Sunday, March 31, 2013

Memo to the Press: Just Shut Up About Jonathan Fredman

The quotation is apparently too sexy to resist—too sexy even to Google its speaker’s name before running with it. A single Google search would, after all, yield this article by Stuart Taylor Jr. in National Journal—an article that should put any journalist on notice that the quotation by a career CIA lawyer named Jonathan Fredman is sketchy:
“It is basically subject to perception. If the detainee dies you’re doing it wrong.”
This was perhaps the most chillingly outrageous, widely quoted statement by a government official to be aired by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., at hearings last summer and in the committee’s December 11 report on abuse of detainees by U.S. forces.
But the quoted official, CIA lawyer Jonathan Fredman, told the committee on November 18 that he had made no such statement. In fact, Fredman added in a heretofore confidential, five-page memo, he had stressed at the 2002 meeting with interrogators at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility described in the Levin committee’s report, “Interrogation practices and legal guidance must not be based upon anyone’s subjective perception” (emphasis added) but rather upon “definitive and binding legal analysis.”
Remarkably, the 18-page report issued by the committee (headed “Executive Summary”) does not mention Fredman’s vehement—and, in my view, quite plausible—denial of the horrifying words attributed to him in a document of debatable reliability that the report, and Levin, have treated as established fact.
Yet one by one, reputable journalists and scholars keep sticking Fredman’s quotation in their books and articles.