Sunday, January 6, 2013

Diane Feinstein, "Zero Dark Thirty," and the Book of John

John 8:1-31 
“Jesus went unto the mount of Olives.  And … the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst, They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act.  Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?  … [Jesus] lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.  … [Y]e shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. “ 
The stated rationale of WikiLeaks, that corporations and government should be allowed to hold nothing private, is rubbish.   Yes we all want to uncover secrets, but corporations do have a legitimate interest in protecting some of their innovations, deliberations, and operations, and governmental agencies must be given some freedom to weigh options, investigate, and deliberate without political interference.   Police investigations of crime, investigations geared to protect us from those who would do us harm, deliberations of military strategy, the weighing of diplomatic options—none of these things can be done properly without some privacy. 

This is what makes the prosecution of John Kiriakou, Julian Assange, and Bradley Manning reasonably clear-cut and o.k.   Kiriakou will be sentenced on January 25, 2012 for providing the names of two CIA agents to reporters.  The treatment is harsh.  He has incurred more than $500,000 in attorneys fees and he’ll serve 30 months in prison.  Bradley Manning, the U.S. Army soldier accused of passing classified information to Wiki Leaks in 2010, has been in prison under harsh conditions.  According to his Wikipedia entry, his trial is scheduled for February 2013.  In the meantime, Julian Assange, the founder of Wiki Leaks is a fugitive holed up in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London.  His indiscriminate release of private information about individuals, companies, and governments is harmful, and cannot be justified.  His 15 minutes of self-aggrandizing fame are about done, and none too soon.

On the other hand, an open and democratic society requires honest government with as much integrity as we can muster.  This means we must know what government is up to, which requires investigation and dogged determination by the press.  It also requires leaks that government may not like and which  may in fact be illegal.

The need for privacy and the need to know are competing interests.  How should they be balanced in a case like Zero Dark Thirty?  Diane Feinstein, head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has ordered the acting CIA director to reveal whether the agency delivered classified or misleading information to director Kathryn Bigelow on the use of enhanced interrogation techniques during the hunt for bin Laden.  Local San Francisco Area documentary filmmakers  Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith, who collaborated on a documentary on Daniel Ellsberg (“The Most Dangerous Man in America”) are o.k. with that:  
“Bay Area documentary filmmaker Judith Ehrlich, who teaches at Berkeley City College, says Feinstein's action is controversial in the film community, which is always sensitive to issues of government intervention. "But an important distinction here is that this is an investigation of the CIA - not of the film or the filmmakers," she said.  So "while filmmakers still may have legitimate concerns about the government action that chills sources of" information, she says the larger issue is how the CIA and government agencies hide behind classified information to "selectively leak information - and misinformation - to make themselves look good."
Rick Goldsmith, Ehrlich’s collaborator adds: 
"I wouldn't be in favor of more government interference in art for any reason," because of the danger of censorship, said Goldsmith, who is now involved in a CIA-related film project. But this time, Feinstein and her fellow senators "are not really interfering with the filmmakers at all," he said. "They're going to the CIA and asking them to reveal documents ... and oversight of the CIA is a good thing."
But Ehrlich and Goldsmith get this one wrong.  The Feinstein investigation is not about curbing “misleading” CIA information; it’s all about stopping CIA agents from talking with anyone in the media, or in film.  Period.   Of course filmmakers must take what they are told by government officials with a large grain of salt.  We cannot judge whether the film get’s it right in this case or not.  But, to the extent the Feinstein investigation takes off, this will not be about government integrity, but part of a broader battening down of the hatches so sensitive information does not leave the ship of state.  To applaud this, even tentatively, is misguided. 

Feinstein may feel that “Zero Dark Thirty” does not fully match her reading of the classified report on the effectiveness of torture, … or that it matches it too closely!  Either way, what good will come of an investigation into what information CIA agents who may have consulted on the film may have provided to authenticate this work of art?  It will mean future filmmakers will have less access to get their facts straight from those inside government.  This investigation, if it proceeds, will not be in the service of truth or integrity. 

The parable of John: 8 sets up the problem.  Sometimes the law’s an ass.  Sometimes it’s better not to cast stones (or tear investigations from the fence), no matter what the law says, … and it has something to do with being free of sin.  It matters that the government is not free of sin.  Abhu Graib, waterboarding, extra judicial renditions, Guantanamo, targeted drone killings:  none of these are things to be proud of.  It’s important to shed light on this, and it’s important to get it as accurate as we can when we do.  I trust that’s what Bigelow was after.  I trust that’s what any CIA agent who may have talked to her team was after.  And even if Feinstein believes that the problem is not the fact that information was provided, but that the information was inaccurate, the Senate Intelligence Committee is  in no position to cast stones in this case.   We shall know the truth, and the truth will make us free.  The Senate Intelligence Committee should have the decency to shut up and let the discussion proceed.  

1 comment:

  1. Again, thought provoking and brilliantly stated. The dilemma you pose parses two worlds: the practical and the spiritual. You are right to point to Dirty Harry as the touchstone for the practical. A kidnapped girl's life appeared to hang in the balance. It turns out the hoped for life saving information came too late, but the issue was clearly stated. In the temporal world, condemning torture when innocent lives apparently hang in the balance takes tremendous fortitude.

    The spiritual world, to which you refer, however, presents a different paradigm - "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son (up to torture and earthly death) that we may have eternal life. I don't pretend to see clearly even the ultimate question, much less the ultimate answer, but for me the issue is not whether the cause is worth killing (or torturing) for, but whether it is worth dying for. How many torturers would say to their captive - "I will lay down my life in exchange for the information you have"? Certainly some would, and have.
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