Saturday, December 10, 2005

Condi and the Media

Tim Rutten, who writes a column on the media for the Los Angeles Times, has an exceptional piece in today's paper in which he laments the tendency of American journalists today to "make a fetish of that faux-fairness that housebreaks reporting by rendering it a subset of stenography."

What is it that provoked Rutten to alliterate? It's the media's coverage of Secretary of State Rice's comments on torture during her European travels.

Secretary Rice has been reported to have set things right regarding torture thanks to her clear condemnations of illegal practices. Rutten suggests, to the contrary, that Rice's words did nothing of the sort and that the only way one would come away thinking they did is by completely ignoring the context of her remarks. As Rutten puts it in his conclusion, "Facts plus context equal truth."

What context does Rutten suggest is missing? He lists some facts to supply context:

Fact: As the [Washington] Post previously has reported, the United States has been operating a network of clandestine CIA prisons in Eastern Europe and elsewhere, where suspected terrorists and adherents of Islamo-fascism are tortured.

Fact: U.S. intelligence agents have repeatedly kidnapped people and handed them over to third countries to be tortured in a process called "extraordinary rendition."

Fact: As the New York Times has reported, U.S. officials believe that information obtained from one of Al Qaeda's most infamous operatives--Khalid Sheik Mohammed, who planned the 9/11 atrocities--cannot be used in American legal proceedings because it was obtained by torture. Similarly, false information regarding purported links between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, which the administration used to make the case for invading Iraq, was obtained under torture from another terrorist, Ibn Al-Shaykh al-Libi, who was captured by the CIA in Afghanistan and turned over to the Egyptians for interrogation.

Fact: As the Post's editorial pointed out, Rice continues to argue that "'It is also U.S. policy that authorized interrogation will be consistent with U.S. obligations under the Convention Against Torture, which prohibit cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.' What she didn't explain is that, under this Administration's eccentric definition of 'U.S. obligations,' cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment is not prohibited as long as it does not occur on U.S. territory."

Rutten then notes, "Had all these facts and voices of rational authority--like [former State Department legal adviser Abraham] Sofaer's--been made part of the day-to-day reporting on Rice's tour, all her deliberate ambiguity would have come into focus for what it was: a convoluted defense of the indefensible."

Parsing the words spoken by the Bush Administration about torture is pointless and unnecessary. Actions speak louder--and far more truthfully--than words.