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Was The Nyt Right To Publish A Cia Agent's Name?

New York Times Public Editor Clark Hoyt has an extremely unconvincing piece today in support of the paper's decision to publish the name of one of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed's interrogators. Scott Shane's compelling story, which ran on the Times' front page two Sundays ago, detailed Mohammed's interrogation, which included both "enhanced" techniques and the "good cop" approach of 'Deuce' Martinez, who admirably declined the opportunity to be trained in the "art" of waterboarding.

The issue before Hoyt was whether Shane and his editors should have named Martinez, who said that he and his family feared retribution. The content of conversations that took place between the CIA and Times editors, including Bill Keller and Washington Bureau chief Dean Baquet, remains disputed. Here is Hoyt:

Scott Shane, the reporter, and his editors said that using the name was necessary for credibility. Martinez was, after all, the central character in the story.


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.

It is never explained what Shane means by "credibility," but under no interpretation of that generally unhelpful word does his argument make much sense. Why, exactly, would an alias have diminished the impact of the story (they already agreed to use Martinez's nickname, Deuce, rather than his real first name)? Meanwhile, Hoyt's claim in the second excerpt above would seem to undercut--rather than bolster--his support of the Times' decision. If the importance of the story is to reveal "important and controversial" government actions, then what do names have to do with it? And the slippery slope argument about "going in that direction" seems pretty thin. Even more bizarre, Hoyt tells the story of another government interrogator who was named and then seems to ignore the distrubing aspects of the tale:

But the reporter and editors said they were still worried about Martinez’s fears and tried to assess how realistic they were. Shane said he repeatedly pressed the C.I.A. for more information. He called John Kiriakou, a former covert operative who was the first to question another top Qaeda terrorist, Abu Zubaydah. Kiriakou voluntarily went public last December, and Shane wanted to know what happened. Kiriakou mentioned a death threat published in Pakistan and didn’t go into much more detail. Kiriakou said he advised Shane not to use the name.

When I asked Kiriakou for full details about his experience, he said he received more than a dozen death threats, many of them crank. His house was put under police guard and he took his family to Mexico for two weeks after the C.I.A. advised him to get out of town for a while. He said he lost his job with a major accounting firm because executives expressed fear that Al Qaeda could attack its offices to get him, though Kiriakou considered that fear unreasonable.

Well, that does not sound like much fun for Kirakou or his family. The Times has bravely and correctly published a bunch of critical stories about secrecy and the war on terrorism. It would be too easy to say that decisions like this one damage the paper's vitally necessary "credibility."

--Isaac Chotiner