A couple of days before Cheney’s interview on ABC News, the Senate Armed Services Committee released a bi-partisan report accusing the president of acts which clearly qualify as war crimes. Among the report’s key findings:
The abuse of detainees in U.S. custody cannot simply be attributed to the actions of ‘a few bad apples’ acting on their own. The fact is that senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees. Those efforts damaged our ability to collect accurate intelligence that could save lives, strengthened the hand of our enemies, and compromised our moral authority….”The abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib in late 2003 was not simply the result of a few soldiers acting on their own. Interrogation techniques such as stripping detainees of their clothes, placing them in stress positions, and using military working dogs to intimidate them appeared in Iraq only after they had been approved for use in Afghanistan and at [Guantanamo]. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s December 2, 2002 authorization of aggressive interrogation techniques and subsequent interrogation policies and plans approved by senior military and civilian officials conveyed the message that physical pressures and degradation were appropriate treatment for detainees in U.S. military custody. What followed was an erosion in standards dictating that detainees be treated humanely.
Any reasonably sentient editor would have led with a story on that report, with at least a two-column, two-deck headline in the upper right hand corner of the front page. Messrs. Shane and Mazzetti kissed it off instead with 800 words, buried on page A14.
Scott Horton explained the problem to FCP this way: “The consistent theme is trust of governments—they couldn’t possibly be doing the nasty things their critics say. And of course for the correspondents involved, it is and was so much more comfortable doing their reportage while maintaining friendly contacts with the governments. That’s the key failure—failure of critical detachment.”
The only thing that saved the paper’s honor on this subject was a superb editorial by Andrew Rosenthal, which appeared in the Times yesterday. The paper called for the appointment of a prosecutor, because the “Senate Armed Services Committee has made what amounts to a strong case for bringing criminal charges against former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld; his legal counsel, William J. Haynes; and potentially other top officials, including the former White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and David Addington, Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff.
The report shows how actions by these men “led directly” to what happened at Abu Ghraib, in Afghanistan, in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and in secret C.I.A. prisons.”
Horton summarized the contrast between the Times’s news department and editorial page this way:
This lengthy editorial highlights another sore spot: the paper’s news coverage. Why did the Times need to take 1237 words to present their editorial? Because, scrambling through the paper’s news pages for the last weeks, you will strain to find a glimpse of the essential facts upon which the editorial rests. Neither have the news pages contained any meaningful analysis of the Levin-McCain report and its broader significance. Much of the reporting has been pedestrian, and some of it has been infantile and unprofessional. For instance, the issue crept onto the front page just over a week ago with a report about Senator Diane Feinstein’s wavering from an anti-torture position in a piece that explained, relying on shadowy intelligence community sources with an unmistakable agenda, what a difficult time Obama would have implementing his anti-torture pledge. The only problem–in addition to the fact that the central premise of the article was fake news–was that Senator Feinstein didn’t waver, her remarks were misquoted, and the Times had to run a correction (though it failed to muster the honesty to note that this was what it was doing).