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They're starting to listen. Not only have pilots been exempted from the new gawk-n-grope procedures. Outraged travelers have now made enough noise to get on President Obama's screen. His initial response is -- frankly -- flabby. BUT. Even a moment of the top executive's scarce attention is a significant step. Now we have to make sure it stays on his screen, without letup, until he really understands.

Reports AP:

LISBON, Portugal - President Barack Obama has asked security officials whether there's a less intrusive way to screen U.S. airline passengers than the pat-downs and body scans causing a holiday-season uproar. For now, they've told him there isn't one...

"I understand people's frustrations," Obama said, while acknowledging that he's never had to undergo the stepped-up screening methods...

In other words, he's asked TSA chief John S. Pistole about it and been fobbed off. The President has probably not even been given the full facts about the procedures. I'll get back to Mr. Pistole. Now to Part III.

Part I presented evidence that the naked screenings and genital touching are indeed coercive, denials notwithstanding.

Part II assembled evidence that they transgress -- cross -- lines concerning personal privacy and power that are deeply rooted in the human psyche. They constitute systematic humilation, with a sexual compenent, TSA denials notwithstanding.

Part 3:

Abu Ghraib

As I searched around for information on human dignity, humiliation in general, and sexual humiliation in particular, I kept bumping up against articles about Abu Ghraib.

Even so, it took a while to recognize – THIS was an echo I kept sensing.

Naked photographs.

Transgressive touching.

Sexual (and other) humiliation.

Some of it, at least, specifically authorized by federal officials.

In the interests of "security."

Abu Ghraib was of course far, far more extreme. And yet. There are these common factors.

We still don't know exactly what was authorized At Abu Ghraib initially. After public outrage, a manual for interrogators was published that forbade subjecting prisoners to nakedness, although it still to this day, allows other things that many consider torture.

But more recently, a previously secret (British) manual for military interrogators in Iraq was revealed in the course of a lawsuit. Likely it reflects the general philosophy with which Americans approached interrogations also. (Emphases in quotes are generally mine.)

Training materials drawn up secretly in recent years tell interrogators they should aim to provoke humiliation, insecurity, disorientation, exhaustion, anxiety and fear in the prisoners...and suggest ways in which this can be achieved.

One PowerPoint training aid created in September 2005 tells trainee military interrogators that prisoners should be stripped before they are questioned.

"Get them naked," it says...Prisoners should be "conditioned" before questioning...The training material recommends that after a prisoner's clothes are removed, the interrogator ensures he is searched behind his foreskin and that his buttocks are spread. This is part of the conditioning process, rather than as a security measure...

So far, travelers trying to fly in America are only getting virtual nakedness, and perhaps with the best of intentions by most officials. But the security community knows quite well the devastating psychological impact of nudity under duress. Virtual and actual? They are simply different points on the same scale.

That is how, in a milder but still accurate sense, TSA officials are treating travelers: as subjects of coercive interrogation.

And that...the bell rings...would also explain why TSA didn't even forewarn people about their new intrusive procedures, a step that would at least have allowed objecting travelers to change their travel plans.

It is perfectly legitimate, even recommended, to spring surprises on interrogatees.

This is where I'm getting echoes. The same mind-set that finds it acceptable to soften up war prisoners (whether or not defined in Newspeak as "illegal combatants") by sexual humiliation.

The same mind-set that finds it acceptable to kidnap suspect criminals, strip them naked, diaper them, stuff sedatives up their anus and "render" them to other nations for explicit torture by proxy.

This is the mind-set that thinks it’s okay to coerce ordinary travelers by the thousands into naked scans and intimate searches in the name of, perhaps, a little marginal safety.

A mind-set that can consider fingering the genitals of thousands of ordinary citizens a very minor thing, not a major transgression,  because it has lost touch with human decency. With the meaning of a free society. And even, at the extreme, the Geneva Conventions

The Geneva Conventions generally prohibit prisoners being subjected to "humiliating and demeaning treatment." Some sources even define humilating and degrading treatment as torture.

The humilating-and-degrading-treatment provision of the Geneva Conventions, however, was explicitly repudiated under the administration of George W. Bush in 2006. The Obama administration seems to be carrying on with the Bush doctrine under some form of interia. And now that repudiation has come home.

Ordinary travelers are being subjected to treatment that could -- absent a real security need -- be questionable for prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions.

With The Best of Intentions (Section 1)

Where did this mind-set originate? Why has it become so deeply ingrained that even the Obama administration has apparently absorbed it?

Here I began with wild speculation. For instance – I understand that for decades, members of the U.S. military have been subjected to what would normally be considered torture, including sexual humiliation, as part of a training program ostensibly designed to help them resist torture if captured -- the kind of torture that the Geneva Conventions forbid.

Reports are that these experiences were reverse-engineered to create "suitable" treatments for war prisoners in Abu Ghraib and elsewhere.

Studies show that humiliation can result in long-term physchological problems including sadistic behavior. Are we seeing long-term result of  kind of training carried out over decades and becoming part of military/security culture?

Or has a small (I hope small) coterie of profoundly misguided officials, recognizing and gravitating to each other within the military-security-espionage apparatus, achieved key positions of long-term power, to carry us as a nation this far off track?

Some famous American – and now I can put my hands on the quote – stated that if tyranny comes to the U.S., it will probably be at the hands of persons with the best of intentions.

We are now at that point.

I understand that HSA secretary Janet Napolitano and other top officials have subjected themselves to the new, instrusive searches, as if this is supposed to make us feel better.

No, because humiliation is not even about the specific acts. It is primarily about power. If Secretary Napolitano orders one of her own subordinates to grope her, the power position in that situation is still hers, not the subordinate’s.

The only way she could really understand what she is demanding of the average citizen and taxpayer would be to travel anonymously though various airports, under various conditions, including some exceptional ones like being in a wheel chair, carrying an infant and a bottle of formula, wearing religious dress, having a small difference between her name on the driver’s license and on the boarding pass, understanding English poorly, or appearing confused and flustered by unfamiliar security procedures.

And that can’t happen, because not even Secretary Napolitano can fly anonymously. Moreover, it is possible that she really is too denatured or too myopic at this point to comprehend normal human feelings about these things, no matter what.

What about John S. Pistole, the head of TSA?

Unfortunatey, it turns out that he not only owes his career elevation to George W. Bush; he literally believes he is on a mission from God.  

From the official bio:

John S. Pistole was sworn in as the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) fifth Administrator in July 2010.

That is, he instituted these invasive procedures within 3 months of attaining the job.

Pistole began his career as a Special Agent with the FBI in 1983...In 1999, as Assistant Special Agent in Charge, Boston, he helped lead investigation and recovery efforts for the Egypt Air Flight 990 crash...

After the tragic events of September 11, 2001, he was put in charge of the FBI’s greatly expanded counterterrorism program, eventually becoming the FBI’s Executive Assistant Director for Counterterrorism and Counterintelligence. In 2004, Pistole was named Deputy Director for the FBI....

Pistole practiced law for two years prior to joining the FBI. He is a graduate of Anderson University (Indiana) and Indiana University School of Law – Indianapolis.

Anderson University is affiliated with the Church of God (Anderson, Indiana). Pistole's father was a professor there.

The alumni magazine interviewed him in 2005, after his elevation to FBI deputy. He had a rocky young-manhood in common with George W. Bush, who he "regularly briefed," acccording to the article:

"I had a rebellious time in high school," he recalls. "I got to see what selfish living was like." Then a car accident his senior year of high school broke his neck, nearly paralyzed him, and almost cost him his life. "I see that as God’s way of giving me a wake-up call...[The]idea, of public service being a calling, clicked with me"...He obtained a summer internship working for his congressman in Washington, D.C., later interned in the Indiana State Assembly.."

So he is hardly someone who simply rose from the humble ranks of FBI agents. He was preparing for a bigger role.

While weighing the promotion to assistant special agent in charge [before the terrorism assignment], Pistole discovered John Wesley’s Covenant Prayer through his church’s small group Bible study. At the time, staying in Indianapolis — close to his family of origin — had much appeal, for his family and for him. But the opportunity to have a greater impact also loomed. Praying Wesley’s prayer, especially "the part about turning myself over completely," convinced John and [his wife] to put their future in God’s hands, even if it meant moving to Boston.

Regarding his promotion:

It’s not a script that anybody could write," Pistole says, of his unlikely promotion to deputy assistant director of counter terrorism and, just a year and a half later, to deputy director. He had not thought about or aspired to either position. "That’s why I attribute it to God’s moving... I’m in God’s will and that I’m doing what he wants me to do. "

Now I don't generally have a problem with other people's religious beliefs. And it gives me qualms to point the finger at an individual who may be well-meaning.

But this is an official whose career has focused on dealing with terrorists, not ordinary citizens.

Who first achieved a major position of authority under the wing of a Bush administration that normalized humiliating and degrading treatment, ignored the Constitution, and took a royalist view of its own  executive authority.

This is the context in which he is insulated enough from reality to think naked screening and rubber-gloved groping are nothing extraordinary.

While at the same time feeling endowed with an unshakeable sense of rightness in a special relationship with God.

That combination is not calculated to make anyone's decisions thoughtful, clear-sighted and balanced.

This is too long; it was going to be three parts, but I have to carry over the rest until tomorrow, when I'll wrap up the subject of good intentions, address the underpants bomber episode and touch on other scanning options besides the present explicit machinery.

BTW, to commenters who might be tempted to accuse me of saying the screening procedures are "the same as" Abu Ghraib, torture, etc. Please note that I explicitly stated that Abu Ghraib was far worse in degree. But in kind? Things can have similarities that are significant, without being identical.

Part IV, to follow Monday....

Originally posted to Clio2 on Sun Nov 21, 2010 at 05:56 AM PST.

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