Sunday, December 09, 2007

This I Know

"Aghast and disgusted" was the reaction of one reader of this blog to Weekend Edition Sunday's broadcast of its "This I Believe" segment. It's an appropriate reaction. The essay, by a war criminal former interrogator at the US-run Guantanamo prison camp should have been left on the editing room floor (or better yet dropped in the garbage). In it the pseudonymous "Alex Anderson" unloads some real doozies:
  • The detainees I worked with were murderers and rapists.
  • Some committed crimes so horrific that I lost sleep wondering what would happen if they were set free.
  • There was one detainee, Mustaf....He'd committed murders and did things we all wished he could take back.
Commentary or not, this is a staggering bunch of rubbish to run on a news show. There is not one shred of sourced evidence to back up these statements. According to the essay, and NPR's website, the woman who wrote and delivered the essay was a US soldier for one year in Iraq, a private contractor there for another six months, and then an interrogator at Guantanamo. (The irony of her focus on rape and murder is painful given her history in Iraq.)

And just in case the torture and abuse you've read about regarding Gitmo have disturbed you, Alex tells us that "many people would be surprised at the civilized lifestyle I experienced in Guantanamo." In this laid back Caribbean resort Alex "began to meet again with my clients, which is what I chose to call my detainees." In fact, for her interrogation sessions she would "meet, play dominoes, I'd bring chocolate and we'd talk a lot." Golly, a real summer camp rap session!

I've never cared much for the "This I Believe" segment; it often seem to be striving a bit too hard for sincerity, even when coming from serial liars like Newt Gingrich and Colin Powell, but this one crossed a line. This I know: at a time when Guantanamo is still a journalistic and legal black hole, this piece is pure propaganda; and to broadcast someone claiming that a specific group of people are murderers and rapists with no available proof is utterly inexcusable. As in the Anne Garrels' torture story , it's as if NPR has lost any sense of basic standards.


Porter Melmoth said...

Mytwords, I read your entry with somber confidence. This is because, despite the appalling content of the 'I Believe' segment (and thank heavens Ed Murrow's not alive to hear it), we nevertheless have proof to doubt and reason to criticize such 'testimonials' of torturers. Amazingly, they are indicting themselves without even knowing it. The doors are opening. It is now up to second-stage persons of authority and investigation to open the doors yet further for full exposure of the criminal truths within.
Amidst my disgust I nevertheless find hope. I hope this makes sense...

larry, dfh said...

Fortunately, I didn't hear this segment. I have no patience for the show, nor for "Speaking of Faith" which is also broadcast on Sunday AM's on WHYY. And on Sundays in Boston, they run an actual church sevice on WBUR. Well, maybe this is for shut-ins, but I really don't like public money being spent for religious purposes, period. The two aforementioned shows get off on the moral-superiority meme, and I get turned off real quick. The only thing NPR really believes in is $$.

Anonymous said...

Larry, you should listen to it (via the NPR online flash player).

It's mind warping. Really.

cereal_kidd said...

This piece is insidious on so many levels I don't know where to start: the dehumanization of the detainees as animals who must be detained indefinitely for potential future crimes, the painting of the interrogator as a kind soul who lives in fear (!) of death threats and wants to "help" the detainees through her love of Jesus Christ and her macabre banter about her captive being "her favorite terrorist"...


I sent the following to the ombudsman and the This I Believe comment address:


This I believe: the December 9, 2007 "This I Believe" segment is outrageous. To allow a military interrogator to abstractly paint detainees at Guantanamo Bay as "rapists and murders," even in an opinion piece, crosses the line from presenting a point of view to dissembling government propaganda. You are asking your listeners to seriously consider the claims of a military interrogator who 1.) will not identify herself (because of death threats which you do not substantiate, and which also serve, conveniently, to bolster the "murderer" accusation), and 2.) does not provide any evidence to back her accusations of the worst human crimes against detainees who have no means to respond or defend themselves.

The facts are that Guantanamo is a black hole where the flow of information is controlled by the US government and journalists cannot independently assess or verify anything. You provided no analysis to challenge or even discuss the interrogator's views, likely because the government makes it impossible to do so, which should lead to the conclusion that her claims are not credible and do not deserve a national microphone. To compare: Would you allow a local police detective to anonymously accuse an arrestee of rape and murder while that detainee was being held incognito without access to a lawyer, evidence against them, or a way to challenge their detention? I would hope not. I hope that NPR has not become a means for the Bush administration to defend its criminal hijaking of the most basic tenants of the US Constitution. I also hope that this interrogator can (ironically) eventually forgive herself for being a part of that hijacking.

WarOnWarOff said...

Pretty goddamned brazen piece of manufactured bullshit! I hope NPR listeners are starting to get wise to this little game of footsie.

Porter Melmoth said...

The putrid substance of this segment is obviously the product of BushCorp's PR Dept. Ari Fleischer no doubt polished it. Pick an out-of-work actress to read it, plant it on NPR, with its' 'sensitive' audience, and presto: the hand of yellow journalism washes the hand of propaganda. Yank their public funding NOW!

Porter Melmoth said...

Just sent this to the unbelievable 'I Believe' people:


Thank heavens Ed Murrow isn't alive to hear this offensive piece (12/9/07). It smacks of nothing short of Bush-planted propaganda, supplied by Ari Fleischer's ad agency, as it were.

The anonymity of its' alleged 'author' (or reader of text written by others) completely invalidates the attempted credibility of this commentary. True, it may be classed as a commentary, an opinion, but there is nothing to substantiate the 'creative writing' aspect of this story. It comes off as sheer propaganda, and because of the abolition of the Fairness Doctrine, there is no opportunity to counter or refute this commentary, the subject of which is incendiary.

It is also extremely inappropriate that NPR, an organization that accepts public funding, allowed this piece to go on the air in the first place. A retraction and/or an apology is required to resolve this broadcasting offense.

Your response is appreciated.

Sincerely, etc.

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

Firstly, that is one great graphic! Sez it all, eh? "Oh dear, it truly is frightful over there beyon -now where's my cabana boy?!?"

Here's an idea! Perhaps we could pool our resources here and submit an essay for this pathetic series -working titles:

"I believe in an independent media""

or to adapt the vernacular of the kids these days, "I believe NPR frickin' sucks!"

(surely they're not above a little self-effacement all in the name of good humor, are they?)


boojieboy said...

The real Kicker for me was to hear their on air response to the letters written in response to the original piece. They read three: the first was in support of the piece, the second was against, but the really interesting (and galling) one was the third.

The third letter they read from questioned the veracity of the source, suggesting (as people are here and in other places) that in fact it was a propaganda plant.

The producer's response was enough to make me yell at my radio. It amounted to "we do not expect everyone to agree with the essayists featured on this program..."


It's a legitimate (and important question): how do they even know this person was being truthful? Apparently they don't, and perhaps can't know. Which brings up the point: what good is This I Believe if a person can't even safely assume that the essayists really believe what they are saying?

But suggesting that "not everyone has to agree" pre-supposes that the essayist actually believes what she said. NPR and the producers of TIB did nothing to give me confidence that she did.

Even if "she" does believe it, it still strains my moral compass to the breaking point to suggest "we may not all agree..." WTF?!? You may as well suggest something like "Not everyone agrees that roughly 6 million Jews were systematically slaughtered by the Nazis in an attempt to exterminate them from Europe". Technically true, but are we required to acknolwedge this opinion as a point worthy of serious inclusion in our discussion of the Holocaust?