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In December 2007, John Kiriakou, a former senior CIA operative, made a series of public comments about the agency’s use of Bush-era torture techniques. In one interview, he described in detail how waterboarding was authorized. As he noted, the CIA agents wrote up a proposal, higher-ups in the agency cleared it, then the proposal was vetted by the Justice Department, and finally it went to the National Security Council in the White House, where it was approved again. His account validated speculation that the Justice Department was squarely in the middle of the process, giving its blessing to criminal acts, and that the White House gave the ultimate sanction. But then Kiriakou went on, in an appearance with ABC’s Brian Ross, to claim that waterboarding worked wonderfully. He claimed that terrorist Abu Zubaydah cracked after only one application of the technique. The statement was immediately heralded by torture advocates, such as Rush Limbaugh, as evidence that waterboarding had worked.
Except that, according to others at the agency, Kiriakou wasn’t involved in the process and didn’t know what he was talking about. The more detailed account that emerged with the declassification of Justice Department memoranda showed that Abu Zubaydah had been waterboarded 83 times, with doubtful results.
Now Kiriakou recants. Jeff Stein reports in a must-read in Foreign Policy:
On the next-to-last page of a new memoir, The Reluctant Spy: My Secret Life in the CIA’s War on Terror (written with Michael Ruby), Kiriakou now rather off handedly admits that he basically made it all up. “What I told Brian Ross in late 2007 was wrong on a couple counts,” he writes. “I suggested that Abu Zubaydah had lasted only thirty or thirty-five seconds during his waterboarding before he begged his interrogators to stop; after that, I said he opened up and gave the agency actionable intelligence.” But never mind, he says now.
“I wasn’t there when the interrogation took place; instead, I relied on what I’d heard and read inside the agency at the time.”
In other words, Kiriakou was spreading baseless agency rumors. He goes on to state that he subsequently learned, through press accounts, that his claims to ABC just weren’t true. But he takes it one step further. He concludes that he and fellow agents were actually being deceived by torture-apologists.
“In retrospect, it was a valuable lesson in how the CIA uses the fine arts of deception even among its own.”
As Stein notes, Kiriakou’s false statements about the efficiency of waterboarding instantly swept America’s mainstream media—in addition to ABC, they appeared in the Washington Post, the New York Times, NPR, CBS, CNN, MSNBC, and numerous other media. How many of these sources will now acknowledge that the reports they propagated were false? Don’t hold your breath.
More from Scott Horton:
Conversation — March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm
Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.
The new docudrama The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story (FX) isn’t really about Orenthal James Simpson. It’s about the trials that ran alongside his — those informal, unboundaried, court-of-public-opinion trials in which evidence was heard for and against the murder victims, the defense and the prosecution, the judge, the jury, and the Los Angeles Police Department, to say nothing of white and black America. History has freed us from suspense about Simpson’s verdict, so that the man himself (played here by Cuba Gooding Jr.) is less the tragic hero he seemed in the mid-Nineties than a curiously minor character. He comes to the center of our attention only once, in Episode 2, at the end of the lengthy Ford Bronco chase scene — which in real life was followed by a surreal cavalcade of police cars and media helicopters, as well as an estimated 95 million live viewers — when Simpson repeatedly, and with apparent sincerity, apologizes for taking up so much of so many people’s time. It is an uncannily ordinary moment of social decorum, a sort of could-you-please-pass-the-salt gesture on a sinking Titanic, in which Simpson briefly becomes more than just an archetype.
Amount an auditor estimated last year that Oregon could save each year by feeding prisoners less food:
Kentucky is the saddest state.
An Italian economist was questioned on suspicion of terrorism after a fellow passenger on an American Airlines flight witnessed him writing differential equations on a pad of paper.
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“Matt was happy enough to sustain himself on the detritus of a world he saw as careening toward self-destruction, and equally happy to scam a government he despised. 'I’m glad everyone’s so wasteful,' he told me. 'It supports my lifestyle.'”