Now we’re watching Big Brother – will it make a difference?

The 500 page summary of the Senate’s torture report was released last Tuesday after years of fighting over the amount of redaction that would be involved. At the same time, the death of Eric Garner from a New York Police Department chokehold, and the subsequent non-indictment of the officer who choked him, provoked protests all over the nation.

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On cue, we saw numerous scornful articles and tweets about the pointlessness of filming cops. After all, Garner was filmed by a bystander, but Officer Daniel Pantaleo will not be prosecuted for the banned chokehold.

Agents with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) held more than a hundred detainees — including 26 entirely innocent people — during the war on terror, and subjected them to brutal interrogations. Nothing has happened to them, or to the folks who allowed this activity to go on. Hell, nothing has happened to even punish CIA officials for the (ahem) “mysterious” destruction of 90 tapes of recorded interrogations.

Suddenly we know more and more about police brutality, misconduct, and fatal shootings, beatings, and chokeholds. Bodycams and even dashcams are not a part of every law enforcement officer’s beat, so Smartphones, Youtube, and sites like Copblock have rallied to feed that informational void.

Edward Snowden’s leaks helped to confirm the 2004-2005 stories of en masse National Security Agency (NSA) spying. Chelsea Manning tried to get the public interested in the grim details of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We have hints at misconduct now. The Internet, cheap video, the power of the whistleblower or the cop-watcher should be massive.

It is, in theory. And the Senate gets credit for finally getting the CIA report out there. But transparency alone is not enough.

Though alleged “thinkpieces” about the worthlessness of bodycams suddenly became hot after Pantaleo stayed out of cuffs, it’s dumb to curse transparency for what it is not. It can’t fix everything. As G.I.. Joe put it, knowing is half the battle.

Demanding accountability from government or law enforcement officials is the other half. And we are stymied on that front.

Cops are so unwilling to report on other cops. We even have a term for that: the blue wall of silence. It may extend to civilians as well. The deaths of John Crawford, Eric Garner, Kelly Thomas, and others indicate that even juries are unwilling to make sure police whose lethal actions were caught on camera get punished.

Our intelligence agencies are even trickier. The prospect of abolishing or even significantly reforming any of them remains a hell of a long shot, even if the war on terror has died down. Stopping the NSA’s mass spying on Americans would endanger Americans, don’t you know? And abolishing the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) would put Americans at risk, no matter how many ill-advised, immoral criminal stings they set up, right?

We don’t yet know enough about these agencies, or about police departments. We know more and more, yet sunshine only reveals the problems. And when each branch of government point fingers over who knew what about which CIA torture when, it’s not likely that anything will get done.

CIA head John Brennan recently scorned the Senate report. He refused to swear off similar tactics for his agency in the future. He wants us all to move on: fail to convict, pardon, excuse, whatever it takes to make sure that next time a bad government thing is necessary, there is room to do it.

Gerald Ford wanted America to forget about Richard Nixon’s criminal behavior. Obama wanted America to move on from the Bush administration. The drone war may have avoided “rectal rehydration” or Russian roulette in its treatment of the accused baddies. But the body count with drones is much higher, and the standards for who is targeted are no more trustworthy or transparent.

These are all variations on a theme: the power-tripping, cruelty, and murder done by those given a legal monopoly on force. Almost nobody wants to punish their predecessors, because that would tie their hands next time. You cause the death of a suspect while using an illicit chokehold? Well, it wasn’t a chokehold. It was a reasonable use of force, OK?

The new guys are the same as the old guys. Obama could come into office, ban torture, and make morally upright frowny faces about how bad it is. But he wasn’t about to prosecute anyone and do anything that might come back to him.

We’re beginning to see the system for what it is, but the powerful still fight back. They are going to fight a lot harder against any efforts to bridle their brute strength.

What do you think?

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