Covering Up Torture? At Pentagon’s Request the Washington Post Refuses To Report on Location Of Secret CIA Jails in Europe

StoryNovember 08, 2005
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We speak with Peter Kornbluh of the National Security Archives on the paper’s decision to abide by a Pentagon request not to name which European nations house these secret facilities. Kornbluh compares this decision to the New York Times’ refusal to report on details of the U.S. invasion of the Bay of Pigs in Cuba in 1961. [includes rush transcript]

Recently, the Washington Post revealed the existence of a secret Soviet-era prison used by the CIA to detain prisoners in Eastern Europe. The prison is part of a small global network of secret CIA and military compounds used to detain and interrogate prisoners, including the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba.

At the request of U.S. officials, the Washington Post did not disclose the location of the Eastern European prison. Human Rights Watch says it’s likely Poland or Romania. This is based on records the group obtained of military flights from Afghanistan. Officials from both Poland and Romania have denied the allegations. The Post declined to come on our program to discuss their decision. Instead, a spokesperson referred us to a statement made by Executive Editor Len Downie on CNN last Thursday. Downie said, “In this case, we agreed to keep the names of those particular countries out, because we were told, and it seems reasonable to us, that there could be terrorist retaliation against those countries, or more importantly, disruption of other very important intelligence activities, antiterrorist activities.” The Post has drawn criticism for acquiescing to the government’s demand. Commenting on the Post’s rationale, the media watch-dog group FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting) said, “The possibility that illegal, unpopular government actions might be disrupted is not a consequence to be feared, however-it’s the whole point of the First Amendment.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Joining us in our Washington, D.C. studio is Peter Kornbluh, senior analyst at the National Security Archive, a public-interest documentation center in Washington. Your response to the Washington Post decision to comply with the Pentagon’s demand they not name the countries where the secret prisons are?

PETER KORNBLUH: Well, I think first of all, we need to give the Washington Post and the reporter, Dana Priest, a great deal of credit for breaking a very, very significant story. This story has the potential truly to enhance the debate, really accelerate the debate, over whether we should be involved in torturing and secretly detaining prisoners in the war on terrorism. But the Post obviously capitulated to kind of suspect arguments by very high U.S. officials, and in so doing, really I think that the Post bears a responsibility for the continuation of these abuses that we know have taken place in the past and are clear — probably are taking place in the present.

These arguments are suspect about attacks on these several Eastern European countries, which probably include Romania and Poland; but I think the bottom line is that the C.I.A. fears that if the names of these countries are published, the people in those countries, Eastern Europeans who have, you know, pushed away from the gulags of the past and are trying to rebuild democracies in the present, will say: 'Hey, this is not what we want in our countries!' And this is exactly what happened with the C.I.A. detention center in Thailand. When it was revealed the C.I.A. was running a secret center in the war on terrorism in Thailand, the Thai government said: 'We want to be able to deny that we have such a detention center here, and you have to shut it down.' That is what the C.I.A. is truly worried about, is losing its ability to sustain these facilities.

AMY GOODMAN: Peter Kornbluh, you say this is the most egregious censorship of a paper in decades, going back to the Bay of Pigs. Can you explain?

PETER KORNBLUH: Well, there are many examples (and there are many that we don’t even know about) of the U.S. government stepping in with very high executives of the New York Times and the Washington Post and the New Republic and other newspapers and media outlets across the country and saying: 'Please don't run this story because it will compromise our national security interest.’ And the most famous is the — in 1961 when the New York Times was going to run a story on the pending invasion at the Bay of Pigs in Cuba, and John Kennedy picked up the phone and called the publisher of the New York Times and said: 'Please don't run this story.’ The Times did run the story but they whittled it down significantly, eliminating exactly those types of details: when, where, who, how many, etc. And afterwards, of course, the President and his advisors said they wished that the Times had run the full story so that the invasion, which failed, would have been aborted.

But you have a similar situation here in terms of the magnitude of this issue, but the arguments are different. In this case, we don’t have U.S. soldiers whose lives are on the line. We basically have a situation where our immediate security is not compromised and where one has to evaluate whether the security of these actual countries truly is compromised. And I think if, you know, the presidents of Romania and Poland had picked up the phone and called the Washington Post and said: 'We know this is a secret operation. We are worried about it being published,' then, perhaps, you know, you could have had an argument that there was an issue here. But to simply buy into this presentation by high Pentagon, C.I.A. and White House officials that our national security is at stake in keeping the locations of these secret detention centers secret, I think, is wrong. What is at stake is these secret detention centers. And the Romanians, the Poles and other Eastern European citizens have been building a civil society focused on the abuses of the past — museums, monuments, efforts to say, you know, 'Never again!' And here the poetic, you know, irony is that the C.I.A. appears to be using actually Soviet gulags that were in place in these countries when the Soviet Union was running them.

AMY GOODMAN: Peter Kornbluh, I want to thank you for being with us, senior analyst at the National Security Archive, author of The Pinochet File: A Declassified Dossier on Atrocity and Accountability.

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