There's a slight difference there at the end. Thanks for pointing it out, I've been habitually posting that dead link for months now.
The actual report is proving more elusive than I expected. Prof. Horton, a little help?
Friday, May 29, 2009
The Pentagon is denying the facts: photographs of Abu Ghraib torture are even more sexually explicit than first reported, including rape and sodomy, writes The Daily Beast's Scott Horton, who has obtained specific and detailed corroboration of the photos.Read more...
The Daily Beast has confirmed that the photographs of abuses at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison which President Obama, in a reversal, decided not to release, depict sexually explicit acts, including a uniformed soldier receiving oral sex from a female prisoner, a government contractor engaged in an act of sodomy with a male prisoner and scenes of forced masturbation, forced exhibition and penetration involving phosphorous sticks and brooms.
These descriptions come on the heals of a British report yesterday about the photographs that contained some of these revelations—and whose credibility was questioned by the Pentagon.
The Daily Beast has obtained specific corroboration of the British account, which appeared in the London Daily Telegraph, from several reliable sources, including a highly credible senior military officer with first-hand knowledge who provided even more detail about the graphic photographs that have been withheld from the public by the Obama administration.
Sheri Fink, ProPublica - May 28, 2009 8:27 am EDT
The new information comes from descriptions of cables, classified as top secret and relating to the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, that were transmitted from a Central Intelligence Agency field station to the agency's Langley, Va., headquarters nearly every day between Aug. 1 and Aug. 18 that year.
The descriptions of the cables (here  and here ) reveal that a daily "medical update" and "behavioral comments" along with status and threat updates were sent to CIA headquarters throughout that period. On five occasions between Aug. 4 and Aug. 9, an additional cable was sent containing "medical information" along with such information as the strategies for interrogation sessions, raw intelligence, the use of interrogation techniques to elicit information, and the reactions to those techniques. The fact that medical information was included in these cables hints that Abu Zubaydah was medically monitored during or after being subjected to those techniques. Both professional organizations and human rights groups have rejected as unethical any monitoring role for medical personnel.
A summary of the 34 cables and of a handwritten log book were released to the American Civil Liberties Union earlier this month on orders of U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein, who is presiding over a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by the group. The lawsuit was based on a request for records related to detainee treatment that the ACLU and four other advocacy groups made of the U.S. Departments of Defense, Justice and State and the CIA in 2003. The new summary, known as a Vaughn Index, was released in response to a motion that the ACLU filed in 2007 after then-CIA director Michael Hayden acknowledged that the agency had destroyed videotapes of detainee interrogations in 2005.
The cables themselves have not been made public, and the agency is contesting their release. In response to a request for more detail on the medical information included in the cables and the reasons that information was transmitted from the field site to CIA headquarters, CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano wrote in an e-mail to ProPublica: "The materials speak for themselves."
The U.S. Department of Justice gave the ACLU other documents  this month that suggest the cables are among nearly 550 interrogation-related cables sent from field stations to CIA headquarters between April and December 2002. Among those analyzing the new documents are National Public Radio's Ari Shapiro , the Washington Independent's Spencer Ackerman  and Firedoglake's Marcy Wheeler .
The documents are the latest installment of an ongoing story about the role of doctors and psychologists in the government's efforts to pry information from suspected terrorists. Professional organizations of doctors, nurses, public health practitioners and psychologists have stated their opposition to health professionals' involvement in torture. "The AMA has taken the clear stand that the participation of physicians in torture and interrogation is a violation of core ethical values," the American Medical Association said in a statement last Friday. Last month, the AMA sent a letter to President Barack Obama reiterating, as it did during the Bush administration, that the association's ethical code prohibits physicians from participating in torture or coercive interrogation.
However, there is evidence that health personnel, at least some of them physicians, have been involved in interrogations. For example Col. Thomas M. Pappas, former chief of military intelligence at Abu Ghraib, who was interviewed as part of the Taguba investigation , testified that a psychiatrist and another doctor monitored interrogations  at the prison and had the final say in what aspects of the interrogation plan were implemented.
The question raised by the cables is, How deep was the involvement of physicians or other health professionals in the actual interrogations at CIA "black sites" such as the one where Abu Zubaydah was held?
Previously released documents show that Bush officials overseeing the waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah saw the involvement of medical personnel as crucial because it could help prevent prosecution of interrogators under U.S. law. As ProPublica previously reported , Assistant Attorney General Jay S. Bybee signed a memo on August 1, 2002 spelling out those concerns and the terms under which interrogators could waterboard and slap Abu Zubaydah, subject him to "cramped confinement" and stress positions, and shove him into flexible walls.
"The constant presence of personnel with medical training who have the authority to stop the interrogation should it appear it is medically necessary indicates that it is not your intent to cause severe physical pain," the memo said.
Abu Zubaydah began cooperating in late April under questioning by Ali Soufan, a Federal Bureau of Investigation agent who said he did not use coercive methods. In congressional testimony this month, Soufan disclosed that there was a "CIA medical team supporting us" when he and other FBI and CIA personnel first spoke with Abu Zubaydah. Soufan said the medical team insisted that Abu Zubaydah, who was injured during capture and in danger of dying, be taken to a hospital for treatment.
It is unclear whether the same CIA medical team that evaluated Abu Zubaydah's health problems in the spring was still caring for him in August when he was waterboarded. Nor is it clear precisely how health personnel might have been asked to cross the line from providing medical care to participating in or supporting the interrogations, which Soufan and other sources have described as becoming increasingly abusive under the instruction of a former military Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) training psychologist contracted by the CIA. Soufan and others, including another psychologist employed by the CIA, protested the escalating techniques and left the site. The new documents do not indicate whether medical personnel might also have objected.
In a cover letter accompanying the new Vaughn Index, acting U.S. attorney Lev L. Dassin wrote, "The Government is ... acknowledging that August 2002 was the month during which Abu Zubaydah was subjected to the most intensive interrogations." An Aug. 4, 2002, cable with the subject "Abu Zubaydah Interrogation" is a typical entry in the Vaughn Index:
This is a four-page cable from the Field to CIA Headquarters. The cable includes information concerning the strategies for interrogation sessions; the use of interrogation techniques to elicit information on terrorist operations against the U.S.; reactions to the interrogation techniques; raw intelligence; a status of threat information, and medical information.
The news that medical information was being transmitted regularly to CIA headquarters throughout the time Abu Zubaydah was being repeatedly waterboarded troubled medical ethics experts interviewed by ProPublica. Normally, health professionals who work at U.S. prisons share inmates' medical information with authorities only "if there's a need to know; for example if someone has a seizure disorder, we put in a medical order for a bottom bunk," Dr. Dean Rieger, chief medical officer for Correct Care Solutions, a healthcare management company for correctional facilities, said in an interview with ProPublica. Rieger, who has been involved in corrections for more than three decades and who coauthors a column on medical ethics for the Society of Correctional Physicians, said it would be problematic to continue sharing an inmate's medical information with authorities overseeing a system "that creates the harm in the first place."
University of Pennsylvania bioethicist Arthur Caplan agreed. At that point, "you gotta start protesting and stop transmitting," he said in an interview. "The issue isn't privacy violations, it's complicity ... You're part of the torture team at that point if you're assessing injuries and saying whether the person's capable of enduring more."
Legal memos written in 2005 suggest the CIA had reached precisely the opposite conclusion -- that waterboarding and other harsh interrogations should involve personnel from the CIA's Office of Medical Services, including its physicians.
A recently declassified Justice Department memo discussed the involvement the OMS eventually had in supporting interrogations. That memo , quoting still-classified OMS guidelines from December 2004, said that the "use of the waterboard requires the presence of a physician." Another memo  said that OMS doctors and psychologists had been consulted about the effects of using several techniques together, such as "when an insult slap is simultaneously combined with water dousing or a kneeling stress position, or when wall standing is simultaneously combined with an abdominal slap and water dousing" and concluded they would not cause severe pain.
Medical personnel were also given the responsibility of monitoring the interrogations for safety. "Should it appear at any time that Abu Zubaydah is experiencing severe pain or suffering, the medical personnel on hand will stop the use of any technique," Bybee's 2002 memo said.
It is unclear whether the "medical personnel" designated to monitor Abu Zubaydah's interrogation included M.D.s. "There is no role for physicians in those practices," Dr. Otmar Kloiber, secretary-general of the World Medical Association, told ProPublica. Kloiber said that physician involvement in interrogations increases the chances that questioning will devolve into abuse and torture. A physician's reassuring presence can give questioners a green light to escalate physical and mental pressure.
In a confidential International Committee of the Red Cross report  made public by New York Review of Books contributor Mark Danner last month, Abu Zubaydah described to ICRC interviewers days of being waterboarded to the point he believed he would die, slammed into hard and flexible walls, and confined in a small box where one of his wounds reopened and began to bleed. "Eventually," Abu Zubaydah said, "the torture was stopped by the intervention of the doctor."
The ICRC report also reveals that other detainees who spent time in the CIA's black sites perceived that some staff who treated them or monitored their interrogations were physicians.
The potential presence of physicians as opposed to other types of personnel raises crucial questions.
Numerous officials, both Republican and Democrat, have characterized waterboarding as torture. There is widespread agreement among doctors -- whether employed by the military, other government agencies, or not -- that ethical standards prohibit physicians from using medical knowledge or information about patients to support torture.
The World Medical Association, which lists 85 countries including the U.S. as members, was established in 1947 to uphold independence and ethical behavior among physicians after the horrors of Nazi medicine were revealed. It is arguably the world's key arbiter of medical ethics.
Earlier this month, the group's governing council issued a resolution reaffirming the group's long-standing position that physicians are forbidden from "participating in, or even being present during, the practice of torture or other forms of cruel, inhuman, or degrading procedures" and must denounce those acts whenever they're aware of them.
According to officials from the WMA and the Norwegian Medical Association, which put forward the resolution, the original draft made specific reference to U.S. detention facilities. At the WMA council meeting in Jerusalem earlier this month, intense discussion ensued between normally staid physicians over whether to remove mention of the U.S. and make the language more generic.
WMA officials declined to say who took up which side.
"It got heated enough I had to call a short recess and have a cooling-off period," WMA chair Dr. Edward Hill told ProPublica. Hill, a former president of the American Medical Association, said the U.S. delegation stayed out of the debate.
But the American delegation made its views clear, according to Dr. Trond Markestad, who drafted the original resolution and who chairs the ethics committee in the Norwegian Medical Association. "They felt it was a bit unfair, wasn't really correct, to single out that one [example] since there were so many wars going on and so many things happening all over the world and since they'd already addressed this nationally."
The final version of the WMA resolution passed unanimously after language naming the U.S. was removed. The resolution condemns "reports worldwide" of "deeply unsettling practices by health professionals, including direct participation in the infliction of ill-treatment, monitoring specific methods of ill-treatment, and participation in interrogation processes."
The group also resolved to support physicians who refuse to participate in or condone torture. Kloiber told ProPublica that WMA members are concerned, for example, that physicians in areas where sharia law is adopted are being asked to carry out punishments such as amputations .
The WMA resolution calls on national medical associations, such as the AMA, to investigate breaches of fundamental medical ethics among physicians. But the AMA has not made public whether its ethics and judicial body has ever investigated or sanctioned physicians for participating in torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.
Last Friday, the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York launched an advocacy campaign  that aims "to hold accountable healers that have harmed." The group is encouraging citizens to file complaints against health professionals suspected of participating in torture and to support legislation, such as a proposed bill in New York state , that prohibits health professionals from participating in torture or the improper treatment of prisoners at home or abroad.
Thursday, May 28, 2009
The CIA’s Congressional Mumblers and Dissemblers
Originally published by Ken Silverstein in Washington Babylon on Harpers.org. Emphasis added.
A former deep-cover CIA operative says the spy agency’s congressional briefers routinely shade the truth or hide facts altogether from congressional overseers. “They mumble, they dissemble, and there’s a lot of ‘on the one hand . . .’” said the retired official, who spent 25 years as a CIA operations officer but now writes blistering, unauthorized critiques of the spy agency using the pen name “Ishmael Jones.” …
The CIA deploys so many briefers to the Hill it’s hard for both the agency and intelligence committee members to reconstruct who said what to whom, he added. “Its enormous numbers of employees have led to briefings being handled by groups, with vague chains of command, so that it may have been difficult to pin down what was said, when it was said, and who was in charge,” Jones said of the CIA interrogation briefings.Jones also charged that, contrary to beliefs that the agency has a political agenda, “In reality the CIA is loyal only to itself. As long as Mrs. Pelosi supported its bureaucratic lifestyle, it supported her, but when she attacked it, it fought back. The CIA may not be able to conduct efficient intelligence operations, but it knows how to survive.” Reports that CIA managers were outraged or demoralized by the water-boarding controversy are wrong, Jones also maintained. To the contrary, he said, they felt that revelations of their interrogators roughing up, or even torturing, detainees made them look tough.
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
The CIA's History of Deception
"Let me be clear about this,” CIA director Leon Panetta told his troops last week, “it was not CIA policy or practice to mislead Congress. That is against our laws and our values.”
Of course, Panetta is entitled to his opinions, but he cannot create his own facts. And, as a long-time member of the House of Representatives, he surely must know that there is a long and substantiated record of CIA deceit and dissembling to the congressional intelligence committees. Here are some highlights of that record:
In 1973, CIA director Richard Helms deceived the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, refusing to acknowledge the role of the CIA in overthrowing the elected government in Chile. Helms falsely testified that the CIA had not passed money to the opposition movement in Chile, and a grand jury was called to see if Helms should be indicted for perjury.
In 1977, the Justice Department brought a lesser charge against Helms, who pleaded nolo contendere; he was fined $2,000 and given a suspended two-year prison sentence. Helms went from the courthouse to the CIA where he was given a hero’s welcome and a gift of $2,000 to cover the fine. It was one of the saddest experiences in my 24 years at CIA.
In the new Ford administration, Secretary of State Kissinger, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, and White House chief of staff Dick Cheney orchestrated phony intelligence for the Congress in order to get an endorsement for covert arms shipments to anti-government forces in Angola.
The CIA lied to Sen. Dick Clark, D-Iowa, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on Africa and a critic of the Agency’s illegal collaborations with the government of South Africa against Angola and Mozambique. Agency briefers exaggerated the classification of their materials so that Senate and House members could not publicize this information.
Agency shields of secrecy and falsehood were extremely effective.
In the 1980s, CIA director William Casey and his deputy, Bob Gates, consistently lied to the congressional oversight committees about their knowledge of the Iran-Contra Affair. Sen. Daniel Moynihan, D-New York, believed that Casey and Gates were running a disinformation campaign against the Senate Intelligence Committee.Casey even managed to alienate Sen. Barry Goldwater, R-Arizona, a pro-intelligence, conservative who typically walked through barbed wire for the CIA.
Gates’ lies on Iran-Contra led to the Senate Intelligence Committee’s unwillingness to vote him out of the committee in 1987 when he was nominated to be CIA director by President Ronald Reagan. Gates was nominated again in 1991 and this time he was confirmed, but not before the hearings produced rhyme and verse on Gates’ tailoring of intelligence to fit the biases of Bill Casey.
Throughout the 1980s and the early 1990s, Aldrich Ames performed as the most destructive traitor in the history of the CIA, but CIA directors Gates, William Webster and Jim Woolsey failed to inform the congressional oversight committees of the serious counter-intelligence problems that had been created.
In the late 1980s, the CIA concealed from the Congress that Saddam Hussein was diverting U.S. farm credits through an Atlanta bank to pay for nuclear technology and sophisticated weapons. The chairman of the Senate and House intelligence committees, Sen. Dennis DeConcini, D-Arizona, and Rep. Dan Glickman, D-Kansas, were furious with the deception tactics of CIA briefers.
The greatest CIA disinformation campaign in the Congress took place in 2002-2003, when CIA director George Tenet and his deputy, John McLaughlin, consistently lied about Iraqi training for al Qaeda members on chemical and biological weapons as well as the existence of mobile labs to manufacture such weapons.
Several days before the congressional vote on the authorization to use force, CIA senior analyst Paul Pillar delivered an unclassified memorandum to the Hill with a series of false charges about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Pillar’s memorandum and a national intelligence estimate on the same subject were also used to develop Secretary of State Colin Powell’s address to the United Nations in February 2003.
More recently, Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R-Michigan, the ranking minority member of the House Intelligence Committee, documented the dissembling of the CIA to cover-up the Agency’s involvement in a drug interdiction program in Peru that led to the loss of innocent lives. Hoekstra accused CIA director Tenet with misleading the Congress.
The CIA still has not addressed the serious procedural and institutional problems that were exposed in a report from the Office of the Inspector General on the Peru program, which concluded that Agency officials deliberately misled Congress, the White House and the Justice Department.
In closing, Panetta emphasized that it was the CIA’s task to “tell it like it is, even if that’s not what people always want to hear. Keep it up. Our national security depends on it.”
If only that were the case in the 1980s, when the CIA hid from the Congress the intelligence on the decline of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact or more recently when the CIA tailored intelligence on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and Iraqi ties to al Qaeda in order to give the Bush administration an intelligence case to go to war.
Panetta should understand that there was far less dissembling to the Congress 35 years ago when the Agency’s Office of General Counsel only had two attorneys, but with the addition of 63 attorneys over the next two decades there was greater politicization of Agency testimony and briefings.
Today there are nearly 200 lawyers with the Office of the General Counsel. Panetta should also understand that it is long past time for him to make sure that the Agency replaces the current acting directors of the Office of the Inspector General and the Office of the General Counsel in order to make sure that the CIA is indeed telling truth to power.
Melvin A. Goodman, a regular contributor to The Public Record where this essay first appeared, is senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and adjunct professor of government at Johns Hopkins University. He spent more than 42 years in the U.S. Army, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the Department of Defense. His most recent book is Failure of Intelligence: The Decline and Fall of the CIA.
Monday, May 25, 2009
Former Senior Interrogator in Iraq Dissects Cheney's Lies and Distortions
As a senior interrogator in Iraq (and a former criminal investigator), there was a lesson I learned that served me well: there's more to be learned from what someone doesn't say than from what they do say. Let me dissect former Vice President Dick Cheney's speech on National Security using this model and my interrogation skills.
First, VP Cheney said, "This recruitment-tool theory has become something of a mantra lately... it excuses the violent and blames America for the evil that others do." He further stated, "It is much closer to the truth that terrorists hate this country precisely because of the values we profess and seek to live by, not by some alleged failure to do so." That is simply untrue. Anyone who served in Iraq, and veterans on both sides of the aisle have made this argument, knows that the foreign fighters did not come to Iraq en masse until after the revelations of torture and abuse at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay. I heard this from captured foreign fighters day in and day out when I was supervising interrogations in Iraq. What the former vice president didn't say is the fact that the dislike of our policies in the Middle East were not enough to make thousands of Muslim men pick up arms against us before these revelations. Torture and abuse became Al Qaida's number one recruiting tool and cost us American lives.
Secondly, the former vice president, in saying that waterboarding is not torture, never mentions the fact that it was the United States and its Allies, during the Tokyo Trials, that helped convict a Japanese soldier for war crimes for waterboarding one of Jimmie Doolittle's Raiders. Have our morals and values changed in fifty years? He also did not mention that George Washington and Abraham Lincoln both prohibited their troops from torturing prisoners of war. Washington specifically used the term "injure" -- no mention of severe mental or physical pain.
Thirdly, the former vice president never mentioned the Senate testimony of Ali Soufan, the FBI interrogator who successfully interrogated Abu Zubaydah and learned the identity of Jose Padilla, the dirty bomber, and the fact that Khalid Sheikh Mohammad (KSM) was the mastermind behind 9/11. We'll never know what more we could have discovered from Abu Zubaydah had not CIA contractors taken over the interrogations and used waterboarding and other harsh techniques. Also, glaringly absent from the former vice president's speech was any mention of the fact that the former administration never brought Osama bin Laden to justice and that our best chance to locate him would have been through KSM or Abu Zubaydah had they not been waterboarded.
In addition, in his continued defense of harsh interrogation techniques (aka torture and abuse), VP Cheney forgets that harsh techniques have ensured that future detainees will be less likely to cooperate because they see us as hypocrites. They are less willing to trust us when we fail to live up to our principles. I experienced this firsthand in Iraq when interrogating high-ranking members of Al Qaida, some of whom decided to cooperate simply because I treated them with respect and civility.
The former vice president is confusing harshness with effectiveness. An effective interrogation is one that yields useful, accurate intelligence, not one that is harsh. It speaks to a fundamental misunderstanding of interrogations, the goal of which is not to coerce information from a prisoner, but to convince a prisoner to cooperate.
Finally, the point that is most absent is that our greatest success in this conflict was achieved without torture or abuse. My interrogation team found Abu Musab Al Zarqawi, the former leader of Al Qaida in Iraq and murderer of tens of thousands. We did this using relationship-building approaches and non-coercive law enforcement techniques. These worked to great effect on the most hardened members of Al Qaida -- spiritual leaders who had been behind the waves of suicide bombers and, hence, the sectarian violence that swept across Iraq. We convinced them to cooperate by applying our intellect. In essence, we worked smarter, not harsher.
Friday, May 22, 2009
The torture memos released by the White House elicited shock, indignation and surprise. The shock and indignation are understandable. The surprise, less so.
For one thing, even without inquiry, it was reasonable to suppose that Guantánamo was a torture chamber. Why else send prisoners where they would be beyond the reach of the law -- a place, incidentally, that Washington is using in violation of a treaty forced on Cuba at the point of a gun? Security reasons were, of course, alleged, but they remain hard to take seriously. The same expectations held for the Bush administration's "black sites," or secret prisons, and for extraordinary rendition, and they were fulfilled.
More important, torture has been routinely practiced from the early days of the conquest of the national territory, and continued to be used as the imperial ventures of the "infant empire" -- as George Washington called the new republic -- extended to the Philippines, Haiti and elsewhere. Keep in mind as well that torture was the least of the many crimes of aggression, terror, subversion and economic strangulation that have darkened U.S. history, much as in the case of other great powers.
Accordingly, what's surprising is to see the reactions to the release of those Justice Department memos, even by some of the most eloquent and forthright critics of Bush malfeasance: Paul Krugman, for example, writing that we used to be "a nation of moral ideals" and never before Bush "have our leaders so utterly betrayed everything our nation stands for." To say the least, that common view reflects a rather slanted version of American history.
Read the rest here.
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||M - Th 11p / 10c|
Cheney speech contained omissions, misstatements
Originally published by Jonathan S. Landay And Warren P. Strobel, Mcclatchy Newspapers – Thu May 21, 7:10 pm ET
WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Dick Cheney's defense Thursday of the Bush administration's policies for interrogating suspected terrorists contained omissions, exaggerations and misstatements.
In his address to the American Enterprise Institute , a conservative policy organization in Washington , Cheney said that the techniques the Bush administration approved, including — simulated drowning that's considered a form of torture — forced nakedness and sleep deprivation, were "legal" and produced information that "prevented the violent death of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of innocent people."
He quoted the Director of National Intelligence, Adm. Dennis Blair , as saying that the information gave U.S. officials a "deeper understanding of the organization that was attacking this country."
In a statement April 21 , however, Blair said the information "was valuable in some instances" but that "there is no way of knowing whether the same information could have been obtained through other means. The bottom line is that these techniques hurt our image around the world, the damage they have done to our interests far outweighed whatever benefit they gave us and they are not essential to our national security." Read the whole thing here.
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
A good example can be found in reporting about the Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror, on which the Times played an essential role. The Khmer Rouge’s waterboarding was “torture.” But Bush Administration waterboarding is just an “enhanced interrogation technique.” What’s behind the distinction? It’s a blend of fear and hypocrisy.
A week ago, Dana Priest of the Washington Post (which has a similar problem with using the T-word) came close to candor in an online chat session in which she acknowledged that the Post won’t use the word “torture” to describe the Bush program because the Bush Administration itself doesn’t. What she really means, of course, is that the Post knows that the Bush Administration would have had a fit had they used the word.But this week, the Times exposed its hypocrisy in a most revealing way. It happened on the obituary pages, in a piece that ran about former Air Force Colonel Harold E. Fischer.
But note the difference in Timesspeak: Mao’s People’s Liberation Army uses them, they’re “torture.” Bush uses them, they’re not. Andrew Sullivan offers a searing analysis in a letter to the editors of the Times that will probably never be published.
The language used by the Times and similar publication shapes the debate. Because major media outlets will not use the word “torture” to refer to the Bush program, large parts of the public now understand this as a “legitimate policy discussion.” The Times policy enables torture. It’s about as simple as that. George Orwell diagnosed the problem and the cure to it in a famous London Letter from 1945:
The most intelligent people seem capable of holding schizophrenic beliefs, or disregarding plain facts, of evading serious questions with debating-society repartees, or swallowing baseless rumours and of looking on indifferently while history is falsified. All these mental vices spring ultimately from the nationalistic habit of mind, which is itself, I suppose, the product of fear and of the ghastly emptiness of machine civilization…. I believe that it is possible to be more objective than most of us are, but that it involves a moral effort. One cannot get away from one’s own subjective feelings, but at least one can know what they are and make allowance for them.
The Times needs to make that moral effort. Its failure to do so is alarming.
Kudos to Charles Kaiser at the Columbia Journalism Review, whose chronicling of the Times’s dissembling on torture is a lesson to all of us in solid critique of journalistic malpractice.
AMY GOODMAN: We begin our show today with New York Times reporter David Barstow. He recently won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting for exposing how dozens of retired generals working as radio and television analysts had been co-opted by the Pentagon to make its case for the war in Iraq and how many of them also had undisclosed ties to military contractors that benefited from policies they defended.
Barstow uncovered Pentagon documents that repeatedly refer to the military analysts as “message force multipliers” or “surrogates” who could be counted on to deliver administration themes and messages to millions of Americans in the form of their own opinions.
The so-called analysts were given hundreds of classified Pentagon briefings, provided with Pentagon-approved talking points and given free trips to Iraq and other sites paid for by the Pentagon.
David Bartow [sic ] wrote, quote, “Records and interviews show how the Bush administration has used its control over access and information in an effort to transform the analysts into a kind of media Trojan horse—an instrument intended to shape terrorism coverage from inside the major TV and radio networks.”
The officials appeared on all the main cable news channels—Fox News, CNN and MSNBC—as well as the three nightly network news broadcasts.
The Pentagon program started during the build-up to the Iraq war.
AMY GOODMAN: The Pentagon continued to use retired generals to counter criticism on various issues, ranging from Guantanamo to the surge in Iraq. In some cases, analysts would appear on cable news programs live from the Pentagon just minutes after receiving a special briefing.
BILL O’REILLY: You met with Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld.
MAJ. GEN. PAUL VALLELY: Special briefing on Thursday. Very interesting. A lot of good information, especially about post-Saddam, post-regime time, what are we going to do then? And it’s a very well laid-out plan.
AMY GOODMAN: Since the New York Times first report appeared thirteen months ago, the major cable news programs and television networks have responded with what has been described as a, quote, “deafening silence.” Even after David Barstow won the Pulitzer Prize last week, the story—and even Barstow’s prize—went unnoticed on cable news and television networks.
WOLF BLITZER: This is just coming into CNN right now. The Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has just wrapped up his meeting with retired US generals. Our own military analyst, retired US Air Force Major General Don Shepperd, is fresh of that meeting. He’s joining us now live from the Pentagon.
MAJ. GEN. DONALD SHEPPERD: The message needs to be, imagine an Iraq—imagine Iraq under the control of Zarqawi with another conveyor belt for tourists, combined with oil and water and land and resources. Imagine the effect of that. That’s the message that has to get out to the American people.
Up until this week, the Pentagon defended its actions. In January, the Pentagon’s inspector general dismissed allegations the program violated laws barring propaganda and rejected reports showing the analysts used their Pentagon access to win government contracts for defense companies. However, on Tuesday, the Pentagon took the unusual step of admitting that the report was flawed and withdrew it.
Well, David Barstow joins us right now in our firehouse studio, investigative reporter at the New York Times, the 2009 Pulitzer Prize winner for investigative reporting. This is his first national broadcast TV interview.
And we welcome you to Democracy Now!
AMY GOODMAN: So, let’s begin by talking about—first of all, congratulations on your award.
DAVID BARSTOW: Thanks.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s begin by talking about this report that has been retracted by the Pentagon. Explain exactly what it said and where it was and how it was retracted.
DAVID BARSTOW: Well, on January 14th of this year, as you pointed out, the inspector general came out with this long-awaited report that was—essentially, a group of members of Congress, after the stories ran, asked for the inspector general to take a look at this program that I wrote about and look at a couple of key questions. One was, did it violate longstanding laws that we have that forbid the Pentagon from targeting the American public with propaganda? And another was this question of whether or not the special access that was granted to the military analysts who participated in this program, whether that access was used to help them in the competition for contracts related to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
So the report comes out in January, and it effectively exonerated the program. Now, one thing your viewers should know is that as soon as the stories ran, the program itself was suspended by the Pentagon, pending the outcome of this investigation. But what happened earlier this week was really unusual. It really is very rare for the inspector general of the Defense Department to rescind and repudiate and, in fact, even withdraw the report from its own website.
And the reason why they did is because after the report was released, it became pretty clear that there were significant problems with it, significant factual problems with it. The one that jumped out to me immediately as I read through the report for the first time was that it listed one particular general who I had written an awful lot about, General Barry McCaffrey, who’s probably the preeminent military analyst for NBC and MSNBC. They listed him as having absolutely no ties to any defense contractors. Well, I had written 5,000 words that detailed tie after tie after tie he had to defense contractors, either as someone who sat on the boards of publicly traded companies, as a consultant to many defense contractors, and as an advisor to a private equity firm in New York that invests heavily in the biggest defense contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan. And so, it became pretty clear that there was something wrong with this report.
What we’ve learned in the last few days is that a couple of different independent inquiries happened inside the inspector general’s office in the wake of that report, in the wake of concerns that were being raised by members of Congress and others that there was something wrong with this report. And as they dug deeper and deeper and deeper into it, they just found more and more factual errors, flaws in methodology. We learned that the people who did the initial report didn’t even bother, apparently, to read all of the emails that we had pried loose over the course of a two-year Freedom of Information Act battle with the Defense Department. So, ultimately, they came very reluctantly to the conclusion that the only thing that they could do was simply to rescind the entire report.
We’ll see where it goes from here. There are some members of Congress who are saying, “We need to know more about why that inspector general’s report went so far off the track.”
AMY GOODMAN: And who exactly did the inspector general’s report?
DAVID BARSTOW: Well, they had a unit within the inspector general’s office that focuses on policy. And one of the interesting aspects that came out, or has come out in the last couple of days, is that normally the inspector general’s office follows a pretty rigid series of rules in terms of how it’s supposed to do its investigations. And what the internal inquiries of the inspector general’s office discovered is that many of their own internal policies and rules that are supposed to provide a level of quality control over their work product were, in fact, not followed in this case.
AMY GOODMAN: I think what’s so interesting about this story is not only what the Pentagon has done; it’s the lack of reporting on this by the networks. Of course, you know, that is your subject here, how the networks use them. How many times have you been invited on the networks—you just won the Pulitzer Prize for this investigation—to explain this story of the networks’ use of these pundits?
DAVID BARSTOW: You know, to be honest with you, I haven’t received many invitations—in fact, any invitations—to appear on any of the main network or cable programs. I can’t say I’m hugely shocked by that.
On the other hand, while there’s been kind of deafening silence, as you put it, on the network side of this, the stories have had—sparked an enormous debate in the blogosphere. And to this day, I continue to get regular phone calls from not just in this country but around the world, where other democracies are confronting similar kinds of issues about the control of their media and the influence of their media by the government.
So it’s been an interesting experience to see the sort of two reactions, one being silence from the networks and the cable programs, and the other being this really lively debate in the blogosphere.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to talk all about the program in a minute. David Barstow, investigative reporter for the New York Times, has just won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for his articles “Message Machine: Behind TV Analysts, Pentagon’s Hidden Hand” and “One Man’s Military-Industrial-Media Complex.” This is Democracy Now! Back in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: Our guest today is David Barstow, investigative reporter at the New York Times, won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for his articles “Message Machine: Behind TV Analysts, Pentagon’s Hidden Hand” and “One Man’s Military-Industrial-Media Complex.” How did Glenn Greenwald put it on his blog? “The Pulitzer-winning investigation that dare not be uttered on TV.” Well, today we break that sound barrier.
As Glenn Greenwald put it, “The New York Times’ David Barstow won a richly deserved Pulitzer Prize […] for two articles that, despite being featured as major news stories on the front page of [the New York Times], were completely suppressed by virtually every network and cable news show, which to this day have never informed their viewers about what Barstow uncovered. [And yet] here is how the Pulitzer Committee described Barstow’s exposés:
‘Awarded to David Barstow of The New York Times for his tenacious reporting that revealed how some retired generals, working as radio and television analysts, had been co-opted by the Pentagon to make its case for the war in Iraq, and how many of them also had undisclosed ties to companies that benefited from policies they defended.’”
David Barstow, take it from there. Talk about the Pentagon program that you exposed.
DAVID BARSTOW: I think the program had its roots in the 2002, in the run-up to, the buildup to the war in Iraq. The main architect or architects were folks inside the Pentagon, notably Torie Clarke, who was the main spokesperson for the Pentagon at the time and a former public relations executive who had some pretty sophisticated ideas about how it is that you influence the American public in a sort of spin-saturated world, where people are increasingly cynical both of journalists and of public—the official spokespeople of the government. And her idea, the idea that she pitched to Don Rumsfeld, then the Secretary of Defense, was that the way to really influence the American public was to try and find people who were viewed as independent of both government and the media, people who were considered authoritative and expert, people who would have an ability to cut through the spin.
And the group that they began zeroing in on were all the military analysts who were being hired in droves after 9/11 by all the major TV networks. In the view of Torie Clarke and her staff, these guys were sort of the ultimate key influencers. They were seen as, most of them, retired decorated war heroes. They were, many of them, retired generals, some three- and four-star generals. They came from an institution that traditionally is extremely trusted by the American public. And they were seen by the public not really as of the media, but not of the government either.
And so, in the fall of 2002, Torie Clarke and her aides, with the strong support from the White House and from her bosses, set out to target this group and to make them, really, one of the main vehicles for reaching the American public and building support for the war on terror. So that’s how it sort of began, was with this idea that they could take this thing, this thing called the military analyst, which is a creature that’s been around for a long time—going back to the first Gulf War, we remember some of the retired generals first coming on air—and they could take this and the fact of 9/11 and the fact of how prevalent they were on air, sometimes appearing segment after segment after segment, getting more air time than many correspondents were getting, holding forth, not just on the issues of where the airplanes were flying and where the tanks were moving, but weighing more heavily on even the strategic issues of what should we do next and how should the war on terror unfold, what should be the next targets.
And they looked at them as effectively what they were doing was writing the op-ed on air for the networks and for the cables. And they noticed the way the relationships between the anchors and their sort of in-house generals, there was a sort of bond between anchor and general. And you didn’t see the kind of challenging questioning that would go on if you had sent, for example, a representative of the Pentagon to the TV station. It was a much more—almost fawning, in some cases, kind of relationship between anchor and general. So they saw this group, and they saw in this group a way of taking the media filter, which politicians are always so fond of complaining about, and turning the media filter into more of a media megaphone. And so, that’s sort of what was going on here, at least in the beginnings of this.
AMY GOODMAN: According to Media Matters, the army of analysts that you identified, what, made 4,500 appearances and quotations on ABC, ABC News, CBS, CBS Radio Network, NBC, MSNBC, CNBC, CNN, CNN Headlines News, Fox News and NPR.
DAVID BARSTOW: At least that many.
AMY GOODMAN: Give us the story, the one case study, one of the case studies you do, “One Man’s Military-Industrial-Media Complex.” Tell us the story of Barry McCaffrey, General Barry McCaffrey.
DAVID BARSTOW: Well, General Barry McCaffrey is really one of the most sort of impressive military leaders. He was the youngest four-star Army general, I believe, in our history. He was the man who became famous during the first Gulf War for leading the left hook into Iraq. He also then became the drug czar under President Clinton.
And in September of 2001, an odd thing happened. Actually, the week before 9/11, he was asked to join the advisory—defense advisory board of a major private equity firm in New York called Veritas Capital, which at that moment, just at that moment, was making plans to invest heavily into defense contractors. Nine-eleven happened. Weeks later, General McCaffrey was hired by NBC to be its—one of its military analysts. And so, what you see happening with General McCaffrey in the years since is that he has been on, time and time again, talking about the war in Iraq, the war in Afghanistan, but at the same time, most notably through his ties to Veritas Capital, he has been deeply involved in the business affairs of some of the major defense contractors who are operating in both of those war zones.
And what’s more, none of those ties have been disclosed to NBC’s viewers when they’re bringing him on to talk about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And that’s—one of the threads that we followed was, how did his appearances on television, and what did he say on television, to what extent did his positions on TV overlap with the undisclosed business interests of these major defense contractors?
In addition, General McCaffrey works as a consultant. He has his own consulting firm. And what that consulting firm does is it helps defense contractors gain access and win contracts. So, at the same time, while he might be going over to Iraq, for example, in his capacity as a military analyst for NBC and getting access to all of the top generals in Iraq, he’s also representing companies who are trying very hard to get into that market. And so, what we did was we looked very closely at how those different roles overlapped and intersected with General McCaffrey.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Barstow. We’re going to turn right now to a clip of General McCaffrey. As the media watch group Media Matters has pointed out, MSNBC continues to interview General Barry McCaffrey without disclosing his ties to military contractors. In this interview from February, McCaffrey advocates for building up the Afghan security force, but it’s not disclose that McCaffrey is a member of the board of directors of DynCorp International, a company under contract to train part of the Afghan national security force.
NORAH O’DONNELL: And a big headline: the President is expected to announce a major drawdown in the number of US troops in Iraq. NBC News has learned that more than half of the American troops there will be pulled out within nineteen months, leaving perhaps around 50,000 still in the war zone. MSNBC analyst and retired US Army General Barry McCaffrey is here.
AMY GOODMAN: General McCaffrey on MSNBC. David Barstow, elaborate on that.
GEN. BARRY McCAFFREY: By the way, another question to be decided is, what are we doing in Afghanistan? Are we there to build an Afghan security force with our NATO allies and then withdraw? Or are we there to fight a counterinsurgency battle in this gigantic country?
NORAH O’DONNELL: And that review is underway, and the President is waiting for it.
GEN. BARRY McCAFFREY: Yeah.
NORAH O’DONNELL: General Barry McCaffrey, great to see you. Thank you so much for joining us.
DAVID BARSTOW: Well, what we don’t know and what we can’t tell is—and I think this is a point that needs to be made—is whether or not the positions General McCaffrey took were taken specifically to advance the undisclosed interests of these contractors or whether they were positions that he genuinely holds as a military man. And it may be that they were in fact absolutely what he felt and believed as a military man.
But the point was—and this was something that we tried to explore with the executives at NBC—was the question of “But how do you ever really know?” And is that information that ought to be at least presented to the American public, so that when the American public is listening to someone like him, who is so authoritative, so eloquent on the subject of war, that at least they can weigh that in as they’re trying to figure out how much weight to attach to his opinion? And what is—what the NBC executives said back to us is that they just didn’t see that there was any need to make those kinds of disclosures. Now—
AMY GOODMAN: You interviewed the president of NBC News, Steve Capus?
DAVID BARSTOW: I did, yes. What I’ve learned since the story ran is that although they, for the most part, defended their use of General McCaffrey after the story on General McCaffrey ran, they have begun relooking at their internal ethics policies, their standards and practices. And what I’ve noticed in the last couple of months, I did see an appearance where General McCaffrey was on TV, and David Gregory in fact did tell viewers, “OK, he sits on the board of DynCorp.” And so, there was at least a move toward a little bit more disclosure.
But there’s still the sort of deeper question of—there are a lot of retired military officers who have great expertise out there, who in fact don’t work for defense contractors who are over in Iraq and Afghanistan, and there is this question of, if a network wants to make use of that expertise and bring that to the table in their coverage, why not find somebody who doesn’t have these outside entanglements to do that?
AMY GOODMAN: And I will point out, that clip we just played was also after your piece. You say General McCaffrey—you quote Steve Capus as saying that “General McCaffrey is not required to abide by NBC’s formal conflict-of-interest rules, because he is a consultant, not a news employee.”
DAVID BARSTOW: That’s the position they took. You know, that’s quite something. I mean, one thing that we did discover through the reporting of this is that the military analysts, many of them, aren’t just having an on-air role, but they’re having an off-air role, as well. They’re, in some cases, participating in the editorial meetings where coverage of the war is being discussed. They’re weighing in on story ideas. They’re suggesting, in some cases, story ideas. And in some cases, they were suggesting story ideas that were suggested to them from the Pentagon.
And so, it’s—I think it would be—I think it’s probably a little bit of a surprise for viewers, who became so accustomed to seeing these generals as part of the news coverage, to now be told, “Well, wait a minute, they’re actually not considered journalists in any way, shape or form. I mean, they’re consultants, and so therefore they’re not beholden to any of our other ethical standards that would, for example, make it impossible for Tom Brokaw to go over and cover Iraq but at the same time be representing a defense contractor seeking business in Iraq.” If that were happen, we all know that would be a huge scandal in journalism. But when it comes to these guys, those rules didn’t apply.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, shortly after the US invaded Iraq in 2003, Eason Jordan, then the chief news executive at CNN, admitted that CNN sought the Pentagon’s approval of prospective CNN news analysts during the lead-up to the Iraq war.
AMY GOODMAN: Eason Jordan. Your response, David Barstow?
EASON JORDAN: I think it’s important to have experts explain the war and to describe the military hardware, describe the tactics, talk about the strategy behind the conflict. I went to the Pentagon myself several times before the war started and met with important people there and said, for instance, “At CNN, here are the generals we’re thinking of retaining to advise us, on the air and off, about the war,” and we got a big thumbs up on all of them. That was important.
DAVID BARSTOW: Well, what was interesting was that—what we saw during the process of the sort of the wooing, the cultivation, of these generals. I mean, it’s important to note that some of them, during moments of the war, developed deep misgivings about what they were being told in these briefings. They began to suspect that they weren’t really getting the straight truth, that they were getting a sort of—well, they were getting a sort of a rose-color view of what was really happening in Iraq and Afghanistan. And yet, when those guys began to sort of go off the reservation and began giving voice to those doubts on air, what we saw happen was that some of them found their access rather abruptly cut off.
And so, there was this effort on the part of the Pentagon to use access as the sort of the carrot and the stick. And access is a really important thing to focus in on here, because if you’re in the world of defense contracting in Washington, access to people and to information is really the coin of the realm. It is so important to have that kind of granular, up-close, frequent contact with the very top people at the Pentagon to understand what are their needs, what are they thinking about next. And in some cases, you would see these guys go back out into the marketplace and advertise the special access they were getting as military analysts to people who they were trying to bring in as clients or as consulting arrangements or as board—to win a seat on a board of a company.
AMY GOODMAN: I was struck by your story of—well, the description of General Marks, who became a CNN military analyst after his retirement in 2004, would be named the president of the new DynCorp subsidiary, Global Linguist Solutions. General McCaffrey was chair of Global Linguist. And explain what it was and what happened with it.
DAVID BARSTOW: Global Linguist was a company that was set up specifically to go after one of the biggest defense contracts that was let during the Iraq war, and it was a contract to supply many thousands of translators to the entire American military war effort in Iraq.
General McCaffrey at some point became aware of the fact that the American generals in Iraq were not pleased with the performance of the company that held the contract and that they were thinking about rebidding the contract. He then recruited General Marks to come in to be the president of this new subsidiary for DynCorp. And as you mentioned, General McCaffrey would be the chairman of this subsidiary. And that company then spent months fighting to win this contract that was worth over $4 billion. It was a contract that would have, when it was announced and when it was granted to Global Linguist, would actually send DynCorp’s stock up 15 percent in one day. And so, the two of them together were involved in this effort to win this contract.
This is in, really, the latter part of 2006, right as the American public, if you recall, after the midterm elections, there was a huge moment of sort of internal national soul-searching about what do we do with Iraq. Should we get in or get out of Iraq? This was when Jim Baker and his commission were weighing ideas about whether we should exit Iraq by March of 2008 or not. And at that same time, General McCaffrey and General Marks and this company, Global Linguist, were locked in this battle for this $4 billion-plus contract to supply all the translators in Iraq. And at the time, they were going on television talking about should we stay or should we go. Now, at the time, both of those guys took the position that we really needed to stay in Iraq and see it through. General McCaffrey, especially, was hugely critical of the Baker-Hamilton recommendation to pull out most of our combat troops by March of 2008. So there was this sort of confluence at that time of their business interests and what they were saying on air.
What we don’t know, and it’s important to note, that not only were these relationships not disclosed to the viewers of either CNN or NBC, but CNN at least claimed that they weren’t even aware that General Marks, their main military analyst, in fact had this role with this company, was deeply involved in fighting for this contract. And then, indeed, when they found out in mid-2007 or later on in 2007 that he, in fact, did play this role with this company, CNN pretty quickly severed its ties with General Marks, and he no longer appears on air as a military analyst for them. NBC, that’s not the case.
AMY GOODMAN: December 18, 2006, Pentagon stuns Wall Street by awarding the translation contract to Global Linguist. DynCorp stock jumps 15 percent. And as you point out, according to a 2007 corporate filing, General McCaffrey was promised $10,000 a month, plus expenses. Once Global Linguist secured the contract, he would also be eligible to share in profits which could potentially be significant. The contract was worth $4.6 billion over five years, but only if the United States did not pull out of Iraq first.
DAVID BARSTOW: That’s right.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking with the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Barstow. We’ll be back with him in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: Our guest is the Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times journalist David Barstow. He just won the award for, among his pieces, “One Man’s Military-Industrial-Media Complex,” investigative reporter, also wrote the piece “Message Machine: Behind TV Analysts, Pentagon’s Hidden Hand.”
I want to turn right now to a clip of Dana Perino. This is the response from the Pentagon and the White House to your report. Former White House press secretary Dana Perino was asked about the program in April 2008, just after your piece appeared in the New York Times.
AMY GOODMAN: The former White House press secretary Dana Perino. David Barstow, your response?
REPORTER: Did the White House know about and approve of this operation?
DANA PERINO: Look, I didn’t know. Look, I think that you guys should take a step back and look at this operation. Look, DOD’s made a decision. They’ve decided to stop this program.
But I would say that one of the things that we try to do in the administration is get information out to a variety of people, so that everybody else can call them and ask their opinion about something. And I don’t think that that should be against the law. And I think that it’s absolutely appropriate to provide information to people who are seeking it and are going to be providing their opinions on it. That doesn’t necessarily mean that all of those military analysts ever agreed with the administration. I think you can go back and look and think that a lot of their analysis was pretty tough on the administration. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t talk to people.
DAVID BARSTOW: One thing that I wanted to look at closely with this, Amy, you have to think about this, about the question of whether or not—I spent a lot of time looking at, what was the information being told to this group? Was the information that was being told to this group—was it truthful? Was it accurate? Or was it spin? Was it whitewash? And the problem with what she just said is that when you dug deep into the weeds of this, when you looked at the talking points, when you looked at the transcripts of the conference calls between the military analysts and the Pentagon officials, while certainly there was plenty of truthful information that was given to them, time and time again they were also given information that deeply contradicted what we now know to be the truth, the truth that was known inside the Pentagon and the White House, about the true state of affairs in Iraq and Afghanistan.
So, for example, on questions about—say, for example, let’s take the effort to train up Iraqi security forces. These guys were constantly being told one story about how wonderful the effort was going, even though the White House and the Pentagon knew all along that this program was in fact—the training effort was a mess in lots of different ways. You could also see it—even, I remember talking to a couple of these guys who were brought in just before the war began, and they were brought in for a presentation about WMD. What do we know about WMD in Iraq? And even the guys who were there in these secret briefings about the WMD in Iraq, as they listened to the story they were being told by the Pentagon officials, had a clear instinct at the time that they were being given information that wasn’t either very strong or wasn’t accurate or didn’t hold up.
So, in other words, if what she said was true, if what the White House was doing was giving really a thorough briefing of what the White House and Pentagon knew about the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan, the war on terror at large, you know, that would be one thing. But that, in fact, is not what was happening in many of these sessions. And when you looked at the transcripts of these sessions, the other thing that jumped out at me was that there was never the normal kind of relationship you would see in terms of the tension between people who are journalists, who are independent-minded, and a government official. There was never that sort of questioning, that probing, to see whether or not the information was really correct, whether they’re being told whole story, whether they’re being told the story straight. Instead, what you often came away with was this feeling that you were watching a kind of like a sales meeting, where the military analysts were sort of synching up with the Pentagon and almost brainstorming together about, you know, what would be a better way to explain this, what would be a better way to communicate the themes and messages in order to keep the support for the war strong here at home.
AMY GOODMAN: And you have the Pentagon hiring a private contractor, Omnitech Solutions, to monitor, scour the databases for any trace of the analysts.
DAVID BARSTOW: I mean, the thing that is really important to understand here is that the people who were the kind of the architects of this, many of them were deeply influenced by the post-Vietnam experience, and they had this deep belief in them that the reason why ultimately we lost in Vietnam was because we lost control of the message here at home. And in their view—and this is something that Mr. Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney and others said publicly—our strategic center of gravity in the war on terror wasn’t in Baghdad, and it wasn’t in Kabul; it was right here at home, it was with the American public. And so, that’s why they put so much effort into reaching and cultivating this group.
And what you would see is, when things like Abu Ghraib happened, when questions were being raised about the adequacy of the armor being given to American troops, invariably they would pull these guys in, and they would sort of bring them in to neutralize the critical coverage, sometimes the critical coverage that was coming from the network’s own war correspondents.
AMY GOODMAN: Finally, the investigations that are supposed to be ongoing? For example, the Government Accountability Office, the Federal Communication Commission, the whole issue of the US propagandizing its own population, the Pentagon using the networks to do this?
DAVID BARSTOW: Well, those investigations were waiting the outcome of the Defense Department inspector general investigation. So, the fact that—and after their report was initially issued in January, the inspector general said, “Well, we may have to do some minor revisions on this.” And my understanding is that those two other inquiries were kind of put on hold until they could get done with their minor revisions, except the ultimate outcome of that was not minor revisions, but outright repudiation of the report itself. So I’m not sure how that’s going to influence the work that the GAO is doing or the FCC is doing.
AMY GOODMAN: Is it legal?
DAVID BARSTOW: Is what legal?
AMY GOODMAN: Is what—this entire program, is it legal? I mean, we had passed the Smith-Mundt Act after World War II—
DAVID BARSTOW: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: —against propaganda.
DAVID BARSTOW: The problem with that is that our definitions about propaganda are so mushy, and I think it does need that sort of careful look by people who understand the statute and understand our traditions, you know, to make that call. And I trust that will happen.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, David Barstow, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Congratulations again on your Pulitzer Prize. David Barstow, investigative reporter with the New York Times, won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for his articles “Message Machine: Behind TV Analysts, Pentagon’s Hidden Hand” and “One Man’s Military-Industrial-Media Complex.”