There are corrections and there are novellas. The 972-word mea culpa by ProPublica Editor-in-Chief Stephen Engelberg for a scandalous story his “news-gathering organization” ran more than a year ago is closer to the latter than the former.
The original article, which ran in February 2017, claimed that CIA officer Gina Haspel — who Trump had just appointed to the agency’s number two job — ran the secret prison in Thailand where al Qaeda bigwig Abu Zubaydah was being held and oversaw his waterboarding.
That damning claim resurfaced this past Tuesday when Donald Trump nominated Haspel, now a deputy director, to head up the intelligence agency. Hoping to destroy her chances for confirmation, Politico Magazine weighed in with an article titled “Gina Haspel Is a Torturer. What Else Does the Senate Need to Know?” The piece alleged:
Haspel was no mere CIA paper-shuffler. By all accounts she was an engaged participant in the torture program. She reportedly ran the CIA’s torture “black site” in Thailand and directly supervised the inhuman interrogations of Al Qaeda suspects Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. Later, when a congressional committee sought to exercise its constitutional oversight of the RDI program, Haspel was instrumental in the destruction of the videos of the black site waterboarding sessions — against the advice of superiors in the Bush administration. This act alone, which I believe was almost certainly motivated by a desire to destroy the evidence that waterboarding exceeded the legal threshold for torture and thus to evade both personal and institutional accountability and oversight, should be sufficient to disqualify her from confirmation.
The Atlantic ran its own hit piece, as did The Washington Post and Democracy Now!, which featured an op-ed and interview respectively with John Kiriakou, a former CIA analyst and current counterterrorism consultant for ABC News, who insists Haspel is the “godmother of torture.”
Just when the mainstream media was feeling good about another collaborative hit job on the president they love to hate, ProPublica came out with its lengthy retraction, which includes the following:
The nomination of Haspel this week to head the CIA stirred new controversy about her role in the detention and interrogation of terror suspects, as well as the destruction of videotapes of the interrogation of Zubaydah and another suspect. Some critics cited the 2017 ProPublica story as evidence that she was not fit to run the agency.
Those statements prompted former colleagues of Haspel to defend her publicly. At least two said that while she did serve as chief of base in Thailand, she did not arrive until later in 2002, after the waterboarding of Zubaydah had ended. [Emphasis added]
The New York Times, which also reported last year that Haspel oversaw the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah and another detainee, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, published a second story this week making the same point. It quoted an unnamed former senior CIA official who said Haspel did not become base chief until late October of 2002. According to the Times, she was in charge when al-Nashiri was waterboarded three times.
James Mitchell, the psychologist and CIA contractor who helped to direct the waterboarding of both suspects, said in a broadcast interview on March 14 that Haspel was not the “chief of base” whom he described in his book as making fun of Zubaydah’s suffering.
“That chief of base was not Gina,” Mitchell told Fox Business News. “She’s not the COB I was talking about.”
Mitchell’s book, “Enhanced Interrogation: Inside the Minds and Motives of the Islamic Terrorists Trying to Destroy America,” referred to the chief of base in Thailand as both “he” and “she.”
We erroneously assumed that this was an effort by Mitchell or the agency to conceal the gender of the single official involved; it is now clear that Mitchell was referring to two different people.
For all the Left’s insistence that it is not out to “get” Trump and does not trade in fake news, the list of “corrections” and “retractions” that suggest the opposite continues to grow. Nor is there any indication that the media intend to rein in their efforts. In June of 2017, The New York Times editorial board haughtily defended its many corrections so far that year, suggesting that multiple corrections don’t “undercut or weaken” their arguments.
They were right in a sense. Numerous corrections don’t undercut an argument. They destroy it.