Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Liars Lining Up

BTD at TalkLeft critiques Richard Cohen today. I wrote a comment there that warrants a separate post here, methinks, especially as the dialogue on torture is currently revisiting misleading past statements from "agents in the field" on the effectiveness of interrogations (see Marcy Wheeler, and the NYT). So if you will indulge:

First of all, it is pretty much a complete untruth that Obama has "waffled over" whether or not to prosecute CIA interrogators. He has said, Panetta has said, and DNI Blair has said they WILL NOT. But for some reason columnists like Cohen and Ignatius like to ignore that and try to enflame the nation. Here Cohen is standing with Mike Huckabee for God's sakes.

FURTHERMORE, it never ceases to amaze me that MSM writers suck up to disenchanted spies. They seem to take any change to intelligence policy quite personally. Mr. Cohen seems to regard himself as an "agent in the field."

His column perfectly displays what actual ex-CIA Mel Goodman wrote about recently in CIA & Washington Post: Joined at the Hip. To quote:

"Surely senior journalists from the mainstream media must understand that reliance on anonymous CIA clandestine sources is neither good reporting nor professional journalism. Many of these 'anonymous sources' almost certainly are former and current CIA officials seeking to protect themselves. George Tenet, John McLaughlin, and John Brennan are individuals who fit that description."

Also, you [BTD] are right, Cohen is pretty dim:

"If the threat of torture works -- if it has worked at least once -- then it
follows that torture itself would work. Some in the intelligence field,
including a former CIA director, say it does, and I assume they say this on the
basis of evidence."

Um. OK. One of nice things about some of the recent revelations is that it has shown up even the "good spies" to be deceivers of the public. So for example, John Kiriakou, who came out to ABC with his waterboarding accounts and how awesome it was and how Zubaydah's torture saved so many lives. Basically none of that was true. All this has been covered recently. But I guess Cohen missed it.

There's simply no reason to believe a demonstrable war criminal is telling you the truth. I mean, c'mon.

That to me is the kicker. When someone is that deep in sh*t as serious as a war crime, do you really think they're going to tell you the truth? Especially if they work for the CIA? Not to say that everyone in the CIA is dishonest, but it is rarely the business of the CIA to openly discuss their operations. That is why we have Congressional Oversight Committees. That is why we should have a Truth Commission.

Now Spencer Ackerman paints a picture over at Firedoglake that is even more muddled than what we have now. He says:

"That makes me wonder about the integrity of 'accounts from the field.' We know
from George Tenet's 'guidelines' from January 28, 2003, that every time an "enhanced technique" is used, there has to be a record of it. But this is 2002. It's possible that a) accounts of Abu Zubaydah's waterboarding are contradictory or b) accounts are incomplete or c) accounts are incorrect. We have reason
to suspect from Ali Soufan
that the CIA is conflicted about torturing Abu
Zubaydah and that his pre-torture interrogation worked. It's at least possible,
then, that someone could have written or otherwise informed Kiriakou that Abu
Zubaydah "broke" after being subjected to the waterboard once."

If the question is, did Kiriakou intend to lie or not, you are faced with a few situations. If he only read the first page of the Zubaydah interrogation report, he would certainly be deceiving us to tell us Zubaydah "broke" after 35 seconds and that "from that day on, he answered every question" and disrupted so many attacks. But as it turned out, according to WaPo, nothing was disrupted from waterboarding Zubaydah. From his language, it does not exactly sound like Kiriakou was reading an incomplete account of the interrogation, but then what is the explanation for the discrepancy?

Spencer suggests three possible explanations, which are contradictory accounts, incomplete accounts, or incorrect accounts from the field. I am not sure if the problem was the "accounts from the field." I have a few explanations for Kiriakou's pretty offkey whistleblowing:

A. Only later did counterterrorism officials realize the waterboarding didn't work (in which case Kiriakou jumped the gun by going on TV and abused his authority in telling us that waterboarding did work - not exactly a liar, but not a great showing).

B. Kiriakou was being lied to by his superiors (as Marcy/Spencer suggest is possible) OR underlings (which is one of the scariest options - how dysfunctional an agency is that? How does torturing protect our national security if it creates situations of deliberate internal misinformation? We have 100 spies on the payroll, but only 2 of them actually know what's going on???)

C. Kiriakou was simply lying.

Well...Kiriakou may still be lying. Laura Rozen writes the following:

"Following the release this month of U.S. government memos showing Zubaydah had been waterboarded 83 times in one month, and not one time as Kiriakou had said,
ABC News posted an update to its 2007 interview with Kiriakou in which
he responded: 'When I spoke to ABC News in December 2007 I was aware of Abu
Zubaydah being water boarded on one occasion. It was after this one occasion
that he revealed information related to a planned terrorist attack. As I said in
the original interview, my information was second-hand. I never participated in
the use of enhanced techniques on Abu Zubaydah or on any other prisoner, nor did
I witness the use of such techniques.'"

Again - the Washington Post suggests that Zubaydah disrupted exactly zero terrorist attacks. Note that Kiriakou doesn't say in this statement that the "information related to a planned terrorist attack" was relevant, important, or even accurate.

As I said - There's simply no reason to believe a demonstrable war criminal is telling you the truth. I mean, c'mon.

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