Thursday, November 01, 2007

Garrels Twists

As in twists in the wind and twists the truth. Earlier this week I posted on Garrels' Heart of Darkness moment. Fortunately NPR must have been bombarded with complaints from listeners and I saw today that FAIR picked up the Garrels' report two days ago for an "Action Report."

This morning on the "letters" segment of NPR news, Inskeep (who was party to Garrels' torture-sourced reporting) questions her on the phone from Iraq. Garrels' response to listeners' complaints was essentially a four-pronged counter attack:

1) She claims that she made it clear in her original report that she was appalled by the treatment of the prisoners: "...and I think I made it clear that I was as appalled as listeners were by the torture that had clearly occurred." That's interesting, because her original report was rather matter-of-fact about the torture and focused on the extracted testimony of the victims not on their treatment or ultimate fate.

2) She claims that she and her team were not expecting torture and were scared and frightened by the situation: "...and quite frankly NPR was extremely uncomfortable with the situation; we were quite scared. When we got to the location our tape recorders were confiscated temporarily. We were clearly taken in a circuitous route..." Fair enough. I would have been scared too, but then once they were back to safety, why didn't the focus of the story become the brutal nature of militia factionalism and the barbarism resorted to by all combatants in Iraq. Instead the entire focus was on Garrels'/NPR's predetermined story - IRAN's culpability.

3) She claims that she independently verified all the information that the victims were compelled to give. "...the details that were given, seemed to me, to gel with other things that I had heard from people who had not been tortured...." and "The details that came from the questions were such that it lent credibility to the story. There were a great number of details about how they operated, who they operated through, why they did this - and we do know for a fact that they described posing as Sunnis...raping a Shiite girl...that incident did occur; we were able to confirm that - that was not made up." Inskeep (in all seriousness) says, "So you were working almost like a police officer in that sense and taking this information that might well be corrupted information, but trying to match it up with other facts that you knew from your long experience in Iraq."

4) She simply makes up the proposition that listeners don't want to hear about torture and atrocities. "When we saw what we believed to be torture victims we reported it, and in the end if you ignore the reality of what these groups are doing and do not say they tortured these people, then that's even worse." I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried. Amazing! Garrels is claiming that she is being criticized for doing dangerous investigative journalism to expose human rights abuses, when in fact she has been caught red-handed using torture extracted testimony to make a case against Iran.

I hope that listeners will continue to contact NPR with demands that Garrels and Inskeep be held to account for their misinformation and unethical behavior.


Porter Melmoth said...

Mytwords and Masbrow, thanks for articulating the ramifications of this important story.

For what it's worth, I sent this to NPR:

Re: Anne Garrels' Torture Story

Ann Garrels should be relieved of Iraq duty. Her credibility is shattered. Her explanation of the Shiite militia torture story's background was lame. Why didn't she give more background in the actual story itself? Her judgment in weighing the significance of this story was flawed, and her defense of it rings hollow. Her objective in the report appears to have been to link the torture victims with Iran, and little else. She should have realized that the implications of her story are incendiary. She has obviously been in Iraq too long. She has lost her objectivity. Her ego has gotten in the way. Give someone else a chance to get to the real truths in Iraq. Aside from this, NPR has not at all been my source for news on the Iraq war, and it will continue not to be. I only chanced upon this story. NPR's 'new' approach, (more commercial-sounding, fluffier, jollier, narcissistic) in order to appeal to younger audiences, has alienated me utterly. Thus, your serious news coverage values are diminished. NPR may have sold out, but that's still no excuse for Garrels' slipshod, conditional journalism. If she wants to be a hero reporter in Iraq, she should probably pursue the fiction field.

Christian said...

I sent in the following letter earlier this week:

"I found Ann Garrels report from Iraq on Friday offensive in the extreme. Interviewing torture victims as sources would be acceptable for the purpose of shining a light on their mistreatment, but aiding their tormentors by giving credibility to their "confessions" and disseminating it on national radio is wrong wrong wrong! If Garrels was after a scoop, I guess she got one, at the expense of her decency."

The audio link to her response is here:

Her defense of "details that were given seemed to gel with other things I had heard from people" is laughably, infuriatingly vague. Even if that's true, she failed to mention those things in the original story, and it still doesn't excuse the fact that she used torture-testimony to source a story. A sordid journalistic incident indeed.

big!pink!fuzzy!bunny! said...

Now THAT'S what I'd call shootin' yerself in the sh!t stomper there, Major-General Jack-Bauer Garrulous!

big!pink!fuzzy!bunny! said...

PS: those were good responses to said atrocious 'report.' Too bad robots & parrots can't read (or at least be affected by the portent of words). So I'm really not expecting any improvement from them... whatsoever.

Porter Melmoth said...

Neither do I, b!p!f!b!, but the more they hear from us, the better.

Anonymous said...

They're on the run!!! They're on the run!!!

The fact they have to explain themselves (and so, so lamely) shows they cannot--they haven't a leg to stand on!

Keep up the awesome work, Matt!



Anonymous said...

I got this response to my complaints from the NPR Ombudsman:

Dear Listener:

Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughtful observations on
Anne Garrels' recent reporting on torture victims. Here are my thoughts.

Alicia Shepard

Ombudsman, NPR

Anne Garrels is one of the finest war correspondents of our time. She
has spent the last five years in and out of Iraq, covering the
war-ravaged country with a certain fearlessness that is awe-inspiring.

But listeners think it's time for Garrels to come home.

Recently, the head of Sadr's militia in the western side of Baghdad
invited her to watch three renegade Sadr militiamen be interrogated.
Garrels did not know beforehand that she would find three beaten and
bloodied men. On Oct. 26, Garrels spoke with Morning Edition host Steve
Inskeep about what she saw, saying that the information from the
tortured victims seemed to confirm that Iran is fueling violence in Iraq

GARRELS: In the Sadr safe house, the three detainees had clearly been
tortured and the story they told was that they were trained in roadside
bombs and car bombings in Iran. They say they worked for money and that
their orders were to attack Americans and sow suspicion and violence
between Shiites and Sunnis."

Listeners heard that piece and went ballistic. Some
incorrectly believed that Garrels watched the men being tortured. She
did not.

"Please make clear that NPR was not a witness to torture," wrote Garrels
later in an email and "that we were provided (an) opportunity to hear
'testimony' by alleged renegade militiamen. The NPR team determined when
the detainees were presented to us, that the detainees had been tortured
and so reported. Far from being a party to this, we reported on the

But is this kind of abuse news? Was their 'testimony'

If there was news in Garrels' piece, it would be that NPR has definitive
proof that Iran is behind recent violence. But that can't be confirmed
on the say-so of torture victims in front of their captors.

Ariel Salzmann, a history professor from Canada's Queen's University,
thought NPR's decision to accept the invitation was of dubious
journalistic judgment, "for it was clearly organized by al-Sadr to
rehabilitate his organization before the international public," she
wrote. "Once she saw the condition of the men accused, any doubts she
might have had about the veracity of al-Sadr followers' claims should
have dissipated."

What really upset the 700-plus people who emailed or called is that NPR,
well-known for careful reporting, would base a sensitive story on the
unreliable words of men beaten into confessing. "What kind of journalism
is this?" asked another e-mailer. "Since when do we consider bloody
torture victims reliable sources of information?"

"Torture victims will say anything their torturers tell them to
(especially if they are still being held by their captors!!)" said
another email.

I agree with them. The folks who run Morning Edition also were concerned
that maybe Garrels hadn't been skeptical enough, and asked her to do a
"two-way" with Inskeep on Nov. 1 to clarify. Below is an excerpt from
that aired conversation and you can find the entire segment here:

INSKEEP: Did you have at any moment any doubts whether they were just
making up a story because they didn't want to be beaten anymore?

GARRELS: Of course, I had doubts. But the details that were given seemed
to me to gel with other things that I had heard from people who had not
been tortured. But I was as uncomfortable as the listeners were with the
conditions. The fact that the militia was doing this and making it clear
that they had issues with Iran, I thought was important. But, of course,
the information that comes from victims of torture is always

But Garrels did not make that point in her initial story, though Inskeep
did show some skepticism. In the follow-up piece, Garrels didn't do a
good job of satisfactorily justifying why she and her editor used
tortured victims as sources.

GARRELS: We went back to the degree possible and confirmed the
information that was elicited from these torture victims. And indeed,
many of the incidents they described had happened.

Many listeners think Garrels only complicated the matter when she tried
to clarify her story on air. Some said it is morally wrong to use
information provided by torture victims because it could endorse or
encourage torture. Others stated that Garrels gave a specious argument
when she said had independently corroborated the detainees' story. How
many times in criminal cases has a suspect confessed to something he had
read in the paper, heard on the radio or that the cops fed him just to
stop the beating?

I asked the foreign desk editor if he would share the thinking on this
and was told that by putting Garrels on the air Nov. 1 to address
listener complaints, they had answered all the questions.

But I don't think they have. While I have a great deal of respect for
Anne Garrels' war reporting, evidence obtained through torture is not
credible, nor is it good journalistic practice.

"The mere fact they talked about something that had happened doesn't
mean that they did that," noted Virginia Sloan of the Constitution
Project. "There've been plenty of instances where interrogators plant
the evidence. What we do know is that reputable interrogators whether
military or law enforcement have unanimity of views that torture does
not work and any statements made under torture are not reliable."

By the way, Garrels has left Baghdad. But she will be going

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