All nationalists have the power of not seeing resemblances between similar sets of facts….Actions are held to be good or bad, not on their own merits, but according to who does them, and there is almost no kind of outrage—torture, the use of hostages, forced labour, mass deportations, imprisonment without trial,…assassination, the bombing of civilians—which does not change its moral colour when it is committed by ‘our’ side….The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them.

– George Orwell, “Notes on Nationalism,” May, 1945


The big news about torture last week was the declaration by Susan J. Crawford to Bob Woodward that the Bush administration had tortured Mohammed al-Qahtani, the man who allegedly planned to be the twentieth hijacker on September 11, but who was denied entry to the United States at the Orlando airport by an alert immigration inspector.

Not only was this the first on-the-record admission of torture by a current official of the Bush administration; Crawford’s words carried extra power because she is the person in charge of deciding whether to bring Guantanamo Bay detainees to trial. Crawford is also a former general counsel of the Army in the Reagan administration, and a former Pentagon inspector general when Dick Cheney was Secretary of Defense.

This disclosure led to a series of journalistic blunders. First, in an interview with Jim Lehrer on the NewsHour on Wednesday, Cheney said, “It’s entirely possible there was a problem in terms of how one specific prisoner was handled,” and, referring to the torture of prisoners (which Cheney still calls “enhanced interrogation”), the vice president added, “A great many Americans are alive today because we did all that.”

A more alert interviewer than Mr. Lehrer might have asked, if only one prisoner has been abused, how is it possible that at least 160 others prisoners have died  in U.S. custody during the Bush administration, including more than seventy whose deaths were caused by “gross recklessness, abuse, or torture,” according to the ACLU?

As for the claim that a great many American lives have been saved “because we did all that,” Lehrer really should have mentioned the fact that FBI Director Robert Mueller told David Rose, in an article for VanityFair.com in December, that he does not believe any attacks on America have been disrupted thanks to information obtained through so-called “enhanced techniques.”

When Bill Glaberson repeated these statements from Cheney to Lehrer in The New York Times the next day, also without mentioning any of the counter-evidence, I decided to ask Glaberson whether he was more aware than Lehrer was of why the vice president’s views were subject to challenge. Unfortunately, the Times reporter was not very enlightening. Here is the transcript of our entire conversation:

FCP: This is Charles Kaiser at the Columbia Journalism Review. I have a couple of questions about your q-head [news analysis] about torture.
WG: Yeah.
FCP “A great many Americans are alive today because we did all that,” Cheney said. Now I assume you’re aware of what Robert Mueller, the director of the FBI, said about that.
WG: What do you mean?
FCP: About whether or not torture has saved any lives?
WG: Oh, yeah yeah yeah.  I mean, I know.  Yes.
FCP: What did he say?
WG: Whaaa..Am I being interviewed?  What’s going on here?
FCP: Yes, you’re being interviewed.  Yes, you are. Yes.
WG: Thank you, I decline.
FCP: That’s it?  You have nothing else to say?
WG: Correct.
FCP. OK, fine. Thanks a lot.

Charles Kaiser is the author of The Gay Metropolis and 1968 in America. He has been media editor for Newsweek, a member of the metro staff of The New York Times, and a reporter for The Wall Street Journal, where he covered the press and book publishing. To learn more, visit charleskaiser.com.