National Public Radio, following the lead of the Washington Post (FAIR Blog, 12/9/14) (and in contrast to the New York Times–FAIR Blog, 8/8/14), tries to avoid applying the word “torture” in its own voice to the tortures described in the recent Senate Intelligence Committee report. Here’s host Robert Siegel (All Things Considered, 12/9/14):
In the years after 9/11, the CIA conducted harsh interrogations, more brutal and widespread than many realized. And worse, those interrogations did not produce any intelligence that we could use in any significant way to fight terrorism. Those are the conclusions of a report partially released today by the Democratic chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Reactions to what’s known as the torture report show a country divided.
NPR correspondent Tamara Keith went on to refer to Sen. Dianne Feinstein discussing “a CIA program that used techniques she says amounted to torture.” In her own words, Keith reports that “the CIA program of secret overseas detentions and so-called enhanced interrogation methods began shortly after the September 11 attacks.”
Soon enough, “so-called” becomes just what they’re called. Says Keith: “The key finding: These enhanced interrogation methods didn’t make America safer.” When a critic of the report, CIA director John Brennan, is introduced, NPR describes the torture whose benefits he touts as “these interrogations.”
This is a longstanding practice of NPR's. The network's then-ombud Alicia Shepard made it clear back in 2009 (6/21/09): “NPR decided to not use the term ‘torture’ to describe techniques such as waterboarding but instead uses ‘harsh interrogation tactics,’” she reported:
The problem is that the word torture is loaded with political and social implications for several reasons, including the fact that torture is illegal under US law and international treaties the United States has signed.
Yes–that’s why whether or not what the US did to prisoners was torture or not is a vitally important question for journalists to answer. But NPR thinks it can find a way not to answer it. Said Shepard:
I recognize that it’s frustrating for some listeners to have NPR not use the word torture to describe certain practices that seem barbaric. But the role of a news organization is not to choose sides in this or any debate. People have different definitions of torture and different feelings about what constitutes torture.
Now, if there’s a debate between people who think that waterboarding, forcing people to stand on broken legs, sleep deprivation for up to 180 hours, being shackled to a wall for 17 days, hypothermia to the point of death, “rectal rehydration and feeding,” etc. are what are generally and traditionally referred to as torture, and people who don’t think those things should be called torture, and you choose not to call them torture–you haven’t avoided taking a side. It’s pretty obvious which side you’ve taken, isn’t it?
The CIA had a propaganda campaign to defend its detention and interrogation program. It involved the leaking of classified information to shape the public’s opinion, undermine criticism and deceive Congress and is detailed in the executive summary of the Senate intelligence committee’s torture report, which shows the extent to which CIA officials were willing to engage in unauthorized disclosures, even as it fought to keep the program secret in the courts.
The torture report summary additionally highlights how the agency would not file crimes reports when leaked information was flattering to the agency.
In a conversation on April 13, 2005, with the chief of ALEC Station, the CIA unit hunting down Osama bin Laden, Deputy Chief of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center (CTC), Philip Mudd, declared, “We either get out and sell, or we get hammered, which has implications beyond the media. [C]ongress reads it, cuts our authorities,” and “messes up our budget.”
Mudd added, “We either put out our story or we get eaten. There is no middle ground.”
The CIA developed a campaign to push propaganda on the “effectiveness” of using torture techniques on detainees into the media.
In December 2004, as the National Security Council (NSC) was “considering ‘endgame’ options for CIA detainees,” the CIA developed talking points for CIA Director Porter Goss to use with principals of the NSC. “If done cleverly, selected disclosure of intelligence results could heighten the anxiety of terrorists at large about the sophistication of [US government] methods and underscore the seriousness of American commitment to prosecute aggressively the War on Terrorism,” the CIA decided.
Intelligence gained and the lives saved from high-value detainee interrogations could be included in the propaganda campaign.
The CIA’s Office of Public Affairs (OPA) and various CIA officers provided “unattributed background information on the program to journalists for books, articles and broadcasts,” even as the existence of the torture program was still classified. Crimes reports were not submitted, including one particular case involving Ronald Kessler’s book, The CIA at War,” because it “contained no first-time disclosures” and “OPA provided assistance with the book.”
Senior Deputy General Counsel John Rizzo indicated the determination that there was no crime committed stemmed from the fact that the CIA’s cooperation with Kessler was “blessed” by the CIA director.
When Douglas Jehl of the New York Times wrote an article in March 2005 with “significant classified information,” a lawyer with the CIA concluded, “Part of this article was based on ‘background’ provided by OPA. That, essentially, negates any use in making an unauthorized disclosure [report].”
Jesselyn Radack, an attorney who represented CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou who was sentenced to prison and prosecuted after he spoke out about the CIA’s use of waterboarding, called the propaganda campaign by the agency “stunning,” especially how it deceived not only the White House and Congress but the press as well.
“It’s incredibly disturbing to me that the CIA was engaged in such a propaganda campaign and engaging in leaks of classified information while at the same time it filed six crimes reports against John Kiriakou for allegedly mishandling classified information.”
“It doesn’t square, however, with [President Barack] Obama administration’s unprecedented use of the Espionage Act against more people for alleged mishandling of classified information than all previous presidential administrations combined,” she also wrote in an article for Salon.
¿Por qué ha sucumbido una parte tan grande del periodismo ante la propaganda? ¿Por qué la censura y la distorsión se han convertido en una práctica estándar? ¿Por qué es la ‘BBC’ un vocero del poder rapaz? ¿Por qué engañan a sus lectores el ‘New York Times’ y el ‘Washington Post’?
¿Por qué no se enseña a los jóvenes periodistas a comprender los propósitos de los medios y a…