Political theatre

Over the last few years I have noted the torture-of-choice displayed for television viewers is waterboarding. I believe this is an intentional attempt to desensitise the public to the act

Political theatre

Act I: Brutish behaviour.What is the name of an organisation, which recruits a distinct flank based on the need for individuals of an unusual class? These candidates are intelligent. They will also accept the challenge to maximise their worst character assets and base talents to engage in primitive behaviour patterns. The candidate willingly takes on the role as a torture interrogator. In return, he is protected from the liability associated with his craft. This craft is directed against detainees in custody. The name of the agency? The CIA.

“A report by the Senate Intelligence Committee concludes that the CIA misled the government and the public about aspects of its brutal interrogation programme for years — concealing details about the severity of its methods, overstating the significance of plots and prisoners, and taking credit for critical pieces of intelligence that detainees had in fact surrendered before they were subjected to harsh techniques.

The report, built around detailed chronologies of dozens of CIA detainees, documents a long-standing pattern of unsubstantiated claims as agency officials sought permission to use — and later tried to defend — excruciating interrogation methods that yielded little, if any, significant intelligence, according to US officials who have reviewed the document” (The Washington Post, March 31: ‘CIA misled on interrogation programme, Senate report says’).

There are those who justify torture in the name of security but torture violates universal principles of human decency and acceptable behaviour. All prisoners in our custody have the right to cover their nakedness, nutrition to meet recommended daily requirements, physical safety and the right to counsel. Anything less is inhumane.

I cried when breaking news regarding Abu Ghraib hit mainstream media. This was the work of soldiers with an incompetent chain of command structure. Unfortunately, it was the tip of a bigger, institutional iceberg. The CIA maintained a sprawling network of prisons known as ‘black sites’ across the world to accommodate torture interrogations. These were not conducted on US soil. Plausible deniability is the name of this game but a 6,300 page report — still classified — gives a chilling look at how the best of individuals can be reduced to acts of brutality for God and country.

Over the last few years I have noted the torture-of-choice displayed for television viewers is waterboarding. I believe this is an intentional attempt to desensitise the public to the act. Swofford? I refuse to be desensitised. I prefer a brains-over-balls interrogation paradigm. An ape can be taught torture techniques. Man has been bequeathed with a higher intellect.


I remain a strongly patriotic US citizen but journalism carries the weight of its own rank. Professional journalists remain unyielding regarding the truth, even should that truth sully the standing of their nation. Journalists who tarnish or cover truth should be reduced to self-loathing. So let us move to the second act of this political theatre.

Act II: Infantry drum.

The cadence of the drumming signals the troops to action. It provides for psychological cohesion and identifies operational manoeuvres for the ranks. The cadence of a drum can also heighten emotional response. The sound can mate with hormonal activity to create a greater catecholamine response, hence, increase fight or flight tendencies. Twitter is like an infantry drum. It is a voice magnification platform. Each time I receive an invitation to join someone on Twitter I know they are seeking to strengthen their ranks. They are drumming along with the cadence of what they then choose to send out.

USAID developed an infantry drum. Its use was monitored by US contractors targeting a primary demographic: the youth of Cuba. The intelligence sector contractors used Twitter to aggregate personal data and build profiles. The end goal was to use Twitter as part of a complex political puppet stage. Identifying the best of the marionettes would allow observers to identify youth with passion and leadership qualities. The end game would be a careful cultivation of street violence and dissent to undermine the government of Cuba. Cuban citizens were given a drum. The signals back and forth began to fly. Game on!

Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh versus Kermit Roosevelt. He loaded up his more primitive infantry drum and took it to Iran. MI6 sent along their own little drum. The 28 Mordad coup created a 2.5 decade arc of opportunity. We won the battle and lost the war. The men in black rule the geopolitical space now. The grand ayatollah and their chain of command surged to power with the best of their own drummer boys, Dr Ali Shari’ati. Rumours still persist that he was dispatched by SAVAK. His remains are entombed in Damascus near those of Zeinab, the sister of Imam Hossein. However, the Iran of today is the product of dissent fomented in a prior century.

Should churning up dissent be a viable part of foreign policy initiatives? Problematic is the lack of mercy invested in these processes. Resources (finances, energy, machines and employees) are attached to the process of using Twitter as a magnification platform to create a populist uprising. Yet individuals ultimately engulfed in events beyond their control and comprehension can become victims of our lack of wisdom. How many decent individuals reside as political prisoners of the state because they were nudged towards an abyss of self-destruction by agitprop interference?

My view is unpopular of course, but I supported the move of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan when he chose to block Twitter (briefly) prior to national elections. An individual who moves to the polls should damn well have their mind made up weeks in advance of an election cycle. Fools caught up in voice magnification platforms during election cycles need the temporary hand of restraint offered by the state to ensure that calm prevails on the street and at the polls. Elections have cleaner lines when citizens are not reduced to Twitter herds roaming the streets, happily creating their own dilemma as they heed the call to political violence.

All of us can do better.


The writer is a freelance journalist and author of the novel Arsenal. She can be reached at tammyswofford@yahoo.com