Friday, April 24th, 2009 | TV and text
Each Friday Real Pundits editors Paul Owen, Arnold Vis and Daniel Washburn discuss the political news of the week. This week Daniel and Arnold weigh in on the ongoing torture debate and Obama’s handshake with Chavez. Paul is on holiday.
The ongoing torture debate
Further developments into the torture story this week: Obama acknowledges that lawyers who approved interrogation methods could face prosecution. Obama claims that this will be a decision for the Attorney General to make. Most likely a judgement would be aimed at the three Bush Administration lawyers who signed the memos: John Yoo, Jay Bybee and Steven Bradbury. It is also known that Bybee’s successor at the Office of Legal Council, Jack Goldsmith, has claimed that the argument of the memos had “no foundation” in any source of law.
However, some democrats are urging the Obama administration not to be too hasty. The chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Diane Feinstein, has asked that judgement be withheld until the end of the year when her panel expects to have completed an inquiry.
Cheney’s said, earlier this week, that he found it “a little bit disturbing” that Obama decided to publish what had been done to detainees rather than the helpful information gathered from detainees. This desire of Cheney’s in itself seems a little bit disturbing. Perhaps Cheney will kindly ask all remaining terrorists to turn down the volume on their television sets during the big announcement? So what is Cheney doing here? Sure there were successes. We already know that — the whole point was to interrogate and get information. The question is not did it work, about rather how the work was carried out.
If Cheney is this apt to complain about what went on at Gitmo, then why set up a publicized prison camp in the first place? The same goes for the current argument of the CIA: they say that publication of memos and any further details will tell their international intelligence partners that the US can’t keep a secret. But if that is the argument then why did the CIA not keep its prisoners a secret? Why house them in Cuba instead of some unknown cave in the middle east?
In any case, if prosecutions do happen, Bybee and his colleagues might do well to look at what the US Supreme court did last time it ruled on the use of waterboarding: General Yamashita, commander of Japanese forces in the Philippines, was condemned to death by the US Supreme Court for his failure to prevent his forces from committing atrocities.
As Dan outlined above there have been lots of developments in the torture debate again this week and you just get the feeling the cat is out of the bag to such an extent now that only a serious investigation is going to quiet things down.
What’s perhaps most important and probably distressing about this whole debate that most pundits (even the realpundits) have the tendency to mostly talk about this issue in political terms. What would the precedent of an investigation and possible persecution be? Will it affect Obama’s wider policy agenda? Will Democrats also be implicated?
While I can understand where he’s coming from, his ultimate argument is that it’s politically inconvenient to investigate crimes, and in the final analysis that’s not good enough an argument.
For a good debate on the torture issue have a look at this interview with Liz Cheney, Dick Cheney’s daughter today at MSNBC.
Check out this video from John McCain during the 2008 campaign:
Before I get to the recent handshake, my question is: what’s with the prison uniform Chavez? Bright orange for a political rally? Maybe I am missing some historical significance here?
As for the handshake last weekend, Obama has said:
“It’s unlikely that as a consequence of me shaking hands or having a polite conversation with Mr. Chavez that we are endangering the strategic interests of the United States.”
Wow, what a relief. The Whitehouse has suggested that the contact has increased the chances that diplomatic relations will resume between the US and Venezuela. They may even mutually reinstate ambassadors.
Newt Gingrich claims that “Everywhere in Latin America, enemies of America are going to use the picture of Chavez smiling and meeting with the president as proof that Chavez is now legitimate, that he’s acceptable.” Yet might it also signal to Latin Americans that someone is willing to listen? Newt’s Latin American enemies may not be the same as Obama’s. Recall that Chavez specifically called Bush the devil – he didn’t comment on what form future American presidents might take. What Newt doesn’t realize is that many of these alleged enemies may have been against Bush and against the policies of Bush rather than against America as a nation (though no doubt some certainly are against America as a nation).
I don’t think the right successfully scored on this one. It was a missed opportunity to respond by rolling out a forward looking foreign policy agenda. Chazev is too linked to the Bush past; they should have ignored the obvious knee-jerk reaction and suggested appropriate ways to engage with Latin America — rather than offering more isolationism.
The McCain ad clip Dan put up is very interesting in another way than it’s ineffectiveness– the crowd reaction Chavez got for his comments.
The U.S. needs to start facing up to the fact they are are very unpopular with large swaths of the population across Latin America. The main reaction from the right was that Obama should have stood up and retributed when Nicaraguan president Ortega attacked America in his speech. The fact is that at these types of summits politicians always play up to their respective domestic audiences, so if anything we learned that to score in Nicaragua, you need to bash the U.S in prime time on the world stage.
It now remains to be seen if Obama’s “open hand rather than clenched fist” approach can produce results, but the view of the U.S. in Latin America would need to improve before a constructive dialogue can begin so in that sense I think Obama is on the right track.
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