By Chet Yarbrough
Written by: James Risen
Narration by: Christopher Lane
An act of government that presumes it knows what is good for everyone mocks omniscience. James Risen’s “Pay Any Price” exposes government hubris that tortures suspected terrorists and invades personal privacy to feed human greed and desire for power; all under the guise of protecting America. Today, it is terrorism; yesterday, it was communism, day before yesterday, it was Japanese internment camps. Guantanamo tramples human rights; the red-scare of the 1950s breeds mistrust of elected officials, and Japanese internment camps during WWII stain the American’ conscience.
Risen begins his book with relatively well-known stories of American torture of suspects by a cabal of two psychologists, the CIA, and other government leaders, to gain information about terrorists from captured combatants.
Contrary to most psychiatric studies that say torture does not elicit true information from anyone, let alone combatants, the program is approved by the American government. Risen suggests the approval is based on the greed of two psychologists who either formed, or contracted with, private corporations to justify the use of torture. Risen argues that ancillary services for psychological studies, building or contracting interrogation camps, and lawyerly rationalizing of torture were financial boondoggles–fomented by the private sector and financed by American’ tax dollars.
Risen argues that the mental health consequences to the tortured and torturer brutally damages human minds. Risen’s research suggests billions of dollars are wasted. Risen tells of a soldier who remains on full disability because of PTSD from his role as torturer. None of the tortured combatants are reported to have revealed actionable information. As suggested by prominent psychiatrists and respected psychological experiments, the tortured only tell what is needed to stop the torture.
Risen infers, as horrendous as 9/11 is to American families who lost loved ones, the tragedy of 3,000 murdered human beings does not warrant government and industry trampling of American’ Constitutional rights. The creation of the National Security Agency in 1952 is formed to meet the challenges of the Cold War by spying on Eastern Bloc countries, consolidating cryptologic support, and conducting, often covert, military operations. After 9/11, NSA morphed into a cybernetics organization that mines internet and cell phone information to spy on the world; including the American public.
Risen, a reporter for the New York Times, exposes NSA’s cybernetics activities and is hounded by the FBI, and sued by the Federal government for his investigative reporting. The New York Times refuses to publish one of Risen’s articles about NSA because the paper’s owner is convinced by the government that exposure of NSA’s activity is contrary to national interest. As Risen’s research reveals–two Oregon Congressional representatives are stonewalled by the government when they question the legality of government mining of American citizen’s personal information. Risen’s story gives some weight to Edward Snowden’s argument that challenging NSA upper management would not work to stop government violation of American Constitutional rights. Snowden chooses to become a whistleblower and an American’ exile in order to escape prosecution for divulging classified government information.
Every turn in Risen’s story suggests government “balance of power” principles do not protect Constitutional rights. Two Presidents, Congress, and the Judiciary were approached by two Congressmen (1 male, 1 female), five former government employees, and Risen who challenge the legality of NSA’s use of mined personal American data. The government continues to stonewall the public on mining of personal data based on an argument that cannot be challenged because it is classified as secret and protected under the guise of national interest.
No one wants to see another major terrorist event anywhere in the world; let alone the United States. However, Risen is arguing that trampling American’s rights to privacy or to a free press is a step too far, a tortuous and painful stumble for American’ freedom.
Government is playing like an omniscient God when it makes decisions outside the boundaries of the American Constitution. Torture, invasion of privacy, and interference with the free press will not protect America from terrorism. American democracy, grounded in transparency; human freedom that does not encroach on others, and equality of opportunity are America’s best defense against terrorism.
Greed and power are two of the three motivations for endless war. The third is prestige which leads to a false sense of omniscience and hubris. Government should protect Americans from the greed and power of the few over the many, rather than concoct wasteful government programs that only feed the worst parts of human nature. Sadly, 9/11 is not the first or last terrorist event in America’s future but without a measure of human freedom, America loses more than it gains by suspecting everyone is a terrorist.