Saturday, January 29, 2005

Michael Chertoff: some sort of legal Dear Abby or torture advocate?

Mr. Chertoff's division was asked on several occasions by the intelligence agency whether its officers risked prosecution by using particular techniques. The officials said the C.I.A. wanted as much legal protection as it could obtain while the Justice Department sought to avoid giving unconditional approval.
One technique that C.I.A. officers could use under certain circumstances without fear of prosecution was strapping a subject down and making him experience a feeling of drowning. Other practices that would not present legal problems were those that did not involve the infliction of pain, like tricking a subject into believing he was being questioned by a member of a security service from another country.
But in other instances Mr. Chertoff opposed some aggressive procedures outright, the officials said. At one point, they said, he raised serious objections to methods that he concluded would clearly violate the torture law. While the details remain classified, one method that he opposed appeared to violate a ban in the law against using a "threat of imminent death."
Mr. Chertoff and other senior officials at the Justice Department also disapproved of practices that seemed to be clearly prohibited, like death threats against family members, administration of mind-altering drugs or psychological procedures designed to profoundly disrupt a detainee's personality. It is not clear whether the C.I.A. or any other agency proposed these techniques.
But Mr. Chertoff left the door open to the use of a different set of far harsher techniques proposed by the C.I.A., saying they might be used under certain circumstances. He advised that they could be used depending on factors like the detainee's physical condition and medical advice as to how the person would react to some practices, the officials said.

That's from David Johnston, Neil A. Lewis & Douglas Jehl's front page story "Nominee Gave Advice to C.I.A. on Torture Law" from the front page of this morning's New York Times.

The same front page where it share space with photos of Michael Jackson, Robert Blake and Phil Spector because the Times has apparently mistaken itself for Celebrity Justice. I remember howls and complaints when Howell Raines placed a front page article ("sociological examination" was the defense offered) on the front page. Will Keller be swamped with similar complaints?

He should be. Charlie LeDuff's, author of this embarrassing front page item, notes that "[e]ven People magazine has demoted Mr. Blake . . . It put him on the cover in May 2001 . . . but has not featured him prominently since." What People tosses into a garbage bag and sits out by the curb, the Times rushes over to claim and front page?

Possibly, after over dosing on sucking up to the administration and official sources for the long love fest that was the inauguration (Starstruck by the Bully Boy, 2005), the Times has decided to find or appeal to average citizens. If the Times feels that Michael Jackson, Robert Blake and Phil Spector are "average citizens" that goes a long way to explaining why so many people are rendered invisible by the paper. If the Times feels that "average citizens" are obsessed with celebrities on trial, they might want to take a survey next time of their readers.

This sort of fluff (which I wouldn't have said a word about had it been buried in the paper -- preferably in the arts section) is one of the main reasons I quit watching newscasts on the big three networks. I don't care about celebrity justice. I don't care about Scott Peterson. It doesn't effect my life and it keeps honest-to-God, real stories from being focused on.

So in reply to a survey that this subscriber never got (did anyone?), no, I don't want this junk on the front page.

But why take a survey when the Times apparent belief that "average citizens" care about this crap is just one more example of how condescending the paper can be to anyone who isn't an "unnamed official."