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Hullabaloo


Sunday, August 17, 2014

 
QOTW: James Risen

by digby

I'm not a big fan of Maureen Dowd but this column about press freedom and James Risen is good. She wrote:
The president and the attorney general both spoke nobly about the First Amendment after two reporters were arrested in Ferguson, Mo., while covering the racial protests in the wake of Michael Brown’s death.

Obama said that “here, in the United States of America, police should not be bullying or arresting journalists who are just trying to do their jobs and report to the American people on what they see on the ground.”

Holder seconded the sentiment, saying that “journalists must not be harassed or prevented from covering a story that needs to be told.”

So why don’t they back off Risen? It’s hard to fathom how the president who started with the press fluffing his pillows has ended up trying to suffocate the press with those pillows.

How can he use the Espionage Act to throw reporters and whistle-blowers in jail even as he defends the intelligence operatives who “tortured some folks,” and coddles his C.I.A. chief, John Brennan, who spied on the Senate and then lied to the senators he spied on about it?

“It’s hypocritical,” Risen said. “A lot of people still think this is some kind of game or signal or spin. They don’t want to believe that Obama wants to crack down on the press and whistle-blowers. But he does. He’s the greatest enemy to press freedom in a generation.”
That's harsh. But if anyone knows, it's him.

The government says it has to pursue these leaks and harass reporters because they need to protect us from the bad guys and if the press interferes with them we will all be unsafe. But that's exactly what the police in Ferguson undoubtedly believed when they rousted reporters as well. It's often not in the interest of authorities to allow the press to report on their activities. But as we've seen in the last week --(and the last decade) it's vitally important that the people be kept informed in order that the government not abuse its power. The American organizing principles includes the idea that our liberty is not only threatened by outside forces but by the government itself when it is not properly overseen by the people. Freedom of the press is vitally important to that task, whether its reporting from the streets of Ferguson Missouri, from the halls of congress or from the shadows of the NSA and the CIA.

Just as a reminder of what kind of a reporter James Risen is, recall this:
Risen makes much of an anecdote he heard from one of his trusty White House sources about a conversation in 2002 between then-CIA director George Tenet and George Bush after the capture of Abu Zubaydah in Pakistan, a known and high-ranking al Qaeda operative. Tenet was briefing Bush on the matter, explaining that not much intelligence had been pulled from Zubaydah in the early stages because he had been put on pain medication to deal with the injuries he sustained during capture. Bush asked Tenet: "Who authorized putting him on pain medication?" Risen speculates whether Bush was "implicitly encouraging" Tenet to order the harsh treatment of a prisoner "without the paper trail that would have come from a written presidential authorization." Risen writes, "If so, this episode offers the most direct link yet between Bush and the harsh treatment of prisoners by both the CIA and the U.S. military."

Risen does say that sources close to Tenet have challenged this account, but spends pages after writing about the significance of Zubaydah's interrogation as "the critical precedent for the future handling of prisoners both in the global war on terror and in the war in Iraq." Risen writes, "The harsh interrogation methods the CIA used on Zubaydah prompted the first wide-ranging and legal policy review establishing the procedures to be followed in the detention of future detainees. 'Abu Zubaydah's capture triggered everything,' explained a CIA source." Risen describes a turf war process that eventually had the CIA in charge of all the high-profile al Qaeda prisoners.
Should we not know about that?


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