Media ignore report that Cheney suggested waterboarding Iraqi detainee for evidence of Iraq-Al Qaeda link

Network evening news programs on May 14, Fox News, and CNN all ignored a report that Vice President Dick Cheney's office “suggested waterboarding an Iraqi prisoner ... who was suspected to have knowledge of a Saddam-al Qaeda connection.”

Despite covering questions regarding what House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) knew about the Bush administration's interrogation policies, none of the three major networks' evening news programs mentioned on May 14 that according to a May 13 report by former NBC News investigative producer Robert Windrem, "[t]wo U.S. intelligence officers confirm that Vice President Cheney's office suggested waterboarding an Iraqi prisoner ... who was suspected to have knowledge of a Saddam-al Qaeda connection." All May 14 CNN and Fox News Channel evening shows, as well as all daytime shows available on the Nexis database, also ignored Windrem's story.

On the May 14 Rachel Maddow Show, Windrem said, “I think what this -- how this differs from ... what we've known previously is, the justification for doing this in the case of the high-value detainees at the secret prisons was that they knew of imminent threats to the United States. The suggestion that an Iraqi be waterboarded when, in fact, what they were looking for were political points that would help them, that is a big difference from what ... waterboarding had previously been used for.” MSNBC anchor Norah O'Donnell also hosted Windrem and discussed his report during the 1 p.m. ET hour of the May 14 broadcast of Andrea Mitchell Reports.

In a story posted on The Daily Beast blog on May 13 at 6:31 p.m., Windrem reported:

At the end of April 2003, not long after the fall of Baghdad, U.S. forces captured an Iraqi who Bush White House officials suspected might provide information of a relationship between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein's regime. Muhammed Khudayr al-Dulaymi was the head of the M-14 section of Mukhabarat, one of Saddam's secret police organizations. His responsibilities included chemical weapons and contacts with terrorist groups.

“To those who wanted or suspected a relationship, he would have been a guy who would know, so [White House officials] had particular interest,” Charles Duelfer, head of the Iraqi Survey Group and the man in charge of interrogations of Iraqi officials, told me. So much so that the officials, according to Duelfer, inquired how the interrogation was proceeding.

In his new book, Hide and Seek: The Search for Truth in Iraq, and in an interview with The Daily Beast, Duelfer says he heard from “some in Washington at very senior levels (not in the CIA),” who thought Khudayr's interrogation had been “too gentle” and suggested another route, one that they believed has proven effective elsewhere. “They asked if enhanced measures, such as waterboarding, should be used,” Duelfer writes. “The executive authorities addressing those measures made clear that such techniques could legally be applied only to terrorism cases, and our debriefings were not as yet terrorism-related. The debriefings were just debriefings, even for this creature.”

Duelfer will not disclose who in Washington had proposed the use of waterboarding, saying only: “The language I can use is what has been cleared.” In fact, two senior U.S. intelligence officials at the time tell The Daily Beast that the suggestion to waterboard came from the Office of Vice President Cheney. Cheney, of course, has vehemently defended waterboarding and other harsh techniques, insisting they elicited valuable intelligence and saved lives. He has also asked that several memoranda be declassified to prove his case. (The Daily Beast placed a call to Cheney's office and will post a response if we get one.)

Without admitting where the suggestion came from, Duelfer revealed that he considered it reprehensible and understood the rationale as political -- and ultimately counterproductive to the overall mission of the Iraq Survey Group, which was assigned the mission of finding Saddam Hussein's WMD after the invasion.

During Andrea Mitchell Reports, O'Donnell introduced an interview with Windrem by noting “fresh reports today that former Vice President Dick Cheney was far more involved in the interrogation of terror suspects during the Bush administration than previously thought, and that his intervention reportedly included instructions to waterboard an Iraqi prisoner to help find an Al Qaeda connection.”

* Media Matters reviewed all evening newscasts on ABC, CBS, NBC, and ABC's Nightline by digital video. All CNN shows were reviewed by transcript on Nexis. Fox shows available on Nexis were reviewed by transcript. Two shows on Fox, Your World with Neil Cavuto (whose transcripts are incomplete on Nexis) and The Fox Report with Shepard Smith (which airs at 7 p.m. ET but is not available on Nexis), were reviewed by digital video.