Torture and Jonathan Gruber: Telling lies because the ends can justify the means

By Eric Boehm | Watchdog.org

For those who enjoy the absurdist theatrics of big government, Tuesday was a big day.

LIES AND THE LYING LIARS WHO TELL THEM: This week we learned the government can and will hide the truth on some really important issues.

The U.S. Senate released a much-anticipated report on the CIA’s use of torture against suspected terrorists, raising questions about whether the ends justify the means when it comes to fighting a war on terrorism — even if those means require abandoning some of the core principles that war was supposedly being fought to protect.

Meanwhile, the U.S. House’s Committee on Oversight and Government Reform conducted the much-anticipated interrogation of former White House adviser and Obamacare architect Johnathan Gruber, raising questions about whether the ends justify the means when it comes to getting landmark entitlement legislation through Congress — even if those means require abandoning some of the core principles of our form of government.

The CIA and its enablers told lies. Jonathan Gruber and the other architects of Obamacare told lies.

Besides that, here’s the common element: when government acts without transparency and accountability, bad things can and will happen.

The Senate’s report on the CIA’s torture regime is a long, dark journey into moral dilemmas and ethical transgressions. It includes evidence former Vice President Dick Cheney was lying when he said torturing suspected terrorists helped capture Osama Bin Laden. It also shows the CIA allowed individuals with histories of criminal and sexual assault to torture suspects, that it used waterboarding with greater frequency and viciousness than had been previously reported and that it subjected suspected terrorists to “rectal feeding” when they were not cooperative.

The report also shows that many in the CIA questioned whether torture was an effective tool for interrogating suspects (it’s not) and that Congress not only looked the other way for years, but actively avoided learning about where and how the CIA was torturing captured militants.

Sitting atop all the lies of omission committed by the CIA and Congress and two presidential administrations are indications the agency was deliberately misleading the American people by spreading false information through the media.

MISINFORMATION IN THE MEDIA: The Senate’s report on torture conducted by the Central Intelligence Agency includes information on how the agency spread “good” news through the media.

“Much of the information the CIA provided to the media on the operation of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program and the effectiveness of its enhanced interrogation techniques was inaccurate,” the Senate report concludes.

Other parts of the report discuss plans by agency officials to “leak” positive information to “friendly” reporters about the effectiveness of the program while shutting down potential leakers who had a different side of the story.

This is a deliberate attempt to mislead and confuse. One could even say a lack of transparency about torture was a valuable political tool for the CIA, because no one could be upset about a program they didn’t know existed or thought was rarely and effectively used.

Which brings us to Gruber, who made himself famous by declaring to a room full of cameras and other people that “lack of transparency (was) a huge political advantage,” for the Obama administration in the run-up to the passage of the Affordable Care Act.

Not being a politician, Gruber apparently never learned one of the most important rules of political life: never give straightforward, honest and unambiguous answers to voters.

If he had been a politician, Gruber probably would have fallen back on some talking point about the importance of providing health insurance to all Americans, when asked about the behind-the-scenes process of crafting Obamacare.

Instead, he told the brutal truth: hiding important details of the law was a huge political advantage. There’s no doubt this is true, because voters have better things to do than follow the nuances of political debates.

On Tuesday, when he was asked whether the Obama administration had misled the American people to pass the law, Gruber sounded more like a politician reading from the First Commandment of being caught in a scandal: Thou shalt vaguely apologize without admitting guilt.

I sincerely apologize for conjecturing with a tone of expertise and for doing so in such a disparaging fashion,” Gruber said. “I knew better. I know better. I’m embarrassed and I’m sorry.

Gruber, it would seem, is continuing to mislead Congress and the American people. There will likely be no consequences for his actions — aside from losing a $400,000 gig with Vermont, as Watchdog has previously reported.

The CIA can continue to mislead too. There were no names — not even code names or aliases — in the torture report, so there is likely to be no accountability for the agency bosses or individual agents who authorized and carried out the horrific actions detailed within its pages.

Thanks to the Senate report and Gruber, we have a measure of transparency on these two subjects. Accountability is a whole different issue.

Both got caught lying to the media, Congress and the American people. But governments and their agents will continue to lie as long as those in power believe the ends justify the means.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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