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The Wrong Journalistic Decision | The Nation

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Katrina vanden Heuvel

Katrina vanden Heuvel

Politics, current affairs and riffs and reflections on the news.

The Wrong Journalistic Decision

If one needed more reason to criticize the Washington Post's decision to withhold information, at the government's request, about the CIA's network of prisons in Eastern Europe for suspected Al Qaeda terrorists, read Jane Mayer's horrifying article in this week's New Yorker. In "A Deadly Interrogation," Mayer reports on the death by torture of an Iraqi terrorist suspect in the custody of the CIA. Jamadi died while being interrogated at Abu Ghraib by a CIA officer and a translator. His head had been covered by a plastic bag and he was shackled in a crucifixion-like pose that inhibited his ability to breathe. According to forensic pathologists interviewed by Mayer, Jamadi died of asphyxiation. But in a subsequent internal investigation, US government authorities classified his death as a homicide. Nevertheless, the CIA investigator has not been charged with a crime, and continues to work for the agency. Mayer reports he has been under investigation by the Justice Department for more than a year. (The CIA has reportedly been implicated in at least four deaths of detainees, and has referred eight potentially criminal cases to the Justice Department, Mayer reports. Yet, as she notes, the government has so far brought charges against only one-level contract employee.) It is a fantasy to believe that the architects of these cruel, inhuman interrogation techniques will be held accountable by an Administration whose key figures, especially "The Vice President for Torture," are so deeply implicated in the policies that led to the metastasizing use of torture.

What should not be overlooked is the historic significance of the Washington Post's decision. "This is probably the most important newspaper capitulation since the New York Times yielded to John F. Kennedy's call for them to not run the full story of planning for the Bay of Pigs," Peter Kornbluh, National Security Archive senior analyst, told Columbia Journalism Daily. "By withholding the country names, the Post is directly enabling the rendition, secret detention, and torture of prisoners at these locations to continue. That is a ghastly responsibility."

(In the interest of full disclosure, a reminder about The Nation's role in the reporting on CIA plans for the Bay of Pigs. When the New York Times acceded to Kennedy Administration requests to suppress its story, The Nation went ahead and alerted the country, in an article published on November 19, 1960, to an impending invasion. For this, the magazine was vilified. The New Republic, by the way, also suppressed its story about CIA plans for the invasion--at Kennedy's request.)

For more about the Washington Post's decision, and other recent cases in which news outlets have chosen to honor government requests for secrecy rather than the journalistic duty of informing the public about government wrongdoing, read Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting's valuable report, "The Consequences of Covering Up."

CLARIFICATION: Peter Kornbluh, Nation Security Archive Senior Analyst writes: "Dear Katrina, Thanks for including me in your blog which was forcefully done and wellstated. I'm getting a lot of mileage out of that quote which started asa private email to the editor of CJR to try and get them to do asubstantive story on the Washington Post decision....I'm glad you've delved back into the proud history of the Nation's rolein all that. But I'd like to clarify your chronology and history: The Nation published the firststory on the Bay of Pigs training in Guatemala in November 1960 (beforethe plan was actually an invasion at the Bay of Pigs). Your article wascalled to the attention of a New York Times editor who then assignedPaul Kennedy to do a piece. He filed a story in January 1961 coveringsimilar ground to yours. But it was the Tad Szulc story in the Timesthat ran only only a week before the invasion in April 1961 thatKennedy called the Times owner about and was able to get reduced inprominence and detail (since Tad knew essentially the time and place ofthe invasion.) Arthur Schlesinger told us later that he wished both theTimes and New Republic had run their stories so that the wholecatastrophe would have been avoided."

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