Wash. Post buries lede, entire story in report on Soufan testimony


After running a story on its front page about what congressional Democrats had been told about enhanced interrogation, The Washington Post buried a much shorter report on testimony by former FBI agent Ali Soufan.

In a May 14 article on a Senate Judiciary subcommittee's hearing on the harsh interrogation methods approved by the Bush Justice Department and used by the CIA on terror suspects, The Washington Post reported that former FBI agent Ali Soufan "said the 'enhanced interrogation techniques' were ineffective and unreliable and, 'as a result, harmful to our efforts to defeat al-Qaeda.' " However, while the Post also noted that Soufan "contradicted the Bush administration accounts of receiving valuable information through the use of enhanced interrogation techniques," the Post did not note that Soufan testified about the success of non-harsh interrogation methods, which he contrasted with the "ineffective" harsh techniques.

Also, reflecting what Media Matters for America has identified as the media's willingness to focus on what conservatives highlight as a key issue -- the issue of what House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats knew about the Bush administration's use of harsh interrogation techniques -- while the Post printed a front-page, 1,434-word May 9 article on CIA documents regarding briefings given members of Congress and staff, the paper ran its 702-word article on the hearing and Soufan's testimony on the bottom left-hand corner of Page A4 of the May 14 edition.

Moreover, in its A1 teaser of the Soufan story, rather than highlight testimony directly contradicting Bush administration claims that the enhanced interrogation methods worked, the Post characterized the hearing as one in which "[p]artisan attacks" were rampant:

As Media Matters noted, in his May 13 written testimony, Soufan stated that "the Informed Interrogation Approach outlined in the Army Field Manual is the most effective, reliable, and speedy approach we have for interrogating terrorists. It is legal and has worked time and again." He continued: "It was a mistake to abandon it in favor of harsh interrogation methods that are harmful, shameful, slower, unreliable, ineffective, and play directly into the enemy's handbook."

Moreover, Soufan pointed to "[t]he case of the terrorist Abu Zubaydah" as "a good example of where the success of the Informed Interrogation Approach can be contrasted with the failure of the harsh technique approach." Soufan then presented a "timeline" of the Zubaydah interrogation, which he said showed that "many of the claims made in the memos about the success of the enhanced techniques are inaccurate." He added: "For example, it is untrue to claim Abu Zubaydah wasn't cooperating before August 1, 2002. The truth is that we got actionable intelligence from him in the first hour of interrogating him."

Soufan also testified about other uses and successes of the informed interrogation approach. He stated that his interrogation of Osama bin Laden's former chief bodyguard, Nasser Ahmad Nasser al-Bahri, also known as Abu Jandal, was "done completely by the book (including advising him of his rights)," and that, from it, "we obtained a treasure trove of highly significant actionable intelligence."

From the May 14 Washington Post article:

Soufan left a secret overseas prison in 2002 after registering concerns to his superiors at the bureau about CIA contractors engaged in what he called "amateurish, Hollywood-style interrogation methods." [Former State Department counselor Philip] Zelikow and his colleagues had forcefully argued that the Bush White House should halt the practices. He said he wrote a memo challenging the legality of the interrogation techniques. The most controversial of those techniques -- waterboarding -- had ended in 2003. He said administration officials tried to destroy the memo, which is still classified, in early 2006.

That experience, Zelikow said, "told me that the lawyers involved in that opinion did not welcome peer review and indeed would shut down challenges even inside the government. If I was right, their whole interpretation ... was unsound."

The hearing came only weeks after the Justice Department released four memos written by Bush administration lawyers in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel saying that the techniques were legal. Since then, Republican and Democratic lawmakers have demanded the release of other documents, including reports from the CIA inspector general and the Justice Department's ethics watchdogs.


Also on the table was the effectiveness of the harsh interrogation tactics. Soufan, who investigated the East Africa embassy bombings, said the "enhanced interrogation techniques" were ineffective and unreliable and, "as a result, harmful to our efforts to defeat al-Qaeda."

Soufan contradicted the Bush administration accounts of receiving valuable information through the use of enhanced interrogation techniques. Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), who suggested the hearing could be a "political stunt," pointedly questioned Soufan about his knowledge of the CIA program.

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy, Terrorism
The Washington Post
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