* According to Eban, after Zubaydah clammed up, the CIA was left to conclude that Zubaydah would talk only when he had been reduced to complete helplessness and dependence.
Eventually, the FBI withdrew its team, and the CIA began to use the coercive techniques, which ABC’s source said included waterboarding.
That’s just about the only thing the two stories agree on—that Zubaydah was eventually tortured. Was Kiriakou Ross’s only source, making this a single-source story? Ross didn’t say that he had any corroboration, and an ABC spokesman wouldn’t comment. Surely Ross knew about this competing, opposite version of his source’s story. But when I sent him an e-mail laying out all of these discrepancies, this was his only reply:
I thought John Kiriakou’s interview was newsworthy because it was the first time someone from inside the CIA had confirmed the use of waterboarding on terror suspects. His version of events was one not previously heard, even though you and others may not agree with it. Your questions are good ones and worth raising, but anyone following ABC News coverage of the issue over the last several years would be familiar with the full range of legal, moral, and operational questions having to do with the CIA’s interrogation techniques. Kiriakou’s voice was a new one added to the debate.
This, of course, does not explain why Ross never mentioned the existence of a diametrically opposite version of these events, or why he was so certain that Kiriakou was telling the truth. In fact, in the portion of the interview shown on the air, Ross almost never challenged Kiriakou about anything. Those choices violated just about every journalistic standard of fairness and thoroughness that I can think of.
What makes this particularly sad is the fact that Ross is widely regarded as one of the most serious reporters on network television—and human rights activists credit him with breaking many genuinely important stories about torture.
Final Strange Fact: This was only one of two stories that John Kiriakou starred in on ABC last week. The other one—also featured on World News Tonight and Nightline—described how the ex-CIA man was hired by Paramount Pictures to go to Afghanistan to rescue the young cast members whose lives might have been endangered by the opening of the The Kite Runner. Which story did Kiriakou come to the network with first? An ABC spokesman would not comment.
Postscript: Eight days after Ross’s story aired, and one day after FCP commented on it, Dan Eggen and Walter Pincus of The Washington Post published a definitive account of the ongoing war between the CIA and the FBI over who Zubaydah was and how he should have been questioned. The Post’s piece did everything Ross had failed to do.