That story got a typical response for that period of time: a lot of hate mail. We weren’t saying that they were taking innocent people. We were saying they were taking people they thought were terrorists. And so people in the public thought, “Well, good for us. And bad for you, for criticizing that.” The reaction was surprising. But there was a really supportive reaction inside the paper. My colleagues would come up and say, “This is what newspapers are all about.” It made me feel great. The editors were so supportive that sometimes they were worried about me more than I felt worried. I did have to go to the security people on a regular basis—nothing that I really felt unsafe about, but some people did cross the line with threats and phone calls and things like that. Some people in Congress did name names and call for imprisonment. I think I was the most offended when someone who didn’t know me said I was a traitor. I had a kind of dumb, naïve reaction, but I was like, “We’ve never talked. How do you know I’m a traitor? How do you know anything about me?”
I’m not motivated by whether the prisons are right or wrong. I’m motivated by the fact that they were very unconventional—outside of the conventional interpretations of our more treasured laws. And because of that, the public should at least know what’s happening and be able to debate it. And if then the body politic decides that’s who we are now, who am I to say we’re not?
I couldn’t let the story go after the first one was published because now I had a million questions. A lot of my energy was focused on this secret regime. Who’s doing it? Who says they can do it? Who says they can’t do it? Where is the authority from? Is it legal? Of course it’s legal, in the sense that someone in our government has decided it’s legal. So how does detention work? Who gets to be on that list to be treated like that? How good does the information have to be on them? How are we getting that information?
And then I learn about the renditions and the idea that the CIA had its own separate system for handling terrorism suspects. I found people—some who used to be in the CIA who can talk now, some who are still in, some in the outer circle who are in touch with people being briefed by the agency in some way, some who are being briefed themselves. It’s a pretty select group. I’m finding people who don’t agree, or who are mortified, but I also found people who were worried about the agency’s reputation. They knew when this came out that it would be tarnished. So, on the inside, they were arguing that the agency can’t keep at this.
The prison story was not a story where someone led me to a narrative, either verbal or on paper. The story was put together from people who were in the US and abroad. And who were past and current government employees. Each of them responded to bits and pieces I asked them. It was the broadening of the circle that became really tricky. [Bob] Woodward has this saying that nobody tells you anything truthful during the day, only at night. I found myself working double shifts and doing a lot of restaurants, a lot of sitting in cars, a lot of sitting in odd places where you’re not going to be seen. Both of you are paranoid that you’re going to be seen by somebody. The telephone only works somewhat. People are paranoid about the telephone. At one point I got a bunch of disposable cell phones, but they were such a pain.