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Aiming to Smear

Accuracy in Media uses dubious evidence and false attacks to wage war on a Washington Post reporter for reporting something it didn't like.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 5/18/2006

Accuracy in Media's Cliff Kincaid has finally found something to get his mind off of Rachel Maddow's lesbianism. Unfortunately, he's throwing around false and dubious claims to make his point.

AIM's current target of choice is Washington Post reporter Dana Priest, who wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning series of articles detailing the CIA's use of secret detention facilities in Europe.

Kincaid's current fit of pique began in November 2005, shortly after Priest's first article on the secret prisons appeared. Using a classic diversionary tactic in a Nov. 2 article, Kincaid ignored the substance of Priest's reporting to portray the Bush administration as the target of a "secret war" by the media and a "faction" within the CIA "that opposes this policy and wants to use the Post to convey its view publicly." A Nov. 23 Kincaid article claimed that Priest's revelations "severely damaged U.S. national security," but he offered no evidence of that.

But Kincaid really got fired up after Priest won the Pulitzer. In a pair of articles on April 23 and April 25 (and an accompanying AIM press release) Kincaid insisted that Priest return her Pulitzer and resign from the Post because her article was "false."

Related articles on ConWebWatch:

AIM's River of Denial

Accuracy in Spin

Kincaid offers some evidence this time: a report by the Council of Europe (a sort of United Nations for European countries); Kincaid wrote in his April 25 article that the report "declared that 'At this stage of the investigations, there is no formal, irrefutable evidence of the existence of secret CIA detention centers' in Europe." According to the report, Gijs de Vries, the counterterrorism chief of the European Union, has said that he had not been able to prove that secret CIA prisons "does not appear to be proven beyond reasonable doubt."

But that finding is not as slam-dunk as Kincaid portrays it. As the International Herald Tribune reported on April 20, that conclusion has been criticized:

But Mr. de Vries came under criticism from some legislators who called the hearing a whitewash. "The circumstantial evidence is stunning," said Kathalijne Buitenweg, a Dutch member of Parliament from the Green Party, even if there is no smoking gun.

"I'm appalled that we keep calling to uphold human rights while pretending that these rendition centers don't exist and doing nothing about it," she said.


A number of legislators challenged Mr. de Vries for not taking seriously earlier testimony before the committee by a German and a Canadian who gave accounts of being kidnapped and kept imprisoned by foreign agents.


The committee also heard today from a former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, who said, "I can attest to the willingness of the U.S. and the U.K. to obtain intelligence that was got under torture in Uzbekistan.

"If they were not willing, then rendition prisons could not have existed," he added.

(Daily Kos notes some editing done by the New York Times, owner of the IHT, to this story.)

What appears to be going on is something that nobody is explicitly admitting to -- but nobody is denying either, a fact that Kincaid fails to highlight. All of the statements Kincaid quotes are qualified -- "no formal, irrefutable evidence," "not ... proven beyond reasonable doubt" -- which indicates that there is, in fact, evidence to support the claim of secret prisons. Indeed, the Council of Europe report states:

8. In an interview broadcast by the American channel ABC on 29 November 2005, the Director of the United States Central Intelligence Agency, Porter Goss, did not deny the existence of CIA secret prisons in various parts of the world where people suspected of terrorism were held.

9. On 5 December 2005, Condoleezza Rice, the American Secretary of State, made a statement addressed to Europeans in which she did not, at any point, deny the existence of the alleged centres, or of the flights transporting detainees, but reaffirmed the need to resort to "extraordinary renditions" in the context of efforts to counter terrorism. The only thing that Ms Rice categorically denied was the use of torture.

In other words, despite what Kincaid says, Priest's articles haven't been proven false.

Kincaid also claims that Mary McCarthy, the CIA officer fired over alleged contacts with members of the media, was "a partisan anti-Bush political operative in the agency who was "a key source" for Priest's story. But the same day that Kincaid's article, the Washington Post reported that the CIA "is not asserting that McCarthy was a key source of Priest's award-winning articles last year disclosing the agency's secret prisons."

A May 1 article by Kincaid once again asserts that Priest's story "appears to be essentially false" and compares Priest to Janet Cooke, the Post reporter who returned a Pulitzer after her story about a child heroin addict was found to be fabricated. Kincaid continues the claim that McCarthy leaked to Priest, despite the fact that the CIA itself isn't claiming that.

Kincaid also starts doing something else: taking a narrow, parsed approach to what he considers "false" about Priest's article, focusing only on the term "secret prisons" by repeatedly putting the term in scare quotes.

Per Priest's suggestion in a Washington Post online chat that her detractors look at an investigation by Giovanni Fava of Italy for the European Parliament, Kincaid weighed in on those findings:

He said he found evidence of the CIA transferring terrorists through Europe. But the stories about his investigation in the [Washington] Post and New York Times did not say that he had verified the existence of "secret prisons." In fact, the Times story stated, "As for the question of secret CIA detention centers in Europe, the new report offered no hard evidence."

But Kincaid failed to note what the investigation did find, as reported in the Times:

Investigators for the European Parliament said Wednesday that data gathered from air safety regulators and others found that the Central Intelligence Agency had flown 1,000 undeclared flights over European territory since 2001.

Sometimes the planes stopped to pick up terrorism suspects who had been kidnapped to take them to countries that use torture, the investigators added.

Since Kincaid fails to mention this, we don't get to hear his explanation of why such flights do not constitute evidence of secret detention facilities.

AIM ratcheted up the Priest-bashing with a May 9 article by Jennifer Verner, who played the guilt-by-association card by attacking Priest's husband, William Goodfellow, "a far-left political activist and current executive director of the Center for International Policy (CIP), who has been at the vanguard of many of the most rabid attacks on Bush Administration policy." But Verner, like Kincaid, engages in some wobbly research and rhetoric to back up her claims.

According to Verner:

In 1974, he [Goodfellow] wrote a widely circulated op-ed for the New York Times that served to excuse the genocidal Pol Pot's forced evacuation of the Cambodian people from the cities. The piece was so influential that it is still quoted by Noam Chomsky and his followers to this day.

First, Verner got the date wrong; Goodfellow's op-ed actually appeared July 14, 1975. Second, as to Verner's suggestion that the op-ed was "widely circulated" beyond its Times appearance, searches by ConWebWatch on Google and Nexis failed to turn up a complete copy of it. Nexis contains an abstract summary, while two paragraphs of it appear (and have been repeated) on the Internet.

Third, Verner offered no evidence to support her claim that the op-ed is "quoted by Noam Chomsky and his followers to this day." A search of the archive of Z Magazine, a repository for a significant segment of the work of Chomsky and his "followers," turned up only one reference to Goodfellow's op-ed: a June 1977 article co-written by Chomsky citing Goodfellow's claim regarding "the testimony of U.S. AID officials that Phnom Penh had only a six-day supply of rice."

Verner also attacked Joseph Wilson, who was a speaker at a CIP conference, claiming that his "statements about what he found in Africa and his wife's role in his mission have been completely undermined by a Senate Intelligence Committee report." In fact, much of the Senate Intelligence Committee report's "undermining" of Wilson appears not in the body of the report but, rather, in a partisan addendum written by Republicans.

Meanwhile, more evidence seeming to corroborate the existence of a secret detention system came in from an unlikely source: NewsMax. From a May 12 article by Kenneth Timmerman:

The U.S. government acknowledged yesterday that the CIA operated "a very high number" of secret flights that stopped in Europe en route to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba according to members of the European Parliament visiting Washington, DC.


The European Parliament commission says it has received "ad hoc information" from Eurocontrol, a private organization that tracks flight information for 36-member states, documenting 1,000 flights of CIA-operated aircraft. These included a Boeing 737, with registration number N313P, that human rights groups claim was chartered by a CIA front company to carry prisoners from Afghanistan to secret prisons in Egypt, Syria, Uzbekistan and Eastern Europe.


The aircraft made "several flights from Kabul, stopping in Poland, Romania, and Morocco along the way to Guantanamo," Fava said. "We don't think they were making refueling stops."


NewsMax has learned that the commission also met with a U.S. reporter who claimed to be in touch with "active-duty CIA officers" who were providing information on the extraordinary renditions and the secret prisons because they felt the practice was wrong.

So we appear to have official confirmation of the results of the European Parliament investigation from a news source that AIM respects (the AIM search engine returns 72 hits for "NewsMax"). Would this make AIM call a cease-fire to its word-parsing war against Priest and the Post?

Not on your life. A May 16 article by Kincaid resumes the attack, issuing the same old gripes -- the claim of "no evidence" that the "secret prisons" existed, the claim that McCarthy was "reported to be" a source, the bashing of Priest's Pulitzer. No acknowledgment of the mounting evidence supporting Priest's story, no retraction of the false claim about McCarthy.

Kincaid has defined his quest for evidence of "secret prisons" so narrowly that he is ignoring the fact -- corroborated by a news source that he respects -- that the U.S. has been transferring suspected terrorists in secret flights in and through Europe. Does Kincaid think those prisoners are still hanging around at the airport, watching CNN and eating overpriced food from a concourse vendor?

With such a track record of partisan smears -- a major deviation from the "accuracy" in AIM's name -- perhaps it's time for Kincaid to take a break and spend some quality time obsessing over Rachel Maddow's lesbianism.

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