Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The CIA and the English language

From a New York Times article quoting the Senate report on the Central Intelligence Agency and torture:

“Strongly urge that any speculative language as to the legality of given activities or, more precisely, judgment calls as to their legality vis-à-vis operational guidelines for this activity agreed upon and vetted at the most senior levels of the agency, be refrained from in written traffic (email or cable traffic),” wrote Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., then the head of the C.I.A.’s Counterterrorism Center.
Or in plain language: Don’t put questions in writing.

“Given activities,” “operational guidelines for this activity”: the Agency man writes in abstractions. “Strongly urge,” “be refrained from”: the Agency man writes without a sense of agency. It’s as if he’s read George Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language” backwards.

A related post
Getting the truth (WWII, and a different way to interrogate prisoners)

comments: 4

Anonymous said...

Waterboarding some people is torture, but killing hundreds of children as collateral damage in drone strikes over the last few years is justifiable? Both should be seen as horrid.

Michael Leddy said...

Nothing I wrote suggests that it is. There are many things that should been seen as horrid, abroad and at home.

Anonymous said...

No accusation of what you wrote was intended, which shows how touchy the subject is to many. The fact is that American military power under many of the last presidents has busied itself with maiming and killing people, right up to today. Mea culpa followed by more military action is no mea culpa from the parties who pretend to abhor it while funding it aplenty. Given a world of one billion Chinese, a billion Indians, a billion Africans, a billion across South America and almost 500 million Europeans, it becomes time for the world's many nations to sort out its issues, even the military ones, and stop expecting a nation of less than 350 million to fight, kill and waste its treasure for the sake of others who would not do the same. From a once-upon-a-time anti-Viet Nam protestor, I merely replace one "theater" name with another, and oppose it. Iraq's mess is named Bush and it is named Obama too. Troops, drones, munitions galore, with collateral damage to feed the mouth of armament manufacturers and war makers. Indeed Orwell is being read, that our government act like that government, alas.

Michael Leddy said...

Anon., you were asking a question:

“Waterboarding some people is torture, but killing hundreds of children as collateral damage in drone strikes over the last few years is justifiable?”

I replied. No touchiness involved.

But the point I made in this post concerned the language of euphemism. That’s all I was writing about.