Sunday, February 22, 2009

Learning the Lessons, circa 1976

This posting is an epilogue of sorts for the previous one, which looked in depth at the minutes of a torturers' meeting at Guantanamo, circa October 2002.

Following is a quote from Fred Branfman, one a number of participants in a conference conducted by then-Senators Philip Hart (D) and Edward Brooke (R) in Washington, D.C. in September 1976. You won't find this quote online anywhere. It comes from the book, The CIA File, Grossman Publishers, 1976, pp. 61-62, in an essay by Fred Branfman, then director of the Indochina Resource Center, entitled "The President's Secret Army: A Case Study -- The CIA in Laos, 1962-1972," emphases added.
Had more of us looked more closely and honestly at what Presidential actions in Vietnam told us about executive value systems, for example, the American public might have been better prepared for Watergate. Indeed, Watergate might have been prevented. Or, for another example, we might today look more closely at what executive leaders like [CIA Director] Mr. Colby brought to Vietnam: the issuing of ID cards linked to computerized bio-dossiers to all Vietnamese over the age of fifteen; the establishment of a nationwide system of surveillance through informers and a U.S.-created police force that grew from ten thousand in 1961 to one hundred and twenty thousand in 1974; Mr. Colby's practice of setting quotas on the number of Vietnamese civilians to be assassinated or arrested per month per district, a decision that resulted in tens of thousands of murders under Operation Phoenix; the setting up of special "administrative detention" procedures whereby special "Councils" imprisoned tens of thousands without benefit of trial or representation by lawyers but solely on the basis of police dossiers prepared after brutal tortures on all those picked up in mass roundups of men, women, and children, often in postcurfew raids in the dead of night.

For if we could understand that Vietnam was just America writ large, that the mind-set exhibited by executive leaders in Vietnam was the same mind-set they brought to solving problems at home, not only might we be better prepared for understanding the growing "privacy invasion" in this country -- the data banks, the surveillance, the wiretapping, the use of informers -- but we might have alerted an American citizenry far more ready to combat such a threat than is at present the case.
Can we now see how this failure to understand led to the Iraq debacle, Abu Ghraib, and currently, the escalation of the war in Afghanistan? Will we learn the lessons this time?

1 comment:

Anthony said...

It occurs to me that one might turn this idea around a bit and use it to argue against the US's seemingly imperialist tendencies.

Like so:
(a) countering an insurgency is well known to produce great stress among occupiers that ultimately leads to abuses;

(b) invading and occupying a foreign country, even with the best of intentions, is bound to lead to some amount of insurgency if the occupation is maintained for an extended period of time;

(c) lessons learned abroad are bound to be brought home and applied here.

Thus, it stands to reason that when US foreign policy maintains invasion and occupation as a tool, we are bound to witness abuses at home that parallel those we perpetrate overseas.

That is, I'm questioning the causality a bit here: do abuses abroad result from a skewed worldview at home, or does the skewed worldview at home arise from, or run hand in hand with, our foreign policy choices?

Thanks for blogging,


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