The Washington Post's Cheney-ite Defense of Torture

If anyone ever tells you that they don't understand what is meant be
"stenography journalism" -- or ever insists that America is plagued by
a Liberal Media -- you can show them this article from today's Washington Post
and, by itself, it should clear up everything. The article's headline
is "How a Detainee Became An Asset -- Sept.

If anyone ever tells you that they don't understand what is meant be
"stenography journalism" -- or ever insists that America is plagued by
a Liberal Media -- you can show them this article from today's Washington Post
and, by itself, it should clear up everything. The article's headline
is "How a Detainee Became An Asset -- Sept. 11 Plotter Cooperated After
Waterboarding" -- though an equally appropriate headline would
be: "The Joys and Virtue of Torture -- how Dick Cheney Kept
Us Safe." I defy anyone to identify a single way the article would be
different if The Post had let Dick Cheney write it
himself. The next time someone laments the economic collapse of the
modern American newspaper, one might point out that an industry which
pays three separate reporters (Peter Finn, Joby Warrick and Julie
Tate) and numerous editors to churn out mindless, inane tripe like this
has brought about its own demise.

Here's the essence of the article, presented -- in terms of tone, length and placement -- as a Vital New Scoop:

enduring the CIA's harshest interrogation methods and spending more
than a year in the agency's secret prisons, Khalid Sheik Mohammed stood
before U.S. intelligence officers in a makeshift lecture hall, leading
what they called "terrorist tutorials" . . . .

These scenes
provide previously unpublicized details about the transformation of the
man known to U.S. officials as KSM from an avowed and truculent enemy
of the United States into what the CIA called its "preeminent source"
on al-Qaeda. This reversal occurred after Mohammed was subjected to
simulated drowning and prolonged sleep deprivation, among other harsh
interrogation techniques. . . .

[F]or defenders of
waterboarding, the evidence is clear: Mohammed cooperated, and to an
extraordinary extent, only when his spirit was broken in the month
after his capture March 1, 2003, as the inspector general's report and
other documents released this week indicate.

Who are the Post's
sources for this full-scale vindication of Dick Cheney's defense of
torture? "Two sources who described the sessions, speaking on the
condition of anonymity because much information about detainee
confinement remains classified"'; "one former senior intelligence
official said this week after being asked about the effect of
waterboarding"; "one former U.S. official with detailed knowledge of
how the interrogations were carried out said"; "One former agency
official." It's unclear how much overlap there is in that orgy of
pro-Cheney anonymity, but there is not a single on-the-record source to
corroborate the Torture-Saved-us-From-Mass-Death narrative, nor is
there even a shred of information about the motives or views of these

What makes the Post's breathless
vindication of torture all the more journalistically corrupt is that
the document on which it principally bases these claims -- the
just-released 2004 CIA Inspector General Report -- provides no support
whatsoever for the view that torture produced valuable intelligence, despite the fact that it was based on the claims of CIA officials themselves. Ironically, nobody has done a better job this week of demonstrating how true that is than the Post's own Greg Sargent -- who, in post after post this week
-- dissected the IG Report to demonstrate that it provides no evidence
for Cheney's claims that torture helped obtain valuable intelligence.

the released documents provide no support for Cheney's claims was so
patently clear that many news articles contained unusually definitive
statements reporting that to be so. The New York Times reported that the documents Cheney claimed proved his case "do not refer to any specific interrogation methods and do not assess their effectiveness." ABC News noted that "the visible portions of the heavily redacted reports do
not indicate whether such information was obtained as a result of
controversial interrogation techniques, such as waterboarding
." TPM's Zachary Roth documented that "nowhere do they suggest that that information was gleaned through torture," while The Washington Independent's Spencer Ackerman detailed that, if anything, the documents prove "that non-abusive techniques actually helped elicit some of the most important information the documents cite in defending the value of the CIA's interrogations." As Sargent reported, even Bush's loyal Terrorism adviser, Frances Fargos Townsend, admitted that the IG Report provides no basis for what the Post today is ludicrously claiming:

very difficult to draw a cause and effect, because it's not clear when
techniques were applied vs. when that information was received. It's
implicit. It seems, when you read the report, that we got the - the -
the most critical information after techniques had been applied. But
the report doesn't say that.

Yet The Post
today publishes a long, breathless story that, in reality, does little
more than claim that (a) Khalid Sheik Mohammed was subjected to "the
CIA's harshest interrogation methods" (not "torture," of course) and
(b) at some point after that, he provided valuable intelligence. At
best, it's nothing more than a statement of obvious chronology, not
causation. Nonetheless -- faithfully employing the same semantic game
Cheney used to obfuscate chronology and causation, which Sargent first highlighted -- the Post
loudly and unmistakably suggests that it was the torture that caused
the waterfall of life-saving intelligence, and repeatedly grants
anonymity to "intelligence officials" to claim this is so,
notwithstanding the complete absence of any evidence for such claims
and the ample evidence, as the Post's own Sargent documented, proving this to be untrue.

debate over whether torture extracted valuable information is, in my
view, a total sideshow, both because (a) it inherently begs the
question of whether legal interrogation means would have extracted the
same information as efficiently if not more so (exactly the same way
that claims that warrantless eavesdropping uncovered valuable
intelligence begs the question of whether legal eavesdropping would
have done so); and (b) torture is a felony and a war crime, and we
don't actually have a country (at least we're not suppoesd to) where
political leaders are free to commit serious crimes and then claim
afterwards that it produced good outcomes. If we want to be a country
that uses torture, then we should repeal our laws which criminalize it,
withdraw from treaties which ban it, and announce to the world (not
that they don't already know) that, as a country, we believe torture is
justifiable and just. Let's at least be honest about what we are.
Let's explicitly repudiate Ronald Reagan's affirmation
that "[n]o exceptional circumstances whatsoever . . . may be invoked as
a justification of torture" and that "[e]ach State Party is required []
to prosecute torturers."

But sideshow or not, media outlets ought
to exercise at least the most minimal amount of mental thought and
skepticism before passing on baseless, anonymous claims that
Torture Works and Saves Lives. It's long been clear that most of our
establishment media believes in torture -- that's why there was so
little outcry from them when the torture regime was implemented and why
they're yet again reacting with horror over the prospect of accountability.
As a result, they are now eager to argue it worked in order to justify
not only what Bush officials did, but also their own complicity in it.

The Post
article today is one of the most astoundingly vapid and misleading
efforts yet to justify torture -- a true museum exhibit for the
transformation of American journalism into little more than mindless
amplifiers for those in power. It simultaeneously touts facts as new
revelations that have, in fact, long been claimed (that KSM provided
valuable intelligence), while deceitfully implying facts that are
without any evidence whatsoever (that he did so because he was
tortured). Dick Cheney couldn't have said it better himself. It's so
strange how often that's true of The Liberal Media.

© 2023 Salon