An Associated Press report claimed that, in an October 30 letter to Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee, attorney general nominee Michael Mukasey "pledged to study," if confirmed, the legality of the interrogation technique known as waterboarding. However, if news reports that the government stopped the use of waterboarding in 2005 are correct, then Mukasey's promise appears not to cover waterboarding, because Mukasey said in his letter that he would "review any coercive interrogation techniques currently used by the United States Government and the legal analysis authorizing their use to assess whether such techniques comply with the law" [emphasis added].
On CNN, Washington Times columnist Diana West said: "What I would like to see is people really start thinking about what is torture. If putting people into human-size shredders, as Saddam Hussein did, is torture, then waterboarding, which my senior military sources tell me you wake up feeling fine the next day -- it is not torture." However, in congressional testimony, Allen S. Keller, M.D., director of the Bellevue Hospital Center/New York University Program for Survivors of Torture, stated, "To think that abusive methods, including the enhanced interrogation techniques [in which Keller included waterboarding], are harmless psychological ploys is contradictory to well established medical knowledge and clinical experience." Keller stated of waterboarding specifically, "Long term effects include panic attacks, depression and PTSD," and said it poses a "real risk of death."
In a Fox News "All-Star" panel discussion, Morton Kondracke said of the interrogation technique known as waterboarding, "I'm sure it feels like torture, you know, it doesn't result in any lasting damage, but it feels like torture." But a physician who heads a program for torture survivors told a Senate committee that techniques such as waterboarding "are intended to break the prisoners down, to terrify them and cause harm to their psyche, and in so doing result in lasting harmful health consequences." He also said: "There is a real risk of death from actually drowning or suffering a heart attack or damage to the lungs."
Advancing a common straw man promoted by the Bush administration and repeated by the media, a Wall Street Journal editorial falsely claimed that under the "preferred rules" for wiretapping purportedly favored by "most House Democrats," "a U.S. President couldn't even eavesdrop on a foreign-to-foreign terror call if by chance that call was routed through an American telephone switch," which "would amount to unilateral disarmament in the war on terror." The assertion is false on two counts.
A New York Times article adopted House Republicans' characterization of their proposed measure to revise the RESTORE Act, a bill amending the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The article claimed that "on its face," the measure "asked lawmakers to declare where they stood on stopping Osama bin Laden from attacking the United States again." In fact, the measure would have exempted the president from requirements of the bill as long as he claimed to be acting to protect the country from attack.
A New York Post article reported that Congress plans to vote on "a bill that leaves in place the legal hurdles in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act [FISA] -- problems that were highlighted during the May search for a group of kidnapped U.S. soldiers." Hurt suggested that the "legal hurdle" was that "[t]he FISA law applies even to a cellphone conversation between two people in Iraq, because those communications zip along wires through U.S. hubs, which is where the taps are typically applied." In fact, the bill specifically provides that "a court order is not required for the acquisition of the contents of any communication between persons that are not United States persons and are not located within the United States," even if those communications are routed through U.S. hubs.
On Special Report, Jim Angle falsely claimed that proposed revisions to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) would, for the first time, require the federal government to obtain a court order to intercept the communications of terrorism suspects abroad when they call the United States. Angle asserted that "even requiring warrants for terrorists calling the U.S. from abroad is a major departure, something the law has never required since it was passed some 30 years ago." In fact, with few exceptions, FISA, as originally enacted in 1978, required the government to obtain a court order to conduct "electronic surveillance," which FISA defines in part as "the acquisition by an electronic, mechanical, or other surveillance device of the contents of any wire communication to or from a person in the United States, without the consent of any party thereto, if such acquisition occurs in the United States." It was only in August that Congress categorically excluded from the warrant requirement any "surveillance directed at a person reasonably believed to be located outside of the United States." That exclusion is due to expire in February 2008.
Responding to a reader's question about an article she co-wrote, The Washington Post's Anne E. Kornblut stated, "We asked Sen. [Hillary Rodham] Clinton what she would do, upon taking office, about special interrogation methods ... such as waterboarding or sexual humiliation. ... And her response was simply that she opposes torture, which of course is also the current policy." But according to a transcript of the interview, Clinton was not specifically asked about "waterboarding or sexual humiliation," and she did not refuse to say whether she would prohibit such measures. Indeed, she said that she would "draw a bright line and say 'No torture,' " and that she would "abide by the Geneva conventions, [and] abide by the laws we have passed."
On CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight, author Phil Kent asserted that "back in 2004, the American Civil Liberties Union, of all people, rejected some Ford and Rockefeller grants because of fear of terror links." Guest host Kitty Pilgrim did not challenge the claim. In fact, the ACLU has stated that it rejected funding from the Ford and Rockefeller foundations because their "restrictive funding agreements ... might adversely affect the civil liberties of the ACLU and other grantees."
In segments on University of Florida student Andrew Meyer, who was shocked with a Taser by campus police, Glenn Beck asserted: "To me, Taser videos are a little like potato chips. I just can't watch just one," and Bill O'Reilly announced that "[a]nyone buying anything on BillOReilly.com will receive a 'Don't Taze me, bro!' bumper sticker."
The New York Times stated that attorney general nominee Michael B. Mukasey "has repeatedly spoken out to support the administration's claim to broad powers in pursuing terrorist threats, especially in conducting electronic surveillance of terrorism suspects and in imprisoning them before trial." But Mukasey's ruling as a district court judge on the detention of terrorism suspects went beyond what the Times reported. In the case of Jose Padilla, Mukasey ruled that the government had the legal authority to imprison Padilla, a U.S. citizen arrested within the United States, without trial.
After reporting on National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell's claim that the recently approved law expanding the government's ability to eavesdrop on U.S. citizens contributed to arrests in Germany, The Washington Post and CNN have not subsequently reported that McConnell has since acknowledged that the newly passed law did not factor into the German arrests.