What is wrong with our nation?
You’ll have to forgive me for sharing some late-breaking news. I say “late-breaking” not because the hour in the day is late, but because the news itself occurred last week: White House Spokeswoman Dana Perino has flatly denied that the Bush administration has inflicted or been a party to the infliction of torture:
Hearst Newspapers Reporter Helen Thomas: The President has said publicly several times, in two consecutive news conferences a few months ago, and you have said over and over again, we do not torture. Now he has admitted that he did sign off on torture, he did know about it. So how do you reconcile this credibility gap?
White House Spokeswoman Perino: Helen, you’re taking liberties with the what the President said. The United States has not, is not torturing any detainees in the global war on terror. And General Hayden, amongst others, have spoken on Capitol Hill fully in this regard, and it is — I’ll leave it where it is. The President is accurate in saying what he said.
Thomas: That’s not my question. My question is, why did he state publicly, we do not torture —
Perino: Because we do not.
Thomas: — when he really did know that we do?
Perino: No, that’s what I mean, Helen. We’ve talked about the legal authorities —
Thomas: Are you saying that we did not?
Perino: I am saying we did not, yes.
Thomas: How can you when you have photographs and everything else? I mean, how can you say that when he admits that he knew about it?
Perino: Helen, I think that you’re — again, I think you’re conflating some issues and you’re misconstruing what the President said.
Thomas: I’m asking for the credibility of this country, not just this administration.
Perino: And what I’m telling you is we have — torture has not occurred. And you can go back through all the public record. Just make sure — I would just respectfully ask you not to misconstrue what the President said.
Thomas: You’re denying, in this room, that we torture and we have tortured?
Perino: Yes, I am denying that.
I’m late in reporting this news to you because I’m late in discovering it. And why is that? Because not one newspaper in the entire nation — not one! — has published this information for its readers since the conversation took place in the White House press room five days ago. The only mainstream news source to report on the exchange has been an online-only blog of the Kansas City Star.
I just don’t get it. Why the news blackout on this stark denial by the White House? This is a gift to the news media: a story wrapped up and tied with a bow. See, this is how the story and the follow-up reporting goes:
First, report Perino’s remarks as a “repeated denial.”
Second, report the story (which your newspaper most likely still hasn’t covered) about how this month George W. Bush confessed not only that he was aware that his senior cabinet members met on a regular basis to approve the use of waterboarding and other torture techniques, but also that, in his words, “I Approved.”
Third, note that as recently as last month, the Bush administration has issued memos in which it offers such bon mots as these:
At the same time, some prohibitions under Common Article 3, such as the prohibition on
“outrages upon personal dignity,” do invite the consideration of the circumstances surrounding
the action… the fact that an act is undertaken to prevent a threatened terrorist attack, rather than for the purpose of humiliation and abuse, would be relevant to a reasonable observer in measuring the outrageousness of the act.
Fourth, note that the emergence of information regarding CIA tapes of waterboarding have confirmed that the torture techniques approved by George W. Bush and senior cabinet officials were indeed carried out.
Fifth, for a little intermission bring in Bush Administration Attorney General Michael Mukasey’s testimony that waterboarding is torture if it is done to him, but not if it is done to somebody else.
Sixth, bring in a legal scholar to discuss the variety of bases for classifying torture as an illegal act, including international treaties with the force of law, constitutional standards prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment, and federal law itself. Talk about the definition of torture under federal law to include the threat of imminent death, which is exactly what waterboarding is designed to produce. Note the existence of the federal crime of conspiracy to commit torture, which makes each Bush administration meeting to approve of waterboarding a felony punishable by up to twenty years in prison.
Seventh, interview Congressional leaders and local Congressional representatives about their reaction to the news. Read them the law and ask them what they plan to do about it.
Eighth, contact the presidential campaigns and ask for statements reacting to the news that George W. Bush approved of torture and that his spokeswoman denies repeatedly that the torture ever took place.
This isn’t Woodward and Bernstein difficulty in reporting we’re talking about here. The pieces of the jigsaw puzzle are right there in place. Why won’t our national media, which spent a year micro-reporting the consequences of an Oval Office blow job, cover this story in the manner that emergence of an American government torture bureaucracy merits? Why won’t our national media cover this story at all? Why? Why?