“Off the record: No comment”

Why does the NYT keep allowing officials to peddle obvious b.s. with no news value on background?

Full text of a story in Monday’s New York Times:

Rice to Defend U.S.

on Reports of Prisons for Terror Suspects


WASHINGTON, Dec. 4 – Just before she leaves for a trip to Europe on Monday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice plans to offer the Bush administration’s first studied defense in the debate over reports of a network of secret prisons for terror suspects in several European countries.

But even as she tries to quell concerns, a senior aide said, Ms. Rice would not confirm that the prisons exist. That has been the government’s stance since news articles about the prisons were published early last month.

“She is going to be addressing these issues in a comprehensive way,” Stephen J. Hadley, the national security adviser, said on “Fox News Sunday.” “One of the things she will be saying is look, we are all threatened by terror. We need to cooperate in its solution.”

Ms. Rice plans to visit Germany, Belgium, Romania and Ukraine. In some of those countries the reports of secret prisons have set off a nearly all-consuming debate.

Jack Straw, the British foreign secretary, wrote to her Tuesday on behalf of the European Union, asking for an explanation of possible “violations of international law.” The Washington Post reported in early November that the C.I.A. began operating a network of secret prisons in Europe shortly after Sept. 11 and has shuttled terror suspects among them.

On Sunday, a senior State Department official said “she will provide a comprehensive response” to Mr. Straw emphasizing “our adherence to our laws and our international obligations.

“We don’t torture people, and we do not send people to be tortured,” said the official, who agreed to discuss the subject on the condition of anonymity because a discussion for attribution would violate administration policy.

The BBC has more:

Speaking on Sunday, President Bush’s national security advisor Stephen Hadley said that if such operations were taking place “they’re the kind of things that one cannot talk about”.

Mr Hadley went on to say “…the information would help the enemy… it would put countries who are co-operating with us at risk”, all the while refusing to confirm or deny the reports first published in the Washington Post.

So does the Telegraph:

While [Rice] is not expected to confirm or deny the existence of the sites, she will suggest that anything the CIA does has the approval of host governments.

Stung by what many US officials see as a two-faced approach by some allies, she will also call on European governments to argue more forcefully with their own citizens that co-operation with the CIA is vital for their security.

Several things to note:

1. Even the British aren’t on board anymore.

2. Hadley’s “denial” amounts to a confirmation.

3. Condi’s going to defend the policy without admitting it exists? Nice trick, that.

4. Another brilliant plan: arguing that European governments have supported us in the torture we aren’t doing, and should explain to their citizens why we have to keep not-torturing people.

5. Those of us who thought that Rice’s academic work on Soviet civil-military relations was irrelevant to her current job were wrong. Reading Pravda seems to have helped her develop the capacity to tell obvious lies with a straight face and to defend the indefensible with incomprehensible logic.

6. Since the “senior State Department official” didn’t actually have anything to say, why did the Times allow him or her to say it anonymously? And if the blatantly false remark about not sending people to be tortured was going to be printed at all, shouldn’t the reporter have pointed to all the published facts contradicting it? (Note how much better The Scotsman handles the same story, noting both details of the Masri story and the fact that the Administration, while claiming it doesn’t torture, opposes McCain’s anti-torture bill.)

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com