Archive for the ‘Bush Administration’ Category
Both states seem pretty obvious, but obviously some disagree (but without evidence—the evidence supports the retired general’s observations). Murtaza Hussain reports in The Intercept:
Retired Army Gen. Mike Flynn, a top intelligence official in the post-9/11 wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, says in aforthcoming interview on Al Jazeera English that the drone war is creating more terrorists than it is killing. He also asserts that the U.S. invasion of Iraq helped create the Islamic State and that U.S. soldiers involved in torturing detainees need to be held legally accountable for their actions.
Flynn, who in 2014 was forced out as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, has in recent months become an outspoken critic of the Obama administration’s Middle East strategy, calling for a more hawkish approach to the Islamic State and Iran.
But his enthusiasm for the application of force doesn’t extend to the use of drones. In the interview with Al Jazeera presenter Mehdi Hasan, set to air July 31, the former three star general says: “When you drop a bomb from a drone … you are going to cause more damage than you are going to cause good.” Pressed by Hasan as to whether drone strikes are creating more terrorists than they kill, Flynn says, “I don’t disagree with that.” He describes the present approach of drone warfare as “a failed strategy.”
“What we have is this continued investment in conflict,” the retired general says. “The more weapons we give, the more bombs we drop, that just … fuels the conflict.”
Prior to serving as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Flynn was director of Intelligence for the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. During his time in Iraq, Flynn is credited with helping to transform JSOC into an intelligence-driven special forces operation, tailored to fight the insurgency in that country. Flynn was in Iraq during the peak of the conflict there, as intelligence chief to Stanley McChrystal, former general and head of JSOC. When questioned about how many Iraqis JSOC operatives had killed inside the country during his tenure, Flynn would later say, “Thousands, I don’t even know how many.”
In the upcoming interview, Flynn says that the invasion of Iraq was a strategic mistake that directly contributed to the rise of the extremist group the Islamic State. “We definitely put fuel on a fire,” he told Hasan. “Absolutely … there’s no doubt, I mean … history will not be kind to the decisions that were made certainly in 2003.”
Over his 33 years in the Army, Flynn developed a reputation as an iconoclast. In 2010, he published a controversialreport on intelligence operations in Afghanistan, stating in part that the military could not answer “fundamental questions” about the country and its people despite nearly a decade of engagement there. Earlier this year, . . .
Not just psychologists, of course: the Bush Administration was much involved, and Obama has resisted any effort to investigate and prosecute US torturers. James Risen reports in the NY Times:
The Central Intelligence Agency’s health professionals repeatedly criticized the agency’s post-Sept. 11 interrogation program, but their protests were rebuffed by prominent outside psychologists who lent credibility to the program, according to a new report.
The 542-page report, which examines the involvement of the nation’s psychologists and their largest professional organization, the American Psychological Association, with the harsh interrogation programs of the Bush era, raises repeated questions about the collaboration between psychologists and officials at both the C.I.A. and the Pentagon.
The report, completed this month, concludes that some of the association’s top officials, including its ethics director, sought to curry favor with Pentagon officials by seeking to keep the association’s ethics policies in line with the Defense Department’s interrogation policies, while several prominent outside psychologists took actions that aided the C.I.A.’s interrogation program and helped protect it from growing dissent inside the agency.
The association’s ethics office “prioritized the protection of psychologists — even those who might have engaged in unethical behavior — above the protection of the public,” the report said.
Two former presidents of the psychological association were on a C.I.A. advisory committee, the report found. One of them gave the agency an opinion that sleep deprivation did not constitute torture, and later held a small ownership stake in a consulting company founded by two men who oversaw the agency’s interrogation program, it said.
The association’s ethics director, Stephen Behnke, coordinated the group’s public policy statements on interrogations with a top military psychologist, the report said, and then received a Pentagon contract to help train interrogators while he was working at the association, without the knowledge of the association’s board. Mr. Behnke did not respond to a request for comment.
The report, which was obtained by The New York Times and has not previously been made public, is the result of a seven-month investigation by a team led by David Hoffman, a Chicago lawyer with the firm Sidley Austin at the request of the psychology association’s board.
After the Hoffman report was made public on Friday, the American Psychological Association issued an apology.
“The actions, policies and lack of independence from government influence described in the Hoffman report represented a failure to live up to our core values,” Nadine Kaslow, a former president of the organization, said in a statement. “We profoundly regret and apologize for the behavior and the consequences that ensued.”
The association said it was considering proposals to prohibit psychologists from participating in interrogations and to modify its ethics policies, among other changes.
At the link is a copy of the 542-page report.
See also the editorial “Psychologists Who Greenlighted Torture.” The editorial concludes:
The Obama administration has so far refused to prosecute the torturers. As more evidence about this program comes to light, that position becomes increasingly indefensible.
The comments to the article are quite interesting.
See also “U.S. Justice Department Must Investigate American Psychological Association’s Role in U.S. Torture Program,” a press release from Physicians for Human Rights:
Physicians for Human Rights today called for a federal criminal probe into the American Psychological Association’s (APA) role in the U.S. torture program following the release of a damning new report that confirms the APA colluded with the Bush administration to enable psychologists to design, implement, and defend a program of torture. In light of the 542-page independent report first reported by The New York Times, PHR again called for a full investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice.
“The corruption of a health professional organization at this level is an extraordinary betrayal of both ethics and the law, and demands an investigation and appropriate prosecutions,” said Donna McKay, PHR’s executive director. “Rather than uphold the principle of ‘do no harm,’ APA leadership subverted its own ethics policies and sabotaged all efforts at enforcement.”
The APA commissioned an independent review by David Hoffman, a former federal prosecutor, in November 2014 after detailed allegations of complicity emerged in New York Times reporter James Risen’s book, “Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War.” The book documented secret coordination between APA and U.S. officials to support the spurious legal and ethical justification for the Bush administration’s torture program, which relied on health professional monitoring of abusive interrogations to claim that they were “safe, effective, and legal.” . . .
I often disagree strongly with Feinstein’s positions, but then she will surprise me by (for example) pushing through the publication of a slightly censored executive summary of an important report on the US program of systematic torture of prisoners and suspects. Connie Bruck profiles her in the New Yorker:
Dianne Feinstein, the Democratic senator from California, is making a late career of not quite pleasing anyone. After five decades in politics, Feinstein, at eighty-one, is the oldest sitting member of the Senate, where a late term is often less a valedictory than a chance for activism: think of Edward Kennedy or Mitch McConnell. With its elaborate rankings and deferential codes, the Senate rewards longevity; senior members have better committee seats, more loyal patrons, first choice of desk space in the chamber. As they near retirement age—whatever that means, in an institution where nearly a quarter of the members are over seventy—senators can hope to change a thing or two.
When Barack Obama took office, on January 20, 2009, the Democrats held the Senate, and Feinstein had just become chairman of the powerful Intelligence Committee. At Obama’s inaugural ceremony, she delivered the welcoming remarks, standing before an eager crowd and declaring, “Future generations will mark this morning as the turning point for real and necessary change in our nation.” Skeptics on the National Mall might have noted that this was not a novel sentiment in such speeches, but for Feinstein it was an earnest indicator of political engagement. As the Bush Administration came to an end, the country was reconsidering the decisions of the previous eight years, particularly the ethics of the War on Terror.
Feinstein is sometimes described as a centrist, but it is because her views are varied, not because they are mild; she thinks of herself, more accurately, as a pragmatist. Especially in recent years, on issues she cares deeply about, she will take positions that other senators do not. Feinstein has pursued a deal to prevent Iran from building nuclear arms more intently than any of her colleagues. In March, after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed a joint session of Congress, in the hope of averting a possible deal, Feinstein appeared on “Meet the Press” and said, “What Prime Minister Netanyahu did here was something no ally of the United States would have done.” When I saw her the next day, she told me, “For Netanyahu to come here with a clear view of preventing an agreement was really inappropriate. Particularly because this President’s Administration has provided more than twenty-five billion dollars to Israel, far more than to any other country.”
Although Feinstein mostly votes with the Democrats, she is less predictable than many of her colleagues. As a member of the Judiciary Committee, she voted to confirm several of President George W. Bush’s nominees. In 2007, she endorsed Michael Mukasey for attorney general—even as he dodged the question of whether waterboarding is torture, saying only, “If it amounts to torture, then it is not constitutional.” A Democrat from hyper-liberal San Francisco, she has persistently defended government surveillance programs and targeted killings by drones, and she has been one of the C.I.A.’s most faithful supporters. Last year, after President Obama called to move authority for drone strikes from the C.I.A. to the Defense Department, Feinstein placed a classified amendment in a spending bill that helped keep the program where it was. When the activist Edward Snowden revealed that the N.S.A. had amassed the phone records of vast numbers of American citizens, he was hailed on the left as a whistle-blower. Feinstein said, “I don’t look at this as being a whistle-blower. I think it’s an act of treason.” Advocates for human rights and civil liberties responded with angry editorials. The journalist Glenn Greenwald has said that her “disgusting rhetoric recalls the worst of Dick Cheney.”
The former Secretary of State George Shultz, who has raised money for Feinstein’s campaigns from Republican friends in California, told me, “Dianne is not really bipartisan so much as nonpartisan.” Slightly formal in style, she adheres faithfully to procedure and protocol; she believes in settling disputes privately, and by argument rather than by force. Even in less than momentous situations, she is a dogged negotiator. William Luers, a former ambassador and the head of the Iran Project, recalled, “I don’t think anyone has a meeting with her where she says, ‘I’m with you all the way.’ Rather, she says, ‘I’m with you, but you have to understand under what terms.’ ”
In her office recently, she described how she broke with the C.I.A. over the detention and interrogation program that began in the days after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. From the first time Feinstein was briefed about the program, she opposed it. On September 6, 2006, Michael Hayden, the C.I.A. director, appeared before the Senate Intelligence Committee and described a network of “black sites”: secret facilities where C.I.A. interrogators subjected detainees to “enhanced interrogation techniques,” seeking information about possible terrorist attacks. Hayden, self-assured and pugnacious, insisted that the interrogations were carefully run and unassailably effective. Afterward, Feinstein wrote to him that his testimony was “extraordinarily problematic,” and that she was “unable to understand why the C.I.A. needs to maintain this program.” In November, when Hayden appeared before the committee again, Feinstein peppered him with questions. She wanted to know how the agency guarded against abuse, whether detainees were stripped of their clothes, whether they were fed during periods of sleep deprivation. Although she and several colleagues raised objections, Hayden, not long afterward, told a meeting of foreign diplomats, “This is not C.I.A.’s program. This is not the President’s program. This is America’s program.”
In December, 2007, the Times revealed that C.I.A. officers had secretly destroyed videotapes of interrogations, against the advice of White House officials. A few days later, Hayden, insisting to the Intelligence Committee that there had been no “destruction of evidence,” turned over cables related to those taped interrogations. For months, two committee staff members reviewed the cables, which described the interrogations of Abu Zubaydah, whom the C.I.A. suspected was a high-ranking Al Qaeda member, and of a detainee named Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri.
In February, 2009, the staff members appeared before the committee and described what they had found. Nearly twenty-four hours a day for twenty days, Abu Zubaydah was stripped naked and subjected to multiple “enhanced” techniques: slammed into a wall, slapped, deprived of sleep, confined in a coffin-size box, forced into painful postures. He was also waterboarded at least eighty-three times. Two psychologists, contracted by the C.I.A. to develop and run the interrogation program, reported that Abu Zubaydah was “ready to talk” during the first exposure, but “we chose to expose him over and over until we had a high degree of confidence he wouldn’t hold back.” After the first waterboarding sessions, a C.I.A. official wrote, “Several on the team profoundly affected . . . some to the point of tears.” By the seventh day, the C.I.A. team had informed headquarters that it was unlikely Abu Zubaydah had the threat information the agency was seeking, but the team was instructed to continue. During one waterboarding session, investigators found later, Abu Zubaydah “became completely unresponsive, with bubbles rising through his open, full mouth.”
Nashiri was subjected to similar measures. Investigators determined that he was put in a “standing stress position,” with “his hands affixed over his head,” for at least two days. It was implied that his mother would be brought before him and sexually abused. He was waterboarded. After each session, his interrogators reported that he was coöperative, but officials told them to persist, because he had not provided information on imminent attacks. When the interrogators objected, they were replaced.
Feinstein described the interrogations as “ugly, visceral.” As the new chairman of the committee, she had the authority to try to effect change. “You set the table, so to speak,” she said recently. “You make the determinations, what will come up, what the committee will do.” She called for a full investigation of the C.I.A. program, and the committee voted in favor of it, 14–1. That was the genesis of what became known as the torture report, a sixty-seven-hundred-page tome, laden with footnotes. When the report was completed, in December, 2012, it included an appendix devoted to Hayden, detailing more than thirty misstatements in one session of his testimony. (Hayden argues that the Democrats misinterpreted the intent of his testimony, saying, “I described the norms—how things were supposed to work—and they found the exceptions.”)
Michael Schiffer, who was a member of Feinstein’s staff for a decade, told me that Feinstein retains a stubborn, perhaps naïve faith that the system is run by people who are trying to do the right thing for the country. “When that faith is shaken, she is really determined to do something about it,” he said. “It was that faith that caused her to be so enraged about torture.” A former intelligence officer, who knew Feinstein from her years on the Intelligence Committee, saw her determination a little differently: “The worst thing, from Dianne Feinstein’s perspective, is trying to keep her from doing her job of oversight. And if you lie to her that’s bad.”
When Obama took office, Feinstein assumed that he would be a strong ally. During the campaign, he had excoriated the Bush Administration for the C.I.A.’s interrogation program, forthrightly calling the interrogation tactics “torture.” On his second day in the White House, he issued an executive order that banned C.I.A. detention and effectively prohibited the use of waterboarding and other coercive techniques. In the end, though, what Feinstein’s group released was not the full report but a five-hundred-page executive summary, with a fraction of the meticulous, excruciating details. The summary’s release, last December, came after an eleven-month battle, in which Feinstein and several other Democrats on the committee fought strenuously against the C.I.A.—and, unexpectedly, the Obama White House. . .
Later in the profile:
In December, 2012, the committee approved the final report (eight Democrats and one Republican voted yes) and sent it to President Obama. The report concluded that the enhanced techniques were far more brutal than the agency had disclosed, and were an ineffective means of obtaining accurate information. The C.I.A. had justified them by enumerating terrorist plots that had been “thwarted.” The report examined twenty of these examples and found them “wrong in fundamental respects.”
Cora Currier writes in The Intercept:
Sudden Justice: America’s Secret Drone Wars, a new book by London-based investigative journalist Chris Woods, traces the intertwined technological, legal and political history of drones as they evolved on the battlefield in Iraq and Afghanistan and in the covert U.S. targeted killing campaign.
Woods is especially thorough on the issue of civilian casualties, arguing that in pursuit of the short-term goal of eliminating suspected terrorists or militants on the battlefield, both the military and CIA were slow to grasp the strategic damage done by civilian deaths. Woods also argues that the controversy over the number of civilians killed by drones stemmed from the United States’ elastic definition of who could be targeted, an issue not just in the CIA’s secret strikes, but also across the military.
U.S. drones have now fired on Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, Libya and Syria, and are a feature of war that is here to stay. Their global use by the United States has set precedents “pushing hard at the boundaries of international law,” and the challenge, Woods writes, will be in “convincing others not to follow Washington’s own recent rulebook.”
The book is densely informative and includes interviews with drone operators and intelligence officials, a notable number of them on the record. Here are six new details that Woods unearthed in his reporting:
- No one is exactly sure who ordered the very first drone strike in Afghanistan, in October 2001. The failed attempt to kill Taliban leader Mullah Omar was a collision of orders between the CIA, Air Force, Central Command and the White House. Retired Air Force Lieutenant General Dave Deptula says that when he saw the drone’s missile hit, he exclaimed, “Who the fuck did that?” (The book’s description of the first drone strike was recently excerpted in The Atlantic.)
- There was a secret presidential order in 2002 signed by President George W. Bush that explicitly related to targeted killings by drone, former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage told Woods. “It was loosening the [Executive Order] 12333 against assassinations,” Armitage said. It has long been understood that a September 2001 memo signed by George Bush had paved the way for the CIA’s terrorist assassination campaign, with authorities bolstered by the Authorization for Use of Military Force passed by Congress that same month. But Armitage recalls a subsequent “draft executive order or a finding.”
- “Could have been us,” a senior U.S. intelligence official said of a reported drone strike that killed up to 80 civilians in 2006. The Pakistani military originally claimed responsibility for the bombing, but then later insisted it was Washington. The United States never confirmed or denied a role in the attack, in keeping with how it would handle almost all future drone strikes.
- The CIA . . .
The CIA is not very forthcoming about this. Dexter Filkins reports in the New Yorker:
’s been six months since the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released its report on the torture of Al Qaeda suspects, and I can’t stop thinking about Abu Zubaydah’s eye.
His left eye, to be precise, which he lost while being held in one of the C.I.A.’s secret prisons.
Abu Zubaydah, an alleged Al Qaeda operative captured in Pakistan in 2002, was suspected of being a senior member of the group and a plotter in the 9/11 attacks. A Saudi Arabian citizen, Abu Zubaydah was the first suspect who was officially subjected to the “enhanced interrogation techniques” approved by President Bush.
It’s hard to imagine that anyone could make you feel sorry for Abu Zubaydah, but his C.I.A. interrogators demonstrated a combination of brutality and incompetence that actually manages to achieve this. Even though Abu Zubaydah surrendered plenty of information to F.B.I. interrogators without coercion, and even though it wasn’t clear how much more he knew—it turns out that he wasn’t even a member of Al Qaeda—the C.I.A., convinced that he was harboring knowledge of future attacks, subjected him to twenty days of torture. (The F.B.I. refused to take part.) They stripped him, deprived him of sleep, slammed him into the prison wall, and played music at deafening volumes. They waterboarded him eighty-three times, driving him into fits of hysteria and involuntary spasms; at one point, they feared they might have killed him.
After several waterboarding sessions, Abu Zubaydah was so broken that, when a C.I.A. agent snapped his fingers twice, he would lie down on the waterboard, naked and dirty, to await his torture. As the Senate report makes clear, the C.I.A. interrogators knew that what they were doing was possibly illegal. In fact, they were so worried about being found out that they told their superiors that if Abu Zubaydah were to die during his interrogation, he would have to be cremated. In the event that he lived, they asked, in a cable, for “reasonable assurances that [Abu Zubaydah] will remain in isolation and incommunicado for the remainder of his life.” They did, indeed, receive such assurance. (For a succinct, if gruelling, description of Abu Zubaydah’s interrogation, read pages 32 through 57 in the Senate report. It’s drawn from the C.I.A.’s own records. ) While the torture of Abu Zubaydah produced a number of intelligence reports, there’s no evidence that these brutal means were necessary to obtain them. After all that, Abu Zubaydah provided no actionable intelligence on future plots.
Still, I want to talk less about Abu Zubaydah’s interrogation than about his missing eye. When a team of American and Pakistani agents moved in to capture Abu Zubaydah, in Faisalabad, Pakistan, in 2002, he fled across a rooftop, where he was shot and wounded in the groin. A photo of Abu Zubaydah, apparently taken moments after his capture, and which his lawyers say is accurate, does not show any obvious problem in either of his eyes. His lawyers say that he had no eye condition. Ali Soufan, a former F.B.I. agent who helped capture Abu Zubaydah, told me that when Abu Zubaydah was apprehended he appeared to have some sort of eye condition, perhaps an infection. “His eye was pretty bad,’’ Soufan said. John Kiriakou, a former C.I.A. officer who participated in the capture, has also said that there appeared to be something wrong with one of his eyes.
In any case, the C.I.A. was so concerned that Abu Zubaydah was going to die from his gunshot wound that they flew in a doctor from Johns Hopkins University to treat him. He appears to have received excellent medical care, if only so that he could live in order to surrender information. “He got the best medical treatment anyone could have,’’ Soufan said.
In 2006, four years after he was captured, Abu Zubaydah was transferred out of C.I.A. custody to the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. A photo from that time, made available by WikiLeaks, shows Abu Zubaydah with a pirate-style patch over his left eye. His lawyers say that, by then, his eye was gone. That is, sometime between when he entered exclusive C.I.A. custody, in 2002, and when he left it, in 2006, he lost his left eye. In that four-year period, Abu Zubaydah was held in several C.I.A. secret prisons, also known as “black sites,” including those in Thailand, Lithuania, and Poland. . .
A fitting post for Memorial Day: a reminder of how George W. Bush and his administration quite deliberately lied us into a war that has cost hundreds of thousands of lives and whose repercussions, including ISIS, plague the world still. Paul Waldman writes at The Week:
None of the conservatives running for president want to be associated with the last Republican president — not even his brother (for whom stepping away is rather complicated). After all, George W. Bush left office with an approval rating hovering in the low 30s, and his grandest project was the gigantic catastrophe of the Iraq War, which we’re still dealing with and still debating. If you’re a Republican right now you’re no doubt wishing we could talk about something else, but failing that, you’d like the issue framed in a particular way: The war was an honest mistake, nobody lied to the public, and anything bad that’s happening now is Barack Obama’s fault.
For the moment I want to focus on the part about the lies. I’ve found over the years that conservatives who supported the war get particularly angry at the assertion that Bush lied us into war. No, they’ll insist, it wasn’t his fault: There was mistaken intelligence, he took that intelligence in good faith, and presented what he believed to be true at the time. It’s the George Costanza defense: It’s not a lie if you believe it.
Here’s the problem, though. It might be possible, with some incredibly narrow definition of the word “lie,” to say that Bush told only a few outright lies on Iraq. Most of what he said in order to sell the public on the war could be said to have some basis in something somebody thought or something somebody alleged (Bush was slightly more careful than Dick Cheney, who lied without hesitation or remorse). But if we reduce the question of Bush’s guilt and responsibility to how many lies we can count, we miss the bigger picture.
What the Bush administration launched in 2002 and 2003 may have been the most comprehensive, sophisticated, and misleading campaign of government propaganda in American history. Spend too much time in the weeds, and you risk missing the hysterical tenor of the whole campaign.
That’s not to say there aren’t plenty of weeds. In 2008, the Center for Public Integrity completed a project in which they went over the public statements by eight top Bush administration officials on the topic of Iraq, and found that no fewer than 935 were false, including 260 statements by President Bush himself. But the theory on which the White House operated was that whether or not you could fool all of the people some of the time, you could certainly scare them out of their wits. That’s what was truly diabolical about their campaign.
And it was a campaign. In the summer of 2002, the administration established something called the White House Iraq Group, through which Karl Rove and other communication strategists like Karen Hughes and Mary Matalin coordinated with policy officials to sell the public on the threat from Iraq in order to justify war. “The script had been finalized with great care over the summer,” White House press secretary Scott McClellan later wrote, for a “campaign to convince Americans that war with Iraq was inevitable and necessary.”
In that campaign, intelligence wasn’t something to be understood and assessed by the administration in making their decisions, it was a propaganda tool to lead the public to the conclusion that the administration wanted. Again and again we saw a similar pattern: An allegation would bubble up from somewhere, some in the intelligence community would say that it could be true but others would say it was either speculation or outright baloney, but before you knew it the president or someone else was presenting it to the public as settled fact.
And each and every time the message was the same: If we didn’t wage war, Iraq was going to attack the United States homeland with its enormous arsenal of ghastly weapons, and who knows how many Americans would perish. When you actually spell it out like that it sounds almost comical, but that was the Bush administration’s assertion, repeated hundreds upon hundreds of time to a public still skittish in the wake of September 11. (Remember, the campaign for the war began less than a year after the September 11 attacks.)
Sometimes this message was imparted with specific false claims, sometimes with dark insinuation, and sometimes with speculation about the horrors to come (“We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud,” said Bush and others when asked about the thinness of much of their evidence). Yet the conclusion was always the same: The only alternative to invading Iraq was waiting around to be killed. I could pick out any of a thousand quotes, but here’s just one, from a radio address Bush gave on September 28, 2002: . . .
And they all got away with it: none of those who quite deliberately lied the US into a war has faced any accountability whatsoever. Shoot and kill one unarmed person, and you’re a murderer and appropriately tried and punished ((unless you’re in law enforcement). But start a war in which hundreds of thousands die and more than a trillion dollars is wasted, and you get off with not so much as a slap on the wrist.
Margaret Sullivan, the Public Editor of the NY Times (and the best Public Editor they’ve had to date), has an interesting column today:
Since 9/11, the United States’ “war on terror” has become the overarching news story of our time.
As the nation’s dominant news organization, The Times deserves, and gets, intensive scrutiny for how it has handled that story. The grades, clearly, are mixed. Its role in the run-up to the Iraq War has been rightly and harshly criticized. Its early reporting on surveillance, though delayed, was groundbreaking. Its national-security reporting has been excellent in many ways and, at times, is justifiably slammed for allowing too much cover for government officials who want to get their message out.
Nearly 14 years after 9/11, a reckoning finally is taking place. The Times’s executive editor, Dean Baquet, has said repeatedly in recent months that he thinks it’s time to toughen up and raise the bar.
Here’s what he told me recently, in the context of a column I wrote about covering drone strikes and the death of civilians:
“We’ve learned the perils of not monitoring and policing warfare” as rigorously as possible, and of too readily agreeing to government requests to withhold information.
“We were too soft years ago — at least, I’ll say that I was.”
As part of this change of heart, Mr. Baquet recently gave approval to publish the names of three undercover Central Intelligence Agency officials, including that of the architect of its controversial drone-warfare program. He said it was important to do so for the sake of providing public accountability. Timing was key: The decision came just after President Obama took responsibility for the deaths of two Western captives in an American drone strike in Pakistan.
Current and former government officials pushed back hard. Robert Litt, the general counsel to the director of national intelligence, saidpublicly that The Times had “disgraced itself” by publishing the names, and had put those officers’ and their families’ lives at risk.
And 20 former C.I.A. officials signed a letter to The Times criticizing the decision. They rejected Mr. Baquet’s accountability argument:
Officials who work on covert operations do not escape accountability. Their actions are carefully reviewed by the C.I.A.’s general counsel, the inspector general, White House officials, congressional overseers and Justice Department attorneys. Indeed, some of the operations referred to by The Times have been discussed publicly by the president and are some of the most carefully overseen in our government.
Here’s a long interview with Mr. Baquet done by Jack Goldsmith, who now has written several times on this subject. Mr. Goldsmith served in various roles in the George W. Bush administration, and essentially approaches the topic from the right. The interview is well worth the time of anyone interested in the details of how Mr. Baquet reached his decision and how he justifies it.
Mr. Goldsmith, in a later post to his Lawfare blog, said he found the C.I.A. officials’ arguments against The Times unpersuasive. He concluded: . . .