Sun Jun 27, 2:56 AM ET
The White House last week re leased hundreds of documents showing that President Bush in sisted that all prisoners captured in Afghanistan be treated humanely, even if they weren't covered by the Geneva Conventions.
But that's not what much of the national news media chose to report.
Instead, they focused on an August 2002 memorandum from the Justice Department that raised a legal argument supporting aggressive interrogation tactics — despite the fact that the memo was never acted on.
Indeed, its conclusions were contradicted by the president's specific directive six months earlier.
In that document, Bush noted that he believed he had "the authority under the Constitution" to deny Geneva Conventions protection to detainees captured during the campaign that toppled Afghanistan's Taliban regime.
But, he added, "I decline to exercise that authority."
That, of course, dashes Democratic hopes of proving that the Abu Ghraib prison reflected a campaign of deliberate torture directed by the top levels of the administration.
The documents demonstrate that there was intense debate within the administration on what constituted acceptable interrogation methods.
At one point, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld authorized sleep deprivation and using dogs "to induce stress" — but he rescinded that approval barely a month later.
A later directive authorized 24 methods, all consistent with the Geneva Conventions, but said that the use of four of them would have to be personally approved by him in advance.
These four were removing privileges from detainees, attacking a prisoner's ego, using the "good cop-bad cop" routine and isolation.
That's a far cry from the kind of behavior that took place at Abu Ghraib. Indeed, nothing in that document remotely suggests either approval of the kind of torture that actually took place, or establishing any kind of atmosphere that would encourage such treatment.
But you'd hardly know that from the way much of the media covered the story. The Associated Press, which provides stories to newspapers around the world, and The Washington Post, for example, emphasized the Justice Department memo, which "suggested that torturing terrorism suspects might be legally defensible."
The president last week reiterated that "We do not condone torture" and "I have never ordered torture." Nothing has yet been produced that contradicts those statements.