Few elements of the Bush administration’s campaign against terrorism were more carefully hidden from the public than the CIA’s secret overseas interrogation program for al-Qaida operatives, The New York Times editors said.
In late 2007, the Times revealed new facts regarding the administration’s support for these techniques, widely condemned as torture by military layers, American lawmakers, foreign governments and human rights groups.
First, starting in October, the Times unveiled the Justice Department’s secret opinions justifying the use of harsh techniques, including waterboarding, despite the administration’s public repudiation of such tactics. Secondly, in December, the Times disclosed that the CIA had secretly destroyed videotapes of early detainee interrogations.
The series of articles detailed how legal opinions, drafted in the spring of 2005, along with the destruction of videotapes, were part of the same impulse: to push back or pre-empt the Supreme Court and Congress. The stories, by David Johnston, Mark Mazzetti, James Risen and Scott Shane, revealed an administration keen to mislead Congress and the American people. The series reignited public debate about torture, nearly derailed the confirmation of Attorney General Michael Mukasey, inspired lawmakers to move toward banning all coercive interrogations and sparked investigations.
Editors cited the difficulty of uncovering this story. “The legal memos and information about the tapes were classified and kept to an unusually tight circle of officials. And the reporting took place in an environment deeply affected by ongoing FBI criminal investigations of earlier leaks of classified information, creating great anxiety among relevant officials about discussing sensitive topics.”
Judges said: “This package of stories displayed extraordinary reporting on a topic of great significance. These stories took readers — and the country — into an inner, secret realm, stunning even members of the Congress who are supposed to be the loop.
“The information was powerful and the retelling of it was clear and authoritative. … ‘Interrogation Secrets’ was a product of masterful Washington correspondence, based on the deep trust of sources and the focused pursuit of truth.”