From outside the US, the Senate intelligence committee’s 528-page report on CIA torture techniques—merely the abridged, non-secret version of the 6,700-page original—seems like America at its best. Harshly critical of an agency that did evil things to produce dubious intelligence while lying to its overlords, it seems to embody the country’s best traditions of transparency and honest self-examination.
But inside the US, the report is a sullied, discredited thing. This was no grave, bipartisan effort like the report of the 9/11 Commission, but—as critics would have it, and not entirely wrongly—a labor of ass-covering spite, produced solely by the committee’s majority Democrats and crafted to shield their own complicity. Republicans have attacked it; former CIA chiefs have risen up (paywall) to defend themselves. And Democrats are worrying about what will happen when, a few years hence, their rivals expose the current administration’s enthusiastic use of drone strikes to the same merciless sunlight.
That is a shame, for the report, though flawed, is truly damning. But, one might shrug, so what? If partisan politics is what it takes to have a national debate about the ethics of warfare, so be it; democracy is messy, and it should take what transparency it can get.
However, this national debate is not like those about race, guns, or the banking system. There, the winners and losers from a policy all have votes or campaign funds with which to sway the outcome. In warfare, the losers—the tortured suspects, the people with relatives blown to bits by drones—are foreigners, with no say. However indignantly liberals may protest the bad things done in their name, when the call comes to “keep America safe,” how many of them will dare challenge it?—Gideon Lichfield
Five things on Quartz we especially liked
The end of the Umbrella Revolution. After 74 days, Hong Kong has finally cleared out its pro-democracy protests, leaving police with a poignant poem and one last barrier—a street strewn with glitter. Heather Timmons and Lily Kuo watched the sad dismantling of the camps, spoke to the last stragglers, and assessed what has changed.
Africa’s future is in Nigeria. Many assume that Kenya is at the heart of African progress, but Leo Mirani found out that’s simply not the case. Nigeria’s tech sector may be tiny, but it’s quickly growing—and with a population of 200 million people, the potential market is four times larger than either Kenya or South Africa.
A paean to the booms and busts of US oil. With the price of black gold falling to levels not seen in half a decade, Matt Phillips looks back at a long history of price turbulence, and argues that not only is it an unavoidable feature of the industry, but for the US at least, the surges and slumps merely balance out the rest of the economy.
There’s an Uber for everything. Jason Gilbert’s fascination with how the tech press uses the phrase “Uber for X” spurred him to write a poem—in 11 stanzas—about the dizzying array of companies that have adopted a variation on the car service’s business model.
The pilots of Instagram. An aircraft cockpit is one of the most stunning vantage points from which you can take a picture—but it’s sometimes illegal or against the airline’s rules. David Yanofsky spent six months tracking pilots on Instagram and presents a breathtaking collection of photos at least some of them probably weren’t supposed to be taking.
Five things elsewhere that made us smarter
Always-low prices always mean exploitation. The shiny red tomatoes in US supermarkets have a tale to tell that’s so heart-breaking, it might actually change your buying habits. Richard Marosi and Don Bartletti tell that story in a series at the Los Angeles Times, of which three of the four parts are now out.
America’s famous addiction to oil is fading. Bloomberg’s story is a series of charts, but that’s a bit like calling Pulp Fiction a series of pictures. This graphical analysis of how the US prices and oil consumes its oil and why its habits are changing is worth a few taps of the “next” arrow.
The feud over the Hand of God. When Diego Maradona scored the infamous goal that brought Argentina victory over England in the 1986 World Cup quarter-final, neither the referee nor the linesman called a handball. Since then, they have not spoken, and their bitter dispute over whose fault it was continues to this day, as Metodi Shumanov relates in the Guardian.
What ancient Egypt can teach us about the future. It bestrode the world, yet for centuries its language and civilization languished in mystery, and had it not been for the Rosetta Stone, they might languish still. Grayson Clary at Aeon discusses how we should prepare so that tomorrow’s explorers know who we were and what we knew.
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