How the U.S. government uses its media servants to attack real journalism
By Glenn Greenwald
"The US has stopped running its global network of secret prisons, CIA director Leon Panetta has announced. 'CIA no longer operates detention facilities or black sites,' Mr Panetta said in a letter to staff" - BBC, April 9, 2009
Earlier this week, the truly intrepid investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill published in The Nation one of the most significant political exposés of the year. Entitled "the CIA's Secret Sites in Somalia," the article documented that the CIA uses and effectively controls a secret prison in Mogadishu, where foreign nationals who are rendered off the streets of their countries (at the direction 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 Democracy Now 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 the most controversial Bush terrorism policies by having some other government technically operate it so they can keep their fingerprints off it." Indeed, the administration has even resorted to this playbook by using "torture by proxy" -- as we saw when the Kuwait government, with at least the complicity if not direction of the U.S., detained and beat American teenager Gulet Mohamed during interrogation sessions. Just yesterday, a federal judge "reacted skeptically" to the Obama DOJ's demands 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 with al-Qaida in Somalia."
Scahill's discovery of this secret prison in Mogadishu -- this black site -- calls into serious doubt the Obama administration's claims to have ended such practices and establishes a serious human rights violation on its own. As Harper's Scott Horton put it, the Nation article underscores how the CIA is "maintaining a series of 'special relationships' under which cooperating governments maintain proxy prisons for the CIA," and "raises important questions" about "whether the CIA is using a proxy regime there to skirt 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. No major television news network -- including MSNBC -- has even mentioned his story. Generally speaking, Republicans don't care that 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 while that typical, manipulative tactic didn't stop Scahill from informing the citizenry about this illicit behavior, it has (as usual) led government-subservient American media stars to refrain from discussing it. Indeed, Scahill said that this site is such common knowledge in Mogadishu (where even ordinary residents call it "that CIA building") that he'd be "very surprised" if international reporters 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 journalists have been dutifully following the CIA's script in order to undermine the credibility of Scahill's story. CNN's long-time Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr -- one of the most reliable DoD stenographers in the nation (she actually announced that the real Abu Ghraib scandal was the unauthorized 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 though Starr never once mentioned that report: