Sunday, July 10, 2005

Erustication and The Italian Job

erustication n:
  1. Extraordinary Rendition to Uzbekistan, Syria or similar by the US government for the purposes of torture and intelligence "extraction". This program was instituted by the CIA in the 1990s and pursued with increased vigour after September 11th
  2. A lighter meaning: the sense of bewilderment, heartache and violation that comes from being subject to the capricious whims of a strongman who happens to have authority over you. Close synonym of The Full Bolton.
erusticated v.
  1. being subject to erustication.

Most subjected to erustication turn out to have been entirely innocent and simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Even those who are no choirboys are tainted; the evidence gathered through torture is rightly rejected in countries with laws, it goes against every sound principle of decency. One hopes that the intelligence gathered did indeed prevent ticking bombs but one should be skeptical about the effectiveness of the policy. Still the compromise of democratic and moral values that erustication implies, the cynicism it breeds in the body politic are heavy prices to pay. When your human rights record can be placed in the same company as Egypt's, how can you claim to lecture a rogue like Robert Mugabe?

I like erustication because like the dental extraction, waterboarding, electric shock therapy and worse that it presages, the word also sounds like the flagellation one would receive from a medieval instrument of torture something like The Rack (Iraq?) used in the Inquisitions of yore. And the effectiveness of the policy is similarly in question. Witchhunts of the Kingdoms of Heaven have a way of casting an unflattering light of hypocrisy on those who might consider themselves righteous puritans. The lessons from Salem to McCarthyism are all about hysteria and opportunism that debase the social fabric of the society. In such times, what was meant to be "extraordinary" becomes customary and a matter of rounding up The Usual Suspects ® and people of "little intelligence value" with results that we know.

Ironically the milder form of erustication was a sentiment felt by quite a number of State Department, CIA and other intelligence analysts who had to deal with John Bolton. The notion that some of the mild-mannered people in the organizations that developed and instituted this practice, felt some of the psychological pressure and bewilderment of the practice tickles my mind. Thus, erusticated is a close synonym to that that other fine American neologism, boltoned.
e.g. "I was erusticated in the past 6 months at work" is a touch edgier and harsher than "I was boltoned by the new boss".

Being erusticated is obviously not for the faint of heart and the ordeal might leave you broken, an empty shell. You have to waste time trying to justify yourself and might even start to blame yourself for your predicament and confess to what "they" want to hear. Rendition also reminds one of the worst practices of the meat rendering industry which we know indubitably leads one down the path to Mad Cow Square. In literature, Kafka and Orwell have described the sense of alienation that than envelops you when in the trials of erustication (and would it they were rather in their "last throes" although per Dick Cheney, "if you look at what the dictionary says about throes, it can still be a violent period"). If you're lucky you'll find some kind godfather to step in and defend you but, more often than not, you are alone in the tangled web in which a moral compass is optional and indeed frowned upon.

The lighter meaning, boltoned, is similarly discomfiting as unfortunately I can also attest. The vituperations and glee of those bullies who delight in giving you The Full Bolton treatment is also par-for-the-course. The small-mindedness of bullies is deeply rooted in playground impunity. Boltoned is onomatopoeic perfection in that it sounds like doors being thunderously slammed repeatedly on your fingernails for no reason. You want to say, "What have I done to deserve this? No Ingles! It wasn't me!". And on being boltoned, this article I came across a few months ago seemed quite serendipitous: Is your boss a psychopath?

Many have asked what countries like Egypt, Uzbekistan, Syria, Kazakhstan, Israel and Pakistan get from erustication and the answer is quite clear: the moral compromise lets the leaders of those countries carry on with often egregious domestic policies without fear of reprimand as we have seen repeatedly. Franklin D. Roosevelt's "He's our sonofabitch" quip applies to many of the leaders of the aforementioned countries and not just Karimov or Mubarak.

Michael Scheuer recently argued that the policy has actually been quite effective and I suppose he would be one of those close enough to judge the value of the "extracted information" living as he did in the shadowy world of the CIA. And there's one fairly famous case where the threat of being erusticated and "rendered to Israel and the hands of the Mossad" got startling results and broke a hardened terrorist into cooperation. I can understand threatening, but surely delivering someone to unbounded violence crosses some line. The kind of police cooperation which everyone agrees is needed in the action against nihilists that the entire world must confront is very different from winking at interrogation at the electric shocks and the institutionalized beatings of the Battle of Algiers. Even Scheuer however, must now admit now that, the application of the policy has been very far from judicious since 9/11 let alone extraordinary. I would contend that the logic of outsourcing "wet work" is a proverbial race to the bottom of the moral barrel.

On human rights I'm an absolutist, and I err on the side of preventing even the slightest collateral damage because the costs to the innocents and the concomitant debasement of the society in question are, in my judgment, a far too heavy burden. This issue is close to home for me because of the stories of both of my parents but that excursion into personal history deserves separate amplification...

Maher Arar's case is only the most prominent evidence of the living costs of erustication and the fear and cynicism engendered in a society: The true purpose of torture
In a rare public speech, Arar addressed this fear directly. He told the audience that an independent commissioner has been trying to gather evidence of law-enforcement officials breaking the rules when investigating Muslim Canadians. The commissioner has heard dozens of stories of threats, harassment and inappropriate home visits. But, Arar said, "not a single person made a public complaint. Fear prevented them from doing so." Fear of being the next Maher Arar. The fear is even thicker among Muslims in the United States, where the Patriot Act gives police the power to seize the records of any mosque, school, library or community group on mere suspicion of terrorist links. When this intense surveillance is paired with the ever-present threat of torture, the message is clear: you are being watched, your neighbour may be a spy, the government can find out anything about you. If you misstep, you could disappear on to a plane bound for Syria, or into "the deep dark hole that is Guantánamo Bay", to borrow a phrase from Michael Ratner, president of the Centre for Constitutional Rights. But this fear has to be finely calibrated. The people being intimidated need to know enough to be afraid but not so much that they demand justice.

For the historical record, I coined the word erustication as an aside in PITTs: Naming an Aesthetic which was a typical sojourn in metaphorical excess to coin new buzzwords in the technology world. The slightly updated money quote came when I considered the concept of a Loyal Opposition:
In any case, as recent history, and the success of the Cheney, Rusmfeld, Wolfowitz, Feith, Bolton, Cambone, Generals Miller (Gitmo-lite) and Sanchez Axis of Righteous Neocon NefarIousnEss (ARNIE) has shown, being loyal oppositionists accounts for squat in these States. We might get tortured in Guantanamo, Bagram and Abu-Ghraib or get a little Extraordinary Rendition to Uzbekistan or Syria (ERUStication?) if we aren't careful.

I've since reconsidered ARNIE as Axis of Righteous Neocon Infamy and Excess but believe that erustication is of more lasting value for the language.

Erustication. Run with it. You heard it here first.

The Italian Job

I'm now promoting erustication to the English language because of one of those curious stories that the journalist in me wishes wouldn't get buried in wake of the events of the past week, namely The Italian Job.

To give some context, I am referring to the 13 to 19 CIA agents who kidnapped an Egyptian cleric, Abu Omar from Italy and took him to Egypt where "he was subjected to electroshock treatment" and "lost the hearing in one ear". In these days of "gloves coming off" this is a sadly all-too-common story: Italy Orders Arrest of 13 CIA Operatives.

But there are many twists to the tale, the Italian security services had this cleric under extensive surveillance and were building up a profile of his network, indeed they were likely to have arrested him and his affiliates in short order. Erustication ended all of that work and we are none the wiser about what, if anything, has been gained.

When I first read about this affair, In Italy, Anger at U.S. Tactics Colors Spy Case, the lead sentence was
The extraordinary decisions by an Italian judge to order the arrest of 13 people linked to the Central Intelligence Agency on charges of kidnapping a terrorism suspect here dramatizes a growing rift between American counterterrorism officials and their counterparts in Europe.
Apparently it is extraordinary to prosecute people who break the laws of your country. What cheek! Just because it's Americans who break the law they should not be prosecuted?

As someone intensely interested in strange bedfellows, I appreciate the way the story is playing out, you don't know whether to laugh or cry. Indeed the only other story that has got my journalistic juices flowing of late is the one quietly playing out in Chile, At Cult's Enclave In Chile, Guns And Intelligence Files, a story which very nicely packages apocalyptic religious cults, intelligence services, grim torture, Augusto Pinochet and crew, financial looteries, the School of Americas and ultimately Nixon, Kissinger, Reagan and Bush the Elder. I hope those Chilean prosecutors and journalists take their time and pursue the paper trail because I haven't seen such fertile soil in a long while to expose the unseemly side of global politics and nor indeed the outright criminality that prevails over bromides of bon mots.

The Italian Job is the kind of story that should steadily drip into the public's consciousness and arouse outrage and the headlines already tell the tale about the effect it is having in Italy - Italy seethes at US abduction of Imam. It really should have a larger impact in the USA as a case study about the direction of the country, that is if only it is reported by the media.

Unfortunately I don't speak Italian so I haven't gotten the full flavour of the revelations but others have stepped in and especially Robert's Stochastic Thoughts has more than adequately covered the various aspects of the case. Berlusconi who is the anti-choirboy personified knows that if the threads of these stories are pursued to their sleazy end it won't be pretty. So now there is no doubt that Italians will definitely be pulling out of Iraq as we heard. There was already pressure for a pull-out but this story broke the proverbial camel's back.

For the first time in a year I agree with a column by Jim Hoagland. This is a scary thing because Hoagland is normally a reliable indicator of exactly what not to believe. Indeed my political barometer has him calibrated as a polar opposite. I love to read people I disagree with if only to sharpen my arguments and to try to see things from their point of view. Still even he has come to see that erustication is no longer working, indeed he terms it Pricey Rendition:
Is this covert act really worth the likely consequences?

Indeed the erusticated Italian Job perfectly illuminates my Joy in Repetition prescription for opposing the rogues who currently govern the US simply repeat:
  • The policy is wrong.
  • It's not working. Indeed it's counter-productive, alienates friends and foes alike and worsens things.
  • This is how we would change it.

It gets worse when you look closer, as Robert explains, the Italians "are stressing that the CIA has sabotaged the war against terror and that the CIA agents are totally incompetent and self indulgent."

See Italians Detail Lavish CIA Operation and also CIA Said to Leave Trail in Abduction
They ran up tabs of thousands of dollars at some of Milan's best hotels and restaurants. They chatted easily on their cellular telephones and gave out passport, frequent-flier and driver's license numbers when booking flights or renting cars.

And now they are fugitives...

The Milan crew seemed to have made little effort to keep a low profile. Although much of the information they provided may have been false, they seemed to have left a trail worthy of Hansel and Gretel.

Arriving individually or in pairs during the weeks leading up to Abu Omar's disappearance in February 2003, they checked into some of the city's finest hotels: the $450-a-night Prince of Savoy on Milan's grand Piazza della Repubblica, the Westin Palace, the Milan Hilton. They ate at good restaurants and rented cellphones and cars. They offered up their frequent-flier account numbers as well as their passports, Visa and Diner's Club credit cards and driver's licenses....

In hotel bills alone, the group ran up a tab of $150,000, the court papers indicate.

Once the rendition was completed, several of the agents traveled to Venice for a celebration, also at a luxurious five-star hotel, the court papers say. Four others took a vacation along the picturesque Mediterranean coast north of Tuscany.

Italian judicial officials say they are perhaps most angry with the American operation because it ruined their own efforts to crack the cell and arrest numerous terrorism suspects in Italy.

"Not only was Abu Omar's kidnapping illegal in having seriously violated Italian sovereignty, but it was also an inauspicious act that has contaminated the overall fight against terrorism," Judge Guido Salvini said in issuing a separate indictment on the Egyptian-born cleric.

And it gets worse, see Technical illiteracy at the CIA, it turns out that the agents used a pool cell phone from the US embassy which was then returned to the embassy and was later used by embassy staff. Such is the competence of those warriors who are defending you for whom we should curtail our freedoms.

The Italian Job

The Italian Job is one of the best B-movies in the canon, a film full of wit and panache. As someone who loves heists, I have watched it more times than I can count. It has some of the best car chases and stunts that we have ever seen and what a heist. Michael Caine and Noel Coward are cheeky sods and simply brilliant. The flag-waving politics are skewered as is the British nationalism and self-importance.

Still we should also remember that Caine and crew were a bunch of Criminals And Thugs (Cats) and their motives are simply mercenary. At the end of the movie, Caine and crew have indeed pulled off their caper against the odds but all that loot is left dangling as the bus itself is perched precariously on a cliff. As the camera cuts away we know what to expect: the slightest wind or a even a bird dropping will push it over the edge strewing those dollars and lira all over those Alpine rocks:
Mission Accomplished

An Erusticated Playlist

The sounds of erustication are normally screams of agony or of gritted teeth. Still one has to find some music if only to oppose it. Thus I give you Live Erustication: The Concert, like Prince said,
"Put the right letters together and make a better day"

  • The Jacksons - Torture
    It Was On A Street So Evil
    So Bad That Even Hell Disowned It
    Every Single Step Was Trouble

    For The Fool Who Stumbled On It
    Eyes Within The Dark Were Watching
    I Felt The Sudden Chill Of Danger
    Something Told Me Keep On Walking
    Told Me I Should Not Have Come There
    The sounds of whips, albeit propulsive and soulful whips, start out our erusticated musical journey. Ironically this wonderful song is the lead track of the Victory album which as we know in the case of erustication is always pyrrhic.


    I was going to nominate another track from the album, State of Shock the rocked out collaboration with Mick Jagger, but I thought the connection to electroshock might be a bit too much. For the more reflective, the Victory album also has one of the best ballads of all time, One More Chance, Randy Jackson's masterpiece and Michael Jackson's most heartfelt song, Be Not Always, with lonely, mournful acoustic guitar.
  • The Supremes - Stop In The Name Of Love
    Before You Break My Heart.
    Think It O-Over.
    Please do Messers Bush and Cheney.
  • Rockwell - Somebody's Watching Me
    Paranoia has never been so sublime or soulful. And with Michael Jackson's chorus who can fault it?
    "I always feel like somebody's watching me"
  • Full Circle - Workin' Up A Sweat
    It gives me great pause to deploy one of my all-time favourite club songs in the service of erustication but, well, it had to be done. This is one of those obscure hits in the Long Tail of Music that you can now only find on compilations in England even though it is by an American band that recorded for EMI America. Record companies are clueless. Full Circle were perhaps a one hit wonder but there is such wonder in this track.
    Working Up A Sweat
    Over You
    The Way You Make Me Feel
    You Know The Deal
  • MC Hammer - Turn This Mutha Out
    I don't quite think that Hammer intended an extraordinary rendition remix of the song that that brought him to fame but this was a burst of energy that matched James Brown at his most fervent. Perhaps it is apt that what later transpired after this debut was B-movie ineptitude
  • Massive Attack - Spying Glass
    From one of the top 10 albums of the 90s, Protection, comes this brilliant confection of trip hop dub. The Mad Professor remix is also essential but the lyrics tell the erusticated story.

    You Live In The City
    You Mind Your Own Business
    What You See, You Don't See
    But Some People, They Always See
    They Never Mind Their Own Business

    You Move To The Country
    You Live In The Hills
    You Think You're Far From The Wicked
    When You Check It, Them-a Use Spying Glass

    They Want To Know Rasta Business
    Spying Glass
  • Peter Gabriel - Sledgehammer
    "I'll be anything you need"
    Well if a sledgehammer is your policy and the literal tool you're using against me, I'll confess to anything you need.
    This will be my testimony
  • Michael Jackson - The Way You Make Me Feel
    I was going to use Scream or Leave Me Alone as MJ's erusticated contribution to the debate since he himself has been through quite a bit in recent months. But I think this soulful bad and funky track is just the right touch and one of my favourite songs of his.
    You knock me off my feet

  • The Roots - Break you off (ft Musiq)
    We're coming to Break You Off
    Yep, erustication is in the realm of phrenology.

  • Eugene McDaniel - Headless Heroes and Freedom Death Dance
    These two much sampled tracks off the Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse album are in the cut.
    Better Git It Together
    And See What's Happening
    We Are The Canon Fodder
    Nobody Knows Who The Enemy Is
    The Freedom Death Dance is bleaker as would befit the title.
  • INXS - Never Tear Us Apart
    Let's hope they don't. I worry that the Australian authorities wouldn't be averse to some extraordinary rendition given the chance.
  • Was (Not Was) - Spy in the house of love
    I'll Tap Your Phone
    You're Never Alone
  • The Last Poets - This Is Madness
    A primal scream off the aptly named Stolen Moments: Red Hot + Cool album. We are all prisoners snatched away to be branded by red hot irons.

  • United Future Organization - Spy's Spice (Mon Espionage)
    In the vein of a dark and dank world of derring-do and covert snatches this fits the bill.
  • The Police - Every Breath You Take
    This more properly belongs in a Patriot Act soundtrack of surveillance but since we have that practice of waterboarding "in which a detainee is strapped down, dunked under water and made to believe that he might be drowned." and that is all about the loss of the breath of life, I suppose it deserves to be included to round off the infamy

And to conclude, let's be clear about what I'm talking about without euphemisms or snarky commentary, your taxes are paying for scenes like this, the only difference is that under erustication, the burly guards and dogs are not American unlike in Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo. The techniques might even be grimmer, if you can imagine that.

guard and prisoner

[Update] a little too shocking for some, hence a link... Dog and Prisoner

See also:

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Anonymous said...

I would comment, but the typos are fucking annoying! DISGUSTING!

xenmate said...

Hi. I like what I read. You clearly ave devoted a lot of time and effort for this.

Which makes the previous commentator FUCKING DISGUSTING.

Anyways, look erustication up in wikipedia ;)

Xenmate said...

I love that song by Full Circle too! Stinks that you can't find it on iTunes or any American compilation!