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Friday, December 09, 2011

Max Blumenthal has a big problem with facts

I have discussed how Max Blumenthal had fabricated a quote from Karen Greenberg, director of the Fordham School of Law's Center on National Security. Greenberg made it crystal clear in two other interviews that she did not in any way assert what Blumenthal says she said, namely that (in Blumenthal's words) "Israeli influence on American law enforcement is so extensive it has bled into street-level police conduct."

Blumenthal defended his reporting in a followup article - and, ironically, this new article proves even more so that he plays fast and loose with the facts.

He writes:

Greenberg's statement to me did not come out of the blue: A book she co-authored with Joshua Dratel, "The Road to Abu Ghraib," contains a lengthy section on Israeli court rulings authorizing torture and torture techniques refined by the Shin Bet. In a subsequent article, Greenberg and Dratel proposed questions for Donald Rumsfeld about torture. Here is one: "Did your discussions of torture involve consulting experts in Israel..?"

Let's look at these two sources and see if Blumenthal is representing Greenberg's words correctly.

In her book "The Road to Abu Ghraib," she does not say that there were Israeli court rulings "authorizing torture and torture techniques." Quite the contrary. She writes:

According to the Israeli Supreme Court, however, there is a necessary balancing process between a government’s duty to ensure that human rights are protected and its duty to fight terrorism. The results of that balance, the Israeli Supreme Court stated, are the rules for a “reasonable interrogation” – defined as an interrogation which is (1) “necessarily one free of torture, free of cruel, inhuman treatment of the subject and free of any degrading handling whatsoever”; and (2) “likely to cause discomfort.”

Turning to the specific interrogation methods before it, the Court concluded that shaking, the “frog crouch,” the “shabach” position, cuffing causing pain, hooding, the consecutive playing of powerfully loud music and the intentional deprivation of sleep for a prolonged period of time are all prohibited interrogation techniques.

“All these methods do not fall withiin the sphere of a “fair” interrogation. They are not reasonable. They impinge upon the suspect’s dignity, his bodily integrity and his basic rights in an excessive manner (or beyond what is necessary). They are not to be deemed as included within the general power to conduct investigations.”

The Israeli Supreme Court explained that the restrictions applicable to police investigations are equally applicable to GSS investigations and that there are no grounds to permit GSS interrogators to engage in conduct which would be prohibited in regular police interrogation.

Blumenthal breezily says that her book proved that Israel's legal system authorized torture - when in fact it prohibited it, as Greenberg makes clear.

Now, how about his second quote, where he implies that Greenberg wanted to ask Rumsfeld whether the US learned torture techniques from Israel by consulting Israeli experts on torture.

Here's the entire context:

Based on a careful reading of the hundreds of pages of "torture memos" that poured out of the White House, the thousands of pages of military reports, investigations, and original documents that have emerged from Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, as well as the flood of recent FBI e-mails and prisoner complaints that have emerged from Guantanamo prison in Cuba, we might -- as a lawyer and an historian who have been working in this area for the last two years -- suggest the following series of questions for Congress:

1. Does Torture Work? Given the detailed attention shown in the White House memos to describing three levels of interrogation (from questioning to physical abuse) to be applied in the war on terror, is there an underlying assumption that torture in fact really works? That it is more effective than ordinary means of questioning prisoners? And, if so, what does it work to produce? Have you considered whether it is a means of venting frustration or a means of obtaining reliable information? Is there clinical, verifiable evidence that torture produces better information more quickly and more accurately than other methods of interrogation? Did your discussions of torture involve consulting experts in Israel, the United Kingdom, Egypt, and elsewhere? If so, what did those sources have to say in recommending torture? Or was the administration convinced of the efficacy of torture before it began drawing up its legal documents?

Greenberg and Dratel are asking whether the US used expert information on the efficacy of torture when drawing up its policy - not whether the US learned torture techniques from Israel!

Less importantly, but no less deceptive, is how Blumenthal characterizes "Did your discussions of torture involve consulting experts in Israel...?" as one of the questions Greenberg and Dratel wanted to ask Rumsfeld, when in fact the question they were asking was "Does torture work?" and this was part of that category. The article talks about 37 questions for Rumsfeld; this was not "one of them" but only a small part asking for clarity on one of them.

In other words, Blumenthal's implication that Greenberg had previously accused Israel of teaching Americans torture techniques indeed comes "out of the blue." And the fact that Greenberg made clear to two reporters that she did not assert anything close to what Blumenthal says - and yet Blumenthal says "I stand by my reporting" - is yet another indicator that Blumenthal is not a reporter, but a crusader disguised as one.

His further speculation that Greenberg supposedly changed her story because "she was intimidated by Goldberg and the pro-Israel forces he represents" is, frankly, psychotic. Everyone agrees that Greenberg is an expert in her field, yet as soon as she explains that her position is at odds with Blumenthal's fantasies - he insults her by making up a conspiracy theory.

Blumenthal first makes up his mind as to what the truth is, and then will twist whatever facts he can to shoehorn them into his pre-existing bizarre and hateful worldview. He is in no way a responsible or even a serious journalist, and his track record proves that he plays fast and loose with the facts, if not making them up altogether.

(h/t a new blog called "maxblumenthalliar" - I have no idea who is behind it and it has no track record, but its points concerning the Greenberg book are valid.)