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  • Fox News repeatedly claims information obtained by torture led to Osama bin Laden’s death. It didn't.

    The 2014 Senate torture report revealed that the US collected key intelligence on bin Laden’s location without torture

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    In the coverage leading up to and following CIA acting Director Gina Haspel’s confirmation hearing to become director, multiple Fox News personalities and guests have asserted that torture helped lead to the death of Osama bin Laden in 2011. However, the Senate’s 2014 investigation of the CIA torture program indicates that there is no evidence for this claim. 

    In recent days, Fox figures and guests have made bold claims that torturing detainees at secret CIA prisons known as “black sites” resulted in valuable intelligence that helped track down the former leader of Al Qaeda:

    • On his May 7 Fox show, Sean Hannity cited an earlier guest to claim that if there had been “no waterboarding we wouldn't have found Osama bin Laden's courier and we wouldn't have gotten bin Laden.” Hannity made the same claim the following night. 
    • In an May 8 appearance on Fox’s The Story with Martha MacCallum, former Vice President Dick Cheney said that the torture program “gave us clues that led directly to helping identify the location of Osama Bin Laden.” Cheney repeated the claim two days later on Fox Business. 
    • On the May 9 edition of Fox News’ The Five, co-host Kimberly Guilfoyle asserted that “the water boarding led them to Osama Bin Laden's house.”
    • On May 10, all three co-hosts of Fox & Friends agreed that “you don’t get bin Laden” without torture.
    • On the May 11 edition of Fox & Friends, Geraldo Rivera commented that “torture in retrospect may seem regrettable, but there’s no denying that it did lead to the courier that did lead us to the terror mastermind” Osama bin Laden.

    In 2014, the Senate investigated the CIA’s torture program. According to a Vox summary of the 525-page document, the Senate report reveals that the CIA extracted “key intelligence” on bin Laden courier Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti -- “‘including information the CIA would later cite as pivotal’ in finding Bin Laden” -- by 2002. However, “the CIA didn't acquire any intelligence on al-Kuwaiti via torture until 2003. The CIA had begun trying to find and identify al-Kuwaiti well before any of that information was in.”

    In 2004, the CIA torture program did capture a man named Hassan Guhl who told the U.S. government that al-Kuwaiti was a bin Laden assistant and that the Al Qaeda leader "likely lived in a house with a family somewhere in Pakistan," according to Vox. However, “Ghul told the CIA all of that before they decided to torture him.” The Senate report explains that “during and after the use of the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques, Ghul provided no other information of substance on al-Kuwaiti." From the Senate’s report on CIA torture, via NPR:

  • Sunday shows spent plenty of time talking about Trump bombing Syria, but almost entirely ignored Syrian refugees

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    On Friday, April 13, President Donald Trump announced joint cruise missile strikes with the U.K. and France against several Syrian chemical weapons facilities in retaliation for an apparent April 7 chlorine gas attack in Douma, Syria. Over the weekend, the Sunday morning political talk shows had plenty to discuss about the airstrikes, but not much to say about the ongoing plight of Syrian refugees.

    On Sunday, CNN’s State of the Union, CBS’ Face the Nation, NBC’s Meet the Press, and ABC’s This Week all failed to mention Syrian refugees while discussing the airstrikes. The only mention of Syrian refugees on any of the Sunday morning political talk shows was on Fox Broadcasting Co.’s Fox News Sunday, when host Chris Wallace asked UN Ambassador Nikki Haley just one question about them. 

    A few other Sunday morning programs on cable news channels did better in discussing concerns about refugees: There were segments on CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS and New Day Sunday, which played (albeit briefly) a clip of earlier commentary from a Syrian chemical attack survivor. The Sunday edition of Fox & Friends Weekend also featured two passing mentions of the refugees across its four-hour broadcast; in both instances, the guests brought up the subject unprompted. 

    On MSNBC however, AM Joy did two segments concerning Syrian refugees, including this excellent example of how media should discuss the subject, particularly in light of American military action that is likely to displace more people:

    JOY REID (HOST): So, a truly humanitarian approach would be to welcome refugees to a democratic country that has the resources to protect and shelter them from the dangers they're trying to escape, yeah? Instead, the Trump administration says it initiated airstrikes as a symbol of support and solidarity for Syrians after the chemical attacks orchestrated by the Syrian president. But with only 11 Syrian refugees accepted into the United States this year -- not 1,100; 11 -- the Trump administration's concern for the Syrian people rings rather hollow.

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched SnapStream for mentions of the word “refugee” on Sunday morning political talk and/or news shows on CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, Fox Broadcasting Co., CBS, NBC, and ABC between 06:00 and 12:00. 

  • Who cares if Trump’s reckless, dangerous Syria announcement is hypocritical?

    Pundits zero in on the least important aspect of Trump’s pledge to bomb Assad

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY

    This morning, the president pecked out an especially unglued Twitter tirade in which he announced that the United States would be taking military action against the Syrian government. According to Donald Trump, who very likely made this announcement because the lackwit bobbleheads on his favorite morning cable TV show were talking about Syria, his plan is to fire “nice and new and ‘smart!’” missiles as punishment for “Gas Killing Animal” Bashar Assad’s recent alleged chemical attack on the town of Douma.

    To add still more unnecessary drama to the announcement, Trump packaged it as a taunt to Russia, which backs the Assad government in its brutal war against Syrian opposition forces and vowed to intercept any U.S. missiles fired at Syrian government targets.

    It would be dangerous for any president to unilaterally escalate U.S. military involvement in the Syrian civil war, but for an erratic and unthinkingly bellicose president like Donald Trump to go down this path is reckless beyond measure. Trump promised to attack the Syrian government with no hint of strategy, no attempt at legal justification, and not even a whisper about what such an attack is supposed to achieve (the last time Trump bombed Syria, it was meant to deter further chemical attacks, which apparently didn’t work). The only things we know for sure about this planned military action is that Trump plans to go ahead without Congress’ input, and that he intends it to be a deliberate provocation of the nuclear-armed regional power that is deeply immersed in the Syrian civil war.

    Trump’s dashed-off pledge to strike against Syria raises critically important questions about U.S. Middle East policy, the power of the president to make war, and the dangers of a manifestly incompetent commander-in-chief making war plans based on what Fox & Friends chooses to cover. Faced with these weighty issues, however, the immediate reaction from the press was to focus on the least important aspect of Trump’s planned military action: whether he is a hypocrite for announcing it ahead of time.

    Immediately following Trump’s tweet, Twitter was full of pundits and reporters whose first reaction to the president’s announcement was to wryly poke at his past criticisms of presidents who telegraphed their attacks.

    NPR’s early reaction to Trump’s tweet was to focus on the hypocrisy angle. “This is a president who has made a big deal of not showing his hand, especially when it comes to really important decisions as commander-in-chief,” NPR’s David Greene reported shortly after Trump made the announcement. “He’s doing exactly what he criticized Obama for doing,” NPR’s Mara Liasson agreed.

    The reason reporters and pundits defaulted to the hypocrisy angle is because it’s an easy criticism that is ultimately meaningless and thus safe for them to have an opinion on. And it indicates how alarmingly comfortable much of the mainstream press is with the idea that the president can just up and decide to initiate military hostilities whenever, wherever, and for whatever reason -- even when there is no actual reason at all. It’s just another political game.

    The Trump administration has not offered a compelling legal rationale for its attacks on the Syrian government. It hasn’t secured or even asked for authorization from Congress. The administration hasn’t garnered the support of the U.N. or the international community. Instead, the White House is just barreling forward with the longstanding executive-branch practice of initiating hostilities and then slapping together a retroactive pseudo-justification that it confidently assumes won’t be seriously challenged.

    Few people seem especially bothered by this, and just about everyone is ready to accept that oafish hothead Donald Trump can bumble ass-first into another Middle Eastern quagmire because he’s the president and the president can do that. But as missiles careen into Syria and the U.S. lurches aimlessly into a broader military conflict involving Russia and Iran, at least we can say we called out Trump on Twitter for being inconsistent.