WPost Again Flacks for Bush's Crimes
With only 10 days left before George W. Bush leaves office, the Washington Establishment – and its chief mouthpiece the Washington Post – are trying to stymie any meaningful accountability for the outgoing administration and thus cover up for their own complicity in Bush’s crimes and incompetence.
The latest example is the Post’s front-page article on Jan. 10 which offers a one-sided defense of torture in the guise of discussing how President-elect Barack Obama is under pressure over his expressed goal of prohibiting abusive interrogation of detainees in the “war on terror.”
The Post article presents those interrogation policies as an undisputed success, even quoting Vice President Dick Cheney as something of an unbiased expert in declaring that the harsh tactics “have been absolutely essential to maintaining our capacity to interfere with and defeat all further attacks against the United States.”
Throughout the article, Obama’s opposition to torture is portrayed as simply campaign rhetoric meant to appease the left-wing Democratic base and some human rights activists. Meanwhile the pro-torture position is described as realistic, hard-headed and patriotic.
“If Obama goes ahead with his plan to scrap the special CIA [interrogation] program, he could expose himself to criticism that he did not do all he could to prevent another terrorist attack,” the Post article states. It then cites a “white paper” from Bush’s Office of the Director of National Intelligence about the supposed successes of the interrogation tactics, including the simulated drowning of waterboarding.
The DNI’s “white paper” credited the waterboarding of an al-Qaeda operative known as Abu Zubaydah for forcing out the first information about Khalid Sheik Mohammed’s role in the 9/11 attacks and intelligence that helped capture another high-ranking operative, Ramzi Binalshibh.
Though the Post story appeared in the news columns – not in its reliably neoconservative editorial section – the article read more like a pro-torture opinion piece masquerading as news. The Post included no counter-arguments against the alleged value of waterboarding and other tactics which have been widely condemned around the world as torture.
If the Post had any interest in balance, it might have included at least some references to experts who have disputed the value of extracting information through torture.
For example, Lt. Gen. John Kimmons, head of Army intelligence, stated in 2006 that “No good intelligence is going to come from abusive practices. I think history tells us that. I think the empirical evidence of the last five years, hard years, tells us that.”
Or the Post might have mentioned the opposition to torture from trained FBI interrogators who left the Guantanamo Bay prison in disgust over the illegality and ineffectiveness of the brutal interrogation tactics that had supplanted their own approach which they felt had been working.
A Justice Department’s Inspector General’s report, released May 20, 2008, addressed precisely the Abu Zubaydah case, noting that in spring 2002, FBI agents objected to the “borderline torture” of a badly wounded Zubaydah and passed on those concerns to FBI superiors in Washington.
Disgusted by the tactics, FBI Counterterrorism Assistant Director Pasquale D'Amuro pulled the FBI agents out and complained to FBI Director Robert Mueller. D’Amuro said the harsh techniques were less effective in gleaning reliable information, complicated later prosecutions, violated moral standards, and “helped al-Qaeda in spreading negative views of the United States.”
Mueller conveyed the FBI’s concerns to Bush’s White House but was rebuffed because it turned out that the abusive tactics had been selected by the so-called Principals Committee of Vice President Cheney and other senior aides and cleared by the President.
FBI agents also crossed swords with Pentagon interrogators over similar abusive techniques used against the suspected “20th hijacker” Mohammed al-Qahtani in late 2002 and early 2003. Those tactics included tying al-Qahtani to a dog leash and making him perform dog tricks; putting him in painful stress positions, questioning him for periods of 20 hours straight, stripping him naked in front of a woman, making him dance with a male interrogator, and subjecting him to extreme temperatures.
At one point in December 2002, al-Qahtani was taken to a hospital suffering from low blood pressure and low body core temperature, what one FBI agent termed hypothermia. The FBI’s objections to al-Qahtani’s interrogation also were brought to the attention of senior officials in Washington, according to the Inspector General’s report.
Before senior FBI officials grasped the high-level support for the mistreatment of detainees, some FBI agents were instructed to compile the evidence for a “war crimes” file at Guantanamo.
“At some point in 2003, however,” the Inspector General’s report said, the FBI agents at Guantanamo “received instructions not to maintain a separate ‘war crimes’ file, … that investigating detainee allegations of abuse was not the FBI's mission.” [For more details, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Bush’s War Crimes and Misdemeanors.”]
Before publishing the Jan. 10 article, the Post’s editors also might have reached into their clip file and pulled out an article that appeared in the Washington Post’s Outlook section on Nov. 30, 2008, written by a top military interrogator who used the pseudonym “Matthew Alexander.”
Citing his own experiences in Iraq, “Alexander” said the practice of humiliating and abusing prisoners -- which spread from Guantanamo to Abu Ghraib prison -- had proved counterproductive, not only violating U.S. principles and failing to extract reliable intelligence but fueling the Iraqi insurgency and getting large numbers of U.S. soldiers killed.
Indeed, “Alexander,” a U.S. Air Force special operations officer, argued that it was his team’s abandonment of those harsh tactics that contributed to the tracking down and killing of the murderous al-Qaeda-in-Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in June 2006, an important turning point in reducing levels of violence in Iraq.
“Alexander” said he arrived in Iraq in March 2006, amid the bloody civil war that Sunni extremist Zarqawi had helped provoke a month earlier with the bombing of the golden-domed Askariya mosque in Samarra, a shrine revered by Iraq's majority Shiites.
“Amid the chaos, four other Air Force criminal investigators and I joined an elite team of interrogators attempting to locate Zarqawi,” he wrote. “What I soon discovered about our methods astonished me. The Army was still conducting interrogations according to the Guantanamo Bay model. … These interrogations were based on fear and control; they often resulted in torture and abuse.
“I refused to participate in such practices, and a month later, I extended that prohibition to the team of interrogators I was assigned to lead. I taught the members of my unit a new methodology -- one based on building rapport with suspects, showing cultural understanding and using good old-fashioned brainpower to tease out information.”
By getting to know the captives and negotiating with them, his team achieved breakthroughs that enabled the U.S. military to close in on Zarqawi while also gaining a deeper understanding of what drove the Iraqi insurgency, “Alexander” wrote.
“Over the course of this renaissance in interrogation tactics, our attitudes changed. We no longer saw our prisoners as the stereotypical al-Qaeda evildoers we had been repeatedly briefed to expect; we saw them as Sunni Iraqis, often family men protecting themselves from Shiite militias and trying to ensure that their fellow Sunnis would still have some access to wealth and power in the new Iraq.
“Most surprisingly, they turned out to despise al-Qaeda-in-Iraq as much as they despised us, but Zarqawi and his thugs were willing to provide them with arms and money,” the interrogator wrote, noting that this understanding played a key role in the U.S. military turning many Sunnis against the hyper-violent extremism of Zarqawi’s organization.
“Alexander” added that the new interrogation methods “convinced one of Zarqawi's associates to give up the al-Qaeda in Iraq leader's location. On June 8, 2006, U.S. warplanes dropped two 500-pound bombs on a house where Zarqawi was meeting with other insurgent leaders.”
Despite the success in killing Zarqawi, “Alexander” said the old, harsh interrogation methods continued. “I came home from Iraq feeling as if my mission was far from accomplished,” he wrote. “Soon after my return, the public learned that another part of our government, the CIA, had repeatedly used waterboarding to try to get information out of detainees.”
“Alexander” found that the engrained support for using “rough stuff” against hardened jihadists was difficult to overcome despite the successes from more subtle approaches and despite the fact that the abusive tactics fueled the violence in Iraq.
From hundreds of interrogations in Iraq, “Alexander” said he learned that the images from Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib were actually getting American soldiers killed by drawing angry young Arabs into the Iraq War.
“Torture and abuse cost American lives,” the interrogator wrote. “I learned in Iraq that the No. 1 reason foreign fighters flocked there to fight were the abuses carried out at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.
“Our policy of torture was directly and swiftly recruiting fighters for al-Qaeda in Iraq. The large majority of suicide bombings in Iraq are still carried out by these foreigners. They are also involved in most of the attacks on U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq.
“It's no exaggeration to say that at least half of our losses and casualties in that country have come at the hands of foreigners who joined the fray because of our program of detainee abuse. The number of U.S. soldiers who have died because of our torture policy will never be definitively known, but it is fair to say that it is close to the number of lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001.
"How anyone can say that torture keeps Americans safe is beyond me -- unless you don't count American soldiers as Americans.” [For more details, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Two Dangerous Bush-Cheney Myths.”]
But none of this expert commentary could be found in the Post’s Jan. 10 article, which simply took the side of the abusive interrogators and, in essence, warned Obama that he should not seek any accountability against those who advocated and carried out the extreme techniques.
“Obama[‘s] actions will also be watched closely by the career officials at the CIA, who want to see how supportive the new President and his team will be,” the Post wrote. “Former CIA officials note that all the agency’s actions were authorized by Bush with legal opinions and concurrence by senior White House officials and Congress.”
The Post quoted a retired CIA official as saying: “The Obama people can run against the Bush guys all they want, but they shouldn’t run down the CIA.”
The Post’s Jan. 10 article also doesn't stand alone. It follows similarly imbalanced pieces on Jan. 7 exaggerating the opposition to Obama’s choice of Leon Panetta to head the CIA.
Besides carrying water for pro-Bush elements inside the U.S. intelligence community, the Post appears to be plowing the propaganda fields for a potential mass pardon by President Bush for those who participated in torture and other crimes associated with the “war on terror.”
The Post and other mainstream news outlets played a similar role at the end of the Bush-41 presidency in building an inside-the-Beltway consensus for George H.W. Bush to pardon six Iran-Contra defendants, including former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger and prominent neoconservative Elliott Abrams, who reemerged as a key figure on George W. Bush’s NSC staff.
The last thing the Post seems to want is any thorough examination of who is at fault for the various crimes and misconduct of the past eight years – in part because any honest analysis would lay a large share of blame at the feet of the Post's editors and other news executives who failed to do their jobs on behalf of the American people.
[For more on how the Post and other major U.S. news outlets aided and abetted the Bush-41 cover-ups, see Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege. For more on how they protected Bush-43, see our book, Neck Deep.]
Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth' are also available there. Or go to Amazon.com.
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