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Media Ape Goebbels in Defending CIA Abuses

By       Message Ray McGovern     Permalink
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EXTRA! Read all about it in the W ashington Post: Torture worked; Cheney and torture practitioners vindicated; morale at CIA harmed.

It seems coverage of the Bush administration's "war on terror" has been put back on track by the editors of the Washington Post and their "sources," who appear determined to highlight the supposed successes of waterboarding and other forms of torture.

In the last few days the Post has markedly increased its effort to "catapult the propaganda" (to borrow a phrase from former President George W. Bush). When the wind is still, Nazi propaganda chief, Joseph Goebbels can be heard cheering from the grave.

Frankly, I was wondering when this return to form would happen at the Post. I was surprised to see Post journalists recently losing their grip, so to speak, and falling into the practice of reporting real facts -- like the sickening revelations in the long-suppressed CIA Inspector General's report on torture.

Apparently they have now been reminded of the biases of the newspaper's top brass, forever justifying the hardnosed "realism" of the Bush administration as it approved brutal and perverse methods for stripping the "bad guys" of their clothes, their dignity, their sense of self -- all to protect America.

Hooded, threatened with a cocked gun and an electric drill, deprived of sleep for long periods, beaten, kept naked or dressed in diapers, forced into painful stress positions, locked in tiny boxes and subjected to the near-drowning of waterboarding, the terrorism suspects were supposed to be terrorized into what the CIA psychologists called "learned helplessness."

And to read the Washington Post's account, it all worked, transforming alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed from a "truculent enemy" into what the CIA considered its "preeminent source" on al-Qaeda.

The Post made the story of this transformation -- "How a Detainee Became an Asset: Sept.11 Plotter Cooperated After Waterboarding" -- its lead story Saturday. To drive home the central point, the Post declared that "this reversal occurred after Mohammed was subjected to simulated drowning and prolonged sleep deprivation, among other harsh interrogation techniques."

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But the story contained some weird contradictions that might have given pause to a less credulous -- or less biased -- newspaper. For example, the Post's two unnamed sources who told the tale of Mohammed's transformation depicted him as anything but a broken man suffering from "learned helplessness," terrified of more torture. Instead, Mohammed, known as KSM, is described as holding forth like a professor in a lecture hall, pontificating about Greek philosophy and criticizing his American students for their shortcomings. "In one instance, he scolded a listener for poor note-taking and his inability to recall details of an earlier lecture," the Post wrote.

So, instead of a cowering figure induced to talk out of fear that he might be subjected to a 184th session of waterboarding, Mohammed appears to be a boastful narcissist who views himself as a historic figure -- exactly the sort of interrogation subject who would be susceptible to flattery and other successful, non-violent strategies favored by experienced FBI interrogators.

If the "learned helplessness" had worked -- and was the reason Mohammed was talking -- would he really have risked scolding an American interrogator, like an angry teacher chastising an inattentive schoolboy?

However, that is not a question the Post asks or its editors apparently want the readers to think much about. The story is written as if the Post writers Peter Finn, Joby Warrick and Julie Tate are seeking expiation for their sins of writing fact-and-document-based stories in recent days.

Back to the Steno Pool

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The Post management, it seems, is determined to return to its past practice of acting as stenographers for the CIA's PR machine. On Sunday, the Post had its steno pad out again, taking dictation about how torture investigations were harming CIA morale. The story, titled "Ex-Intelligence Officials Cite Low Spirits at CIA: IG Report's Release, Looming Investigation Into Detainee Interrogations Blamed" by Walter Pincus and Joby Warrick, filled nearly half of Page Two.

The CIA is the only agency of the U.S. government that elicits the Post's hand-wringing concern about its morale and "spirits." It's as if CIA officers were fragile Southern belles at risk of being overcome by "the vapors" if a harsh word is uttered in the parlor.

It's hard to recall any similar concern expressed by the Post over poor morale at other government offices, say, the Environmental Protection Agency when President George W. Bush was ignoring evidence of global warming or the Justice Department when Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was firing prosecutors for not going after Democrats.

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Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He was an Army infantry/intelligence officer and then a CIA analyst for 27 years, and is now on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS). His (more...)
 

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