Published on

The Media’s Collective Yawn Over Torture for War

Joy-Ann Reid

Faced with what could be the biggest foreign policy bombshell since the Gulf of Tonkin lies cleared the way for Vietnam, the Washington-New York media establishment has chosen to do nothing. Much as D.C. reporters decided several years ago that they were no longer interested covering the Bush administration's duplicity in the run-up to the Iraq war (nor are the David Gregory's of the world interested in revisiting their profession's complicity with the former administration in that regard,) "the press," it seems, has decided to take a pass. And what they're passing on is truly stunning.

In short, evidence is quickly piling up suggesting that the torture of terrorism suspects, and even the alleged request from no less than the office of the vice president of the United States, to waterboard an Iraqi official, had less to do with protecting Americans from further attack after 9/11, than it had to do with bolstering a phony case for invading Iraq. Polls show a plurality of Americans will accept even torture - as sickening as that fact is to anyone who cares about civil liberties - if it's done to save innocent (read American) lives. But how would the American people square the idea of torturing people, not to save lives, but to produce false confessions in order to give a small group of ideologues - the neoconservatives - the war they desired. Most Americans have long since accepted that the Bush administration's case for invading Iraq was flawed, if not totally false. What we didn't know until recently, was that to sell that case, members of the Bush administration, possibly including Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld - maybe even the president of the United States, were willing to do things we're accustomed to ascribing to the North Koreans or Maoist Chinese: using torture not to get good information, but to produce false confessions, to justify an unnecessary war.

The evidence just keeps coming. On Thursday, Colin Powell deputy Lawrence Wilkerson, and former NBC News investigative producer Robert Windrem, offered stunning news. In Wilkerson's words:

... what I have learned is that as the administration authorized harsh interrogation in April and May of 2002--well before the Justice Department had rendered any legal opinion--its principal priority for intelligence was not aimed at pre-empting another terrorist attack on the U.S. but discovering a smoking gun linking Iraq and al-Qa'ida.

So furious was this effort that on one particular detainee, even when the interrogation team had reported to Cheney's office that their detainee "was compliant" (meaning the team recommended no more torture), the VP's office ordered them to continue the enhanced methods. The detainee had not revealed any al-Qa'ida-Baghdad contacts yet. This ceased only after Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, under waterboarding in Egypt, "revealed" such contacts. Of course later we learned that al-Libi revealed these contacts only to get the torture to stop.

And per Windrem's reporting in The Daily Beast:

At the end of April 2003, not long after the fall of Baghdad, U.S. forces captured an Iraqi who Bush White House officials suspected might provide information of a relationship between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein's regime. Muhammed Khudayr al-Dulaymi was the head of the M-14 section of Mukhabarat, one of Saddam's secret police organizations. His responsibilities included chemical weapons and contacts with terrorist groups.

Two senior U.S. intelligence officials at the time tell The Daily Beast that the suggestion to waterboard an Iraqi prisoner came from the Office of Vice President Cheney.

"To those who wanted or suspected a relationship, he would have been a guy who would know, so [White House officials] had particular interest," Charles Duelfer, head of the Iraqi Survey Group and the man in charge of interrogations of Iraqi officials, told me. So much so that the officials, according to Duelfer, inquired how the interrogation was proceeding.

Those weren't even the first stories on the subject. Last month, McClatchy correspondent Jonathan Landay reported, to precious little response from the rest of the mainstream press, that:

A former senior U.S. intelligence official familiar with the interrogation issue said that Cheney and former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld demanded that the interrogators find evidence of al Qaida-Iraq collaboration.

"There were two reasons why these interrogations were so persistent, and why extreme methods were used," the former senior intelligence official said on condition of anonymity because of the issue's sensitivity.

"The main one is that everyone was worried about some kind of follow-up attack (after 9/11). But for most of 2002 and into 2003, Cheney and Rumsfeld, especially, were also demanding proof of the links between al Qaida and Iraq that (former Iraqi exile leader Ahmed) Chalabi and others had told them were there."

These are stunning facts - certainly more shocking, and of greater consequence, then finding out whether House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was told that waterboarding was for past, future or present use. And yet, a scan of the major headlines on mainstream news outlets reveals not a single headline about these stunning facts, including the fact that the false al-Libi confession now appears to have been the basis of the following testimony to the United Nations on February 6, 2003:

I can trace the story of a senior terrorist operative telling how Iraq provided training in these weapons to al Qaeda. Fortunately, this operative is now detained, and he has told his story. I will relate it to you now as he, himself, described it.

The testimony was from former Secretary of State Collin Powell. The detained operative, al-Libi, "told his story" after being beaten and locked in a coffin for 17 hours by "CIA surrogates" at a detention facility in Egypt.

You'd think that these would be top stories, worthy of serious consideration by a press corps that so shamefully let down the American people in the run-up to the Iraq invasion. The implications of these new revelations are stunning: a sitting president, vice president and defense secretary, selling a false case to the American people about an impending invasion of a country that had done no harm to us, and then using torture to produce false confessions in order to further the lie. Instead, the vaunted press corps is fixated - almost to the point of obsession - with Speaker Pelosi.

Even NBC News, the only outlet that has covered the story at all, has so far, relegated it to its "opinion/news" programs - "Countdown with Keith Olbermann" and "The Rachel Maddow Show," implying that the idea of the Bush administration torturing in order to justify war is nothing more than a liberal audience interest story, rather than a significant constitutional breach. The torture-Iraq link ceases to exist during MSNBC's daytime news programming., NBC's online arm, had zero headlines posted today, though they did put up a top story about whether inmates should be able to raise their babies in jail. Rival CNN has, to my viewing, ignored the story on air, and banished it to their international site online, while the Pelosi melodrama makes the domestic front page. The New York Times had zero headlines on this subject on their website today, while has six separate pieces on Pelosi, including an editorial, and not a single one on the torture-Iraq link. takes a pass too, as does ABC News' online site, which instead boasts headlines about "John and Kate" and their marital dilemma. (I didn't bother to check Fox, since my interest was only in news outlets.)

And while the Washington Post today published an op-ed by neoconservative Charles Krauthammer justifying torture with the time-worn "ticking time bomb" meme, his paper's editors surely know by now that the Bush-Cheney torture program wasn't about a ticking time bomb. There's ample evidence of that. It's just that the Post, like her sisters in the print and broadcast media, are choosing to ignore, or to bury it.

Why would they do that? Perhaps members of the D.C. media establishment are loath to revisit at time period that wasn't exactly their shining moment. As New York Times White House correspondent Elizabeth Bumiller helpfully admitted back in 2004, during the run-up to the Iraq invasion:

'I think we were very deferential because ... it's live, it's very intense, it's frightening to stand up there.  Think about it, you're standing up on prime-time live TV asking the president of the United States a question when the country's about to go to war.  There was a very serious, somber tone that evening, and no one wanted to get into an argument with the president at this very serious time.'"

And argue they did not. As Dan Rather observed during a speech at the National Conference of Media Reform last summer:

"In the wake of 9/11 and in the run-up to Iraq, . . . news organizations made a decision -- consciously or unconsciously, but unquestionably in a climate of fear -- to accept the overall narrative frame given them by the White House, a narrative that went like this: Saddam Hussein, brutal dictator, harbored weapons of mass destruction and, because of his supposed links to al Qaeda, this could not be tolerated in a post-9/11 world.

David Sirota, writing in the Huffington Post, lamented in 2005 that the "gang of 500" - the main body of White House reporterdom - lost interest in covering the Iraq war because it was "hard" and besides, the American people didn't care about Iraq anymore. One Sirota observation seems especially relevant today:

...the American public keenly recognizes that many major media today are simply no longer interested in reporting on anything that might fundamentally challenge the Establishment power structure. For when the media seems more interested in covering what's on the President's Ipod and what the President's dancing habits are than they are the death/maiming of American soldiers in Iraq, well, we've got a serious problem.

No truer words...

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do.

Joy-Ann Reid is a writer and columnist for the South Florida Times and blogs at

Share This Article

More in: