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Inky Notes: The Thomas Manion Case; The Inky's Pro-Torture Columnist Lineup; The Gaza Crisis

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The Inky has done some good things recently, with some better than usual editorials, an improved letters column, and, surprisingly, giving Chris Hedges space to laud the Kucinich candidacy (“One true voice on the trail: The value(s) of Dennis Kucinich,” Jan. 6) although continuing to marginalize him in the news columns. But the paper seems unable to break out of its subordination to the Bush agenda and to report on and criticize the ongoing Bush attack on the public interest.

The lead front page article of Jan. 14, “Bush: Iran top terror sponsor,” is hardly new or serious news, it is just part of an ongoing propaganda campaign to which the Inky should not be giving front page attention, especially without making sure that it is put into context in the article or on the editorial page, which it hasn’t been.

The Bush administration provides an anti-public interest scandal almost every day, but this is ignored, buried and rarely if ever put together in the Inky and other mainstream publications. Did you notice this past week that Bush exempted the navy from a prohibition of sonar operations that are very damaging to whales? (“Bush exempts Navy from sonar ban in whale areas”). And there is a fresh disclosure in the same week on how the Bush administration has censored Arctic scientists’ findings as it prepares for an oil and gas auction in one of the last intact polar bear refuges? These are more newsworthy than a Bush propaganda pronouncement, if we want news that enlightens rather than manipulates.

The Thomas Manion Case (Versus Cindy Sheehan)

The Inky’s leaning over backwards to placate the right, and the current excessive presence of rightwingers in the Inky Commentaries also leads to the Inky supporting little propaganda surges; in fact, they even have a built-in rightwing echo chamber. This is illustrated by their treatment of Thomas Manion, whose son was killed in Iraq, with Manion now running for a congressional seat in Bucks County against Democratic incumbent Patrick Murphy. The Inky gave Manion Commentary space for an article back in September 2007: “For many a disconnect on the goal of the Iraq war.” For Manion, that goal was to fight global terror, for freedom, and to “bring stability to that part of the world.” That Bush originally said that the threat of Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction” was the sole issue, then sought a Chalabi rather than a democratic rule; that the invasion-occupation provided a great recruiting ground for Al Qaeda, and destabilized the Middle East, are all outside Manion’s orbit of thought, which consists of Bush administration clichés. But it’s good enough for the Inky. With Manion now running for office, the Inky gives this front page and sympathetic news coverage (Larry King, “Out of grief, an electoral bid,” Jan. 16). Then the Inky rightwing echo chamber takes it up, with a long cliché-ridden column by Kevin Ferris ( “Son’s passion lives on in a GOP candidate”, Jan. 18), and with Smerconish also patting the “patriot” Manion on the back.

The Inky has never treated Cindy Sheehan in anything like this supportive–or even any acknowledgment–mode. She was a national figure whose son had been killed in the war, and her encampment outside Bush’s residence was dramatic and with significant political effects. More recently she has announced that she will run for congress in California against Nancy Pelosi, who took impeachment “off the table” despite her obligation to protect the Constitution, and has put up no real opposition to Bush’s escalation of the Iraq war, despite the general understanding (backed up by polls) that the 2006 election showed the public’s desire to get out of Iraq within two years. Sheehan has never had a column in the Inky, Krauthammer was allowed to assail her without opposition, and her political challenge to Pelosi was recognized by the Inky only with a 101 word news brief. This reflects some kind of institutional bias.

The Inky’s Pro-Torture Columnist Lineup (by Ed Herman and Cyril Mychalejko)

Equally interesting is the Inky’s treatment of torture. Can you imagine the Inky running two columns by David Duke? It is not likely that this famous racist would be given column space. But the Inky recently gave a second Commentary column to John Yoo (“Terror suspects are waging ‘lawfare’ on U.S., Jan. 16), a law professor and former Bush administration operative famous for his memos to Bush defending the right to ignore the Geneva Conventions and to engage in torture. Yoo has also contended that no law exists that would prevent Bush from ordering the torture of a terror suspect’s child—including the crushing of that child’s testicles (“Bush advisor says President has legal power to torture children”, Jan. 1, 2006).

Since leaving the Justice Department, Yoo has defended the practice of “extraordinary renditions,” in which the United States has kidnapped numerous “suspects” in the war on terror and “rendered” them to third countries with records of torturing detainees. (But the Inky has proved itself unimpressed with the criminality and immorality of extraordinary rendition, as is evidenced by their lack of coverage of the case of Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen seized in New York in Sept. 2002 and renditioned to Syria where he suffered 8 months of torture, which included: imprisonment in a 3-foot by 6-foot cell, being strip searched, chained, shackled and beatings with a shredded electrical cable. After all of this he was found entirely innocent after a major Canadian investigation—not that his innocence necessarily matters). Yoo has also argued that the federal courts have no right to review actions by the president that are said to violate the War Powers Clause. And he has defended the practice of targeted assassinations, otherwise known as “summary executions.”

The fact that the Inky will allow into its commentary space a man who, in a just world, would be prosecuted for his contribution to war crimes, shows that, unlike open racism, torture—at least by us—has become part of accepted discourse, has been normalized in the mainstream, and the Inky is in the mainstream.

The Inky editors themselves have several times spoken out pretty strongly against torture, in one instance of which, “U.S. Torture: More inoperative truth” (Oct. 5, 2007) they stated:

“By international treaty and U.S. law, ‘cruel, inhuman and degrading’ treatment of detainees is banned. That should be the guiding principle for American interrogators, no matter what the threat the nation faces. But this administration repeatedly has gone to extraordinary lengths to work an end-run.”

But the Inky has filled its roster of columnists with apologists for, if not outright advocates of, waterboarding and other forms of torture. Apart from Yoo, who is at least not a regular, Michael Smerconish has openly and repeatedly said that he supports torture—his only expressed concern on the subject has been over the torture of Maureen Faulkner, suffering from the failure to execute Mumia Abu-Jamal. He has also “trivialized reports of detainee abuse as ‘naked pyramid pictures’ at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and ‘play[ing] Christina Aguilera music a bit too loud’ at the U.S. detention facility in Guantánamo Bay.” This is deeply dishonest about actual torture procedures, but the Inky has rarely if ever allowed the victims of U.S. torture (like Arar) to speak out on their Commentary page. Charles Krauthammer has openly supported waterboarding, Jonathan Last has suggested that Abu Ghraib was a rotten apple anomaly and contrasted us (and our ally, Jordan!) with human rights violator Iran where torture is “a matter of public policy” (”Faces of Death,” Daily Standard, Jan. 30, 2006; “Paternalism and Abu Ghraib,” Daily Standard, May 10, 2004), and Rick Santorum voted for the bill that gave Bush further rights to engage in torture and also said that it was unfair to compare what happened to prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison to torture.

Recently, Mark Bowden has joined the ranks of open apologists in his two recent columns titled “In Defense of Waterboarding” and “Waterboarding: A Clarification”, in which he describes the use of waterboarding as “heroic,” “not torture in the traditional sense,” and “coercive.” In the first column Bowden uses an interview with Michael Koubi, “a master interrogator” with Israel’s Shin Bet, to dismiss waterboarding as nothing more than instilling fear in victims—something that “usually” produces results. Koubi has quite a resume compiled during his “long career”, having “questioned literally thousands of prisoners.” Bowden overlooks the fact that Koubi and Shin Bet, and therefore Israel, have all violated international law by routinely practicing torture on prisoners.

In a 2004 letter to the editor to The New York Times (in response to the article “Psychology and Sometimes a Slap: The Man Who Made Prisoners Talk,” Week in Review, Dec. 12) , William F. Schulz, Executive Director of Amnesty International U.S.A., wrote, “Every credible Israeli, international and Palestinian human rights organization…has reached the same conclusion: interrogation procedures used by Israel from 1987 to 1993 (during which time Mr. Koubi boasts he conducted such questioning) constituted torture.” He dismisses the “ticking bombs” excuse, something both Bowden and Inky-regular Charles Krauthammer have invoked for excusing torture, and concludes that, “Trying to paint Israeli interrogation practices as merely an intellectual game is clearly a denial of the facts. And allowing Mr. Koubi to paint himself as a hero is a further violation of the rights of those whom he tortured.”

Bowden continues his passionate defense of U.S. torturers by suggesting, “No one should be prosecuted for waterboarding Abu Zubaydah,” a captured high level al-Qaeda operative, even though it violates U.S. law 18 U.S.C. § 2340 as well as “international treaties from the Geneva Conventions to the Convention against Torture.” Bowden claims that, “In the unlikely event that Zubaydah knew nothing of value and that every bit of information he divulged was false, it was still reasonable to assume in 2002 that this was not the case,” and he also blindly parrots administration claims that information twisted out of Zubaydah helped prevent future terrorist attacks.

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Cyril Mychalejko is a writer, teacher, and mountain lover.

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