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Hannah Arendt in the Black Sites

I was (mostly) offline yesterday but saw people on Twitter freaking out over blog posts that compared the CIA to the Nazis because of interrogations. So Jane Mayer has a calm, poignant corrective: she reads the 2004 CIA inspector general’s report and it puts her in mind of a Hannah Arendt quote:

These definitions coincide with the terms which, since Greek antiquity, have been used to define the forms of government as the rule of man over man—of one or the few in monarchy and oligarchy, of the best or the many in aristocracy and democracy, to which today we ought to add the latest and perhaps most formidable form of such dominion, bureaucracy, or the rule by an intricate system of bureaux in which no men, neither one nor the best, neither the few nor the many, can be held responsible, and which could be properly called the rule by Nobody. Indeed, if we identify tyranny as the government that is not held to give account of itself, rule by Nobody is clearly the most tyrannical of all, since there is no one left who could even be asked to answer for what is being done. It is this state of affairs which is among the most potent causes for the current world-wide rebellious unrest.

For the record, Jane explicitly disavows any moral comparison between the CIA and the Nazis, as sad a commentary as it is that she’d have to provide that clarification. There has to be some way to describe the enormity of calibrating the amount of pain one can inflict on another person that doesn’t fall prey to malign and misleading parallels but still doesn’t retreat into euphemism.

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