If anyone wonders how (A) a nation can move step-by-step down the path toward fascism, or (B) why the mainstream press in this country is held in such increasingly dismal regard, this week’s cover story in Newsweek provides a searing case study.
Co-authors Stuart Taylor Jr. and Evan Thomas—both award-winning, Ivy League-educated journalists who move in the highest circles of academia, media, and politics; IOW, the very definition of establishment credibility—have decided that one of the key issues facing the incoming Obama administration, when confronting the boundaries of presidential power, is (as the cover blurb puts it), “What Would Dick [Cheney] Do?”
And Editor-in-Chief Jon Meacham—he who recently resuscitated the meme that “America is a center-right country”—heartily endorses this angle, writing inside the magazine that the cover feature addresses how “the urgent question now is whether President Obama will hew to [the anti-Cheney] dogma or whether, confronted with the realities of office, he will begin to see virtue in the antiterror apparatus Cheney helped Bush create.”
This, in the aftermath of an election that decisively and unequivocally repudiated the disastrous policies of Bush and Cheney—even Bush himself used the word “repudiated” in his semi-self-aware press conference today!—is what our establishment media wants us thinking about.
Where does one begin?
Well, with getting one’s gorge to subside. But after that…
Let’s just take a look at some key excerpts from this piece:
In the view of many intelligence professionals, the get-tough measures encouraged or permitted by George W. Bush‘s administration—including “waterboarding”… —kept America safe.
In other words: our key sources for this story are a bunch of government spooks looking to cover their own asses.
The flaw of the Bush-Cheney administration may have been less in what it did than in the way it did it—flaunting executive power, ignoring Congress, showing scorn for anyone who waved the banner of civil liberties. Arguably, there has been an overreaction to the alleged arrogance and heedlessness of Bush and Cheney—especially Cheney…
In other words: if they’d just kept it all under cover (Nixon style?), things would have been fine. And the fact that no one has been prosecuted, no one has been impeached, no one has even been sanctioned by Congress, and no one is rioting in the streets about what these SOBs did to us for eight years and its lasting impact on our Constitutional system? That’s an overreaction.
Obama is going to face some difficult choices—and right away. By Feb. 20, a month after Inauguration Day, the incoming administration must decide whether to urge the Supreme Court to allow continued detention of one Ali al-Marri. Al-Marri is a Qatari graduate student who had legally entered the United States and settled in Peoria, Ill., with his wife and five children. He was seized in 2001 as a suspected terrorist… His case has become a cause célèbre among civil libertarians, who argue that the government can’t just lock you up indefinitely on suspicion of terrorism. Now Obama must decide…
In other words: hey, maybe our soon-to-be-inaugurated former Constitutional Law professor should decide it’s all right to indefinitely imprison a legal immigrant who’s been charged with no crime! (Habeas corpus? What’s that? Hey, Newsweek‘s writers are convinced—on the basis of no evidence—that he’s “possibly very dangerous”; shouldn’t that be enough?)
The issue of torture is more complicated than it seems… It’s likely that the take-the-gloves-off attitude of Cheney and his allies filtered down through the ranks, until untrained prison guards with sadistic tendencies were making sport with electric shock. But no direct link has been reported. Waterboarding—simulating drowning by pouring water over the suspect’s mouth and nostrils—is a brutal interrogation method. But… It is a liberal shibboleth that torture doesn’t work—that suspects will say anything, including lies, to stop the pain. But the reality is perhaps less clear.
In other words: hey, maybe violating international laws that we helped write and using the kind of tactics that made the Gestapo famous isn’t such a bad thing! What’s a little pain and suffering if it occasionally buys us some information that only “liberals” (never mind pretty much every expert on the subject) think is unreliable? Don’t ends justify means?
Obama has already shown a prudent willingness to bend or abandon his more sweeping campaign rhetoric. Last summer, to the horror of civil-liberties groups, he reversed himself and voted for amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) that he once suggested would “undermine the very laws and freedom that we are fighting to defend.” …Obama was wise to back the compromise that finally passed.
In other words: the single most blatant and inexcusable political reversal of his campaign—one that undermined his own rhetoric and principles, horrified vast numbers of supporters, betrayed political allies like Sen. Chris Dodd, and oh yes, flatly circumvented the Fourth Amendment—was the sort of “prudent” and “wise” behavior that the authors would like to see him repeat.
It goes on and on like this, openlky advocating things like political assassinations (and using as an example—of course—Osama bin Laden, ignoring the fact that he is not in fact a “political leader” as far as the law is concerned). The authors are plainly not just not civil libertarians; they are among the 20-odd percent of the country who still think Bush/Cheny actually did a good job, and want to see their tactics crimes against humanity continued in the name of “keeping us safe.” And they present this in the context of a cover-featured “news” article. Most of the people who think this way at least have demographics (limited education, poor information access) to serve as an excuse; what excuse these Harvard-trained, highly paid Beltway professionals have is less clear.
On her radio show this afternoon, Rachel Maddow talked with Charles Kaiser of the Columbia Journalism Review, and he didn’t mince words about Newsweek‘s latest travesty of journalism. Looking beyond the disturbing ideology implicit (and explicit) in the piece, he went straight for the factual errors. For instance, writing about it at CJR’s site, Kaiser observes:
Leave aside for a moment the [authors’] comforting image of “making sport with electric shock.” (The ACLU has documented the deaths of at least 160 prisoners in U.S. custody during the Bush administration, of which more than seventy were caused by “gross recklessness, abuse, or torture”: an unfortunate side effect of that “sport,” I suppose.) Let us focus instead on that tossed-off assertion of “no direct link” between Cheney and his allies and what happened on the ground in Iraq and Guantánamo.
The truth is, we know for a fact that all of the most heinous methods of torture used by this administration were aired at White House meetings attended by Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Attorney General John Ashcroft, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and CIA Director George Tenet. George Bush confirmed that those meetings took place in an interview with ABC correspondent Martha Raddatz last year. And just one month ago, Cheney boasted to ABC correspondent Jonathan Karl that he had personally approved of the program which led to waterboarding of alleged terrorists.
For the record, this is the truth about the torture authorized at the very top of the Bush administration. There is no evidence that it ever produced any useful information, except for the uncorroborated boasts of Cheney and his henchmen. There are more than forty retired Admirals and Generals who have lobbied Congressmen and Senators continuously because they know that these methods are not only immoral and illegal but also completely counter-productive. And every experienced Army interrogator agrees that non-coercive methods produce more reliable information than the ones Cheney plucked from the “dark side”…
Jane Hamsher at FireDogLake jumps on yet another factual error:
It’s hard to unpack all the bullshit in that article, but let’s start with dismantling the notion which is the tentpole of the Bush/Cheney “legacy tour,” namely that terrorism is down. …data compiled by the RAND Corporation show that the global rate of terrorism, as measured by the number of people killed per year, increased by almost fivefold during the Bush presidency.
In a nutshell, then: these “journalists” started with discredited premises and added on inaccurate facts and specious logic in order to arrive at untenable conclusions.
Not that there are any real surprises in this. As FAIR comments,
…what an idea to get Stuart Taylor to co-write it. He recently wrote that Bush’s civil libertarian critics are more worried about surveillance “than the prospect of thousands of people being murdered by terrorists.” Taylor went on to argue that Obama [should] “kick the hard Left gently in the teeth.” (Read Matthew Yglesias on Taylor here.)
And their editor? Meacham affects to be a supreme relativist about it all: at a bookstore appearance to promote his new book about Andrew Jackson, he reportedly said that when it comes to Obama learning from Bush/Cheney, “You know, suddenly – what was a terrible abuse in one era is a weapon by which a noble president shall strike a blow for liberty [in] the next.”
As Digby sums it up,
They are clearly appealing to every consensus seeking Democrat’s propensity to always seek some way to appease Republicans, no matter what the issue…
But I would suggest that Obama contemplate one little thing before he decides to try to find “middle ground” on torture. It is a trap. If he continues to torture in any way or even tacitly agrees to allow it in certain circumstances, the intelligence community will make sure it is leaked… [and] if the man who represents the second chance this country’s been given around the world to repudiate the horrors of the Bush years is revealed to have perpetuated the same horrors, his credibility and foreign policy will be in shambles. And there are many people buried in the intelligence and military establishments who would be happy to make sure that happens.
Since the election, Obama has promised to close Guantanamo (eventually), is reportedly considering shutting down its “military commissions,” and has (cautiously) said that new AG Eric Holder might find “something” to prosecute from the outgoing administration (although he wants to avoid “looking backwards”). How much Obama will really do to repudiate Bush/Cheney’s criminal overreaching and restoe accountability and respectability to American government remains to be seen. If we’re waiting for the establishment media to pressure him into it, though, we obviously shouldn’t be holding our breaths.
As Glenn Greenwald has eloquently documented, there was a time when the rule of law actually meant something… but we shouldn’t expect it to come back all by itself. If we want Obama, or any other political leaders, to take heed, it’ll take serious effort from all of us.
Or the 75% of us who aren’t delusional, at least. Because what’s really jaw-droppingly amazing about all of this? Right-wing true-believers (as exemplified by this post at RedState, and this one), wedded to their myth of a “liberal media” and Newsweek‘s membership therein, are claiming this piece as an example of liberal double-standards! If there were an Olympic event for mental gymnastics, they’d be shoo-ins for the gold.Tags: Constitution, Dick Cheney, fascism, FISA, George W. Bush, journalism, media, Obama, Rachel Maddow