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The NYT Discovers Torture

Andrew Sullivan —  Dec 10 2014 @ 2:41pm

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A reader writes:

I can’t help but notice that the CIA had no problems using the word “torture” as they devised legal strategies to shield them from the consequences of using it. They knew it was “torture,” and called it such,  but how long did it take The New York Times to use the word?

Another sends the above screenshot:

What a difference a Senate report makes. While the NYT decided to start using the word “torture” again previously, I couldn’t help but be struck by how many times the word occurred on its front web page yesterday. I counted nine instances of the word “torture” on the front page (whatever counts as “above the fold” for a web page). This is a reasonably easy question for a corpus linguist with access to the NYTs archive to answer: how many times in its history has the word “torture” occurred nine times in a single edition, let alone nine times above the fold? This may be completely unique in its 153-year history.

The NYT under Bill Keller revealed itself as a mere appendage to the US government, rather than a vital check upon it. They never had a good argument. They still don’t. Every now and again, the press is presented with a real test of their integrity and independence. On this vital matter, on telling the truth, the New York Times failed.

CIA Report

5.00 pm. Since we’re now in our sixth hour of live-blogging, I’m going to wrap it up for the time being. But I want to end on a positive note. Everything that happened in this damning report is because of Americans. But the report itself is a function of other Americans determined to push back against evil done in this country’s name. Those Americans have been heroes in exposing this horror from the get-go, and they include many CIA agents who knew full well what this foul program was doing to their and America’s reputation.

But they also include the dogged staff of the Select Committee itself. I’m proud to know Dan Jones, who was the key figure in putting this together. He was handed with literally millions of pages of often incomprehensible and weirdly filed documents, and somehow had to pull them all together, night after night, through the early morning hours, in a lonely basement. There were many early mornings when he carried on, not knowing if any of this would ever see the light of day – and, of course, both the CIA and the Obama administration did all they could to stop its release. It’s so easy to dismiss them many people working in government in Washington – but I know and revere many who perform public service with dedication and professionalism. And this report is arguably the most important act of public service in holding our government accountable in modern times.

The great achievement of this report, moreover, is its meticulousness. No one can now claim that these torture sessions gave us anything of any worth, while damning this country for decades to come as the worst human rights abuser in the West. They will still claim torture worked  – but they will be lying or rather desperately repeating talking points that the CIA’s own documents have now categorically refuted.

So the last word goes to Feinstein:

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All of us owe them our deepest thanks. Even on this darkest of days, they give me hope.

4.59 pm. Ambers notes that this is not an act of interrogation:

Over and over, the CIA justified ratcheting up the techniques based not on any intelligence or evidence that the detainees did know more than they were sharing, but instead to increase their own confidence that the detainees had shared everything they knew. In other words, the thinking was: “We’ll enhance his interrogations until it’s not possible that he could withhold actionable information from us.””Our assumption is the objective of this operation is to achieve a high degree of confidence that [AbuZubaydah is not holding back actionable information concerning threats to the United States,” was how Zubaydah’s top interrogator put it in a cable to headquarters. Even though the CIA was telling the executive branch that the prisoner was holding back information and that they needed to rough him up to get it out of him, the operational order for the torture itself said otherwise.

If this is the rationale for torture, then every person in interrogation should be tortured. You’ve got to prove they don’t have anything else to tell us. I guess that was the kind of decision made when pondering whether to do the 151st near-drowning, after the 150th.

All I want you to do is imagine if you were witnessing this scene in a movie. The interrogators would be Nazis, wouldn’t they? And now they are us.

4.47 pm. So, Mr President, this was an act of patriotism, was it?

4.42 pm. Tunku Varadjaran believes in covering up war crimes:

What a disgraceful piece of McCarthyite, jingoist twaddle.

4.35 pm. It’s fascinating to watch close observers and shrewd reporters on the CIA expressing various levels of shock at these revelations:

And here’s Ambers:

The barbarism was the very opposite from a few bad apples at the bottom of the pile, as they tried to persuade us at Abu Ghraib. The bad apples were at the very top of the chain of command, rotting this country’s reputation and honor from the top down. And those begin with Bush and Cheney and Tenet. They are now wanted men. And they will go abroad again – at their legal peril. And so America becomes a legal sanctuary for war criminals. As long as they are our war criminals.

4.32 pm. A reader writes:

For a doctor to participate in torture is a fundamental violation of everything the medical profession teaches. And yet: “CIA interrogators shackled each of these detainees in the standing position for sleep deprivation for extended periods of time until medical personnel assessed that they could not maintain the position.” It’s not the most serious crime detailed in the report, but it reflects profound corruption and perversion of a profession that is supposed to save lives, not guide torturers. These are devastating revelations, though of course not without historical precedent. Thank you for bearing witness to all of this.

The participation of American doctors and psychologists in this criminal enterprise has long been one of the more depressing aspects of this dark period. We’ve been covering it on the Dish for a decade now. It gives me utterly no satisfaction to see it was even worse than we feared.

4.30 pm. A useful reminder:

4.26 pm. Proof of Hayden’s lies go on and on and on:

Here’s my question: ho does any media institution justify having this person comment on this report? He has lied so brazenly and so often, anything he says must be treated with instant suspicion. He’s already tried his routine with a supine news source, Newsmax. And he’s got nothing:

4.16 pm. Some righteous words from the very Catholic blogger, Mark Shea, who has long refused to betray his conscience or his faith in turning a blind eye to torture:

This is what “conservatives”, including *especially* anti-abortion-but-not-prolife “faithful conservative Catholics” have fought to defend for years. It is a disgusting stain on the American Catholic Church and a scandal which draws both the Faith and the prolife movement into disrepute. Penance is the only proper response to it.

4.12 pm. So they were the worst of the worst, were they?

For those on the right still defending this legacy, can we at least expect some remorse for the utterly innocent people tortured and even tortured to death? Or are these people incapable of even that? Have they really no decency left at all?

4.01 pm. This could be a moment for some on the right to reflect more broadly on what happened in this country under the torture regime. There is so much to absorb and digest in today’s report – surely enough to warrant even a passionate defender of the program to reconsider and rethink. But no. So far, the response is either to ignore these blockbuster revelations or, well, this from NRO:

Defined by selective accounts and distorted by a partisan agenda, this Senate Intelligence Committee report is intelligence birtherism. Conspiring against truth, it sacrifices American patriots and America’s security in an “Oldspeak”-style of purging the record of any truth. Unconcerned by the propaganda victory they’ve given to U.S. enemies (contemplate how ISIS will manipulate this report), or the cost for liaison-intelligence relationships (foreign services will worry that future cooperation will be misrepresented), the Senate Intelligence Committee has shamed itself and the citizens it claims to serve.

So a 500-page report, summarizing 6,700 pages of a bigger, classified version, as compiled by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, is as credible as the claims that Barack Obama was born in Kenya. That’s the legacy of William F Buckley Jr.

3.58 pm. More Hayden lies:

In December 2008 and January 2009, CIA officers briefed the transition team for President-elect Barack Obama on the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program. CIA Director Hayden prepared a statement that relayed, “despite what you have heard or read in a variety of public fora, these [enhanced interrogation] techniques and this program did work.” The prepared materials included inaccurate information on the operation and management of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program, as well as the same set of examples of the “effectiveness” of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques that the CIA had provided to policymakers over several years. The examples provided were nearly entirely inaccurate.

My italics. It’s very very rare for a Senator to call a former CIA chief a liar as Feinstein did today. But that Hayden definitely is – a product of an institution so usually reliant on secrecy to conceal its fabrications that lying to the outside world is close to reflexive.

3.47 pm. One of the early defenses of torturing prisoners was that, when it comes to devout Muslims, they actually welcomed it because it released them from any obligations to protect their brothers. Cliff May tangled with me on this seven years ago. He posited the following idea:

We now know that Islamists believe their religion forbids them to cooperate with infidels — until they have reached the limit of their ability to endure the hardships the infidel is inflicting on them. In other words: Imagine an al-Qaeda member who would like to give his interrogators information, who does not want to continue fighting, who would prefer not to see more innocent people slaughtered. He would need his interrogators to press him hard so he can feel that he has met his religious obligations — only then could he cooperate.

So torture was actually a mercy for these people! Well we know more about that now:

They were making this up out of whole cloth and passing it along to credulous writers at National Review.

3.41 pm. About those professional interrogators:

Just a reminder: these thugs are not employed by the Assad regime. They are American “patriots” – as this president has called them.

3.37 pm. More Hayden lies:

Hayden gave Senators inaccurate testimony about the interrogation process, threats against detainees’ families, the punching and kicking of detainees, detainee hygiene, denial of medical care, dietary manipulation, the use of waterboarding and its effectiveness, and the injury and death of detainees.

Hayden also told the Senate committee he didn’t believe CIA personnel had expressed reservations about the techniques that were used. In reality, one medical staff member said the methods made him “psychologically very uncomfortable” and several staffers were “profoundly affected” to the point of “choking up,” according to the report.

But, as we know, the CIA believes it is fully entitled to lie whenever it wants to. And since no one is ever held accountable for those lies, who can blame them?

3.35 pm. A footnote reveals how the White House refused to cooperate in any meaningful way with the Committee:

The Committee did not have access to approximately 9,400 CIA documents related to the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program that were withheld by the White House pending a determination and claim of executive privilege. The Committee requested access to these documents over several years, including in writing on January3, 2013, May 22, 2013, and December 19,2013. The Committee received no response from the White House.

Obama has done nothing to bring about this vital act of accountability. History will remember and record that as a stain on his presidency and his character. And as a reminder that when he argued for transparency and accountability in government, he was excusing the CIA from that noble aspiration.

3.30 pm. The CIA istelf never regarded its techniques as humane, even as Bush officials were ludicrously arguing as much. When Administration apologists took to the airwaves in 2003, insisting that the treatment of all prisoners was “humane,” CIA seniors were convinced that this meant the White House was abandoning the black sites and torture program!

On several occasions in early 2003, CIA General Counsel Scott Muller expressed concern to the National Security Council principals, White House staff, and Department of Justice personnel that the CIA’s program might be inconsistent with public statements from the Administration that the U.S. Government’s treatment of detainees was “humane.”[redacted] CIA General Counsel Muller therefore sought to verify with White House and Department of Justice personnel that a February 7, 2002, Presidential Memorandum requiring the U.S. military to treat detainees humanely did not apply to the CIA.

That right there is an admission of war crimes. And proof that the CIA was fully aware of it.

3.20 pm. The NYT has a terrifically useful debunking of all the various plots that we were told were intercepted or prevented through the use of torture. They’re all lies. Money quote from the report on one such lie:

Within days of the raid on UBL’s compound, CIA officials represented that CIA detainees provided the ‘tipoff’ information on Abu Ahmad al-Kuwaiti. A review of CIA records found that the initial intelligence obtained, as well as the information the CIA identified as the most critical — or the most valuable — on Abu Ahmad al-Kuwaiti, was not related to the use of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques.

But of course the lies were inevitable. Once you have decided to go down the path of torture, it’s essential that you continue to believe it must be useful. It’s psychologically very hard to admit you have been doing unspeakably evil things for no reason at all. And so all torture regimes contain self-serving lies. There are none that are halted half-way through for ineffectiveness, because that would expose those already neck-deep in barbarism to blame, and even legal consequences. And so the usual pattern is to double-down, to keep insisting that every single act of torture saved lives, even as it gave us no serious or reliable intelligence. These are the patterns of authoritarian and totalitarian states where torture reigns. And they are the patterns that George W Bush imported into the very heart of American democracy.

3.17 pm. I’m trying to keep count of the number of bald-faced lies that Michael Hayden told in the documents in this report. The NYT has a beaut:

In 2007, for instance, Michael V. Hayden, then the C.I.A. director, told the Senate Intelligence Committee that “all of those involved in the questioning of detainees are carefully chosen and screened for demonstrated professional judgment and maturity.” In fact, the Senate report concludes, no such vetting took place. The interrogation teams included people with “notable derogatory information” in their records, including one with “workplace anger management issues” and another who “had reportedly admitted to sexual assault.”

More to come.

3.07 pm. It’s worth noting that the Obama administration continues to refuse to use the word “torture” in dealing with the report. This is despite the president’s casual admission that “we tortured some folks” – a statement of staggering callowness now we can see what was done in our name. Paul Waldman:

Today I was on a background call with a group of senior administration officials, and they were asked repeatedly why they seemed so reluctant to use the word “torture,” even after President Obama admitted that “we tortured some folks.” One official replied, “We’re not going to go case by case in a report like this and try to affix a label to each action.” But they do affix a label: “enhanced interrogation techniques,” which they used again and again, accepting the euphemistic label the Bush administration affixed to it.

Obama has been a captive of the CIA since he got into office, and a de facto enabler of torture in his refusal to adhere to the Geneva Conventions. But there’s also a reason for his reticence and tone-deafness. If the administration formally concedes the use of torture, Obama will be legally obligated to prosecute it. But they refuse to.

I’ll just pose a simple question: is there any organization in the West that could be found responsible for these appalling acts of incompetence, cruelty, torture, murder, sadism, and deception and have no one in that organization resign or be disciplined, let alone be prosecuted? It’s inconceivable. Which means it really is important to see what is in front of our nose: a lawless, unaccountable criminal entity beyond any legal control or scrutiny. The CIA is a threat to this democracy. And a threat to the world.

3.03 pm. Now think for a second of what the reaction would be if a captive American were subjected to the following by a foreign power:

3.02 pm. Nathan Vardi notes the financial cost of the torture program:

In total, the report claims that the CIA’s detention and interrogation program cost “well over $300 million in non-personnel costs.” One individual associated with the CIA program on the ground level told U.S. government investigators that the program had “more money than we could possibly spend we thought, and it turned out to be accurate.” …

One person associated with the CIA program told government investigators that payments of more than $1 million were made without any paperwork, in cash, and out of boxes containing hundred dollar bills. “We never counted it. I’m not about to count that kind of money for a receipt,” the unidentified individual is quoted as saying by the report.

2.30 pm. The CIA and Cheney have long defended torture as having clear and positive results. Mike Zenko notes that the CIA as recently as 2013 acknowledged that it had no way of knowing whether the torture was working:

[T]here is one CIA acknowledgment that should be as disturbing as anything that is contained within the SSCI study itself. Page 24 of the CIA memo addresses the SSCI’s conclusion that the “CIA never conducted its own comprehensive analysis of the effectiveness of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques.” The CIA’s response:

“We agree with Conclusion 10 in full. It underpins the most important lesson that we have drawn from The Study: CIA needs to develop the structure, expertise, and methodologies required to more objectively and systematically evaluate the effectiveness of our covert actions. We draw this lesson going forward fully aware of how difficult it can be to measure the impact of a particular action or set of actions on an outcome in a real-world setting.”

Therefore, the CIA admitted that—as late as June 2013—it was simply incapable of evaluating the effectiveness of its covert activity.

So all those statements by Cheney, Thiessen and every talking head on Fox that torture worked? They were bald-faced bluffs by utter incompetents. They were bullshit.

2.28 pm. The devastation to our alliances is real and just beginning:

2.26 pm. A tweet from a real interrgator, and not some outside contractor goon:

2.25 pm. The shame of Bill Keller:

2.19 pm. A close look at a torture session:

Screen Shot 2014-12-09 at 2.19.30 PMScreen Shot 2014-12-09 at 2.21.07 PMNow you know why Rodriguez destroyed the tapes. Even after a torture victim is so broken that the interrogator only has to snap his fingers to get this shell of a human being to get back on the waterboard, they continued to torture him. Let me state this as plainly as I can: this is Nazi-level criminality and brutality. This is unimaginable sadism. If the people who did this and those who authorized this are allowed to get away with this, and even be praised by presidents for it, then we have left our civilization behind.

2.15 pm. Nothing to see here …

2.11 pm. When will Kethryn Bigelow apologize?

2.07 pm. Flipping through some conservative media today, the crickets are chirping. NRO has close to nothing on the subject – while finding space for posts on Lena Dunham and Swedish immigration policies. Unless you count this tweet:

Drudge is leading with Gruber and Dunham. I guess that’s better then defending the utterly indefensible.

2.00 pm. The New York Times today editorializes that the torture report is “a portrait of depravity that is hard to comprehend and even harder to stomach.” This is the same newspaper that refused to use the word “torture” for years out of deference to the Bush administration – even though it was plain as the light of day. So no surprise to find this little nugget about one of its reporters dealing with the CIA on this:

Screen Shot 2014-12-09 at 1.59.48 PM1.47 pm. The international community will now rightly insist that the perpetrators of these war crimes be punished. Here’s the UN Rapporteur on Human Rights, Ben Emerson, today:

It is now time to take action. The individuals responsible for the criminal conspiracy revealed in today’s report must be brought to justice, and must face criminal penalties commensurate with the gravity of their crimes. The fact that the policies revealed in this report were authorised at a high level within the US Government provides no excuse whatsoever. Indeed, it reinforces the need for criminal accountability.

International law prohibits the granting of immunities to public officials who have engaged in acts of torture. This applies not only to the actual perpetrators but also to those senior officials within the US Government who devised, planned and authorised these crimes.

As a matter of international law, the US is legally obliged to bring those responsible to justice. The UN Convention Against Torture and the UN Convention on Enforced Disappearances require States to prosecute acts of torture and enforced disappearance where there is sufficient evidence to provide a reasonable prospect of conviction. States are not free to maintain or permit impunity for these grave crimes.

My italics. If the Obama administration refuses to bring these war criminals to justice, it will effectively render moot any international efforts to curtail torture anywhere in the world. It will be arguing that crimes as grave as these need have no legal consequences. That, simply speaking, ends the United States’ participation in the civilized world, and removes any standing for us to criticize any foul despot anywhere who uses torture techniques as hideous as the ones we are now reading about.

Is that the legacy Obama wants? That he made the world safe for torturers? At some point, even he will have to acknowledge the gravity of these facts beyond his callow, off-hand admission that “we tortured some folks” but that the torturers were patriots and we shouldn’t get too “self-righteous” about them. Does the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize really want to go down in history as the president who made sure that war criminals are only punished if they are not American?

And notice too that the US is legally obliged to prosecute Bush and Cheney as well. Or become a rogue state at the UN and in the Geneva community of democracies. Both Bush and Cheney have celebrated their deployment of torture and taken full responsibility for it in public. It is simply impermissible to allow these men to escape justice. The only alternative is to pardon them.

1.46 pm. Yes, we did this too:

1.37 pm. The gravity of what is in front of our eyes is beginning to sink in:

1.35 pm. The war criminal Jose Rodriguez, whose destruction of the video evidence of torture precipitated this report, knew that what he was doing was illegal on its face, explosive and had to be kept top-secret. Any slip, any leak, any discussion could come back to haunt them:

Strongly urge that any speculative language as to the legality of given activities or, more precisely, judgment calls as to their legality vis-à-vis operational guidelines for this activity agreed upon and vetted at the most senior levels of the agency, be refrained from in written traffic (email or cable traffic). Such language is not helpful.

1.33 pm. For many in the CIA, watching these brutal torture sessions was too much:

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1.28 pm. As the CIA contends that the torture program was defensible because it worked (even though it plainly didn’t), it’s worth recalling the explicit language of the Geneva Conventions:

No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political in stability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture. An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture.

The CIA’s self-defense is itself a violation of the Geneva Accords. This country has effectively destroyed those accords and the enormous achievement of Western civilization in constructing them. Obama as definitively as Bush.

1.24 pm. Even now, Obama’s cowardice is gob-smacking:

You mean: they cannot read the report? There are not two sides. The evidence that the interrogations gave us nothing that wasn’t otherwise available is … the CIA’s own assessment. That’s why this report is so conclusive. The CIA itself says the torture didn’t work! And now it claims otherwise. This is a dispute between the CIA and the CIA.

1.18 pm. In most organizations, if someone breaks the rules or commits serious wrongdoing, they are disciplined or corrected. Not in the CIA. No one is ever held to account within that organization, even murderers:

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By indicating that no one would be held responsible for going too far, the CIA effectively gave the green light for the very worst. This was an agency clearly believing it had the authority to break any law, kill any prisoner, use any torture technique … and would never be subject to legal consequences. When you unleash an agency with that power into the world, and remove all constraints, what did they think would happen?

1.12 pm. The goal in these torture sessions was, as in all torture sessions, to completely “break” a human being. The bizarre notion was that once you had reduced a prisoner to a quivering, incoherent mess, he would somehow give you decent intelligence. Serious commentators – Cliff May comes to mind – actually propagated this idea. But when a democracy based on individual life and liberty practices torture techniques designed to obliterate an individual entirely, it has effectively repealed itself:

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1.09 pm. Only totalitarian regimes have a record of doing this:

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Stress positions are insanely painful even when your limbs are in good condition. But when your limbs are already broken? And no one is going to be punished for this either?

1.05 pm. Yes, some were tortured to death:

1.01 pm. A victim of the Iran regime’s torture regime tweets:

12.57 pm. Rubio says we should “thank” those who raped and near-drowned prisoners, subjected them to hypothermia, rectal rehydration, and brutal beatings, and in some cases tortured prisoners to death. Bush believes the people who did these things were “patriots.” This is the moral universe in which some on the right now live. They are less willing to acknowledge the huge errors in this case than the CIA itself. Their defense of torture as something to be celebrated is, strictly speaking, fascist. They are a disgrace to any civilized conservatism.

12.46 pm. A detail from the Telegraph’s live-blog:

Some of the most important CIA-led interrogations were carried out by people with no specialist training or expertise, some of whom had histories of violence:

CIA employed people who had “personal and professional problems of a serious nature” – including histories of violence and abusive treatment of others. The report found that that should have called into question their employment, let alone their suitability to participate in the sensitive CIA program.

Two psychologists were employed as outside contractors – neither of them had any experience as an interrogator, nor did either have specialised knowledge of al-Qaeda, a background in counterterrorism, or any relevant cultural or linguistic expertise. They personally conducted some of the most important interrogations. In 2005, they formed a company to expand their work with the CIA. Shortly thereafter, the CIA outsourced virtually all aspects of the program. The CIA paid the company more than $80 million.

Again, remember what we were told: that this was a professional program staffed by the very best of the CIA. Nothing could be further from the truth. It was pioneered by two goons paid a fortune to do what no serious interrogator or anyone with a moral sense would ever dream of. These were Cheney’s men – doing what his panicked mind thought would actually work. And the result was crime after crime after crime.

Noting the Telegraph’s coverage also highlights the deep and eternal damage done to the US by this foul program. America’s moral standing in the world has been permanently crippled, with all the attendant damage to our national security and alliances. And that’s something we have to understand better: far from improving our safety, Cheney’s war crimes made us – and make us – far less safe, our alliances now crippled, our foes given the biggest propaganda coup they could ever imagine. Bush and Cheney did this to this country. And they remain proud of it.

12.44 pm. This is what “oversight” meant during the Bush-Cheney years:

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12.39 pm. McCain is now speaking. He has been rock-solid through most of this. He has two crucial characteristics: he’s a Republican and a victim of torture. Those who will try to argue that this report is mere partisanship need to tell that to McCain’s face.

12.36 pm. Will Dick Cheney defend this?

These are the tactics of criminals, Jihadists and totalitarian states. They became the tactics of the US under Bush and Cheney.

12.33 pm. DiFi is on a roll:

And it’s worth recalling that Feinstein’s long record has been as a stalwart defender of the CIA, a barely functioning over-seer prone to give the CIA the benefit of every doubt. No one can plausibly call her reflexively anti-CIA. But here she is today, suffused with righteous fury – every ounce of it merited.

12.30 pm. The CIA, unlike Dick Cheney, acknowledges its own errors:

Screen Shot 2014-12-09 at 12.29.46 PMWhen will the GOP talking points actually reflect even the CIA’s own internal assessment of its grotesque failures of competence?

12.28 pm. Torture didn’t get us Osama bin Laden:

this report—based on an extensive analysis of the CIA’s own files—says Bin Laden’s courier had long been under surveillance, and more than two dozen sources discussed him. The person who provided the most detailed information, a senior Al Qaeda fundraiser and logistical facilitator named Hassan Ghul, provided it after being captured in 2004—before he was subjected to the “enhanced interrogation techniques.” An CIA officer reported that he “sang like a tweetie bird…opened up right away and was cooperative from the outset.”

But after providing that information, the report says he was taken to a different detention site, where he was shaved, stripped, and stood against a wall with his hands raised over his head for two hours at a time. After 59 hours of sleep deprivation, he began experiencing hallucinations and complaining of pain, but gave no further information. While additional details of his interrogation and release were redacted, the report says he eventually wound up in a Pakistani prison, was released and ultimately killed in 2012 by a US drone strike in Pakistan.

Nonetheless, the CIA claimed that its techniques led to Bin Laden in hearings and public statements after the raid that killed him.

Kathryn Bigelow must feel like a tool now, mustn’t she? She just swallowed these liars’ spin and made a movie out of it. Will she apologize or retract?

12.25 pm. A simple question:

Yes, I think we can. And take a minute to absorb what we’re talking about. We’re talking about government officials raping prisoners – and nothing will be done to hold them to account. This is what America has become.

12.23 pm. They paid the torturers more than professional interrogators:

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12.21 pm. Greenwald on the CIA’s strategic leaks to the media:

For all the claims in Washington about how leaking classified information is destructive and criminal, the CIA – consistent with what the Obama administration frequently does – routinely leaked classified information to the media to propagandize about their torture program. Will there be any criminal investigations the way there are when whistleblowers leak information that embarrasses (rather than serves) the government? Yes, that’s a rhetorical question:

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12.18 pm. A reader writes:

Reading through some of the excerpts this morning, sometimes I literally need to turn away from my computer screen and stop reading.  This is simply gruesome.  It’s extremely disturbing that there are still a great many people defending this program and these torture techniques as somehow being compatible with American values.  These are also the same pieces of shit who criticize Obama for ruining America’s credibility through (fill in the blank.)  They’re deeply concerned with how the US is viewed and that the world see their country the same way they do.  And yet they can’t see that the rest of the planet looks at this and says, “Are you fucking kidding me!?”

I dare anyone to read this passage about the CIA holding a mentally challenged man simply to gain leverage on his family and think that the continued defense of these actions isn’t the greatest threat there is to American credibility:

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The Krauthammers of the world should crawl back into the dark, greasy caves whence they came.  They don’t deserve to be seen or heard ever again.

According to Dick Cheney, this kind of thing was “absolutely justified.”

12.15 pm. And the CIA mounted an extensive media-propaganda effort to disseminate the same lies they were feeding to their superiors:

The CIA’s Office of Public Affairs and senior CIA officials coordinated to share classified information on the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program to select members of the media to counter public criticism, shape public opinion, and avoid potential congressional action to restrict the CIA’s detention and interrogation authorities and budget. These disclosures occurred when the program was a classified covert action program, and before the CIA had briefed the full Committee membership on the program.

Here’s the Deputy Director of the Counterterrorism Center: “we either get out and sell, or we get hammered, which has implications beyond the media. [C]ongress reads it, cuts our authorities, messes up our budget… we either put out our story or we get eaten. [T]here is no middle ground.”

Having done the indefensible, they had to mount an enormous effort to keep the program in place – largely by lying to anyone they could find.

12.12 pm. And yes, they tortured at least one prisoner to death:

Yes, the CIA can literally get away with murder.

12.08 pm. Here’s a real bombshell: Bush was first briefed on waterboarding in 2006! And he didn’t like it:

[D]espite agency efforts to keep the Bush administration informed about the program, top White House officials repeatedly resisted having the CIA brief cabinet-level figures about the details, and CIA officials were not permitted to brief Bush directly until mid-2006, more than four years after the president signed a broad executive order authorizing the program, according to Senate Democratic aides who briefed reporters ahead of Tuesday’s release.

When Bush finally heard the details of the harsh interrogation techniques that were used against CIA detainees, he was “uncomfortable” with some of them and expressed dismay that some detainees were required to remain in stress positions for long amounts of time, to the point that they had no choice but to soil themselves, the aides said.

What does it say about our democracy in the last decade that the one person ultimately designated to run the war was utterly oblivious to what was actually going on in such an extraordinarily vital area such as torture? That others were really running the country? That he was a disastrously disengaged and incompetent figure-head? Well, I guess what we suspected is now out there. But who was ultimately responsible for torturing suspects in a manner far far worse than stress positions if the president wasn’t?

11.58 am. More prisoners were waterboarded than we have been led to believe; and the Gestapo technique of inducing hypothermia via ice-cold baths was also practised. Some historical context for that torture technique:

The “cold bath” technique – the same as that used against al-Qahtani in Guantanamo – was, according to professor Darius Rejali of Reed College, “pioneered by a member of the French Gestapo by the pseudonym Masuy about 1943. The Belgian resistance referred to it as the Paris method, and the Gestapo authorized its extension from France to at least two places late in the war, Norway and Czechoslovakia. That is where people report experiencing it.”

In Norway, we actually have a 1948 court case that weighs whether “enhanced interrogation” using the methods approved by president Bush amounted to torture. The proceedings are fascinating, with specific reference to the hypothermia used in Gitmo, and throughout interrogation centers across the field of conflict. The Nazi defense of the techniques is almost verbatim that of the Bush administration…

And in that case, the US occupying power decided that the proper punishment for using this technique should be execution. And indeed the war criminals in that case were put to death. Few things show how steep our moral decline is in these matters that today, leading officials in the American government argue that not only should there be no punishment for these war crimes, but that their very existence should be covered up and the names of those who tortured kept permanently from public view.

11.53 am. So seven of the 39 prisoners given the full torture treatment gave no intelligence at all. How can you justify torturing them by the “saving lives” canard? If no intelligence was gleaned at all, their torture was utterly irrelevant to seeking intelligence. For seven torture victims, it was worthless on its face.

11.50 am. The Dish team is now busy absorbing the report. We’ll be adding our comments as we go further into the report. Please join us and email any insights or nuggets you think are important.


Their exchange is one of the high moments of debate as journalism evolves in the digital era. If you haven’t, do yourself a favor and read it. I come down in favor of both approaches, i.e. alleged “objectivity” or an attempt at impartiality in competition with a press more open about its own biases and point of view. I think readers deserve both. In Britain – though it is far from working perfectly – the biases of the papers make more sense because of the massive resources of the BBC aspiring to impartiality.

But on the basis of this exchange, I think Glenn has the advantage. And that’s because his idea of journalism is inherently more honest – declaring your biases is always more transparent than concealing them. That’s why, I think, the web has rewarded individual stars who report and write but make no bones about where they are coming from. In the end, they seem more reliable and accountable because of their biases than institutions pretending to be above it all. In the NYT, the hidden biases are pretty obvious: an embedded liberal mindset in choosing what to cover, and how; and a self-understanding as a responsible and deeply connected institution in an American system of governance. These things sometimes coexist easily – as a liberal paper covering the Obama administration, for example, with sympathetic toughness. And sometimes, they don’t – as a liberal paper covering the Bush administration, for example, and becoming implicit with its newspeak.

On the latter, Glenn’s strongest point is about the NYT’s decision not to call torture torture when reporting on the torture regime of Bush and Cheney.  Keller still has no good answer here – except, quite obviously, his desire not to burn bridges with an administration and not become a lightning rod for right-wing press critics. Trying to appear objective, in other words, by appeasing both sides in a dispute, is not actually being objective or impartial. It’s enabling war crimes – which I think the New York Times did under Bill Keller’s leadership. No one ever hesitated to use the word torture to describe waterboarding in the past, and the NYT itself did so when other countries were guilty. So hiding your biases, and trying to appear objective, can mean the opposite of honest. That’s why, up there, the Dish has a simple motto: biased and balanced. You know where I’m coming from; and you can also judge if we fairly provide counter-points and dissent. The Dish evolved toward the “biased and balanced” mindset out of a desire to get things right, after I had proven myself all-too able to get things wrong.

Of course, I’m not running (as of yet) original reporting. But reporting, to me, is about finding stuff out, and publishing it without fear, and being accountable for it.

That means publishing without fear of being called leftist by the right, or of being called fascist by the left; publishing without fear of unsettling and even enraging governments; without fear of upsetting, offending, or even boring, readers because some difficult truths need to be gotten out there; and without fear of being called unpatriotic, or biased. That requires enormous discipline, constant tough judgment calls, brass balls, and discriminating restraint. Withholding the truth – unless for fear of risking others’ lives – is something you only do in extraordinarily rare circumstances. So, to take an obvious example, reporting about Iran’s nuclear program without noting Israel’s nuclear and chemical weapons – a key piece of context the NYT routinely refuses to note – is not impartial. And bias is best concealed within an allegedly unbiased news outlet.

Equally, it means matching revelations from democratic societies with revelations from autocracies. A press that constantly make the US government unable to keep secrets reliably needs to put in a lot of effort to do the same with far less porous regimes. It means careful consideration of internal government documents before publishing; it means eschewing excess zeal in revealing secrets, in favor of measured and responsible explanation of the broader issues involved. That’s called balance.

We have yet to see what Glenn and his future colleagues will produce under much more strenuous institutional boundaries. But we need him. And with any luck, the competition will sharpen the NYT as well. There is a golden mean here – one which the NYT aspires to but often fails to achieve. It will only do better with Glenn nipping at their heels.

(Photo: The Guardian’s Brazil-based reporter Glenn Greenwald, who was among the first to reveal Washington’s vast electronic surveillance program, testifies before the investigative committee of the Brazilian Senate that examines charges of espionage by the United States in Brasilia on October 9, 2013. By Evaristo Sa, AFP/Getty Images.)

The former executive editor of the New York Times recently wrote the following sentence on his blog:

The editors (I was one at the time) argued that what constituted torture was still a matter of debate, that this issue was not just linguistic but legal and had not yet been resolved by a court, and that the word was commonly applied to such a range of practices as to be imprecise.

This is untrue. As I subsequently pointed out, there is a plethora of court cases that deal with the techniques Bush and Cheney authorized, and all of them found them to be torture. None had even the slightest equivocation about it. In fact, the one torture tactic that both former president Bush and former veep Dick Cheney have openly bragged about – waterboarding – has been ruled torture by domestic and international courts for decades. You could argue that there was a debate about some of the techniques, but not waterboarding in any way shape or form. If you were squeamish, you could have used the term “torture and other brutal interrogation techniques” in the NYT to describe the policies of the US government under Bush and Cheney. But Keller didn’t. Even that was too daring for him.

A factual untruth is still sitting on the blog of the former executive editor of the NYT. He has now written a subsequent post without any correction of the previous one, and not responded to the mountain of comments taking him to task. He appears to be compounding his cowardly refusal to use the English language when editing the paper with uncorrected factual untruth on his blog. And people wonder why journalists are held in such low regard.

If the former editor of the NYT doesn’t bother correcting the record, why should anyone else?

Bill Keller, Still Flailing

Andrew Sullivan —  Apr 17 2013 @ 10:40pm

Inside the New York Times

[Re-posted from earlier today.]

There was something almost poignant about a post yesterday by former NYT executive editor Bill Keller. It’s his way of explaining why he decided the Times could not use the plain word ‘torture’ to describe torture – when it was conducted by the Bush administration. He conflates the issue with the other t-word, terrorism, as if there were some kind of analogy. There isn’t. What happened in Benghazi was an act of terror, as Obama said the following day. What happened in Boston was an act of terror. The only circumspection about the word should be in the immediate aftermath of explosions when it seems to me prudent not to jump to conclusions. So the fire at the JFK Library Monday was not an act of terror.

The most it can take to reach the conclusion about terror is a few days. Yet the New York Times has refused to use the word ‘torture’ for years in its news pages and is still avoiding it. Keller was behind that decision. Future historians of the press will note how the most powerful single journalistic institution in the country simply caved to government and partisan pressure – even on the use of the English language.

Keller denies this. He says the avoidance of the word was because there was an ongoing debate about the legal meaning of torture, and therefore the NYT should have stayed neutral.

The editors (I was one at the time) argued that what constituted torture was still a matter of debate, that this issue was not just linguistic but legal and had not yet been resolved by a court, and that the word was commonly applied to such a range of practices as to be imprecise. We contended that the best approach was to describe the techniques as fully as possible and let readers draw their own conclusions.

Keller writes that the issue of what torture is “had not yet been resolved by a court”. Really?

Let us take, for example, a torture technique both Bush and Cheney have openly bragged about authorizing: waterboarding. Has no court adjudicated the matter? I refer Keller to page 371 of the Constitution Project report, which details countless examples of US courts finding waterboarding unequivocally to be torture:

In the early 20th century, U.S. Army Captain Elwin Glenn was court-martialed for administering the “water cure” to civilians during the combat operations in the Philippines. Japanese military personnel were convicted of war crimes by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East for using the “water treatment” method on POWs. And several lower-ranking soldiers were convicted of waterboarding, a war crime, in the years following the war.

Several state courts have decided cases involving waterboarding as well. In White v. State, the Mississippi Supreme Court threw out a 1922 murder conviction because the defendant’s confession had been obtained using the “water cure.” In that case, men held the appellant down while one stood on him and the other poured water into his nose in order to gain a confession. The court described this treatment as “barbarous” and “brutal treatment,” “causing pain and horror.”

In Cavazos v. State, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals similarly reversed a murder conviction where officers had extracted a confession by coercive means, including the water cure. The Cavazos court found in 1942 that the trial judge had improperly admitted a confession that was “obtained by force and physical and mental torture.”

Four decades after Cavazos, four Texas law-enforcement officers who had waterboarded suspects were convicted of “violating and conspiring to violate the civil rights of prisoners in their custody.” The defendants, a sheriff and three deputies, had “draped a towel over each man’s face and pour[ed] water over it until the men gagged.” While not considering the nature of the treatment itself on appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in 1984 repeatedly described the actions of the sheriff and deputies as “torture.”

While all of the above cases were decided prior to Convention Against Torture’s ratification, U.S. courts have held that waterboarding is a form of torture after the U.S.’s ratification as well. For example, in In re Estate of Ferdinand E. Marcos Human Rights Litigation, the U.S. District Court for the District Court of Hawaii specifically listed waterboarding (or “water cure”) as one form of torture practiced by the Marcos regime, which used such techniques against political dissidents who then brought their claims in U.S. courts when seeking asylum. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit subsequently supported this finding.

The Marcos regime used waterboarding against political dissidents while it was in control of the Philippines, and it was the basis of many claims by victims in the ensuing litigation in American courts.

To repeat: Keller writes in his post that the issue of whether waterboarding was torture “had not yet been resolved by a court.” It had – and in no single case had there been any equivocation at all. Waterboarding was explicitly defined as torture by the Bush State Department and the Convention Against Torture. It is a war crime – or the law and the English language mean nothing. The same is true for a litany of other authorized abuses – which have clear, legal and regulatory status as torture. Will the former editor of the Times correct a factual error?

At any time during his position as NYT executive editor, Mr Keller could also have looked up the legal definition, which is not in dispute:

[A]n act committed by a person acting under the color of law specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering (other than pain or suffering incidental to lawful sanctions) upon another person within his custody or physical control.

So allow me to remind Mr Keller of what his own newspaper, among others, reported about what was authorized by the president himself:

using dogs to terrorize prisoners; stripping detainees naked and hooding them; isolating people in windowless cells for weeks and even months on end; freezing prisoners to near-death and reviving them and repeating the hypothermia; contorting prisoners into stress positions that create unbearable pain in the muscles and joints; cramming prisoners into upright coffins in painful positions with minimal air; near-drowning, on a waterboard, of human beings—in one case 183 times—even after they have cooperated with interrogators.

And in many cases – it was many of the above combined – and several confirmed cases of being tortured to death. How can anyone not see that these techniques clearly “inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering” on people completely under the government’s control? There is not now and never has been a debate about this.

So why Keller’s bizarre refusal to call it by its proper name? The reason is simple. Keller knew that publishing the word torture with respect to president Bush and his administration was a factual allegation of war crimes. Such an accusation would have caused all the usual suspects to deride the NYT as a left-liberal rag, with a partisan agenda. There would have been huge partisan political blowback. It might also have prevented NYT reporters from getting access to anyone in the Bush administration. Keller basically admits as much:

Now that I reside in the opinion zone, I use the word “torture” without hesitation, but I still believe that editors in the news pages should be a little slow to preempt the judgment of readers, or to use language that carries a suggestion of political posture.

Does the nonpartisan report made public today mean that what is “torture” in the Opinion pages can now be “torture” in the news pages? Has the noun shed some of its partisan freight? Watch that space.

“Language that carries a suggestion of political posture.” But what if that language is the plain truth?

Let me just say that I have a different view of the Fourth Estate than Keller does. I believe that a newspaper should report what it can in plain English, without regard to anyone else’s views on the matter, and whatever the positions of the political parties. It should publish what it deems to be true by its own methods and conclusions.

Keller, in contrast, believes a newspaper should not publish the truth if one political party has decided – arbitrarily and in accord with its own legal self-interests – that there is a “debate” about it. It’s an almost classic Fallowsian “false equivalence” moment. There is, for example, a debate about evolution. Does the NYT use a euphemism because the theory of natural selection is fiercely opposed by a large number of Americans? Does it routinely refer to “the theory of natural selection which many Americans dispute”. Of course not. They can report on polarizing issues in plain English in most cases. But not when something as profound as a president committing war crimes is concerned. Not, in other words, when you really need an independent and free press.

He also writes: “the word was commonly applied to such a range of practices as to be imprecise.” But that reveals a deep misunderstanding of the laws against torture. They are broadly drawn because that was the entire point: to rule out of bounds anything even approaching torture or cruel and inhuman conduct. In 2003, president Bush made the following statement:

I call on all governments to join with the United States and the community of law-abiding nations in prohibiting, investigating, and prosecuting all acts of torture and in undertaking to prevent other cruel and unusual punishment. I call on all nations to speak out against torture in all its forms and to make ending torture an essential part of their diplomacy.

There you have the president himself defining torture as broadly and clearly as the statute. And yet Keller was incapable of doing the same – out of fear of seeming biased.

To take another specific example of the US government taking this approach to torture, look at the asylum cases decided by the Justice Department and the immigration services under the Department of Homeland Security. You can examine the rules here. There is simply no doubt that an asylum-seeker who had evidence of being waterboarded by a foreign government would be granted asylum by the US. Because he had been tortured. Or imagine if an American soldier were captured by Iran and water-boarded. Would the New York Times refuse to say he was tortured? Seriously?

Keller knew the truth and his newspaper did sterling work in uncovering it. But he refused to tell the legal truth in plain English because he couldn’t take the political whirlwind that would ensue. He’s now searching for an excuse to decide that the issue was once vague but now clear and so we can all move along quietly please.

I’m sorry, but no. Keller needs to take responsibility for a key failure of nerve at a vital moment in the history of basic human rights. In this he is sadly like the president: against torture, except when it might mean serious political headwinds. History will condemn them both – but nothing is more damaging to the reputation of a newspaper than cowardice and equivocation in the face of such glaringly obvious facts.

(Photo: Inside the ‘page one meeting’ with New York Times Editor Bill Keller, May, 2008 in New York City. There are two daily meeting one at 10:30am and the other at 4pm to discuss what stories will be used on the front page of the paper, with the section editors and senior editors. By Jonathan Torgovnik/Edit by Getty Images.)

Greenwald shoots and scores! From today's NYT:

After the Nazi invasion of France, Mr. Hessel fled to England and then flew secretly into occupied France as a Resistance officer. Captured by the Gestapo, he spent time in concentration camps.

Asked how he survived torture, he said, “The third time of waterboarding, I said, ‘Now, I’ll tell you.’ And I told them a lie of course.” He added: “One survives torture. So many people unfortunately have been tortured. But it’s not a thing to recommend.”

Torture? Waterboarding is just an "enhanced interrogation technique," no? Or an example of harsh or brutal treatment. At least according to Bill Keller. Well, not exactly. Keller's position is even more pathetic:

[D]efenders of the practice of water-boarding, including senior officials of the Bush administration, insisted that it did not constitute torture.

So the NYT defers to government power – even on an issue as profound as torture – rather than report the truth in plain English. And it does so solely with respect to the United States (and to a lesser extent, Israel).

There is one word for this: corrupt.

John F Burns pens a wonderful obit today on the remarkable British spy in France, Eileen Nearne, in 1944 who was tortured by the Nazis. Somehow, Bill Keller let the following paragraph slip through the copy-edit cracks:

As she related in postwar debriefings, documented in Britain’s National Archives, the Gestapo tortured her — beating her, stripping her naked, then submerging her repeatedly in a bath of ice-cold water until she began to black out from lack of oxygen.

"Tortured"? Doesn't that break the NYT rule that such techniques are only referred to as "harsh interrogation techniques"? Has the policy changed? Or are we seeing an explicit decision by its editors to use different terms for exactly the same things when used by the US, rather than by the Nazis? You think I'm exaggerating? Here is an eye-witness account of Camp Nama, under the direct command of General Stanley McChrystal, where mere suspects – people not even caught red-handed as Ms Nearne was by the Nazis – were imprisoned and tortured:

[The suspect] was stripped naked, put in the mud and sprayed with the hose, with very cold hoses, in February. At night it was very cold. They sprayed the cold hose and he was completely naked in the mud, you know, and everything. [Then] he was taken out of the mud and put next to an air conditioner. It was extremely cold, freezing, and he was put back in the mud and sprayed. This happened all night. Everybody knew about it. People walked in, the sergeant major and so forth, everybody knew what was going on, and I was just one of them, kind of walking back and forth seeing [that] this is how they do things.

Here is more of an interview with a soldier who was at the Camp, whose chilling motto was "No Blood, No Foul."

Jeff explained that the colonel told them that he "had this directly from General McChrystal and the Pentagon that there's no way that the Red Cross could get in." Jeff did not question the colonel further on how these assurances were given to those in command in CampNama. He explained that they were told: "they just don't have access, and they won't have access, and they never will. This facility was completely closed off to anybody investigating. Even Army investigators." Jeff said that he did see Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of U.S. Joint Special Operations forces in Iraq, visiting the Nama facility on several occasions. "I saw him a couple of times. I know what he looks like."

This all took place in Iraq, which even the Bush administration said was subject to Geneva Rules. (For more details on this, see the NYT story here, where, of course, the t-word is forbidden, and HRW's report here.) But it is also important to note that hypothermia – the Nazi Verschaerfte Vernehmung ("enhanced interrogation") technique of cold baths, dowsing with cold water, use of ice cold hoses, and air-conditioners – was a specifically approved technique by president Bush and vice-president Cheney. At Camp Nama, two prisoners were tortured to death by these methods. In other instances, these deaths by hypothermia torture were covered up:

Among the death certificates issued for prisoners who died while being held for interrogation at Abu Ghraib, one cited by Dr. Steven Miles claimed a 63-year-old prisoner had died of “cardiovascular disease and a buildup of fluid around his heart.” But Miles noted that the certificate failed to mention that the old man had been stripped naked, continually soaked in cold water, and kept outside in 40-degree cold for three days before cardiac arrest.

The use of hypothermia as a torture technique was not restricted to Camp Nama under General McChrystal's direct command, a man who has never taken responsibility for the war crimes under his watch. In Gitmo itself, directly monitored by the White House, al-Qahtani was frozen near to death. Here is what was done to him, under the direct orders of the war criminal George W Bush:

For eleven days, beginning November 23, al-Qahtani was interrogated for twenty hours each day by interrogators working in shifts. He was kept awake with music, yelling, loud white noise or brief opportunities to stand. He then was subjected to eighty hours of nearly continuous interrogation until what was intended to be a 24-hour “recuperation.” This recuperation was entirely occupied by a hospitalization for hypothermia that had resulted from deliberately abusive use of an air conditioner. Army investigators reported that al-Qahtani’s body temperature had been cooled to 95 to 97 degrees Fahrenheit (35 to 36.1 degrees Celsius) and that his heart rate had slowed to thirty-five beats per minute. While hospitalized, his electrolytes were corrected and an ultrasound did not find venous thrombosis as a cause for the swelling of his leg. The prisoner slept through most of the 42-hour hospitalization after which he was hooded, shackled, put on a litter and taken by ambulance to an interrogation room for twelve more days of interrogation, punctuated by a few brief naps.

My italic. As my essay in The Atlantic noted here, an Army interrogator, Tony Lagouranis, described the technique as it evolved in Iraq and Afghanistan:

We used hypothermia a lot. It was very cold up in Mosul at that time, so we—it was also raining a lot—so we would keep the prisoner outside, and they would have a polyester jumpsuit on and they would be wet and cold, and freezing. But we weren’t inducing hypothermia with ice water like the [Navy] SEALs were. But, you know, maybe the SEALs were doing it better than we were, because they were actually even controlling it with the [rectal] thermometer, but we weren’t doing that.

Lagouranis did not witness the Navy SEALs’ technique himself. But the maintenance of cold cells at Gitmo, and elsewhere, shows how high up the authorization went.

Some want to claim that equating the torture techniques used by the Bush administration with those used by the Nazis is unforgivable hyperbole. Sadly, it isn't. It's indisputable fact. And one man responsible for it, Stanley McChrystal, was rewarded with promotion and now teaches at Yale. And another man who twisted the law to make it happen, John Yoo, teaches at Berkeley.

The US in 1948 prosecuted German soldiers for using hypothermia techniques, and sentenced its practitioners to death. One wonders: why, if the Geneva Conventions mean anything, is Stanley McChrystal, who bears legal and command authority for everything committed under his command, not in jail? And why are not Bush and Cheney on trial at the Hague? And why does Obama hold the Geneva Conventions in such contempt that he too insists on violating their clear and pressing legal obligation to investigate and prosecute all such war criminals, whoever they are?

He took an oath to enforce the laws of the land. He is violating that oath, thereby subverting both the Constitution and the rule of law.

For some reason, I missed this NYT blog-post about the paper's decision to abandon the word "torture" to describe, er, torture. Bill Keller's response is an appalling piece of weaseling:

“I think this Kennedy School study — by focusing on whether we have embraced the politically correct term of art in our news stories — is somewhat misleading and tendentious.”

In an e-mail message on Thursday, Mr. Keller said defenders of the practice of waterboarding, “including senior officials of the Bush administration,” insisted that it did not constitute torture.

“When using a word amounts to taking sides in a political dispute, our general practice is to supply the readers with the information to decide for themselves,” Mr. Keller wrote. “Thus we describe the practice vividly, and we point out that it is denounced by international covenants and human rights advocates as a form of torture. Nobody reading the Times’s coverage could be ignorant of the extent of the practice (much of that from information we broke) or mistake it for something benign (we usually use the word ‘brutal.’)”

But words matter, and the only reason there is any dispute about whether waterboarding is torture is because "senior officials of the Bush administration” were trying to avoid prosecution for war crimes. It is the role of a newspaper not to mimic the propaganda of the powerful, or act as their legal defenders, but to use plain English accurately. The NYT always did this before 2002, so it has been caught red-handed caving into political pressure. The Washington Post is just as bad (and they have actually published brazen defenses of torture and hired a man as a columnist deeply implicated in the war crimes of the last administration):

“After the use of the term ‘torture’ became contentious, we decided that we wouldn’t use it in our voice to describe waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques authorized by the Bush administration."

There you have the Cheneyism – "harsh interrogation techniques." The truth is: the NYT and WaPo did not avoid controversy; they plainly endorsed the Bush administration's lies. They put their own voice behind that of war criminals.

The Legacy Media And Torture

Andrew Sullivan —  Jun 30 2010 @ 12:37pm


This blog, along with others, compiled some anecdotes and research to show how the New York Times had always called "waterboarding" torture – until the Bush-Cheney administration came along. Instead of challenging this government lie, the NYT simply echoed it, with Bill Keller taking instructions from John Yoo on a key, legally salient etymology. Now, we have the first truly comprehensive study of how Bill Keller, and the editors of most newspapers, along with NPR, simply rolled over and became mouthpieces for war criminals, rather than telling the unvarnished truth to their readers and listeners in plain English:

Examining the four newspapers with the highest daily circulation in the country, we found a significant and sudden shift in how newspapers characterized waterboarding. From the early 1930s until the modern story broke in 2004, the newspapers that covered waterboarding almost uniformly called the practice torture or implied it was torture: The New York Times characterized it thus in 81.5% (44 of 54) of articles on the subject and The Los Angeles Times did so in 96.3% of articles (26 of 27).

By contrast, from 2002‐2008, the studied newspapers almost never referred to waterboarding as torture. The New York Times called waterboarding torture or implied it was torture in just 2 of 143 articles (1.4%). The Los Angeles Times did so in 4.8% of articles (3 of 63). The Wall Street Journal characterized the practice as torture in just 1 of 63 articles (1.6%). USA Today never called waterboarding torture or implied it was torture.

In addition, the newspapers are much more likely to call waterboarding torture if a country other than the United States is the perpetrator. In The New York Times, 85.8% of articles (28 of 33) that dealt with a country other than the United States using waterboarding called it torture or implied it was torture while only 7.69% (16 of 208) did so when the United States was responsible. The Los Angeles Times characterized the practice as torture in 91.3% of articles (21 of 23) when another country was the violator, but in only 11.4% of articles (9 of 79) when the United States was the perpetrator.

So the NYT went from calling waterboarding torture 81.5 percent of the time to calling it such 1.4 percent of the time. Had the technique changed? No. Only the government implementing torture and committing war crimes changed. If the US does it, it's not torture.

The editors who insisted on these changes remain liars and cowards and a disgrace to journalism and a free society. They should quit for this kind of open deception and craven cowardice in putting power before truth. They remind you that if you really want to understand what is going on in the world, the New York Times will only publish what the government deems is fit to print – even in its choice of words

(Photo: Waterboard displayed at Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. Prisoners' legs were shackled to the bar on the right, their wrists were restrained to the brackets on the left, and water was poured over their face, using blue watering can, to drown them.)

Here's proof positive that what was once considered routine to call torture in the pages of the New York Times has now been changed, to accommodate the Bush administration. An obit, obviously written before Bill Keller decided to take his editorial cues from Dick Cheney, describes the torture undergone by an American Korean War airman at the hands of the Communist Chinese. Not the most sadistic or comic book type of torture – just open-ended solitary confinement in a damp, cold cell, with meager food and regular piercing alarms to enforce sleep deprivation. No one, including the NYT, called this anything but torture – until they had to accommodate the US government's attempt to torture prisoners without moral accountability or legal authority.