Thursday, December 11, 2014

What You Should Know about CIA Torture

Can you handle the truth?

Then here it is, in simple language:
The CIA engaged in pointless sadistic practices against people many of whom had nothing to reveal anyway, and they lied to Congress, the White House, and the press to keep on torturing people.

7 Key Points From the C.I.A. Torture Report (in the flat language of the New York Times)

  1. The C.I.A.’s interrogation techniques were more brutal and employed more extensively than the agency portrayed. 
  2. The C.I.A. interrogation program was mismanaged and was not subject to adequate oversight.
  3. The C.I.A. misled members of Congress and the White House about the effectiveness and extent of its brutal interrogation techniques.
  4. Interrogators in the field who tried to stop the brutal techniques were repeatedly overruled by senior C.I.A. officials.
  5. The C.I.A. repeatedly under-reported the number of people it detained and subjected to harsh interrogation techniques under the program.
  6. At least 26 detainees were wrongfully held and did not meet the government’s standard for detention. 
  7. The C.I.A. leaked classified information to journalists, exaggerating the success of interrogation methods in an effort to gain public support.

The Talmud and the Internet, by Jonathan Rosen: a review

Growing up in Pittsburgh and attending the pretentiously titled School of Advanced Jewish Studies, I took a bite of Talmud. Not even a mouthful: just enough to taste. And it has nourished my curiosity forever.  Read this book if you want to whet your curiosity too.

Like me, author Jonathan Rosen finds the form of the Talmud even more intriguing the intricacies of its content. It's the original hypertext.

The Mishnah is at the center of each page, a set of oral traditions about how to read and practice what we find in the Torah that were finally written down between 180 and 220 CE by Rabbi Yehudah haNasi to keep them from being forgotten. The Gemara comes below, giving four centuries more of debate about what how those traditions make sense and what they really mean. More commentaries are arranged at the bottom and along the sides: the medieval scholar Rashi and his disciples especially. That's not even getting into the entirely separate books that comment on the Talmud, from Maimonides' Mishneh Torah to the latest one hot off the press.

As Rosen points out, these commentators hold lively discussions, even when one of them is rebutting another who's been dead for centuries. They don't confine themselves to any genre. Legal discussion rubs shoulders with etymology, moralism with fable. They remind him (and me) of nothing so much as weird and unpredictable discussions on the Internet--especially the more unbridled Internet of 2001, when this book was published.

Rosen is both incisive and evocative when he makes the case that Talmudic discussion is the lifeboat of the Jewish people. When the destruction of the Temple by the Roman empire cast Jewish life adrift, it was in these discussions that we made our home.

Rosen is elegiac when he looks at 21st-century Jewish life, changed forever by both the Holocaust in which some of his grandparents died and the acceptance of the Jews into secular society, and of secular society into Jewish identity. Can we find ways to transmute our existence in new circumstances as the creators of the Talmud once did? Or will the culture that he and I hold dear fade into memory? Or both?