Sunday, March 20, 2011

Steve Inskeep - More Tortured Distortions

On Tuesday Morning Steve Inskeep did an interesting story about a popular Egyptian singer who was recently [after the overthrow of Mubarak] detained and tortured by the Egyptian military. Inskeep's direct and moving reporting on the singer, Essam's, torture prompted The Modest Egotist to post the following comment on NPR:

This part of Modest Egoist's comment -
"But, how come when Inskeep/NPR describes the same treatment of prisoners by American troops at Gitmo and Ab Gruib it's only "harsh interrogation"?
Guess I just don't like my morning coffee with big spoonful of hypocrisy.
Ahem, who has been training the Egyptian military of the past decade?
- drew the following reply from Steve Inskeep:

So Inskeep claims,
"As for the 'Modest Egotist' question about why we don't refer to torture by Americans as torture. Actually, we do, and I have. Not room enough for all the links here, but many examples are searchable at at any time. Thanks again, Steve."
Sounds like a challenge for the NPR-BS detector to me. I spent a bit of time looking on the NPR site and on this blog, and if I were using the truth-o-meter from Politifact, I'd give Inskeep's claim a "barely true" - and I mean barely. I'll quickly list the evidence I could find:
  • Probably the strongest case for Inskeep's claim is in one report in November 2009, which describes extensive waterboarding as torture. Here's his interchange with NPR's Temple-Raston:
    Inskeep: "...this is a man [Khalid Sheikh Mohammed] who was waterboarded 183 times. What difficulties are raised by bringing in a man to a civilian court when some of the evidence against him would appear to have been obtained by torture?"
    Temple-Raston: "...No, you are exactly right. And this is one of the really big issues here, although in the case of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, he actually admitted, before being tortured, that he was the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. So that makes him slightly different than some of these other detainees who have been tortured, who maybe only admitted to something after they were subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques, or torture."
  • Also back in May of 2006 Inskeep gets credit for using the word torture in an interview with Alfred McCoy. He asks McCoy, "Can we set aside a moment, questions of morality, and just talk about practicality. Many people have said that physical torture does not produce good information, that people will say anything to get it over with. What about psychological torture? Has it ever been shown to be useful, whatever you may think of it?" Given that McCoy was talking about the use of brutal isolation, nakedness, sleep deprivation, etc., the fact that Inskeep calls it psychological torture is exceptional for NPR.
Far more common when the word torture is used for US practices, are qualified uses of the term.
  • In August of 2009, discussing revised interrogation standards, Inskeep makes this statement about CIA torture of detainees, "In addition to the moral objections to what many would define as torture, is there now a consensus among people who do this work that it also wasn't practical to be abusing prisoners?"
  • In "Torture Issue Won't Die Down" from May of 2009 - even though photos showing "nudity, guns being aimed at detainees, people in shackles" are being discussed along with previous photos from Abu Ghraib, there is only ONE reference to torture when Inskeep says "the so-called torture memos."
  • In a June 2006 interview with Alan Dershowitz who wants to prescribe and legalize "limited" torture, Inskeep says about Dershowitz - and a doctor who will be the next day's guest, "Yet, the doctor and Dershowitz agree on one thing. They say the United States is, indeed, practicing torture." Again it's distanced and qualified by "they say."
That's about as much evidence as I could find supporting Inskeep's claims. If I missed something significant, I hope someone will email me or post it in the comments section so I can update this post. As you can see, this supporting evidence is pretty thin and is swamped by NPR's and Inskeep's overall tendency to use euphemisms for torture - or to imply that abuse of detainees is not such a bad thing after all. For example
  • In June of 2006 Inskeep interviews an Army torturer and NEVER once mentions torture, even when the interrogator describes prisoners who were forced to crawl across gravel being unable to walk afterwards, or when he details subjecting them to hypothermia, dogs and months of complete isolation. In fact this treatment was not apparently brutal enough to intrigue Inskeep's moral instincts and he asks, "Did anybody ever ask you to go beyond the kinds of - well, let's call it abuse, if you don't mind, the kind of abuse that you have described..."
  • In February of 2007 Human Rights Watch issued a damning report on US torture of detainees, and Inskeep presented a short blurb on the report which featured more Bush-spin than report - and featured Inskeep noting that in the report is one "Jihadist" who "claims to have been tortured."
  • In December of 2008 when a damning Senate Report on US torture of detainees was released not only did NPR not cover it, they had Inskeep conduct an interview with a "good guy" Army interrogator who worked in Iraq. Inskeep never mentioned torture, but did find time to wonder if uncooperative prisoners ever got the interrogator to the point "where you really wanted to hit the guy."
I could go on and on (search this blog's label "torture" for example) about the direct and indirect ways that NPR's coverage or outright censorship of the US torture of detainees has greatly enabled the establishment and legitimization of formal US torture and detainee abuse practices. A record that makes Inskeep's claim all the more hollow, and of course, I've not even touched on the fact that NPR's ombudsman has asserted that calling waterboarding torture reflects bias and that the policy of NPR is to refrain from the use of such language - a fact that Modest Egoist referred and linked to in his original post.


larry, dfh said...

Thanks for taking stevie up on his dare, and reporting the results.


Thanks Matt.

I guess the fact in Inskeep never used phrase "aggressive integration", he just introduced reporters/segments that use the phrase to minimized Bush torture policies, is how he sleeps at night (that and his six figure income).

aka Modest Egotist