Monday, December 15, 2014

"I Understand"

There were many ludicrous assertions made on Sunday's Meet The Press by Dick Cheney. For Politifact, it was the assertion, which it rated "false," by the former President (video below)- uh, er, Vice President

We got to the point where we were very concerned about the possible linkage between terrorists on the one hand and weapons of mass destruction on the other.  Saddam Hussein had previously had twice nuclear programs going. He produced and used weapons of mass destruction. And he had a 10-year relationship with al-Qaida.

Taking a global view, Digby is outraged the former Vice-President stated

I have no problem as long as we achieve our objective. And our objective is to get the guys who did 9/11 and it is to avoid another attack against the United States. I was prepared and we did. We got authorizing from the president and authorization from the Justice Department to go forward with the program. It worked. It worked now for 13 years.

We’ve avoided another mass casualty attack against the United States. And we did capture Bin Laden. We did capture an awful lot of the senior guys at Al Qaeda who were responsible for that attack on 9/11. I’d do it again in a minute.

"Basically," she observes,"he put the whole world on notice that the world’s only superpower would use any means it chooses without limit or restriction to obtain its objectives."

That is a problem, a major one. But a major electoral problem is highlighted by this exchange occurring a few moments later:


When you say waterboarding is not torture, then why did we prosecute Japanese soldiers in World War II for waterboarding?



For a lot of stuff. Not for waterboarding. They did an awful lot of other stuff to draw some kind of moral equivalent between waterboarding judged by our Justice Department not to be torture and what the Japanese did with the Bataan Death March and the slaughter of thousands of Americans, with the rape of Nanking and all of the other crimes they committed, that's an outrage. It's a really cheap shot, Chuck, to even try to draw a parallel between the Japanese who were prosecuted for war crimes after World War II and what we did with waterboarding three individuals--

Todd was not drawing a parallel between "what the Japanese did with the Bataan Death March and the slaughter of thousands of Americans." In one case, the armed forces of a nation (Japan) brutalized American and Filipino prisoners of war, and also practiced waterboarding. In the other, terrorists committed a monumental act of murder (primarily in NYC); in response (allegedly, anyway), they (and others) were waterboarded.

Far from comparing (WWII) Japanese brutality with (anti-terrorist) American brutality, Todd was asking Cheney to consider USA prosecution of Japanese for committing torture in light of torture committed by the USA in the last decade.    As Dick probably realizes, his is not a tortured analogy (pun intended); it is a completely wrongheaded analogy.

Recognizing that saying "what we did with three of the individuals we waterboarded" would be giving away the store, Cheney substituted "what we did with waterboarding three individuals...." Except that, as McClatchy reports

evidence cited in a Senate report released this week that suggests waterboarding was more widespread than the CIA has admitted.

CIA officials have acknowledged using waterboarding on three people: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who allegedly masterminded the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks; a senior al Qaida operative from Saudi Arabia named Zayn al Abidin Muhammed Hussein – also known as Abu Zubaydah; and Abd al-Rahim al Nashiri, who was accused of planning the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000.

The Senate report describes a “water dousing” technique tantamount to waterboarding allegedly being used in Afghanistan on at least five other CIA detainees, identified as Mustafa al Hawsawi, Abu Hazim, Mohammad Shoroeiya, Abu Hudhaifa and Majid Khan.

But Cheney's response itself wasn't the most disturbing aspect of the transaction, nor that with the greatest implication.  Rather, it was how the journalist responded when Cheney made a remarkably false analogy and charged Todd with taking "a really cheap shot."

While opinions may vary, most individuals would find being accused of taking a cheap shot (a really cheap shot) an insult.

Not our Meet The Press host, though. Confronted by a nasty charge, Todd responded "I understand." Not "I understand, but" or "I understand why you're so sensitive to this," nor "I understand but what you're saying is literally incredible," but "I understand."  Confronted by Cheney,Todd folded like a cheap suit- or, rather, like Joe Lieberman at a debate. ("Lieberman: "... I'm pleased to see, Dick, from the newspapers that you're better off than you were eight years ago." Cheney: "I can tell you, Joe,the government had absolutely nothing to do with it."  No mention of Halliburton's lucrative contracts with said government).

This is a problem for Democrats that goes far beyond torture.  Republicans typically- Cheney and Newt Gingrich especially- have developed over the years a penchant for attacking the media generally and their inquisitors specifically. It is part of the reason many Americans have grown to accept the myth of the "liberal media." That in turn causes these voters to view something positive reported about liberals/Democrats skeptically and to accept uncritically anything positive reported about conservatives/Republicans.

This is not a winning proposition for Democrats. While they act as if journalists are their friends, Repubs frequently confront them- and, as the Cheney /Todd instance demonstrates- gain an advantage.  The American people have a great distrust for "the media," with which liberals appear to be allies. Together, they come to be viewed as an establishment which represents only itself and sometimes looks down on ordinary people.

John McCain once viewed the media as "my base."  And when a supporter of his at a town hall meeting during campaign 2000 accused Barack Obama of being an Arab (video below), McCain courageously corrected her, stating "no, ma'am, he's a decent family man, a citizen."  The media, understandably, swooned. Later, McCain lost the election, decisively. Take heed.

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