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Normalizing Evil: The NY Times' Curious Take on the Gitmo Files

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More confirmation of imperial perfidy is on tap today from the trove of classified files originally obtained by WikiLeaks on the U.S. concentration camp in Guantanamo Bay. Most of the information released so far was already known -- to the very, very few who cared to find out -- having emerged in dribs and drabs and fragments in various places over the years. But to see it gathered together, in raw form, in the words of the perpetrators and accomplices of this vast, still-ongoing crime, is a powerful, and sickening, experience.

Almost as sickening as the atrocities themselves, however, is the way the release has been played in the New York Times, whose coverage of the document dump will set the tone for the American media and political establishments. The Times' take is almost wholly devoted to showing how evil and dangerous a handful of the hundreds of Gitmo detainees were, and to justifying Barack Obama's betrayal of his promises to close the concentration camp. We are treated to lurid tales (many if not most of them extracted under torture, but who cares about that?) of monsters seething with irrepressible hatred of America, and so maniacally devoted to jihad that they inject themselves with libido-deadening drugs to ward off any sexual distractions from their murderous agenda.

There is almost no mention in the Times coverage of the many innocent people -- including children -- who spent years in the concentration camp, athough the main story about the documents does note, in an eyeblink, the case of one prisoner who was falsely imprisoned on the word of an Afghan official trying to hide his own complicity with insurgents. (Damn treacherous furriners!)

And the notorious case of Al Jazeera journalist Sami al-Hajj, held for six years in the concentration camp while interrogators pressed him for details not about terrorism but about the network, is also given one paragraph -- with a conclusion that implies our "serious" journalists at the Times still have their reservations about the grubby little Ay-rab: "While Mr. Hajj insisted he was just a journalist, his file says he helped Islamic extremist groups courier money and obtain Stinger missiles and cites the United Arab Emirates' claim that he was a Qaeda member."

Yes, his file could say anything that his captors wanted it to say -- information they made up, information they tortured and terrorized out of other captives. But even though al-Hajj was finally released by the very people who first made those charges -- which they obviously could not make stick -- his fellow journalists at one of the world's leading newspapers still couch his case in iffy terms: "Well, he says he was just a journalist, but look here -- al Qaeda!! Ya just never know, do you?" That's real journalistic solidarity for you.

Now it's true that the Times also runs another prominent story that seems to take on the known fact that scores of the concentration camp's inmates were innocent people battered for years with "harsh interrogation techniques" to make them confess to crimes they never committed and implicate others. The story is headlined: "Judging Detainees' Risk, Often With Flawed Evidence."

Flawed evidence! Now we'll some of the darker side. Perhaps we were too hasty to judge the main story, so ... er ... You will not be surprised at this point to find that the second story is not concerned with these scores of innocent, abused men (and children), but with ... evil Gitmo inmates who fooled their soft-hearted captors into releasing them.

Taken together, the Times' first "package" on the Gitmo documents is a breathtaking exercise in the Pravdazation of information in a putative democracy with a putative free press. The general thrust of the stories conforms almost entirely to the American elite's accepted myth about Gitmo -- and indeed, about all of the state's crimes against humanity: that well-intentioned, good-hearted people did the best they could in a volatile situation. Mistakes were made, sure, and of course there were a few bad eggs here and there at the lower levels, and yeah, some officials were more competent than others, and things are in a bit of a mess, but still. When we erred, it was usually because we were too soft for our own good. And in any case, the intentions of our leaders and their minions are always noble and pure: to protect the security of the American people, and advance democracy throughout the world.

This is the message that the New York Times wants you to take away from its first, scene-setting, tone-establishing package on the Gitmo files. (It also wants you to know that although the files were originally obtained by WikiLeaks, the Times got their copy "from a different source." They're not involved with those awful, icky, dangerous WikiLeakers, no sireebob! They are a serious, reputable organization.)

Here, perhaps, is the nut graph, the essence of the "insights" taken from the files by Messers Savage, Glaberman, Lehren and their editors:

"The Guantà namo assessments seem unlikely to end the long-running debate about America's most controversial prison. The documents can be mined for evidence supporting beliefs across the political spectrum about the relative perils posed by the detainees and whether the government's system of holding most without trials is justified."

Nothing to see here in these files; nothing to end the "debate" over Gitmo. And what, according to the New York Times, are the parameters of this debate? The "relative peril" posed by the captives and whether holding any person for the rest of his life without trial is "justified." Think of that! Whether to hold a person -- any person -- in captivity, indefinitely, without trial, is now a matter of "debate" in the United States of America. Of course, the truth is that it is not a matter of debate at all; it is simply an accepted fact now, by our political and media elites, and by the general public.

Indeed, note this truly chilling phrase, in the second paragraph of the main story:

"What began as a jury-rigged experiment after the 2001 terrorist attacks now seems like an enduring American institution ... "

This is offered straight up, as a statement of fact, and not as, say, a prelude to moral outrage or deep shock. Certainly not on the part of the reporters, who maintain a completely ersatz "neutrality" as they "mine" the documents "for evidence supporting beliefs" in the elitist myth of America's bumbling, shambling goodness. But they don't even bother scrounging up someone -- someone "serious," of course, from a reputable human rights group, or maybe an Ivy League academic -- to offer even the mildest, blandest intimation that perhaps maybe it might not be the very best thing in the world for a center of torture, coercion, and lawless imprisonment to become "an enduring American institution."

There is apparently no room in this civilized "debate" for the expression of that idea, even in the severely attenuated form that any mildly dissenting thought is allowed expression in the pages of our leading news journal. Nor is there any room for the notion that it is a monstrous evil to kidnap people, buy them from bounty hunters, round them up in city streets all over the world, and dump them in a concentration camp where they can be tortured, abused, driven mad and abandoned without any legal recourse for years on end -- or years without end.

Such thoughts are now beyond the pale. The concentration camp is now "an enduring American institution." Our wise president is right to betray his sworn promises to end the system. We need to keep all these big bad men locked up. It's a mistake to be too soft. These are the "new insights" that the New York Times -- leader of, yes, the "liberal media" -- wants you to take away from the Gitmo files. It's all OK. It's all ... normal.

Which reminds me of something I wrote almost 10 years ago, in November 2001, in the very weeks that the concentration camp in Guantanamo Bay was bringing in its first hooded captives for "harsh interrogation":

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Chris Floyd is an American journalist. His work has appeared in print and online in venues all over the world, including The Nation, Counterpunch, Columbia Journalism Review, the Christian Science Monitor, Il Manifesto, the Moscow Times and many (more...)

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