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Salon.com How the U.S. Government Uses Its Media Servants to Attack Real Journalism

Salon.com How the U.S. Government Uses Its Media Servants to Attack Real Journalism

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Published by: nighb on Jul 20, 2011
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FRIDAY, JUL 15, 2011 07:16 ET
How the U.S. government uses its media servants to attack real journalism
(updated below)
"The US has stopped running its global network of secret prisons, CIA director Leon Panetta has announced. 'CIA no longeroperates detention facilities or black sites,' Mr Panetta said in a letter to staff" -
, April 9, 2009
 ____________Earlier this week, the truly intrepid investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill published in
The Nation
one of the
most significantpolitical exposés of the year
. Entitled "the CIA's Secret Sites in Somalia," the article documented that the CIA uses andeffectively controls a secret prison in Mogadishu, where foreign nationals who are rendered off the streets of their countries (at thedirection of the U.S.) are taken (along with Somali nationals) to be imprisoned with no due process and interrogated (by U.S.agents). Although Somali government agents technically operate the facility, that is an obvious ruse: "US intelligence personnel pay the salaries of intelligence agents and also directly interrogate prisoners" and are "there full-time," Scahill reported. On
on Wednesday, the International Committee of the Red Cross
confirmed it has no knowledge
of this secret prison.This arrangement, as Scahill told me yesterday, is consistent with standard Obama administration practice: "they continue even themost controversial Bush terrorism policies by having some other government technically operate it so they can keep theirfingerprints off it." Indeed, the administration has even resorted to this playbook by using "torture by proxy" -- as we saw when theKuwait government,
 with at least the complicity if not direction of the U.S.
, detained and beat American teenagerGulet Mohamed during interrogation sessions. Just yesterday, a
federal judge "reacted skeptically"
to the Obama DOJ'sdemands for dismissal of a lawsuit (on secrecy grounds) brought by an American citizen imprisoned for four months in Africa, where "U.S. officials threatened him with torture, forced disappearance and other serious harm unless he confessed to ties withal-Qaida in Somalia."Scahill's discovery of this secret prison in Mogadishu -- this black site -- calls into serious doubt the Obama administration's claimsto have ended such practices and establishes a serious human rights violation on its own. As
's Scott Horton put it
, the
article underscores how the CIA is "maintaining a series of 'special relationships' under which cooperating governmentsmaintain[] proxy prisons for the CIA," and "raises important questions" about "whether the CIA is using a proxy regime there toskirt Obama's executive order" banning black sites and torture.Despite the significance of this revelation -- or, more accurately, because of it -- the U.S. establishment media has almost entirely ignored this story. Scahill thus far has given a grand total of two television interviews: on
 Democracy Now
and Al Jazeera. Nomajor television news network -- including MSNBC -- has even mentioned his story. Generally speaking, Republicans don't carethat the worst abuses of the Bush era are continuing, and Democrats (who widely celebrated Dana Priest's 2006 Pulitzer Prize winning story about Bush's CIA black cites) don't want to hear that it's true.Meanwhile, the CIA has been insisting that discussion of this Mogadishu site could jeopardize its operations in Somalia, and whilethat typical, manipulative tactic didn't stop Scahill from informing the citizenry about this illicit behavior, it has (as usual) ledgovernment-subservient American media stars to refrain from discussing it. Indeed, Scahill said that this site is such commonknowledge in Mogadishu (where even ordinary residents call it "that CIA building") that he'd be "very surprised" if internationalreporters who cover Somalia were unaware of it; he has confirmed with certainty that at least one correspondent covering East Africa for one of the world's leading media outlets was aware of, but never reported, the CIA's role at this secret prison. While the establishment media has been largely ignoring Scahill's revelations, a few particularly government-pleasing journalistshave been dutifully following the CIA's script in order to undermine the credibility of Scahill's story. CNN's long-time Pentagoncorrespondent Barbara Starr -- one of the most reliable DoD stenographers in the nation (she
actually announced that the real Abu Ghraib scandal
was the
release of the photographs, not the abuse they depicted) -- has been predictably tapped by the CIA to take the lead in this effort. Earlier this week, Starr filed
a truly incredible report
-- based exclusively on a"U.S. official" to whom she naturally granted anonymity -- that had no purpose other than to refute Scahill's report even thoughStarr never once mentioned that report:
CIA operatives have secretly traveled to Mogadishu, Somalia,
to help interrogate terrorism suspects
about operationsin East Africa and Yemen, a senior U.S. official told CNN Tuesday.The official, who was not authorized to speak publicly, stressed any suspects were
under the control of Somali forcesand the CIA was present only in "support"
of interrogations in recent months. He described the number of times theCIA was present as
"very small," adding that he would only say it was "one or two times."
"Only on very rare occasion does the CIA support debriefings of suspected terrorists who are in TFG (Transitional FederalGovernment) custody," the official told CNN.Starr pretended that this was a headline-making scoop for CNN -- that a CIA official had bravely revealed some sort of unauthorizedsecret to her: that the CIA "helps" interrogate a "very small" number of Terrorism suspects in Somalia in a "support" role -- when it was plainly nothing more than an effort to undermine Scahill's report by claiming that the CIA's role was extremely limited (nothingmore than a little help given to the Somalis) and that it was Somalia that controlled, ran and maintained responsibility for theprison. Not only did Starr never mention the key facts -- that this prison is kept secret from the ICRC and imprisons detainees without due process who are rendered from other nations at the behest of the U.S. and that the CIA pays the agents there -- but shealso helpfully wrote down that "the CIA gets assurances from the [Somali government] that detainees will not be mistreated," andthen added that
the real significance
of the story is that it "underscores the growing U.S. concern about the rise of terroristnetworks in the region."In sum, Starr was handed a CIA press release that falsely denied the key elements of Scahill's story, which she then disguised as an anonymousunauthorized leak that she uncovered. She slothfully and obediently disseminated CIA claims designed to minimize its role in this prison without lifting a finger to resolve the differences between those denialsand the numerous facts Scahill uncovered which proved how extensivethe CIA's control of the prison (and the rendition program that fills it)actually is.It's not just lazy but deceitful: uncritically printing anonymousgovernment denials while dressing it up as her own discovery (once
representatives complained to CNN, she tacked on this sentenceat the end: "Parts of the story initially appeared in the magazine TheNation on Tuesday"). Whether it was Starr who contacted the CIA toobtain this "story" (unlikely) or the CIA which tapped Starr on the headand directed her to print this and she then dutifully complied (far more likely), this was a joint effort by the U.S. Government and itsCNN servant to undermine Scahill and his story while appearing not to do so.Serving the same purpose was
 ABC News
report by Luis Martinez
, which at least has the virtue of being more honest thanStarr's report:
doesn't pretend to do anything other than serve as obedient stenographer to the CIA by uncritically writingdown and passing on the statements of an anonymous Government official in denying Scahill's report. Leaving aside the slovenly practice of granting anonymity to government officials to do nothing other than issue official government claims -- so common atactic of journalistic malpractice as to not merit comment at this point -- the article does nothing other than print the same CIA claims without expending a molecule of energy to determine if the claims are true. Worse,
allows the CIA to depict Scahill's report as false by uncritically printing the blatant strawmen against which theCIA rails ("CIA Doesn’t Run Secret Prison in Somalia" . . . CIA "refutes a report that the agency runs a secret prison in that unstablecountry" . . . "A story published in The Nation said that the CIA was running a secret prison to house and interrogate terrorsuspects"). The whole point of Scahill's article is that while the Somalis exercise nominal control over the prison, that's merely a"plausible deniability" ruse to allow the U.S. to use it at will, as evidenced by the fact that the CIA pays those agents and iscontinuously present. The "denials" uncritically printed by 
confirm and bolster Scahill's story, not "refute" it. Worse still, the
the CIA program by quoting the anonymous CIA official as describing the program as "thelogical and prudent thing to do."
then helpfully adds that "senior U.S. officials have expressed concern that al Shabab may betrying to expand its terror operations beyond Somalia" and that " U.S. government officials worry that those lawless regions might become a safe haven for al Shabab and other terror groups." There is no discussion -- zero -- of the illegal aspects of maintaining asecret prison, the dangers of allowing unchecked renditions of prisoners to Somalia hidden from international human rightsmonitoring, or the likely violations of Obama's highly-touted Executive Orders. Like Starr's CNN report, this article is nothing morethan a CIA Press Release masquerading as an
 ABC News
"news article," the by-product of a joint effort by the CIA and another

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