Mitchell Cites Blair on Value of 'Harsh' Interrogations, But Calls View 'Controversial'

NBC's Andrea Mitchell on Wednesday night mentioned how the “Obama administration's own Director of National Intelligence, Dennis Blair, wrote his employees last week” about how, what NBC described as “harsh” interrogation techniques, “produced 'high-value information,'” a view from an Obama insider left out of stories on ABC and CBS. But Mitchell described Blair's assessment as conveying “controversial comments.” Not controversial to Mitchell? The hook for her story, liberal Democratic Senator Carl Levin's charge that “there were very strong warnings against the use of these techniques and...they attempted to destroy the warning.”

Mitchell began her piece, without any hint of a political motive by Levin, by summarizing the report the Michigan Democrat decided to declassify:
According to the Senate report, the harsh techniques used at Guantanamo and other prisons were ordered by top Bush cabinet-level officials and launched months before they were approved by lawyers. Today's Armed Services Committee report also says abuses at the notorious Abu Ghraib Prison, including 'stress positions, removal of clothing, use of phobias such as fear of dogs,' were systematic, not just the work of a few rogue soldiers, as the Pentagon claimed at the time.
Leading into a soundbite from Levin, Mitchell ominously intoned that “when military and State Department lawyers tried to stop the practices, they were silenced.” She added: “One warning the White House destroyed, a legal document from State Department counselor Philip Zelikow, against the interrogations.”

Mitchell also noted how “Hillary Clinton was asked today about Dick Cheney's argument that the interrogations worked,” as she highlighted the Secretary of State's insult of Cheney in a slam that failed to address his request to have memos released which show the interrogations uncovered useful information: “It won't surprise you that I don't consider him a particularly reliable source of information.”

The NBC correspondent concluded with Blair:
The Obama administration's own Director of National Intelligence, Dennis Blair, wrote his employees last week that the interrogations produced "high-value information." And he said he did not fault those who made the decisions at the time. But Blair left those controversial comments out of public statements he issued at the same time. Tonight, a senior official told NBC News Blair does not back away from his private comments, even though they appear to differ from the President's rejection of the Bush policies.
An AP dispatch related on Wednesday:
National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair, Obama's top intelligence adviser, told intelligence personnel in an April 16 letter -- the same day the Justice Department memos were released -- that “high-value information came from interrogation in which those methods were used and provided a deeper understanding of the al-Qaida organization that was attacking the country.”
ABC's World News ran a short item, read by anchor Charles Gibson, on Levin's allegations while the CBS Evening News carried a full story from David Martin.

Transcript of the story on the Wednesday, April 22 NBC Nightly News, provided by the MRC's Brad Wilmouth, who corrected the closed-captioning against the video:
BRIAN WILLIAMS: The subject of debate in Washington this week has been torture and what constitutes torture, and what was allowed during the Bush years that's now been called out and outlawed during the Obama administration. Now there's the question of what to do about the officials who allowed those interrogation tactics in the first place. We get the latest tonight from our chief foreign affairs correspondent, Andrea Mitchell.

ANDREA MITCHELL: According to the Senate report, the harsh techniques used at Guantanamo and other prisons were ordered by top Bush cabinet-level officials and launched months before they were approved by lawyers. Today's Armed Services Committee report also says abuses at the notorious Abu Ghraib Prison, including "stress positions, removal of clothing, use of phobias such as fear of dogs," were systematic, not just the work of a few rogue soldiers, as the Pentagon claimed at the time.

PAUL WOLFOWITZ, FORMER DEPUTY DEFENSE SECRETARY, DATED 2004: A few bad actors can create such large problems for everybody.

MITCHELL: But when military and State Department lawyers tried to stop the practices, they were silenced.

SENATOR CARL LEVIN (D-MI): There were very strong warnings against the use of these techniques, and those warnings were in one case, they attempted to destroy the warning.

MITCHELL: One warning the White House destroyed, a legal document from State Department counselor Philip Zelikow, against the interrogations.

PHILIP ZELIKOW, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT COUNSELOR: They certainly thought my views were out of line, and that particular memo, folks wanted to try to have collected and destroyed.

MITCHELL: Members of Congress were briefed at the time, and reportedly didn't dissent, including Intelligence Committee leaders Nancy Pelosi, Porter Goss, Bob Graham, and Richard Shelby. Hillary Clinton was asked today about Dick Cheney's argument that the interrogations worked.

HILLARY CLINTON: It won't surprise you that I don't consider him a particularly reliable source of information.

MITCHELL: Also today, Republicans John McCain and Lindsey Graham, both harsh critics of the interrogations, said no one should be prosecuted.

SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): I think the President made a huge mistake when he put on the table, going back and trying to criminalize legal advice given to policymakers regarding interrogation techniques.

MITCHELL: And the Obama administration's own Director of National Intelligence, Dennis Blair, wrote his employees last week that the interrogations produced "high-value information." And he said he did not fault those who made the decisions at the time. But Blair left those controversial comments out of public statements he issued at the same time. Tonight, a senior official told NBC News Blair does not back away from his private comments, even though they appear to differ from the President's rejection of the Bush policies. Andrea Mitchell, NBC News, Washington.
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center