There are times when news judgment is so bad that it seems to come close to criminal negligence. That is the case with the recent coverage of torture by the news department of The New York Times.
This week, Vice President Richard Cheney said, on the record and on camera to Jonathan Karl of ABC News, that he had personally encouraged and authorized waterboarding and other forms of torture—acts which every American administration since the dawn of the twentieth century has defined as war crimes. Every administration, except the present one.
Here are the key passages of that interview:
KARL: Did you authorize the tactics that were used against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed?
CHENEY: I was aware of the program, certainly, and involved in helping get the process cleared, as the agency in effect came in and wanted to know what they could and couldn’t do. And they talked to me, as well as others, to explain what they wanted to do. And I supported it.
KARL: In hindsight, do you think any of those tactics that were used against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and others went too far?
CHENEY: I don’t…
KARL: And on KSM, one of those tactics, of course, widely reported was waterboarding. And that seems to be a tactic we no longer use. Even that you think was appropriate?
CHENEY: I do.
The New York Times did not deem any of the vice president’s remarks worthy of mention in its newspaper or on its Web site.
According to Hina Shamsi of the American Civil Liberties Union, more than 160 prisoners have died in U.S. custody during the Bush administration, of which “more than 70 were linked to gross recklessness, abuse, or torture”—in other words, as a direct result of the torture techniques which Cheney has now admitted were personally authorized by him.
As the indispensable Scott Horton of Harper’s explained after the Cheney interview:
[Waterboarding] has been defined as torture by the United States since at least 1903, the first military court-martial. The United States views waterboarding conducted for intelligence purposes during wartime as a war crime, and it has prosecuted both civilian and military figures involved in the chain of approval of its use. Penalties applied have ranged up to the death penalty. The crime is chargeable under the War Crimes Act and under the Anti-Torture Statute. There is no ambiguity or disagreement among serious lawyers on this part, and Cheney’s suggestion that what he did was lawful and vetted is the delusional elevation of political hackery over law.
As FCP has pointed out many times before, waterboarding was also the favorite torture technique of the Nazi Gestapo during World War II.
Former Nixon White House Counsel John Dean said on Keith Olbermann’s show that Cheney should be prosecuted—especially since he now boasts publicly of his crimes.
I queried New York Times executive editor Bill Keller, Washington bureau chief Dean Baquet, and torture reporters Scott Shane and Mark Mazzetti as to why none of them thought that the vice president’s comments deserved a story—or whether, perhaps, I had missed the story in the Times. I received no reply. I followed up with this message: “I take it from your collective silence that there was no coverage of Cheney’s interview with ABC in the paper or on the website, and, therefore, that you are all in agreement that there was nothing newsworthy about it.” So far no answer to that one, either. (Back in June, retired major general Anthony Taguba wrote “there is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes.” The Times also ignored that one.)