A Spoonful of Sugar Helps the Medicine Go Down

As we walk through this world of darkness certain things become clear if we live long enough.  It is better to be mild with upset people whenever possible.   Particularly when confronted by someone who is angry, it is best to remain calm, keep your eye on defusing rather than escalating anger.   It’s not easy, and not always possible, but is generally a better way to walk through a violent place than flipping the bird at every one of the many angry, deserving jerks you will encounter here.

Then there is the calculated use of strategically applied reasonableness to attain a desired goal.  Not exactly the same thing as described above, but it’s a smart play. Interim CIA director Gina Haspel, who repeatedly denied the incendiary charge that stripping prisoners naked, freezing or overheating their cages, slamming them against walls, depriving them of sleep for days on end, blasting deafening music, making them engage in forced mock sex (for the cameras), using electrodes, stress positions, hanging with feet barely touching the ground, other fear and terror inducing techniques, amount to torture, backed off ever so slightly in her denials of government wrongdoing.  

These things were all perfectly legal when the CIA did them, Gina Haspel insisted repeatedly, if not 100% uncontroversially, during her confirmation hearing.  “Bloody Gina,” by all reports, was pretty gung-ho about the new freedom to roughly interrogate granted by the top secret Torture Memo[1]  and the $80,000,000 manual of best arguably non-torture practices painstakingly laid out by two patriotic American psychologist/torture tutors, Jessen and Mitchell.  To my knowledge she did not deny that she destroyed evidence of torture conducted under her watch at a “black site” in Thailand.

It was going to be a tight vote for the president’s nominee for CIA director, Ms. Haspel and her allies realized.  So she wrote a heartfelt letter to the top ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Mark Warner.  The magic words:

While I won’t condemn those that made these hard calls, and I have noted the valuable intelligence collected, the program ultimately did damage to our officers and our standing in the world. With the benefit of hindsight and my experience as a senior agency leader, the enhanced interrogation program is not one the C.I.A. should have undertaken.


It seems to have done the trick, precatory (non-legally binding — she promises nothing, , admits nada) language and all.   She should now, with Mark Warner’s vote and a couple of others, have enough votes today to become America’s Next Top Spook.   It is petty, I know, to parse such sincere words as though they were crafted with the help of a lawyer and other partisan hacks, but I can’t help but note just a couple of things.   After-the-fact snideness is about all we get to exercise, much of the time, here in our great, participatory democracy.

I won’t condemn those that made these hard calls

It’s a nitpick, but I love use use of the word “that” to refer to those who insisted torture was legal.  “That,” while acceptable as a reference to a person, is also exclusively used to refer to animals and inanimate objects; “who” is exclusively used for people.   A telltale slip.  Nothing to see here.  Yes, OK, Dick Cheney was a bit of an inanimate object, as were the steely men who made “these hard calls”.   Kind of like a corporate “person”, not something you’d want watching your back in a fox hole, or babysitting for your kids, or meeting in a dark alley.

I also love the principled refusal to condemn the architects of the recent American torture program.  You go!

and I have noted the valuable intelligence collected

So Gina Haspel is sticking to her guns, a woman of principle!  In contrast to the reasoned opinion of every intelligence expert I’ve ever heard on the subject, she is suggesting that torture works.   She will not say it’s not a damned good way to get evil fucks to give up valuable intelligence.   Nope.  The regrettable part, to Haspel and her higher morality, is that it makes us look bad to be secretly doing things that, when leaked, make us look like monsters no better than the people we are torturing, er, interrogating in an enhanced, perfectly legal, or at the very least arguably legal, manner.

Since we are good, and evil people, or people we suspect may be evil, are evil, or quite possibly evil in the case of mere suspects, well, our American secret agents hold themselves to a much higher moral standard than standard morality requires. You see, we only secretly torture us some folks to preserve our higher moral values.  

It is important to grasp this distinction.  Only then can you understand why our highly principled UN ambassador, Nikki Haley, walks out when the Palestinian delegation complains about the fog of tear gas rained from Israeli drones and the dozens of demonstrators killed and many hundreds wounded on the Gaza border with Israel. The NY Times headline today refers to “scores” of Palestinians killed by Israeli soldiers in the last two days.  Typical liberal crap– “scores,” while technically accurate, suggests way more than a mere sixty or so, eh, Nikki?

US ambassador Haley defended Israel’s amazing “restraint” in killing and maiming so few of the people who publicly massed to openly hate their freedom.  No other country, she insisted, could have behaved with more restraint.  Then she got up and left as the Palestinian representative began to speak.   The perfect way to show the world how much America cares, how willing we always are to listen.  How much more moral we are than those who self-righteously, hypocritically, attack our higher morality.

“Just a spoon full of sugar
makes the medicine go down,
the medicine go dow-own,
the medicine go down,
just a spoon full of sugar
makes the medicine go down
in the most delightful way!”


[1]    Torture, according to that memo, “must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.” Yoo also advised that for mental pain or suffering to amount to torture, “it must result in significant psychological harm of significant duration, e.g., lasting for months or even years.”     source

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