police brutality, letting people abuse power and get away with it: we call these things un-American. And they are. And I don't want to live in un-America.

With a Perspective, I'm Brock Winstead.

Brock Winstead is an Oakland-based writer and host of an online public affairs program focused on the East Bay.