Gibson, Couric uncritically aired Bush's comment calling Abu Ghraib a "disappointment"

››› ››› GREG LEWIS

ABC's World News and the CBS Evening News and uncritically aired President Bush's statement that "Abu Ghraib obviously was a huge disappointment," without noting that a 2008 Senate Armed Services Committee report found that the abuse there "was not simply the result of a few soldiers acting on their own" and that Donald Rumsfeld's "authorization of aggressive interrogation techniques and subsequent interrogation policies and plans approved by senior military and civilian officials conveyed the message that physical pressures and degradation were appropriate treatment for detainees in U.S. military custody."

During the January 12 broadcasts of ABC's World News and the CBS Evening News, hosts Charles Gibson and Katie Couric, respectively, uncritically aired President Bush's statement that "Abu Ghraib obviously was a huge disappointment. ... I don't know if you want to call those mistakes or not, but they were -- things didn't go according to plan, let's put it that way." Gibson and Couric failed to note that a 2008 Senate Armed Services Committee report found that the "abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib in late 2003 was not simply the result of a few soldiers acting on their own" and that "Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's December 2, 2002 authorization of aggressive interrogation techniques and subsequent interrogation policies and plans approved by senior military and civilian officials conveyed the message that physical pressures and degradation were appropriate treatment for detainees in U.S. military custody."

In a joint statement on the report, issued by Senate Armed Forces Committee chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) and ranking member John McCain, McCain stated that the report "details the inexcusable link between abusive interrogation techniques used by our enemies who ignored the Geneva Conventions and interrogation policy for detainees in U.S. custody. These policies are wrong and must never be repeated."

From the Armed Services Committee report:

(U) The abuse of detainees in U.S. custody cannot simply be attributed to the actions of "a few bad apples" acting on their own. The fact is that senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees. Those efforts damaged our ability to collect accurate intelligence that could save lives, strengthened the hand of our enemies, and compromised our moral authority. This report is a product of the Committee's inquiry into how those unfortunate results came about.

[...]

Conclusion 1: On February 7, 2002, President George W. Bush made a written determination that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which would have afforded minimum standards for humane treatment, did not apply to al Qaeda or Taliban detainees. Following the President's determination, techniques such as waterboarding, nudity, and stress positions, used in SERE training to simulate tactics used by enemies that refuse to follow the Geneva Conventions, were authorized for use in interrogations of detainees in U.S. custody.

[...]

Conclusion 13: Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's authorization of aggressive interrogation techniques for use at Guantanamo Bay was a direct cause of detainee abuse there. Secretary Rumsfeld's December 2, 2002 approval of [Department of Defense general counsel] Mr. [William] Haynes's recommendation that most of the techniques contained in GTMO's October 11, 2002 request be authorized, influenced and contributed to the use of abusive techniques, including military working dogs, forced nudity, and stress positions, in Afghanistan and Iraq.

[...]

Conclusion 15: Special Mission Unit (SMU) Task Force (TF) interrogation policies were influenced by the Secretary of Defense's December 2, 2002 approval of aggressive interrogation techniques for use at GTMO. SMU TF interrogation policies in Iraq included the use of aggressive interrogation techniques such as military working dogs and stress positions. SMU TF policies were a direct cause of detainee abuse and influenced interrogation policies at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere in Iraq.

[...]

Conclusion 19: The abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib in late 2003 was not simply the result of a few soldiers acting on their own. Interrogation techniques such as stripping detainees of their clothes, placing them in stress positions, and using military working dogs to intimidate them appeared in Iraq only after they had been approved for use in Afghanistan and at GTMO. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's December 2, 2002 authorization of aggressive interrogation techniques and subsequent interrogation policies and plans approved by senior military and civilian officials conveyed the message that physical pressures and degradation were appropriate treatment for detainees in U.S. military custody. What followed was an erosion in standards dictating that detainees be treated humanely.

From the January 12 broadcast of ABC's World News with Charles Gibson:

GIBSON: For the first time, he talked extensively about mistakes in his presidency.

[begin video clip]

BUSH: Clearly, putting a "Mission Accomplished" on a aircraft carrier was a mistake. It sent the wrong message. We were trying to say something differently, but nevertheless, it conveyed a different message. Obviously, some of my rhetoric has been a mistake.

I've thought long and hard about Katrina -- you know, could I have done something differently, like land Air Force One either in New Orleans or Baton Rouge. And then your questions, I suspect, would have been, "How could you possibly have flown Air Force One into Baton Rouge, and police officers that were needed to expedite traffic out of New Orleans were taken off the task to look after you?"

[...]

BUSH: There have been disappointments. Abu Ghraib obviously was a huge disappointment during the presidency. Not having weapons of mass destruction was a significant disappointment. I don't know if you want to call those mistakes or not, but they were -- things didn't go according to plan, let's put it that way.

[end video clip]

GIBSON: He talked about following his own compass and the burdens of the job.

From the January 12 broadcast of the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric:

COURIC: Let's listen to some of the president's news conference today.

[begin video clip]

BUSH: I believe this -- the phrase "burdens of the office" is overstated. You know, it's kind of like, you know, "Why me? Oh, the burdens," you know. "Why did the financial collapse have to happen on my watch?" It's just pathetic, isn't it, self-pity?

[...]

BUSH: If you were sitting there and heard that the depression could be greater than the Great Depression, I hope you would act, too, which I did. And we've taken extraordinary measures.

[...]

BUSH: One of the very difficult parts of the decision I made on the financial crisis was to use hard-working people's money to help prevent there to be a crisis, and in so doing, some of that money went into Wall Street firms that caused the crisis in the first place. I wasn't kidding when I said Wall Street got drunk and we got the hangover.

[...]

BUSH: Clearly, putting a "Mission Accomplished" on a aircraft carrier was a mistake.

[...]

BUSH: There have been disappointments. Abu Ghraib obviously was a huge disappointment during the presidency. Not having the weapons of mass destruction was a significant disappointment. I don't know if you want to call those mistakes or not, but they were -- things didn't go according to plan, let's put it that way.

[end video clip]

COURIC: Meanwhile, Dan, I know you've described the administration's reaction to Hurricane Katrina as one of the most politically damaging of the presidency. He defended the administration's actions very vociferously today. Were you surprised at that?

DAN BARTLETT (White House counselor under President Bush): Not quite, Katie. It must have been -- it had -- it was, when I was there, one of the most frustrating chapters in the presidency. We went through a lot. But that one, particularly, because of not only the public PR reception of some of the decisions he made, but also the enormity of the challenge, the difficulty of getting help to people. And we all struggled through that week to do what we thought was right, and I think, looking back on that, he felt like some of the big decisions we made we did get right. Some of the PR things we could have gotten better.

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