Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Credit where due

Having bashed the PBS Newshour for its Beltway Village Idiot segment on torture during its Friday Political Wrap segment, I want to give them credit for their lead segment on 04/20/09, Obama Faced Tough Choices in Release of CIA Interrogation Memos.

This segment provided one of the best airings of the legal issues involved that I've seen on TV so far. (Admittedly, that could be construed as faint praise.)

The segment focused on the critical issue of prosecuting those at all levels who perpetrated the torture crimes. The anti-prosecution position was represented by former CIA official Jeffrey Smith, the pro-law-enforcement position by Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which has been doing excellent work on this issue.

True, Jeffrey Smith was straightforwardly advocating that people who violated the torture laws should not be prosecuted for their crimes. Despite initial disclaimers, it was clear that he also opposed prosecuting senior officials involved in the torture program, as well as opposing prosecuting the hands-on torturers. But, sadly, that has become a "respectable" position, at least in the Beltway. So far, a majority of the public are saying that torturers should be investigated for their crimes.

Here's an excerpt:

MICHAEL RATNER: I have no doubt that the people who wrote the memos, as well as the principal committee people, like Rumsfeld, Tenet, who was head of the CIA, Porter Goss, when all of the torture program occurred, should be criminally investigated.

I think the evidence is clear. It's actually screaming at us from the page. When Dick Cheney says, "I was one of the people who approved waterboarding and I would do it again," you realize why you need prosecution for deterrence. There's no issue.

And I do want to say that Obama has -- while he has not completely precluded prosecution of the architects, he has made statements that make you very, very worried, statements like, "We shouldn't seek retribution," that we shouldn't look backward, that we should look forward, that "I'm stopping torture." Those kinds of statements don't just apply to the agents who did it, but who apply to the upper-level people who were the architects.

JIM LEHRER: Mr. Ratner, your use of the word -- you said it may not be a deterrence issue -- do you think it's a punishment issue? In other words, should these people be punished whether or not it's a deterrence for future conduct or not?

MICHAEL RATNER: Look, I'm less concerned about punishment, vengeance, whatever word you want to use, deterrence.


MICHAEL RATNER: I'm concerned -- punishment. I'm really concerned about deterrence. I just worry very deeply that another president can simply say, "Let's do this again."

And one of the interesting things when we talk about this, you know, two of the people -- and that was one of the disturbing things about Obama's speech -- two of the people who he began the speech with...

JIM LEHRER: You mean today, the speech today at the CIA?

MICHAEL RATNER: Yes, the speech today, Steve Kappes and John Brennan are two people who were at the agency in important roles when the torture program was being carried out by the CIA, and these are people who Obama said he is currently getting advice from. I don't find that reassuring when I think about how is this country going to be torture-free going forward. [my emphasis]
John Brennan, you may recall, was the one Obama appointment that the much-dreaded dirty hippie bloggers had very sharply opposed. And opposed because of his pro-torture record.

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