Ever since I read Breaking The News, I’ve been interested in news media criticism. The following story shows exactly how the news system can fail, and how it can’t really fix it’s mistakes on its own. We need serious critics from outside the sheltered circle of insiders to exert the pressure of honesty and accountability:
Mr. Ross, who received a George Polk Award for a series on interrogation, expressed no regret about the Kiriakou interview and praised him for speaking publicly. He said ABC was preparing a story that would address the previous reporting.
“Kiriakou stepped up and helped shine some light on what has happening,” Mr. Ross said. “It wasn’t the huge spotlight that was needed, but it was some light.”
Wait, what? Your sole source for a major report that defended the CIA’s torture policy (within a month of learning that the videos of such interrogations were destroyed) turns out to have been a liar, and you have NO REGRETS about it? You call that “some light?”
Glenn Greenwald piles on, pointing out that Brian Ross was previously responsible for perpetuating another falsehood, back in 2005, that KSM lasted over two minutes before giving in and begging to confess. This was based on anonymous sources, and is also disputed by the torture memos that indicate KSM was waterboarded 183 times. Greenwald points out how Ross repeated this assertion numerous times and how it made its way into other media reports.
Greenwald also reminds us of Ross’s role in spreading rumors in 2001 linking the anthrax attack to Saddam Hussein. ABC News and Brian Ross took a lot of heat because they relied on three anonymous sources and consequently spread falsehoods from those with clearly political agendas. Ross has never come clean about those sources.
The Columbia Journalism Review wades in, destroying the NY Times piece, calling it “a model of incomplete reporting” and pointing out that “at the same time that the mainstream media was uncritically repeating the claims in Brian Ross’s story, parts of the blogosphere immediately identified Ross’s report as the shoddy piece of journalism it was.” While Stetler points to Ross’s failings, they never mention those who weren’t so convinced. CJR points to their own criticisms, as well as an article on VanityFair.com. Greenwald notes that some journalists, such as Dan Froomkin (online, and in the Washington Post) and Keith Olbermann, questioned Ross’s story and source from the start. FAIR was also in on the action.
One of Stetler’s quoted sources, John Sifton of Human Rights Watch, pens a blistering 1500 word email to the Times, excorciating the paper for focusing solely on Ross and for omitting two rather important facts: first, that the Times itself repeated Kiriakou’s claims in a 2008 piece by Scott Shane, and second, that Shane was a listed contributor to Stetler’s piece. Sifton also notes that although Kiriakou was the first to go on-camera, this story had already shown up in articles in Newsweek and Time and a book by Ron Suskind.
TVNewser reports on the Stetler piece and Sifton’s letter. They allow Stetler to respond, while disclosing that Stetler himself is the founding editor of TVNewser.com: “The story attempted to show how a single-sourced claim about waterboarding was amplified by the media — by dozens of outlets, beginning with ABC and continuing with The Washington Post, The New York Times, Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, and others — at a critical juncture in a national debate about the technique.” Of course, Stetler’s Times piece never identified any of these outlets by name.
ABC News stands behind Ross and posts a “correction” at the very end of their original report that notes conflicting information in the torture memos and gives Kiriakou an entire paragraph to defend himself.
Gawker, the NY/LA/DC gossip fountain, jumps into the mix with probably the best and most even-handed explanation of the whole ordeal, pointing out all the significant players and perspectives and offering their own two cents.
So, to recap this clusterfuck: we have a TV news reporter who has no regrets about his use of a source who looks increasingly like a politically motivated liar, a competing news outlet who writes a hatchet piece blaming the original reporter while failing to acknowledge their own role in perpetuating the problem, and a bunch of bloggers, online writers, activists, and media watchdogs who were on the story from the start and who take both the TV reporter and the newspaper to the toolshed for any number of major failures in doing their jobs.
Who comes out looking best?
In the last eight years we’ve seen all sorts of news stories relying on unreliable and anonymous sources to spread rumors that turn out to be wildly false and entirely politically motivated. And it’s more than just of academic interest. In an analysis of over 500 articles, one researcher found that in the run up to the Iraq War, news stories that relied on anonymous sources were less likely to include views opposing war.
I will say that despite the article’s failings, the Times deserves some credit for doing a bit of navel-gazing here. Print media is rarely self-critical beyond dinky ombudsman posturing, but TV news is almost never so. The need for breaking news drives reporters to trust people they shouldn’t and publish rumors they should take more time to investigate and use anonymous sources with plainly personal agendas. Though quick to take credit for breaking stories, they never admit when they were wrong.
We need Media Matters, CJR, and others to continue to point out flaws in mainstream reporting, and we need mainstream reporters to start taking their criticisms seriously.
SWEETNESS! Dark Horse just published a hardback of the amazing PBF comics. $16.47 on Amazon and worth every penny, even if (all? most? some?) are free online. So many to love, but a few of my favorites are Nice Shirt, Transfer Patient, and Shrink Ray.
Amidst the conspiratorial fervor that’s being exhibited by some with respect to the relationship between CAFOs and swine flu (I’m lookin’ at you, Grist), this is a pretty rational and informative piece that puts things in the proper context and asks the right questions.
The best Thermals songs remind me of a shaggier early-90s Propagandhi, the worst of a whinier Weakerthans. But this song, this song simply says to me, “Let’s grab this Tuesday by the trucknutz.”
The new Thermals is a more mature record, I guess, than 2006’s The Body The Blood The Machine. It’s less snotty, more straight up rock. But for me, too much of it lacks the dangerous mix of infectious hooks and urgent anger that make songs like “Pillar of Salt" so great. But it’s got its moments, and it’s growing on me.
After reading Matt Bai’s piece in the New York Times Magazine yesterday, I’d like to explain why I tweet and post here on Tumblr. His thesis is that twitter is banal and superficial and therefore not a good fit within the context of politics and Congressional activity. Of the 100’s of tweets that my thumbs are responsible for, he chose to highlight a reply I made to someone who had asked about my favorite meal at Taco Bell. Admittedly, this is definitely not important stuff.
But – like many in Washington – he misses the point.
First, through Twitter, on a daily basis I post information on a public bulletin board about serious public policy issues. Short and sweet, these messages are intended to drive thought and discussion rather than provide a thorough analysis of the issue.
Second, as his bar graph showed, I tweet an average of 4 to 5 times a day. This has become a welcome discipline for me in Washington. As I am walking to a hearing, or riding the tram over for a vote, I think of what I want to tell the folks at home about my work or life. This, I believe, is a fairly decent way to stay connected. After all, I’m in Washington to work for them and this process reminds me of it several times a day.
Third, I use Twitter because no one can edit me. In a media world driven by an edited sound bite, and a Capitol Hill culture that parses, obfuscates, and works hard at saying nothing, we shouldn’t look down our noses at a few short declarative sentences. While this method of direct communication makes my staff nervous – they think it makes me look less “senatorial” — it is me. I’m a Midwesterner, and this short simple way of speaking is my native tongue.
Finally, it’s fun. Trust me when I tell you that part of the problem in Washington is that folks there take themselves way too seriously. As I tweet about my college basketball team, global warming, my kids, reverse mortgages, music, and tax policy, or as I Tumblr blog about rules of voting on the budget and my creamed spinach recipe, I’m staying connected, grounded, and I have a smile on my face.
I am L O V I N G T H I S today. Rocking electro-pop in the vein of Notwist and Stereolab, with a healthy jolt of spazzy Jesus & Mary Chain lo-fi fuzz thrown in for good measure. And no, it’s not Star Trek filk.
"The Federated States, meanwhile, could get on with the business of protecting the sanctity of marriage, mandating organized prayer sessions and the teaching of creationism in schools, and giving the theory that eliminating taxes increases government revenues a fair test. Although Texas and the other likely F.S. states already conduct some eighty-six per cent of executions, their death rows remain clogged with thousands of prisoners kept alive by meddling judges. These would be rapidly cleared out, providing more prison space for abortion providers. Although there might be some economic dislocation at first, the F.S. could remedy this by taking advantage of its eligibility for OPEC membership and arranging a new “oil shock.” Failing that, foreign aid could be solicited from Washington. But the greatest benefit would be psychological: freed from the condescension of metropolitan élites and Hollywood degenerates, the new country could tap its dormant creativity and develop a truly distinctive Way of Life."
"With each new revelation on U.S. torture in Iraq, Afghanistan and Gitmo (and who, knows, probably elsewhere), I am reminded of the chilling story of Alyssa Peterson, who I have written about numerous times in the past three years but now with especially sad relevance. Appalled when ordered to take part in interrogations that, no doubt, involved what we would call torture, she refused, then killed herself a few days later, in September 2003."
… when some pot-smoking Ron Paul devotee, libertarian nihilist faux intellectual or good old-fashioned right wing jackass argues against “socialized medicine.” Today, I got another reminder why.
My aunt — a born-again evangelical in the suburbs of Indianapolis — was laid off a while back. She has high blood pressure… and no job to pay for the medication she takes to treat it. To save money, she stopped taking her medication. Now she’s in the hospital, having sufferered a stroke earlier this week.
The doctors say she should recover, but it’s unclear what she’ll have lost in terms of movement and/or speech. That’s the good news.
The bad news is that the math is not in her favor. Over the next 90 days alone, my aunt will likely pay ~$15,000 in stroke-related care costs. And there is also a one-in-four chance that she will have another stroke in the next five years. 
A couple of observations:
This didn’t need to happen. High blood pressure is one of the most preventable and manageable conditions out there. Medication might not have even been necessary with proper medical supervision geared toward lifestyle management, rather than meds management and acute care. Without insurance, though, the question of seeing a doctor when it’s not an emergency — or even buying pills to prevent an emergency — is merely academic.
The system is broken and the fee-for-all market is not going to fix it. This scenario may never have occurred had my aunt’s access to medication not been tied to employment and the money in the wallet.
This incident will cost you, me and everyone. If my aunt can’t afford her prescription, how do you think she’s going to aford $15,000 in hospital costs? Likely, they’ll squeeze some money out of her, further exacerbating her current economic woes. In fact, medical costs are a factor in at least half of all bankrupties in the U.S. 
Depending on how much blood hispital administrators can squeeze from this particular turnip, they’ll either write down the loss and pass on the costs to other healthcare consumers or — as is often the case — pass the costs on to the public sector. In 2005, the cost of uncompensated care for the uninsured was an estimated $34 billion. The public sector — taxpayers like you and me — picked up 85% of that tab. Doctors provided an additional $5.1. billion in free or reduced cost care. 
So the next time you hear some overexcited Joe the Plumber wannabe shrieking about Obama’s plan to socialize medicine or extolling the virtues of an economic model premised on screwing over our most vulnerable and hoping that somebody — anybody but the government — still gives enough of a damn to try to turn a buck off of alleviating human sufferring, please do me a favor:
Think of my aunt and then you tell them that they can go straight to hell.
"Ashley Swendsen had a really bad day. The pregnant woman, 26, was chased by a bear and then struck by a car as she fled across a road. The driver checked on Swendsen and then left the scene before Colorado Springs Police officers arrived.
Swendsen, who is five months pregnant, did not suffer serious injuries, but was taken to Memorial Hospital as a precaution, police said. She was treated and released.
The bear was not so lucky. Colorado Division of Wildlife officials tranquilized and captured a female, 230-pound black bear in the area.
After Swendsen identified her as the attacker - noting its cinnamon color - the bear was destroyed.”
This is it, I promise. These posts have been percolating in my drafts bin all week, and I decided it was time to let go. So 5 of 5, and we’re done.
As I’ve probably made clear by this point, I’m in favor of some sort of inquiry. But I am less interested in naming names and I’m opposed to prosecution unless there are truly egregious and willful abuses of power that go beyond what we’ve seen here. Partly, this is because that sense of dread and impending doom from 2002 is difficult to truly capture today. I honestly believe most people, from the top down, were acting in good faith. Most people.
And once that door was opened, two things happened: first, it became easier to do when the next suspected terrorist found his way into a net, and second, it needed to be found to be legally justified in hindsight. One wonders whether every memo that followed was there to justify that first use of waterboarding.
Right now, it looks to me like there was an abuse of the OLC from the White House, an attempt to cajole and abuse lawyers into sanctioning programs the Administration was going to endorse, come hell or high water. OLC is supposed to be independent, but we know how that works. This is political interference driven by a “win at all costs” mentality, not a criminal act, and unless we’re honestly willing to take Bush and Cheney to court, taking his lackeys is nothing less than scapegoating, no matter what the signatures say.
Folks keep saying the Nuremberg defense doesn’t work. But prosecuting John Yoo but not Bush would be like prosecuting Himmler but giving Hitler the pass. The number of people who think CIA interrogators and contractors trying to prevent terrorist attacks are equivalent to concentration camp guards systematically eradicating a people from an entire continent must be pretty goddamned small, thankfully.
And let’s not pretend we’re all innocent here. Remember this gem (h/t Greenwald) from the Washington Post back in DECEMBER of 2002? Yeah, six goddamned years ago, Dana Priest and Barton Gellmann dropped that bomb on us the day after Christmas. Oops, it didn’t get much coverage! Or remember way back in 2004, news broke about 2002 memos justifying torture, and Bush was re-elected later that year.
So I’m for some sort of inquiry, but I’m finding the current proposals pretty unsatisfactory.
Leahy’s plan seems like a bit of a show. He calls for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission but it comes across as prejudged and partisan, and there’s no reconciliation in sight. He’s gone on YouTube to pitch it like it’s a Snuggie (nice doorhandle) and even has an online petition up , but has yet to actually introduce the damn thing.
The only way to defuse the political volatility of torture and to remove it from the center of the “politics of fear” is to replace its lingering mystique, owed mostly to secrecy, with authoritative and convincing information about how it was really used and what it really achieved. That this has not yet happened is the reason why, despite the innumerable reports and studies and revelations that have given us a rich and vivid picture of the Bush administration’s policies of torture, we as a society have barely advanced along this path. We have not so far managed, despite all the investigations, to produce a bipartisan, broadly credible, and politically decisive effort, and pronounce authoritatively on whether or not these activities accomplished anything at all in their stated and still asserted purpose: to protect the security interests of the country.
We cannot turn the page until we have read the page.
I hope that in the coming days, we can tone down the witch-hunt rhetoric and try to come to some agreement that we can’t just close our eyes to the truth. I hope we can at least see the value in being honest with oursleves about torture and take a close hard look.
Over time, we can glean some lessons about how fear can degrade our abilities to stand by our principles. Hopefully, most Americans will come around to the position that torture is wrong, but that in a time of fear and panic, we slipped. It’s tragic and regrettable, but also understandable.
Democrats are split. Obama himself seems to favor a complete mulligan approach wherein we’d simply close the door on the past and skip into the bright gleaming sunshine of a torture-free tomorrow. Others have called for prosecution, disbarment, and impeachment.
Then there’s the “middle way” of some sort of commission. You have Senator Leahy, Senator Conyers, and others calling for a nonpartisan commission similar to the 9/11 Commission, while others have put out the idea of a truth and reconciliation process in which participants would be immune from prosecution.
The GOP is, unsuprisingly, opposed to any and all investigation, but it is unfair to classify the Republicans of being of one mind. Many civil libertarians have come out strongly opposed to torture. Here is someone from the Cato Institute debating Bill O’Reilly. I mean, say what you want about Cato, but they are not the MoveOn crowd the right usually howls about.
Future investigations are uncertain, but plenty of others are completed or underway. The Senate Armed Services committee just released a report originally prepared last November (15MB pdf) which argues that the Bush Administration explicitly approved of the harsh tactics used at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, even as they made public claims that Abu Ghraib was an isolated case. The report states that Condi Rice approved such tactics in July 2002 and that these tactics had their roots in military programs designed to instruct US personel on how to withstand torture.
The timeline presented by this report, and by other recently declassified documents, conflicts with many falsities of the right, such as the claim that only by waterboarding Khalid Sheik Mohammed were we able to capture Jose Padilla, since Padilla was captured in May of 2002.
Then there’s an investigation by the DOJ ethics office into Bybee and Yoo, which I think is what Obama means when he says he wants to wait to see what Holder recommends.
The icing on the cake, however, is another investigation by the Senate Intelligence committee into CIA practices. So the major investigation underway by Congress is being led by the same committee that apparently knew about much of this stuff already and did nothing to prevent it, or perhaps even high-fived their way through meetings. Who knows? Not surprisingly, Feinstein opposes any sort of independent inquiry in favor of a report by her very own committee. Cute!
Sen. Rockefeller also supports the investigation by his own committee and is mum (as far as I know) on an independent inquiry. His position, it seems, is to blame Bush and avoid blame: “We now know that essential information was withheld from the Congress on many matters and decisions were made in secret by senior Bush administration officials to obscure the complete picture.”
Harry Reid is also opposed to an independent investigation, or at least wants the intelligence committee’s investigation to conclude first.
Silvestre Reyes, the current chair of the House Intelligence Committee (he replaced Jane Harman in 2006), has not opined on any such inquiry as far as I can tell, but he did put out a statement on the 16th that said, “As the President said, this is a time for reflection, not retribution.” Then again, this is a guy who advised Obama’s transition team to continue the use of controversial interrogation tactics and even suggested keeping CIA leadership intact. Reyes is an embarrasment — in an interview in 2006, right after he was named chair, after sitting on the committee for lord knows how many years, he did not know that al Qaeda was Sunni or that Hezbollah was Shia. So suffice it to say, he doesn’t seem all that interested in looking back. Well, not of his own complicity anyway: he has of course ordered a full investigation into the outrage of the Harman wiretaps, however.
In fact, the only one of the six current or former Democrats in the Gang of Eight to come out in favor of an independent investigation is Nancy Pelosi.
This stinks to high fucking heaven.
I do take solace that Pelosi has changed her tune on this and that Reid seems more accomodating these days. Nancy knows which way the wind blows, and knows how to land on the right side of an issue.
She’s getting out ahead of the firestorm.
Or is she?
Yesterday, Obama continued his tap-dancing to say he now opposes a truth commission. Presumably, this is driven by political needs. He knows that if a partisan battle erupts, it could cripple his ability to pass through Congress a bunch of other important legislation, dealing with already difficult issues like health care, energy, and climate change.
I see this dilemma, but I find it incredibly distasteful to essentially suggest that those of us in favor of justice, fairness, and truth should shut our traps and drop the issue for the greater good of other issues. This kind of message blames progressives for doing what is right, and simply empowers those who are in the wrong and who seek to hold up change at any given opportunity.
Boy kiddies, have I got a surprise for you. No, I’m not talking about parts 4-12 of my magnum opus “Connecting the Dots” (percolating over there in the queue), I’m talking about a follow up to the amazing track I posted last Friday, Lil’ Lim and T-Pain - Computer Love/Download. I managed to track down the original version, which apparently broke into the top 10 in the mid-80s.
There is so much going on in this eight minute blockbuster, from the Peter Pan flashback harp intro to the slathering of limp saxophone that closes the track with enough smooth cheesiness to cream Kenny G’s pegged jeans. You’ve got electronic drums and fake handclaps, plucked classical guitar, dancing keyboards doing flute imitations, and a twinkling xylophone that kicks in near the seven minute mark, all layered with flourishes of “computery” synth bleats, scratches, and lazer sounds. And that doesn’t even include the singing, which include talk-boxed R&B background vocals and Gap Band singer Shirley Murdock digging deep for her hyperdramatic shoobie-do-wops. It’s a miracle if you can make it all the way through.
Digital love. It’s just beautiful beautiful beautiful beautiful love!
But the other thing that nags at me is how all of this stuff ties back into the CIA and into other DOJ appointments, because I think those stories tell us something about Obama’s true goals here, as well as how the desire for a clean slate conflicts with entrenched interests.
All this got me thinking again about Leon Panetta’s appointment. Torture was central to him being tapped. Obama was unequivocal on wanting an anti-torture head of CIA. But Obama also kept many of Bush’s appointments in place, such as number two Steven Kappes. He didn’t clean house.
But another name in consideration for that post was Jane Harman, who lobbied hard for it. Can you imagine if she was in the post today? A CIA head who was possibly caught on a wiretap promising quid-pro-quo to Israeli agents?
What about the other complicit Democrats? The prior and current chairs of the Senate Select Committee, Rockefeller and Feinstein, opposed Leon Panetta with ridiculous, public hissy fits. All of them were happy with the status quo and indeed sought to keep pro-torture folks at the top of CIA. Feinstein went on record to say that she would only be OK with Panetta if Steven Kappes, number two at CIA under Bush (and her first choice for Director), would stick around. Kappes was also reputedly Rockefeller’s choice. Kappes is there today, but in the end, Feinstein, Rockefeller, and Harman all lost.
Those who support torture may believe that we can abuse captives in certain select circumstances and still be true to our values. But that is a false compromise. We either believe in the dignity of the individual, the rule of law, and the prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment, or we don’t. There is no middle ground.
Compare that to the win-at-all-costs language of Dick Cheney, which is also presumably the language of Democrats on the intel committee who backed up the Bush administration every step of the way:
When we get people who are more concerned about reading the rights to an Al Qaeda terrorist than they are with protecting the United States against people who are absolutely committed to do anything they can to kill Americans, then I worry…. These are evil people. And we’re not going to win this fight by turning the other cheek.
So Dawn Johnsen is on deck to replace, essentially, two of the central figures in the torture memo scandal. So, according the aforelinked Daily Beast piece, Senator Cornyn is “gunning for her” and the GOP has threatened to fillibuster her appointment if the OLC memos were released.
I want to second Dahlia’s frustration with those who don’t see the newly released Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) torture memo as a big deal. Where is the outrage, the public outcry?! The shockingly flawed content of this memo, the deficient processes that led to its issuance, the horrific acts it encouraged, the fact that it was kept secret for years and that the Bush administration continues to withhold other memos like it—all demand our outrage.
Yes, we’ve seen much of it before. And yes, we are counting down the remaining months. But we must regain our ability to feel outrage whenever our government acts lawlessly and devises bogus constitutional arguments for outlandishly expansive presidential power. Otherwise, our own deep cynicism, about the possibility for a President and presidential lawyers to respect legal constraints, itself will threaten the rule of law—and not just for the remaining nine months of this administration, but for years and administrations to come.
This is also a pretty great clip of Johnsen on the role of OLC, and on its role during the Bush Presidency.
Now that the memos are out, will the GOP have the temerity to fillibuster her appointment?
The first thing that nags me about the Harman/torture confluence is the timing, but beyond the conspiratorial ramblings of a madman, maybe the timing is irrelevant.
What does seem relevant is that not only does the Harman story bring wiretapping into the discussion, it brings in the fact that Harman was one of those responsible for watching over the CIA during this period. As I noted before, Harman was one of the few Democrats ever briefed about what the Bushies were doing with respect to warrantless wiretapping and “enhanced interrogation techniques.”
Most striking is the connection between Harman and one of the key figures at the center of Bush-era dirty politics, Alberto Gonzales. In the CQ article, Gonzales is the one who kills the Harman investigation because she helped kill a NYT story on wiretaps. Now we have confirmation from the paper of record that she did indeed call the NYT in the fall of 2004 to urge them not to publish, and then met with them in 2005 and again urged them not to publish. So: a direct line between the White House and Democrats in Congress.
I mean, it can’t be good for a Democrat when your most vocal supporter is David Frum.
Between this wiretapping stuff and the torture memos, the Democrats on the Senate and House intelligence committees have a lot to answer for. There are quite a few indications that Rockefeller, Harman, and others knew exactly what was going on. They were briefed by the White House and therefore had knowledge about torture, wiretaps, and all sorts of other Bush-era nastiness that they have yet to fully account for. Their complicity is really without dispute. Remember that in 2006, Rockefeller was one of only 12 Democrats to vote in favor of the Military Commissions Act, which essentially legalized Bush’s “enhanced interrogation techniques” and provided retrospective immunity for any illegal activities done in previous years.
Today, Glenn Greenwald (who has been central at pushing for release of the OLC memos for a long long time) gets back into this mire.
Parts of the Harman story recall the shitstorm that erupted late last fall when PBS killed a documentary “Torturing Democracy” that was critical of Bush and Congressional Democrats, saying it couldn’t be aired until Bush was out of office. When it was offered to affiliates, the only major market not to pick it up was WETA, the DC station headed by Senator Rockefeller’s wife. (They eventually relented.)
In an online Q&A with Harper’s following the publication of her shattering book The Dark Side, Jane Mayer explained why there wasn’t going to be any criminal prosecution:
Activists will be angry at me for saying this, but as someone who has covered politics in Washington, D.C., for two decades, I would be surprised if there is the political appetite for going after public servants who convinced themselves that they were acting in the best interests of the country, and had legal authority to do so. An additional complicating factor is that key members of Congress sanctioned this program, so many of those who might ordinarily be counted on to lead the charge are themselves compromised.
The ranking members of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees were briefed dozens of times about the CIA’s interrogation and detention program over the past seven years - so any member who has held one of those posts has arguably been complicit. Some say they tried to object, internally. But either because of the threat of violating national security, or, because of the fear of the political price of dissent, these figures in both parties would find it very hard at this point to point the finger at the White House, without also implicating themselves.
And indeed, that has been the mantra from the White House: look forward, not back. Obama knows there’s dirt under the rug and he’d rather not pry up the corner for all of the world to see. Let’s just do a jig on the fucker and let bygones be bygones.
But something has changed in the last month. Obama boxed himself in: how could he call for transparency and openness and NOT release the memos?
So here’s the thing. I can’t figure out how this Jane Harman wiretapping scandal ties into the release of the torture memos, but I know the two are connected. It’s like I’m staring at a page of unnumbered dots, trying to draw a picture. I know that it will become clear, but right now, it’s not.
It seems like a sideshow, but I don’t think it is.
What nags at me is the simple question, “why now?” As in, why are these stories breaking at the same time? Why, in the middle of a slow but tenacious debate on torture, which threatens to engulf us again in the nasty national “conversation” on patriotism that was the Presidential election, why now, are anonymous intelligence officials leaking a story to CQ?
Here is the context of what’s been going on this month:
April 3: Michael Isikoff writes in Newsweek that the White House is split on releasing the memos, with Eric Holder and DOJ in favor and intel officials opposed. One of the chief opponents is John Brennan, Obama’s first choice for head of CIA, who withdrew himself after complaints from the left.
April 15: The NYT reports that NSA “intercepted private e-mail messages and phone calls of Americans in recent months on a scale that went beyond the broad legal limits established by Congress last year.” The article cites unnamed intelligence officials.
April 16: Constrained from putting it off any longer by a Federal judge, and amidst mountingpressure, Obama meets the April 16 deadline to respond to ACLU FOIA requests by releasing the torture memos on that day. (All can be found here.)
The CIA is leaking the story as “a warning shot across the bow" of Democratic leadership, with the intended signal, "do not f**k with the CIA,” with respect to investigations on torture. Is this the real reason the White House is so adamant about defending CIA employees while being open to investigations of the legal shenanigans that went on at DOJ? Seems a bit conspiratorial to me, but what the hell do I know.
The latter seems more likely to me, but so does another: Perhaps now that the Red Cross report and torture memos have gone public, folks in favor of Congressional investigations want to cut down potential obstacles to a scrutinous public accounting, such as those leading Democrats who were complicit in Bush-era civil liberties violations.
That group would include Harman, who was the minority ranking member of the House Intel committee from 2001 until 2006, and who was therefore part of the “gang of eight" briefed by the White House on intelligence matters. Harman has long been targeted by progressives for her well-publicized water-holding for the Bush administration on wiretapping and torture.
A lot of the news coverage of this Harman business has focused on the wiretapping itself — the delicious irony that one of Bush’s greatest enablers on wireless wiretapping is now furious about being tapped herself — and the possible Blagojevichian influence-peddling she was offering AIPAC in exchange for some career help.
If you step away from the sideshow of Harman and AIPAC, what are you left with? Isn’t it strange that now we have wiretapping and torture in the news — the two principle civil liberties scandals of the Bush Administration?
I can’t count the number of times in recent days when the mainstream media has made the claim that the desire for further investigation or releasing the memos or opposition to torture is some sort of far-left fringe phenomenon.
Really, this just reflects the fact that Beltway media has no appetite for this story anymore.
Did you see this video of Peggy Noonan? In her opposition to releasing the memos, she says:
It’s hard for me to look at a great nation issuing these documents and sending them out to the world and thinking, ‘Oh, much good will come of that.’ Sometimes in life you want to keep walking… Some of life has to be mysterious.
I mean, this is a JOURNALIST saying she’s opposed to reporting, essentially. Or as Te-Nehisi Coates puts it:
The job of journalists is to challenge the government and to challenge their readers and viewers. What sort of journalist tells his readers that some things must be mysterious? What sort of writer tells her readers, and viewers, essentially, to not ask too many questions? We have a fine era, when otherwise respected, intelligent, and well-read people step on a national stage and endorse national ignorance. What a mess.
So I’m wary of the clamor for retribution. Congress failed. The press failed. The judiciary failed. With almost 3,000 dead, America’s checks and balances got skewed, from the Capitol to Wall Street. Scrutiny gave way to acquiescence. Words were spun in feckless patterns.
Those checks and balances are recovering now.
Wait a second. Cohen is arguing against prosecution, and is somewhat in favor of some sort of truth commission, but for a journalist, he’s mighty quick to want to move on and mighty quick to decide who has and has not done wrong. As Adam Serwer puts it:
I agree with Cohen that the press failed miserably in the aftermath of 9/11, but given that the coverage of the torture debate has focused not on whether American officials broke the law but rather how the president might be weathering the political storm surrounding the release of the torture memos, I’d suggest that the press really isn’t done failing yet.
Glenn Greenwald lays out “three rules of Beltway media behavior” ruling the torture debate and provides some decent support for them:
Any policy that Beltway elites dislike is demonized as coming from “the Left” or — in this case (following Karl Rove) — the “hard Left.”
Nobody is more opposed to transparency and disclosure of government secrets than establishment “journalists.”
The single most sacred Beltway belief is that elites are exempt from the rule of law.
I’m not a true Greenwald believer, but I do think there is a Beltway mentality going on in a lot of the coverage these days.
Now I’m not as gung-ho for prosecution as some on the left, but I do want accountability. Am I in the fringe liberal minority? This morning, NPR had someone from MoveOn to defend the release of the reports. MoveOn is code for “nutjob lefty” in the mainstream media.
But in February, a USA Today poll found that 62% of Americans were in favor of either criminal prosecutions (38%) or an independent panel (24%) to look into anti-terror tactics in the Bush years.
So, to clarify: I am not a lefty nutjob just because I want to take the blinders off.
The “torture debate” as its being described by the mainstream media has been a joke. It’s been entirely focused on the political wrangling and avoids, at all costs, the nasty details. But the nasty details are precisely what matter here. We can’t have a debate about torture and not actually go through these memos. How do we have a realistic assessment about whether certain methods are appropriate UNLESS WE KNOW WHAT THEY ARE? Do we just take Cheney’s word for it that these things work wonders, that waterboarding is the ShamWow of fighting terror?
Favoring the release of these memos does not mean one is opposed to difficult and intense interrogation. It may mean that one is simply opposed to secrecy for secrecy’s sake. It means that one takes seriously the idea that what makes America great are our ideals and the degree to which our democratic institutions live up to those ideals. It reflects a desire to learn from mistakes. It reflects a desire to fix what is broken. It is no longer 9/12/2001. It is time to look back with some reflection upon decisions made in a time of crisis so we know how to act in the next time of crisis.
Many of us opposed to torture are not afraid of blood, nor of spilling it, and we recognize the danger of not going far enough. But we believe that the moral high ground matters, too. And not just because. When foreign countries refuse to help us capture terrorists because they believe we’ll torture, we are less safe. When terrorists use our practices against us as a recruiting tool, we are less safe. When American soldiers are tortured, and we cannot say that we do not do what they do, we are less safe.
It is ridiculous to claim that the release of these memos fuels anti-American sentiment; it is the actions themselves that fuel the sentiment. This what-they-don’t-know-can’t-hurt-them mentality is the position taken by those performing shameful acts — the husband cheating on his wife, the guy skimming the till, the medical student serial killer.
The details are out there. Everybody knows. From The Dark Side to the leaked Red Cross report to many other sources, it is well-documented. It’s just not been officially confirmed until now that legal cover was granted by the OLC.
Furthermore, many of us angered by the torture memos and who favor their release have no desire for prosecution, though we do want to get to the bottom of the mess. To me, whether someone goes to jail or not is the absolute least of my interests. But that does not mean I don’t want a full accounting. I think I understand the reasoning, and I do remember what it was like back in 2002, but I want it all out in the light. I am all for reconciliation and moving on, but the truth comes first.
The thing is that it may only be a special prosecutor who has legal authority to subpoena reticent Bush-era officials and appointees to get at the truth.
But let’s have at it, in a reasonable, objective way. Let’s have a “truth commission” or whatever you want to call it. Let’s air both sides of the discussion of where the line should be. If Cheney says torture worked, fine. But I also want to hear from interrogators who argue that it didn’t.
"So if I understand this correctly — and I’m pretty sure I do — when the U.S. Government eavesdropped for years on American citizens with no warrants and in violation of the law, that was "both legal and necessary" as well as "essential to U.S. national security," and it was the "despicable" whistle-blowers (such as Thomas Tamm) who disclosed that crime and the newspapers which reported it who should have been criminally investigated, but not the lawbreaking government officials. But when the U.S. Government legally and with warrants eavesdrops on Jane Harman, that is an outrageous invasion of privacy and a violent assault on her rights as an American citizen, and full-scale investigations must be commenced immediately to get to the bottom of this abuse of power. Behold Jane Harman’s overnight transformation from Very Serious Champion of the Lawless Surveillance State to shrill civil liberties extremist."
"The recent launch of the Warner Archive Collection could well portend a revolution; it’s DVD on demand, a way for Warner (and, one hopes, for every other studio) to make movies available without spending the $75,000 to $100,000 it costs to release an old title into an ominously contracting marketplace. Here’s how it works: Go to the archive and browse the titles. Click on the ones you want, and for $19.95 apiece, they’ll burn a DVD-R and ship you the movie in a standard plastic case with cover art. There are no extras except the trailer, if it’s available; there isn’t even scene-by-scene chaptering. But you will get the film, shown in the correct aspect ratio and with a picture and soundtrack of mostly high quality. Virtually none of the movies in this collection has been available on DVD before. Many never even made it to VHS.”
I’m a couple of weeks late to this, but Errol Morris wrote a remarkable series of five essays over five days in the New York Times about a Civil War photograph and it’s spiraling outward reach into history.
It’s the story of a father who died in Gettysburg with nothing on him but a photograph of three children, and it ties into all sorts of other things — finding this man’s family and identifying him, use of the photograph for self-enrichment by the man responsible for identifying him, 19th century orphanages, the dead-man’s modern day descendents, efforts by amateur historians to dig out more, and so on.
And it’s full of great photos, letters, and maps.
Wonderful, simply wonderful stuff.
Part one begins:
The soldier’s body was found near the center of Gettysburg with no identification — no regimental numbers on his cap, no corps badge on his jacket, no letters, no diary. Nothing save for an ambrotype (an early type of photograph popular in the late 1850s and 1860s) of three small children clutched in his hand. Within a few days the ambrotype came into the possession of Benjamin Schriver, a tavern keeper in the small town of Graeffenburg, about 13 miles west of Gettysburg. The details of how Schriver came into possession of the ambrotype have been lost to history. But the rest of the story survives, a story in which this photograph of three small children was used for both good and wicked purposes. First, the good.