Accuracy in Media

Desperate to justify its Pulitzer Prize-winning story about CIA “secret prisons” in Europe, the Washington Post on Thursday claimed that a European investigator by the name of Dick Marty had found “signs” or “indications” of their existence. In fact, the investigator’s report admits he found no “hard evidence” of what the Post reported to be true. The U.S. State Department spokesman said about the Marty report that “We don’t see any new solid facts in it. There seems to be a lot of allegations but no real facts behind it.” The same applies to the dubious Dana Priest article, based on anonymous sources, that won the Pulitzer.

The Post headline, “European Probe Finds Signs of CIA-Run Secret Prisons,” could just as easily have been, “European Probe Finds No Proof of CIA-Run Secret Prisons.” The ninth paragraph of the story, written by Craig Whitlock, said, “Marty acknowledged that he lacked proof that would firmly establish the existence of the prisons.” The two countries said to have maintained “secret prisons” absolutely deny the charges.

In fact, Polish Prime Minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz said, “This is a slanderous accusation finding no reflection in reality. We shall not respond to charges which are not based on facts.”

The most important part of the report is on page 66, where Marty admits he has no “hard evidence” but finds “elements” suggesting that “secret detention centers” had existed. Notice how “secret prisons” had now become “detention centers.” In the original Dana Priest article, it was dramatically suggested they were like Soviet-style gulags.

The Marty report was conducted largely in response to the Priest article, and he makes references to it, as if the Post story was authoritative. However, Germany’s Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper has editorialized that Marty relies too heavily on newspaper articles. “The public,” the paper says, “rightly hopes for a bit more from a special investigator’s report than a detailed press review on the issue.”

Over at the Boston Globe, reporter Colin Nickerson noted that Dick Marty had charged various European countries with having “collaborated with the United States” but that he “offered little in the way of hard evidence?”

In a different formulation, Dan Bilefsky of the New York Times reported that Marty had charged that two European countries “probably” harbored “secret detention centers.”

Not surprisingly, an Al-Jazeera story went further, insisting that Marty had documented that the CIA had been caught “operating secret prisons” in Europe. It is typical of Al-Jazeera to exaggerate or lie in an effort to make America look bad.

But what accounts for the Post’s sensational approach to this story? It may be motivated at this point by the simple desire to find some justification somewhere for Priest’s story and her Pulitzer. The paper has to be in a panic over the fact that the story remains unconfirmed.

While there is little doubt that the U.S. has moved suspected terrorists around the globe, in a practice known as rendition, the Priest article’s claim about “secret prisons” made this sound sinister and sensational. It is noteworthy that the State Department, in rejecting the Marty report for lacking “solid facts,” maintained that, “renditions are an internationally recognized legal practice” and that “Carlos the Jackal wouldn’t be in jail today without the practice of rendition.” This international terrorist was captured in Sudan in 1994, injected with a tranquilizer, bound, stuffed into a sack, and transferred to France, where he was put on trial, convicted of murder, and sentenced to life in prison. Interestingly, he announced in 2003 that he was converting to Islam and pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden. Last week Venezuela’s lunatic ruler Hugo Chavez called the terrorist “a good friend.”

The capture of this killer was hailed at the time as a great success. But now, when the U.S. does it, during a time of war when Americans are facing the prospect of more terrorist attacks, the Washington Post decides that its job is to investigate, expose and undermine this effective practice through exaggerations and lies. European leftists went crazy over the charges and demanded the probe.

But the basic truth is that the Priest article on “secret prisons,” which was published on November 2, 2005, still cannot be confirmed, even after a comprehensive investigation.

It looks like the position of the Post will have to be that evidence for the existence of the secret prisons will just have to remain secret?if it exists at all.

Does this kind of coverage deserve a Pulitzer Prize?

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