I‘ve written many times before about Sami al-Hajj, the Al Jazeera cameraman who was abducted by the U.S. in late 2001, tortured at Bagram, sent to Guantanamo for seven years — where he was never charged with any crime and was interrogated overwhelmingly about Al Jazeera’s operations, not about Terrorism — and then suddenly released without explanation last year, as though the whole thing never happened. The due-process-free imprisonment of this journalist by the U.S. government was ignored almost completely by the American media (other than Nicholas Kristof), even as it righteously obsessed on the far shorter imprisonment of journalists by countries such as Iran and North Korea (hey, look over there at those tyrannical countries – they imprison our journalists!!!!!). Aside from al-Hajj, we’ve imprisoned numerous other journalists without charges in Iraq — and continue to this day to do so — including ones who work for Reuters and the Associated Press.
Today, The New York Times’ media reporter Brian Stelter profiles al-Hajj, who is now an on-air correspondent for Al Jazeera. The article recounts the details of al-Hajj’s detention, his description of his torture, and the physical and psychological wounds he still suffers from his treatment at the hands of his American captors. All things considered, the article is a decent effort to explain what happened, and Stelter deserves credit for bringing some desperately needed attention to this story. Nonetheless, the article contains some rather striking and revealing passages, beginning with this:
Among Al Jazeera’s viewers in the Arab world since the 9/11 attacks, perhaps nothing has damaged perceptions of America more than Guantánamo Bay. For that reason, Mr. Hajj, who did a six-part series on the prison after his release, is a potent weapon for the network, which does not always strive for journalistic objectivity on the subject of his treatment. In an interview, Ahmed Sheikh, the editor in chief of Al Jazeera, called Mr. Hajj “one of the victims of the human rights atrocities committed by the ex-U.S. administration.”
It’s amazing that the NYT would claim that Al Jazeera’s description of the Bush administration’s conduct as it concerns al-Hajj and other detainees — “one of the victims of the human rights atrocities committed by the ex-U.S. administration” — departs from precepts of “journalistic objectivity.” How can the lawless detention, brutal torture, numerous detainee deaths, obvious targeting of unfriendly media outlets, and explicit renunciation of the Gevena Conventions be described in any other way? The breach of “journalistic objectivity” comes not from calling this conduct what it is, but from refusing to do so — from obfuscating what took place by using soothing euphemisms and according equal deference to the plainly false denials of those who did it, such as what takes place in these passages Stelter wrote: [continued…]