Since it hasn’t figured in the New York Times, I almost missed it, but the Italian courts have issued arrest warrants for another six C.I.A. agents. In June the Italians prosecuted thirteen American agents for kidnapping from Milan an Al Qaeda sympathizer named Hassan Osama Nasr, or Abu Omar, and “rendering” him to Egypt, where he seems to have been tortured. The judge at the time distinguished the thirteen agents who did the kidnapping from six others who had merely kept Abu Omar under surveillance and worked out some of the logistics. An appeals court now says that all nineteen should be arrested, because they worked together closely. In fact, according to the Italian prosecutors, “A female agent from the group of six shared a room at the five-star Westin Hotel in Milan with a male agent from the group of 13.” It still seems unlikely to me that the case will amount to more than a gesture, but I appreciate the details unearthed.
Very little of what was first reported of the July 22 shooting by London police of Jean Charles de Menezes, an innocent Brazilian, seems to be true. In early reports, he was said to have been wearing a bulky jacket and to have jumped the subway turnstile as he fled the police. The Guardian reports that at a news conference yesterday, de Menezes’s relatives said that London’s Metropolitan police have now admitted that he was wearing only a “jeans jacket” and that he did not jump the ticket barrier but “used a travel card” to enter the subway. The Scotsman notes that “There is a widespread belief he [de Menezes] was confused because the police were not in uniform,” but I can’t find any solid reports about this one way or the other. When the shooting was first reported in America, most accounts justified the suspect nature of the Brazilian’s jacket by noting that London temperatures on July 22 “were in the 70s”. But according to at least one weather site, the temperature in London that day never rose above 69 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Celsius).
Over the weekend we went to a backyard fundraiser for the Genocide Intervention Fund, an effort launched by a few Swarthmore undergraduates to support African Union peacekeepers in Darfur, in the hope that they will at least slow the ongoing genocide. A young woman spoke who had lived through the Rwandan genocide as a child and had just come from visiting with Darfur refugees in a camp in Chad. Please consider donating.
It was an artsy crowd, and a man whose name I didn’t catch was passing around a handheld viewer with a fascinating sample of 3-D slides he had taken—a giraffe with a crick in its neck; an antipapist rally with a bonfire, a scaffold, and audience members in Viking helmets; and electric sparks snaking out of a Tesla coil like some kind of Frankenstein’s-monster octopus. He said he was going to be projecting the slides on August 18 at the next meeting, free and open to the public, of the New York Stereoscopic Society at the American Museum of Natural History.
There are 3-D images from the 1850s at the ICP’s Young America exhibit at Sixth Avenue and 43rd Street. You may recall that a few weeks ago I began an unofficial audio guide for the exhibit. The bad news is that I decided, about a third of the way through reading P. C. Headley’s Life of Louis Kossuth in order to pontificate about him, that this was not a cost-effective use of my time (and might even, from the perspective of book-writing, be considered an elaborate form of procrastination). The good news is that the exhibit is in New York for another month, and there is still time for you to see it unencumbered by my mellifluous tones.
As part of a new resolve to be more consistently nineteenth-century, I would like to report a bit of news about Charles F. Briggs’s The Trippings of Tom Pepper, the novel from which the title of this blog is taken. While reading works by and about William Dean Howells, for reasons I am not yet ready to disclose, I recently learned that after Howells and his brother read Trippings, they swore to each other that they would never lie—an early sign of Howells’s hyperactive superego, in my opinion, because Tom Pepper’s guilt about lying struck me (in the one volume of the novel I’ve read) as more of a running gag than an earnest plot point.
It would be easier to believe that American abuse of detainees in Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, and Afghanistan was the work of a few rogue interrogators if it didn’t have a pattern. But if the abuse is spontaneous and uncoordinated, how come it always seems to involve hoods? In “The Experiment” (not online) in this week’s New Yorker, Jane Mayer solves the mystery. Waterboarding, stripping, extreme cold and extreme heat, sleep deprivation, “noise stress,” sexual ridicule, desecration of religious symbols, manipulation of national flags, and hoods are all techniques practiced in a classified Pentagon program called SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape), launched at the end of the Korean War to train American soldiers to resist torture.
“After September 11th,” Mayer writes, “several psychologists versed in SERE techniques began advising interrogators at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere. . . . Interrogators and BSCT members [Behavioral Science Consultation Teams, also known as ‘Biscuits’] at Guantanamo adopted coercive techniques similar to those employed in the SERE program.” A scientist connected with the program told Mayer that graduates now have to promise in writing not to use the techniques they learn at SERE on detainees: “We did this when we learned people were flipping it.” (Exit horse; the barn door shuts.)
It’s amazing journalism; many puzzle pieces now fall into place. It’s also chilling. Mayer describes a military psychologist from SERE who allegedly advised U.S. interrogators to reduce a detainee to the condition of a dog in a psychology experiment shocked so many times that when untied it no longer shies away from further shocks. Perhaps it’s time to stop worrying that comparisons to Nazi Germany might be alarmist. What else should such a mindset be compared to?
In the London Review of Books, Ed Harriman reads through a stack of audits to find out how wisely and carefully the United States has spent its money and, in much larger quantities, Iraq’s. His conclusion: “Americans can’t be expected to do their sums when they are spending other people’s money to finance a war.” The best vignette concerns one of the American agents who was given several million dollars of Iraqi money to distribute in the field. On occasion such agents were cavalier about paperwork. Not this fellow.
One agent who did submit receipts, on being told that he still owed $1,878,870, turned up three days later with exactly that amount. The auditors thought that ‘this suggests that the agent had a reserve of cash,’ . . .
What a lovely piece of understatement. It also suggests, of course, that his reserve was so ample that $1,878,870 didn’t even squeeze him.