The New York Times vs. Common Decency

A couple of weeks ago, the New York Times published an exciting story about how the CIA broke 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaik Mohammed. The hero of the story was a nondescript CIA interrogator who astonished his CIA colleagues by eliciting enormous amounts of valuable information from KSM, all by using psychological ploys and developing a rapport with the terrorist rather than the tactics used by the "knuckledraggers" as the interrogator's colleagues called the CIA paramilitary types, who were using waterboarding and other methods of torture.

In the story, the Times saw fit to give the real name of the interrogator - despite pleas from him and the CIA that doing so would place he and his family in danger.


An editor's note published with the article explaining the decision to out the interrogator is self serving twaddle:

The Central Intelligence Agency asked The New York Times not to publish the name of Deuce Martinez, an interrogator who questioned Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and other high-level Al Qaeda prisoners, saying that to identify Mr. Martinez would invade his privacy and put him at risk of retaliation from terrorists or harassment from critics of the agency.

After discussion with agency officials and a lawyer for Mr. Martinez, the newspaper declined the request, noting that Mr. Martinez had never worked under cover and that others involved in the campaign against Al Qaeda have been named in news stories and books. The editors judged that the name was necessary for the credibility and completeness of the article.

The Times's policy is to withhold the name of a news subject only very rarely, most often in the case of victims of sexual assault or intelligence officers operating under cover.



The backstory, revealed today by Times "Public Editor" Clark Hoyt, is even more shocking in its implications. What it reveals about the people who make such decisions at the highest editorial level at the Times is that quite simply, they do not believe that al-Qaeda poses much of a threat to individuals and, by extension, the United States.

And beyond the security calculations made on behalf of the interrogator by those noted terrorism experts Bill Keller and Dean Basquet, there is the extraordinary lack of common decency in deliberately and knowingly placing someone's life and the lives of his family in danger. This is especially true when you consider that the story would have gotten along just fine without us knowing the real name of the interrogator.

What kind of fallout can the interrogator expect?

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.


Of all the self serving tripe contained in this backstory, the notion that there is no threat because al Qaeda hasn't gone after individuals yet is perhaps the most ridiculous. It suicidally underestimates the capabilities of our adversary while giving the paper another "out" when it comes to responsibility if anything does happen to the interrogator. "How could we possibly have known they would kill the guy? They had never done it before..." would make an excellent lead editorial if, God forbid, al-Qaeda makes good on its threats.

And poor little Shane! He's been getting "abusive" (name calling) emails "bordering" on being threats. What shameless sophistry from Hoyt. To try and equate an al-Qaeda threat with that of some internet magpie is patently stupid and transparent in the extreme. It is perhaps revealing of how the Times editors actually view the War on Terror that they would compare al-Qaeda to an anonymous web rabble rouser.

And in a case like this, it is up to the paper to prove how it would be "hobbled" if they published an alias for the interrogator rather than mention him by name - not the other way around where the subject of the story must prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that he would be in danger if his name was published. That is perhaps the most telling proof of hubris on the part of the Times. In their little cocoon of arrogance and self importance, they place the life of a man on a scale and weigh it against their own petty policies and personal notion of the public's "right to know."


A couple of weeks ago, the New York Times published an exciting story about how the CIA broke 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaik Mohammed. The hero of the story was a nondescript CIA interrogator who astonished his CIA colleagues by eliciting enormous amounts of valuable information from KSM, all by using psychological ploys and developing a rapport with the terrorist rather than the tactics used by the "knuckledraggers" as the interrogator's colleagues called the CIA paramilitary types, who were using waterboarding and other methods of torture.

In the story, the Times saw fit to give the real name of the interrogator - despite pleas from him and the CIA that doing so would place he and his family in danger.


An editor's note published with the article explaining the decision to out the interrogator is self serving twaddle:

The Central Intelligence Agency asked The New York Times not to publish the name of Deuce Martinez, an interrogator who questioned Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and other high-level Al Qaeda prisoners, saying that to identify Mr. Martinez would invade his privacy and put him at risk of retaliation from terrorists or harassment from critics of the agency.

After discussion with agency officials and a lawyer for Mr. Martinez, the newspaper declined the request, noting that Mr. Martinez had never worked under cover and that others involved in the campaign against Al Qaeda have been named in news stories and books. The editors judged that the name was necessary for the credibility and completeness of the article.

The Times's policy is to withhold the name of a news subject only very rarely, most often in the case of victims of sexual assault or intelligence officers operating under cover.



The backstory, revealed today by Times "Public Editor" Clark Hoyt, is even more shocking in its implications. What it reveals about the people who make such decisions at the highest editorial level at the Times is that quite simply, they do not believe that al-Qaeda poses much of a threat to individuals and, by extension, the United States.

And beyond the security calculations made on behalf of the interrogator by those noted terrorism experts Bill Keller and Dean Basquet, there is the extraordinary lack of common decency in deliberately and knowingly placing someone's life and the lives of his family in danger. This is especially true when you consider that the story would have gotten along just fine without us knowing the real name of the interrogator.

What kind of fallout can the interrogator expect?

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.


Of all the self serving tripe contained in this backstory, the notion that there is no threat because al Qaeda hasn't gone after individuals yet is perhaps the most ridiculous. It suicidally underestimates the capabilities of our adversary while giving the paper another "out" when it comes to responsibility if anything does happen to the interrogator. "How could we possibly have known they would kill the guy? They had never done it before..." would make an excellent lead editorial if, God forbid, al-Qaeda makes good on its threats.

And poor little Shane! He's been getting "abusive" (name calling) emails "bordering" on being threats. What shameless sophistry from Hoyt. To try and equate an al-Qaeda threat with that of some internet magpie is patently stupid and transparent in the extreme. It is perhaps revealing of how the Times editors actually view the War on Terror that they would compare al-Qaeda to an anonymous web rabble rouser.

And in a case like this, it is up to the paper to prove how it would be "hobbled" if they published an alias for the interrogator rather than mention him by name - not the other way around where the subject of the story must prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that he would be in danger if his name was published. That is perhaps the most telling proof of hubris on the part of the Times. In their little cocoon of arrogance and self importance, they place the life of a man on a scale and weigh it against their own petty policies and personal notion of the public's "right to know."