Is the CIA Misleading the Public Through the Washington Post?

When the first major wave of criminality became public in regard to torture – the news that the CIA had apparently destroyed its interrogation tapes of suspected criminals who had been tortured – it was the Washington Post at the forefront of breaking the story about how the CIA had informed Congress. What it wrote above the fold in regards to these events now seems to be a rather distorted and confused account of the events. Warrick, the main reporter at the Post on the ‘interrogation’ beat, is one of those delightful journalists who consistently describes ‘waterboarding’ in post-modern Orwellian form as a ‘simulation’ or a technique to make one ‘believe’ one is drowning, without mentioning that the technique for ‘simulation’ is coercively inducing suffocation.

Post reporters Warrick and Dan Eggen wrote at the time that ‘four members of Congress met in secret’ in regard to so-called ‘EITs’ (or so-called ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’) – CIA-speak for what the Gestapo used to called ‘sharper treatment.’

This sentence now appears to be quite false according to CIA accounts now given to Congress. Two senators and two congress members appear to have been briefed, but on two separate occasions – the House group, Porter Goss, Nancy Pelosi, and aides first on Sept. 4, and the Senate group, Richard Shelby, Bob Graham and aides three weeks later, on Sept. 27.

The ‘meeting’, which of course was at least two separate meetings with two different groups, lasted ‘an hour’ according to the report, in which the ‘bi-partisan’ group was ‘given a virtual tour of the CIA’s overseas detention sites and the harsh techniques interrogators had devised to try to make their prisoners talk.’

What do Warrick and Eggen mean by a ‘virtual tour’? The present CIA account refers only to a to a ‘slide show.’ It illustrated ‘non-enhanced and enhanced interrogation techniques’ – a prescient formulation on the part of the CIA which could be described as essentializing the criminally bad as an improvement. These ‘enhancements’, in the agencies’ consistently passive but ontologically intensified constructions, were ‘named, described and compared on each slide.’

Unfortunately, this sort of ‘slide show’ or ‘tour’ did not happen in September 2002, according to CIA records, but on October 4, 2003; and Nancy Pelosi, the main person fingered in the Warrick/Eggen report, was not at these hearings, nor were her staff as neither she nor they were members of the relevant committee. Jane Harman, on record for protesting the techniques the week she heard about them, was.

The source of these remarks about the ‘secret meeting of four members of congress’, according to our intrepid Post reporters, is two US officials, one of which was present at ‘the exchange’ or, presumably, the first briefing to the two congress-persons, Goss and Pelosi. Two lawmakers, according to these officials, ‘asked the CIA to push harder.’ This could be Pelosi, along with Goss, the two of four lawmakers present at the first CIA briefing. But we cannot know as the report conflates two meetings into one.

‘The briefer was specifically asked if the methods were tough enough’ said this or another witnessing official. Goss is doubtlessly one who pressed for more and better torturing. Goss is the John Yoo of the US Congress, the one who has always carried his willingness to torture on his sleeve, the same Goss later in charge of the CIA when the CIA destroyed the interrogation tapes, reports of which started off the original attempt to implicate the Congress in the White House’s torture regimen. Who were the others? Was it indeed Pelosi, or was it – more likely – Shelby? If Senator Graham’s diaries and recollections are correct, he was also not even told about waterboarding, so it is unlikely that he could have been the one who pressed for harsher tactics. But in any case, the Post has the events quite confused, as was clearly the intent of their sources.

There were four CIA officials present, and as Marcy Wheeler at the Blog ‘Empty Wheel’ suspects, the key one, and likely the official being quoted as a source for the Post, is Jose Rodriquez, the employee at the CIA fingered for destroying the CIA interrogation tapes, head of the CTC or CIA Office on Counter-Terrorism. The other official ‘source’ of this story was or was not present, though later in the same report, the number of officials with ‘first-hand knowledge’ grows in this report in some vague and confused sense, above all when it becomes clear that there were ‘over 30 briefings’, and that the ‘officials’ being quoted as ‘lawmakers’ may be the same ones, namely Goss, who are later directing employees at the CIA.

The Post continues, in the wake of the CIA memo (an excell chart) which contradicts Warrick and Eggen’s original reporting, to write without concern or correction of their previous confusions, in which they report in a manner attempting to suggest a united and coherent ‘war-congressional’ consensus of House and Senate members either acquiescent or demanding more torture.

Indeed, the newspaper is rather intent on compounding previous errors, with statements, lacking any subjunctive moment, defending the CIA. The ‘chart’ the CIA released last week summarizing briefings to congress, that is, the chart which has caused the renewed uproar over Pelosi, writes Paul Kane at the Post (with contributions by Warrick, Pincus and Peter Finn), ‘contradicts [Speaker Pelosi’s] assertion, which she has maintained consistently for the past 128 months, that she was told only that the Justice Department had provided a legal basis for using waterboarding…’

But the ‘chart’ says no such thing whatsoever. In its excreble English it simply states: ‘Briefing on EIT’s including use of EITs on Abu Zubaydah, background on authorities and a description of the particularly EITs that had been employed.’ Descriptions of, ‘how the water board was used’, unless this is included in the previous description, in which case it would be redundant, only occurred after Pelosi was no longer on the Committee being briefed.

Has the CIA misled Congress, and is the Washington Post its chief instrument?

Certainly the onus is on the CIA to get its story straight, and Leon Panetta, the present CIA director, is actually applying a ‘varied recollections’ formulation in his press statements that largely derives from the original Warrick/Eggen story quoted above from Dec. 2007. The only clear thing the report establishes is that many people do have clear memories about these early briefings, but that they refuse to go on record to describe them.

Meanwhile, the CIA has already corrected its famous chart, released last week, when confronted with details from Democratic lawmakers seeking to distance themselves from attempts to implicate them in the scandal, most notably with respect to Senator (Jello Jay) Rockefeller, who apparently was not there when they said he was on the first and most important occasion.

Those Democratic lawmakers are now vigorously disputing the CIA version of events as it has appeared in the Post. Yet there is as yet no actual evidence besides a badly written excel chart from the CIA and confusing reports by the CIA and other anonymous ‘government officials’ to the Post- which instance has served as the source for New York Times reporting.

Nonetheless, these have become the basis for a barrage of confusing statements that draws them into the mess until after the waterboarding had stopped sometime in 2003. The Washington Post, to which most of the torture story has been told first by the CIA, has certainly not been reporting it straight, nor attempting in any fashion to correct its previous role as a mouth-piece for the CIA.

(italicized emphasis is the author’s)

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