MSNBC’s Krystal Ball, Guest Blame ISIS Waterboarding on Abu Ghraib, Gitmo

MSNBC’s Krystal Ball substituted for Ronan Farrow as host of his MSNBC show on Friday and remarked with a guest during a segment on the Islamic terror group ISIS that their reported waterboarding of their captives, including the late James Foley, can be blamed on the U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and what happened at Abu Ghraib in Iraq.

After shifting gears from talking about the increased terror alert in the United Kingdom and fears across western Europe that hundreds of their citizens have joined ISIS and could return to commit terrorist attacks, Ball mentioned an article in The Washington Post that reported ISIS captives were waterboarded. She then asked MSNBC terrorism analyst Evan Kohlmann what he thought about this news. [MP3 audio here; Video below]

Kohlmann responded that, in addition to ISIS, other terrorist groups have sought to “emulate the behavior that they've seen meted out to prisoners at Abu Ghraib, at Guantanamo to their own captives.” Further, he said: 

[I]n other words, trying to send that message backwards and, look, I think unfortunately ISIS derives perverse enjoyment out of this. We shoulnd’t be surprised about this. Unfortunately, that's the price of Abu Ghraib and that's the price of continuing the camp in Guantanamo is that these folks will continue to try to use it as a propaganda issue and torture our hostages with that knowledge. 

Instead of refuting that awful assertion, Ball joined in by arguing that even though groups such as al Qaeda and ISIS are “brutal, murdering terrorists” and they would still be “engaging in horrible acts” if we had waterboarded terrorists or not: "[W]hen we do things like waterboarding, that the President has called torture, when we do things that are against our own principles, we hand them an easy piece of propaganda."

Following off of Ball’s point, Kohlmann wondered how could ISIS otherwise. justify the waterboarding of their captives. He said that “[t]hey can easily justify it now because, if anyone questions them, they point to Abu Ghraib photos. They point to Gitmo.” Due to what transpired at Abu Ghraib and the Guantanamo Bay, ISIS still has two examples “to point to” when, otherwise, “it would be very, very difficult to justify treating hostages like this.”

The comments by Ball and Kohlmann in mentioning the actions of ISIS and the United States fighting Islamic terorism in the Middle East were not the first to be argued this week on the air. On Wednesday night, a radical Muslim in the U.K. appeared on Sean Hannity’s Fox News Channel (FNC) program to espouse the opinion that U.S. military actions and policies in the Middle East have justified the actions of ISIS terrorists.

As the Media Research Center’s Matthew Balan reported, London Imam Anjem Choudary “played up the carnage during the Iraq War as a justification for the Islamist group’s retaliation against the West and other groups.”


The relevant portion of the transcript from MSNBC’s Ronan Farrow Daily on August 29 is transcribed below.

MSNBC’s Ronan Farrow Daily

August 29, 2014

1:10 p.m. Eastern

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Developing Now: UK Terror Threat: Severe]

KRYSTAL BALL: Yeah. Evan, let's turn to some new reporting in The Washington Post indicating that James Foley, as well as other hostages being held by ISIS, were water-boarded. What does that tell you? 

EVAN KOHLMANN:  This fits into a pattern of what we've seen in the past where, not just Al Qaeda, but Al Qaeda, ISIS, other jihadist groups have attempted to emulate the behavior that they've seen meted out to prisoners at Abu Ghraib, at Guantanamo to their own captives, in other words, trying to send that message backwards and, look, I think unfortunately ISIS derives perverse enjoyment out of this. 

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Developing Now: Washington Post: ISIS Hostages Waterboarded]

We shouldn’t be surprised about this. Unfortunately, that's the price of Abu Ghraib and that's the price of continuing the camp in Guantanamo is that these folks will continue to try to use it as a propaganda issue –

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Developing Now: UK Terror Threat: Severe]

BALL: That’s right. 

KOHLMANN: – and torture our hostages with that knowledge. 

BALL: And I think, Evan, that's an important distinction because these are brutal, murdering terrorists, right. Whether we waterboarded or not, they would be engaging in horrific acts, but when we do things like waterboarding, that the President has called torture, when we do things that are against our own principles, we hand them an easy piece of propaganda. 

KOHLMANN: Yeah, because look, how can they justify this otherwise? They can easily justify it now because, if anyone questions them, they point to Abu Ghraib photos. They point to Gitmo. If they didn't have these issues to point to, it would be very, very difficult to justify treating hostages like this. 

Curtis Houck
Curtis Houck
Curtis Houck is a news analyst for the Media Research Center's News Analysis Division