Monday, August 24, 2009

Jeremy Scahill on "Real Time" and the Release of the Inspector General's Report

Real Time with Bill Maher had an interesting panel this past Friday night on HBO. Included in this panel were comedian Jay Leno, NBC political correspondent Chuck Todd, and investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill.

They get to talking about Blackwater, torture, and holding elected officials to account when Scahill calls out Chuck Todd for the media's role (and Todd's role) in framing this debate. Here is the video:

You may remember a recent interview that transpired between Chuck Todd and Glenn Greenwald where Greenwald made Todd's arguments against investigations look ridiculous. Here is an exchange:

GG: ...But let me ask you this question - and I just have a couple more questions, and I appreciate this time. You just referenced earlier that you think that this has become cable catnip because it's an entrenched partisan debate between the left and the right. And about a month ago you created a little controversy because you said about the question about whether there should be investigations, about the release of the OLC memos, you said, quote, "Frankly, this feels like a political food fight right now: the hard left, the hard right fighting over this in the blogosphere."

Some of the people who have called for investigations and prosecutions of Bush-era torture crimes include people like Jesse Ventura, the former independent governor of Minnesota; Philip Zelikow, the former aide to Condoleezza Rice; four-star general Barry McCaffrey, who said, on MSNBC, actually, that numerous detainees were, quote, "murdered" in custody, and that there's no way that we can not have criminal investigations. General Antonio Tabuga, who investigated the Abu Ghraib crimes, said: quote, "There is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes; the only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account." Same with Lawrence Wilkerson, the former chief-of-staff to Colin Powell; Thomas Pickering and Williams Sessions, former Reagan administration officials, on and on, wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post calling for investigations.

The idea that this is something that, the idea that the rule of law, that holding our high government officials to accountability when they commit crimes, is a "hard left versus a hard right" or a partisan debate - isn't that really just an invention of cable news, for exactly the reason that you said, which is that's how cable news typically understands things, even when that's not really what the debate is?

CT: Well, look - and that is my frustration on this very issue, that I don't think - and this is why, when I said, how should this be handled, and how should this be investigated - if you could guarantee me that we could keep this debate off of television, and keep it off of being an ideological - because, this was an ideological, when you read those OLC memos, I was struck by this fact, and that is that the Bush White House was looking for a legal way to do this. They were trying to legally justify what they were doing, and what their policy was. Which then, if that is the case, then, things are going to have an ideological split, and frankly, you, you and I both know you're going find judges that end up falling on both sides of this issue.

Now, does that mean that there shouldn't be investigations as to how these detainees died in custody? Of course there should be investigations. That's what makes the American form of justice held to a higher standard.

GG: And what should be done about investigations that reveal that there were crimes that were committed?

CT: Well, look, that's up to the Justice Department. I know you have strong feelings about this. I am trying, honestly, very hard, not to put my personal feelings on this specific issue into it. I am trying to deal in the analysis of why, for instance, the Obama White House doesn't want this. They don't want to have this debate even if they passionately feel, as many do, about what might have happened.

Scahill's moment with Todd is the second instance where Todd has been forced to defend his views that prosecutions of the Bush Administration are not appropriate and should therefore not happen. Todd is not alone in his views, in fact, the Obama Administration has also adopted this "look forward not to the past" mantra when discussing the possibility of prosecuting Bush Administration officials.

The relevancy of this is also to be noted as the Justice Department is expected to release the internal investigation into torture by John L. Helgerson, or the Inspector General's report. The release of this investigation has been delayed on numerous occasions and should give us additional insight and provide for more disturbing details into the types of actions that were authorized under the Bush Administration. Scott Horton has more thoughts:

If the passages of the report describing in detail the practices used and comparing them to the OLC guidance are released, that would be significant. It would effectively set the stage for the appointment of a special prosecutor—and indeed, it looks to me that the Justice Department is now trying to build support for such a decision.

But in addition to the CIA inspector general’s report, another major document has been on hold for some time: the report of the department’s ethics office, the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR). Now, its disclosure is another major issue. The New York Times reports this morning that OPR is advising Holder to “reopen nearly a dozen prisoner-abuse cases” based on its internal review of the torture memoranda and the process that led to their issuance.

This formulation suggests that these cases were investigated and dealt with by the Justice Department under Bush–but that plainly is not correct. The cases were funneled into the U.S. attorney’s office for the Eastern District of Virginia, which served as a sort of “dead letter office” for politically sensitive cases on which the Bush team expected nothing to happen. And nothing did happen. The OPR report would set the stage for appointment of a special prosecutor to look at these cases. As a result of the passage of time and the failure to undertake an investigation while evidence is fresh, it will now be much more difficult to build a case for charges, but an effort will be made. Still, the real issue is whether the OPR report itself will be made public.


Release of the entire OPR report is critical. If it is not released, or released with key passages blacked out, that will suggest that the Attorney General wants to protect Justice Department figures from scrutiny. The public would be correct to cry foul about this and any other efforts to deflect attention from the Justice Department’s own role in the wrongdoing, which was enormous.

The disclosures made at the beginning of the week will provide a solid indication of how we can expect Eric Holder to act. Most likely he will be exercising discretion to disclose facts and information that reveal whatever conduct he has decided to investigate. That’s sensible enough. But we shouldn’t allow this to distract us from what he’s chosen to keep secret. That will be even more revealing.

UPDATE: Jeremy Scahill sent an email to Glenn Greenwald after his appearence on Real Time that said the following:

Right as we walked off stage, he said to me "that was a cheap shot." I said "what are you talking about?" and he said "you know it." I then said that I monitor msm coverage very closely and asked him what was not true that I said on the show. He then replied: "that's not the point. You sullied my reputation on TV."

So reporting the truth and pointing out the lack of independence in the media isn't the issue, it is about not hurting the feelings of Chuck Todd. This speaks volumes about real journalism in today's society.


Tom Degan's Daily Rant said...

Yeah. Let the investigations proceed and the chips fall where they may. In the course of destroying this country, George W. Bush (the First Fool as I loved to call him) undid DECADES of diplomatic protocol.

Were these morons able to get information via torture? Sure they did. Most of that info was false. You see, under those circumstances, the person being tortured will say just about anything. It is quite interesting: no one in this administration (Excuse me, I meant to say, “THAT administration) was smart enough to figure this out.

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY

Chris Johnson said...

Thanks for stopping by Tom. I hope you will continue to visit.