"Actual journalists" as government spokespeople

New documents obtained by the ACLU shed more light on the U.S. torture regime and how "actual journalism" works.

By Glenn Greenwald
May 14, 2008 7:37PM (UTC)
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(updated below)

Time's Joe Klein, in a post this week he entitled "How Actual Journalism Works":

Third, look at the record. Tell me where I've been misled by my sources.

Joe Klein, The Guardian, February 4, 2002 (via LEXIS):

The noted Anglican hostage mediation expert Terry Waite wrote recently in the Guardian that: "I can recognise the conditions prisoners are being kept in at the US camp at Guantanamo Bay because I have been there. Not to Cuba's Camp X-Ray, but to the darkened cell in Beirut that I occupied for five years. I was chained to a wall by my hands and feet, beaten on the soles of my feet with cable, denied all human rights and contact with my family for five years . . . Because I was kept in very similar conditions, I am appalled by the way we -- countries that call ourselves civilised -- are treating these captives."

Total rubbish, of course. The Camp X-Ray Yankophobe fiesta has died down in the past week as it has become clear that the prisoners -- I see no need to use euphemisms here -- are not being treated badly at all. The Red Cross has been in. Doctors are caring for them. They receive three square meals a day. They pray (and we provide arrows to point them the way). There's no air conditioning, but the winter heat in Cuba isn't exactly devastating. The cells are eight feet square; not the Ritz, but not quite inhumane, either. They were shackled and goggled when they were being transported, but no longer. They wear orange jump suits, which are probably an improvement over their Afghan cave-wear (I would actually prefer they be dressed in pink tutus, to give them an appreciation of the freedoms accorded western ballerinas). They are not being tortured, Terry. They are being interrogated.

So there remain only two outstanding issues. One is legal: should these blokes be designated prisoners of war and accorded the right not to be interrogated? The second is social: Why on earth did our stalwart British allies join the predictably feckless Europeans in this dimwitted and loathesome orgy of recriminations? . . . .

And I believe that the US is abiding by the spirit of the Geneva Convention, despite the casual, ill-considered remarks of our rough-hewn secretary of defence, among others. . . .

Finally, a sad truth: while all the carping pains an Anglophile like me, most Americans don't give a fig about what you think. There is the old American bias toward seeing Europe as tired, flaccid and hopelessly parochial. And there is an old American saying which I think I've just invented: Before you get up on your high horse, be sure you are not riding an ass.

The ACLU, today (via email):

The American Civil Liberties Union has obtained previously withheld documents from the Defense Department, including internal investigations into the abuse of detainees in U.S. custody overseas. Uncensored documents released as a result of the ACLU's Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit shed light on the deaths of detainees in Iraq and internal disagreement within the military over harsh interrogation practices used at Guantánamo Bay.

"These documents provide further evidence that the torture of prisoners in U.S. custody abroad was not aberrational, but was widespread and systemic," said Amrit Singh, a staff attorney with the ACLU. "They only underscore the need for an independent investigation into high-level responsibility for prisoner abuse."

One of the documents released to the ACLU is a list of at least four prisoner deaths that were the subject of Navy Criminal Investigation Service (NCIS) investigations. The NCIS document contains new information about the deaths of some of these prisoners, including details about Farhad Mohamed, who had contusions under his eyes and the bottom of his chin, a swollen nose, cuts and large bumps on his forehead when he died in Mosul in 2004. The document also includes details about Naem Sadoon Hatab, a 52-year-old Iraqi man who was strangled to death at the Whitehorse detainment facility in Nasiriyah in June 2003; the shooting death of Hemdan El Gashame in Nasiriyah in March 2003; and the death of Manadel Jamadi during an interrogation after his head was beaten with a stove at Abu Ghraib in November 2003.

Another document obtained by the ACLU provides further context to objections raised by the Army's Criminal Investigation Task Force (CITF) about the use of harsh interrogation methods applied on Guantánamo prisoners.

The previously withheld documents can be viewed here. Documents previously obtained by the ACLU in connection with the U.S.'s use of torture can be viewed here.

Finally, from a July 13, 2005 briefing (.pdf) given to the Pentagon's TV military analysts by an unnamed General, when asked about acts of abuses admitted by the U.S. military at Guantanamo which had been alleged by FBI observers:

Thankfully, by virtue of what Joe Klein calls "actual journalism" (what Newsweek's Richard Wolffe describes as the "fantastic job" our political press does), Klein was able to assure the world that all of the concerns about Guantanamo were "total rubbish" -- nothing more than a "dimwitted and loathesome orgy of recriminations" from "feckless" and "flaccid Europeans." As he intrepidly reported, the U.S. was "abiding by the spirit of the Geneva Conventions" at Guantanamo and the detainees were "not being treated badly at all." That's "How Actual Journalism Works" (of course, as emaydon points out, this is the easiest and most obvious answer to Joe Klein's request).


* * * * *

Joe Klein wanted to dress up the Guantanamo detainees as ballerinas and force them to wear pink tutus. Tom Friedman said that the reason the invasion of Iraq was "unquestionably worth doing" was because it was critical that we "take out our big sticks" and tell Muslims: "Suck. On. This." We have an extremely healthy and Serious Pundit class, particularly its leading war cheerleaders, and I think we should all be proud of our political discourse.

UPDATE: The Guardian, today (h/t rhenley):

The US has dropped charges against one of the six al-Qaida suspects charged with the 9/11 attacks, bolstering critics of the controversial military tribunal system set up to try the detainees.

The Pentagon official in charge of military tribunals at Guantánamo Bay dropped the death penalty case against Mohammed al-Qahtani without explanation. Lawyers for al-Qahtani attributed the move to clear evidence that the detainee was tortured while in US custody. . . .

The Saudi-born al-Qahtani was brutally interrogated for 48 straight days at Guantánamo in 2002 using a plan approved by former US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Charges against him were dismissed "without prejudice", but the Pentagon claims the right to reinstate them at any time and to keep holding him at Guantánamo.

Bush administration lawyers who gave legal approval for the torture of al-Qahtani have exposed themselves to possible war crimes charges, according to UK human rights lawyer Philippe Sands, whose findings were first reported in the Guardian last month.

Coincidentally enough, that's the same paper where Joe Klein, the self-proclaimed Actual Journalist, told the world that Guantanamo detainees "weren't being treated badly at all," that "the US is abiding by the spirit of the Geneva Convention," and that anyone who said otherwise was "flaccid, feckless, dimwitted and loathsome."

Glenn Greenwald

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