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The Gross National Debt

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

(Originally post at Daily Kos. Also posted proudly at My Left WIng and ePluribus Media)

Do you ever have one of those proverbial lightbulb moments? Some place or time where you hear or see something that makes /so much/ sense you can't believe you missed its essence in the first place?

I just had one. And it came watching Keith Olbermann on /Countdown/. It wasn't one of his special comments - those are certainly gold - rather, this was an interview with Johnathan Turley on the subject of Powell, Warner, Graham, McCain, and Bush on the subject of torture and the Geneva Conventions. It was enlightening - so much so that I'm transcribing it below the fold.

By way of background, the interview is with Jonathan Turley, a Constitutional scholar and professor of law at George Washington University. All emphasis in the transcript is solely mine.

OLBERMANN: Secretary Powell, in defending his recent criticism of the Administration also said in the Washington Post:

"If you just look at how we are perceived in the world and the kind of criticism we have taken over Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and renditions, whether we believe it or not, people are now starting to question whether we're following our own high standards."

OLBERMANN: Do you think that on this issue, did Powell just raise the stakes again?

TURLEY: Well I think the most important thing is how uncharacteristic this is for Powell. I mean, he is the ultimate conservative player - the team player - this is so much not like him and I think that what motivates someone like Powell to come out like this is when he believes there is a real clear and present danger to the country. I mean, people don't realize that whatever benefits this Administration thinks it gets from torture, the costs are enormous. This is a very dangerous neighborhood to walk alone. And I think what is Powell is saying is that we need these people... We need allies if we're going to win this war. And we've become the greatest recruitment tool for terrorist organizations.

Now - I know that many here (inclouding me) have their own opinions about Powell (see BarbinMD's excellent diary from earlier today for that discussion). Stay with me here without going cross-eyed over Powell. Turley's comments evolve and expand from this point.

OLBERMANN: We haven't even addressed and for time's sake, now, there's study after study that indicates that torture presents falsely positive information. People will say anything they thinkt he torturer wants to hear. But... about again the layout between Bush and McCain: one question being asked a lot that I have not heard definitively answered anywhere... Is there reall a difference between what the President has proposed on this and what the McCain/Warner/Graham version? Are they both torture? Aren't they both redefining the Geneva Conventions to some degree?

TURLEY: Well you really hit, I think, the most salient aspect of this. Whatever comes out of a compromise, it does seem to be an effort to redefine the Geneva Conventions because otherwise, why are you doing this? You don't need to redefine the Geneva Conventions - you don't have to do anything with it. It's a treaty. We're a signatory. We've never had to do this before. We've gotten along just fine, as has the world, with the language of the Geneva Convention. If we make any effort at all to try to redefine it or tweak it or to amplify it, the world will see that as our effort to lawyer the Geneva Convention to try to create some type of loophole or excuse for conduct.

Well no shit, right? Only frankly - this is the first time I've heard the whole issue put so clearly. I'm glad he said it out loud.

OLBERMANN: You'll remember Mr. Gonzales' description of this five years ago as "quaint" - the Geneva Conventions or portions of it -

TURLEY: [laughs] Right -

OLBERMANN: - to some degree. Last Friday here you were telling us that some of the detainees from the secret CIA cells, when moved to Guantanamo, might have the opportunity in the immediate future to talk to the Red Cross about their own interrogations, is there anything more to the possibility that that's going to happen, which might explain the President's anger and his rush over this as having more to do with what his Administration has already sanctioned and not about what is yet to come?

TURLEY: It has all the indications that that is exactly what is happening. The Administration for years has conspicuously attempted to get things like waterboarding approved as non-torture. Waterboarding, when you convince someone they're going to drown by drowning them. At least to the point of death. And waterboarding is defined as torutre around the world.

Now obviously the Administration has not gotten that thus far. But there is a strong suspicious that we have indeed been engaging in torture. Remember, some of these people were captured when the White House had signed a memo that defined non-torture as anything short of organ failure. That they believed that as long as they didn't cause organ failure or death, they were not engaged in torture. That shocked the world.

So what has happened in the past in our name has many of us wondering. But there is a feeling - and I am one of those people that has it - that we're about to hear some accounts coming out that our President may have ordered American personnel to become torturers. And that is so serious it is almost beyond definition.

I'm shocked and I'm not. We all knew it was going on. We'd hear the Abu Ghraib stories and the rendition stories but nothing was ever concretely hung around the President's neck - yet Turley is saying that information is coming out (he thinks) that will show definitively that the President ordered it. Be still my heart.

Olbermann gets right to the heart of the issue:

OLBERMANN: How serious would that be for the President? Are there elements of the Constitution that refer to international treaties that make and American President violating international agreements like that liable or subject to criminal action within this country, let alone internationally?

TURLEY: It is a violation of both domestic and international law. But more importantly, torture is a moral under every major religion. That you cannot fight a moral war with immoral means. And if we're ready to embrace immoral means, if that's how we're going to fight this war, then we have lost. And no one will come to our aid. Wil will be alone. And that's what happens when you become - in the view of many - an enemy to the rule of law. And we cannot afford that to happen [sic].

In a diary I wrote yesterday, I tried, inartfully, to put my arms around the moral questions and the Golden Rule and commented on the irony and hypocrisy of our messianic President forgetting that one truism. But Turley - with that one response above - put it all in context. Why it's wrong. Why it matters. What will happen if we do this wrong thing. Where we'll be - and how alone we'll be as we stand there.

And we'll deserve it.

You can contact Mr. Turley by sending him an email. I've already written him thanking him for his frank and chilling assessment of what really matters on this issue.

posted by RenaRF at 8:16 PM 5 comments links to this post


Blogger DonMidwest said...

Thanks for the great post. Have one question about the transcript. The last paragraph of the quotations, the quotation by Turley, check out the second sentence.

TURLEY: It is a violation of both domestic and international law. But more importantly, torture is a moral under every major religion.

Should the word "moral" be replaced with "immoral"?


5:41 AM  
Blogger DavidByron said...

The comments at dKos appear to do the usual cover-up of this issue. You know to an outsider, a non-American it's not so much the lies of the US president as the lies of the American left that really shows the character of America as completely despicable. You expect the president to be a psycho you know? Doesn't mean everyone in the country is.

Look, America has been torturing people for decades. Don't you know that? Sure you do. "School of the Americas" does that ring a bell? Remember now? Death squad training up and down Latin America for decades? Principles of torture imported from the Nazis. You sent your chief death squad guy to Iraq to train the death squads there.

And the coverage of these events is so euphemistic. Look your US congress cannot change the Geneva Conventions ok? So quit talking as if they could. Your country made a promise to the rest of the world - a deadly serious pact to never use torture. The only legal options open to your Congress are (1) keep their promise or (2) break it.

You've never really held to the promise. Everyone knows that. But now for the first time you are very publicly saying you won't hold to it. You're actually discussing it.

Every other US president managed to keep the torture secret but for whatever reason Bush is proud of the shit I suppose. But that's probably best because it was always rather uncomfortable for the rest of the world. I mean do you keep pretending or do you mention it?

It's not the first time America has very publicly rejected international laws this serious though. For example when you brutally attacked Nicaragua they took you to the World Court and that court ruled the US was guilty of aggression. Naturally the US president of the day reacted by publicly rejecting the authority of the court and international law, and naturally the Democrats (it was Reagan as president) went along with it just as they will over torture.

It's really this sort of public endorsement of lawlessness and brutality that is what gives America a deserved bad name.

9:12 AM  
Blogger RenaRF said...

Reply to DavidByron:

I can't say I generally disagree with your overall comment, though I don't know how it applies more to the American left than it does to just America.

Honestly, whether it's gone on for eons or not doesn't make it right. It's NOT RIGHT. And I won't excuse it becuase it may have been happening all along.

10:08 AM  
Blogger RenaRF said...

To Donmidwest:

I think you are likely right - I had backed up over that section several times before transcribing it, but what you are sayig (which was said also in many comments at dKos), makes sense. I hope I didn't kick of a shitstorm.

10:09 AM  
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11:02 PM  

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