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Torture and the Press

December 1, 2008 Leave a comment Go to comments

I’ve been sitting on a couple of items since last week, intending to write something about them, but I haven’t yet and they’re getting old, so here they are. The issue is the press coverage last week of John Brennan’s withdrawal from consideration as the new head of the CIA. The word was that Obama was going to select him, and this choice came in for heavy criticism by some in the press because of Brennan’s role in the Bush administration’s rendition and torture programs. Yet some of the mainstream press coverage, under the heading of fair and balanced, wrote about the controversy rather than the content of the issues themselves. It reminds me of coverage of evolution versus intelligent design, or of climate change. Just because somebody with some title at some institute adopts a view shared by almost no one in the scientific community, we have to give both sides coverage and use language that in its attempt to adopt a content-free neutrality manages to ignore the plain truth.

In the matter at hand, the analogous behavior leads to the rule that we can’t call torture torture. We have to talk about acts that some consider torture. Which brings me to the first item, a post last Wednesday by Andrew Sullivan that I’ll quote in its entirety:

From their piece on John Brennan’s withdrawal from contending for the top CIA post under Obama:

“Obama’s advisers had grown increasingly concerned in recent days over online blogs that accused Brennan of condoning harsh interrogation tactics on terror suspects, including waterboarding, which critics consider torture.”

There is some debate about some of the techniques used on prisoners by Bush and Cheney, but no sane person with any knowledge of the subject disputes the fact that waterboarding is and always has been torture. So why cannot the AP tell the truth?

And now on to coverage of the same matter by Mark Mazzetti in the New York Times. This is treated at great length by Glenn Greenwald in a post last Wedneday on his blog at Salon. His starting point is the following paragraph from the NYT article:

The opposition to Mr. Brennan had been largely confined to liberal blogs, and there was not an expectation he would face a particularly difficult confirmation process. Still, the episode shows that the C.I.A.’s secret detention program remains a particularly incendiary issue for the Democratic base, making it difficult for Mr. Obama to select someone for a top intelligence post who has played any role in the agency’s campaign against Al Qaeda since the Sept. 11 attacks.

That second sentence is amazing on multiple levels. For instance, secret detention does not seem to be an issue in and of itself, with moral, legal, and strategic concerns to be discussed. Rather, it is simply an incendiary issue for those liberal nut cases. But the most amazing part is the implicit implication that opposing extraordinary rendition puts one in the position of opposing all CIA activities against Al Qaeda since 9/11. Or, to put it perhaps more simplistically than intended, but this is the sense of the passage, if you were upset by the 9/11 attacks and are supportive of a US government response, then you should support extraordinary rendition and torture. I know, I overstate, but what is this paragraph doing in the article at all?

By now, I’ve forgotten what Greenwald said. Let’s see. Here’s’ a sample paragraph. Go to the link above for more.

All of that is what has created the warped Beltway consensus that Bush officials who broke the law, committed war crimes and other felonies, should be absolutely immunized from the consequences of their crimes. That’s because when government officials commit “crimes,” they’re not actually crimes — they’re mere “policy disputes among people in good faith.” Only “incendiary” liberals believe that government officials who break the law should be subject to accusations as shrill and extreme as: “they committed crimes.”

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Categories: Politics, Today's News
  1. December 4, 2008 at 2:50 PM

    I heard that Ann Coulter had a fall, broke her jaw, and it is now WIRED SHUT!!

    All we need now if for Dick Cheney to hit a fire hydrant with his car, be trapped in the wreckage with the water spraying on his face (a la “waterboarding”) and we will KNOW there is a God with a sense of humor!

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