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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.
i. stand with israel
I listen to a lot of conservative talk radio. Confident masculine voices telling me the enemy is everywhere and victory is near — I often find it affirming: there’s a reason I don’t think that way. Last spring, many right-wing commentators made much of a Bloomberg poll that asked Americans, “Are you more sympathetic to Netanyahu or Obama?” Republicans picked the Israeli prime minister over their own president, 67 to 16 percent. There was a lot of affected shock that things had come to this. Rush Limbaugh said of Netanyahu that he wished “we had this kind of forceful moral, ethical clarity leading our own country”; Mark Levin described him as “the leader of the free world.” For a few days there I yelled quite a bit in my car.
The one conservative radio show I do find myself enjoying is hosted by Dennis Prager. At the Thanksgiving dinner of American radio personalities (Limbaugh is your jittery brother-in-law, Michael Savage is your racist uncle, Hugh Hewitt is Hugh Hewitt) Dennis Prager is the turkey-carving patriarch trying to keep the conversation moderately high-minded. While Prager obviously doesn’t like liberals — “The gaps between the left and right on almost every issue that matters are in fact unbridgeable,” he has said — he often invites them onto his show for debate, which is rare among right-wing hosts. Yet his gently exasperated take on the Obama–Netanyahu matchup was among the least charitable: “Those who do not confront evil resent those who do.”
Average number of Americans who are injured by chain saws each year:
A farmer in Kenya bit a python who tried to eat him.
A former prison in Philadelphia that has served as a horror-movie set was being prepared as a detention center for protesters arrested at the upcoming Democratic National Convention, and presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump fired his campaign manager.
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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.'”