Why Does the Media Cover Up War Crimes?

In last week’s column I cited New York Times reporter Eric Lichtblau as a prime example of what ails us: reporters who don’t report, a.k.a. journalists who love the government too much.

When Lichtblau found out that the Bush Administration was listening to Americans’ phone calls and reading their e-mail, he decided to hold the story. Instead of fulfilling his duty to the Times’ readers and running with it, he asked the White House for permission. By the time the NSA domestic surveillance story finally ran, 14 months had passed–and Bush had won the 2004 election.

Again, in a May 17th piece bearing the headline “FBI Gets Mixed Review in Interrogation Report,” Lichtblau is running interference for the government. “A new Justice Department report praises the refusal of FBI agents to take part in the military’s abusive questioning of prisoners in Guantánamo Bay, Iraq and Afghanistan,” begins the article, “but it also finds fault with the bureau’s slow response to complaints about the tactics from its own agents.”

“Abusive questioning.” “Harsh interrogation tactics.”

According to the Justice Department report, “routine” treatment of Guantánamo prisoners–witnessed by the FBI–includes “bending the detainee’s thumbs back and grabbing his genitals.” Military and CIA torturers chained detainees’ hands and feet together for as long as a full day, “left to defecate on themselves.” They terrorized them with dogs, stripped them and made them wear women’s underwear and subjected them to blaring music, freezing cold and searing heat.

Torture. Such a simple word. Why not use it?

Lichtblau’s “mixed review” appellation notwithstanding, the report by the Justice Department paints a shocking, uniformly negative portrait of a federal law enforcement agency whose officers react to appalling conduct with the Nuremberg defense–“I was just following orders.”

“Indeed,” reported U.S. News & World Report, “time after time, the report concludes that FBI agents saw or heard about numerous interrogation methods–from sleep deprivation to duct-taping detainees’ mouths to scaring them with dogs–that plainly violated their own agency’s code of conduct.” (Not to mention the Geneva Conventions.) Rather than report their scruples to someone who might raise hell and put a stop to the systemic torture at Gitmo and other U.S. concentration camps–i.e., the public–FBI agents turned to the criminals. Just like Lichtblau did with domestic spying.

“When [one] agent mentioned [a torture] incident to the general [at Guantánamo], the general’s response…was ‘Thank you, gentlemen, but my boys know what they’re doing.'” Ultimately the FBI, worried that agents could be charged with war crimes if they continued to witness the torture by CIA operatives and mercenaries, pulled its employees out of Gitmo and other camps. No one called a Congressman. None called a press conference.

FBI agents kept quiet–even when the CIA frat-boy-style torture tactics screwed up their interrogations.

In 2003 one FBI agent had “begin building a rapport” with Yussef Mohammed Mubarak al-Shihri, a Saudi citizen. Al-Shihri told the agent that female CIA agents had “forced to listen to the ‘meow mix’ jingle for cat food for hours and had a women’s dress ‘draped’ on him.” As usual, the agent turned to the torturer. “The agent said he confronted a female military intelligence interrogator who admitted to ‘poaching’ his detainee, but there was little more the agent could do. Following the incident, al-Shihri became uncooperative, and the agent said he never bothered to tell his superiors about the military interrogator’s actions.”

Turning a blind eye to torture. Watching passively as CIA goons destroy the trust of a possible material witness to terrorism. What “mixed review”?

As usual, the Newspaper of Record’s worst sins in Gitmogate are those of omission–the really weird stuff that could deprive the Administration of its few remaining supporters. “Buried in a Department of Justice report,” reported ABC News, “are new allegations about a 2002 arrangement between the United States and China, which allowed Chinese intelligence to visit Guantánamo and interrogate Chinese Uyghurs held there.”

Like their Tibetan neighbors, the Uyghurs of western China are victims of government oppression, including mass executions. Throughout the 1990s, U.S.-funded Radio Free Asia urged Uyghurs to revolt against Chinese occupation. After 9/11, however, the U.S. agreed to help China capture and torture Uyghur independence activists–as a quid pro quo for not using its U.N. veto to stop the American invasion of Afghanistan. (There’s more about the U.S. betrayal of the Uyghurs in my book “Silk Road to Ruin.”)

“Uyghur detainees were kept awake for long periods, deprived of food and forced to endure cold for hours on end, just prior to questioning by Chinese interrogators,” said ABC. “When Uyghur detainees refused to talk to Chinese interrogators in 2002, U.S. military personnel put them in solitary confinement as punishment.”

It’s a tale bizarre enough to make Rush Limbaugh blush: intelligence agents from communist China invited to an American military base, where they’re allowed to torture political dissidents in American custody, with American soldiers as their sidekicks. In light of China’s crackdown on Tibet during the run-up to the Olympics, it’s a tasty news tidbit. But it didn’t run in The Times–as far as I can tell, it only ran in one newspaper, the Christian Science Monitor.

At the same time journo-wimp Lichtblau was penning his “balanced” take on the Justice Department’s bombshell report, the U.S. government admitted that it has more than 500 children in its torture and concentration camps. More than 2,500 children have gone through U.S. secret prisons since 2002, including at least eight at Guantánamo.

I know a lot of right-wing conservatives. We don’t share much political common ground, but it’s hard to imagine any of them thinking the indefinite detention and torture of children, against whom there is no evidence whatsoever of wrongdoing, is anything other than the behavior of a monster.

That’s the U.S. government, especially after 2001–criminal, corrupt and psychotic. But few Americans know the full extent of “their” government’s misdeeds, because state-controlled media chooses not to report them.

If a man screams in a government torture chamber, does he make a sound? Not if the only one who hears him is an American reporter.



13 Responses to “”

  1. Aggie Dude Says:

    But Ted…’s all “legal”

    Or we’re getting invaluable information that’s saving lives

    I bet the good, hard working people of Appalachia support their government!!! They are sacred, they are relevant, and we are elitist commie bastards for saying otherwise.

    I think 90% of it is apathy…they just don’t care, don’t want to know, and therefore resist knowing. Most people can’t do anything in the immediate to fix any problems, and they’re just too busy with their own routine.

    Did you hear? John McCain says we’re going to win in Iraq and our troops will come home with honor…he says we’re winning right now, and says he’s never going to surrender.

    How the hell do you surrender in that situation? To whom would we be surrendering, what does it mean to be ‘winning’? who are we fighting?

    Screwed…..we’re Screwed…. can you blame people for just turning it all off?

    Some people claim that misrule breeds rebellion. I think it breeds fatalism.

  2. Andy Says:

    Oh Ted, don’t feed the media’s own false sense of self importance. We Americans have and do know exactly what our government is doing. Fact is, we just don’t care enough to start mass civil disobedience. The media doesn’t shape public opinion. Quite the opposite. Public opinion drives the media. If we get the media to understand their own irrelevance maybe they would start reporting stories they think might hurt us. Sadly, even photo of torture don’t seem to get people very excited.

  3. frank-n-furter Says:

    Aww, c’mon Ted, dressing detainees in women’s underwear isn’t torture, it’s . . . sexy!

  4. nietzchuck Says:

    Just as conditions in inner-city America lead to a self-perpetuating cycle of persistent poverty, so goes American apathy toward government action/crimes. Even the few Americans/journalists who give a damn, when consistently shown that they have little if any effect on the policy of this administration, eventually turn to defeatest resignation, accepting the status quo as ‘the way things are.’ What it takes is a victory every now and again, even a small one. A journalist running a ‘controversial’ piece, with their boss refusing to bend to government demands for redaction or apology would be a great start. Unfortunately, most journos have little, if any, support in this regard anymore. If they’re going to go against SQ, they do so alone and at their own peril.

    As for McCain’s belief of success in Iraq, we technically are. Whenever world oil prices need an artifical boost, the US starts screwing with Iraq (we’ve been doing just that since 1927); whether through invasion, convincing OPEC to force Iraq’s output by half, or by telling Saddam that we would look the other way if he invades Kuwait and then bombing the oilfields, it’s always worked. The much-heralded ‘surge’ that McCain is so fond of only served to (as predicted) further instigate factional warfare, primarily over the southern oilfields. So yes, you’re god**mned right the surge is working, it’s doing just what it was inteded to do: cut Iraq’s oil output by a million barrels a day. Mission Accomplished.

  5. Angelo Says:

    This article was top notch, but sad, as always.

    I agree aggie, you can’t blame people for tuning out of the mainstream media. But if you do not have kids, you can probably be informed enough not to vote republican.

    McCain is exactly what this country deserves. For that matter, so was Bush.

    America has been unmasked by 9-11. Thanks to the terrorists, we now know this nations true identity:
    a bunch of fearful, confused sheep, and an idiot shepherd.

  6. Anonymous Says:

    Read Nicholson Baker’s de-mythologizing of World War II, “Human Smoke.” Among other things, it demonstrates that all sides–not just the Nazis in Germany, but also the US and Britain–repeatedly used media complicity and government coercion against journalists who had the temerity to speak out against their own governments. Over 60 years ago, the NY Times’s one-sided reporting helped whip up American sentiment to join the war in Europe.

    The more things change, the more they stay the same….

  7. Anonymous Says:

    “Why Does the Media Cover Up War Crimes?” is, perhaps, the wrong question. The Media are dependent on those condoning the crimes; not only for their paycheck, but also for access to further exclusive news releases.

    So, with direct substitution of some equivalent terms, the question devolves to: “Why Do Government PR Flacks Cover Up War Crimes?” to which the answer is self-evident. That is the PR flack’s whole purpose. That is why the perps cultivated that reporter to begin with, so that he could massage their message.

    I suppose it’s now incumbent upon me to at least suggest an alternate, “right” question. One candidate: “How can we distinguish between a reporter and a PR flack?” I’m serious; I really want to know.

    wfar (works_for_a_republican)

  8. Anonymous Says:

    I’m not sure who to side with on the whole China vs. Tibet thing. My knee jerk anti-Communist and anti-clerical response roughly cancel each other out.

    Dalai Lamas of the past have been cruel and reactionary autocrats. The Chinese government overthrew the Dalai Lama, but it treats the Tibetans as poorly as we treated the Indians. The Tibetans were screwed either way.

    Most of the Chinese people I know believe the Dalai Lama would be as bad as his predecessors if returned to power. I don’t know if that’s true. Then again, If I lost my throne and white people often confused me with Yoda, I’d play that up to try to get my power back.

  9. Angelo Says:


    Stateless utopia may not be realistic, but are you really against it?

  10. Anonymous Says:


    Fair enough. My political socialization occurred during the Cold War. I was taught that a communist was someone who thinks Stalin and Mao were right.

    Speaking of dead political ideologies… These days people may be telling there children that a conservative is someone who thinks Bush is right.

    I used to be a conservative. Shortly after 9-11 I realized that the Republicans weren’t going to let limited government, fiscal responsibility, and non-intervention spoil their fun.

    I jumped ship and probably ended up in the same lifeboat as many former communists.

  11. Angelo Says:

    I jumped ship and probably ended up in the same lifeboat as many former communists.

    Who do wrote that the state would “wither away”?
    a) Reagan (read Tom Friedman)
    b) Marx

    Marx believed that states would collapse under their own weight. Reagan sought to destroy them by “starving the beast”. We tried Reagan’s way. Perhaps it is time for Marx’s way (which, btw, has not been tried yet!). Oddly enough, Marx’s way entails just letting capitalism do what it wants. So, I guess I have to vote conservative if I want to me a Marxist. Welcome to the boat!

    the answer, of course, is ‘b’

  12. Tom Says:

    very scary

    I think a lot of the problems with the current media coverage originates from an overemphasis on the need to be “balanced” and an overuse of the term “mixed”.

    In this case, not everyone is torturing everyone all the time, so it’s a “mixed” review.

    some other examples:
    – a balanced approach to history teaches both evolution and creationism (flat earth anyone?)
    – not every spot on earth is getting hotter all the time and not every living being on earth thinks climate change is happening, so the evidence on global warming is “mixed” (and the jury is still out on whether Elvis is dead)

    the solution:
    1. Time for people to realize that morality doesn’t deal in percentages and averages.
    2. Restrict the need for balance (and consensus) to the realm of rationality and and decency.

  13. Angelo Says:



    It is called the “fallacy of the golden mean” and I am SO sick of it.

    “fairness” is an excuse to keep idiots watching the commercials.

    Most often, one view is correct and the other is incorrect. The truth does not “lie somewhere in the middle”.

    Guy1: I’m gonna blow your head off with this shotgun…
    Guy2: that’s not fair…lets compromise.
    Guy1: okay.
    (aims slightly to the left and pulls trigger)
    Guy1: Half is fair, right? Hello?
    Guy2: ‘thud’

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