O'Reilly ignored government officials who disputed effectiveness of Zubaydah's harsh interrogation

››› ››› RAPHAEL SCHWEBER-KOREN

Bill O'Reilly selectively cited a New York Times article to suggest that government officials involved in the interrogation of Al Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah agree that Zubaydah provided critical information to the United States after the CIA used "harsh" interrogation techniques. But in that same Times article, other government officials challenged the efficacy of the interrogation techniques used on Zubaydah.

On the September 12 and 13 editions of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, Fox News host Bill O'Reilly selectively cited a September 10 New York Times article to suggest that government officials involved in the interrogation of Al Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah agree that Zubaydah provided critical information to the United States and that he had done so only after the CIA used "harsh" interrogation techniques. O'Reilly, however, neglected to mention that, in that same Times article, other government officials challenged the efficacy of the interrogation techniques used on Zubaydah and that, in a press conference announcing the prohibition of such harsh techniques, an Army intelligence official stated: "No good intelligence is going to come from abusive practices." O'Reilly also ignored other accounts that have reported the more severe techniques used on Zubaydah, instead concluding that calling the techniques "torture" was "nuts."

O'Reilly, both in his September 12 "Talking Points Memo" segment and his later interview with Human Rights Watch counsel on counterterrorism Katherine Newell Bierman, cited two examples of "harsh measures," that the Times article reported the CIA used on Zubaydah: "Well, the CIA allegedly stripped Zubaydah, who had been wounded by the Pakistani authorities, put him in a freezing room, and used Red Hot Chili Peppers on him -- no, not the vegetables, the rock band." O'Reilly told Newell Bierman that calling these methods "torture" was "just nuts." During his discussion with conservative radio talk show host Laura Ingraham the next day, O'Reilly asked, "Red Hot Chili Peppers ... they're blaring it. The guy [Zubaydah] is naked, shivering, blaring this crazy music. Is that torture?" Ingraham replied that "Mak[ing] [him] watch [MSNBC host] Tucker Carlson on Dancing with the Stars ... would be torture," and argued that "even using the word 'torture' really has become meaningless, because I think the question is, will the tough techniques that are used ... are they useful?

However, O'Reilly's characterization of Zubaydah's treatment ignored several other media accounts that have reported that Zubaydah's treatment's was far more severe. While O'Reilly stated that he "fully expects far worse prisoner abuse will come to light down the road," earlier reports from ABC News and Time magazine and, more recently, in the The Washington Post's June 20 review of Ron Suskind's book The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America's Pursuit of Its Enemies Since 9/11 (Simon & Schuster, June 2006), have already reported (as did Media Matters) that Zubaydah was "water-boarded," a technique which Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), in November 2005, called a "very exquisite torture." A November 18, 2005, ABC News report described the technique:

The prisoner is bound to an inclined board, feet raised and head slightly below the feet. Cellophane is wrapped over the prisoner's face and water is poured over him. Unavoidably, the gag reflex kicks in and a terrifying fear of drowning leads to almost instant pleas to bring the treatment to a halt.

In addition, the Times article O'Reilly cited mentioned that Zubaydah was stripped and forced to "st[and] or l[ie] on the bare floor, sometimes with air-conditioning adjusted so that, one official said, Mr. Zubaydah seemed to turn blue."

Furthermore, O'Reilly selectively cited the Times article to suggest that people within the government uniformly agreed that Zubaydah gave up valuable information and that he did so only after the CIA began using harsh interrogation techniques. During the September 12 "Talking Points Memo" segment, O'Reilly stated that "[b]lasting the Peppers in a cold room apparently broke Zubaydah, according to an unnamed government official quoted in the article" and that "[a]t first, Zubaydah was defiant and evasive until the approved procedures were used. He soon began to provide information on key Al Qaeda operators to help us find and capture those responsible for the 9-11 attacks. And one of those men was Khalid Shaikh Muhammad, the mastermind of 9-11." He returned to this point during his September 12 discussion with Newell Bierman, and also during his September 13 discussion with Ingraham.

The Times, however, also reported that other current and former government officials strongly disagree with this version of events, a fact O'Reilly did not mention. The article stated that "[c]rucial aspects of what happened during Mr. Zubaydah's interrogation are sharply disputed" and that current and former government officials "who were more closely tied to law enforcement" said that Zubaydah "cooperated with F.B.I. interviewers until the C.I.A. interrogation team arrived. They said that Mr. Zubaydah's resistance began after the agency interrogators began using more stringent tactics."

In addition, as Media Matters has noted, both The New York Times and The Washington Post have highlighted disclosures contained in the 9-11 Commission report and -- as Newell Bierman told O'Reilly -- Suskind's One Percent Doctrine that contradict O'Reilly's account of both Zubaydah's value as a source and the efficacy of the interrogation methods used on him. They reported that much of what Zubaydah purportedly provided was already known by the U.S. government, and that the information he did pass along contributed little to the capture of other high-level Al Qaeda operatives. Suskind also reported that the CIA's harsh techniques only led Zubaydah to disclose a variety of apparently nonexistent plots.

O'Reilly, during his September 13 discussion with Ingraham, did acknowledge that Suskind had reported that "Zubaydah didn't know anything, and he didn't give them anything." But O'Reilly baselessly dismissed Suskind -- a Pulitzer-prize-winning former Wall Street Journal reporter -- as simply "a partisan [who] doesn't like Bush." Ingraham said: "Who cares about Ron Suskind? ... I am so uninterested in him." However, as documented, Suskind's reporting on Zubaydah meshes with other news reports -- including the Times article O'Reilly selectively based his version of events on.

Further, as Newell Bierman pointed out, the U.S. Army also claims that it is ineffective to interrogate detainees using the methods O'Reilly called merely "coercive." On September 6, the Army announced its new interrogation manual (pdf), which explicitly prohibits the use in interrogations of "torture or cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment or punishment," which "include, but are not limited to" eight specific techniques, such as "'[w]aterboarding,'" "[i]nducing hypothermia or heat injury," and "[a]pplying beatings ... or other forms of physical pain." At the press conference in which the new manual was announced, deputy chief of staff for intelligence Lt. Gen. John Kimmons was specifically asked whether the prohibition of such techniques would "limit the ability of interrogators to get information that could be very useful?" Kimmons replied that he was "absolutely convinced" that the answer to that question was "no" because "any piece of intelligence which is obtained under duress, under -- through the use of abusive techniques would be of questionable credibility."

From the September 12 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:

O'REILLY: Hi, I'm Bill O'Reilly. Thanks for watching us tonight. The torture factor -- that's the subject of this evening's "Talking Points Memo."

All over the world, people think the U.S.A. supports torturing terror suspects. That's because of the awful Abu Ghraib scandal and the relentless far-left drumbeat that the Bush administration is really the Inquisition, a bunch of sadistic maniacs inflicting pain on a random basis. How many times have you heard people accuse the Bush administration of torture? On this program alone, it's been done scores of times.

Well, now, we have a window into the torture methodology. A front-page article in last Sunday's New York Times chronicles a dispute between the FBI and the CIA over how to question captured Al Qaeda personnel director Abu Zubaydah. According to the article, which uses unnamed sources, the FBI wanted a soft approach but the CIA, which had jurisdiction, opted for harsh measures. Torture, according to some people. And what were those methods? Well, the CIA allegedly stripped Zubaydah, who had been wounded by the Pakistani authorities, put him in a freezing room, and used Red Hot Chili Peppers on him -- no, not the vegetables, the rock band.

[clip of Red Hot Chili Peppers music videos]

OK. OK. I'll talk. I mean, who could put up with that kind of noise? Now, you may think I'm joking here, but I'm not. Blasting the Peppers in a cold room apparently broke Zubaydah, according to an unnamed government official quoted in the article. At first, Zubaydah was defiant and evasive until the approved procedures were used. He soon began to provide information on key Al Qaeda operators to help us find and capture those responsible for the 9-11 attacks. And one of those men was Khalid Shaikh Muhammad, the mastermind of 9-11.

"Talking Points" fully expects far worse prisoner abuse will come to light down the road. After an attack like 9-11, you have to expect some American interrogators will go over the line. But the absurdity of this situation? The Red Hot Chili Peppers designated as torture? After 3,000 Americans lay dead in the street? It's almost too much to comprehend. Truth is that America has been restrained in its response to the savagery of Al Qaeda and others. But you'll not see that point of view much in the press. What you will continue to see is the word "torture," with apology to the Chili Peppers.

That's the "Memo." Now for the top story tonight, opposing point of view. Joining us from Washington, Katherine Newell Bierman, a former captain in the Air Force, and present counsel for Human Rights Watch. This is crazy, right? Red Hot Chili Peppers blaring in Zubaydah? This is nuts. Correct?

NEWELL BIERMAN: Well, not exactly. If it's long enough and loud enough, then noise sounds like that noise -- cold room -- you know, things that might sound pretty minor, if they're long enough and loud enough and cold enough, can cause severe pain and suffering. That's the bottom line.

O'REILLY: All right. Severe pain and suffering. So you consider a cold room and the Chili Peppers torture?

NEWELL BIERMAN: Let me put it this way, Bill. When an interrogator sets out to use techniques like this to get someone to talk, you're not talking a few minutes of sounds, you're not talking a nippy 68 degrees. They're going to use them to the extent that the person is being caused pain.

O'REILLY: Discomfort.

NEWELL BIERMAN: And you get some garbage --

O'REILLY: Discomfort. I don't know about pain, but I guess you could make an argument that having to listen to the Chili Peppers blaring in a cold room could cause pain. But the ends --

NEWELL BIERMAN: Well, Bill, we've seen this in torture chambers around the world. These kinds of techniques are not uncommon.

O'REILLY: OK, so this is a torture chamber technique, according to you and Human Rights Watch. This is torture.

NEWELL BIERMAN: These techniques, if used in certain ways, can amount to torture.

O'REILLY: OK. Now that, to me, is just nuts. Torture is taking my fingers off, disfiguring me, taking my eye out -- not keeping me in a cold room and uncomfortable and blaring rock music.

NEWELL BIERMAN: Well, let me ask you this, Bill --

O'REILLY: See, and this is the debate. No, this is the debate, Katherine. You got to understand that, this is the debate. This guy broke, Zubaydah -- according to this article. I wasn't there. But according to the article, he broke because of this treatment and he gave up Khalid Shaikh Muhammad. And he gave up scores of others --

NEWELL BIERMAN: He told us stuff we already knew, Bill. He told us Khalid Shaikh -- well --

O'REILLY: Well, that's what you say. That's not what the CIA says.

NEWELL BIERMAN: President Bush used him as a poster boy for these techniques, and he said that Abu Zubaydah told us Khalid Shaikh Muhammad was actually [the code name] Mukhtar. According to the 9-11 Commission, the CIA knew that since 2001.

O'REILLY: According to this article.

NEWELL BIERMAN: I would think that President Bush's speechwriters gave him the most poignant example he could use and that's the one he used. That's pretty sad.

O'REILLY: OK. Katherine. Katherine. If you can read, then you read this article, and according to the article, OK, the government official -- unnamed, I will admit, we don't like unnamed sources -- said that they broke Zubaydah and Zubaydah gave 'em up, all the names that they needed to get to prevent further terror attacks. Now, I'm gonna believe that until you can prove it differently, and you can't.

NEWELL BIERMAN: Well I'll tell you what, Bill, I'm going to suggest you have another guest on your show. And that's Ron Suskind, he's someone who's had perhaps more access to people in the CIA than anybody else, and he's got a book called The One Percent Solution [sic]. And he goes into exactly what was happening with Abu Zubaydah and what kind of information he gave up and the fact that Abu Zubaydah was a crazy man. He was writing diaries in the voices of three different people who were all living in his head.

O'REILLY: All right, so just, you don't believe then, this New York Times article --

NEWELL BIERMAN: Bottom line is President Bush described Americans abusing and coercing interrogation from a crazy man who told us stuff we already knew or told us stuff we didn't know and we had to find out that wasn't true.

O"REILLY: All right. So you don't believe --

NEWELL BIERMAN: So that's the story behind the story.

O'REILLY: You don't believe the story then, because the story makes no mention of what you just said. The story basically says the FBI wanted a soft interrogation, CIA wanted tough. Tough included the Red Hot Chili Peppers, a cold room.

NEWELL BIERMAN: Well, yeah, the story said that.

O'REILLY: You don't believe the story. And then the -- at the end of the story, which should have been the lead paragraph, but the Times is gonna bury that all day long, the government official says, look, we broke the guy. The guy gave us very useful information and protected Americans. You say that's bull. You're just flat out, Captain, saying that's not true.

NEWELL BIERMAN: Bill, I'm telling you there's more information, OK? Here's the bottom line. OK? From day one through year five, the U.S. military and the FBI have been saying coercive interrogation techniques get you garbage, and they come at a high cost.

O'REILLY: And I don't believe that for a second.

NEWELL BIERMAN: General Kimmons just said it at the Pentagon.

O'REILLY: And I base my belief on -- I base my belief on -- I talked to the interrogators at Guantánamo. You may have seen that. I went down there.

NEWELL BIERMAN: I did.

O'REILLY: I talked to head interrogator at Bagram [air base] in Afghanistan. These are the hands-on guys, do it every day. They both tell -- All of them tell say that --

NEWELL BIERMAN: Bill, so you're saying the interrogators told you torture is an effective technique to get good information, is that what you're saying?

O'REILLY: I'm telling you that coerced interrogation, you ask any police department in the United States, works on most, not all, but most. It works. And you're --

NEWELL BIERMAN: Works for what? They say what they want to say to get you to stop hurting them.

O'REILLY: No, no. Baloney. Look --

NEWELL BIERMAN: Bill, I'm not going to argue this point with you.

O'REILLY: OK, don't.

NEWELL BIERMAN: Let's look at the cost of these techniques.

O'REILLY: Because there isn't -- there's no end to the argument. No. Let me pose a very simple question to you.

NEWELL BIERMAN: Let's look at the costs of these techniques. It makes a big difference -- it makes a big difference --

O'REILLY: All you want -- all you want -- all you want to protect your family and my family is name, rank, and jihad number. That's all you want. You don't want any other techniques to be used.

NEWELL BIERMAN: Yeah, Bill, you don't know that. And that's complete bull on your part.

O'REILLY: All right, well, then set me straight.

NEWELL BIERMAN: Come on. Let's get real here.

O'REILLY: Set me straight.

NEWELL BIERMAN: You said you want to talk about reality? Let's talk about reality, OK?

O'REILLY: Set me straight. No, set me straight on interrogation, Captain.

NEWELL BIERMAN: Interrogator after interrogator to professional interrogators say coercion gets you garbage.

O'REILLY: It's bull --

NEWELL BIERMAN: They don't want to use it.

O'REILLY: -- it's bull. It's bull.

NEWELL BIERMAN: Go look at the Pentagon briefing when General Kimmons and the [inaudible] --

O'REILLY: Look, I talked to 'em face-to-face. I talked to 'em face-to- face. They told me a totally different story.

NEWELL BIERMAN: Get General Kimmons up here.

O'REILLY: Last question, very simple question to you.

NEWELL BIERMAN: Get the military JAGs [military lawyers] up here who testified before Congress.

O'REILLY: Hey, Captain. Very simple, OK? Name, rank, jihad number. Anything else that you require from these guys?

NEWELL BIERMAN: Bill, that's not our position, and you know it. If this is best you can do, we need to talk again.

O'REILLY: What's your position? State it.

NEWELL BIERMAN: Our position is that abusive interrogation techniques which cause severe mental and physical pain and suffering are unlawful and really, really stupid.

O'REILLY: OK, you got -- Captain, you got nothin', and the Red Hot Chili Peppers isn't torture. Hate to break it to you. But we appreciate you coming on the program.

NEWELL-BIERMAN: Thanks, Bill.

From the September 13 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:

O'REILLY: In the "Factor Follow-Up" segment tonight, last night on The Factor, we had a lively debate with a lawyer for Human Rights Watch over whether captured Al Qaeda personnel director, Abu Zubaydah, was tortured. According to an article in The New York Times last Sunday, the FBI and the CIA clashed over how to question Zubaydah, with the CIA winning out. Apparently, Zubayda was stripped, placed in a freezing room, subjected to blaring music from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, among others. Human Rights Watch believes that is unacceptable. Joining us now from Washington, syndicated radio talk show star Laura Ingraham. All right. I'm putting you in charge of interrogation for the U.S. government.

INGRAHAM: Uh-oh.

O'REILLY: Red Hot Chili Peppers -- I know you're a music aficionado. Is this -- you know, and they're blarin' it. The guy's naked, he's shiverin', they're blarin' this crazy music. Is that torture?

INGRAHAM: If you want to torture Zubaydah or any of these high-level targets, Bill, I have one thing to say. Make them watch Tucker Carlson on Dancing with the Stars, OK? That would be torture. But the Red Hot Chili Peppers are actually a pretty good group.

I mean, here, in all seriousness, this whole thing is so ridiculous. Suddenly now Human Rights Watch is going to be the arbiter of what is and what is not torture? In my mind, even using the word "torture" really has become meaningless, because I think the question is will the techniques that are used, the tough techniques, the harsh techniques, are they useful? Are we getting useful information? And I think as you pointed out last night, the end of that New York Times article should have been the lead. They buried the lead.

O'REILLY: Yeah, they buried the lead.

INGRAHAM: Yeah. The important point is that we got critical information from Zubaydah about other Al Qaeda targets, including the 9-11 hijackers.

O'REILLY: All right, but then -- here's why the debate never ends, but here's why it's desperately important for all of us.

INGRAHAM: Yeah.

O'REILLY: You have the guy in The New York Times, and he's an unnamed source -- I mean --

INGRAHAM: Sure.

O'REILLY: -- we don't have a name on this guy -- saying, "Look, we broke Zubaydah. And this is how we broke him. We made it so uncomfortable for him that he didn't want this any more, and he told us what we needed to know." Then you open Newsweek magazine. You've got Ron Suskind. OK? Now, he's a partisan, doesn't like Bush. You know, he says, "Hey, that's bull. Zubaydah didn't know anything, and he didn't give them anything."

INGRAHAM: Yeah, who cares about Ron Suskind? I mean, I am so uninterested in him.

O'REILLY: OK, but what I'm trying to tell you is this: the average American sitting at home, that's not engaged on a daily basis like we are --

INGRAHAM: Right.

O'REILLY: -- doesn't know what the truth is. Doesn't know.

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