No Comment — December 18, 2008, 11:34 am

NYT: Prosecute the Torture Team

Today the newspaper of record provides us with 1237 words of reporting and analysis focusing on the Levin-McCain report. It notes the painfully obvious: this report is tantamount to a bill of indictment directed against Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, George W. Bush, and a team of unethical lawyers who served as enablers. The team consciously introduced torture as a preferred tool, compulsively lied about it, and scapegoated more than a dozen young recruits as part of a cover-up operation.Warned repeatedly by real lawyers that their conduct was criminal and could lead to indictments and prosecutions, they reacted with vindictive acts against those who told them the truth and by turning the United States Department of Justice into a political chop shop–one of the biggest crime scenes in American history.

These policies have deeply harmed America’s image as a nation of laws and may make it impossible to bring dangerous men to real justice. The report said the interrogation techniques were ineffective, despite the administration’s repeated claims to the contrary. Alberto Mora, the former Navy general counsel who protested the abuses, told the Senate committee that “there are serving U.S. flag-rank officers who maintain that the first and second identifiable causes of U.S. combat deaths in Iraq — as judged by their effectiveness in recruiting insurgent fighters into combat — are, respectively, the symbols of Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo.”

We can understand that Americans may be eager to put these dark chapters behind them, but it would be irresponsible for the nation and a new administration to ignore what has happened — and may still be happening in secret C.I.A. prisons that are not covered by the military’s current ban on activities like waterboarding. A prosecutor should be appointed to consider criminal charges against top officials at the Pentagon and others involved in planning the abuse.

The Times editors continue by embracing the call for a special commission of inquiry to force to the surface the still concealed deep dark secrets of this massive criminal enterprise.

The New York Times coverage and discussion of this issue has been laudable from the outset–if we keep our focus on the editorial page. But 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).

Which leaves me wondering: How can a paper with such a top-drawer editorial page consistently dish up such embarrassingly bad reporting? They have taken to correcting the reporting on the editorial page. I understand why. But it would be better if the paper’s news editors would stop their sleepwalking.

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More from Scott Horton:

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