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NYT: Weighing the Risk


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Why doesn't someone from the government shut this rag down?

Where the hell is the feared Patriot ACt when you need it?

Nice to see the NYT's carefully weighed all the factors and decided that their terrorist friends won't really be out for this guy :doh:

Pieces of ****


TWO weeks ago, over the objections of his lawyer and the Central Intelligence Agency, The Times named the interrogator who used shrewd psychology, not rough stuff, to get Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, to talk.

The interrogator and his family fear that the newspaper has endangered their lives, and many readers asked why The Times could not have withheld his name. Suzanne Dupre of Evanston, Ill., said she was shocked by The Times’s decision. Deuce Martinez “was loyally serving his country in a dangerous job,” she wrote. “The Times has made him a marked man.”

Scott Shane, the reporter, and his editors said that using the name was necessary for credibility. Martinez was, after all, the central character in the story. They said that nobody provided evidence that Martinez would be in any greater danger than the scores of others who have been identified in the news media for their roles in the war against Al Qaeda. Those include other former C.I.A. officers, the warden at Guantánamo, military prosecutors, the lawyer who wrote Justice Department memos justifying harsh interrogation techniques, and even a New York Port Authority policeman who helped arrest a terrorist.

The Times gave a brief explanation of its reasoning in an online Editors’ Note, but it did not tell readers that, because Martinez was so worried, it was not using his first name, only his nickname, or that it had alerted him to a Web site where he had posted a great deal of personal information, which was taken down before the article was published.

The episode involved the clash of two cultures, journalism and government intelligence, with almost diametrically opposed views about openness. It raised the difficult question of how to weigh the public’s right to know about one of the most controversial aspects of the war on terror, the interrogation of prisoners, against the potential harm in naming an honorable public servant.

Shane said he started reporting in March on the interrogation of Mohammed and quickly focused on Martinez, a desk-bound analyst, not a covert spy, who was pressed into service and wound up establishing a remarkable rapport with the ruthless terrorist. Although Mohammed had been subjected earlier to waterboarding, which simulates drowning and is condemned as torture by many, Martinez took no part in that and refused to be trained how.

Shane said he had sought the C.I.A.’s cooperation in reporting the story but was rebuffed by the agency and by Martinez, who now works for a private contractor. After Shane contacted friends and associates of Martinez and sought an interview with him, Mark Mansfield, the C.I.A.’s director of public affairs, sent a strongly worded letter to Dean Baquet, The Times’s Washington bureau chief. Naming the interrogator “would be reckless and irresponsible,” Mansfield said, and “could endanger the lives of this American and his family” by making them Qaeda targets. And in the “poisoned atmosphere” of the debate over the C.I.A.’s interrogation techniques, Mansfield wrote, Martinez could be “vulnerable to any misguided person who believes they need to confront ‘torture’ directly.”

Baquet asked for a meeting to discuss the C.I.A.’s request. Mansfield refused. He told me the letter said it all and nothing could be accomplished by a meeting. But to Baquet, Shane and Rebecca Corbett, the editor of the story, the refusal suggested that the C.I.A. was not actually that concerned. The Times has been asked before by the C.I.A. to withhold information — it has sometimes agreed, sometimes refused — and serious requests have usually come from the top of the agency, with an opportunity to discuss them.

But the reporter and editors said they were still worried about Martinez’s fears and tried to assess how realistic they were. Shane said he repeatedly pressed the C.I.A. for more information. He called John Kiriakou, a former covert operative who was the first to question another top Qaeda terrorist, Abu Zubaydah. Kiriakou voluntarily went public last December, and Shane wanted to know what happened. Kiriakou mentioned a death threat published in Pakistan and didn’t go into much more detail. Kiriakou said he advised Shane not to use the name.

When I asked Kiriakou for full details about his experience, he said he received more than a dozen death threats, many of them crank. His house was put under police guard and he took his family to Mexico for two weeks after the C.I.A. advised him to get out of town for a while. He said he lost his job with a major accounting firm because executives expressed fear that Al Qaeda could attack its offices to get him, though Kiriakou considered that fear unreasonable.

Martinez hired a Washington super-lawyer, Robert Bennett, to plead his case. With the story two days from publication, Gen. Michael Hayden, the C.I.A. director, called Bill Keller, The Times’s executive editor. Keller said Hayden acknowledged that he did not know of any specific threat to Martinez or of any Qaeda hit list. But Hayden said that naming Martinez could subject him to harassment or even put him in danger. Keller said, “I had this impression that he was doing it out of respect for Martinez’s and his family’s concerns more than a concern the C.I.A. had.”

Through his spokesman, Hayden agreed with Keller’s description of what was said but disagreed with the editor’s interpretation of the call. Hayden was “extremely disappointed” in the newspaper’s decision, Mansfield said.

Bennett said he offered to vouch on the record for his client’s role as Mohammed’s interrogator if the newspaper would withhold his name. Shane does not recall that offer, but Baquet said he would have rejected it.

Mark Zaid, a Washington lawyer who often represents C.I.A. employees, covert and not, said Martinez’s concern is understandable and he may have to curtail overseas travel for a while, a point made by Bennett and Kiriakou. But he said, “I think it would be unrealistic — you can never rule it out — to think he’s at risk of harm here in the United States.”

The Times and other news organizations have been asked over the years to withhold stories for fear of harm. And they have done so when a persuasive case has been made that the danger — whether to national security or an individual — is real and imminent. In this case, there is no history of Al Qaeda hunting down individuals in the United States for retribution. It prefers dramatic attacks that kill indiscriminately. And The Times took reasonable precautions to prevent Martinez from being easily found.

Bennett said The Times did “a terrible thing.” He said Martinez had been threatened repeatedly by Mohammed and others he interrogated but they did not know his identity. Now their friends do, at least to some degree. Martinez has received no threats since the article was published. Shane, on the other hand, has received abusive e-mail bordering on the threatening.

I understand how readers can think that if there is any risk at all, a person like Martinez should never be identified. But going in that direction, especially in this age of increasing government secrecy, would leave news organizations hobbled when trying to tell the public about some of the government’s most important and controversial actions.

In preparing this column, I consulted with Bob Steele, an ethicist at the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Fla. His discussion of the Times article can be found at

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