ABC’s 2007 Pro-Waterboarding Propaganda

Today the New York Times is reporting that waterboarding was used far more often than we have been told–almost 300 times on two prisoners, including Abu Zubaydah.This stands in rather stark contrast to what we heard about the instant, positive effects of waterboarding–as the Times notes:

A former CIA officer, John Kiriakou, told ABC News and other news media organizations in 2007 that Abu Zubaydah had undergone waterboarding for only 35 seconds before agreeing to tell everything he knew.

Of course, someone who relented in “35 seconds” would not need to be waterboarded 83 times. And as been several accounts discussed, the information Zubaydah offered was of debatable value.

Those ABC reports by Brian Ross stood out at the time because they seemed so eager to take this information at face value. Listeners to FAIR’s radio show CounterSpin on December 21, 2007, heard this critique of ABC‘s reporting:

On December 7, the New York Times reported that the CIA had destroyed videotapes of interrogations of two high-ranking Al-Qaeda detainees. The tapes reportedly offered the most direct evidence of just exactly what types of interrogation techniques–including torture–were employed during the 2002 sessions. The ensuing controversy has been big news. But three days after the story surfaced, ABC reporter Brian Ross offered up his version of a blockbuster exclusive–a report that amounted to a defense of the CIA’s torture.

Ross scored an exclusive interview with a former CIA field officer who was part of a team that waterboarded one detainee–Abu Zubaydah. His story must have been music to the White House’s ears: Zubaydah wouldn’t talk, but once they began torturing him he spilled the beans, and they disrupted dozens of attacks. But ABC‘s Ross never once raised the most basic question in all of this: Does torture actually produce reliable information? The consensus among law enforcement and military officials is that it does not. But that inconvenient bit of perspective could not find its way into Ross’ breathless reporting.

The problems with Abu Zubaydah’s interrogation have been well-covered by several other outlets, including Vanity Fair. There are serious doubts about whether any of the information he offered was of any value whatsoever–facts that were laid out most recently by the Washington Post.

At the close of Brian Ross’ report, anchor Charlie Gibson asked why this CIA source had come forward now to talk about torture. The answer would seem pretty clear: The administration’s torture policies were once again under critical review, so that would make it a good time to present the argument that torture works. All that was needed was a credulous journalist to air this story. That’s exactly what they found in ABC‘s Brian Ross.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.